A few notes on positions.

I had a realization last night, that most of you will have no idea what I’m referring to when I say things like ‘striker’ or ‘full-back’, so I thought it’d be a good idea to brief you on the different positions in a soccer game, just to help you out.

**Note, a set piece is a corner kick (when the ball is put behind the opposing goal and is taken from the corner flag), free kick (given for a foul, direct [can be shot on goal] or indirect [must touch another player before it can score a goal]), throw-in (when the ball goes out of play), or penalty kick (shot taken by one player at the penalty spot, with only the keeper in front of him, given for a foul in the penalty area).

First off, the goalkeeper. Seems pretty obvious, I suppose. The goalkeeper, also referred to as the goalie or the keeper, is one of the most important positions on the pitch and there aren’t many that are considered legendary.

Next, we have defenders. The most common types of defenders we see in the modern games are centre backs and fullbacks. The centre back is the stalwart of any team’s defense, his job is to mark the opposing strikers, clear the ball from the penalty area, and do as much as possible to stop the other team from even having a shot on goal. He rarely ventures out of his own half other than to participate in corners or free kicks (centre backs require more height than other positions, so they can be called on to get a header in off a set piece), though sometimes in the hour of need a centre back will push forward and start an attack.

The other major type of defender is the fullback. Where the centre back stays in the middle (center) of the penalty area, the fullbacks (occasionally called wingbacks, which is not particularly correct) are on each side of the penalty area. They often mark opposing wingers and midfielders when on defense, but they often start attacks by flying up the wings with the ball, freeing the midfielders to push up and spread play out a bit. Fullbacks require defensive tenacity as well as speed and ball skills to start attacks.

Now for midfielders. The basic midfielder is going to be one who spends a lot of time running up and down the field, pushing up to attack and dropping back to defend. This is especially true of your box-to-box midfielders such as Xabi Alonso or Michael Ballack (who, sadly, won’t be a the World Cup). However, the modern game has split the midfielder in half so that the box-to-box type player isn’t used nearly as often. Players like Xavi, however, have really changed this into a whole new position where they kind of however in an even smaller area than box-to-box, putting in killer passes that split defenses and provide strikers with that perfect set-up.

The closest thing to that is the winger: the winger makes runs up and down the wing in order to either cut in and shoot/pass or stay outside and cross (passing the ball, usually in the air, to a player in the penalty box to shoot) but the winger also tracks back to try and put in a tackle to begin an attack in his own half. Many times in the modern game the winger will be put on only attacking duty, which is why Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are some of the most prolific goalscorers in the world–they play on the wing but rarely come back into their own half.

The real split in midfielders in the modern game of football is that of attacking midfielders and defensive midfielders. The attacking midfielder will generally stay right behind the strikers (see below) and is generally a very creative player (meaning he has the technique and awareness to begin an attack) that knows where to be at all times. He will sometimes track back to defend, but usually only in dire situations or set pieces. Players like Steven Gerrard, Kaka, and Andres Iniesta really have this power to surge forward launch a long shot into goal or spearhead an attack with his strikers flanking him.

The defensive midfielder is the typical ‘hard’ (read: bad-ass) man that puts in the bone-crunching tackles on the strikers and attacking midfielders as soon as they even think about attacking the goal. These players also need to have very good passing ability, for they often form a kind of ‘anchor man’ role that forces them into knowing how to string the passes from the defenders to the wings or the more forward players. The perfect defensive mid should be able to tackle away the ball in his own half and then spray it downfield to spark a counter-attack. Players like Javier Mascherano and Gareth Barry are typical defensive midfielders.

Finally, there are strikers. The goalscorers. There isn’t a better way to explain them than that they score goals. However, there are different types of strikers. Since I’m keeping this basic I’ll just describe certain characteristics of a striker and how certain abilities put players into different categories. The idea of a target man is very popular with lower level squads and teams without a large amount of skill–its the concept of firing long balls to the other end of the field to this target man, a player who is both tall and strong that can bring the ball down out of the air and hopefully turn and either shoot or hold the ball up to pass it to his teammates rushing down the field. Not to say this is a bad strategy or that the best teams in the world don’t occasionally employ it, it’s just not the most beautiful of attacking methods.

The true, ideal forward is a very Romantic notion, one that asks a player to be poetic in his movement and brutal in his finishing. The best strikers in the world tend to be strong (to beat defenders for a ball, or make a tackle high up the field), fast (to race past defenders to the goal), have incredible ball control skills, have a certain creative flair (to put off the defenders and goalkeeper), and have a very intricate tactical awareness. The striker needs to be able to know when to make his run to beat the offside flag (the farthest attacker must be behind the farthest defender [not including goalkeeper]) as well as know when it’s best to hold up the ball and pass or when to run towards goal with the ball. The best strikers in the world, such as Fernando Torres (my favorite), Wayne Rooney, and Didier Drogba all possess these qualities.

There are other types of strikers- the deep-lying second striker (links the midfield with the lone striker), the poacher (waits for a loose ball to rocket in to goal), the trequartista (‘spearhead’ that is always waiting as far up the field as possible to spearhead an attack), and finally what I call the ‘Emile Heskey’ striker (one that serves to only knock down the ball for his strike partner).

This is far from comprehensive in describing all of the available positions in a football match, but I hope it at least helps in your understanding of how the game works and that you know a little more about what player does what and why.

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~ by spenserdavis on May 18, 2010.

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