Did you ever wonder why the #10 is so popular in soccer?
To answer this question, we have to take a step back and look at what numbers on a soccer team originally meant.
Each player on the field was traditionally identified by a number. Goalkeeper was #1. Outside back #2. #10 was reserved for the attacking midfielder, the play-maker, the most creative and skilled player on the field.
So who are some of the most famous #10s that wore #10? Pele, Diego Maradona, Georghe Hagi, Eusebio, Roberto Baggio, Johann Cruyff, Zinadine Zidane. Lionel Messi.
Whenever we discuss our formations, we start with our farthest line of players back, and end with the farthest line of players upfield. Our general 11v11 shape is a 1-4-3-3, or in other words, one goalkeeper, four backs, three midfielders, and three forwards. However, it is important to keep in mind that not all defenders, midfielders, and forwards have the same role.
The Components of Each Position
US Soccer defines the requirements of each position in four components:
- T – Technical
- T – Tactical
- P – Physical
- M – Mental
Player #1 – Goalkeeper/Keeper/GK
•A vocal leader with athleticism, awareness, and versatility to serve as our anchor as well as our last line of resistance in many ways.
Players #2 and #3 – Outside Defenders/Outside Backs
•Extra-versatile, fit, quick players comfortable with freedom to play all over the field with a notably wide variety of responsibilities:
With our #2 on the right and our #3 on the left, these two players share a variety of likely-similar responsibilities (but with potential for slight differences depending on personel). With the ball, #2 and #3 are expected to generally stay wide to create space and width. However, the freedoms that these positions both may and should explore are countless. At times the expectation will be to use our #1, #4, #5, #6, #8, and the opposite #2/3 to just hold onto possession and seek opportunity. At times the expectation will be to find a good passing lane at a good passing angle to advance the ball forward in some manner to a fellow defender making a forward run, or anyone else in front of him or her, such as a #7/11 up a line, or into space in the midfield to a #9, #10,#6/8. Then, at times, the expectation is that #2 and #3 make forward runs themselves to help the attack via an overlap of #7 or #11, or by means many other methods in order to create numerical advantage, create space or deception, or frequently to receive a ball and take on defenders to create scoring opportunities for teammates. Due to this wide range of possibilities and freedoms, at high levels of play, it is common for some of the fastest, most fit, and most versatile players to be found as a #2 or #3.
Without the ball, #2 and #3 are usually expected to condense rather than staying wide to assist in defending and winning 50/50 balls. The two are also expected to cover for #4 and #5 when forward runs are made or perhaps when another defender has been beaten via pass or dribble. It is also very necessary for the two to be aware of wide attacking players of the opposing side – not necessarily closely marking them, but never losing sight of them nor disregarding his or her feel for their locations and tendencies.
#4 and #5 – Central Defenders/Center Backs
•Strong, well-rounded, ball-winning, physical and intelligent defenders with roles involving composure and extraordinary leadership simultaneously
•With the ball, #4 and #5 are expected to possess the ball in our own third of the field using #1, #2, #3, #6, #8, etc. While also looking for the opportune moment to find an optimistic option for advancing the ball into the middle or attacking third. It is well within reason and even expected with certain players that #4 and #5 get involved in the attack, particularly on set pieces, corners, and crosses, provided it is communicated to the other #4/#5, #2 and #3 and midfielders so that succeptibility to a counter attack is not left exposed. Our #4 and #5 should also have the leadership abilities and understanding of the game to recognize and help instruct teammates regarding when and where the more opportune moments to advance the ball are.
Without the ball, #4 and #5 are expected to stay in top leadership form and communicate all movement, marking of space and individual opponents, and hypothetical situations. Generally speaking, our #4 and #5 would be physically strong players that use their bodies well and understand how to contain and wait for defensive help when necessary, who would rarely be out-battled by an attacking player for a 50/50 ball, while possessing enough speed to not be beat by simple over-the-top and through-balls combined with speed of an attacking opponent. Our #4 and #5 should be superior playing in the air and should feel comfortable playing under pressure and maintaining good decision making that is productive.
