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What Is The CDM Soccer Position? (+6 Of The Best Ever)

What Is The CDM Soccer Position? (+6 Of The Best Ever)

The video game FIFA — recently rebranded as EA Sports FC — is generally seen as just a bit of fun, but it's also been used as a powerful educational tool by many football fans across the world. When it comes to defining and explaining soccer positions in particular, the game has introduced a number of people to certain useful terms and titles.

Recently, we dived into the history and key responsibilities of one of those roles, the CAM (Central Attacking Midfielder) position. Today, we'll be switching focus to another position in soccer that avid EA Sports FC players will be well aware of: the CDM soccer position. We'll explain what CDM stands for and we'll run through the main skills and physical attributes of a typical CDM in soccer. We'll also explain the main responsibilities and duties of a player in this position, and to further flesh out your understanding of the CDM soccer position, we'll guide you through a list of some of the best CDMs to ever play the professional game.

What Does CDM Mean In Soccer?

The term 'CDM' is an acronym that stands for Central Defensive Midfielder. As the name suggests, the role of a CDM revolves around occupying the deeper part of the central midfield zone, providing solidity and structure by performing key defensive midfield tasks.

While defensive midfielders have been used in soccer teams for pretty much the entire history of formalised association football, the specific term "CDM" is a fairly recent invention, popularised primarily by the game FIFA, which regularly uses abbreviated words to describe positions on a soccer field.

Many people would argue that this kind of defensive-minded central midfielder is the heartbeat of any good team, playing an instrumental part in everything that goes on by connecting defence, midfield and attack. But what exactly do central defensive midfielders contribute to a team?

CDM Soccer Position: Roles And Responsibilities

This is one of the most demanding positions on the soccer field; not only do CDMs have to play defensive and focus on shielding the defenders behind them, they are also relied upon to work the ball forward through the lines and kick off attacks from the base of midfield. Their responsibilities are varied, as you'll see below.

Defensive Solidity

The aim of the game for the typical CDM in soccer is ensuring defensive solidity; they're there to provide protection for the back line, adding an extra layer of shielding in an area where clever attacking midfielders can find joy if they're given too much space. In order to provide this support, defensive midfielders have to be physically strong and aggressive, combative in the challenge, and tactically switched on, with a good understanding of opposition movement and how to prevent opponents from receiving the ball in dangerous areas.

Zonal Marking

A key facet of the CDM role comes down to marking space, plugging gaps in the midfield and cutting out potential passing lanes for the opposition. These days, most teams employ a zonal marking system rather than using man marking, meaning that they will tend to cover space and look to anticipate where opposition passes will go in order to make interceptions, rather than staying tight to one player each. CDMs are in a vital area of the pitch where marking zones and space is super important.

Connecting Defence And Midfield

CDMs tend to fill the space between midfield and defence, and as a result they are relied upon to connect these two units and help progress the ball up the field of play. Their movement should be clever and well-timed, focused on finding space in deep midfield positions where they can receive the ball under pressure and move it forward.


It's not a blanket rule, but it's very common that CDMs will be seen as key leaders within their team's set-up. The spaces they occupy and the responsibility they have means they tend to have a balanced, well-rounded view of what's happening on the pitch at all times and they are trusted to communicate constantly with teammates and take up strong leadership positions within their team.

The Key Traits Of A CDM In Soccer

Below, you'll find a list of some of the most crucial skills found in any competent central defensive midfielder.

Ball Retention

First up, central defensive midfielders need to be able to receive and keep the ball under pressure. They tend to occupy some of the tightest spaces on the pitch, with constant pressure from opposition midfielders and attackers, so it's vital that they're able to deal with this pressure and it doesn't affect their performance.

CDMs need to be available to receive the ball, and once they've got it under control quickly, ball retention is the aim of the game — they should be aware of the players around them, and capable of dribbling past them, shielding the ball, or finding small gaps to wriggle into or pass through.


