Soccer is a sport with dynamic positions that each play a vital role. To the casual viewer, it may seem like organized chaos as players constantly move around the field. But in reality, each soccer position has carefully defined responsibilities and purposes. This complete guide will examine the main soccer positions – striker, midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper. We’ll break down what each position does, key attributes needed, famous examples of players, and more. Whether you’re a youth player learning positions or a fan seeking to better understand soccer, this guide explains it all.

The Striker

The striker is the most forward-positioned player on the attack whose primary role is to score goals. Here is an in-depth look at this important soccer position:


As the tip of the spear in the attack, the striker’s main job is to put the ball in the back of the net and score goals. They need to find openings and opportunities to shoot whenever their team has possession. Strikers must have excellent finishing skills and the ability to take on defenders one-on-one. They also try to draw fouls, hold up play, and knock down clearances from defenders. Most importantly, they need a ruthless eye for goal and killer instinct.


  • Shooting accuracy and power
  • Heading ability
  • Agility and change of pace
  • Situational awareness
  • Off-ball movement
  • Strength and balance
  • Composure

Strikers need to excel in all of these attributes to succeed in scoring goals against tough defenses. Physicality, vision, technical skills, and intelligent positioning are all crucial.

Types of Strikers

There are several types of strikers, each with slightly different attributes:

  • Target striker – Uses size and strength to win balls in the air and hold possession. E.g. Olivier Giroud
  • Speedy striker – Relies on explosive pace to beat defenders. E.g. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
  • False 9 – A creative striker that drops deep to link up play. E.g. Roberto Firmino
  • Pole striker – Plays centrally and focuses on heading. E.g. Robert Lewandowski
  • Winger striker – Cuts in from the flank to shoot. E.g. Cristiano Ronaldo

Managers utilize strikers that fit their style and system. Strikers can also adapt their games over time to transform into different roles.

Famous Examples

Some all-time great strikers include Pelé, Romario, Marco van Basten, Ronaldo, Thierry Henry, and Lionel Messi. Contemporary examples are Harry Kane, Karim Benzema, and Son Heung-min. The striker position has featured some of soccer’s biggest stars and greatest goalscorers over the years.

The Midfielder

Midfielders are positioned in the center of the pitch and tasked with both attacking and defensive duties. Here is an overview of soccer’s most multifaceted position:


Midfielders need to master all aspects of the game. On attack, they must support the forward line with through balls, crosses, shots from distance, and retention of possession. Defensively, they disrupt opposing attacks, press to win back possession, and provide cover to fullbacks. Midfielders also transition play from defense to offense. Mastering positioning, vision, and two-way play are essential to excel in midfield.


  • Well-rounded technical ability
  • Stamina and work rate
  • Composure on the ball
  • Creativity and passing range
  • Tactical intelligence and spatial awareness
  • Tackling and intercepting ability

Midfielders need a complete skill set. They must read the game well, link together play, and maintain tactical discipline. Both offensive flair and defensive grit are required.

Types of Midfielders

There are several midfield roles and positions:

  • Central/Box-to-box – All-arounders that cover lots of ground. E.g. Steven Gerrard
  • Defensive/Holding – Sit deep, break up play, distribute balls. E.g. Sergio Busquets
  • Attacking/Advanced – Push forward into attack and score goals. E.g. Kevin De Bruyne
  • Wide/Wingers – Provide width and crosses from the flank. E.g. Sadio Mané

Managers strategically deploy specialist midfielders based on the needs of the team and tactics.

Famous Examples

Midfield legends include Alfredo Di Stéfano, Lothar Matthäus, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, and Andrés Iniesta. World-class modern examples are Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, and Ngolo Kanté. Midfield is home to some of soccer’s most well-rounded and cerebral players.

The Defender

Defenders work closest to their own goal and are primarily responsible for preventing the opposition from scoring. Let’s examine the basics of this defensive position:


Defenders screen the goalkeeper and block the path to goal for opposition strikers and midfielders. They tackle oncoming attackers, mark dangerous players, intercept passes, and clear the ball from their defensive third. Organizing the rest of the defense and keeping their shape and line are also key duties. Though defending comes first, fullbacks are also tasked with providing width in attack down the flanks.


