What Is a Wing-back in Soccer? (What’s Required)

Few players must cover the ground that a wing-back does in soccer. As a blend of a defender and winger, the wing-back has a very tough (and tiring) job to do. 

What exactly is a wing-back in soccer?

In this guide, we share what you need to know including

  • The role of a wing-back. 
  • Skills that wing-back needs. 
  • Examples of some of the best in the game. 

Keep reading to find out more about the unique wing-back position. 

Madrid, Spain - June 1, 2019: Trent Alexander-Arnold Of Liverpool Pictured During The 2018/19 Uefa Champions League Final Between Tottenham Hotspur (England) And Liverpool Fc (England) At Wanda Metropolitano. 
Madrid, Spain – June 1, 2019: Trent Alexander-Arnold Of Liverpool Pictured During The 2018/19 Uefa Champions League Final Between Tottenham Hotspur (England) And Liverpool Fc (England) At Wanda Metropolitano.&Nbsp;

What Is a Wing Back Position?

The term “wing-back” can refer to a couple of potential positions in soccer. Typically, it describes a player who plays a combination of a winger and a full-back role. 

In general, the outside backs in a 4-back system are not called wing-backs. Instead, a wing-back may refer to an “outside mid” in a 3-5-2 or other similar formation. 

The role first gained popularity in 1970 when the Dutch team Ajax, leveraged it in their “Total Football” strategy. 

While the use of wingbacks has fluctuated over time, some teams still use the formation and position. 

Is a Wing-Back a Defender?

A wing-back is a defender who covers the wide areas of the field. They are also attackers when their team is in possession of the ball.

Wing-back is really a unique position. In the 3-5-2 system, a wing-back is not really a defender. They are technically an outside mid. However, in a 5-3-2 position, the wing-back is a defender. 

Furthermore, while an outside back in a 4 back may not technically be a wing-back, the modern style of soccer typically relies on those players to play like a wing-back. 

Where Is Wing Back in Soccer?

The wing-back is a lateral position in soccer. This player is located in the width, either as an outside back or an outside mid. 

Where a wing-back actually is at a given moment can vary immensely. Their goal is to utilize the width and promote the attack, but they also carry a defensive responsibility to track the other team’s wide players. 

Therefore, a wing-back is often somewhere along their sideline. During the attack, they are in the attacking half. When their team is defending, they will be in the defensive half. 

London, England - February 26, 2020: Alphonso Davies Of Bayern Pictured During The 2019/20 Uefa Champions League Round Of 16 Game Between Chelsea Fc And Bayern Munich At Stamford Bridge.
London, England – February 26, 2020: Alphonso Davies Of Bayern Pictured During The 2019/20 Uefa Champions League Round Of 16 Game Between Chelsea Fc And Bayern Munich At Stamford Bridge.

What Do Wing-backs Do?

This position involves a wide array of responsibilities and actions. Wingbacks surge into the attack, playing a key role in wide attacking plays. At the same time, they must come to help defend. 

Here are some things wing-backs do in soccer:

  • Join the attack by sprinting up the sideline. 
  • Dribble 1v1 on the sideline. 
  • Deliver crosses into the box. 
  • 1v1 defend against the other team’s outside backs or outside mids. 
  • Pass the ball with other players. 
  • Take attacking first touches. 
  • Crash the box on a ball crossed from the other side. 

How Do You Play Wingback in Soccer?

Wingback is a very physically demanding and difficult position to play in soccer. Here are some tips for succeeding here:

  • Raise your physical stamina, you must be able to cover the ground at the necessary pace. 
  • Practice attacking with speed. This is a dynamic role that requires ball control while going full speed. 
  • Train crossing, including flighted, driven, and on-the-ground service into the box. 
  • Be able to dribble while under pressure and against the sideline. Train moves that allow you to beat defenders in this area. 
  • Defend in the width and come back to cover for your team. 

Here’s a great video about playing as a wingback

What Makes a Good Wing Back?

This position is incredibly physically demanding. Players in this role must make many full-paced efforts up and down the sideline. They must be able to maintain high possession rates and relentlessly defend at all times. 

Therefore, one of the most essential attributes of a wingback is stamina. They need to be a fit player who can handle the distance and type of running required. 

While it’s not essential, overall athleticism tends to be a major benefit in this position. Fast, strong players are often best suited for the full-forced sprints and dynamic runs of this position. 

