The goalkeeper is the only player who is allowed to touch the ball with his hands. Also, he is usually the only player with a full overview of the pitch. Because of this unique advantage, it is the keeper’s responsibility to direct and instruct his teammates. He must be communicative and should possess leadership qualities.
The sweeper is always “the last player” in defense, roaming laterally behind the other defenders. Yet, he must not sway too far toward the sidelines. The sweeper’s job is to anticipate and close down gaps left by other defenders. Since the sweeper never marks opposing attackers, he can occasionally move forward, for example during set plays or corner kicks. Overall, the sweeper needs to be experienced, perceptive and should be able to handle the ball with confidence. The sweeper position was popularized by German legend Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970’s.
Stopper / Center fullback
The stopper plays in the center of the defense. The job of the stopper is to mark attackers and fight with them for the ball. This is the most defensively-oriented position in soccer. Stoppers have to remain in the backline nearly at all times. Playing in the center of the defense means that the ball may often be crossed or served in your vicinity. Therefore, the stopper position requires aggressiveness, strength, good heading ability and courageousness. Some teams may use two stoppers in conjunction.
Fullbacks are positioned on each side of the stopper, covering the area along the sideline. In defense, the fullback is either marking an attacker or covering the flank by waiting for incoming opponents. Fullbacks get involved during attacks by staying wide and sprinting up the sideline. It is not uncommon for a free fullback to move up the flank and take on the role of a winger. Generally speaking, fullbacks should have speed and good stamina.
Outside midfielder / Winger
The outside midfielder is expected to be active in both defense and attack. In defense, he usually marks opponents on the flank. If there are no opponents around, he may pinch in towards the middle while remaining in line with the ball. In attack, the outside midfielder must stay wide. By remaining near the sideline, he opens up the game especially during buildup. The outside midfielder should be able to dribble down the flank without losing possession. Besides being fit and active he should have good 1v1 skills.
The term “winger” has changed over the years and nowadays outside midfielders are often called wingers. Traditionally, wingers are strictly attacking players who stay wide, dribble the ball forward and serve in crosses.
The defensive midfielder is the backbone of the team. He roams laterally from sideline to sideline and pressures the ball. If one of his teammates loses the ball in the middle of the field, the defensive midfielder is expected to step in. In attacks, he should make supporting runs and provide back passing options, especially when the ball is near the sideline. Brazil’s former captain Dungha is a good example of a defensive midfielder. He led his team to the World Cup finals in both 1994 and 1998. Claude Makelele is another more recent example. Both Makelele and Dungha are aggressive tacklers, they know how to shield the ball and are always well positioned.
Center / Attacking midfielder
Center midfielders are usually the most skillful players in the team. A good center midfielder is always scanning the field for passing options and opportunities for plays. During attacks, he should be involved in the action by making runs towards the ball. On defense, the center midfielder is expected to drop back and pressure the ball. Overall, the position requires skill, stamina as well as good tactical understanding. Center midfielders who are very active in directing attacks are often given the title “playmakers”. Zinedine Zidane of France and Carlos Valderrama of Columbia are great examples.
Forward / Attacker
In addition to scoring, forwards are also expected to run back and support the midfield. This can best be observed in top-level games, where the forwards are often playing with their backs turned to goal. When a team is playing with two forwards, they must both move in conjunction. If the ball is on the left flank for example, they must shift so that one of them is in the center and the other one is near the sideline. By keeping the distance between each other constant, forwards can effectively pull apart the opposing defense. Because they usually work under a lot of pressure, forwards need to be composed and should be able to handle the ball quickly.
Unlike other attackers, the striker doesn’t shift to the sides as much, but remains in front of the opponent’s goal. When outnumbered, the striker should shield and play the ball back. The main ability of the striker is usually his strength and heading. Popular strikers in the game include Jan Koller, Carsten Jancker, Christian Vieri and Andriy Shevchenko. All of them are powerful, good in the air and it’s nearly impossible to push them off the ball.