The role of a defensive midfielder

Exercise description:

Area: 40 x 70 playing area with two teams. Play 6 v 6. 3 v 3 in each attacking zone. The holding midfield player is in a 10 x 40 central zone. The group of 3 v 3 stay in their own half.

Holding midfielders role:

1. (as shown) The defenders attempt to get the ball to the attackers.

2. The defending team and the holding midfield play try to stop this.

3. If the holding midfielder blocks the pass, they start the attacking transition. The attacking team can use the holding midfield player to keep possession.

4. If the ball is switched to the opposite playing zone then the holding midfielder helps the attacking team in possession and attempts to stop the defenders from getting the ball to their attackers.

Coaching points:

Holding midfielders positioning and communication

Intended outcome:

  • To get the whole team to understand the importance of the defensive midfielder.

  • To create problems that will occur in a soccer game and allow the players to figure it out.

  • The use of the defensive midfielder from the attacking team. Keep the ball.

  • The defenders must look at the positioning of the three attackers on their team, so when they win the ball, transition will be quick.


You could add two defensive midfield players.

Technical / Tactical:

  • Angles of support - Triangulate

  • Scan the field

  • 1-2 touch mentality

  • Anticipate - See the future

  • Communication

  • Quality and accuracy of the passing

  • DM slide with the play


  • Be ready to interact with teammates.

  • Communicate.

  • Applaud good play and work ethic from teammates.

  • Offer help if you understand the exercise

  • Have fun!


  • Always work at game speed

  • Be ready to explode into space after the give and go

  • Shielding the ball


  • Be ready to focus

  • Embrace failure.

  • Remember the instructions of the exercise. 

  • Decision-making can only happen if we are open to finding answers.

  • Visualize playing in a game

Possible Performance Problems:

The defending three will not look forward to see where their teammates are. Players will just ball watch.

Players will not use the defensive midfielder and be patient with the attack.

If the GK has the ball, lack of movement will make it hard to play out from the back.