The Legacy and Impact of the Number 6 in Soccer

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What is the number 6 in soccer? Jersey squad numbers are a very special part of the beautiful game that were first introduced in the Early 1900’s. Back in the day it became normal to assign a number to a specific position on the soccer team, starting with the goalkeeper as number 1 and the left winger as number 11.

Today fans and players still associate numbers with positions although the players no longer have to be matching numbers and positions. Out of all the jersey numbers, one of the most iconic ones is the number 6 which is for the central defensive midfielder role.

In this blog, I will explain everything you need to know about the number 6 in soccer.

Number 6 in Soccer

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What is the Number 6 in Soccer?

The term “number 6” in soccer refers to the defensive midfielders who play in front of the central defenders, also known as the center backs, and at the base of the midfield. The defensive midfielder is an essential link between defense and attack acting as the engine of the team and the glue that holds it together.

Depending on the team’s tactics and formation, The number 6, or the CDM, can be part of a three man midfield, with a lone 6 playing behind the other two midfielders, usually central midfielders (CM) or central attacking midfielders (CAM), or with two number 6s playing behind one central midfielder or central attacking midfielder.

Responsibilities of the Number 6 Midfielder

The number 6 is arguably the most important position on the soccer field since they are right in the middle of everything and they have a full 360 degree view.

These are the main defensive and attacking responsibilities of the number 6 in soccer:

  • Provide cover for the defensive line by occupying the spaces in front of them
  • Drop back and join the defensive line when necessary
  • Help keep the defensive shape of the team
  • Offer passing options for the centre backs by using well-timed movements
  • Break up attacks from opposition teams with tackles and interceptions before they reach the penalty area
  • Link the defense with the offense and start fast counterattacks when necessary
  • Control the flow and tempo of the game
  • The number 6 can also push up to the final third to create scoring opportunities, but if this happens it is important to communicate with the other center midfielders so that one can stay back and provide cover/

Key Traits for Being a Successful Number 6

Now that you are familiar with the main responsibilities of the number 6, let’s go over the key traits needed to succeed in this position.

  • Positioning
    • As a number 6, it is very important to have a good positional sense, especially during the different phases of the game, to not get caught out of position and to cover for teammates when necessary.
    • Understanding positioning will also allow number 6s to be better able to read the opponent’s play, intercept balls, and regain possession.
  • Defensive abilities
    • The main job of the number 6 is to provide defensive coverage for the back line which means they need to have strong defensive attributes such as intercepting passes, being strong off the ball, being able to slide tackle, win loose balls, win headers, and read plays before they even happen.
  • Awareness
    • Having high soccer IQ, elite awareness, and being able to gather a lot of information through effective scanning, is crucial for a number 6 and their decision making abilities. Since they are in the middle of the field, the number 6 must be aware of what is happening everywhere around them, including where the ball is, where their teammates are, where the opponents are, and where the empty space is and where it is going to be.
  • First Touch
    • Your first touch and how you receive passes is crucial as a number 6 because one bad touch can lead to a loss of possession of the ball which can leave your team vulnerable at the back. Your first touch should set you up for your next move, which is something that you should know, even long before you get the ball.
  • Passing Accuracy
    • As a number 6, you also need to have great passing abilities and accuracy including short passes, long passes, in the air, on the ground, and many other types of passes. Having good passing skills will allow the number 6 to participate in effective build up play to get the ball up the field and not lose possession when playing from out of the back.
  • Dribbling
    • No longer limited to purely defending roles, modern soccer teams demand its holding midfielder to possess excellent dribbling skills, too. Dribbling skills will allow defensive midfielders to maintain control under pressure, create space, and get past opponents to get the ball up the field away from their own half.
  • Stamina
    • The number 6 position is a very physically and mentally demanding position that requires a lot of stamina since there is a lot of running from defense to offense throughout the course of a match. Along with stamina you need a high work rate, because it is no use having all that stamina if you are not showing it off in-game.

Iconic Number 6s in Soccer History

Now that we have discussed the main responsibilities and key traits for being a successful number 6, let’s talk about some of the best players, past and present, who have played this critical role. Analyzing world class players is one of the best ways to improve as a player because you can add habits and skills from their game to your game.

  • N Golo Kante- Al Ittihad
  • Rodri- Manchester City
  • Declan Rice- Arsenal (Previously with West Ham)
  • Aurelien Tchouameni- Real Madrid
  • Joshua Kimmich- Bayern Munchen
  • Thiago Alcantara- Liverpool
  • Casemeiro- Manchester United
  • Gavi- FC Barcelona
  • Xavi- FC Barcelona
  • Koke- Atletico Madrid

Number 6 in Soccer Image by Source

Frequently Asked Questions

What do soccer numbers mean?

In soccer, the jersey numbers used to represent specific soccer positions on the field. Nowadays, teams don’t have to match their position with their jersey numbers, but some numbers are still associated with certain positions. The number 6 in soccer is a term used for players playing as holding midfielders, also known as the defensive midfielders.

Who is the best number 6 in soccer history?

Xavi Hernandez of the legendary Barcelona and Spanish national team is widely regarded as one of the best number 6s in history. Xavi was a key player and a crucial part of Barcelona’s and Spain’s success from 2008-2012 and beyond.

Xavi is one of the only players in history to win two European championships and one World Cup within a four year period.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the defensive midfielder, also known as the number 6, is one of the most important positions of the beautiful game of football. Depending on the soccer tactics of the coach, the number 6 may have slightly different roles, such as playing as a true holding midfielder or as an advanced playmaker, but their main goal is usually always to provide coverage for the defense and stop the attack of the other team.

In this blog, I covered all of the basic information that you need to know about the number 6 in soccer.

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