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The midfield: brain, heart and lungs of a modern team

The midfield: brain, heart and lungs of a modern team

How to create a modern midfield: Features of individuals and collective tasks combine for a proactive, concrete play
In this article we’re going to analyse the midfield group that in the 4-3-3 formation (includes the playmaker and two midfielders) answering a few questions and examining individual features and tactical tasks in the two phases of play.
  1. Which is the role of the midfield in modern football?

In modern football the midfield must grant balance to the team in both phases:

ATTACKING PHASE: The midfield will always ensure a diagonal/back support attacking in depth with right timing of incisive runs, interacting with the teammates of the attacking group. When an action ends with a cross the two midfielders of the 3 the attacking midfielders (CI) designed to take the eventual second ball (clearence of the goalkeeper or a defender).
Fig. 1: Position of the CIs with a cross of the DE (outside defender) – The two CIs are ready in case the ball is cleared outside the area. The right CI acts also as passer in case an opponent intercepts the cross
Fig:2: In case of overlap by CI, DE will act as a back support and position outside the penalty area in case the ball is cleared by the opposition defenders
DEFENDING PHASE: Beside working on direct tackles, the midfield group is assigned to intercept the penetrative passes for the opposition strikers. Of utmost importance is the midfielders’ work concerning doubling the man marking . CIs double and give cover with an external ball following the rule prescribing that the second player arriving on the ball has the task of stealing it, while the first player has to focus on staying between the goal and the opponent in order not to be beaten. 

EXERCISE 1: on midfielders’ interception

  • The whites cannot cross the yellow line but will have the right position of their bodies for the opponent’s outside pressure (not flat footed)
  • The reds keep possession on two mandatory touches
  • Every time they manage to pass the ball to the three reds positioned on the other side as in the figure above (Fig.3) they win a point.
  • The passes between two reds, i.e., not across, is worth no points
  • The midfielders can adopt a “L” defence with a side ball (Fig.4)  


Fig.3: A useful exercise for interception by midfielders


Fig.4: Triangle defence with ball center field
  1. What technical, tactical, physical and psychological attributes should a playmaker have?

The central midfielder has a good passing technique using both the internal and the instep, a good technique in shooting from distance, preferably combined with good aereal play ability.

Tactically the playmaker has good vision and intelligence in proposing a short or long play. They properly interprets the need to slow down or speed up the play. They are always ready to support their teammates, also able to anticipate and quickly select the most effective solution to adopted. They are skilful in reading and anticipating the trajectories of the opponents’ passes to intercept and restart the attacking phase.They have the temperament of a leader that their teammates trust, given the danger of an eventual loss of possessionl in the zone facing the defenders.

  1. What technical, tactical, physical and psychological attributes should a (internal/attacking or box to box) midfielder have?

The midfielder has good aerobic resistance in order to help defenders when not in possession and support strikers in the attacking phases.

Technically they have good ball carrying ability and are skilful in 1 vs 1 in both phases, in shooting at goal from distance and close in, execute crosses and skilful in heading in both phases. Physically good muscular endurance and a great change of pace to perform penetrative runs or to make crosses. They are a creative, proactive player willing to sacrifice.

  1. What key situations in the attacking phase should the midfield group resolve?

In the attacking phase an organized midfield can occupy all the zones of the field with a sense of order.

The rule for CIs is:

  • If a striker goes to cross the CI attacks the space entering the penalty area
  • If the sideline action has developed with our DE crossing, the CIs must be cover defence and, therefore, they will position outside the penalty area.
  1. What key situations in the defensive phase should the midfield group resolve?
In the defensive phase the midfield group is well coordinated in their movements and, most important, understands which distances must be adopted in the different zones. A compact midfield is able to recover a lot of balls and, at the same time, to make trouble for the opponents with a quick positive transition. The work on interception is very important in this zone of the field.
EXERCISE 2: An exercise for defence
  • Attacking and aggressive pressing.
  • Ball to the goalkeeper passing to one of the 2 CD (1)
  • AC attacks the central defender receiving the ball and forced to pass to the other DC (2)
  • The opposite CI attacks the other DC. The CI attacking the left DC starts (as shown in the figure 5) half turned and pretending they are pulling up their socks or tying his shoes
  • The CC dictates timings for the CI and replaces him
  • The other CI gets close to the opposite CC while the left AE gets close to the opposite CI
  • The exercise is repeated on the left and right, it always begins from the goalkeeper
  • The whites play to regain the ball
  • The reds have to cross the half field line to get one point
Fig. 5: an example of defending exercise
EXERCISE 3: An example of attacking exercise
  1. Ball to the CC opening
  2. for the AE cutting to the centre
  3. The CI attacks the space and receives from the AC
  4. The CC replaces the CI who made the penetrative run



  • The AE receiving the ball, passes to the AC assisting the CI inserting (4) (Fig. 6)


Fig. 6:  Exercise 3 variant



carolinamorace's picture
Carolina Morace is an Italian ex soccer player, coach, lawyer, and commentator.
She debuted with the Italian National team in 1978 in the match against Yugoslavia; since then, she played 153 times and scored 105 goals, becoming the best goal-scorer in the Italian National team history, brushing with victory in European Championships in 1993 and 1997 (finalist both times).
As much as 19 years after her first match in the National team, she retired in 1997. During her career she won 12 championships, 2 Italian National Cups and 1 “Supercoppa”( ( winner Serie A vs winner Italian cup) in addition to being 12 times the best goal-scorer of Serie A. These great deals make her the best Italian soccer player of all times. In 1998, after she retired definitively from the playing field, she undertook the coaching career, training the Women’s Division of Lazio Sport Club. In July 1999 she was elected as Viterbese’s coach (Serie C1 at that time with Luciano Gaucci as President), becoming the first woman to train a professional men’s soccer team.
From 2000 to 2005 she has been coach of the Italian National Women’s team. After she had trained the Members of Parliament National team, in February 2009 she was elected as coach of Canada’s National Women’s team, with which she won the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup in 2010, achieving the qualification for 2011 World Championship. In two years, with her purely Italian staff, she increased the Canadian National team ranking, from the 11th to 6th position.
Since 1992, the year in which she hosted “Galagoal” show on Telemontecarlo channel, she has worked as commentator for several soccer broadcasts: besides Galagoal, she took part in “Campioni, il sogno” on Italia 1 channel in 2005 (commenting on Cervia’s matches), “il gol sopra Berlino” and “Le partite non finiscono mai” on La7 channel in 2006 and 2007, and Rai broadcasting during the European Championship in 2008.
In 2014 she was the first woman to get into the Italian soccer Hall of Fame.
She worked at the university in Roma conducting courses about soccer technique, she’s commentator for the National newspaper “La Gazzetta dello sport” and since 2012 she’s a member of the National sports observatory.
Since 2001 she’s FIFA ambassador for women’s soccer and FIFA instructor with the task of teaching soccer in developing countries such as  Jamaica; China; South Korea; South Africa, Mauritius, Iran

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