Building Your Defence: Full Backs

The modern full back is quickly becoming one of the most important players on the team sheet, infact even back in the days of Brian Clough, fat ed’ argued that because of the space these players get in the final third thet players could be the most important.

I have found that having great full backs in my sides have become essential to making my tactics work. You may remember my last post some time ago talking about the false nine. Much of which would have been impossible if it wasn’t for having Santon and Fatic on the wings.

As teams start to play narrower and narrower to boss the midfield, the full backs are becoming the main source of natural width. The popularity of the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3/4-5-1 system has also seen the winger die off in favour of the inverted winger, or as you would most probably see it in Football Manager, the inside forward.

The attributes that make up a Full Back


The full back has essentially taken over the classic winger roles, it will be his job to add width to the side and a release for the central players. As the inside forwards come inside and offer an attack and creative threat, the full backs will be expected to be able to offer the crossing option.


It’s obvious but you want your defenders to be able to defend. Tackling being an important attribute for defensive players, able to take the ball without give away a foul. Do be aware a successful tackler does need concentration, composure and good decision-making.


As you can see from the chalkboard the full backs are expected to get up and down the pitch and provide a passing option to players all over the pitch. But he will also have to be able to put a pass in many areas himself recycling possession well.


Not essential but you want your full back to be able to play well once on the ball. He may not always have the ability to pass the ball in the middle and may need to get forward and bringing the ball with him into attacking zones. You don’t want to see him taking the ball forward only for his dribbling to let him down and get caught out of position and vulnerable to the counter attacks.

Anticipation, Concentration, Positioning & Decisions

Always take a high premium on mental attributes. Whenever I have spent time in analysing others pkm files, a common problem is often apparent. Managers will encourage their full backs to get forward but poor positioning and decision making when to go forward or lack of concentration can prove lethal and often a main source of goals for the opposition.

I have seen so many goals lost on the wings as the rest of the team look to compensate for a full back being caught to far up the pitch as they haven’t anticipated the rest of the play well enough.

Acceleration & Pace

The speed in which these players can beat people to the ball, run back on the counter but also to beat their men. For an attacking full back you want them to receive the ball, probably beat a man and swing the ball in to create chances. If he is possessed with speed he will therefore have a great chance of being able to move into space.


You expect your full back to get up and down the wing, just think of him as a sort of box-to-box player. These players will run more then most and you want them to be some of the fittest men on the pitch, able to last out the 90 minutes of a game. Stamina will allow them to keep performing at the top of their game for the length of the match.

How to play your full-backs

Full backs in the modern game are expected to more more of box-to-box players, able to attack as well as defend. But the talent to be able to do both well is limited to only the best in the world.

Therefore you will need very much an element of team work to fully utilise the full backs.

The Barcelona way

Barcelona have full utilised one of the best full backs in the world. Dani Alves plays more like an attacking winger then he does a full back. On the opposite side you have the more defensive minded Maxwell who still enjoys to get forward.

Playing so far up the pitch means that your two centre backs become exposed, to solve this problem Basquets has developed into one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. Playing a modern day sweeper role by slotting into the middle of the two central defenders allowing Pique and Puyol to move wider.

In Football Manager this would probably be represented by having Basquets as a defensive midfielder (defend role) looking to offer protection as Dani Alves is allowed to take an attacking role and Maxwell a more supportive role on the wing offering width an another man to contend to for opposition defenders

The Liverpool way

Roy Hodgson is a classic English man, playing a conventional 4-4-2 formation. Two banks of four keeping a good shape to defend. This doesn’t really suit an attacking minded Johnson too well and all too often we have seen Liverpool and Glenn suffer with the lack of other player around him being able to offer him support while he attacks.

But even in a classic 4-4-2 you want to see your wingers getting forward and putting the ball into the box. Your wingers become creators in attack. While the full backs will drift along behind them offering a supportive option to either pick the ball up bouncing outside the box or to give a free man to float a pass into the box just like the goal below.

My Huddersfield 4-4-2 utilises the full backs to great affect especially when looking to break down the opposition. Often more formations will drift from 4-4-2 to 4-2-4 to 2-4-4 as attacks develop and the ball moves forward.

The Tottenham Way

Spurs have two types of full back within their ranks. Corluka, the traditional full back, has decent defensive attributes but going forward I wouldn’t trust him. While Assou-Ekotto with his pace and ability on the ball favours getting forward. Albeit he is still along way from being a decent defensive player. But allowing him to go forward while the rest of the defensive three stay back is another way to ensuring your balance the attacking abilities of your full-back with the need not to be caught on the counter attack.

Corluka would have a support/defend role while Ekotto would be more support/attack role.

It may only be coincidence that World Cup winners over the past couple of years have included great attacking full backs but one thing is certain they could also be one of the most under-valued members of your squad. Get your full backs right and the rest of your side could fall into place nicely.

What do you think makes a good full back? How important do you feel their role is?

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