Wing-Back vs Full-Back

The topic which we are going to do discussion upon is a matter of confusion for many people. There are many roles in football where the position is the same but the duties are different. To understand such roles and duties, we have to analyse them closely from the tactical point of view.

Similarly, one of the most confusing positions in football are the wing-back and full-back positions. Even though they operate on the same area of the pitch, what are the differences? What are the similarities? What are their respective duties? How they contribute to the gameplay?

What is a Full-Back?

To thoroughly understand the full-back position, we will have to go back in time when football was just starting. Initially, the formation 2-3-5 was used in football, the two deep-lying defenders were called full-backs.

With the passage of time and evolution of the game, these deep-lying full-backs were pushed to the wider areas of the pitch in the defence, because of the emergence of centre-backs.

As the 4-line defence strategy was evolved, which is a most used defensive system in the world right now, the two wide defenders are called full-backs. The functions and duties of full-backs have also evolved with time. Here are the two ways about how full-backs are and were used.

Full-Backs in Previous Decades

Initially full-backs were used solely for defensive purposes. Their main job was to stop the teams attacking from the wider areas of the pitch and block the crosses of the opposite teams. Full-backs were also very instrumental in holding the wide and fast-paced attackers of the opposition teams.

When the full-backs are used solely for defensive purposes, like in the 90s and early 2000s, the defensive system becomes more stable and compact because all of the zones of the pitch are marked, which proves to be a great difficulty for the attack of opponents.

Full-Backs in Modern Football

In modern football, the roles of full-backs are a bit different. You might have seen Jordi Alba up and down the left flank on the pitch of Nou Camp, today full-backs participate in the attack and at the same time fulfil the defensive duties too. They just don’t stick to the defensive positions.

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Many teams have used their full-backs as their attacking arsenal. They have proved to be instrumental in initiating wide attacks and delivering crosses to their attackers in the penalty box. It’s important to note this, there’s a very thin line between the modern full-backs and the wing-backs. Don’t worry, we will discuss the wing-backs in detail.

These were the two use of full-backs from the historic perspective. All the formations with 4 defenders at the back contain 2 full-backs. Some of the examples of the world’s best full-backs are Alphonso Davies, Dani Carvajal, and Jordi Alba. You can watch these marvellous players playing to know about the practical aspect of their position and duties as full-backs.

What is a Wing-Back?

Here we come to the second position in question in today’s blog. The wing-back is a relatively modern term, although we can find traces of this position in the early 21st century too. 

Whether it’s a wing-back or a full-back, few characteristics are necessary to be a player in these positions. These are pace, ability to make crosses, and high technical quality both on and off the ball.

However, coming back to our topic, a wing-back is a hybrid version of wingers and full-backs. The thing which differentiates them from the full-backs or let’s say modern full-backs is their commitment to attack and reduced defensive responsibilities because wing-backs are usually used in the line-ups where 3 centre-backs are used.

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As we discussed above, wing-backs perform the duties of wingers also, which eliminates the need for wingers in a team and more players can be placed in the midfield providing depth. While they stay high at the flanks, when the need arises, the wing-backs also track back to accommodate the 3 centre-backs in defence. This way, they act as a hybrid of two different positions on the flanks.

A Wing-Back Means Width

One very clear benefit of using the wing-backs is the width they provide. In the case of full-backs, due to the presence of only two centre-backs, full-backs have to cover interior areas of the pitch also.

But wing-backs only stick to the flanks and stay wide. This destabilizes the opponent’s defence and create a more attacking threat, at the same time wing-backs provide defensive stability.

Different Examples of a Wing-Back:

  • Brazil won the 2002 world cup, in which they used Cafú and Roberto Carlos as wing-backs. They were a treat to watch. Rewind it up when you get time.
  • Another example of excellent wing-backs are Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Trent-Alexander Arnold. They usually play as full-backs but they display an excellent hybrid version of winger plus full-backs as they make Liverpool highly dangerous in attack.
  • There’s an emerging talent on the right wing of FC Barcelona, the American teenager Sergino Dest. Although he occupies the right-back position, the teenager provides a great deal of attacking threat to the Blaugranas as he remains in the higher regions of the pitch being a wing-back. He also tracks back when any defensive need arises.

These were the few practical examples from modern football that you can notice and analyse easily for a better understanding of the concept we are giving here. After a very thorough explanation of both positions, we assume you’re crystal clear about the concepts we have given, so we can head towards the comparison of both.

Head-to-Head Comparison

  • The very basic difference between both positions is that the full-back is more dedicated to the defensive duties while the wing-back is more committed to the offensive duties.
  • The modern full-backs partially contribute to the attack while the wing-backs partially contribute to the defence.
  • Full-backs are used in a 4-line defender system while the wing-backs are used with the 3 centre-backs in the defence.
  • Full-backs often have to contribute in the central areas of the pitch while the wing-backs mainly remain at the flanks providing constant width to the team.
  • Both positions require its occupant to be fast because they have to cover a lot of area, and also to be technically gifted.

These were the basic comparisons between both positions, you can also call them the summary of our whole talk above. All the concepts that we have discussed above, can be found in these comparisons in a very concise manner.


That’s all for one, we won’t burden you with more tactical discussions today. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading a deep discussion about the game you love. We expect you to be clear about the major and key difference between a wing-back and a full-back.

And now you won’t confuse the two positions with each other as they are significantly different. It depends on the approach and tactics you use in the game. We can’t state to anyone that both are better than the other because both positions have their own benefits.

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