Modern Full Backs Part 1

The role of the full back has evolved significantly over the past few years. Attacking full backs have been a thing for as long as I can remember, but nowadays, they are more like wingers who defend, rather than defenders who attack. In this blog series, I’m going to talk about how I set my full backs up to be an additional attacking force without leaving us too exposed.

I don’t really watch a lot of football these days, nobody really is right now, but I’d say that for the past couple of years, I’ve only really watched Liverpool games in any real depth. The roles and duties I’ve used are not based entirely on their full backs, but they’ve certainly influenced the way I set mine up now. This is not a “how to set your full backs up like Liverpool” post.

Getting the right balance with your full backs is something I think people have issues with. They see full backs getting into attacking area, influencing play, creating scoring opportunities and assume that setting up their full backs on attacking roles with look for overlap will get them influencing things. I’m hoping to show you a different way of having them involved.

Translating how a player plays in real life into FM is quite difficult. It’s very easy to only think of highlight reels when trying to decide on a role for a player in the game. Liverpool’s full backs make a lot of assists and the media always describe them as “Liverpool’s attacking full backs” but if you watch them, there’s quite a difference in their styles and how they play. They’re attacking, but that doesn’t always equate to being on an attack duty.

Most player roles come with fixed Player Instructions (PI’s) that give you a pretty big clue as to how the player with act when the opposition has the ball, when the team has the ball and when the player has the ball. You can add additional PI’s to a role, but it’s worth remembering that some PI’s will be locked down so can’t be added or removed. This can be frustrating but there’s usually a role that gets you close to what you’re trying to do.

The Roles and System

Player roles mean nothing in isolation. A Poacher won’t win you a match on his own and he won’t be able to score all of the goals if nobody is creating them. Full backs are the same. You can’t expect them to get forward, influence play and make overlapping runs if you don’t give them the space to do so.

44fucking2

442 is a classic system. Seen as a bit outdated these days due to a lot of teams fielding three central midfielders, it can be, to quote the game, “overrun in midfield” quite easily. In an old 442 article that Cleon (RIP) wrote, he mentioned that the main strengths of the 442 was down the flanks. In defensive and attacking phases, that is important in this setup and should allow the full backs to thrive.

There’s nothing clever going on with the Team Instructions or roles. The DLF/S can sometimes be a False 9 and the CM/S is sometimes a Box to Box midfielder. It really depends on the opponent and what is happening in game. The style of play is a dumbed down version of the Gegenpressing preset as I didn’t want all of the instructions that came along with it. I think it explains itself pretty well.

If we focus on the full backs, I’ve gone for a Complete Wing Back/Support on the left and a Full Back/Attack on the right. Ahead of the attacking full back is a Wide Playmaker/Support. With him drifting inside, this opens up the space on the right hand side for the full back to exploit. On the left, I’ve deployed a rather unfashionable Wide Midfielder/Attack. People find it amusing that I use WM/A role, but I think a lot of that is snobbery because it doesn’t have a fancy title like “inverted roaming winger.” It’s a great, hard working role and you can customise it to do as you please. My one does nothing fancy, he’s all about finding space to drift into and combining with the players around him. Currently setup with cross less often, roam from position and cut inside along with the locked in get further forward PI. Again, this leaves room on the left for the CWB to get into.

The FB/A has no additional PI’s added. I’ve added cross more often to the CWB. I’ve played about with the take more risks instruction on the left back, but I’m unsure if that’s really having an effect on things.

Something to remember if you’re wanting to use attacking full backs is to get men in the box. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen people setup tactics to use the flanks to their advantage, only to have nobody to cross to. Having one striker vs a goalkeeper and at least two defenders really lowers your chances of being successful.

The Players

Now let’s look at the players I’m using and the skillsets they have. When it comes to players, it’s good to go in with an open mind. FM is a game, it’s not real life, so try not to restrict yourself. It’s really easy to retrain players to play in another position or role, especially if they have the attributes you require. I posted my left back on Twitter a couple of days ago and people seemed to like the idea of retraining a winger to be a full back. It did it with a right back when I was at Real Betis earlier in the FM20 cycle.

It’s the 2034/35 season now and I’m in charge of Lazio in Serie A. When I arrived, we had a couple of good full backs, but I decided that I wanted someone more suited to the role on the left side. I’ll only look at my two main starting players as I’ll be looking at them in greater detail in a later post.