In addition to physical abilities, this role requires some key technical and tactical skills as well. Some other qualities of a good wing back include

  • 1v1 defending in the width
  • Tackling ability 
  • Strong positional awareness (when to attack vs drop)
  • Possession while under pressure
  • Good crosses
  • Strong attacking and defending skills 

As a defender, you obviously have to make sure the ball doesn’t come near your goal. Then you make sure it reaches the wide players. Only once you’ve got the upper hand can you join in the attack.

Wim Suurbier former Ajax player via Dutch News

Wingback Formation Soccer 

3-5-2 - Soccer Formation
3-5-2 – Soccer Formation

As we’ve referenced, there are several potential formations that use wing-backs. Most commonly a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 uses wingbacks. Both formations have 3 center backs and then two wing-backs with a far more attacking role. 

Many argue that a system with 4 defenders does not have wing-backs. However, many teams who play a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 with a box midfield rely on the outside backs to attack and cover the width. Effectively, many teams with 4 defenders now expect the full-backs to play as wing-backs. 

One good example of this is the 2019/2020 Liverpool team. That season, Liverpool played a 4-3-3. However, the fullbacks (Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander) played very attacking roles, essentially as wing-backs. Together, the pair of wing-backs assisted 25 goals and scored 6. 

Crystal Dunn, Right, Of The United States Women's National Soccer Team Passes The Ball Against Players Of Sweden Women's National Football Team In The Third Round Match Of Group F Match During The Fifa Women's World Cup France 2019 In Paris, France, 20 J  
Crystal Dunn, Right, Of The United States Women’S National Soccer Team Passes The Ball Against Players Of Sweden Women’S National Football Team In The Third Round Match Of Group F Match During The Fifa Women’S World Cup France 2019 In Paris, France, 20 J&Nbsp;&Nbsp;

Who Is the Best Wing Back in Soccer?

Assessing this position can be tough, especially given the overlap between “full backs” and wing-backs in modern soccer. Undeniably, wing-backs are involved in the attack, but they are not necessarily top goal scorers. 

There are many excellent contenders for the “best wing back ever” but one name that is mentioned repeatedly is Phillip Lahm. Phillip was a German player who played most recently for Bayern Munich. He helped both his club and national team win several major championships, including the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

He was well known for tenacious attacking, where he would cut inside to deliver penetrating passes or shots. Despite his small stature, he was an excellent tackler with great athletic abilities. 

Best Wing-Backs In Soccer

Take a look at some of the other great wing-backs in men’s soccer below:

NamePositionTeamStatAward
Achraf Hakimiright-backInter Milan/ Morocco3 goals 5 assists so far this seasonCAF Africa’s finest XI 2020
Djalma SantosRight wing-backBrazilWorld Cup appearancesFIFA World Cup All-Star, FIFA 100, Top 50 Player of the Century
Jordi AlbaLeft-backBarcelona/ Spain5 goals and 10 assists in the 2020/2021 seasonChampions League winner, World Cup winner, 
Trent Alexander-ArnoldOutside back Liverpool2 goals and 11 assists so far this seasonYoung Player of the Season, Premier League Champion, 2x Player of the Match
Philipp LahmWing backBayern Munich/ Germany  22 goals and 77 assists in his career8x Bundesliga Winner, FIFAPro World XI honors, 5x EUFA Team of the Year
Best Wing-Backs in Soccer – Position/Team/Stats/Awards

As for female players, Crystal Dunn is a name you will often hear. She was not always a wingback, she has played in several positions. In the 2019 World Cup, the USWNT employed her speed and versatility at the left-back position, where she excelled immensely as a wingback.

The 28-year-old was most recently ranked #6 on ESPN’s list of the top 50 female players.  

Philipp Lahm On May 3 2017 During Training At Fc Bayern Munich
Philipp Lahm On May 3 2017 During Training At Fc Bayern Munich

The Modern Wing-Back

Wing-backs play a hybrid role, marrying the responsibilities of an outside back and a winger. There is some debate over which position is considered wingback, but many modern formations and styles leverage outside backs in a 4 or 5 back system to play as wing-backs. 

While defenders are traditionally most concerned with protecting their goal, wingbacks look for opportunities to overload the attack and help their team score.

To succeed in this position, you must be an excellent attacker and defender with the stamina to work the sideline all game. 

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