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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.

How Many Players Are in a Soccer Team?

How Many Players Are in a Soccer Team?

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. 

How Many Substitutes Are in a Soccer Team?

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.

How Many Substitutions Are Allowed in Soccer?

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 11 Soccer Positions

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.

Goalkeepers (GK)

  • Goal: To avoid receiving goals
  • Skills: Shot-stopping, catching opposition’s crosses, building play from the back
  • Importance: They prevent the opposition from scoring.
  • Player examples: Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Courtois.

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.


Right Fullback (RB)

  • Goal: To defend the right flank of the field
  • Skills: Speed, defense, helping the team in offense, crosses
  • Importance: They prevent wingers from creating danger, helping center-backs and midfielders.
  • Player examples: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dani Alves.

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 Fullback (LB)

  • Goal: To protect the left flank of the field
  • Skills: Speed, defense, helping in offense, crosses
  • Importance: They prevent wingers from creating danger, help center-backs and midfielders both in defense and offense.
  • Player examples: Alphonso Davies, Andrew Robertson, Marcelo.

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.

Center Back (CB)

  • Goal: To prevent opponents (especially strikers) from creating danger
  • Skills: Defense, strength, heading, tackling
  • Importance: They prevent attackers from getting close to the goal.
  • Player examples: Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos.

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.

Sweeper (SW)

  • Goal: To cover the gaps left by stoppers
  • Skills: Speed, reading the game, defending
  • Importance: They work as safety net for primary center backs; they also connect goalkeepers with the rest of the team, start the build-up and read the game from behind.
  • Player examples: Fikayo Tomori, Leonardo Bonucci.

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.

Defending/Holding Midfielder (CDM)

  • Goal: To recover the ball in the middle of the park
  • Skills: Marking, tackling, reading the game, speed
  • Importance: They shut down potentially dangerous situations, help the team recover possession and prevent opponents from getting close to the box.
  • Player examples: N’Golo Kante, Casemiro, Fabinho. 

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.

Right Midfielder/Winger (RM/RW)

  • Goal: To create danger from the right flank, close to the touchline, and contribute both in offense and defense.
  • Skills: Speed, crosses, shots
  • Importance: They’re key at the time of attack, and also can help the right-backs in defense and provide width.
  • Player examples: Christian Pulisic, Mohamed Salah, Serge Gnabry.

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.

Central/Box-to-Box Midfielder (CM)

  • Goal: To engage both in offense and defense from the middle of the park
  • Skills: Speed, pass, ball control, tackling, marking, shots
  • Importance: They are equally useful in attack and defense.
  • Player examples: Paul Pogba, Ilkay Gundogan, Federico Valverde

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 Midfielder/Playmaker (CAM)

  • Goal: To create scoring opportunities
  • Skills: Ball control, dribbling, decision making, passing, reading the game, shooting, assisting
  • Importance: They put the team on their backs by taking responsibility for creating chances.
  • Player examples: Lionel Messi, Neymar, Kevin De Bruyne

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.

Left Midfielder/Wingers (LM/LW)

  • Goal: To cover the left wing, contribute in offense and help the left-back
  • Skills: Speed, crosses, shooting
  • Importance: They allow teams to play wide open and attack from the left side, and provide extra protection at left-back. 
  • Player examples: Son Heung-min, Angel Di Maria, Luis Diaz. 

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".


Striker (ST/CF)

  • Goal: To score goals
  • Skills: Finishing, headers, strength
  • Importance: Their main job is to find the net and help the team lead the score.
  • Player examples: Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski, Erling Haaland

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.

Second Striker (SS)

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.

False Nine

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.

Soccer Formations

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.

Every Single Position In Soccer

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. 

How To Play Defender?

  • SW: Sweeper
    CB: Center back / Right center back (RCB) / Left center back (LCB)
  • FB: Full back / Right full back (RB) / Left full back (LB)
  • WB: Wing back / Right wing back (RWB) / Left wing back (LWB)

How To Play Midfielder?

  • DM: Defensive midfielder / Right defensive midfielder (RDM) / Left defensive midfielder (LDM)
  • CM: Central midfielder / Right central midfielder (RCM) / Left central midfielder (LCM)
  • WM: Wing midfielder - Right midfielder (RM) / Left midfielder (LM)
  • AM: Attacking midfielder / Central attacking midfielder (CAM) / Right attacking midfielder (RAM) / Left attacking midfielder (LAM)
  • WF: Wing forward - Right wing forward (RW) / Left wing forward (LW)

How To Play Striker?

  • SS: Second Striker
  • ST/CF: Striker or Center Forward - Right Striker (RS) / Left Striker (LS)

Most Common Formations in Soccer

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.

  • 4-4-2: This system is the most common in soccer as it can easily allow teams to switch from a defensive mindset to an offensive one. Depending on the manager, it could be used to attack or to protect the own box.

Offensive Formations

  • 4-3-3: It is used by offensive-minded coaches who want to play wide and get close to the opponent’s penalty area. 
  • 4-3-1-2: This classic formation employs a playmaker or attacking midfielder behind two forwards. Teams that use it usually aim to control possession.
  • 3-4-3: This formation takes risks by defending with only three men, who are positioned high to leave the opponents in offside. The wing-backs (LWB/RWB) that play on the flanks, however, can operate both in defense and attack: they play as wide midfielders but also can drop back, forming a five-man defense when needed.

Defensive Formations

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.

  • 4-5-1: By putting five players in the middle of the park, the defense has extra protection and it becomes harder for opponents to get close to the goal. Still, it could also be an offensive system if the team tries to play in the opposition’s half.
  • 5-4-1: With five defensive players at the back plus four midfielders, teams aim to avoid suffering potentially dangerous situations.
  • 5-3-2: This not only allows teams to put a lot of men close to their own goal but also gives them the opportunity to counter-attack with the two men up front.
  • 6-3-1: Employing six defenders is not usual, but it can happen if the team wants to protect its goal at all costs.


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Written by
editorial team 💻
Daniel Benchimol
Co-Founder & CEO
Jee Lee
Creative Director
Kelvin Loyola
Editor Blog
Daniela Bardales
UX - UI Designer
Martin O' Donnell
Editor Blog
Bianca Schinca
Blog Designer

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It is made for the sports fan simply looking to discover the most crucial moments of their favorite sport.
learn more