Distribution From the Holding Midfielder

By Mike Smith

I have often used a holding mid with the idea of supporting defensive play. Most of the time this player is placed in front of the defensive line in the center of the field. However, as many teams want to quickly get the ball wide, up the field, or both, the holding mid can get lost when a team has possession. While the center of the field is the most dangerous place to turn the ball over it is also be the best distribution point and thus the holding mid can be a critical point for possession going forward. For example:

Shown above in red, the holding mid is the only player who with a bit of movement can connect to support every other line. However, especially at the youth levels, the focus is on getting the ball forward quickly and this leaves the holding mid isolated and easily outnumbered. So, while the holding mid is a supporting role, the way to get the most out of the position in possession is for the rest of the team to actually support the holding mid – instead of quickly running away.

As shown above, dropping back in a 4-4-2, the defending team makes the holding mid a glorified central defender and while the holding mid has some options, with the attacking side just running forward and wide, the only real options are predictable and do nothing to open up the middle. Let’s get more out of the position by moving some players to support, for example:

Note the movement of a few players closer to the holding mid to create 3 distinct areas where the attacking team has numbers up on the defending strikers – and this specifically targets the strikers. The strikers and attacking mids for the defending team will come after the ball here in the middle, it is their nature. This will open up central areas deeper into the attacking third, also marked in red.

Set Up
To try this, set up a small field scrimmage focusing on support for the holding mid:

7 attackers take on 6 defenders plus the keeper. A post gate is set up in the center to ground the holding mid with defensive responsibility. The defending side scores by dribbling through this gate. However, IF the attacking side will move TO the holding mid first ( as shown above ) a chain reaction will occur which either opens the defense up in front of the goal or insures solid possession for the attacking team. Play starts with the holding mid, and to start, the first pass is free. Players should start as shown above, but after the first pass is made, it is free play. With good passing, the options should look as they do in the diagram below:

Notice by initially moving towards the holding mid, the ball is now wide, there are two critical areas ( shown in red ) exposed and the holding mid is actually free to join the attack with support from a central defender at the gate.

Coaching Points
The fact is, a lot of teams attack up the middle thus they lose the ball in the middle. Because they know the defense will immediately get the ball wide and forward, they just fall back centrally and wait for the cross. The coach should encourage central control and possession here. We want the ball at the holding mids feet. IF we can PLAY out of this pressure, especially since the ball was won here anyway, we can move up as a unit and then open up the defenders closer to the goal. The coach must explain, this forces the defense to hold, move out, move in and then move out. This is a lot more troublesome for a defending side than simply dropping in and moving out together to challenge when the attack goes wide and forward quickly.

By Mike Smith
Currently the Head Coach for University Heights Academy Boys Soccer in Hopkinsville, KY , Mike is in his 14th year as a high school head coach with 23 years coaching experience overall  and 34 year as a student and fan of the game. He holds a USSF D License.

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