Wide Players and Their Defensive Responsibilities

By Danny Carvalho

Question - “We play with two very good wingers who create a lot of our attacking chances.  But they don't help back much when we are defending and we tend to get overrun sometimes.  What responsibilities should my wingers have when we are defending and how can I coach them to understand this?"

It depends on what’s your defensive strategy. If your team chooses zonal defending, they must behave one way. If your team chooses individual defending, they must behave another way. Let’s go over their duties on each defensive strategy.

Zonal defending

When you play in a zonal strategy, you must split the field into boxes (zones). The more advanced is your players IQ, the more boxes you create because more boxes means more complexity.

For this article, lets work with 12 zones as shown below.

This set up will help your players with a visualization of the field areas where they are responsible for.

Areas 1 to 4 are the defensive third, areas 5 to 8 the midfield third and 9 to 12 are the attacking third.

From that, you will now determine to your wingers where and how to act defensively.

  • Want your team to press high? When the ball is in your attacking third, left winger (LW) will be pressing and marking at zones 9 and 10, and the right winger (RW) at zones 11 and 12

  • Want your team to perform defensively at a mid-height block? LW responsible to guard zones 5 and 6, RW responsible to guard zones 7 and 8. They will be more concerned with denying space and passing options.

  • Your fullbacks are being overloaded 2v1 at zones 1 or 4? Wingers must drop to equalize the numbers and defend on a 2v2.

We could name many more situations but, going over the basics, that’s pretty much it.

Summing up: when opponents have the ball at zones 1, 5, 6, 9 or 10, LW must be involved and actively defending. When opponents have the ball at zones 4,7,8,11 or 12, RW must be involved and actively defending.

Individual defending

In this case, is a whole other story. When a team chooses individual defending, each player will be assigned an opponent to mark the whole time.

For example: if your playing against a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or any other platform playing with fullbacks, usually the wingers are responsible for man marking the fullback playing on their side of the pitch. Right winger marks opponents’ left fullback and left winger marks opponents’ right fullback.

If you’re playing versus a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2, the more common is your wingers taking on the opponents’ wing backs. It can also be your wingers taking on the right and left defenders on a more incisive system.

Whatever assignment you choose for them, they must mark that player when your team is off possession. It’s up to the coach to decide which way fits best.

The key is to make them realize the team needs them to help and, even great players like Salah and Mané, Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo, Mahrez and Foden help their teams defensively.

By Danny Carvalho, DOC at Corinthians Campinas Youth Club,  Brasil

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