Technically it is a very demanding position to play but there is one area, in addition to many others, that helps elevate the central midfielder's game. Learn to develop and improve this and your role as a central midfielder will vastly improve, giving you a much more significant impact on the game.
Doing this one thing can really help change the game for your team.
And that is passing the ball forwards, having positive intent when you receive it.
It may seem very simple, and quite an obvious answer, however it is something that can sometimes get overlooked. A central midfielder that has the ability to play a forward pass, in to the feet of their teammates ahead of them, can bypass the opposition midfield and turn a possession-based scenario into an attack.
This one skill is very important.
And personally, I think it can separate the good midfielders from the very good midfielders.
There are some teams out there that seem to struggle breaking down a deep sitting opposition and one of the reasons for this is due to the midfielders not looking to pass through the lines and potentially take a risk in possession. Play it safe too often by passing around the outside of the opposition, or by playing square or backward passes, and it allows the defence to sit deep in a good structure. This then makes it difficult for the attack to build any moves forward and break the opposition down.
One of the teams where this is most obvious at the moment is Manchester United, especially their midfielder, Fred. Many times Fred, Mctominay, or Matic have a chance to play the ball forward into Fernandes, or one of the front three, but they instead turn back on themselves, doubting whether they can be successful with that forward pass. This ends up causing the play to slow down, giving the opposition a good chance to set themselves up in a structured, defensive position.
If one of these midfielders could get the ball and play it forwards quickly and accurately, then the whole game begins to change. Attacks become more frequent and the opposition begin to be turned, with the danger in behind their midfield rather than the play being in front of them, which they would find comfortable.
So, as a midfielder, you have to be able to pass the ball forward, quickly and accurately.
If you don’t the game becomes slower and can cause slow attacks with a lack of rhythm. For instance, at Manchester United, probably their most dangerous attacking player, Bruno Fernandes, needs the ball into feet quickly. If he receives this in space he can then do lots of damage to the opposition, finding intricate passes or through balls to his forward players. Fernandes can’t do this if he’s hanging around waiting for the pass. His space then becomes limited and eventually he drops deeper and deeper to get on the ball, becoming less of a threat in the key areas that he needs to be in.
Awareness is key for a midfielder. If you are to play these quick passes forward when the space is there you need to be able to see it. Keep scanning, checking your shoulders to create a picture of what is going on around you. Do this more frequently and then you’ll be able to notice when the pass is on.
Now it is all about executing it.
Be positive and play the pass forward.
Make sure that you have a good first touch and then look to play the ball positively in to the attacking player's feet. A slow, bumpy pass is likely to be intercepted, or cause the teammate to drop deep and receive it. Ideally, you want to be playing the pass firmly, assertively and with speed.
Doing this is going to give the attacking player a better chance to take a good first touch and play forward again, with intensity and belief. The quality of the pass is hugely important. This comes from practice, and it’s not too hard to do on your own.
Rather than playing sideways with the safer pass.
Pass the ball off a wall and then turn to pass to a target, focus on the quality of your turn, awareness before that, and then the ability to play a quick, positive pass on all different areas of the foot. The sharper, yet more controlled, you get it, the better the quality of the pass will be.
The best midfielders out there are able to get on the ball and begin to dictate the game, with direct passes forward. But these passes won’t always be successful. However, as a good midfielder, you have to have the confidence to try them. Shy away from the pass too often and the ball ends up getting played sideways, without really going anywhere. Possession is good but it needs to be relevant, not just for the sake of it. At times you may lose the ball trying to play forwards but continue to practise and perfect the technique.
You may not always be able to play forward and there are times where you need to be patient and keep possession but, when the opportunity is on, take it.
The more you do it, the more that you’ll start to realise your influence on the game.
And these positive passes can really help change the game and your performance as well. Keep looking and being aware of what is happening around the pitch and if you see that opportunity to play the ball in to your attacker's feet, you can take it.
Can you play the ball forward? If you can, keep doing it and look for that option regularly. If you can’t, get practising and bring it in to your game.