Played by millions of people in every corner of the planet, soccer is one of, if not the most popular sport on Earth. Though it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone has an idea of how the game works, not everyone can say they understand exactly how.
Some people may wonder which are the different positions of soccer players and how many formations coaches may use. Let’s start by explaining how a typical soccer game is played.
The answer is simple. In soccer, each team fields 11 players, creating an 11 vs. 11 matchup. In addition to those who start the game, teams also have substitutes who can take over.
Therefore, there are a total of 22 soccer players on the field—that never changes. However, teams have the possibility to make substitutions throughout the course of the match.
The number of players who sit on the bench can change depending on the competition. In most cases, teams have seven substitutes. Meanwhile, there are certain tournaments that allow a larger bench as a result of the Covid-19 impact.
The number of substitutions allowed depends on the league and confederation, but in general, teams can make three changes per game.
However, many leagues expanded the substitutions to five as a result of the Covid-19 effects. Some competitions went back to three substitutions, while others continued with five—but only allowed three windows to make them so that games aren’t delayed.
One of the biggest changes in recent years was the addition of a fourth substitution when a game goes to extra time.
The four main positions in soccer are: goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and forwards. The importance of these positions has to do with the different roles that players who take the field have to assume: the goalie saves shots, defenders protect their own team’s box, midfielders connect defense and attack, while forwards have to score. Let’s take a look at how to play in each position.
The goalkeeper defends the goal from the other team’s offensive players. Also known as the keeper or goalie, this is the only player allowed to use their hands and arms to block shots and pick up the ball while the game is in play. Goalies also use a different uniform than the rest of their teammates. They have a lot of responsibility as the last line of defense.
Goalkeepers are only allowed to touch the ball with their hands as long as they’re inside their own box. There is one exception to this rule: they cannot handle the ball if they receive a pass from a teammate, unless it’s a header or a deflected shot from the opposition (but outfield players are forbidden from deliberately using a trick to make a “legal” pass to their keepers.) When they break this rule, an indirect free kick is given to the opposing team.
Fullbacks defend the sides of the field at the back and focus on blocking the opposing team’s wingers, in the case of right-backs they mark right midfielders. They usually play wide, but they can also protect the center when needed (for instance, when there’s a gap in that area).
The right-back, however, can also be a key contributor in offense. They can join the attack by being an option close to the touchline, helping the team play wide and to force the opposing players to drop back. They are usually right-footed because of the side they play in. The throw-ins on their side are frequently in charge of them.
Left fullbacks play a similar role than that of the right-backs but on the other flank of the pitch, also close to their sideline. They are responsible for preventing wingers and other opponents from producing danger but they can also play a pivotal role in offense.
Of course, most of them are left-footed but that’s not always the case. While it’s strange to see a right-back whose preferred foot is the left, it’s more common for a right-footed fullback to play on the left side. They are usually in charge of making the throw-ins on the left side.
It’s the primary defense position that covers the center of the field in front of the goal. The number of center backs, however, changes depending on the system. Some managers opt to use two, but others may choose to play with three of them in a three or five-man defense. For instance, a 4-4-2 formation will have two center backs, while a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 will have three.
Center backs are the most responsible for helping the goalkeeper in protecting their own goal. They are often strong to win the physical battle against the opposition’s strikers and also tall to have the upper hand in the aerial balls. Their height matters in both areas of the field, as they can clear crosses in defense as well as attempt headers in the other box when their side is awarded a corner or a free kick.
Back in the day, sweeper defenders were frequently used. However, this position isn’t as common nowadays. When used, this player positions themselves between the goalie and the main defensive line.
The game has changed throughout the years, and the role of the sweeper has become harder to distinguish from that of the stopper. Modern center backs often have to do both roles, but the job of the sweeper is more clear when a team plays with three center backs. The one in the middle usually drops back and pays attention to any potential gap left by those who are at his sides.
A midfielder, also known as a halfback, runs up and down the middle of the field between the defenders and forwards, connecting the team from the back to the front. They are responsible for keeping the ball outside of their box.
Holding midfielders are stationed in the center of the field, between the defenders and offensive midfielders or attackers. They play a pivotal role at the time of defending, as they are responsible for recovering the ball before the opposition gets close to the box.
Defensive midfielders usually read the game from deep, and track the ball as well as the moves from the opponents to anticipate any potential pass or run. They also have to cover the gaps left by the fullbacks when they join the attack, either by taking their place or by positioning between the central defenders.
The right midfielder or winger is stationed in a wide position near the right touchline. There’s a little difference between these two titles, though. While the right midfielder is focused on being between the defense and offense, the winger is usually closer to the attackers or even joins them.
The right midfielder often performs on the right flank of the midfield in a 4-4-2 formation, in front of the right-back. When using a 4-3-3 formation, the three men in the middle of the park are usually central midfielders while the wingers are next to the striker up front.
Either way, playing on the right side of the field always requires speed, an ability to make good crosses, and also contribution to the right-backs.
Often considered the most hardworking role, center midfielders have to be ready for action and can play both defensively and offensively, depending on where the ball is. Box-to-box midfielders are capable of carrying the ball and attempting shots at the opponent’s goal, while they also help at the time of recovering possession.
Finding multi-functional players is always a difficult task for any manager, which is why this kind of footballer is usually very well considered.
Attacking midfielders or playmakers often take control of offensive plays and support the attack. They play between the central midfielders and behind the forwards, as their primary task is to leave the strikers in scoring positions by creating chances.
They usually put the team on their backs, carrying the ball towards the opponent’s box while reading which teammates are in a better position to score. Playmakers usually have a lot of technique and can therefore attempt long-range shots or take charge of free kicks and corner kicks.
Just like right midfielders, left midfielders play wide but close to the left sideline. Wingers on that side of the field are more offensive-minded than the midfielders, but both are similar to each other. The wingers, however, can be classified as forwards, considering their origin as the old outside forward who played out on the "wing".
Strikers, also known as forwards, are players who are positioned nearest to the opposing team's goal. The primary responsibility of forwards is to score goals, but also to create scoring chances for other players. This is often considered the best position because they get to take all the credit whenever they score.
The typical striker is a goalscoring machine whose main job is to put the ball in the back of the net, capitalizing on the chances created by their teammates. They are usually strong, tall, and speed is not always necessary.
There are different types of forwards. Some of them can be tall and heavy but are more team players than finishers, while others might be shorter but faster.
The latter are usually used as second strikers, that means, they play close to the penalty box but their main job is not to score but to elude defenders and help the center forwards do their work. Their strengths are dribbling, speed, and providing assists.
Some coaches also opt to employ forwards as false nines, that means that instead of positioning them as strikers (No. 9) they make them drop deep to connect with the rest of the team. False nines are similar to second strikers or attacking midfielders, they are great dribblers, fast, and have the ability to create spaces with the ball.
Eleven players enter the field, but the coach decides how many are going to be used in each of the four main positions. Back in the day, it was normal to see teams use a few defenders and put several players up front, but that has changed throughout the years. Eventually, soccer managers started to field more balanced teams.
Having already looked at the 11 typical positions in a soccer game, now let’s take a look at every single position that exists in the game depending on the formation used by the head coach. While the goalkeeper position never changes, the other lines of the field have countless options.
Formations overlook the goalkeeper because they are always positioned in the same area, protecting their own goal. Instead, they start with the defense, followed by the midfield and finish with the forwards. As we mentioned before, some formations are more conservative while others take more risks.
Defensive formations are those that field many defenders and few forwards. These are usually composed by at least four defenders and could have up to six men at the back.
Be the first to find out about our upcoming launch.