In today’s game, finishers and forwards take all the limelight. There was a time when midfielders were kings. Names like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Mikel Arteta peppered headlines daily. Since then, the midfield role has changed. Modern midfielders still provide what midfielders have always given a team: control. Since the recent reintroductions of three and five-player midfield setups, the center midfield role (being responsible for both attack and defense) has been split up into more specialized roles. Broadly, center midfielders are split up into three main categories: defensive, central, and attacking.
Gareth Barry acrobatically traps the ball for Everton FC against Manchester United.
Traditional center midfielder
This interpretation of the center midfield role was dominant throughout the 90’s leading up to its death around 2010. Even though it has been seeing some revival, such as Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side which grew to become a European juggernaut using a 4-4-2 formation. Since there are only 2 central midfielders, the two must work in tandem to cover a large area of the pitch together.
Modern Center Midfielder
Joao Moutinho celebrating after winning the Europa League with Porto FC in 2011.
Box-to-box midfielders are instructed to literally run ‘box-to-box.’ They push up with the attack to the opposition’s penalty box, and are expected to track back to their own box on defense. Successful box-to-box midfielders are hardworking, have great stamina and are physical. In 90 minutes, the box-to-box midfielder puts the most milage per match than any other position. In the 2020 Champions League campaign, Saul and Koke,the 2 box-to-box midfielders of Diego Simione’s Atletico Madrid, are in 2 of the top 3 players for most distance covered. They averaged 12.1 km (7.5 mi) per match.
- Range of passing
- Vision to know when to push with the attack
- Defensive awareness
Carrilero / Mezzala / Shuttler
The carrilero or shuttler operates in the center of the pitch but is responsible for the lateral (sideways) axis of the pitch. The carrilero supports the outside wingers or full-backs by helping apply pressure on defense, and as a first passion option for the wide players on offense. This role is usually utilized in a 4-3-3 formation as the outside center midfield players.
- Physical and preferably pacy
- Range of passing
Yaya Toure playing for Qingdao Huanghai in the China Super League.
Regista / Playmaker
The regista’s 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.
Santi Cazorla playing for Villarreal CF in the Spanish La Liga.