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Soccer Wingback Vs. Fullback

Soccer Wingback Vs. Fullback

Soccer is a team sport comprising attackers, midfielders, and defenders. And each part of the team plays crucial roles and occupies different parts of the pitch.

Nevertheless, our discussion today focuses on the constantly evolving, defensive positions of the fullback and the wingback. It might seem difficult to explain the duties of the wingback and fullback due to the role’s fluidity and versatility.

Before comparing these two positions, it is crucial to know a bit about defensive formations and how teams are set up. Traditionally, most teams play with 4 defenders, using the 4-line strategy having 2 as center-backs at the middle, and the remaining 2 as fullbacks on the left and right wings.

Moreover, there are ongoing debates among tacticians and soccer lovers on classifying these positions and how they have impacted the modern game. Let’s start a deep dive into the wingback and fullback positions in soccer, comparing them to understand their roles better.

The ball situation is close to the wing corridor

Read more: Soccer Winger vs Forward

What is A Soccer Fullback?

The soccer fullback is a defender in a 4-man defensive unit, positioned on the rear side of the pitch. Right fullbacks are usually right-footed and positioned on the rear right, and left fullbacks are usually left-footed and positioned on the rear left.

While physical strength, stamina, and height are essential attributes for a Center-back, fullbacks could be of any height, incredibly fast, and possess a high endurance level. Usually, there are two types of fullbacks having a slight difference in the pattern of play and movement.


Types and Roles of Fullbacks

Traditional Fullbacks

Studying the history books, you will discover that a fullback must protect the wide areas of the pitch of his team’s half against attackers from the opposition team. These players have more emphasis on defense, man-marking wingers of the opposing team, and blocking crosses.

This fullback has to be light on the feet to deal with the usually fast-paced wingers of the opposite teams. However, when the opportunity presents itself (for example, when the opposing team plays deep and keeps many men behind the ball), they can venture forward and support the attack.

Aside from defending, the traditional fullback can make long and short crosses, either to support their team in attack or to switch play. Examples of classical fullbacks are Italian legend Paolo Maldini, world cup winning captain of Germany Philip Lahm, and Frenchman Lilian Thuram.

However, you should know that as these men got older and lost their pace, they became center-backs.

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Modern Fullbacks

Over the years, as coaches try to outwit each other, the fullback position has evolved. Support and even spearheading attacking moves have become part of the duties of a fullback.

Modern fullbacks are full of running, able to cover both ends of the pitch as they perform attacking and defensive duties simultaneously. They are used as an outlet and support for wingers, who sometimes switch roles with the fullbacks.

However, this happens when they get caught up in attacking moves or out of position for any reason. Nevertheless, these days the modern fullbacks can also play as wingbacks in most cases.

Examples of modern fullbacks include Englishman Kyle Walker and Retired Brazilian Dani Alves who was outstanding for Barcelona. Both men are known for their speed, as this attribute is key to rivaling any attacker of the opposing team.

Furthermore, the fullback’s evolution has continued to the point where the lines between attacking the opposition’s half and defending have been blurred. As a result, we have the hybrid position of the wingback.

What is A Wingback in Soccer?

The term wingback comes into relevance when teams are set up with a 3-man defense. Essentially wingbacks are fullbacks lined up in the middle of the pitch primarily to support the attack and shield the defense.

Formations like the 3-5-2, 3-4-3, and 5-3-2 depend significantly on the wingback for these setups to function effectively. In these formations, duties overlap, and you find the team’s shape constantly changing, depending on whether they are attacking or defending.

Some would dispute this definition as they prefer to see wingbacks as midfielders with duties to support whenever the team loses the ball. Whichever way you describe wingbacks, keep in mind that what matters is their role in a team.

Given the game’s changing demands, younger players are trained to occupy both positions depending on the opponents and the employed tactics.

