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Soccer Positions Explained - Complete Guide (2024)

Soccer Positions Explained - Complete Guide (2024)

Sport never stands still for long. The game of soccer is constantly evolving, as coaches, tacticians, and players seek to find new ways to gain an edge over their rivals.

One of the key areas in which soccer teams look to gain advantages is by trying out new formations and tactical systems. Soccer formations can vary massively; shapes such as 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 are built on a strong, compact back line, while other formations like 3-4-3 can offer more varied attacking opportunities. One thing connects each of these formations: they require players to have a strong understanding of the different soccer positions on a pitch.

How Many Soccer Positions Are There?

There are 11 positions per team in a soccer game, occupying 4 main areas: Goalkeeper, Defence, Midfield and Attack. The exact positions will vary depending on the formation played, but in the case of a traditional 4-4-2 formation they tend to be:

  1. Goalkeeper
  2. Right Fullback
  3. Left Fullback
  4. Center back
  5. Center back
  6. Center Midfield
  7. Center Midfield
  8. Right Midfield/Wing
  9. Forward
  10. Forward
  11. Left Midfield/Wing

As per the above image, positions are generally broken into 3 main areas - defence, midfield and attack

What Are The Positions In soccer?

In this article, we'll be taking you through all of the most important soccer positions out there. You'll learn the vital role each position plays, as well as taking on board the key duties and responsibilities assigned to each job.

We'll also give you a few examples of well-known players that encapsulate the role of their position. Read on for our guide to soccer positions explained.


The best place to start is between the sticks. Goalkeepers are the last line of defense, a crucial and unique role that requires a specific set of skills that outfield players don't need. It's for this reason that goalkeepers and outfield players are separated during most training sessions at professional clubs.

A soccer goalie's main job is to stop the opposition from scoring, or in other words, keep a clean sheet. This sounds simple enough, but it involves a wide range of different skills.

Legendary Italian Goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, in action for Juventus

Key skills:

  • Catching: a core skill in any goalkeeper's arsenal is the ability to catch the ball in all sorts of situations; from high crosses, low driven shots, defensive nod-backs, and more.

  • Shot-stopping: an ability to anticipate and block shots from opposition attackers, making judgments on whether to block, parry, or punch the ball when faced with particularly powerful or well-placed efforts

  • Organization: the best goalkeepers are adept at commanding their penalty area and organizing the defenders in front of them

  • Kicking: the prevalence of goal-kicks means that goalkeepers must be able to kick the ball with serious power, pace, distance, and accuracy

  • Footwork: in the modern game, footwork is super important. Possession-based teams rely on having technically-gifted keepers with great footwork, like Ederson at Manchester City

  • Reflexes and Agility: goalkeepers must be able to move around their goal with speed, agility, and flexibility. Having quick reflexes is crucial for making saves and interceptions


Other names for Goalkeepers

Goalkeepers are often referred to as a:

  • Goalie
  • Stopper
  • Shotstopper
  • Goaltender



In soccer, center-backs are central defenders tasked primarily with stopping opponents from getting in on goal, winning the ball in defensive areas, and progressing it forwards to teammates in more advanced positions.

Some teams use three center-backs to cover a wider defensive zone and allow greater opportunities for keeping possession and progressing the ball forwards, while other teams will use two central defenders for a more compact, tighter partnership.

Key skills:

  • Positional discipline: center-backs must be able to maintain positional discipline and read the game, anticipating where the ball is going to go and what opponents are going to do in different situations

  • Aerial ability: being physically imposing and strong in the air is crucial. A big part of a center-back's job is winning aerial duels and outmuscling opposing attackers

  • Tackling: the ability to know when to hang back and jockey the opponent, and when to go in hard. Clean, strong, well-timed tackling is a crucial aspect of central defending

  • Passing: these days, it's super important that center-backs are able to control and pass the ball with confidence and efficiency, otherwise high-pressing attackers will be able to win the ball off them in dangerous areas

  • Leadership: not every center-back is a great leader, but the better your communication skills are, and the greater your ability to instruct teammates, the stronger a center-back you'll be

Other names for Center-backs

Center-backs are often also referred to as:

  • Central Defender
  • Center-half
  • Stopper

Variations of the Center-Back:


The Sweeper, or Libero, is generally located slightly deeper than the traditional centre-back. They have a strong focus on "sweeping" up any loose balls in behind the main defensive line, as well as additional ball-playing responsibilities. Franz Beckenbauer is generally recognised as the greatest sweeper of all time.


The term "full-back" covers two different types of soccer positions: left-back and right-back. It could also be used to refer to wing-backs, who are generally a little more advanced and less defensively-minded. Put simply, full-backs are wider defenders who sit on either side of the central defenders. A back four system (like you'd get in 4-3-3) would use a right-back, two center-backs, and a left-back. In the case of a 5-3-2 or 3-5-2 formation, these fullbacks would be regarded more so as a "wing-back".

As you might've guessed, full-backs primarily perform a defensive role. However, many are also expected to get up the pitch and provide offensive support in wide areas, particularly in the modern game. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are great examples of this.

