CDM Position in Soccer: Explained

CDM Position in Soccer: Explained

Last updated on July 19th, 2023 at 01:39 pm

The CDM position in soccer is responsible for both defending and attacking, making it a challenging role to master.

CDM stands for Central Defensive Midfielder and is positioned at the center of the soccer field, just in front of their team’s defenders and behind the attacking central midfielder.

CDMs are known for their ability to control the midfield and protect their team’s defense.

They are often the first line of defense, tasked with breaking up the opposition’s attacks and intercepting passes.

Additionally, they must be able to distribute the ball quickly and effectively to initiate counterattacks.

Overall, the CDM position is a critical role on a soccer team and requires players with a unique skill set to excel. We’ll explain this in more detail!

What Does CDM Stand For?

midfielder defensive

‘CDM’ stands for Central Defensive Midfielder when referring to soccer. This player operates as a midfielder and defender.

What is the CDM Position?

The CDM position, or Central Defensive Midfielder position, is positioned centrally in front of the defense and behind the forwards. They are tasked with supporting the defenders, making important tackles, and distributing the ball.

While the CDM is primarily a defensive player, they also have an important role in creating scoring opportunities for their team.

When needed, they move forward to support the attacking efforts of their team, making precise passes and creating space for their teammates to score.

CDM Positioning in Soccer

The CDM position requires a player with excellent defensive skills, including tackling, marking, and anticipating.

They must also have good vision and passing skills to create opportunities for their team. Once a player makes a clean tackle, they’ll need to immediately distribute it to a teammate to start the offensive attack.

The Role of a CDM in Soccer

What makes CDM a tough position to play is that they are almost equally responsible for the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.

Defensive Role on the Team

One of the primary responsibilities of a CDM is to provide defensive cover for their team.

They are positioned in front of the backline and is responsible for breaking up opposition attacks, intercepting passes, and making tackles.

The CDM must always be alert and aware of the opposition’s movements, and must be able to anticipate and react quickly to any threats.

The CDM must also be able to communicate effectively with the rest of the team, directing them to mark specific players or areas of the field. This is particularly important when the opposition is mounting a sustained attack.

Offensive Role

While the CDM is primarily a defensive player, they also have an important role to play in the team’s offensive attack.

The CDM must be able to pass the ball effectively to their teammates up the field. This includes making short, precise passes as well as long-through balls.

The CDM must also be able to move into attacking positions when the opportunity arises. This requires the CDM to have good positioning and timing, as well as the ability to anticipate and fill the gaps.

Transition Duties of the CDM

One of the most important roles of a CDM is to facilitate the transition from defense to offense. The CDM must be able to receive the ball from the defense and quickly distribute it to the team’s attacking players.

They act as a bridge between the backline and the forward positions. I’ve seen many youth games where the CDM was the difference between a clean sheet and 3 goals against.

The CDM must also be able to win back possession quickly when the team loses the ball. This requires the CDM to have good tackling skills and the ability to read the game and anticipate where the ball will be played.

If you’ve been reading this far, you’ll start to realize that the CDM position is a very important one to the team. It takes a unique talent and a certain set of skills to become an elite central defensive midfielder. 

Key Skills for a Central Defending Midfielder

In order to be an effective CDM, players must possess a variety of key skills including:

One-on-One Tackling

One of the most important skills for a CDM is making strong tackles. A CDM must be able to tackle effectively to win the ball back from the opposition and prevent them from advancing up the field.

A good CDM knows when to make a tackle and when to stay on their feet and contain the opposition.

Anticipating & Intercepting

A CDM must possess the skills to anticipate well and, subsequently, intercept passes from the opposing team.

Essentially, teams will want the CDMs to create smart and constant havoc in the middle.


While defensive responsibilities are the primary focus for a CDM, they also play an important role in the team’s attack.

A CDM must be able to pass accurately and quickly to start attacks and maintain possession.

A good CDM has a wide range of passing skills and is comfortable passing both short and long distances.


Finally, a CDM must have excellent positioning skills. A CDM’s positioning is critical to the team’s defensive shape and can prevent opposition players from finding space in dangerous areas.

Here’s an image of the primary area where a CDM operates.

Space Covered by CDM

A CDM is constantly aware of their positioning on the field and the positioning of their teammates in comparison to their opposition.

Styles of Defensive Midfielder

A defensive midfielder’s role could slightly change depending on the coach’s game formations and tactics. Here are some variations of defensive midfielders.

Defensive Midfielder

Their primary responsibility is to disrupt the other team’s play. They put faith in their natural ability to make defensive plays happen. These players take full responsibility when things go good and bad. They usually have a strong character and will their team to succeed.

Players in this position don’t have to be the biggest as long as they are able to disrupt momentum.

Holding Midfielder

These players are more technically proficient defensive midfielders whose main role leans more towards attacking. They usually have the green light to cover more of the field when appropriate.

Holding midfielders mostly “keep” their place in front of the defense and anticipate well when necessary to neutralize threats from the other team.


A hybrid defensive midfielder is fluid in game situations. For example, if their team is winning, they may tend to gravitate more toward a true defensive midfielder.

They have strong technical and physical skills of a Defensive Midfielder but may lack the size of other defenders. Because of this, we may classify them as a hybrid of defensive and holding midfielders.

What Jersey Numbers Do CDMs Wear?

