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Patrick Vieira: How to be a midfield destroyer

Put the team first

“The first step to playing as a defensive midfielder is understanding your role and accepting it. You’re there to work hard and to help everyone else, before yourself. The role of the defensive midfielder has changed. In the past it was just about protecting the back four, but now you are asked to do everything: score goals, make assists and defend. Your team-mates need to be able to count on you. And when you’re having a bad game you need to know they’ve got your back. This kind of trust gives you confidence.”

Use your football brain

“As a defensive midfielder you must be tactically aware. You’re at the heart of the team so you have to hold everything together and allow other players to express themselves. To do this you need to talk a lot and use your brain, because quite often you have to be in the right place at the right time. You have to cover the gap between the midfield and the back four, cover the left and right full-backs when they go forward and the central defenders when they push further up the pitch.”

Impose yourself early

“Physicality was a very important part of my game. I knew that the first contact in the battle was going to be really important. This is the moment when you impose yourself and win games. Being strong in the first tackle says, ‘I’m here and I’m going to try and make it hard for you’. Intimidation is part of the game, but as a defensive midfielder you also have to be really good technically. You have to have the ability to collect the ball from the back four and pass it on to the front players.”


Shut out the opposition’s attack by learning to defend as a team with this drill from the World Cup winner

“To begin this drill set your team out as if you were lining up for kick-off. At Arsenal we played 4-4-2. The coach stands in the centre circle and positions four coaches on the sidelines – two on either side.

Then you have a coach stand in between the back four and the midfield. Once everyone is in position the coach in the centre circle (coach A) plays a pass to any one of the five other coaches.

If the ball goes out wide to coach F the team have to move across at speed to close the space down as a unit. It’s important the players learn to cover one another.

Once the space has been shut down coach F plays the ball back to coach A, the team resets and they play another pass to a different coach.

I like this drill because you do it without opposition, which helps you to focus on positioning and spatial awareness.

The aim of the drill is to help the players learn team shape, get compact and keep the right distances between one another.

When you watch Barcelona play they always find Messi, Iniesta and Xavi in space between the lines. The tighter the space between the lines, the less chance they will have to find these players.

Both Arsene Wenger and Roberto Mancini like this drill and use it.”

Patrick is an ambassador for Western Union’s new PASS initiative, turning every pass in this season’s UEFA Europa League into funding for one day’s education for young people around the world

For more football tips see:
Aaron Ramsey: Overrun the opposition
Marco Verratti: How to be a deep-lying playmaker
Shield the ball like Philipp Lahm
Lucas Leiva: The spoiler

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