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Why is the defensive midfielder so underrated in football

by Sangam Adhikari

The defensive midfielder, also known as a central defensive midfielder, has a very important role in the team’s build-up play and often in defending. Many great footballers have played in the position, such as Busquets, Pirlo and Lothar Matthias. Their roles vary, from a deep-lying playmaker to destroyer. Many managers have also given them importance, such as Pep Guardiola, who said that if you see Busquets, you see the whole game.

Central Defensive Midfielders are often underrated because if we see, most fans do not watch the whole game, but the highlights. The build-up of an attack is often not seen, nor how little but threatening chances are blocked by a defensive midfielder. The tactical side of the game is also very much dependent on them. This area is also not quite seen by the viewers. These reasons do show how fans do not respect and praise the defensive midfielder.

Why is this role so challenging?

  • Ball-skills: The defensive midfielder has to be extremely skilful with the ball to make decisions quickly. You have to see what’re your viable passing options in the fraction of a second.
  • Game-reading: A CDM has to read the game all the time. As Xavi says, in Football, if you’re taking the second touch, then you’re wasting time. Players only do it if they have to make space and they don’t have passing options left. CDM’s often has less time to make those decisions since opponent forwards put pressure usually. One mistake from a CDM or a CB, then boom, a goal for opponents. CDM role is challenging.
  • Individual take-on’s: We often see these stats for midfielders. CDM has to battle individual players during on and off the possession. “CDM is the first defender of your team” – Johan Cruyff.
  • Speed of play: Once again, speed of play is the most important attribute of any Football player and especially a defensive midfielder. By speed, we talk about the actual speed of the player and speed in decision making. World’s best-renowned midfielders like Xavi, Busquets lack physical agility. But they cover it up with other things like their decision making and be at the right places at the right time. As a CDM, Busquets has to make his transitions very quickly. He will be even more devastating if he has the speed of Kante. A CDM must possess a good speed of play.
  • Regista’ing: Sometimes a CDM has to act as a holding midfielder. As soon as they get the possession as we discussed above, their role is a good ball distribution. A Regista like Pjanic or Jorginho may or may not be good defensively but a defensive midfielder has to be a good Regista.

What are the roles of the Central Defensive Midfielder?

Starting Attacks:

Defensive Midfielders are great at starting attacks. If you watch Busquets, Rodri and other great CDMs, they start attacking by playing the ball that breaks through the midfield. This gives the attacking midfielders and other creative minds more space to play in which is why teams can struggle without a good defensive midfielder.

Stopping Attacks:

Stopping attacks is arguably just as important as starting attacks. Intercepting balls and making key tackles is critical to prevent goals from being scored. This protects the defence from being put into dangerous situations. In my opinion, the best defensive midfielder at this aspect of the game is Casemiro. Nobody ever gets past him and if he is about to get beat, he will bring the attacker down without getting a card.

Maintaining Possession:

The defensive midfielder is critical for maintaining possession as they typically are stationed in the middle of the park but a bit lower than the central midfielders. This means that they can recycle the ball back to the centre backs and shift the ball side to side in the build-up play.

As you can see, the defensive midfielder is needed for a lot of aspects of the game yet none of these aspects is the ones most viewers pay attention too. CDMs are typically not the players that are scoring goals, making last-ditch tackles or assisting the goals, they are the players that make a team tick.

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