Fullbacks are essential players in a team’s defense, they are positioned on the left and the right side of the center-backs, closest to the sideline. Fullbacks are usually faster players who can keep up with opposition wingers and reduce the impact that these creative players can have on the game. As the game has evolved fullbacks have become just as important to an attack as they are when they are defending. This post is going to give you everything you need to know on how you can be a better fullback in soccer
Where the fullbacks play
The fullbacks are the wide defenders in the backline and each team will have 2 of them (if the team is playing with 4 defenders). There will be a left fullback and a right fullback, although these are technically 2 different positions the roles and responsibilities within the team are identical.
In the image above you can see where the fullbacks will play and what areas of the pitch, they operate in. The left-back is the number 3 and the right-back is the number 2.
6 roles of the fullback in soccer
The role of the fullback in soccer will change depending on whether or not your team has the ball.
If your team has the ball then the fullback will have more attacking responsibilities, however, if your team does not have the ball then the fullback will have more defensive responsibilities.
Below are the most important roles and responsibilities that I coach to my players to help them be better fullbacks in soccer.
Roles of the fullback in soccer when in possession of the ball
provide width to the team
When a team has the ball the fullbacks must provide width for the team along with the wingers. When teams attack you want to try and make the pitch as big as possible, this is to try and drag the opposition players out of position which can create space for yourself or your teammates to exploit either in wide areas or central areas of the pitch.
By providing width to the team you are giving your team a great option to start an attack or change the point of attack when you receive the ball.
Do not get disheartened if you do not receive the ball, even by providing that option to pass out wide you forcing a player to defend you or close you down which means that more space is created for other players in the middle of the pitch such as the number 6 or 8.
Overlapping runs are a fantastic way to create an attacking overload in wide areas against an opposition fullback.
An overlapping run is where the wide player has possession of the ball and the fullback starts their run from behind the wide player and loops around the back of them, making a run into space in front of them for the wide player to pass to.
The overlapping run creates a 2v1 scenario in the attacking team’s favor, the opposition fullback will be caught in two minds about whether or not to go to the player with the ball or anticipate the pass being played to the fullback.
Again, you may not even receive the ball but the fact that you are making the run in the first place will create a bit more time and space for your teammate on the ball.
Deliver dangerous crosses into the box
When you do receive the ball in wide areas in the opposition’s half or get behind the last line of defenders your first thought should be to get a yard of space and try to cross the ball to a teammate as early as possible.
The longer you dwell on the ball the space that the attacker created has gone or the defender has managed to block the passing angle
This is why fullbacks who can deliver a pinpoint cross to an attacker are so valuable to a team’s success.
There are a variety of different crosses you can use to help assist your teammates with goals.
Roles of the fullback in soccer when out of possession of the ball
When your team has the ball you want to make the pitch as big as possible to drag the opposition out of position to create spaces to exploit. However when you are defending you want to remain tight and compact to prevent spaces from appearing.
As a fullback, the worst-case scenario is a pass being played through the middle, splitting yourself and the center back closest to you.
By remaining compact your defensive line will be a lot hard to break down as you will be forcing the opposition around the outside of you where you are in a better position to defend.
show players away from the goal
You don’t always need to win the ball to be the best fullback, as fullback if you are able to control where an attacker goes that is just as effective as winning the ball.
As a fullback you will want to try to always show the attacker down the line and away from the goal, this forces the attacker into the corner and isolates them from the rest of the team.
The attacker will also pose less of a threat due to the area of the pitch they are in
Also if the attacker has their back to you and facing their own goal you should maintain pressure on them and force them back towards their own goal.
A word of warning though, if you get too close to a tricky winger they may be able to turn you. Always try to keep at least an arm’s length away from them to give you enough space to react quickly if they do try to get past you.
Here are some great 1v1 defending tips and 1v1 defending drills to brush up on the defensive side of your game.
Cover the center-backs
The fullbacks are usually the fastest players in the defensive line, this means that if a long ball goes over the center-back head the full-back must be prepared to track back and cover the space behind the center-backs.
Depending on what side the ball is on the fullback will be the deepest lying player in the defensive line.
For example, if the ball is on the right-hand side the defensive line will shuffle to the right, this means that the left-back will be the deepest lying defender and will be covering the space in the middle, behind the center backs.
Because of their speed fullbacks are great at stopping counter attackers, they can match the speed of the attackers and delay their immediate threat to the goal.
This gives enough time for recovering defenders to get back in position and gives them the numerical advantage when defending.
