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What Does a Holding Midfielder Do in Soccer? 9 Important Roles

What Does a Holding Midfielder Do in Soccer? 9 Important Roles

Often referred to as the purest form of a defensive midfielder, a holding midfielder is the soccer player who holds his position while ensuring that he stays very close to his team’s defense. Other types of midfielders would move forward to attack the opposition (offensive midfielders).

In modern soccer, holding midfielders are players that are positioned in front of the defenders. They are often called playmakers and are the first line of defense for their team.

The aim of a holding midfielder is to break apart the opposition’s attacks while safeguarding his own defense. Holding midfielders usually make short and straightforward passes to teammates who are attackers. They typically do this after they have won the ball from the opposition.

Depending on the situation on the pitch, holding midfielders can serve as support defenders and attackers. In addition, goalkeepers sometimes pass the ball to holding midfielders to start off offensive plays.

Holding midfielders link passes for their teams since they can freely switch up plays, have an excellent vision of the field, and are capable of swinging the ball.

Famous holding midfielders include; Chelsea’s N’golo Kante, Arsenal’s Francis Coquelin, Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets, Chelsea’s Jorginho, Michael Carrick of Manchester United, Claude Makélélé of Chelsea, and Yaya Toure, formerly of Manchester City.

What does a holding midfielder do in soccer?

Holding midfielders can probably be called the most important position that a soccer player can play in soccer. Holding midfielders hold the back (defense) while creating chances for attackers to go on the offense.

Holding midfielders are also called defensive midfielders and playmakers, and they are vital on the pitch.

To be a holding midfielder, you need a good sense of positioning, calmness, combativeness, and be very perceptive. Teams with great holding defenders are usually distinguished from other teams.

Soccer player walk on the field

In modern soccer, holding midfielders do not only defend but are now needed to take on offensive tasks such as starting attacks from the deep, advancing the ball to the front, ensuring that their team keeps possession, and to beat the high press of opponents.

Modern holding midfielders are usually of two types; the deep-lying playmaker and the defensive midfielder—these two categories of holding midfielders generally protect the back.

Playmakers that are positioned deep in the pitch hold off midfielders that specialize in several type of technique-skill like long or short-range passing rather than defensive skills like tackling.

Holding midfielders that fall into this category often pass the ball to the front in simple or complex ways.

They ensure that their team holds possession, stabilize the game, build-up plays, set the game tempo, and pass the ball to wingers, forwards, and teammates. Deep-lying playmakers are called “regista” in Italy and “meia-armador” in Brazil.

Some deep-lying playmakers include Real Madrid’s Luka Modric, Manchester United’s Michael Carrick, and Pirlo Andreas, formerly of Juventus.

Footballer Holding midfielder eye view DM

In modern soccer, the defensive holding midfielders are midfielders whose main aim is to protect their goal. Sometimes, they could be set to mark an opposition attacker or are placed after the team’s defenders.

Sometimes defensive holding midfielders usually play center backs and full-back positions. To be a perfect defensive holding midfielder, you need the ability to intercept, good passing skills, tackling ability, ability to mark, strength and stamina.

Modern soccer has changed defensive holding midfielders to play as center backs since defensive midfielders are capable of playing in central defense. One reason for this is to emphasize their strengths, including their ball and defensive capabilities.

Deep-lying playmakers include Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich,  Sergio Busquets of Barcelona, and Daniele De Rossi of Roma.

Now that we have established what holding midfielders are, what do holding midfielders do in soccer? The responsibilities and roles of holding midfielders in a soccer game will be explained in the following sections.

1. Defensive Roles

soccer players are fighting for the ball

The primary role of a holding midfielder is to defend his goal; win back possession for his team by breaking up the attack of the opposition. To do this, holding midfielders need to read attacks by the opponents and have a good feel for the game.

Holding midfielders also need to be able to position themselves correctly. It is so because they need to know where to be at the right time. Holding midfielders also need to communicate with their teammates since they would at most times pass the ball up the field or build play-ups.

To make timely interceptions or block off attacks by the opponent’s attackers, holding midfielders have to be able to predict and read attacks. But, not just predicting and reading attacks, they also have to be strong and quick in tackles.

Another defensive role that holding midfielders perform is to block crosses and long shots from coming deep into their team’s box.

Though some holding defenders rely on proper positioning and accurate reading of the game, other holding midfielders rely on their superior physical ability.

