Nov 19

5 Things to Know About Wide Defenders: Fullbacks or Wingbacks?


Full backs are difficult beasts. Do you play them as defenders? Do you want them to push on into the midfield to help attacks? Or do you want them bombing down the wings to put in crosses. Do you even want them at all? Well, it’s a difficult decision, but here are five things you should know about full backs, and how this can help you decide which ones you need.

1. If you don’t play with wide midfielders, full backs provide much-needed width

Formations such as the narrow 4-4-2 diamond, or a narrow 4-2-3-1 may not use any wide midfielders at all. Even if they do, if they are being told to cut inside often then the team could become almost totally devoid of any width. Width is good. Width offers opportunities to pull the opposition out of their comfort zones, creates space for the attackers to exploit, and provides crossing and shooting opportunities.

Given that this is the case, having full backs who can push forward (as full backs with an attack duty or wing backs) can be incredibly useful. By giving an extra passing option out wide, they can help recycle possession if the centre of the field gets crowded or they can push on to get shots or crosses of their own. If you have gone down a narrow formation route, having one or two wing backs can definitely help you get some width, and give your attack an extra dimension.

2. If a full back charges forward, someone will need to cover him

It’s all well and good having full backs support the attack, but if they leave a massive hole in their wake for the opposition to exploit then it becomes pretty pointless. Therefore, you will need to make sure that enough players can cover the marauder if the counter attack is launched.

For many teams, the use of one or more defensive midfielders will help in this regard. Either the DMC can pull wide to cover the hole, or he can sag back into the defensive line while one of the centre backs pulls wide. Whichever way it happens, at least the danger can be retarded long enough for the full back to sprint back into his position.

If your full back isn’t that quick (or fit), therefore, or you cannot sacrifice a midfielder to play this covering role, it might be best to keep the full back in the defence by only granting him a defend or support duty, and perhaps not ever giving him a wing back role.

3. Not all full backs are created equal – not even in the same team

Different full backs have different strengths. Some are quick and good at crossing; some are strong and good at disrupting the wings. It is highly unlikely that you will find a player who can do both to a great standard. It is also probably that within the same squad you will have some players who are good at getting forward and others who are primarily defenders. Therefore, don’t be afraid of asymmetry.

Having one full back as a marauding wing back and one as a defensive stopper can add something different to your tactics. One full back can help provide cover while the other goes forward. Similarly, you could put a slower, yet more creative midfielder on the side of the wing back, and have the wing back overlap him; whilst on the other you can free the winger to attack relentlessly since he knows he has defensive cover behind him. This can add a balance to the team and create variety in the attacking play of your side.

4. Full backs touch the ball – a lot

Statistically, full backs attempt a lot of passes, especially those with a wing back role. As they get forward, they play one-two passes with players inside them, and play penetrating balls to the wingers beyond them or the forwards in the centre. As a result, a good wing back will need to be good with the ball at his feet, and able to pick out a good pass.

This is great at keeping possession, recycling the ball when the central players come up against opposition pressure. However, if you know your full back is quite wasteful then it may be time to consider that he play a more defensive role. Check the player stats to make sure he isn’t giving away possession by making too many incomplete passes. If he is, look at what situation he tends to give the ball away most and see if you can avoid it. Full backs with defend or support duties will tend to look for simple passes to their winger or the midfield. Wing backs are more adventurous. Definitely take this into account when analysing your tactics.

5. You don’t necessarily need a full back at all

Plenty of teams play without full backs. Some have elected to push them into the WB positions – others have done away with them entirely. Most sides who do take the plunge and do this, however, tend to play with three centre backs.

Having three men in the centre allows the full backs to either play as reserved wingers in the WB positions, or as side midfielders in the M stratum. There’s no hard and fast rule about this as every manager is different. All that the side needs to do is ensure that the wings are adequately covered so that they don’t get swamped by a team attacking down the flanks. This can be achieved either by letting the side centre backs pull out to cover the wing (and here opposition instructions would be helpful on the opposing wingers), or by having the midfield help cover the defence (either with a holding midfielder or some sort of covering wider midfielder).

I have seen some managers play with only two centre backs and no full backs, using the WB positions to keep tabs on the opponent’s wingers. I’ve never tried it myself, so I don’t know how successful it has been. But I would assume that such a system would necessitate a DMC to help cover the defence when the opposition counter attacks.

Written By Gareth Millward
"Millie" is a long-standing member of the FM community and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com. As part of FM-Britain, he was a contributor to TT&F and involved with the new tactical interface in FM2010.
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