Dec 11

Three ways to use a holding midfielder


Over the past few years the “holding midfielder” has become an integral part of football’s vocabulary. During the 1980s, in England at least, central midifelders played as box-to-box types, going forward to help attacks and putting in covering tackles when needed. One may naturally be a little more defensive than the other, but the idea of a designated player who covers in front of the defence and “holds” in the centre of the field grew in the 1990s and is now virtually universal.

I want to outline, then, three “holding midfielders” to try to show what they are and how they can be used. Of course, they are not all alike, and how you use them will affect the rest of the team’s balance and shape.

Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira (much like his contemporary, Roy Keane) was a holding midfielder who marshalled the team. He acted as the ferocious captain, putting himself on the line to intimidate the opposition and setting off the team’s counter attacks.

In Football Manager Live parlance, he could either be a DMC or a MC depending on the formation played, and would act as an anchor man or ball winning midfielder. But it was the way in which the rest of the team was built around him that differentiated him from other holding midfielders.

Vieira was the pivot around which the rest of the team was built. With high aggression, high influence and high bravery, he was not only the centre of the team formation but also the captain. Behind him, two centre backs were protected from the opposition midfield. This freed the full backs to get forward, as well as his central midfield partner. Once he won the ball, he could pass it off to his team mates and quickly turn defence into attack.

Claude Makélélé

Physically, Vieira’s France teammate Makélélé couldn’t have been much different. Smaller, slighter and far less overtly aggressive, he defined the role of the holding midfielder in the early years of the century. “The Makélélé Role” transformed English football and has become almost universal.

More a DMC than an MC, Makélélé was an anchor man. As the base of a three-man central midfield, he sat in front of the defence purely as a defensive shield.

In Football Manager Live, this sort of anchor man in the centre can work very well. It keeps the middle of the field protected, while giving licence for the other midfielders (and maybe fullbacks as well) to go deeper and wider to start attacks. Even defensively it can help, since the other midfielders are free to harry the opposition knowing they won’t leave huge gaps behind them.

Michael Carrick

The final type of holding midfielder I want to look at is that blurred distinction between a defensive holding midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker. Often, the holding player is a big defensive guy who sits in the centre of the field disrupting the opposition’s play. Think Maschernano at Liverpool or John Obi Mikel at Chelsea. However, there is another type. A player who holds in the centre positionally, not making too many forward runs, but who is actually a creative passing force in the team – setting up attacks and acting as a deeper outlet for his team mates.

I’ve chosen Carrick for this because he isn’t the world’s best tackler. Sure, he does put in a shift and disrupts the opposition. But his main skill is his ability to pick out a pass.

Using such a player in the MC position with a support duty, the midfielder will “hold” his position – which aids defensive shape – but he will also be looking for passes and options ahead and to the side of him. In effect, the holding midfielder becomes an important attacking tool as well as a defensive one.

Overall, it’s best to work out what you want the holding midfeilders in your side to do. Are they the pivot around which the side is built, like at Arsenal with Vieira? Are they rocks in the centre of the park to disrupt the opposition and cover the midfield, like at Chelsea with Makélélé? Or are they creative sparks, sitting deeper in the midfield, like at Manchester United with Michael Carrick? Would you even play more than one, like Liverpool with Alonso (more the Carrick type) and Mascherano (more the Makélélé type)?

However you do it, just think about how that affects the dynamic of the side – who does it free up to be more attacking? Who does it require to be further back? How should the team be structured? Once these questions have been answered, the holding midfielder can be the keystone to your formation and to your tactics. Use them wisely!

Written By Gareth Millward
"Millie" is a long-standing member of the FM community and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com. As part of FM-Britain, he was a contributor to TT&F and involved with the new tactical interface in FM2010.
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