Full backs and wingbacks by Llama3

This article was written by llama3 from the SI forums, who has kindly allowed us to post this article on our site. You may remember we posted his Deep Lying Playmaker article a couple of months and we think his great content adds a new dimension to PTW – we hope you enjoy this and upcoming articles from llama3!


For many years the full back and wing back’s of the world were generally underrated, underappreciated and unloved – now the world knows the value of these positions. They have become integral players from both an offensive and defensive point of view. Daniel Alves has become integral to Barcelona’s recent success, Maicon to Inter Milan’s, Jordi Alba recently to Spain’s Euro 2012 campaign. So this guide is going to examine your full backs and wing backs and why they are so important. Furthermore this guide will also look at the differences between them – as choosing the right option can make such a huge difference for your team.

The Full Back is defined in the tactics creator as:

“The Full Back is a key player in modern football, having to supplement his defensive duties with overlapping runs down the wing to support forward play and help attacks overload the final third.

Although primarily a defensive player, he must be prepared to get forward when the team needs extra width.

With a defend duty, the full back will stay back with the defensive line and make simple possesion passes down the flanks or into central midfield.

With a support duty, the full back will support the midfield by providing extra width and look to for crosses and through balls when the opportunity for each arises.

With an attack duty, the full back supplements his defensive duties by overlapping the midfield and providing first time crosses into the area.”

The Wing Back is defined in the tactics creator as:

“Usually playing wide with no wing support, the wing back must fulfil all the attacking and defensive duties of wingers and full backs.

In attack he must be prepared to run at his man and put in aggressive crosses, in midfield to help win the possession battle, and in defence to close down opponents, block crosses and win the back the ball when possible.

With a defend duty, the wing back mainly stays deep, but will still cross the ball when in space to do so.

With a support duty, the wing back aims to provide angled through balls from out wide, although still crosses when the opportunity arises.

With an attack duty, the wing back aims to overlap down the flank to provide wide support for attacks, run at his man and get crosses in from the byline.”

So we can now see that the 2 roles have some varying levels of responsibility, although this is mainly from an attacking point of view. There is no difference in a full back and wing back in terms of defensive and general instructions (i.e. mentality, marking, pressing). The difference comes in the modern day expectation of a full back – simply support and width, or the designated outlet on the flank? The offensive differences between them are offensive in nature – the wing back is required to make more forward runs and through-balls than the full back of equivalent duty. There is also more expectation that the wing back will get towards the byline to deliver his crosses, whereas a full back, even on an attack duty is expected to deliver from deep or mixed location.

The Examples – Bacary Sagna & Andre Santos

As is usual for me, I will use examples from my Arsenal side to show the examples of what I am explaining. A good comparison between a Full Back and a Wing Back are 2 teammates – Bacary Sagna & Andre Santos – so first, time to show you the screenshots with the key attributes for the role highlighted (support duty).

Bacary Sagna is a player with excellent physical stats. He is pacy, strong and energetic. He supplements all this with excellent team working and work rate, he is good in the tackle, and he is fairly intelligent – he does not possess strong attacking attributes – his crossing & dribbling are not superb, but he is clearly capable in possession as evidenced by his good first touch, passing and composure. He is not a player who should be your only outlet on the flank, but he is capable of combining with other players on the flank with him. His PPM’s state that gets forward down the right flank, and plays one-two’s so he puts his good engine to use and contributes well to support play. He would be capable as a Wing Back in a support role, but he is clearly best suited as Full Back.

As you can see, Andre Santos is not blessed with too many high defensive attributes – he does have good Anticipation, Decisions and Adequate Stamina, Tackling and Strength. Andre Santos however does have an excellent final ball and movement, meaning he is actually a very accomplished attack-minded player, and as a Wing Back this means he could be a very potent attacking threat, offering me an extra creative body in the final third.

The Full Back

Bacary Sagna was selected for my League Cup tie against Reading, Arsenal won 4-0 thanks to 4 goals from Lukas Podolski. Sagna’s performance was fairly uneventful. Sagna provided a pass to Theo Walcott who set up Podolski for a goal. Sagna’s passing stats show he is less inclined to attack the space near the corner and the byline, and tends to hold position and play more forward passes instead.

In Action

Sagna in this example chases down a loose ball after an Arsenal attack breaks down, he has his back to play and is being closed down by a Reading opponent.

Sagna plays a simple pass to Song and moves down the flank to recieve a return ball.

Sagna continues his run and draws a defender, as Song elects to pass to Walcott instead – Sagna’s simple run has opened up plenty of space for Walcott. An example of the full back playing a simple supporting game and contributing to an effective team move.

The Wing Back

Andre Santos was in the starting line up for my 2013/14 season clash away to Sunderland, rotating into the starting XI in place of Kieran Gibbs. Andre was at his creative best that day, assisting 2 goals which we will observe shortly, being named Man of the Match.

Andre Santos completed 55/67 passes, and as you can see many of them in the final third, a lot of them close to the byline which were in combination with Arsenal’s Inside Forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He retained the ball excellently and still found room for more adventurous passes into the area which came off.

Andre Santos found room for 3 crosses, of which 1 of these (the deeper successful cross) assisted Walcott’s goal for Arsenal’s 3rd. He completed 2 of his 3 crosses that day, a good ratio.

Andre Santos also found room to make 2 forwards runs past opponents inside his own half, both times beginning an attacking move.

In Action

Andre Santos here has just intercepted the goal kick of Craig Gordon, he has space to his left, and passing options ahead of him. Meanwhile Lukas Podolski has peeled off into a little space near Michael Turner.

Andre Santos delivers a lofted through-ball to Podolski just as the German forward makes a run. Andre Santos is being closed down by Wickham, but has the composure to deliver his intended ball anyway.

Podolski requires 1 touch to bring it into his path before firing past Craig Gordon. All thanks to the creativity and vision of Andre Santos who was blessed with the licence to make such a decision.

Useful Combinations

Wing Back & Inside Forwards – encourages the wing back to overlap when the inside forward comes inside, ensuring you still have the width to stretch your opponents.

Full Back & Winger – a more traditional method of setting up on the flanks, ensuring your winger has support to combine with, and options for a safer pass if necessary. This suits traditional wing-play.

If you are playing a wingerless formation, then ensure your full backs are on wing back roles to offer the necessary width.

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