Soccer Positions Explained: The Complete Guide 2024
There are eleven players on a soccer field, but over hundreds of ways to play the positions.
You might see someone defending in one play, and the next that same player is scoring…
How could that be? What is his position? Why is he all over the place?
If every player ran after the soccer ball during the game, then it would be chaotic…
In this guide to soccer positions, we’ll explore each position carefully, and even see how these positions come together to form a formation and create order to form the beautiful game.
The Soccer Positions
The first position is the defender. They make the defensive line, which is the last line (or first, depending on your point of view) before the goalkeeper.
The defenders are usually 3, 4, or 5 players, depending on the formation (which will be covered later). Since they protect the goal against threats, both the center backs and the fullbacks need to be aggressive.
Center-Back (4 and 5)
As the name says, the center backs are the two (sometimes three) players that stand at the core of the defense.
Also called central defenders, they are usually the tall (not always) players standing as the last line of defense.
With the goalkeeper, the center-backs are the players who see the field the best (because everything is happening in front of them).
Because of this, they not only defend but also help start the team’s attacks. Central defenders must:
- Defend the goal from opposing shots, chances and runs
- Control the offside line
- Oversee the field and shout instructions to the players in the front
- Help launch attacks
Before the offside rule was created, there was a third center back called a sweeper or libero who would sit behind the two other center backs. His main job was to tackle and clear the balls that the two other center backs couldn’t clear. This position did not stand the test of time due to the introduction of the offside rule.
Wingbacks/Fullbacks (2 and 3)
The wingbacks, or fullbacks, are the lateral defensive players that cover the flanks of the defensive line.
You see the payers that keep running up and down the wing? That’s usually a fullback…
Without the ball, they can tighten the defense. With the ball, they can go up to cross the ball and participate in attacks.
Fullbacks are one of the fittest players on the field due to the constant up-and-down running.
Because they play so close to the line, they are usually the players who take the throw-ins. Their role consists of:
- Help to defend the goal
- Attack through the flanks
- Support the wingers
- Cross the ball
Now we will explore the players who make the midfield, the most important area of the field.
Many roles and profiles could be played in the middle, but one thing stays the same: Mistakes are costly in that area, that’s why midfielders are always the most technical players with reliable first touch, ball control, dribbling, and passing.
Defensive Midfielder (6)
The central defensive midfielder, or the 6, is the deepest sitting midfielder. He usually provides defensive cover for the central defenders and helps launch attacks.
Because the CDM is in the center of the field, the expectations on him are to have great ball control, pass the ball accurately, intercept dangerous passes, mark and defend 1v1’s, and help center backs deal with strikers.
Sitting right in front of the center backs, they cannot afford to make mistakes…after all, losing the ball results in a dangerous chance in that area.
They usually don’t participate in attacks, and most of their goals come from long shots.
Their main objectives are:
- Cover the central defenders
- Help to get the ball up the field
- Intercept dangerous passes
- Help start attacks and support them
There is usually 1 defensive midfielder per team, but some formations require two…
When a team uses two defensive midfielders, it’s called a double pivot. Two CDMs are better for when the team is building a play from the back, adding more security. In defense, a double pivot is great against counterattacks, when one CDM can aid in an attack, and one can stay back to defend.
Central Midfielder (8)
The central midfield, or box-to-box midfielder, is the player occupying the middle of the field.
The term “box-to-box” is because the midfielder has to cover everything from between the two goalkeeper boxes. This is why the CM needs to have the most conditioning (or stamina) out of every player on the field.
Central midfielders must be able to:
- Create and play in space
- Cover the CDMs and the central backs
- Cover spaces and mark players
- Control the speed of the ball (ie the speed of play)
They are usually the players that run the most in a single game too, as studies shown. Check out the official numbers:
Attacking Midfielder (10)
The attacking midfielder, number 10, or second striker, is a player who plays centrally between the midfielders and the striker.
Considered an attacker, the central-attacking midfielder (CAM) often creates scoring opportunities, feeds the striker, and sometimes even scores himself.
They are, most of the time, the most creative players on the team.
The CAM often:
- Create space
- Feed the forwards
- Help get the ball up
- Scores or assist goals
You might see sometimes players referred to as left or right midfielders. This role is the same as a winger, with the main focus on staying central. Usually, when there are right or left midfielders, this means someone else might occupy the flanks (either the wingers or the fullbacks).
Now, let’s explore the attackers. They are, without a doubt, the most popular players on the team and, together with the attacking midfield, create and score most of the goals.
Wingers (7 and 10)
The two wingers, left-winger and right-winger, are the attacking players creating threats from the flanks.
They are usually one of the most technical players, and their speed, dribbling ability, and attacking prowess help the team score goals.
Most of the time, the winger cuts inside and finishes with a curved shot.
They play right in front of the wingbacks/fullbacks, usually at the same line as the striker. In defense, they are supposed to track back and help cover the midfielders and wingbacks.
The wingers must:
- Make runs in space (fast ones)
- Win 1v1s against defenses
- Pass inside to the striker
In modern soccer, there is a new role born within the wingers: The role of attacking the half-space. The half-space is the space between the flanks and the center (usually sitting between the center-back and the fullback). Most wingers today attack that space, and this is where all their magic happens. Players thriving in that space are Mohammed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, and Bukayo Saka.
