Defender (association football)


In the sport of association football, a defender
is an outfield player whose primary role is to prevent the opposition from attacking. There are four types of defender: centre-back,
sweeper, full-back and wing-back. The centre-back and full-back positions are
essential in most modern formations. The sweeper and wing-back roles are more specialised
for certain formations. Centre-back
The job of the centre-back is to stop opposing players, particularly the strikers, from scoring,
and to bring the ball out from their penalty area. As their name suggests, they play in a central
position. The position was formerly referred to as centre-half,
although the emphasis of the centre-half was more forward thinking in action. In the early part of the 20th century, when
most teams employed the 2–3–5 formation, the two players at the back were called full-backs
and the row of three players in front of them were called half-backs. As formations evolved, the central player
in this trio, the centre-half, moved into a more defensive position on the field, taking
the name of the position with him. The right and left players in the trio were
called the right-half and left-half respectively. In the modern game, most teams employ two
centre-backs, stationed in front of the goalkeeper. There are two main defensive strategies used
by centre-backs: the zonal defence, where each centre-back covers a specific area of
the pitch; and man-to-man marking, where each centre-back has the job of covering a particular
opposition player. Marking threats in their immediate area or
to mark a particular opposition player. Making tackles on attacking players as the
last line of defence against the opposition. Intercepting dangerous crosses, shots and
through-passes that cause an immediate danger to the team. Defending opposition corners and to stay in
the opposition team’s penalty box for corners and set-pieces with headers. To form the tactical base of the team. Coaches either choose to field the “line”
of defence deep or further upfield. The choice of defensive line has great tactical
implications in the professional game. A deep defensive line is considered a more
conservative approach; however, it also means that the midfielders are required to cover
more ground in the game and risk conceding midfield territory to the opposition. A high defensive line allows teams to pin
opposition teams into their own territory and apply pressure when chasing for a goal;
however, it leaves the defending team vulnerable to counter-attacks by quick opposition players. Maintain the defensive posture. Due to the advent of the offside rule in the
modern game, defenders and centre-backs in particular need to ensure that the defensive
line is strictly enforced when opposition attacking players are nearby. A defender that strays slightly behind the
defensive line, for example, can “play” an opposition player onside and inadvertently
create a scoring opportunity. Playing a simple game. Due to their proximity to goal, centre-backs
need to avoid over-elaboration and play short and simple passes to their colleagues upfield,
as well as avoid playing passes square across the defence, where they are vulnerable to
interception by an opposition player. Height, good heading and jumping ability to
contest balls in the air. Strength, marking and tackling ability to
deal with one-on-one threats. Ability to read the game as well as anticipate
incoming threats. Centre-backs need to balance the need to deal
with any imminent threat from the opposition and the need to maintain the defensive posture. Concentration. Centre-backs need to focus on the task at
hand and get interceptions, last-ditch tackles and headers correctly every time. They also need to ensure that they get a sure
footing on the ball when clearing it so as to play it away from danger. Passing. Under pressure, centre-backs may need to call
on competent passing skills to move the ball out to midfielders. Sweeper The sweeper is a more versatile type of centre-back
who “sweeps up” the ball if an opponent manages to breach the defensive line. His position is rather more fluid than other
defenders who man-mark their designated opponents. Because of this, the position is sometimes
referred to as libero. Though the sweeper may be expected to build
counter-attacking moves, and as such requires better ball control and passing ability than
a typical centre-back, his talents are often confined to the defensive realm. For example, the catenaccio system of play,
used in Italian football in the 1960s, employed a purely defensive sweeper who only “roamed”
around the back line. The more modern libero possesses the defensive
qualities of the typical libero whilst being able to expose the opposition during counterattacks. The Fundell-libero has become more popular
in recent time with the sweeper transitioning to the most advanced forward in an attack. This variation on the position requires great
pace and fitness. Whilst rarely seen in professional football
the position has been extensively used in lower leagues. Modern libero sits behind centre backs as
a sweeper before charging through the team to join in the attack. Some sweepers move forward and distribute
the ball up-field, while others intercept passes and get the ball off the opposition
without needing to hurl themselves into tackles. In modern football, its usage has been fairly
restricted, with few clubs in the biggest leagues using the position. The position is most commonly associated to
have been pioneered by Franz Beckenbauer and Gaetano Scirea, and later by Franco Baresi
and Matthias Sammer in the 1990s era, although they were not the first players to play this
position, with earlier proponents such as Alexandru Apolzan, Velibor Vasović and Ján
Popluhár. Though it is rarely used in modern football,