  • Marking, tackling, and intercepting ability
  • Aggression and bravery
  • Focus and concentration
  • Heading and clearing clearances
  • 1v1 defending in open space
  • Physical strength and speed
  • Positioning and communication

Top defenders need to excel in the physical and tactical aspects of defending both in zones and in open space. They must dominate individual battles with forwards.

Types of Defenders

  • Center Back – Strong, big defenders in the middle. E.g. Virgil van Dijk
  • Fullback – Pacey wide defenders that join the attack. E.g. Trent Alexander-Arnold
  • Sweeper/Libero – Deep-lying playmakers that initiate attacks. E.g. Franz Beckenbauer
  • Wingback – Extremely attacking fullbacks in a back 3/5. E.g. Achraf Hakimi

Managers can use more attacking or defensive fullback styles depending on their system.

Famous Examples

All-time greats include Franco Baresi, Bobby Moore, Paolo Maldini, and Fabio Cannavaro. Today’s standouts are Sergio Ramos, Giorgio Chiellini, and Virgil van Dijk. Defenders rarely get as much glory as other positions, but the best are just as skilled and important to their teams.

The Goalkeeper

The goalkeeper has the specialized job of being the last line of defense directly protecting their team’s goal and preventing shots from going in. Here’s a look at soccer’s unique sweeper position:


Goalkeepers communicate and organize their defense. Their main duty is stopping shots inside their penalty area that get past the defense using any legal part of their body. Goalkeepers must constantly be alert and on their toes to react to threats. They also distribute the ball back into play after making saves. Coming off the line to claim crosses and through balls is another key responsibility.


  • Shot-stopping reflexes
  • Footwork and mobility
  • Hands to claim crosses and balls
  • Game reading ability
  • Bravery to put body on the line
  • Strong wrists and grip
  • Communication skills
  • Distribution accuracy

Goalkeepers need sharp hand-eye coordination, agility, length, and bravery to deny shots. They must also read the game well to cut out passes and crosses.

Types of Goalkeepers

There are a few broad categories:

  • Shot-stopper – Acrobatic and reactive. E.g. David de Gea
  • Sweeper Keeper – Act as extra defender. E.g. Manuel Neuer
  • Traditional – Reliable at crosses and shots. E.g. Gianluigi Buffon

Some goalkeepers are more well-rounded, while certain ones specialize in specific attributes.

Famous Examples

Goalkeeper legends include Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks, Peter Schmeichel, and Iker Casillas. Current stars are Manuel Neuer, Jan Oblak, Ederson, and Marc-André ter Stegen. While they may not always get the plaudits, elite goalkeepers provide invaluable service to their teams.

Specialized Positions

In addition to the main positions, certain specialized roles exist in soccer to give teams more tactical flexibility. For example:

The Pivot

The central defensive midfielder that “pivots” between defense and midfield. They act as the link player moving play from back to front. An example is Sergio Busquets for Barcelona and Spain.


The German word for “space interpreter.” Raumdeuters like Thomas Muller excel at finding and exploiting space between the lines to unlock defenses.

Regista/Deep-Lying Playmaker

A deep-sitting midfielder that dictates play with long-range passing. Andrea Pirlo exemplified this position in Italy’s 2006 World Cup win.

False 9

A creative forward that drops deep and links play, creating space for wingers to attack. Lionel Messi thrived as a false 9 for Barcelona.

Target Man

A powerful striker that plays with their back to goal and holds the ball up using their size and strength. Romelu Lukaku is a great example today.


Historically a central defender with license to roam and start attacks, which Franz Beckenbauer popularized.

There are more potential specialized roles, but this covers some examples. Top teams utilize players with specific skill sets in tailored tactical systems.

