What is the role of a left-back in soccer?

In the past, people, including coaches, considered the position of a left-back unimportant. In fact, the full-back wasn’t recognized as anything special until recently. The full-back position is complicated. The attacking and defensive importance of a full-back was not recognized. This is why the position was often left out of talks involving positional significance in soccer.

What Changed?

In the last 15 years, the full-back has gained massive significance. Many football clubs worldwide are in the market for modern full-backs who can make their teams better.

Whenever I hear of the word “left-back,” the first player that comes to mind is Marcelo Vieira. He is the very definition of a modern left-back. His goal-scoring exploits, coupled with his speed and defensive qualities, have made him a standout player in the last ten years. You only have to watch him in his peak years to see why the Left-back position is an important one. I remember seeing him play for the first time and thinking I have never seen a player play this position like this.

The role of a left-back

The role of a left-back has undergone many changes over the years. Initially, many coaches expected a left-back to sit and assist the two center-backs in defending. They were not expected to run up and down the wings to support the attack while protecting the defense. Also, no one expected them to think of making assists or even scoring goals. Goal scoring and assisting were left to the forwards and midfielders. This isn’t the case anymore. You only need to look at the goal contributions of Liverpool’s full-backs to see how the position’s role has changed. Gone are the days where the position of a full-back was left for just anyone.

In today’s football, a left-back’s primary role is to occupy the entire area along the flank. This means a left-back has to cover his/her half of the flank. Also, a left-back has to cover the opposition’s flank. A modern full-back is not restricted to just sitting and protecting his defense. He is expected to contribute to the entire play of the team. This includes defending and attacking.

The evolution of the left-back position

The contrast between what a left-back was and what it is today is huge. The position of a full-back wasn’t recognized as special until the 21st century. Technically gifted players were chosen as midfielders. Big and strong players were made central midfielders. Fast players were picked as wingers. The introduction of modern tactics means no player can just sit and watch the game. Everyone on the pitch contributes to both attacking and defending.

In the 20th century, full-backs were on the pitch to defend. But that changed once coaches saw how much they could gain. Gradually, left-backs were given the freedom to exploit the space in front of them.

Left-backs like Roberto Carlos introduced the world to what a full-back can do. In recent times Marcelo, Daniel Alves, Trent Alexander-Arnold have given the position of a full-back a new meaning. These players have a frightening pace and dribbling talents. They also have unmatched energy as they are able to run the entire length of the pitch for the whole 90 minutes. This means they can provide defensive cover as well as take part in attacks with ease.

In modern football, coaches no longer look for left-backs that can defend. They also want left-backs that can contribute to creating goal-scoring opportunities. Like Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, coaches always use players who can function as an extra winger while playing a full-back. Players that have these attributes attract interest from clubs around the world.

A major reason for the change in the role of left-back is due to the attacking football tactic of modern football. Clubs are not only looking for players to sit back and defend. This is particularly true for big clubs in Europe’s top five leagues. Big coaches are expected to play attacking football. And for this reason, they must use full-backs who can do more than just defending. Other full-backs such as Philip Lahm and Joshua Kimmich have exceptional technical talent. Philip Lahm was a key figure in the German team that won the world cup in 2014.

Requirements of a modern left-back

  • Pace: This is one of the most important attributes a left-back should have. When faced with fast wingers, a left-back needs speed to be able to deal with them. Also, modern left-backs function as a secondary winger. This means that they must have speed as a winger would.
  • Creativity: Midfielders are not the only ones tasked with creating goal-scoring opportunities. Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold is recognized as one of the most creative players. This is because he is good at creating goal-scoring chances.
  • Endless energy: Left-backs must be able to keep on running for the entire 90 minutes of a match. Tired left-backs could mean conceding a goal.
  • Good crossing ability: Left-backs must be able to bring the ball from the wings into the eighteen-yard box. One way to do this is by crossing. Good crosses mean more goals for the team. A left-back who excels at this is Trent Alexander-Arnold.
  • Good defensive ability:¬†It is usually outstanding when a left-back can contribute to both attacking and defending. Even though modern football needs attacking left-backs, it also needs defensive ones too. ¬†Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich is renowned for his ability to attack and defend at will. He has great defensive abilities. He is also one of the most gifted goal creators in football.

The demands of modern football determine the role of a modern left-back.
So, what do you think the role of a left-back should be? If you are a fan of defensive football, you may not be a supporter of modern left-backs. You may like your left-backs to be like a second winger.
Irrespective of what you prefer, the fact remains that modern left-back roles are more than defending.

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