I n the modern game, the attacking full back has gone mainstream as a potent assist creating tactical weapon which provides natural width to the attack in 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond formations.
With the recent return of three-man backlines, this has been taken one step further with the recent rise in use of uber-attacking wing backs such as Hakimi and Angelino. In this article we will look at prominent examples but also assess on how best to set up a team to maximize their impact.
Whilst the likes of Facchetti, Breitner, Krol, Amoros and Brehme revolutionized the notion of the full back as a ‘wide defender’, it was Roberto Carlos who laid the template for the modern day attacking-full back.
Not only was he dynamic and a one-man flank, he fits the mould of the modern full back in that he was one-footed and played on the same flank of his favoured foot, hugging the touchline (whereas the previous names were ambidextrous and more inverted in nature).
He was succeeded by the likes of Alves and Marcelo who played important roles in the Spanish Duopoly’s domination of the Champions League and closer to home we have sibce seen the incredible influence of Liverpool's dynamic duo of Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson. Both of them were at the top of assists chart board for the past two seasons.
Wingers who have turned into full backs are well suited for this role. They have that pace which penetrates space and drives opponents onto the back foot. Furthermore they have the experience of dribbling past players and also provide delicious crosses into the box. Recent examples are Bukayo Saka of Arsenal and Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich.
Attacking full backs also need to know when to move forward and offer an overlapping or underlapping run. This understanding enables them to create effective and repeatable 2 on 1 situations on the flanks. This leads to a nightmare situation for the opposition as they either fall to quick 1-2 pass which can easily take the vulnerable defensive player out of the game temporarily or if someone from midfield tries to even the number on flanks then that creates pockets of spaces in the middle and overloading it with players can create a certain goal scoring opportunity.
Moderm full backs are oft criticised because they leave some spaces which can be exploited during counter attacks. If they push forward and their team loses the ball then they have to quickly fall back to their position otherwise they are caught off position and their defence gets outnumbered.Marcelo in particular was called out many times for this as he would leave spaces for opposing players to attack into.
Thus If you are playing as an offensive fullback you have to take great care when to move forward, how far you should go and sense when is the time to retreat - unless you're blessed with insane recovery pace. A current example of this is Alphonso Davies who has raw pace and can outrun most of the players - rather similar to Roberto Carlos. Even if he gets caught out he generally catches up with the player
In a 4-3-3 managers have preferred to play a deep lying defensive minded midfielder who can just tuck in between two central defenders thus covering more space defensively. The two central defenders act as wide centre backs – as you would expect to see in a 3-5-2 and thus can defend wider spaces or man mark wide forwards on the counter.
In a 4-2-3-1 system one of the two anchor midfielder drops back to take the position left open by the full back and play as a full back until that player comes back its original position. Arsenal have done this many times before lockdown as Saka would usually move forward to support Aubameyang so that he can make a run into box without him staying wide. Arteta then moved Xhaka who played as anchor to Saka's original left back position.
If we look at the impact Dani Alves and Marcelo had on Barcelona and Real Madrid in their dominance and now look at Liverpool and Bayern we can safely say that offensive fullbacks are going to continue to be integral at all levels of the game.
If we look at a club like Manchester United, they seem to be playing analogue football in a digital age purely because their tactical approach to the full back situation is like something out of the nineties. Having said that, with greater attacking potency comes greater tactical responsibility and teams must ensure their team sets up appropriately to deal with losses of possession and the counter threat.
WRITTEN BY VIPUL KARANDE (@SPORTSBAR)