POSITION SPECIFIC: Roles and responsibilities of the outside back.
This article looks at the role of the outside back. It is intended for players in that position to read and consider although coaches may also find it interesting. The tactical guidelines given cover our concept of the tactical responsibilities of the outside back. Clearly, other coaches may play different systems and adopt different tactics meaning that there are elements here with which they would disagree. Different tactical concepts and interpretations are one of soccer’s most endearing features. For the most part, however, we have covered ideas that would be general to most systems or formations.
This article is intended to make players think. One of the central themes is that players need to understand different scenarios to help them to solve problems on the field without the intervention of the coach. This does not mean that players literally make things up on the fly, ignoring team tactical concepts. What it does mean is that all systems and strategies at different moments are open to interpretation and only players who understand the pluses and minuses, the consequences of certain actions will have the soccer IQ to make good decisions.
POSITION SPECIFIC – THE OUTSIDE BACK
1/ Preventing crosses
2/ Defending the weak side
3/ Helping play out from the back
4/ Stepping into the midfield in possession to create an overload
5/ Overlapping and crossing
1/ Preventing crosses.
If we are able to prevent our opponents from being able to cross the ball then given that about 1/3 of all goals come from crosses the amount of goals we concede must logically come down. This means that in the final third we will usually look to show a player to the outside. To do this the angle of approach and the distance from the attacker are crucial. The key points are:
- Approach the attacker with a bent run that forces them to the outside. Initially try to make play predictable by eliminating any possibility of the player coming inside. This means that the defender should stop a couple of yards away from the attacker and a little closer to our goal. This is a position that makes it hard for the winger to cross and also makes it very hard for the winger to beat the outside back.
- The outside back should have their shoulders parallel to the sideline and should be in a good athletic position with their knees bent, their hips engaged and back and their back straight.
- As the winger accelerates down the line it is vital that the outside back stays the same distance goal side of them although as they move with the ball the outside back can gradually inch in towards them and the sideline.
- At some point the winger will make a move and attempt to go past the outside back. When they do so the outside back should attempt to approach the ball and do so by moving back at an angle that tries to cut off the wingers path to the ball. Contact should be made with the arms at this point.
- Ideally, the outside back would be able to cut in front of the winger and steal the ball. if not they should try to stay on their feet and shepherd the ball down the sideline. The outside back should go to ground only as a last resort. Even if they cannot win the ball if the outside back can stay on their feet and delay the cross this allows the entire defense to get set in a good defensive position.
- The athletic starting position is vital for all outside back defending. Sometimes a winger will not attempt to beat them but instead will just try to move the ball and whip in a cross. A good athletic position will enable the outside back to move quickly to block the cross with either foot.
- Should the outside back get beaten the nearest central defender will probably come across and cover for them. It is crucial that the outside back now gets repositoned to be able to defend. they do this by making a recovery run directly towards the near post. this enables them to slot int the defense in place of the central defender who has moved across to cover.
(b) Showing Inside:
Although we have said that we would normally look to show outside in our defending 1/3 there are occasions when we might look to show inside. These include:
- The winger is lightening fast and we want to show them inside to a covering holding midfielder.
- The winger is totally one footed and we want to show them onto their weak foot.
- Perhaps the opposing central forwards are great in the air so we want to prevent crosses from the byline or the other team getting corners by having crosses blocked.
(c) Preventing the winger from receiving the ball and being able to run at the outside back
- When the ball is in central areas the outside backs main function is to tuck in and support the central defenders. This makes sense as most goals are scored from in front of the goals so the central areas are more dangerous. Tucking in also means that penetrating passes to the wing are blocked off.
- This means that when the ball is in central areas there is little attempt to stop the ball being played wide to the opposition winger.
- In the diagram above 5 is in the wrong position. By getting close the the winger they think they are marking them but in reality they have left a big hole that a pass can be played through. If the winger is faster than they are they will get to the ball first and in all likelihood go to goal.
- By contrast 2 is in a good position. By tucking in they have blocked off the through ball and are able to offer support to the central defenders if they need it. They cannot stop the ball to the feet of the opposition winger but they are close enough to quickly get out and press them if this pass is made.
- When the ball is in wide areas the outside backs must be very aggressive and mark tightly if the ball is on their side.
- In the diagram below we show 2 situations where the ball is played by the central defender to an outside defender. In the top one 5 has taken up a poor defensive position. They are much too far from the opposition winger who will be able to receive, turn and run at them. This makes things very easy for the opposition to keep possession and penetrate.
- By contrast 2 has taken up a good, aggressive position where they are tight enough to prevent the opposition winger turning (or maybe to tackle or intercept) but not so tight that a ball over the top could hurt them. NB although it is not shown in the examples above a player would also be applying pressure to the outside back of the opposing team.
- To be able to do this the outside back should have a good athletic position as the central defender is in possession and sprint to apply pressure as the ball is moving to the outside back. It is vital that our outside backs defend this situation aggressively. If the opposition winger dropped into their own half to receive our outside backs should have no concerns about moving that far up the field to apply pressure. There would still be 3 defenders behind them so we would be well covered defensively.
(d) Characteristics of your opponent
The above provides some good guidelines for the outside back but it is also essential that the outside back thinks and learns to develop their game intelligence. All opponents are different and by studying them closely in the first few minutes the outside back can many times adapt their strategy to help the team.
- Is the opponent super fast? Some teams play a long ball forward to the wings from the kick off. If they do this you can bet the player that side is pretty fast. If the opponent is fast then you need to come up with a strategy pretty quickly. you cannot wait for half time for the coach to tell you what to because by then the game may be over. If the opponent is fast maybe
You communicate with the holding midfielder to cover and show them inside into traffic.
(1) You try to prevent them from being able to receive the ball and turn to face you.