Traits you need to develop to become a better fullback
Reading of the game
If you want to be a better fullback in soccer you need to improve your ability to read the game and anticipate what is about to happen.
When your team is attacking you need to pick how and when to make your runs and assess whether or not you will leave your team exposed if you do decide to make an over-lapping run.
If you make your run too early the play may have already broken down and now you are going to have to make a recovery run back to ensure there are no spaces for the opposition team to move into.
Making these unnecessary runs are going to eat into your energy reserves and you may not even last the full game!
Equally, if you are making your runs too late then the opportunity may have passed and the chance to create an attacking threat has gone.
In short, make sure you are constantly scanning the area so you are aware of what is happening around you.
Try to plan 3 steps ahead to anticipate what will happen next.
The same goes for when you are defending, try to be pro-active rather than reactive. Instead of putting out the fire, make sure the fire doesn’t happen in the first place.
How well you read the game ultimately comes down to your experience, the more experience you have playing the greater understanding of the game you will have.
Don’t worry about making mistakes, they’re lessons learned and you’ll be better off for it!
Composed under pressure
In the current game, a lot of coaches are encouraging their teams to play out from the back which means that fullbacks must be comfortable passing and receiving the ball under pressure.
The most composed fullbacks are the ones who are scanning the area to see what is happening around them.
With this information they know exactly what they want to do with the ball before the ball has even been passed to them, this is why they look so relaxed when receiving the ball.
Another thing that the best fullbacks do is create better angles to receive the ball in an open body position, this allows them more time on the ball and keeps are many options open to them to pass to as possible.
Good work ethic
The fullbacks in any team will always work incredibly hard, they will help support attacks and be the first ones back to ensure counterattack does not happen.
As mentioned previously when the fullbacks make forward runs to support the attack they may not always receive the ball, this is not to say that their runs are not important.
If anything these movements off the ball is just as important whether they receive the ball or not because they can create spaces and gaps for other teammates to move into which can lead to more opportunities to score more goals.
Do not get discouraged if this does happen, these runs are still vital to a successful attacking team!
You are your teammates’ extra eyes and ears.
Any player along the backline needs to be great at communication especially as they can see everything that is in front of them, so giving quick pieces of information to players on the ball can help them make better decisions.
Also working together as backs 4 all the defenders must be on the same line of thinking when it comes to sitting deep, holding their position, or moving the defensive line up.
All it takes is one defender not understanding what is happening to create a chink in the amour for the opposition to take advantage of.
Communication is important when opposition attackers are playing in your teammates ‘blind spots’ (areas they cannot immediately see unless they turn their heads).
You need to ensure that those teammates are aware of those movements so they do not lose the player they are supposed to be marking.
React quickly to transitions of possession
With more attacking roles it can be easy for a fullback either to not get back quick enough or not support the attack quick enough, however, the best fullbacks can transition the quickest.
A transition in soccer occurs when an attacking team loses possession of the ball and they must transition to their responsibilities or when a defending team has won possession of the ball and they must transition to their attacking responsibilities.
The quicker players can transition from attack to defense or defense to attack the higher the chances of them creating more goal-scoring opportunities or preventing counter-attacks from happening.
So whether your team is in or out of possession always be prepared to react quickly and adjust your roles as possession changes.
Soccer skills you must improve to become a better fullback in soccer
Receiving the ball in an open body position
When you start to receive the ball in an open body position you will see an immediate improvement in your decision making on the ball and the speed at which you make these decisions.
When you are receiving the ball in an open body position you are able to see everything in front of you as you are opening up your body to the whole field. You want your body facing the direction you wish to play.
Here are the coaching points I give to my players to help them receive the ball in an open body position:
- Scan the area to make you know where your teammates and opponents are
- Create an angle to receive the ball (the greater the angle the easier it is to receive in an open body position).
- Position yourself so your body is facing the direction your want to go in but also so you can still see the direction of where the ball is coming from.
- Allow the ball to roll across your body and control it with your back foot (your foot furthest away from the ball)
- By the time you receive the ball, you should already know what pass you are going to play next.
Quality and variety of crosses
Remember, your main attacking role as a fullback is to provide the width and create goal-scoring opportunities with dangerous crosses for your teammates to attack.
To be a better fullback in soccer you need to work on the quality of your crosses and the variety of your crosses. Similarly to when you are receiving the ball, you need to make sure you scan the area so you know what type of cross you need to play into the box for your forwards before you receive the ball.