Positional Roles in Formation

One other key consideration is how positions fit together in various team formations. Let’s look at two common examples:

4-3-3 Formation

The 4-3-3 features four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards:

  • Goalkeeper – General defense of goal
  • Center Backs – Two central defenders
  • Fullbacks – Attack-minded wide defenders
  • Defensive Mid – Anchor in midfield
  • Central Mids – Box-to-box runners
  • Wingers – Provide width in attack
  • Striker – Main goalscorer up top

Each position has clear responsibilities in their zones. This provides defensive stability and attacking outlets from wide areas.

4-2-3-1 Formation

The 4-2-3-1 consists of four defenders, two holding mids, an attacking mid trio, and a striker:

  • Goalkeeper – General defense of goal
  • Center Backs – Two central defenders
  • Fullbacks – Push up in attack when possible
  • Holding Mids – Double pivot for control of center
  • Attacking Mid – Central creator in hole behind striker
  • Wide Attackers – Inverted wingers that cut inside
  • Striker – Focal point in attack at center forward

This setup allows for both defensive solidity and plenty of attacking threats around a striker.

Positional Awareness and Movement

While each position has defined duties, soccer also involves fluid positional play. Players must demonstrate:

  • Tactical awareness – Recognizing where to move based on the game situation.
  • Off-ball movement – Make intelligent runs to unbalance the defense.
  • Interchanging positions – Swapping positions to change the point of attack.
  • Covering teammates – Provide support positions to cover other roles when necessary.

Understanding not just your set position but how to dynamically move and cover other roles is equally important. Soccer is constantly in motion.

Youth Player Positions

For youth players still learning the game, it’s important to get experience playing multiple positions:

  • Try different roles in training and games to understand how they interconnect.
  • Don’t hyper-specialize in one position too early in development.
  • Focus first on technical fundamentals not specific positions.
  • Let coaches determine your ideal position as you get older based on your strengths.
  • Maintain versatility by continuing to work on skills for multiple positions.

Gaining well-rounded experience provides the best platform before specializing later in your career.

Key Takeaways

Hopefully this guide provided you a comprehensive look at soccer positions. Here are some of the big takeaways:

  • Strikers lead the attack in scoring goals, while defenders prevent them at the back.
  • Midfielders play a well-rounded role in central areas of the pitch.
  • Goalkeepers have the unique job of being the last line of defense stopping shots.
  • Positions have specialized roles but also interchange and cover each other.
  • Youth players should focus on all-around skills before specializing in one role.
  • Formations utilize positions in specific tactical setups.

Understanding soccer positions allows you to interpret the purpose behind players’ movements on the field and enjoy the tactical battles that ensue. Now you can analyze each position’s contributions to the beautiful game!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about soccer positions:

How many positions are in soccer?

The main positions are striker, midfielder, defender, and goalkeeper. But there are more specialized roles within each area, from center forward to holding midfielder. Generally there are roughly 10-12 distinct roles.

What is the most important position?

All positions are interconnected, but central midfield is arguably the most well-rounded and involved in all phases of play. As the fulcrum linking defense and attack, they often dictate their team’s performance.

What is an attacking midfielder?

An attacking midfielder focuses on the creative side of midfield. They take up advanced positions to assist the striker, often acting as the main playmaker.

What does a defensive midfielder do?

A defensive midfielder concentrates on the defensive side, breaking up opposition attacks, making tackles, and distributing the ball forward.

Are 11 positions always used in soccer?

Not necessarily. Formations can use anywhere from roughly 5-11 players depending on the manager’s tactics and game situation. But the typical lineup consists of 10 outfield players and one goalkeeper.

Can women play in men’s professional leagues?

As of 2022, no women have played in top men’s leagues. But women have played professionally for lower division men’s teams occasionally. Coed sports are becoming more popular, so women in top leagues could happen soon.

What are the differences between positions in high school, college, and professional soccer?

At higher competitive levels, positions become more complex and specialized. Professional players’ technical, physical, and tactical skills are maximized to their position’s roles. But the overall positions remain similar throughout levels.

How should younger kids choose their soccer position?

It’s best for children to play multiple positions and roles during their development rather than specializing too early. Coaches can provide guidance on positioning based on a player’s abilities and attributes over time.

I hope this helped cover the main questions around soccer positions! Please let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions.


Categories: Soccer


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage. Eddy Tom


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