The fullback, aka the left or right back, plays a very crucial role in modern day football. It is not to say that it never played a crucial role, it suggests that in today’s day and age, the fullback is given much more room to maneuver, but much more responsibility as well.
In the modern day 4-4-2 formation, the fullback has very little support from a defensive standpoint. Because the defense is arranged in a flat line and the two central defenders have the responsibility of marking the two forwards, the fullbacks are left to fend for themselves in many regards. As the wingers of the opposing team have the ability to attack down the wings as far up as they would like, the fullbacks are responsible to cover these players who at times play like forwards.
The question now arises how you cover these offensive threats. Understand that winning the ball off the opposing player is not always the goal of a defender. Holding the play in front of you and pushing the player away from the net is the most important factor. When Carlos Puyol of FC Barcelona was asked what makes a successful defender he explained that slowing the opposing player down and holding that player in front of you just long enough to allow the rest of your team to come back and setup is all that is really required of a good defender. Many players make the mistake of committing and trying to win the ball – once beat, the field behind them is wide open and the defenders teammates are left on their heels trying to recover. Click here to see a video from German defender Philipp Lahm on defending.
When the opposing player with the ball is coming at you full speed, always watch the ball. Do no be fooled by jukes, step-over’s and tricks; if you keep your eye on the ball you are more likely to stop that player. Never back-track with your shoulders parallel to the player — set your body up on an angle and side-step backwards. What this will allow you to do is quickly chase the ball in any direction rather than having to spin around and lose crucial steps in the process. All the attacker needs is one step separation – that is why every step is important.
The slide tackle is something that is very under-estimated and much misused. Know one thing: if you slide tackle and miss the player and the ball, you are completely out of the play. The slide tackle should only be used in moments of desperation or in moments where you have no other choice. At all other times, stay on your feet. You are much more effective on your feet, than you are lying on the ground. Practice the slide tackle. The technique in a slide tackle is very difficult to master, but once conquered, it can be one of your most helpful tools.
When you are dealing with pace, leave some room between you and the attacker. As I commented before, every step counts. If you stay too close to a player and that player gains a step on you, that is all they need to create a play, make a pass, or – worst of all – score a goal. Soccer is a game of inches. Although many people do not perceive soccer to be this meticulous, if an opposing player has but an inch on you, many things can happen. So when dealing with speed, keep some room between you and the player, force the player away from the net and only close-in when you feel absolutely confident that even if the ball does not pass you, you can hold the player up long enough for help to come.
What defending strategies have worked best for you?