How To Play As A Wingback? Tips To Be A Successful Wingback

Roles of Wingbacks

More teams in Europe are adopting the 3-man defense system as it allows for a greater level of attacking impetus without neglecting the game’s defensive side. Moreover, this formation requires wingbacks to perform specific roles, which are highlighted below:

Supporting attacking runs

This is the primary role of the wingback, making runs in behind the opposition defense and creating attacking options. These runs usually leave opposition defenders in two minds, not knowing whether to stay put and tackle an oncoming winger or track the wingback’s run.

They are shielded when making these runs by the defensive midfielders who cover their positions should the wingbacks lose the ball. Alphonso Davies carries out this role perfectly for Club and Country.

19 Year Old Alphonso Davies is PHENOMENAL! 2019/20

Stretching the opposition defense

The movements of wingbacks stretch the opposition defense, making it difficult to uphold the defensive line and structure. In addition, defenders of opposing teams often get dragged out of formation due to the runs and movements of wingbacks.

A good example of this in action is Spaniard Marcos Alonso for Chelsea in the 2017 season of the English Premier League. He ventures out into the opposition penalty area with an air of arrogance, that stretches out the opponent and create holes in the defensive setup.

This creates more spaces for the attackers to exploit, leading to the creation of more goal-scoring opportunities.

Supporting the midfield

The fluidity of the wingback position allows them time to cut into midfield, especially when playing against teams who load up the 18-yard box. In addition, this move allows them to make quick passing movements within the middle of the pitch.

Thereby creating interplays with the striker that could open up the opposition from the middle.

Crowding out the opposition box

Having many players in the opposition box increases a team’s scoring chances when crosses are being pulled in from either end of the flanks. Wingbacks, unlike fullbacks, are given more freedom to roam and, as a result, spend a longer period in the opposition’s half.

They do this, hoping to get on the end of crosses and cutbacks from the wingers.

Screening the defense

When a team loses the ball, a coach expects that the team switches immediately to a defensive stance. In a defensive setup, wingbacks help crowd opposition attackers either in the middle of the park or on the wings.

Plus, they serve as a backup to the center-backs on the right and left of the defensive trio.

What Makes The Perfect Wing-Back?

The 4-Men or The 3-Men Backline

The implementation of fullbacks or wingbacks depends solely on the formation in use. For example, some choose to see a 3-Men set up as a more defensive tactic.

The key to effectively utilizing a back three is often on how much freedom is given to the wingbacks to attack. Not only that, coupled with the opponent employing a narrow system (like the 4-3-1-2).

Teams employing this method in leagues where such isn’t popular usually go on long winning streaks. Examples are the Antonio Conte-led Juventus team (2011–2014) and Chelsea Team (2016–2018).

These teams dominated their leagues when this style of play wasn’t entirely popular. This goes to show how vital wingbacks are to the modern game.

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Soccer Wingback Vs. Fullback

The ongoing soccer fullback vs. wingback debate in sporting spheres across the globe is fueled by how these positions increasingly influence the modern game. However, placing them side by side shows not only their similarities but also their differences.

Differences and Similarities between Fullbacks and Wingbacks





Long crosses, wing defense, and doesn’t necessarily need the technique to be a good fullback

Short cross, central defense and must possess good technique to beat defenders in 1 v 1 situations


Usually in a straight line, along with the wings of both ends of the pitch

More dynamic and allowed to run along both ends of the pitch cutting into the midfield and the opposition’s box as needed

Playing Style

They are trained to focus on defense, with minimal emphasis on the attacking side of the game.

Their training causes them to focus more on the attacking side of the game with little emphasis on defense

Physical Condition

In earlier times, athletic, tall, muscular, and fast, but they have become progressively similar to wingbacks

Can be of any height but most be pacey, and able to cover both ends of the pitch


Deployed majorly in 4-Man defense systems.

Useful only in 3-Man defensive formations

Soccer cleats used

Any cleats suitable for defenders are used.

Usually, cleats that support speed


As they get older they transition to become Center-backs

Some have transitioned to becoming winger, midfielder

(E.g. Gareth Bale )


Balance, Sound defensive abilities, and optimum attacking qualities.