Key skills:

  • Speed: while full-backs aren't always the quickest players on a soccer field, having a bit of speed is crucial when it comes to dealing with pacey, skillful wingers

  • Stamina: another physical attribute full-backs need is stamina, as their job involves getting up and down the pitch with speed throughout the game. Their fitness levels need to be incredibly strong in order to perform both their defensive and offensive duties

  • Positional awareness: without this, full-backs will get caught out and center-backs will be left exposed. Full-backs must be able to switch from covering their teammates to providing attacking options on the overlap

  • 1v1 defending: left-backs and right-backs need to be competent, versatile 1v1 defenders. Timing, tackling, and aggression are all crucial aspects in these sorts of situations.

Other names for Full-backs

Full-backs are often also referred to as:

  • Right backs
  • Left backs


Variations of the Full-Back:


A wing-back generally has the same responsibilities as a full-back, however they tend to have much more focus on the attacking phase and are required to cover more ground than a traditional full-back. As such, they tend to be used in formations that flood the center of the field and have 3 central defenders, such as the 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formations.


In the center of the field, center-midfielders play a vital role in connecting defense with attack. There are multiple different types of center-midfielder; CDMs (central defensive midfielders) focus more on protecting the back line and stopping opposition attacks (a double pivot is a good example of this player type), while CAMs (center attacking midfielders) have a much more creative role, operating as a playmaker and linking with forwards. There are also other roles that fall somewhere between these two positions, such as the kind of "Free No. 8" role that Kevin De Bruyne occupies at Manchester City.

Key skills:

  • Passing ability: perhaps the most important skill for central midfielders is an ability to complete a wide range of different passes, adjusting pace, power, and height, and being able to pick out accurate passes even when under intense pressure

  • Ball control: in order to keep hold of possession, midfielders must be able to control the ball with speed and precision, getting it out of their feet in order to move it on quickly

  • Dribbling: couple those possession-based skills with good dribbling ability, and you're onto a winner. Being able to turn with speed, dribble into open space, and beat opposition players is a major advantage.

  • Tackling and intercepting: when your team doesn't have possession, tackling and intercepting becomes of paramount importance. Being able to anticipate and break up opposition passes or win the ball from well-timed tackles is an essential skill

  • Shielding: this means being able to protect the ball using your body when in possession or dealing with opposition tackles. Under the constant pressure that players face in the middle of the field, shielding abilities help win you a little more time to look up and find a pass

  • Energy & Fitness: If operating as a box to box midfielder, they may be required to cover the whole area between each box.

Other names for Center-midfielders

Center-midfielders are often also referred to as:

  • Defensive midfielder
  • Attacking midfielder
  • Box-to-box midfielder
  • Holding Midfielder
  • Midfield Anchor
  • 6
  • 8
  • Playmaker

Variations of the Center-Midfielder:

Defensive Midfielder

The defensive midfield, often referred to as the holding midfielder, midfield anchor or "pivot", sits deeper compared to the rest of the midfield unit, providing extra cover for the defence. Examples include N'Golo Kante, Casemiro or for those a little older, Claude Makelele, who was so successful in the position that it is still often termed the "Makelele role".

Attacking Midfielder

Exactly as it sounds, the attacking midfielder is heavily focused on the attacking phase, with much less emphasis on tracking back and supporting the defense. These are generally more creative players - or "playmakers" - whose responsibility is to assist the forwards with through passes, supporting runs and scoring goals.

Box-to-box Midfielder

A combination of the defensive and attacking midfielder to some extent, the box-to-box midfielder is expected to cover the ground between the two 18-yard boxes - both their own and the opponents. This role requires extreme fitness and dynamism, as those who fill it successfully will generally rack up significantly more miles across the 90 minutes than any other position.

Wide Midfielder

Now, we start to move into the more glamorous areas of the pitch. Pretty much any common soccer formation is bound to base its attacking play partly on wide midfielders. Generally speaking, their role will be as a more attacking midfielder focused on linking up with forwards, getting into wider advanced areas, and creating attacking opportunities.

Wide midfielders can be set up in several ways. In a 4-4-2, they will be required to track back and defend, providing support for their full-backs while maintaining an ability to race up the pitch with speed, getting in behind the defense of the opposing team, and crossing the ball. Meanwhile, a 4-2-3-1 shape will give wide midfielders more freedom to create chances, attack the opposition goal and switch positions fluidly at the top end of the soccer field.

Key skills:

Technical ability: often the most technically-gifted players on the field will be the wide midfielders, who must be adept at controlling the ball, keeping possession under pressure, dribbling past the opposing team's full-backs, and delivering crosses and shots on goal.

