It is so important now to designate this position to one or two players on your team. Just like when you choose a goalkeeper or a center back, you now choose holding midfielder players. You have to stress to the team and the players that are playing in this position is so important for the team to progress. Back in the day it used to be two center midfielders and the coach would say “...if one goes, the other one holds” and players would not be given the specific role of the holding midfielder. During a 90 minute game these two midfielders would be caught ‘out of balance’ a lot and would be vulnerable to an overloaded attack by the opposing team.
4-3-3. If you play a 3 player midfield and one holding player (The destroyer) this will allow the two attacking players to break free and move forward to support the striker, safe in the knowledge that the spaces they leave behind will be covered by the holding midfield player. When playing with one holding midfield player the full backs have to be more aware about covering when the team is in possession.
The image above shows Busqets of Barcelona who is one of the best in the world at this position. You can see him offering support to the attacking midfield player who cannot get the ball to the front three so Barcelona have to switch the point of attack. The right back has spotted that the team is locked down by the opposition who are defending ‘in balance’ so moves forward to help with the switch. Busquets will now slide across the field to support that side of the pitch.
The image above shows another world class holding midfield player, Phillip Lahm of Bayern Munich. The full back cannot play the ball to the two supporting forward players because of a compact defense. Lahm is the player to restart the process again and with there being 7 defenders in view, will look to switch the ball to the opposite side quickly.
Here we show the defensive need of the holding midfield player. Matic of Chelsea has played a huge role in them winning the title this year. Stoke clear the ball. With the attacking midfielders caught out of position Matic spots the danger and quickly puts pressure on the ball. By regaining possession quickly and preventing a golden opportunity for Stoke City, Matic has now made it a great attacking phase for Chelsea. You can see in the image above that Chelsea have an overload 4v3 in and around the Stoke penalty area.
If you play with two holding midfielders they will have different roles to play. One will be higher up the field while the other would be sitting in between the two center backs. The development is that the two holding players in a 4-2-3-1 began to fall into one of two schools: the destroyer and the creator, the classic example of which is perhaps Matic and Fabregas at Chelsea. As Matic clattered about making tackles and collecting bookings, his role almost entirely of regaining possession and distributing it simply, Fabregas, although capable of making tackles, focused on keeping the ball moving, occasionally spraying long passes out to the flanks to change the point of attack like an American football quarter-back. This system also enables you to play with a “# 10”. This player is intelligent and really difficult to mark. While the team is in possession this player will just keep searching for pockets of space and also the movement of team-mates. As the ball moves to one side of the field the opposite side wide player that plays in the three moves across to pressure the two center backs which leaves room for the full back behind them to advance in an attacking position.
Above we show what the holding midfielders look like in a 4-2-3-1 attack. It shows one holding midfield player (#6) moving back while the two center backs spread out. This allows BOTH full backs to move forward. The second holding midfield player (#8) moves into a supporting role further up the field.