Therefore, it is crucial that holding midfielders are properly conditioned since it would ensure that they can block every gap that might show up at the back, cover for their teammates, and screen the defense.

Holding midfielders are also defensive anchors. They allow forwards and other midfielders to play with freedom. Holding midfielders are usually very fluid with the ball, flexible, and lead to their team success.

Holding midfielders usually have their eyes on the pitch for potential counterattacks whenever their teams are on the attack. It could involve committing tactical fouls, tackling, clearing the ball, and also intercepting attackers.

Holding midfielders sometimes take on passes when their teams are on the attack, though not frequently since they need to be mindful of their defensive position.

2. Beating Opposition High Pressing Attackers in a Game 

Soccer player cut the ball

Another role for holding midfielders in soccer is to deal with the opponent’s high pressing attackers formation, often called the tiki-taka or the gegenpressing.

Gengenpressing in a soccer game occurs when a soccer team patiently probes their opponents with the ball while searching for openings to score and win the ball back high up the pitch as soon as possible if it is lost right on the opponent’s side of the field. Teams using gegenpressing (a high-pressing system) often have to keep possession of the ball.

In the English Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool FC are known to play high pressing games.

It is for the above types of gameplay that holding midfielders are needed. They are set to disrupt the high pressing game of the opponent while also changing the game’s pace.

For example, Chelsea’s game with Liverpool on the 28th of August 2021 which ended in a 1 – 1 draw after a red card sent Reece James off the pitch.

Chelsea was able to deal with the high pressure of Liverpool with Jorginho and N’golo Kante (albeit minor) working tirelessly to disrupt their opponents in a game that was approximated to be played at six-hundred miles an hour.

At various times throughout the match, Jorginho was seen to exploit wrong touches made by Liverpool forward; Salah to neutralize their high pressing game and calm things in the midfield.

He was able to deftly work his other holding midfielder N’golo Kante to also distribute the ball to wide areas and provide a link between the midfielders and strikers which ultimately made Liverpool’s gegenpressing difficult to sustain.

3. Maintain Ball Possession 

Soccer player transit the ball

Another role of holding midfielders in soccer is to maintain ball possession for their team. Maintaining ball possession can be extremely important when playing soccer games and at critical times in the game.

When holding midfielders to maintain ball possession, their teammates would get into good positions either for attacking or defending.

It would also ensure that the opposition team is unable to get chances of scoring goals. It is common knowledge that holding midfielders generally have the highest rate of ball possession than every other player on the pitch.

Holding midfielders are also looked upon to collect passes from or to pass to. Therefore, holding midfielders have to practice skills and drills that would improve their ball possession with their team while also working on their use of their body as shields without committing tactical fouls.

Tiki-taka, which is famous by the Spanish giants Barcelona, involves short passes, keeping total ball control, and working the ball around the field. It all starts with good holding midfielders who can accurately maintain the ball in play for as long as possible.

4. Transitioning the Ball

Soccer player pass the ball

When a soccer team has possession of the ball, the holding midfielder has a role to play. When the team is with the ball, his role would be to transition the ball either from the goalkeeper or the defender to forwards or even to other midfielders.

This is usually done by either making long passes or quick and short passes. It is for this reason that holding midfielders need to be good passers.

Holding midfielders can also send balls that they receive from one area to another when they receive quick and short passes. When holding midfielders receive such passes, they instantly pass the ball to another teammate who is in a different position on the pitch.

Holding midfielders perform the function of intermediaries whenever their team has possession of the ball with instant transitions of the ball to open teammates.

It is vital that holding midfielders have good positional awareness, accuracy, excellent tackling skills, ball control, excellent trapping skills, and vision.

5. Control the Game

Soccer player control the ball

As stated briefly in the introduction above, holding midfielders do control the game. They do this by ensuring that they remain in the center of the pitch to ensure that they run back to defend or run for attacks when needed.

With their clear perception of the pitch, they can better position themselves to make passes to other teammates and even correctly communicate with their teammates for various actions.

Holding midfielders are the tempo controllers of the game because they can slow down or even speed up the game when they desire.

For example, a holding midfielder could increase the flow of the game by passing quickly to their teammates when they deem the opposition defense is slow. This would catch the opponents off guard and might even score a goal.

As good decision-makers, they usually show strong leadership and instinct that can lead their team to victory.

