How to play at full back position in soccer: Positioning yourself and how to defend well

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Find out how to really nail down your starting place or grow into your position as we look at the key aspects of a full back job. How you go about it is an entirely different story and up to you. This quick guide will show you what to do, and why right back, left back (both commonly known as full back) is the most secretly coveted position in all of football.

A bit of everything

A highly versatile position for the very versatile. Full back, whether you play on the right or left flank, offers something a little more exciting than playing in the centre of defence. Central defence is more about the hustle and bustle, aerial duals and combative prowess.

A good full back should have at least some sort toughness to them as it is still a position in the defensive line. However once you are adept at performing your defensive duties, a whole other world opens up for this secretly glamorous position.

More attacking freedom 

As a full back you are expected to be involved in the attacking phases more so than your our defensive teammates. You are in many cases expected to either carry the ball up the wing or overlap the winger providing an added option and threat to the opposition. It is not surprising to see a world class right or left back with a good degree of skill and flair. Many teams use this tactic to double up down the flank and often, their full backs provide a good number of created chances through this play. Mainly taking place through crosses and key passes into the oppositions box, from tight angles from the byline.

Viewing the game

As a full-back you are gifted an unexpected advantage – vision. You can now see at least 75% of the field at all times. Playing with your back the majority of the time  to what is off pitch means you are always facing the action. In contrast a central midfielder would only be able  see 25-50% normally in his immediate vision. There are many midfielders are are gifted with much more vision that that. We also have a great article on improving your vision.

Similarities to midfield

You will often find that many full backs didn’t choose that position earlier in there career. Left and right backs positions are filled with would be wingers and midfielders with defensive reading of the game. This is mainly because at one point each of the 3 positions spend 30% percent of their time doing a job, similar to the 2 other positions. 

A winger must at times play fullback and help out defensively. A full back often overlaps and comes towards central play when attacking. A midfielder is both required to attack and defend, a must have trait for a fullback. Midfielders switching to LB or RB will feel the added bonus of improved vision and a wider view of the pitch. They will have more time on the ball, but will be required to use dribbling and sprinting skills more.

Looking like Maradona at Left Back

Passing the ball and maintaining possession will be easier as wingers tend to have excellent ball control. He or she will go from being an average winger, to looking like a world class RB. This is providing the defensive side of the players game is sufficient for that level.

Switching to Full Back

Wingers switching to right or left back, will feel the benefit of playing further back where they are afforded more time, and are going against midfielders. Rather than a specialised LB or RB who trains for players just like them – fast and skillful players. A winger will feel slightly restricted by defensive positioning requirements and attention to duties. Consequently, they will require a level of fitness to have energy for attacking play, and also for running back into position quickly. 

The job of a fullback

To put it simply the job of a fullback primarily is to defend their side of the left or right flank, mainly in their own half.

In order to see the details of all the duties of a fall back we have to look at each part in terms of priority. They may have many responsibilities, but their team will need them to prioritise each one. Handpicked to counter the oppositions style of play, control the flow of the game and deal with any potential defensive threats or weaknesses……on both teams!

It is this ever changing list of priorities and trying to balance everything that makes full back an interesting position. Open for each players interpretation and choice of expression. In most cases defending your side of the pitch in the defensive third/half, should remain at number one. But how you fill up the rest of the spots is totally up to you.

Your duties at full back

Duties in no particular order:

  • Defending your defensive flank – sniffing out crosses, tackling and diverting wingers.
  • Supporting your central defensive partners
  • Providing options wingers and midfielders – passing support
  • Supporting your winger – offensively 
  • Overlapping, skillful attacking play  and crossing

Fitness required

Although you can have more fun than your more positionally disciplined defending partners, you have to be fit enough to be in two places at once.

You’ve just jumped in the shower – and the delivery man comes with your sofas. Your beans are almost cooked, the toaster just popped up and the kettle has just boiled.

It’s like throwing your own big party, you will be busy, at times.

Face off against a skilful winger… slide tackle and kick the ball away from him… get up and run towards said ball before winger… travel with the ball, beating the winger again who tried to get the ball back…and pass the ball to the midfielder. The midfielder plays the ball to your winger,who plays to you for a quick 1-2 pass, where you need to run down the flank… The chance is snuffed out by the defence and they have lobbed a ball into your half into your defensive lines… You now need to sprint the length of the pitch to get back to provide support.

But this is nothing, why, because it’s just the day in the life of a fullback. We will be ready to do it all again in a matter of minutes.

To excel in this position you will be super fit and in tremendous cardiovascular health. You will be able to chase down any unsuspecting midfielder and striker from enormous distances, unthinkable to human thought and evolution.

Me? Take who on 1-on-1? Laughable. But you are happy to go on the ride where you inevitably emerge with ball and pride intact. Well that’s the idea anyway…the goal.

Positioning

The key to defending as a full back is your starting position. Along the wings where there are acres of space, you will be partaking in some race of some sort. Where you are standing in relation to this race and where the opponent wants to get, will be of great importance.

In most scenarios, forcing a winger or foward out to the flanks by the sideline is the best and desired option. In the final third, opposing players shouldn’t be able to cut into advantageous creation zones with ease. You want to position yourself so you encourage them to either play it backwards to a teammate or central midfielder (back into traffic). Or try their luck taking you on 1 on 1.

Get with the shuffles

Stand in front on them when they are running at you, but moving with them adjusting your movements to adapt to their micro movements in direction. You want to maintain a steady gap, with an aim to slowly close it once most of benefit to you. Too wide of a gap and the opponent can simply cut inside at will, or have a massive running start on if trying to take you on. Too close and you can be turned inside and out at their will. Defending on reactions, where they are in control. You want to maintain a gap where, whichever option they choose, you will be very close to them. 

Stand slightly to the right and you are inviting them onto your left side. Stand to the left and you are opening up space on your right side. Limiting options on the left and letting the player know you will make it harder for him on that side. If you make it the obvious choice, you will know the obvious likely movement of the opponent. With that you take away an attacking players tool – the element of surprise. The thing that keeps them 1 step ahead, while you are trying to work them out.

So now you know how tip the scales in your favour, you now need to know when to employ each tactic. Making a player go onto his weaker foot during a dribble, especially where he has limited options (wings & bylines) you increase your chances of winning the ball or he or she making a mistake. Unless you are up against a pacey player, who can dribble comfortably on both feet – a fullbacks nightmare.

If you know you have the beating of a player speed and agility wise, show him down the byline and isolate the options. You can turn the encounter into a footrace, where you will beat him 90% of the time.

You can also read our amazing article on How to position yourself in a soccer match if you need some more tips on improving where you are with and without the ball.

Pro tip: Having quick feet so you can block and close down any options right away, when 1 on 1 with an attacker is a very good way of communicating to the attacker that you are ready for anything. A great way to discourage take ons. It’s all about the attitude and persona you are displaying during the duel. Through your body language, mannerisms and sounds, you can let them know your are there and that you mean business.

Defence prowess and tackling

Part of being a full back is approaching your defensive game with a no nonsense attitude. Attacking and flair players often run on confidence and momentum. So it is important to stamp your intentions onto the opposing players early. All while following the rules of football and displaying sportsmanship.

You will need to be aggressive and pro active in the early encounters to remain on top throughout the game. Once a winger or forward player feels he has found a chink in the armour, he or she will start picking away. Give them nothing and ensure they have a very quiet game

Your playing style and what your team needs

Soccer is a team game, so to really excel in your position, you will need to make sure your chosen style of playing works well with the team. Ultimately you want to be instrumental to your teams success so really take the time to assess, how can you help the team more.

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