Domantas Cepkauskas – CWB/S

Cepkauskas was brought in for €30m last summer from Dynamo Kiev. As you can see from his attributes, he’s a pretty good fit for a CWB. But oh no, he doesn’t have a full green dot for the role! Calm your tits, it’s not that important! His media description is interesting to me as he was a dynamic winger when he joined.

I think it’s fairly obvious why I signed that player. Physically, he’s a monster. His attributes in this area alone will make him a tricky player to deal with. When you add in his technical qualities, you realise how much trouble he can cause. His mental attributes are good as he’s hard working.

FM Samo asked me a question about full backs on my Slack channel today which I think is good to answer in here as well. He said…

I really like my full backs to have good positioning. Do you value the attacking attributes more?

FM Samo

The answer is a fairly non-commital “It depends” but here’s what I replied with. We were talking about a player I’d posted in my channel but I’ll not repost the image here.

Good question Samo. It’s all about balance I think. I find getting someone who has the good physical and attacking attributes mixed with good defensive attributes to be a bit tricky. His athleticism should mean he gets back into good positions alright. It’s not impossible(to find a player with those attributes), but the prices being quoted for some full backs means I look for alternative options. I think 12(for positioning) is alright and he’s only 21. Can spend some time working on that as I think the rest of his attributes make it worth the gamble. Worse case scenario, I end up with another good CM. Best case scenario, I end up with a good FB/A. He should be pretty well protected as the CM/D is on his side.

I wouldn’t sign a player who couldn’t tackle at all or would take up poor positions. Samo’s question is really valid though, not only because he’s asked about the defensive ability of a player I’d like to sign, but it brings something else into focus. Try not to look at attributes in isolation. Cepkauskas has 10 for tackling and positioning. Not great admittedly, but not so awful that he can’t tackle or take up good positions. It’s rare that you get the “perfect player” for a role, even the best players have weaknesses.

When you take into consideration how he reads the game (anticipation is ok at 12), his decision making (15) and then combine that with his aforementioned physical attributes, his recovery pace alone makes this less of a concern. Attribute combinations are an important thing to consider here.

In Cepkauskas, I think the balance is about right, or right enough for me to be ok with signing him.

On the right hand side, I have another fairly handy full back. Gomez was already at the club when I joined. You can see he’s quite similar physically and mentally to Cepkauskas, but technically, he’s inferior.

Wait, this guy is the attacking full back? But he can’t cross as well. Surely he should be the more conservative full back?

Yeah, you’re right, he’s not as technical as Cepkauskas, but look at his mental abilities. He’s composed, makes good decisions and he’s quick. His crossing isn’t awful and neither is his technique. I’m happy that with the abilities at his disposal, he can be an effective influence in the final third and be good at getting back into position to defend. I think with a more technical player, I could have him influencing things much more, but as I said, it’s about balance and he is fairly balanced.

Something I see on Twitter a lot in the “my dad is bigger than your dad” player debates is that a full back should “be able to defend first.” I’m not on board with that. That is a slightly old school approach to full backs. The best full backs of my lifetime have been Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Dani Alves, Ashley Cole. They weren’t well known for being the best defenders, although they could undoubtedly do that, they were best known for their attacking ability.

If you are an attacking/possession based team, then I think you can put less emphasis on the defensive side of things. Your full backs will be attacking a lot more than they are defending. I’m not Sam Allardyce, so my full backs go forward. A lot.

Traits

I’ve not spent a lot of time working on player traits just yet, but that is another way you can refine a player. It’s something I often over look when developing players but when I look at some of the decisions players make on the pitch, I’ll see if they have any traits first.

Gomez and Cepkauskas both have the Knocks Ball Past Opponent trait, which makes sense as they are both pacey players. Gomez also has Moves Ball to Right Foot Before Dribble Attempt as he is right footed. I mentioned above that I have been toying around with More Risky Passes on Cepkauskas. If I wanted it to be a more natural part of his game, I could try to train him to add the Tries Killer Balls Often trait.

Traits can be the final piece of the puzzle with a player if you get them right. It’s something I’ll be spending a bit of time on this season so I can further refine their actions.

That’s All Folks

I was going to make this one blog post, but as I continue to write, it’s probably best to split this into a couple of posts. I don’t want it to be so long that you spend ages having to scroll through to find what you’re looking for.

In the next post, I’ll look a little more closely at the roles and why I chose these roles over the others available. The last post will be looking at them in a match and watching how they work within my system.

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