The defensive midfielder is a relatively modern position. Players like Claude Makelele, Yaya Toure, Sergio Busquets, and Paul Scholes thrived in the holding midfield role. The defensive midfield role has to do two things on the pitch: break down build-up play from the opposing team, and distribute the ball from the defense into the midfielders or forwards.
However, a successful defensive midfielder, above all, must be able to read the game. The positioning of the defensive mid alone can make a massive difference in the outcome of a match. There are three primary defensive midfield roles: anchor, ball-winning, and the regista.
The anchor sits right in front of his defensive line. Usually, their job is to apply pressure for any opponent breaking through the midfield and to join the defense when on the back foot. Offensively, the anchorman is instructed to play the ball to his playmaker to begin an attack.
Ball-winning midfielders don’t sit quite as deep as anchors, but they are also primarily responsible for defense-oriented duties. Because of this, ball-winning midfielders are often underrated in their support for the attack.
In some situations, when the ball-midfielder plays alone in his or her line, positioning becomes essential. On defense, the ball winning-midfielder has a lot of ground to cover to assist all positions in defense. Alternatively, on offense, the ball-winning midfielder plays some role in possession and distribution and is expected to play (and pass) simply and keep the ball. In the 16/17 Premier League season, N’golo Kante boasted 65% tackle success and averaged 60 passes per game, earning him the player of the season award.
The regista is only a defensive midfielder due to their deep positioning. His or her main priority is to distribute the ball, and link the defense to the midfield. As a playmaker, the regista must move constantly to keep an open lane with the ball. A playmaker who is available and able to receive the ball can make the difference between winning and losing. Positioning is key.
Midfield legends Paul Scholes, Xavi, and Andrea Pirlo thrived in the regista role. Their athletic limitations did not factor into their performances because they had the vision to be at the right place at the right time. However, positioning alone is not enough. Being the focal point of the team, the regista receives the ball often during a match. More recently, Jorginho made an average of 79 passes per match in the Premier League. A player in this role must have the technical ability to receive the ball under pressure and distribute it to his teammates.
Additionally, in a system that plays with a playmaker, the team moves and plays to the pace that the regista dictates. Because of this, the regista must understand the game well and be very technical in keeping possession and distributing the ball to start an attack or escape a press.