One of the most fun positions on the field to play as an attacking midfielder. In this article I will share some secrets of how to play as an attacking midfielder, also known as the #10. The #10 is one of the most fun roles to play because their defensive responsibility is somewhat limited compared to other midfield positions, they have the freedom to roam and be true playmakers, and they are typically the most skilled and creative players on the team. However, they do have a big responsibility such as figuring out ways to break down the oppositions defense, playing tight through balls into forwards and wingers with surgical precision, and controlling the tempo of the attack.
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Characteristics to Play as an Attacking Midfielder
1. Expert First Touch.
2. Dynamic on and off the ball (very well timed, runs)
3. Excellent passer and playmaker.
4. Unparalleled vision. Need to know where all players on the field are at all times. Constantly scanning the opposition for points of weakness.
5. Can control tempo of attack-knowing when to penetrate on the dribble, reload against packed in defenses, or how to spring a hungry forward.
For me, in late January of 2016, David Silva of Manchester City is the best #10 in the game. He is crafty, cunning, darty, attacks defenses on angles, understands when to dribble and hold the ball up or when to exploit the speed on the width. He is probably the best #10 in the world right now because he does have the likes of Fernandinho, Yaya Toure or Fernando playing around him...or the fact that his intricate style of play and that of Sergio Aguero are so well suited for each other. I find the beauty in his game is his ability to expertly weight passes in high pressure situations that unbalance defenses and give his attacking players high percentage opportunities to score. Adam Lallana also has these same features, but I feel that David Silva surpasses him in the Soccer IQ category. This could very well change for Lallana in the upcoming years as he gains international and playing experience, but as of right now, David Silva is the man to watch when learning to play as an attacking midfielder. Here is a look at a few of his qualities.
Primary Role of the #10 (Attacking Mid)
The primary role of the #10 is to act like the quarterback of the offensive lines (midfield and forward). This player needs to find pockets of space between the defensive and midfield lines to operate and also create and identify passing channels for exploiting gaps in the unbalanced opposition defense.
In the above image, you can see the ball has been played into the target forward #9, who has laid the ball back, as highlighted in the article, How to Play as a Lone Striker, a Pure #9. However, here we are focusing on the movement of the #10. You can see he has moved into a pocket of space to pick the ball up facing the field. He has 2 options to play either the 7 or the 11...the 7 is the path of least resistance. Once the ball is played through to the flank, the 11 is responsible for a back post run, the 9 a near post run.
The 10 will either need to read the game to a) go support the play from the winger in case of a reload or b) time his run into the penalty area to balance those of the 11/9. The 10 will make this decision based off what the oppositions mids and back line does, namely how well and quick does the oppositions center backs drop.
Often times in the modern game, the oppositions wingbacks are well versed in simple runs and plays. What would the #10 have done if the ball to the 7/11 wasn't on?
This above diagram is an example of the #10 controlling the tempo. The player could have very easily forced ball into the space where the opposing wingback had dropped, but instead opted to control tempo, and make a higher percentage decision by getting his #2 wingback involved. Now the 10 has a couple of options once we get the wingback involved. The 10 can go over to the flank, creating a 3v1 overload on the oppositions left back (#3) in an attempt to either get the 2/7 in behind the back line. Or, if the 11 or 9 have positioned themselves for back post runs, expected a big diagonal serve from the #2, the #10 should look to make a run into the box (near post) for any knockdowns or rebounds. This decision would depend on what stage of the game the team is in. If they are behind and trying to score, this is a good plan of action. If they are building the game or trying to slow the tempo, then creating overloads and maintaining possession is a better fit.
When should the #10 Run in Behind the Back Line?
Many times teams will line up to play a very condensed game, not allowing for a lot of time on the ball and creating high pressure situations all over the field. When the simple diagonal runs of the #9 cannot get any joy in behind, then it's time to look to augment the attack with runs from the attacking midfielder. The #9 will check in, showing interest, at this time the 10 needs to make the run through the back line, gambling that the center backs do not pick up and perhaps the 10 has given his midfield mark the slip.
#10 Runs When Midfield is Congested
If the 10 cannot find any space between the defensive and midfield lines, if the target forward is checking in, the 10 should look to exploit the space/gaps in behind the defense to break the line and open up the game.
How/When to Dribble as a #10?
As a rule of thumb on my teams, we do things my way in the defensive 3rd of the field and the middle 3rd of the field. As a coach, I understand that we have the most time on the ball in those areas of the field because we are likely numbers up. The quicker we can move the ball through the back and midfield going forward, the better we can counter and unbalance our opposition. That said, in the final 3rd, I give my players the creative license necessary to create space and goal scoring opportunities. This can be in the form of holding the ball up to wait for runners to get into critical positions, this can be going 1v1 to get a shot off on goal, or as I will cover in this section, how a #10 should dribble in order to confuse the back line. Side note here, just to cover my bases against coaches who are reading this: I do give my players patterns and ideas of where to make runs we can make play predictable and everyone has a general idea of how we are going to create a goal scoring opportunity.
When my #10 picks up the ball, and does not have any passing options readily available, but has time to dribble, I like them to dribble at the back line/defenders on an angle.
How the #10 Penetrates on the Dribble
The 10 should always look to take an angled line of attack on the defenders. This will open up gaps in the back line to slot through balls.
By doing this, the back line must respect the 10 on the dribble, if they do not confront him, he will find a way through on the GK 1v1. When one defender steps and there is mobility off the ball by the wingers and striker looking to stay onside and make angled runs there creates highly successful passing channels for this player to exploit. No matter how good a #10 is, if there is no mobility from these players, there will be no successful end product. The final point here is on the final ball, it needs to be properly weighted to keep away from the defender, keep the goalkeeper honest and on his line, and provide the opportunity for a "1-touch" finish from the attacking player.
How to Defend When Playing as an Attacking Midielder?
The goal of the #10 when defending is to make play predictable for the rest of the field. The #10 will take cues from his supporting players and instruct the #9 which way to force play. The #10, should then look to read the play and intercept any passes into the oppositions 6/8 in order to gain possession up high and counter.This is an example of how to defend in a press situation. Depending on your team's tactics, your coach might instruct you to keep a low line of confrontation, or assign more or less defensive responsibility.
Invite the Pass into the Defensive mid so you can easily get a read on the play and intercept.
One of David Silva's best traits is his defensive work rate. When the press is broken, you will often see him tracking back and hunting the play, and then picking the pocket of a less aware center midfielder.
Keep in mind, if you pick the pocket of a midfielder, they aren't going to be happy and you can expect a high work rate out of them straight away. So once you gain possession, on your next touch find a player facing the field and look to combine quickly in order to retain possession.
Use these several tips to increase your awareness of the #10 position and increase your success within your own team. Many of the principles applied to the #10 will aid the other attacking positions as well. For example, if you play as a Right Wing #7, dribbling on an angle inside will create angles to get your striker the ball and indicate to your #10 or #2 the opportunity to perform an overlapping run. Angles, Movement, Vision, Touch, and Awareness will take you far in the offensive 3rd of the field.