Speed: much like full-backs and wing-backs, wide midfielders also need to have plenty of speed, as their role involves beating defenders and moving up and down the flanks in quick bursts

Dribbling: a quick, accomplished dribble can split a defense open in a heartbeat. Wide midfielders often use this skill to break past opposing players and create space for themselves to deliver the ball into the box or take a shot themselves

Shooting ability: scoring opportunities regularly come to wide midfielders, particularly the more offensive-minded ones determined to move past defensive players and get into the opposition box. Being able to dispatch these chances with accuracy and efficiency is a crucial attribute


Other names for Wide Midfielders:

Wide midfielders are often also referred to as:

  • Left Midfielder
  • Right Midfielder

Variations of the Wide-Midfielder:


Depending on the formation, a team may only have center-midfielders. In this case, they would often utilise wingers, who are effectively a more attacking version of the wide-midfielder to the point that they would be considered part of the forward line rather than midfield. Examples of such formations include the 4-3-3.


Scoring goals is ultimately what wins games. This job inevitably falls to the more offensive players on the field, or in other words, the forwards.

The term "forwards" encompasses a range of different positions, from tall, target man-style center forwards (players like Olivier Giroud or Diego Costa), to more technical false nines (Roberto Firmino), or inverted wide forwards that move from the sides of the field into goalscoring areas (Mo Salah, for example).

Some teams will operate with two forwards in a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 system, while others will choose to play with a lone striker. Whatever shape coaches go for, a forward will tend to have a variety of different responsibilities.

Key skills:

  • Shooting ability: forwards pride themselves on their ability to threaten the opponent's goal and get on the scoresheet. A range of shooting skills is necessary — forwards must be able to place the ball, strike it with power, chip, dink, lob, or volley it. Scoring penalties also falls under this bracket.

  • Composure: converting chances into goals requires a great deal of calmness and composure. Any soccer player needs these attributes to play at the highest level, but it's particularly true for forwards, who are regularly in high-pressure situations

  • Technical skill: this refers to ball control, passing, and dribbling. In advanced areas of the pitch, getting each technical action right is crucial.

  • Intelligent movement: forwards must have a deep understanding of when to drop back and link with midfielders, when to get into the box, how to beat the offside trap, how to time their attacking runs perfectly, and various other aspects of offensive movement.

  • Hold-up play: being able to act as a focal point at the top end of the pitch is also important. Hold-up play involves receiving the ball under pressure, shielding it from opponents, waiting for teammates to support you, and playing the right ball to maintain possession

Other names for Forwards:

Forwards are often also referred to as:

  • Striker
  • Second Striker
  • Center Forward
  • Inside Forward
  • Finisher
  • Poacher
  • Target Man


Variations of the Forward:


Generally seen as the focal point, the striker is generally the most advanced and attack-focused player in the team, with their primary focus being to convert the chances created by his teammates. With this being the case, they are often referred to as "finishers" or "poachers depending on their effectiveness of scoring from these chances. Another variation of the center-forward is the "target-man", who tends to be tall and good in the air, allowing their team-mates to "target" them with long balls and either win the header or hold the ball up, allowing their teammates to make forward runs.

Second Striker

The second striker (often referred to as an inside forward) tends to be, as the name suggests, more of a support for the main striker and thus is located slightly deeper. This allows them to pick-up the ball in between the lines of the defence and midfield of the opposition, and make play for those around them. 


Now that you've had each of the major soccer positions explained in detail, hopefully, you'll spend less time wondering about the question "What are the positions in soccer?", and more time being able to identify the specific roles each player is occupying when you watch live soccer.

If you'd like to find out more about tactics in soccer, check out our new article on the 4-2-4 formation, or if you'd like to dive into a slightly more technical term, take a look at our guide to the German concept of gegenpressing.



Soccer Position Abbreviations

All of the positions mentioned above have abbreviated names, often seen on formation diagrams or in games such as FIFA or Football Manager. Here is a list of some of the most common soccer position abbreviations:

Abbreviation Full Position Name
GK Goalkeeper
D Defender
SW Sweeper
CB Center Back
RCB Right Center Back
LCB Left Center Back
RB Right Back
LB Left Back
WB Wing Back
RWB Right Wing Back
LWB Left Wing Back
M Midfielder
DM Defensive Mdfielder
CDM Center Defensive Midfielder
CM Center Midfielder
RM Right Midfielder
LM Left Midfielder
AM Attacking Midfielder
CAM/AMC Centre Attacking Midfielder
AMR Attacking Midfielder Right
AML Attacking Midfielder Left
RW Right Winger
LW Left Winger
SS Second Striker
CF Centre Forward
ST Striker


Frequently Asked Questions:

What are the 4 main positions in soccer?

While numerous more specific roles can exist on a soccer field, the 4 main positional units are goalkeeper, defense, midfield, and attack. Within these broader groupings, different players will be assigned different individual roles.

What is a double pivot in soccer?

A double pivot is a central midfield pairing with an emphasis on defensive play and building possession. They sit relatively deep, protecting the back four and occupying a central area inside the full-backs or wing-backs. Our article on the double pivot explores this role in more detail.

What is the most popular soccer formation?

Soccer formations are a crucial aspect of any team's tactical setup. Contenders for the most popular formation include 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 3-5-2. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses - our guide to the most popular soccer formations provides more detail.