it remains a highly respected and demanding position. A recent and successful use of the sweeper
was made by Otto Rehhagel, Greece’s manager, in the 2004 European Championship. Rehhagel utilized Traianos Dellas as Greece’s
sweeper to great success, as Greece surprisingly became European champions. Full-back
The full-backs take up the holding wide positions and traditionally stayed in defence at all
times, until a set-piece. Modern full-backs take a more attacking role,
overlapping with wingers down the flank. There is one full-back on each side of the
field except in defences with fewer than four players, where there may be no full-backs
and instead only centre backs. The traditional English full-back was a large,
strong man who would make substantial use of “hacking” – deliberately kicking the
shins of opponents, a practice that was accepted as legal in Britain but not in other countries,
and caused major controversy as the game became increasingly internationalised from the 1950s
on. It is now effectively banned everywhere, and
it is this in part that has given rise to a different set of defensive roles. The full-backs have become essential in the
modern game formation 4-3-3 or the now commonly used 4-2-3-1 formation. In the modern game, full-backs have taken
on a more attacking role than is the case traditionally. Wingerless formations, such as the diamond
4–4–2 formation, demand the full-back to cover considerable ground up and down the
flank. Some of the responsibilities of modern full-backs
include: Provide a physical obstruction to opposition
attacking players by shepherding them towards an area where they exert less influence. They may manoeuvre in a fashion that causes
the opponent to cut in towards the centre-back or defensive midfielder with his weaker foot,
where he is likely to be dispossessed. Otherwise, jockeying and smart positioning
may simply pin back a winger in an area where he is less likely to exert influence. Making off-the-ball runs into spaces down
the channels and supplying crosses into the opposing penalty box. Throw-ins are often assigned to full-backs. Marking wingers and other attacking players. Full-backs generally do not commit into challenges
in their opponents’ half. However, they aim to quickly dispossess attacking
players who have already breached the defensive line with a sliding tackle from the side. Markers must however avoid keeping too tight
on opponents or risk disrupting the defensive organisation. Maintaining tactical discipline by ensuring
other team-mates do not overrun the defensive line and inadvertently play an opponent onside. Providing a passing option down the flank;
for instance, by creating opportunities for sequences like one-two passing moves. In wingerless formations, full-backs need
to cover the roles of both wingers and full-backs, although defensive work may be shared with
one of the central midfielders. Additionally, attacking full-backs help to
pin both opposition full-backs and wingers deeper in their own half with aggressive attacking
intent. Their presence in attack also forces the opposition
to withdraw players from central midfield, which the team can seize to its advantage. Due to the physical and technical demands
of their playing position, successful full-backs need a wide range of attributes, which make
them suited for adaptation to other roles on the pitch. Many of the game’s utility players, who can
play in multiple positions on the pitch, are natural full-backs. A rather prominent example is the Real Madrid
full-back Sergio Ramos, who has played on the flanks as a full-back and in central defense
throughout his career. In the modern game, full-backs often chip
in a fair share of assists with their runs down the flank when the team is on a counter-attack. The more common attributes of full-backs,
however, include: Pace and stamina to handle the demands of
covering large distances up and down the flank. A healthy work rate and team responsibility. Marking and tackling abilities and a sense
of anticipation. Good off-the-ball ability to create attacking
opportunities for his team by running into empty channels. Dribbling ability. Many of the game’s eminent attacking full-backs
are excellent dribblers in their own right and occasionally deputise as attacking wingers. Player intelligence. As is common for defenders, full-backs need
to decide during the flow of play whether to stick close to a winger or maintain a suitable
distance. Full-backs that stay too close to attacking
players are vulnerable to being pulled out of position and leaving a gap in the defence. A quick passing movement like a pair of one-two
passes will leave the channel behind the defending full-back open. This vulnerability is a reason why wingers
considered to be dangerous are double-marked by both the full-back and the winger. This allows the full-back to focus on holding
his defensive line. Wing-back
The wing-back is a modern variation on the full-back with heavier emphasis on attack. The name is a portmanteau of “winger” and
“full-back”. They are usually employed in a 3-5-2 formation,
and could therefore be considered part of the midfield, although they may also be used
in a 5–3–2 formation, in which they would have a more defensive role. In the evolution of the modern game, wing-backs
are the combination of wingers and full-backs. As such, it is one of the most physically
demanding positions in modern football. Wing-backs are often more adventurous than
full-backs and are expected to provide width, especially in teams without wingers. A wing-back needs to be of exceptional stamina,
be able to provide crosses upfield and defend effectively against opponents’ attacks down
the flanks. A defensive midfielder is usually fielded
to cover the advances of wing-backs. References

About the Author: Garret Beatty

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