Holding Midfielder

Soccer is a sport with various positions and roles. One of the most important roles is that of the holding midfielder. The holding midfielder is a player who plays in the midfield and has the responsibility of protecting the defense, breaking up opposition attacks and offering cover to the defenders behind him.

This position is for many also known as the defensive midfielder, anchor midfielder, or holding midfielder. In this article, however, we will take a look at why holding midfielder is not necessarily the same thing as defensive midfielder. We will also discuss what a holding midfielder is, their roles and responsibilities, the differences between a holding midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker, and who are the best holding midfielders in soccer.

What Is a Holding Midfielder in Soccer?

Holding midfielder represents a role in soccer which is in front of the defensive line of players, but behind regular and more attacking minded midfielders. It is a role which is similar to those of a defensive midfielder and a deep-lying playmaker. All three of those roles are closely connected to the position of the defensive midfielder.

There are, however, differences between these three roles. Holding midfielder can be looked at as a position where defense is the first obligation of the player, meaning that thinking about attack is not the priority for the player playing in this role. So what are the roles and responsibilities a holding midfielder is supposed to take on during a soccer match?

What Are Holding Midfielder Roles And Responsibilities?

The holding midfielder is responsible for controlling the midfield and breaking down the opponent’s attacks. While he can have other tasks too, this one is the most important one, above all else.

Holding midfielders are positioned in front of the defense and provide a link between the defenders and the attacking players. They have to be physically and mentally strong to handle the pressure and intensity of the game. The holding midfielder has several roles and responsibilities, which include:

What is a Holding/Defensive Midfielder In Soccer?

Defensive Duties

The holding midfielder is primarily responsible for protecting the defense. They need to be able to read the game and anticipate the opponent’s move. They must be strong in the air and able to win aerial duels. They must also be able to track back and provide cover to the defense when necessary.

Breaking up Opposition Plays

Holding midfielders are tasked with disrupting the opposition’s flow and breaking up their plays. They must be able to read the game and anticipate the opponent’s moves. They must be able to tackle, intercept passes, and block shots effectively, not allowing the opponent to fulfill his duties.


Holding midfielders need to be able to distribute the ball accurately and quickly. Because they operate in tight spaces where they are often surrounded by a big number of opposing players, they must be able to quickly find their teammates in good positions and start attacks. They must be able to switch the play and change the direction of the attack when necessary.

What Are The Differences Between a Holding Midfielder And a Defensive Midfielder?

The terms holding midfielder and defensive midfielder are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two positions. A holding midfielder is primarily responsible for protecting the defense, while a defensive midfielder is responsible for both defense and attack.

The defensive midfielder is more attacking-minded than the holding midfielder and has more freedom to move forward. The holding midfielder is more disciplined and stays back to protect the defense. There is, however, another subtle difference between the two roles which many fans do not take into account.

A defensive midfielder can also be a player which moves further back into central defense, when his teammate from that position is not in his usual position. He has the license to become more defensive than a holding midfielder. A holding midfielder is called that way because he is more inclined to “hold” his position and remain a sort of a shield to the defense behind him.

What Are The Differences Between a Holding Midfielder And a Deep-Lying Playmaker?

A deep-lying playmaker is a midfielder who plays deeper than a holding midfielder and is responsible for creating chances for the attack. They are also responsible for controlling the game’s tempo and dictating play. The deep-lying playmaker is more attack-minded than the holding midfielder and has more freedom to move forward.

While the holding midfielder is solely focused on his defensive work, there are plenty of deep-lying playmakers who occupy similar areas of the pitch, but do completely different type of work. They look how they can send dangerous long passes further up the pitch, while a holding midfielder would only care about protecting his goal and passing the ball forward without trying to do too much.

Also, this is why there are numerous teams who like to pair a deep-lying playmaker with a defensive midfielder, someone who is going to do all the defensive work alongside the more creative, free-roaming type of player.

Where Does the Holding Midfielder Play?

A holding midfielder can be found playing in many different systems on the pitch. Managers and coaches can use this unique role in a number of different formations.

From the classic 4-2-3-1, a holding midfielder can also be implemented into a 4-3-3 and 4-5-1, but also the 4-4-2 diamond formation. Usually, a holding midfielder in these formations is used to create more defensive cover and stability so that players in front of him can attack with more freedom and flair.

What Are Key Qualities For Playing As a Holding Midfielder?

As we have seen, a holding midfielder is a complex role in soccer and it can be incredibly valuable for every team when a player is fulfilling his obligations properly. That is why we will now take a look at the key qualities a holding midfielder should possess.

Discipline and Positioning

The holding midfielder must be disciplined and well aware of his positioning. Because he is expected to patrol the tight areas right in front of the defense, such a player must be in the right place at the right time, so he can thwart the opposition’s attacks.

Defending and Tackling

It is clear that an essential part of holding midfielder’s role is to know how to defend and tackle. He has to be able to win the ball back as cleanly as possible, without fouling the opponent. A holding midfielder must know how to intercept the ball, read the game in advance so he can react and stop the opposition players in one-on-one situations.

Spatial Awareness

Considering the tight areas where holding midfielders operate, knowing who is where on the pitch and where the danger is coming from is crucial for the player to not lose the ball in a dangerous area. It’s a similar situation when the holding midfielder wants to pass the ball further forward – he must quickly know where his teammates are in order to find them with the pass.

Decision Making Under Pressure

This is another quality a holding midfielder needs due to his limited space and time. He has to instantly know where to move to prevent the opposition’s attack or to whom to pass the ball before losing it. All of this requires focus and good instincts, which also come with more playing experience.

Communication and Concentration

A holding midfielder must communicate clearly and concisely to his teammates, and he must remain concentrated. Short lapse of lost focus can mean a grave mistake resulting in the opposition having a big chance or even scoring a goal.

Speed, Strength and Stamina

Players in this role are known for having great stamina and that is not a coincidence. Holding midfielders often run the most of all the players on the pitch. They need to endure long spells of running, but also be quick and physically strong in order to stop the opposition attacks and get into duels.

Technical Qualities On the Ball

While a holding midfielder doesn’t think about the attack as much as a deep-lying playmaker does, he still has to be technically good on the ball. He has to be able to send long, precise passes forward, especially if the team is to create a dangerous counter-attack. He has to be able to get the ball out of tight spaces and evade the pressure opposing players might put on him, without losing the ball.

Who Are The Best Holding Midfielders In Soccer?

Some of the best holding midfielders in soccer, past or present, are Claude Makelele, Javier Mascherano, N’Golo Kante and Fabinho.

Claude Makelele

Makelele is a retired French professional footballer who played as a holding midfielder for several top clubs, including Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Paris Saint-Germain. He is known for his exceptional defensive skills, ball-winning ability, and excellent reading of the game. Makelele was a key player for Real Madrid during their Galacticos era and won several titles with the club, including the UEFA Champions League.

Javier Mascherano

Mascherano is another retired player on this list, but he played as a holding midfielder for Liverpool and Barcelona, before moving into central defense later on in his career.

N’Golo Kante

Kante won the World Cup with France and the Champions League with Chelsea, playing in the holding midfielder role, often drawing comparisons with his compatriot Makelele. He also played a crucial role in Leicester’s shocking Premier League win in 2016, showing off his work rate, tenacity and ability to break up opposition plays.


We can also mention Fabinho in this conversation, as the Brazilian won the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League featuring as a holding midfielder in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team. His clean style of winning the ball back and excellent defensive skills made him on the more important players for Liverpool’s highly intense style of play.