The earlier you can deliver your crosses into dangerous areas the better scoring opportunities you create.
As a fullback, you will want to be aware of what types of forwards you have on your team. A taller player or player with a great leap may feel more comfortable with a higher lofted cross.
Equally a player who is great at finding pockets of space in tight areas may benefit from low-driven crosses or pullbacks.
Here are some great crossing and finishing drills you can use to help improve the quality of your crosses and the finishing of your strikers.
Remember practice your crosses using both feet to keep defenders guessing
1v1 defending skills
To become a better fullback in soccer you are going to need to brush up on your 1v1 defending skills.
Wingers are usually the most creative and skillful players on any team and they will always be looking to go 1v1 against a fullback to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
As mentioned earlier you do not always have to win the ball to be a great 1v1 defender, if you are able to prevent the ball from getting to the winger in the first place, show an attacker back towards their own goal or force them into a mistake this is just as effective as trying to win a ‘challenge’.
Here are my favorite 8 1v1 defending drills you can use to improve your 1v1 defending skills.
1v1 attacking skills
As well as being confident in your 1v1 defending skills you must also be confident in your 1v1 attacking skills when taking on defenders.
This will help you possess more of an attacking threat when going forward with the ball.
As a fullback you are not trying to always try to use skills to dribble past the defender, sometimes all you need is a quick and effective skill up your sleeve to deliver a cross into the box.
With your 1v1 attacking skills make sure that you are practicing using both feet and are happy with going either side of the defender.
This is incredibly important, especially if you are playing in a team that encourages play to build out from the back.
opposition teams can be very quick to press, so you need to make sure that you are not taking your time on the ball in these areas.
If you take too long to make a pass, the opposition will find it a lot easier to close down your passing options and force you into a mistake.
To be a better fullback in soccer here are my tips to improve your passing:
- Scan the area to ensure you know what is happening around you, the more information you have the quicker the decisions you can make.
- Practice passing and controlling the ball with both feet
- When you are receiving a pass make sure you are in an open body position.
Being confident when going up for headers is incredibly important for a fullback, whether you are trying to win a header from an opposing team’s goal kick, defend a long ball, or head the ball away from a cross you need to learn how to header the ball.
When you are going up for the header, make sure that you keep your eye on the ball while it is in the air and want to try and make contact with the ball in the center of your forehead.
Make sure that you are timing your run as well, you will jump a lot higher if you have a bit of a run-up as opposed to standing stationary.
As you land try and make sure that you bend your knees to help reduce the impact of landing on the ground.
With defensive headers you want to angle them at 45 degrees, this will ensure that your defensive head will go as far as possible.
3 world-class fullbacks you can learn from
If you want to become a better fullback in soccer, I would recommend studying these top 3 professional soccer players.
Marcelo has been an integral part of Real Madrids’ back 4 since 2007, having won over 300 appearances and scoring 26 goals.
He is a fullback who is full of flare, who not only fulfills his roles defensively but provides a huge threat when he is attacking down the left with his 1v1 dribbling skills, his overlapping runs, and his dangerous crosses.
His speed and power mean he can help support counterattacks and make vital recovery runs to stop the opposing from scoring.
Cafu is a legendary Brazil Fullback who many argued changed the role of the fullback.
He Originally started as a wide player but one of his managers helped him see the game through a different lens, converting him into a fullback.
He initially didn’t enjoy playing that position but it wasn’t until he got called up to the nation that he truly embraced the fullback position.
Cafu was a defensively sound fullback who had a great understanding of the game, knowing when and how to support the attack.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been hailed as one of the best current 1v1 defenders in the Premier League, he is a quick defender who is nearly impossible to get around.
He can time his challenges perfectly and prevents many dangerous crosses from coming into the box.
how to be a better fullback in soccer conclusion
Being a fullback in soccer can be a physically demanding job but it will gradually get easier as your fitness and reading of the game improves. There are not many players on the pitch who play such a vital role in the teams’ attacks and defense.
As a player, you need to be honest with yourself and work on your weaknesses as well as your strengths, ask your coach and players for feedback that help you take your game to the next level.
Make time to study the game, watch professional soccer players and see what decisions they make in which areas of the pitch.
This post should have given you all the skills and responsibilities on how you can be a better fullback in soccer.
If you are looking to be as successful as possible on the pitch then you should be putting the work in off the pitch.
These are the best soccer player workouts and exercises to take your physical conditioning to the next level
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I hope this helps, and thank you for reading!
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