The striker, center-forward, or number 9, the goal-scoring machine of a team. Strikers are usually the highest players on the team, playing centrally in front of the central attacking midfielder.
Most of the time, the team creates chances, and the striker does the shooting and the celebrating.
Their role is simple:
- Put the ball in the net
- Create danger to the opposing team’s defense
You might have heard about the False 9 role, which was popularized by Pep Guardiola (through Lionel Messi). The false 9 is a ”striker” that drops back and aids in the buildup play…hence the ”false” name, unlike traditional strikers who stay high. Notable false nines include Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, and Roberto Firmino.
The goalkeeper is, as the name suggests, the player guarding the goal.
They are the only players who can touch the ball with their hand, under certain conditions of course. There are usually 2 to 3 goalkeepers per team, but only one can play in a game.
They are usually tall, have a strong build, and have great reflexes to stop the ball. Recent soccer play styles encourage goalies to have great technique and ball-playing abilities as they are starting to help launch attacks.
A goalkeeper must:
- Have great reflexes to stop shots
- Have a great hand to throw the ball back into play
- Be able to punt (long pass)
- Have a great technique to help defenders
The different types of goalkeepers
Although there is only one goalkeeper in a game per team, their playing styles can vary.
There are many different goalkeepers in the world, all played differently. However, they can be classified into 3 roles: Sweeper Keeper, Shot-Stopper, or the Hybrid.
The sweeper-keeper is the goalkeeper who is not afraid of leaving his line (and even his box). He is known for getting up and defending higher than usual.
The name sweeper refers to the fact that they clear every through ball that gets placed behind the defense. They replace the libero mentioned earlier.
A sweeper-keeper is a valuable asset when played well. Because he gets up frequently, he is always at risk of missing the tackle and giving the opponent an empty-net chance.
That’s why sweeper keepers never hesitate and are a bit crazy sometimes (the good kind).
The sweeper keeper is the goalkeeper whose strength lies in their speed, defensive intuitions, and ball playing, rather than their shot-stopping abilities.
The shot-stopper is the traditional keeper: he stays on his line, and he is exceptional at defending the gal from shots.
They rarely leave their line, and they make stop more shots with their hands than with tackling (unlike the sweeper).
The shot-stopper role is for those goalkeepers who prefer the art of traditional goalkeeping, which diving, having firm hands, and doing acrobatic stunts to keep that ball out!
In recent days, as the sports evolves, expectations on goalkeepers are to be both good with their feet, as well as being able to stop shots on their lines.
The hybrid goalkeepers are a mix of sweeper-keepers and shot-stoppers. If a goalkeeper can play both styles, then they can become a powerful asset for the team.
More details about goalkeepers can be found here
What is a formation?
A soccer formation refers to the arrangement of players on the field, indicating their positions and roles during a match.
It’s represented numerically, such as 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, where the first number signifies the number of defenders, the second represents midfielders, and the third is the forwards.
Coaches choose formations based on team strategy, and consider factors like defensive strength, midfield control, and attacking prowess…ie what kind of players they have, and who they are playing against.
Formations can be adjusted throughout a game to adapt to different situations and opponents.
A formation is only a base for players and the team to set itself up. During the course of the game, many players move around the formation loses its shape. This is normal in soccer. Remember this, however: The more you can see the shape of the formation, the better the team is playing.
Different types of formations
There are many formations that coaches use. Here are the most popular:
I often see the soccer field as an orchestra, where the formation places the players, the coach lays out the machine, and the players bring it to life by simply playing.
When played well, soccer could be beautiful to watch, and even play when you are part of a healthy team that’s on the same page.
If you are choosing a position to play or are simply curious to know the basics of the game, soccer is a sport rich in strategies, and those who say that the game is boring simply do not get it!
What is each position in soccer?
The main positions in soccer include strikers, winger, attacking midfielder, central defender, central midfielder, defensive midfielder, and goalkeeper.
What is a 9 position in soccer?
A striker in a soccer team is an offensive player whose main role is to score goals and create scoring opportunities for the team.
What is the main job of a winger in soccer?
The main job of a winger in soccer is to play on the sides of the field, control the ball, and make offensive plays by crossing the ball into the opponent’s goal area.
What is the role of an attacking midfielder in soccer?
An attacking midfielder in soccer is responsible for creating scoring opportunities for the team, reading the game, and making offensive plays in the opponent’s half of the field.
What is the position of a sweeper in soccer?
A sweeper in soccer is a defensive player positioned in front of the center-backs, whose main role is to prevent the opposing team from scoring.
What are the specific duties of a central defender in soccer?
The specific duties of a central defender in soccer include controlling the ball, making defensive plays, and preventing the opponent’s team from scoring goals.
How many basic positions are there in soccer?
A soccer team has 11 players, including a goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and forwards.
What are the different types of midfield positions in soccer?
The different types of midfield positions in soccer include central midfielder and defensive midfielder, both of which have specific roles in controlling the game and supporting both offensive and defensive plays.
Are soccer players allowed to use their hands during the game?
In soccer, outfield players are not allowed to use their hands to touch the ball during the game, except for the goalkeeper who is allowed to use their hands within the penalty area.
What is the typical formation used in soccer?
The 4-3-3 formation is popular in soccer, which includes four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards with specific positions and roles on the field.
What are soccer defenders called?
The defenders at the core of the line are center backs (or central defenders), while those on the flanks are called wingbacks or fullbacks.