What do midfielders do in soccer?

  • There are three different types of midfielders
  • Midfielders can win or lose their team a game
  • Luka Modrić became the first central midfielder to win the Ballon d'Or since 1990
Here's what midfielders do in soccer.
Here's what midfielders do in soccer. / Daniel Kopatsch/GettyImages

Although they rarely get the credit and spotlight forwards receive, midfielders are often at the center of game-winning plays in soccer.

Soccer is truly a team sport. Each team fields 11 players that all must execute their own position-specific duties while also working together to defend and attack. Some roles on the pitch are easy to understand; goalkeepers must prevent the other team from scoring while a forward aims to net goals. Midfielders, though, do so much work in the middle of the field that summarizing their impact often does not do them justice.

Fortunately, soccer currently has generational midfielders dominating international and domestic matches that perfectly highlight what midfielders accomplish on the field each game.

What do midfielders do in soccer?

The best midfielders control a soccer game. Of all the positions on the pitch, midfielders typically retain the most possession throughout 90 minutes, working to either slow down or speed up the pace of a match. Ultimately, midfielders aim to carry the ball up the field and create scoring chances for the forwards on the team.

There are three different types of midfielders in soccer: attacking, central, and defending. Each position plays a slightly different role that can either win or lose a game for their team.

Attacking midfielders

Jude Bellingham
FC Bayern München v Real Madrid: Semi-final First Leg - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 / Boris Streubel/GettyImages

Attacking midfielders are, of course, the most forward-minded midfielders. They are the players pushing forward to help facilitate goal scoring opportunities with brilliant through balls or crosses that forwards (hopefully) send into the back of the net. Depending on a team's structure, they can even score plenty of goals on their own if the opportunity arises—just look at Jude Bellingham for Real Madrid.

Central midfielders

Luka Modric
Real Sociedad v Real Madrid CF - LaLiga EA Sports / Ion Alcoba Beitia/GettyImages

Central midfielders are the lifeblood of a soccer team. They control the tempo of the game, dominate possession, and create space for the players around them to thrive. One second they are making a line-breaking pass and then the next, they are dropping back to help with defensive efforts. Croatian and Real Madrid legend, Luka Modrić, won the Ballon d'Or in 2018 for his outstanding midfield play that led to Real Madrid's 13th Champions League title and Croatia's second-place World Cup finish.

Defensive midfielders

Rodri, Morgan Gibbs-White
Nottingham Forest v Manchester City - Premier League / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

Defensive midfielders are the last line of defense for their team before their back line has to step in. Not only must they work with their own central and attacking midfielders to control play, but they are also tasked with slowing down the opposing team's offensive efforts. The best defensive midfielders excel at timely challenges to stop an opponent's momentum and win the ball back for their side.