Once a CDM has won the ball back for their team, they need to be able to successfully move it on to a teammate and get their side further up the pitch. This requires a versatile passing range; CDMs should be able to work in quick passing triangles with central defenders, full-backs, and other midfielders, working to constantly recycle the ball and keep possession — this is the bread and butter of the CDM role. But soccer players in this position should also be able to play more offensive passes, pinpoint through-balls to attackers or raking lofted passes to wide midfielders and forwards. Having this range of passing is important for any good CDM.

Tackling And Intercepting

It's a common joke in football that attackers are always at risk of making a "striker's challenge", which essentially means a badly-timed and potentially dangerous tackle on an opponent; at the other end of the spectrum is the CDM position, where players will tend be extremely competent tacklers, capable of winning the ball back in a variety of different positions. Slide tackles, standing tackles, interceptions and aggressive 50/50 wins should all be a part of the central defensive midfielder's arsenal. 

Reading The Game

In order to complete the wide array of tackles and interceptions they're expected to perform in each match, players in this central defensive role need to have the ability to read the game. This means being able to correctly anticipate where different passes and through-balls are likely to go, or where attacking players are going to run, and adjusting your movements in order to get there first and cut out any danger.


Finally, it's worth mentioning the levels of fitness and stamina that are required to be a top CDM; this position can be pretty relentless, and players need to be constantly making themselves available for passes, finding space, and covering ground to make tackles and interceptions, meaning they usually cover a lot of miles during a match.

The Best Central Defensive Midfielders In History

Claude Makelele

When Jose Mourinho first joined Chelsea and took the Premier League by storm in the mid-noughties, there was one man he relied upon heavily at the base of his midfield, and that was Claude Makelele. The French international was famed for his defensive solidity, aggression, and reading of the game, and his well-rounded CDM game allowed more attack-minded midfielders such as Frank Lampard to flourish under Mourinho's system.

Sergio Busquets

Barcelona and Spain legend Sergio Busquets has never been a typical CDM; he's tall, thin, elegant, and not particularly combative. However, his abundance of skills — passing range, creative vision, reading of the game, tactical intelligence — means he's been able to completely redefine what a great CDM must do. At the base of midfield, Busquets conducts play, sweeping in to stop opposition attackers in their tracks, finding space and playing exquisite passes to midfielders and forwards. There's no doubt he's one of the best players to have ever occupied the central defensive midfielder position. 

Xabi Alonso

He's currently making headlines as head coach of Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, who look set to potentially challenge Bayern Munich at the very top of the league this season. However, before getting into management Xabi Alonso was one of the most celebrated central midfielders of the 21st century, a strong, combative, but elegant player with excellent passing ability and a fantastic tactical understanding of the game (hence his recent success as a soccer coach).

Lothar Matthaus

Legendary German midfielder Lothar Matthaus played at a record five World Cups, his long, illustrious career spanning from 1982 to 2000. During this time he was extremely successful both for club and country, winning a World Cup, a European Championship, and seven Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich, amongst other accolades, and cementing his status as one of the best midfielders ever.

Roy Keane

The steely retired Irish pro is a legend at United, his seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and one Champions League medal illustrating why. A hardy, combative player known for his work rate, mobility, tackling, reading of the game, and aggression in the middle of the field, Roy Keane is a classic old-school CDM that helped define the role in the 1990s and 2000s.

Patrick Vieira

A much more silky, technically skillful player who played in the Premier League during Keane's era and competed in multiple fierce title races as a linchpin in Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side, Patrick Vieira is another player who's seen as one of the greatest CDMs of all time. The Frenchman was a graceful dribbler, an excellent passer, and an athlete with strong physical attributes and great stamina.

Many of these top players have become well-known for their ability to operate effectively at the base of a midfield on their own; however, it's also possible for central defensive midfielders to work together in a tight unit of two players, known as a double pivot. Check out our guide to the double pivot in soccer for more information.