What is a CDM in Soccer?

A CDM or a central defensive midfielder is a player who controls the midfield. Depending on the role, the instructions, and the game strategy in general, a CDM can roam the pitch, stick to the position, drift wide, or even act as a deep-lying playmaker.

A central defensive midfielder will usually be placed in front of the defense and behind the rest of the midfield and the attack. Depending on the strategy, a CDM will usually help the defense more than the offense.

What is it exactly that a CDM does?

As briefly mentioned in the introduction, a CDM has several different defensive roles. While some midfielders may have various offensive instructions, a CDM is usually the one being the first line of defense.

Although the skill set of a proper CDM mostly consists of defensive abilities, every squad needs to have a defensive midfielder who can start the offensive phase for their team and not only act as some sort of enforcer, a role usually seen in ice hockey.

A proper CDM needs to be the one who can tackle the opposition, break the opposition’s attacking phase and potentially start a counter-attack. The defensive midfielder is traditionally a somewhat tall player who is physically strong, but like in any other sport, there are exceptions, especially in modern soccer.

Defensive players have spent the majority of their careers outside of the opposing third and they usually join the attack during set pieces, corner kicks, or some promising counter-attacks.

For example, players that usually act as pacy and agile wingers are not really suited for the CDM role. Both because of the physicality and the lack of appropriate defensive abilities.

To keep it simple, a CDM is a defensively-oriented midfielder who utilizes their defensive skill set to be able to break down the opposition and start a new attacking phase.

Key attributes of a world-class CDM

There are several different factors that differentiate an average player from a top-tier one. Some of the key attributes that usually “make the difference” are aggression, stamina, the ability to read the game, composure, communication, and strength, just to name a few.

It’s quite rare that there is one player who possesses all the aforementioned attributes, and the reason why some clubs are ready to pay high fees is simple – the transfer market dictates the prices.

Most popular CDMs

Modern soccer has introduced several different types of CDMs. If we take a look at the brief history of the sport, we will notice that a large number of major changes have occurred in the past couple of decades.

That’s one of the reasons why players like Rodri (Manchester City) and N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) are considered world-class CDMs even though they couldn’t be more different.

Rodri usually acts as more of a deep lying playmaker. He is much taller and therefore quite slower. Rodri focuses his gameplay on physicality rather than pace and agility, but also provides more chances compared to Kanté.

Kanté, on the other hand, utilizes other skill sets. He is usually the one who runs the most and covers the majority of the pitch. Many offensive players in the opposing team struggle with Kanté’s tenacity and tend to lose the ball quite often. Unlike Rodri, Kanté does not possess strong passing and playmaking abilities.

Now that we mentioned a couple of different types of CDMs, let’s take a look at a list of some other world-class defensive-oriented midfielders:

Fabinho (Liverpool) – A player also famous for previously playing as an RB. Fabinho moved to Liverpool from Monaco in 2018 and has become one of the most important players in Jürgen Klopp’s title and Champions League winning side.

Casemiro (Manchester United) – A Real Madrid Legend who helped the Spanish giants win five Champion Leagues in the past ten years. Casemiro is currently in England after recently moving to Manchester United where he is determined to yet again show his impeccable off-the-ball movement.

Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) – A young player who started his career at Ajax as a CB (centre back). His pace and creativity made Erik ten Haag move him to a position more suited to his skill set where he plays today.

Marcos Llorente (Atlético Madrid) – Yet another versatile CDM who can also operate as an RB. Llorente has spent quite some playing wide in the past couple of seasons but is still considered one of the best young defensive midfielders.

Nicolo Barella (Inter) – A young midfielder who quickly rose in prominence and became a vital part of Inter’s title-winning side. Barella is seen as a future Italian national team legend.

Marco Verratti (PSG) – A midfielder famous for his passing ability. Verratti might not be the tallest, fastest, or strongest out of the bunch, but some would argue that his creativity is on par with the likes of Tony Kroos, Luka Modrić, and De Bruyne, to name a few.

Leon Goretzka (Bayern Munich) – Alongside the aforementioned Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka is currently one of the best midfielders Germany has to offer and possibly the most complete midfielder in the league.

What about some niche roles?

Just like in any other sport, there are certain strategies that require not only CDMs but also other players to somewhat change their playstyle and act as utility players.

A good example of this would be various scenarios where a CDM drops between defenders and acts as a CB (centre back). In those cases, the team usually plays with either 3 or 5 players at the back (3 centre backs and two full backs or wing backs).

There are also some other scenarios where a CDM shows versatility. For example, one former and one current Bayern Munich legend, Philipp Lahm and Joshua Kimmich respectively, are famous for starting their careers off as RBs (right backs). They developed as world-class CDMs throughout their careers and further confirmed the fact that a modern CDM is indeed not only a versatile but a fairly skillful player as well.

What other midfield positions are there?

A midfield consists of several different positions that are either focused on central or wide parts of the pitch. For example, a CDM is the most defensive midfielder on the pitch. 

A CM, or a central midfielder, is usually placed a bit further away and closer to the opposing side and has fewer defensive duties than a CDM.

A CAM, or a central attacking midfielder, is the most offensive midfielder on the pitch and usually has little to no defensive duties.

Wide players like LMs (left midfielders) and RMs (right midfielders) play on the wider sides of the pitch. They have some defensive duties but depending on the strategy, they rarely operate as defenders – unlike a CDM who can from time to time be a versatile defensive player.

Final thoughts

Being a CDM isn’t easy. Sure, you could argue that playing in any position is quite physically demanding, but CDMs usually don’t get enough credit for what they provide.

The number of goals and assists is usually something that people notice at first glance. There aren’t that many CDMs who are constantly on the score sheet, but when they are, keep in mind that they made an even bigger defensive impact. 

The next time you watch a soccer game, make sure to focus on the defensive midfielders and their movement off the ball. You will most certainly notice something new.