(2) If they do turn you give them greater distance than you ordinarily would.
(3) If they are totally one footed then show them onto their weak foot.
- If they have no speed then perhaps you get closer than you normally would and perhaps try to win the ball a little more aggressively.
- Are they tricky and skilled? If so eyes on the ball, keep the feet moving and try not to get sucked in by fakes and feints.
Either way, a few minutes into the game you should be building a profile of your opponent that will allow you to tweak your defensive strategy.
2/ Defending the weak side
Most goals in soccer are scored from central areas. It follows from this that it is vital to defend these areas. This means that when the ball is on one side of the field the weak side outside back tucks in to help the central defenders.
- If the ball is on one side of the field the outside back tucks in to a position roughly in line with their near post.
- In this position they are close enough to offer help from to the central defender as seen below.
- This means that the winger their side (11 in the diagram above) might be left in up to 25 yards of space. This is not a problem. If the ball were to be swung around by the opponents then our right defender 2 would start to shift across.
- If the ball were switched in one long cross field pass then our right back 2 would have time to get out and defend while the ball was traveling.
- Although our right back 2 shifts to leave 11 alone in space this does not mean that they are unaware of 11’s position. It is essential that 2 adopts an open body position. this enables them to see the ball, everything centrally and where the player is their side.
- The open body position also allows them to sprint over more easily if the ball is switched. As we get closer to goal this will become more important as the outside back needs to get out and quickly press a ball that makes its way beyond the back post.
3/ Playing out from the back
When we attempt to play out from the back it is important that our outside backs play in a “high and wide” position. This means that they should position themselves within a yard or two of the touchline and significantly in advance of the central defenders. This is the position they initially occupy above. There are some important reasons for the outside backs positioning themselves this way:
- The central defenders can play angled passes to them. If this pass is cut out then the central defenders are still in a position to defend. If the outside back was square to the central defender and the pass was cut out then the forward would be through on goal.
- Similarly if the outside back gets into trouble then the central defender is now at a safe supporting angle for a back pass.
- The outside back may be able to break a line and start to penetrate from this position. In the diagram above 5 may be able to take a first touch pass 7 and break a line upon receiving a pass. In fact the outside back should move up as high as they can and safely receive the ball. There is no problem with them receiving it in the other teams half from a central defender or midfielder.
- Their player 7 could prevent this by moving across more but this would open up space in the between their midfielders and 4 might now be able to pass between them. Either way this high and wide position makes it much harder for the opposition midfield to defend.
- If the ball is passed to one outside back then the other outside back tucks in. In the diagram above imagine the ball has been played to 5 then 2 tucks in as shown. This is because 2 is not going to receive the next pass (hopefully we would not play a long square ball here) so they do not need to be so wide but if they tuck in they are very close to being where they need to be defensively if we lose the ball. All they would need to do would be to drop in a line with the central defenders who would also have shifted over.
- If 5 was unable to go forward and played back to 4 then the outside back 2 would start to move back out to a high and wide position.
4/ Stepping into the midfield
A very common mistake is for the outside backs to remain in a very defensive position as we try to play through the thirds of the field. In the diagram above 2 and 5 are hanging back very deep. this means that the other team has a numerical superiority in midfield, 4 against 3. Without numerical superiority around the ball it is very hard to keep possession. What needs to happen is that our outside backs need to step into midfield and create a 5 vs 4 in our favor.
If we lose the ball they need to sprint at 100% to get back into the defensive line but they must get forward and help us in the attacking phase.
A good rule of thumb for the outside back is that if the midfield player in possession can play forward then they should take up a position between level and 10 yards in advance of the ball. If the are under pressure cannot play forward the outside back can support from behind.
The outside back can at times be much more aggressive than this in their positioning. In the diagram above the winger has come inside to receive the ball and their opponent has gone with them. This has left a large amount of space on the right hand side. The outside back should feel free to move up into this space and effectively become a winger for a while. If we are able to recycle the ball to them then they will be in a lot of space and in a great position to attack.
5/ The overlap
As the outside back moves into midfield they are now in a position to support the winger. This is not optional. When the winger gets the ball the outside back MUST support them, usually from behind but sometimes in front on the overlap. If supporting from behind it is preferable to support on a different vertical line to the winger. In other words if the winger is hugging the sideline, the outside back should support infield a little at an angle if there is space to do so. If not they can support directly behind.
- In the diagram above the ball is with the winger 7 who is facing forward.
- If 2 wants to overlap they should shout “hold” and sprint around the winger.
- Just as they reach the outside back they should shout “play me.” Their positioning and momentum should mean that the outside back is unable to catch them but they are still onside as the central defenders are a little deeper in a covering position.
- If possible their run should be bent. This allows them a better angle into the ball in the event that they want to cross it first time. It also allows them a slightly easier angle to observe the situation in the box as they approach the ball.
Clearly outside backs need to learn to cross on the run.
Overlapping as the third man
- In the above example the outside back overlapped because the winger was facing forward and able to play a pass to them.
- If the winger is unable to play forward and facing his own goal then the outside back should not overlap unless they are able to receive the forward pass via another player.
- In the example above 5 should overlap if there is the possibility of receiving a pass as the third man from 10 or 9.
- A strong visual cue that this play is setting up is given when 11 starts to dribble towards 10This play is very much a judgement call and before they make the run 5 has to evaluate whether they are likely to receive the ball.
Questions for the outside back:
1/ If your direct opponent is very fast how might this affect your defensive strategy?
2/ In the situation below where would you position yourself as the right outside back for the red team? Why?
3/ In the diagram below where would you place yourself as the outside right back for the red team? Why?
4/ In the diagram below where would you place yourself as the left outside back for the red team? Why?
5/ In the diagram below where would you place yourself as the right outside back for the red team? Why?