6. Offensive Roles

Soccer player prepare to shoot the ball

In modern soccer, holding midfielders now take on more responsibilities, unlike in the past. Holding midfielders take the ball from the defenders or goalkeepers and pass accurately to forwards.

For such a reason, it is vital for holding midfielders to have good decision-making quality, play deep balls, and have excellent passing ability. Unfortunately, sometimes they also tend to play wide balls or even make passes right into the opponent’s defense.

The midfield is usually very congested. Therefore, holding midfielders need to have excellent footwork and agility to perform excellently when under pressure.

It, therefore, means that holding midfielders need always to be calm and collected and have reasonable ball control and possession.

As stated above, flexibility and tactical awareness are also essential since they are sometimes played in attack formations like 3-4-3.

7. Passing Role

Soccer player long pass

A significant skill needed for every holding midfielder is to be able to pass the ball accurately and correctly. As the link between the defense and the midfield, they often have to pass the ball up in the pitch for forwards to the run-up.

Holding midfielders also sometimes pass the ball back to the defense after breaking up attacks so as to stabilize and reorganize the team. However, bad passes can be fatal since they would give the opposition attacker an opportunity to score goals.

By chance, the opposition attacker might need to beat or dribble past a defender, but irrespective of the scenario, holding midfielders need to be able to pass accurately to avoid such dangerous situations.

As stated above, when transitioning up in the pitch to attack, the passes of holding defenders need to be perfect and accurate.

Holding midfielders are placed just before the midfield position, with opposing midfielders and forwards just by the corner ready to intercept passes. Losing the ball when transitioning an attack could lead to a direct counterattack from the opposition team.

With the scenarios stated above, it is then essential that holding midfielders have excellent passing ability and are able to keep the game flow simple.

8. Act as occasional Goal-Scorers 

Soccer player take a penalty

Though forwards are often goal scorers, holding midfielders can also score goals or contribute to scoring goals in a team. This ensures that goal scoring is not left only to forwards.

In soccer, any player can score a goal, even the goalkeeper. However, based on the positioning of holding midfielders, they usually score goals over others since they typically stay up in the field.

Holding midfielders help in attacks; therefore, they are usually in positions to take shots at the goal, score, or even lay up passes for forwards who are better positioned to score goals. Sometimes they even take the initiative themselves to score.

It is for this reason that holding midfielders are known as good passers.

Holding midfielders can score goals throughout the season through taking outside long shots whenever there is an opening, through free kicks, and through taking shots after late run-ups into the opponents’ penalty box.

They also make beautiful runs with their dribbling skill that breaks up defenses.

In the world of soccer, holding midfielders usually holds some of the world records standing as the highest goal scorer. For example, when Frank Lampard was in Chelsea, he scored 211 goals, making him a top goal scorer of his time though he was a central midfielder instead of a forward player.

9. Act as occasional Wingers 

Holding midfielders sometimes act as wingers. Depending on the gameplay of the coach, a holding midfielder could be positioned to stand close to the sidelines of the middle area of the pitch.

Such holding midfielders stand close to the pitch’s sideline so that they can act as defenders against the opponent’s winger.

While opponent wingers would try to penetrate the defense by attacking through the sidelines, the holding midfielder acting as a winger would try to break up the attack.

The defending role of such holding midfielders is not on the pitch center but on the sideline of the pitch.

Also, when the holding midfielder team takes possession of the ball, they also pass the ball to their strikers. Such holding midfielders attack from the sidelines and often try to cross the ball to their teammates to create chances of scoring.

They act as wingers when their team is in possession of the ball while also running back to defend their team if the ball is lost.


N'Golo Kante - Top 10 Chelsea Moments | Best Passes, Tackles & Goals Compilation | Chelsea FC

In conclusion, the position of holding midfielders plays a very vital role in every team’s success. With various responsibilities and functions based on the coach’s style or the player, they are crucial to every team performance, as seen over time in soccer.

Since midfielders are very important, they tend to be more technical and have excellent game understanding.

Though it usually takes a lot of time, the journey can be made easier with countless practice, hard work, and experience coupled with reading up on the roles stated above.

Though the holding midfielder’s main task is to defend, this role has been expanded over time to include other functions. For example, in modern soccer, they now keep possession of the ball, dictate deep plays, and also keep the ball in play.