Learning Defensive Midfield – Your positioning and reading of the game

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Defensive midfield is somewhat of a specialised position in today’s game. Many teams opt for hybrid midfielders in their playing systems, but a solid DM still can change a game.

The Job of a Defensive Midfielder

A Defensive Midfielder’s main role is to protect the back four (or three) from attacks from the opposing team. He or she is normally seen as the defensive lynchpin in the middle of the park.

Defensive Midfielders, also know as “DM’s” or “Holding” players. Normally wearing either number 4 or 6 in the team lineup.

Be the more disciplined midfielder

As the most defensive minded and protective player, you will need to sense check any run forward into the final third. Your job is to make sure your team’s spine is secure against any counter-attacks.

Bring the edge to the game

You will want to get a physical and tactical grip on the middle of the park. As the ball winner and in many cases “hired muscle”, you will need to have enough aggression to harry the opposition backwards or into making mistakes.

Win the ball, turnovers and launch counter attacks

As a strong pursuer, you will need to be ready to win interceptions, make key tackles and poach the ball from any misguided dribbles. As soon ass you win it, you are in a great position. From this point, the opposing team often has a vulnerability. Unless the away team is very conservative, most of the time there will be a space opened up behind the attacking line. If your forward playing teammates are switched on, they will know where to be already. Many times winning the ball can result in your team going on to scoring a goal. All because you added some extra effort to a tackle or block.

Support players out of position

Occasionally you may need to fill the gaps for players who have either made jinking runs, or have been pulled out of position. You may at times need to slot into the back 4 covering a left back who has bombed on.

Provide support passing options

Create passing support for every single member of the defence and midfield by shifting your position slightly to an angle for a “safety” pass. You may not be their first option every time but making yourself available lets your teammates know they have options if they need.

Pro Tip: Great players try to have it in mind who they will pass to next before they receive it. Try to line up some options before calling for the ball, then reassess every few seconds.

Reading the game

The area where every defensive midfielder should look to boss.

The beginning of the final third marks the territory which is a great chance creation zone for midfielders and forward players. A breach of this area in the right angles can open space for shots or runs directly at goal. This is the Defensive Midfielder’s zone, and he or she must rule it.

Anything or anyone that comes into this zone while defending is usually your immediate concern. Hopefully you are gifted with 1 or 2 midfield partners who track back, so you aren’t being outnumbered. Once someone enters that zone, you have to decide whether to engage, jockey or delay.

Most of the midfield play will happen in front of you as you watch the ball be pinged from side to side and sometimes to you. Try not to make any pressuring passes back to your defenders. The main aim should be to play a key pass forward, or to hold possession if there aren’t aren’t any attractive attacking shapes.

Positioning yourself effectively

As the ball pings around the area in front of you, your task is to guess where the ball is likely to pop out of the bottom of this zone. Then to make sure you are close by to mop up. All while keeping an eye on protecting the core of the defensive line. Pre-emptively adjusting your position laterally but not to so much that your tire yourself, or get dragged to far of position. One long ball switching wings from the other team can have you sprint across the midfield to provide protection.

You want to hover where the play is happening on either side (left or right) of the pitch but not too far from the centre. You can give your teammates help by organising them and feeding them information. Watching the play, and anticipating where someone may turnover possession.

When your team is in the opposition’s final third you normally want to be somewhere between the centre circle and the edge of their box. Whenever going further forward than that, ensure you check for any opposition players lurking around waiting for a cheeky counter attack. Communicate with your teammates and let them know when you’ve gone.

The DM position isn’t for everyone. You need to be a workhorse and have steel, grit and determination. But once perfected, you can have countless hours of enjoyable match time, battling in the heart of midfield. Hopefully some of these tips have shown you that with some more tactical thinking, you can make your roles easier.

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