You’re Using Your Full-Backs The Wrong Way (& Finding Proper Width)

Full-Backs have become the rage in modern soccer.  One need only look at Pep Guardiola having spent about a cool Billion on 3 of them last summer to see the trend.

Historically full-backs were simply meant as another width defender.  Then eventually we starting getting the Cafu’s and Roberto Carlos’es bombing down the sidelines, and fast-forward to today and we’re starting to see the rise of full-backs who can masquerade as midfielders – also known as inverted full-backs.

So, what are we learning today then?

We’re learning about how the typical method of using full-backs in build is wrong.  You see, traditionally teams LOOOVE to use fb’s in build up.  Most teams employ a 4 man back-line and they routinely pass out wide to the full-backs as part of their strategy. Kind of like this:

Classic build up.  Fb’s as far wide as possible with the idea of creating good width.  But the good man himself (Cruyff) is known for having said something along the lines of: “If I had my way, I would never use fb’s in build up.”

Why?  Because they are in the worst possible position on the entire field to facilitate possession.  Guardiola – Cruyff’s biggest proponent – actually follows that theory and as such, rarely do you see his teams using fb’s in build up as seen in the image above.

I mean, good pressing teams actually want you to play out wide to your full-backs before they set the trap and press you like crazy.  .


Cause they also know that the full back receiving the ball deep in the other half is one of the worst places to play out from.

In the image you’ll see red boxes.  That is the area that typically teams place their fb’s in.  It’s also one of the worst places to actually receive the ball.  Great managers, such as Pep, avoid this area at all costs.

In the image above, we see a similar situation, except that this time with a little more explanation.  First off, as mentioned, the fb is deep in their own half.  This limits back pass options since the player receiving won’t have a lot of time to receive and pass themselves due to there not being a lot of space left.

Secondly, the fb has their back against the sideline limiting angles and options.  When positioned this wide (like coaches usually want them), they can’t pass at an angle outwards to their winger.  They have to pass vertically forward which makes it incredibly hard for the winger to receive.  Their third option – the middle pass – is predictable.  Stick one defender on the holding mid coming to receive and their options are limited.

This is the classic scenario where a holding mid comes to help out the fb, receives a pass but due to being under so much pressure passes it right back to the fb who then proceeds to lose the ball.  The pressure is too much, and the spacing too limited for the holding mid to receive, turn and play to the far side.  The other team already knows it’s coming.

So now you’re thinking; “well this is all fine and dandy, however, we ALL know that width is vital for good development of play so how the heck do I get that without using fb’s?”

I’m glad you asked.  First, we have the most common: high fb’s.

The most common method of good teams these days.  High full backs which allows the wings to invert.

Notice how these full-backs are still receiving nice and wide, however, the key difference is they are higher… Thus giving them better angles to go back (which gives cb’s and the goalie time to actually receive), AND pitting them closer to the other team’s goal which gives them better angles to send an immediate dangerous pass.

Here’s another example, not as common.  But also quite good if you have the right players.  You see, the back four can pass back and forth to avoid the press, but aren’t letting their fb’s get caught completely wide.  As you see can see in the image, the fb by putting himself/herself inwards a bit, still have an angle outwards towards the winger.  Essentially, they’re simply refusing to be locked in the danger zone – the red box area.

Napoli use this strategy and so does Guardiola occasionally with Mancity.


3 man back-line has the half-backs avoiding the red zones due to their natural positioning.  It’s also a reason for the back 3 is being so common these days.  It allows for easier progression in build up.  The 3 man back-line has the half-backs positioned from half-space to half-space giving teams good support to play around a typical 1-2 man press.

And now for the grand finale:

Inverted full-backs…

Truly a more modern technique (I’m sure someone historically has used it but not that many people know of), and one that is quite useful if done correctly.  As you can see, the bottom fb inverts inwards into midfield, which then allows him/her to have a multitude of options to pass out of.  It also puts the opposing team in a confused mindset as to whether the defending winger follows the fb inwards or stay wide.

Truly an innovative tactic.


The KEY through all of this is to maintain width somehow.

Some teams keep width with wingers, AND full-backs (think back to the common 4-4-2 with fb’s and wingers both wide on each side), and some teams like to keep width with just one player wide on each side.  Commonly you’ll have width through either your full-backs or your wingers.  The secret lies in finding width in the right areas.

In the images we went through, you’ll notice that each showed different examples of width.  Some had players wide and deep in their own end, some had players wide high in the opponent’s end.  Others had width in the middle of the pitch.

You need width, but it can also be used against you.  Take for example pressing teams waiting for you to pass to your own full-backs before pressing.

So, find width, but find it outside of the red box area.  🙂

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