Versatile and able to easily adapt to different positions on the pitch


Limited and cannot be used in many positions across the field

Usually poor defensively and could become a liability for the team when defending

Injury Susceptibility

Less prone to injury

More prone to injury and wear out due to demands of the role

Importance of Fullbacks

Blocking crosses

Fullbacks are vital, especially when playing against teams that love to utilize the wings for putting in crosses. They stay close to the touchline and make the game difficult for opposition wingers. Mostly those find it more challenging against natural, more defensive fullbacks than they do with wingbacks.

Tracking wingers

Wingers love to make runs behind the opposition defense, drawing defenders out of position and creating more spaces for strikers to exploit. Fullbacks are usually saddled with the task of tracking these wingers. Thus, they help to preserve the defensive shape and limit the influence of the wingers.

Making crosses

The best fullbacks are those who have feet like wands, able to make well-tailored angled crosses to teammates waiting in the 18-yard box. In the ’90s, this was the trademark of an excellent fullback, and hours of training were spent perfecting this art.


Fullbacks are known to be more balanced as compared to wingbacks. They can make well-timed forward runs and do not venture up into the opponent half carelessly.

This ensures that they do not become a liability to the team during defensive phases. Some coaches prefer to use natural fullbacks in the wingback position.

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Importance of Wingbacks

Wide skill set

The training and skill set of wingbacks allows them to play several roles on the pitch. This versatility helps in safeguarding the team during long and difficult seasons where injuries are inevitable.

Plus, they can play as side-midfielders, defensive midfielders, fullbacks, or even part of a 3-man defense backline.


The wide skill set of wingbacks makes it easier for them to adapt to new roles in the team if needed. Even though most players have their preferred positions, wingbacks are trained to blend in when situations arise.

Soccer coaches have been seen to alter formations right in the middle of matches to gain the upper hand. However, wingbacks are more suited to adjust to this change in the system.

Attacking outlet

Wing backs are trained majorly as attacking options. This means their training will involve more shooting drills, allowing them to contribute to the goal tally of their teams.

A good example is Chelsea FC of England, who had 15 goals scored by 15 different team members. This was a record high after the first quarter of the 2021 season. More than half of these goals were scored by wingbacks.

Additional defensive cover

The 3-Men defensive formation has struggled when faced with formations that crowd out the midfield and possess a 2-Men strike partnership. As a result, many defensive covers are needed in cases like this, and wingbacks help give that extra layer.

High market value

The wingback is one of the most sought-after positions in the game. Players in this position go for high prices in the transfer market as most clubs are usually unwilling to let go of talent in that area.

Player Roles - Wing Back

Criticism Against the Wing Back Position, in Favor of the Full back Position

For balance, it is important to state that the soccer community does not fully accept wingbacks. When such a team goes through a challenging phase, the wingbacks usually get a lot of sticks.

Generally, the 3-Men defense system is difficult to execute. And as a result, newly assembled teams or teammates find it challenging under a new manager.

In these cases, fans and media search for scapegoats to blame, and wingbacks are usually the ready-made victims. For example, in the 2019 season of the premier league, Manchester United and Chelsea Fc fielded at several points in the season a 3-Men backline.

And most of the times these teams lost, it was blamed solely on the inability of wingbacks (Marcos Alonso, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka) to track back and fulfill their defensive duties. The claim was that a natural fullback would play a better role in these positions.

Another good example was in 2020 when the England National Team Coach Gareth Southgate was picking his team for the European cup Tournament. He was spoilt for choice in the wingback position having about 5 Top professionals available for selection.

Among them was Trent Alexander Arnold, who was arguably the best in that field that year. But because he played more as a wingback and was lacking in defensive duties, his position in the team was in doubt. Subsequently, he got injured and was ruled out of the tournament.

Top 10 Wingbacks in Football 2020 ● HD


In soccer, nothing replaces the joy of winning. The question remains, soccer fullback vs. wingback? However, which method guarantees to win? Are wingbacks risky alternatives or the edge needed to give your team that extra boost?

Whatever your preferences are, remember that soccer is a team game, and as good as tactics and formations are, they cannot replace team spirit, hard work, and dedication to a common goal. So be it a fullback or wingback, as long as players fight for the team, all should be well.