The central defensive midfielder position is usually wearing the number 5 or 6 on the back of their uniform. This is sometimes interchangeable with the center-back position which typically wears 4 or 5.

It’s important to note that the numbers worn by players are not set in stone and can vary depending on the team and coach’s preferences, and sometimes players may wear different numbers throughout their career.

Best CDMs to Watch (Past & Present)

Over the years, many great players have played in this position, leaving their mark on the game. Here are some of the most famous CDMs in the history of soccer.

  • Lothar Matthaus: The German soccer player played for several famous soccer clubs including Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and New York MetroStars. He not only has a World Cup under his belt but also seven Bundesliga titles and a UEFA Cup.
  • Claude Makélélé: The French midfielder is widely regarded as one of the best CDMs of all time. He played for clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea, and was known for his ability to break up opposition attacks and start counter-attacks. Makélélé’s name has become synonymous with the CDM position, and his style of play has been emulated by many players since.
  • Xabi Alonso: The Spanish midfielder was a master of the CDM position. He played for clubs like Real Madrid, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich, and was known for his excellent passing and vision. Alonso was also a great tackler and could read the game well, making him a complete player in the midfield.
  • Claudio Gentile: The Italian defender was a tough-tackling CDM who played for the national team and clubs like Juventus. He was known for his physicality and ability to mark opposition players out of the game. Gentile was a key player in Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning team, and his defensive skills were highly valued by his coaches.
  • Claudio Marchisio: The Italian midfielder was a versatile player who could play in multiple positions, including CDM. He played for Juventus for most of his career and was known for his excellent passing, vision, and work rate. Marchisio was also a great tackler and could break up opposition attacks with ease.
  • N’Golo Kanté: The French midfielder has become one of the most famous CDMs in recent years. He played a key role in Leicester City’s 2015-16 Premier League-winning team and has since won multiple titles with Chelsea. Kanté is known for his tireless work rate, excellent tackling, and ability to cover ground quickly.
  • Casemiro: Casemiro is a Brazilian professional soccer player who is known for his physicality, tackling ability, and passing range. He became a key player for Real Madrid, helping the team win numerous domestic and international titles, including four Champions League titles. In 2022, Casemiro transferred to Premier League club Manchester United.
  • Declan Rice: He plays as a defensive midfielder and center-back for Premier League club West Ham United and the England national team. Rice is known for his versatility, work rate, and passing ability. He has also been praised for his leadership skills, having been named as West Ham’s captain in August 2021.

How to Improve as a Central Midfielder

Training Sessions

Like any position in soccer, improving as a CDM requires dedication and hard work on and off the field. One of the best ways to improve is by practicing specific drills that focus on the skills required for the position. Some drills that can help include:

  • Passing drills to improve accuracy and speed
  • Tackling drills to improve timing and technique
  • Positioning drills to improve spatial awareness and decision-making
  • Endurance drills to improve stamina and fitness
  • Weight training as the player gets older

Watching Professional Matches

Another way to improve as a CDM is by watching professional players who excel in the position. Pay special attention to their movements, decision-making, and communication on the field.

Take note of how they position themselves on the field, how they distribute the ball, and how they defend against opposing players.

Honestly, watching the pros can help you improve your own skills and develop your own style of play.

Playing in Different Positions

Playing in different positions can also help you improve as a CDM.

By playing in other positions, you can gain a better understanding of the game, improve your versatility, and develop new skills that can be applied to the CDM position.

For example, playing as a center-back can improve your defensive skills, while playing as an attacking midfielder can improve your passing and vision. Combine these two positions and a team has an elite CDM on their team.

Are CDMs Going Away?

There have been some rumblings in recent years that the central defensive midfielder position is becoming less important in modern soccer.

Some argue that the increased emphasis on attacking play and possession-based strategies means that there is less need for a specialized defensive midfielder.

However, others contend that the CDM remains a crucial component of any successful team. I think this is especially true in 11v11 youth play.

While it is true that some teams may opt for a more attacking-minded midfield, there are still many teams that rely heavily on a strong defensive presence in the center of the pitch.

One factor that may be contributing to the perception that CDMs are becoming less important is the rise of versatile players who can play multiple positions.

Many modern midfielders are comfortable both in a defensive role and further up the field, which can make it easier for teams to adapt to different opponents and situations.

However, this does not necessarily mean that the CDM position is disappearing altogether.

If you are a player reading this or a parent of a player, versatility is important in youth soccer. A dynamic player that has the skills to play offense and defense will fit in any formation. 


This article was written for the players who are interested in playing as central defensive midfielder (CDM) or are looking to get better at the position.

Mentally, a hard-nosed player who is aggressive makes for a good CDM. CDMs that disrupt plays from the opposition will always have a place on a team.

By combining a strong mentality with solid soccer skills such as tackling, passing, and communication, a player will soar to new heights!

Frequently Asked Questions

What does CDM stand for?

CDM in soccer stands for Central Defensive Midfielder.

Do CDMs need to be tall?

Nope! CDMs are usually strong and aren’t afraid to make tackles. Rather than look at stature, I think mental toughness and skills are more important, especially in youth soccer.

What does ‘midi’ mean in soccer?

‘Midi’ is short for the midfielder soccer position.

What is the difference between a Central Defensive Midfielder and Central Attacking Midfielder (CAM)?

A CDM has more of a defensive role while a CAM is attacking more and creating scoring opportunities.

Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

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