#6 and #8 – Defensive Central Midfielders/Center Midfielders
•Players skilled in tight spaces, able to receive and distribute, able to find space and relocate multiple times, accustomed to winning 50/50 balls and keeping possession with responsibilities involving penetrating the middle and attacking third by continuously finding open space and passing lanes to assist teammates
•With the ball, these players should initially be a large part of building from the back and advancing the ball in the direction of the middle and attacking third of the field, frequently via penetrating passing. At all times, #6 and #8 need to be asking themselves “What can I do to help my teammate with the ball?” The answer to this question almost always is checking into space and communicating with nearby teammates to ensure that our player with the ball has options forward, left, right, and support. It is important for these players to understand that standing still with defenders in the way or not in open space – in some manner being consistently involved when in possession of the ball – makes it close to impossible for us to advance and makes it embarrassingly simple for the opposition to take away all of our options and force turnovers.
•Without the ball these players should be doing their best to disguise and cover the opposition’s passing lanes and angles in order to force turnovers and regain posession of the ball. There is also the expectation of recovering defensively when necessary to prevent being at a numerical disadvantage and/or to assist the back 5 players.
#7 and # 11 – Outside Forwards/Wingers
•Imaginative, creative attackers who can become available both on a run or in finding open space, comfortable putting defenders on heels both by passing combinations and on the dribble, with expectations of timing runs well to assist in finishing well when the opposite side of the field of the center of the field creates scoring opportunities as well as communication with other attacking players to creatively create said opportunities
•With the ball, #7/#11 are expected to start high and wide to give a quick line passing option from #2/#3 or anyone else, but are absolutely expected to immediately deviate from that once it is no longer an option. Originality and creativity is valued at these positions because of how easily it creates scoring opportunities. Close and frequent combination play between #3/#11 and #2/#7 are simple but effective – overlaps, wall passes, etc. Streaking outside-in and inside-out runs to receive diagonal balls, interchanging of position with player such as #9, #10, the opposite #7/#11. #6/#8, #2/#3. and a strong and diverse arsenal of 1v1 attacking options are all extraordinarily valuable tools.
•Without the ball, pressuring the opponent’s defenders, covering passing lanes, and making passing angles difficult are an absolute must. It is also imperative to communicate with #2/#3 respectively and recover as a defender when necessary.
#9 – Center Forward/Target Player
•Target Player the preferred name personally, as it is the beginning of our attack on a regular basis and therefore constantly a target which we are seeking rather than a single player upon whom many rely to score individually, is a player that is constantly finding open space higher up field with a role concentrated around both being the start of our attack and possession in the final third of the field as well as creating scoring opportunities and finishing scoring opportunities created by others.
•With the ball: #9, while staying high to ensure both height and width, is constantly finding space or making runs to receive the ball (AND KEEP IT) in or near our attacking third of the field. Originality, creativity, and versatility are required as there will be circumstances in which the correct play is to receive, turn, and attack immediately, as well as circumstances in which the correct play is to receive, possess, and wait for teammates’ help. Recognizing which circumstances are which as well as a good sense of variety can be super valuable. Advanced understanding of the opposing defense as a whole as well as individuals can be an amazing tool, such as recognizing an individual whom he or she can beat quickly via the dribble almost every time.
•Without the ball: #9 absolutely has to understand the obligation of pressuring the opposing defense aggressively intelligently at the right times, while not unnecessarily wasting energy. Without #9’s defensive presence and pressure, it would be frustratingly difficult to win back possession of the ball.
#10 – Attacking Central Midfielder/Offensive Center Midfielder
•With likely the most freedoms and flexibility on the field, #10 is probably the most well-rounded player on the field. It is imperative that he or she is a strong ball winner and that he or she is productive with the ball once the ball is won. Expectations range from penetrating via dribble and/or passing combinations, scoring, creating scoring opportunities for others, and communication with the forward-most players as a whole to maximize efficiency.
•With the ball: Rarely does proper attacking play occur without #10 involvement , so a relatively even number of the following is ideal: receving and turning to attack on the dribble, receiving and laying the ball off and find space or make a run for combination passing, taking players on selfishly with the idea of scoring in mind, taking on players selfishly with the idea of setting up a teammate in mind, etc.
Without the ball: Organizing with #7/#11/#9/etc to effectively pressure and cause the opposing defense to give up the ball.
Next: “What about 7v7 and 9v9?”