8 Vital Soccer Positions Explained (Complete Guide)

soccer position midfielders

Soccer positions are essential to understanding the beautiful game, and they shape the strategies and outcomes of matches.

Soccer is a sport loved by millions worldwide, and its positions are crucial for both players, coaches and fans to understand.

Every position on the field has a unique role, contributing to the team’s overall success.

The Basics of Soccer Positions

Before diving into specific soccer positions, let’s cover some basics.

Soccer, also known as football outside North America, is played between two teams of eleven players each.

The objective is simple: score more goals than the opponent.

Each team aims to advance the ball into the opposing team’s goal.

Players are organized by the coach into specific positions depending on the formation they have chosen to play in. Coaches will not usually publicize the formation and positions which the team has setup as this helps deceive the opposing team and can possibly gain an advantage.

Players can change positions during a game. This is done depending on the needs of the team for example, a team defending a lead could move a forward player back into midfield.

Or if a team is losing and needs a goal in the last few minutes, a defender could be told to play as a forward in a bid to score.

How Many Players on a Soccer Team on the Field?

Depending on the formation that a team is using, certain positions may or may not be used.

Youth soccer in most countries is played with smaller teams and smaller pitches to help player development. The youngest age groups usually start at 5 players per team, through to 7, 9 and eventually 11.


The goalkeeper, often simply called the “keeper,” is the last line of defense. Every team must have a goalkeeper no matter which formation they are playing in.

This player guards the goal and is the only one allowed to use hands within the penalty area.

A good goalkeeper has excellent reflexes, strong communication skills, and the ability to read the game.

Examples of top goalkeepers include legends like Gianluigi Buffon and Manuel Neuer.

Center Back

Center backs are the backbone of the defense. Teams usually have two or three center backs depending on the formation they are using.

Their primary job is to stop opposing attackers from scoring.

They must be strong, good in the air, and have a solid understanding of positioning.

Think of players like Virgil van Dijk and Sergio Ramos, who excel in this role.

center back soccer position in 442


The sweeper, or “libero,” is a more flexible defensive role. The Sweeper position was used extensively in Europe during the 1960s and 70s. However, it’s a position used less frequently in modern football for a number of reasons.

This player operates behind the center backs and is responsible for cleaning up any defensive lapses.

The sweeper needs to be quick, intelligent, and good at reading the game.

Franz Beckenbauer is a classic example of an outstanding sweeper.

Changes to the offside rule mean forward players often drop deeper in modern football thus making the sweeper position less effective.

Although the Sweeper position in soccer has declined in popularity, the term ‘Sweeper Keeper’ is a relatively new phenomenon and refers to the more advanced position of some modern goalkeepers who act almost as an additional defender at times.

Alison and Ederson are examples of ‘Sweeper Keepers’ that are great with their feet and are quick off their line to mop up balls missed by the defenders in front of them.

sweeper soccer position in 532

Full Back

Full backs play on the flanks of the defense. They are usually used in the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formations where four defenders make up the flat back four. Two center backs are positioned in the middle of defense and a left full back and right full back are on either side.

They must balance their defensive duties with supporting the attack.

Speed, stamina, and the ability to deliver crosses are essential traits.

Modern full backs like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordi Alba embody this role perfectly.

full back soccer position 442

Wing Back

Wing backs are a more attacking variant of full backs. They are used in variations of the 5-3-2 formation. The five player defense is made up of three center backs and the two wing backs on either side are able to advance forward more due the additional defender.

They operate higher up the pitch and contribute significantly to the offensive play.

Wing backs need to have exceptional fitness levels, as they are required to cover a lot of ground.

Players like Dani Alves and Andrew Robertson are prime examples.

Defensive Central Midfielder

The defensive central midfielder, also known as the “holding midfielder,” is crucial for breaking up opposition attacks.

This player shields the defense and distributes the ball to more attacking players.

Claude Makélélé and Sergio Busquets are renowned for their mastery of this position.

Attacking Midfielder

Attacking midfielders are the creative hubs of the team.

They are responsible for crafting scoring opportunities and often chip in with goals themselves.

Vision, dribbling, and passing are key skills for this role.

Great attacking midfielders include Kevin De Bruyne and Zinedine Zidane.

midfielder soccer position in 4231


Wingers are stationed on the flanks and provide width to the attack.

They use their pace and dribbling ability to take on defenders and deliver crosses.

Wingers also often cut inside to shoot at goal.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Arjen Robben are iconic wingers known for their flair and effectiveness.


Forwards, or strikers, are the primary goal scorers.

Their main job is to finish attacking moves and score goals.

Forwards need to be clinical, have excellent positioning, and a good sense of timing.

Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski are exemplary forwards who have dominated this position.

Popular Soccer Formations

Soccer formations are tactical setups that dictate how players are positioned on the field.

Different formations suit different styles of play and strategies.

Here are some of the most popular formations for 11 aside games:

4-4-2 Formation

The 4-4-2 formation is one of the most traditional and widely used setups in soccer.

It consists of four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards.

This formation provides a good balance between defense and attack, making it versatile and effective.

Teams using 4-4-2 rely on strong wing play and solid defensive organization.

5-3-2 Formation

The 5-3-2 formation is more defensive, featuring five defenders, three midfielders, and two forwards.

The additional defender allows for greater protection against opposition attacks.

Wing backs in this formation have a crucial role, needing to support both defense and attack.

This formation is often used by teams looking to absorb pressure and hit opponents on the counter-attack.

4-3-3 Formation

The 4-3-3 formation is highly attacking, with four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards.

This setup aims to dominate possession and create numerous scoring opportunities.

The front three forwards are key, often consisting of two wingers and a central striker.

Teams like Barcelona have famously used the 4-3-3 to great success, emphasizing quick passing and movement.

4-2-3-1 Formation

The 4-2-3-1 formation is a modern and flexible setup.

It features four defenders, two defensive midfielders, three attacking midfielders, and one forward.

This formation provides a strong defensive base while allowing for fluid attacking play.

The attacking midfielders have the freedom to roam and create chances, making this formation dynamic and unpredictable.


Understanding soccer positions is fundamental for appreciating the game.

Each position has unique responsibilities and requires specific skills.

Whether it’s the goalkeeper making crucial saves or the forward scoring goals, every player contributes to the team’s success.

By recognizing the roles and formations, fans and players alike can gain a deeper understanding of the sport and its intricacies.


How many players on a soccer field?

There are twenty two players on a soccer field at the beginning of a game (eleven players per team). This number could be reduced if a player is sent off by the referee.

What is the hardest position in soccer?

A midfielder probably has the hardest position in soccer due to the fact they have to attack and defend whereas other positions tend to focus on only one or the other. Midfielders need to have excellent stamina, passing and be aware of attacking threats from the other team.

What position in soccer should I play?

Each position in soccer requires certain physical attributes and the position that you should play will depend on the attributes you have. For example wingers need to be quick, defenders tend to be bigger and stronger and goalkeepers require agility and quick reflexes.

What position is CAM in soccer?

CAM stands for Central Attacking Midfielder.

What does the forward do in Soccer?

In soccer a forward is responsible for scoring and creating goals. A forward links up play between midfielders and wingers by making runs in between defenders and holding up the ball for other players.

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