The Right-Back Position in Soccer: Things to Know

If you want to learn about the right-back position in soccer, you have come to the right place. Here, I will first discuss the characteristics a right-back must have to be successful. Second, I will compare offensive and defensive right-backs. Third, I will cover tactical nuances any right-back can easily add to his/her game to elevate his/her game or just understand the position better.

Information in this article also applies to the left-back position. However, I dedicated two different articles to this full-back position. This is to accomplish two things. First, I would like to give due respect to players that left their mark in the history of this game, playing in their respective roles. Second, I would also like to help those searching for information specifically about a left-back or right-back position find an article best suited to their needs. With that said, my left-back specific article can be found here.

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Usually, players in a right-back position in soccer tend to be right-footed. While this is not a requirement, it usually works out this way. There are some incredibly successful right-footed left-backs (ex: Phillip Lahm & Gianluca Zambrotta). However, left-footed right-backs tend to be very rare. I am not aware of any world-class player that fits the bill. The explanation is simple: there are more right-footed players, so sometimes “extras” get pushed to the other side. On the other hand, there are not as many left-footed players, so coaches normally try to keep them on their strong side.

The right-back position in soccer is responsible for more than just defending. Top right-backs can attack really well. In fact, modern-right backs are normally responsible to control the entire right side of the field.

The right-back position in soccer is physically demanding. Only central midfielders cover more ground than right-backs. Even so, right-backs tend to sprint a lot more. Ryan Alexander in Complete Conditioning for Soccer estimates that full-backs normally cover about 6-7 miles per game, of which more than 1000 yards can be in high-intensity work.

The above picture illustrates the coverage area of a right-back in defensive and offensive phases.

Right-Back Position in Soccer in Defensive Phase

As a rule of thumb, a right-back position in soccer must be a good defender. In a defensive phase, he/she will often face 1v1 situations or find him/herself defending a back-post against a cross/header. A right-back must be able to neutralize attackers in the box or by the sideline.

A right-back must also be able to read the game. This, of course, comes with experience and education. A right-back position in soccer must be well-versed in constantly monitoring the offside line, spotting forwards looking to sneak behind, or having a general awareness of the player positions on the field. The ability to communicate (receive and give instructions) is also very important. Simple communications skills can elevate anybody’s game by a notch or two.

Right-Back Position in Soccer in Offensive Phase

Illustration: two scenarios. In one scenario, RB (#2) has made an overlapping run towards the corner flag. If #7 plays the ball, the RB will be in a great position to make a cross. In the second scenario, RB gives #7 an outlet to recycle possession by staying behind him in an open space. In this scenario, the RB will be able to move the game towards the left by passing to either #6, #8, #3, or #4.

During the offensive phase, a right-back position in soccer can provide great support. The right-back can help the right midfielder/winger find an outlet pass. Right-back can accomplish this either by helping from behind or by making an overlapping run down the side.

In addition to helping the right-winger, the right-back can also be a primary attacking option. While scoring goals is not a primary responsibility of a right-back, attacking a back-post from the right side (in case the attack develops from the left side / there is a cross) can sometimes be a great option.

Different Types of Right-Backs

There are different kinds of right-backs in soccer. The attacking game is best suited for some while others can be more defensive-minded. There is no “correct” way to play the right-back position in soccer. What constitutes a “better” depends entirely on the team’s needs and what the coach prefers. For example, consider the swap between Manchester City and Juventus in 2019. Joao Cancelo went to Man City. In return, Juventus received Danilo.

Offensive-minded Cancelo was struggling with defensive-minded Max Allegri while defensive-minded Danilo had a hard time finding game time for offensive-minded Pep Guardiola. Since the two exchanged places, Danilo has become a very important player for Juventus and Cancelo is now being considered one of the best full-backs in the world. They were both able to reinvent their careers under the right coach.

Defensive Right-Backs

The right-back position in soccer is primarily a defensive position. A defender must be able to defend well. Defensive-minded right-backs like Javier Zanetti, Lillian Thuram, and Giuseppe Bergomi (to name a few) all had legendary careers. Players like Danilo and Kyle Walker are enjoying wonderful careers; even when the latter plays for one of the most offensive-minded coaches in the world. However, even for defensive right-backs, the ability to properly attack is very important.

Offensive Right-Backs

The modern game demands more from the right-back position in soccer than just the ability to defend well. Offensive full-backs are getting more recognition. Players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Achraf Hakimi are very highly rated mostly for their offensive abilities. But, this is new. Dani Alves, in the 2010s, and Cafu in the 2000s are considered among the best to ever play the right-back position even though they played a very offensive game. However, even though they could attack really well, they were still exceptionally good defenders.

Key Tactical Tips

When Defending Right-Back Position in Soccer

  • Stay close to your right center back. Do not leave a big gap between yourself (RB) and your closest center back. A forward making a run in that space is likely to be in a very dangerous position. In the illustration below, the right-back (#2white) needs to move closer to the center back (#3white) and instruct #7white to come deeper to defend #11red. Even if there is nobody to defend #11red, the right-back should still move centrally because the #8red can find himself in a far more dangerous position than the #11red.
Circled area represents a dangerous space that should not be vacated.
  • Always be aware of a runner behind. This happens even to the best teams in the world. And when it happens it is infuriating because it is easy enough to avoid. In this example, a right-back comes in centrally, (as suggested above) but fails to understand that 1) there is already an extra center-back in the middle and 2) that there is another runner approaching from behind. This unmarked runner (#11red) is now completely unmarked at the back post if #7red can make a cross.
Illustration: a man left unmarked at the back post.
  • Be aware of the offside line. At all times. This too happens far too often. The right-back (#2white) is too slow to move up even though the other defenders are moving upfield. Now, the opposition player(s) can be 1v1 with nobody close to him/her. When it happens it is a bad mistake.
Failed offside trap.
  • Risk-taking under pressure. Giving up a corner kick is a million times better than handing the ball over to the opposition in your own box. A free throw is better (less risky) than a corner kick. If a right-back position in soccer is under pressure, finding a free teammate is always the best option. However, this is not always an option when you are under pressure. If there is no good pass, kicking the ball away as far as you can in any direction is always better than passing the ball to the opposition.
  • When passing back to the goalkeeper, avoid passing directly between the goalposts. Mistakes happen. If your teammate goalkeeper miscontrols the pass, it can lead to an own goal. A pass going outside of goalposts can lead only to a corner kick.
Example: passing the ball back to your goalkeeper outside of goal-posts.

Know Your Opponent (left winger/forward).

  • Defending a faster opponent, try to deny him/her space behind you. Do not mark him from a very close distance. Move back a little. Make sure he does not have the space to run behind you. It is better if he receives the ball to his feet. Example: Ronaldo.
  • Defending a technical opponent. Mark him closely. If he prefers to have the ball in his feet, you will be able to defend better if you are glued as closely as you can. Example: Neymar.
  • Defending a right-footed player. If you are defending a player who likes to cut inside and shoot, try to force him to the left by opening the space to the left and closing it towards the right/middle. Example: ManĂ©.
  • When facing a left-footed player. If the winger you are defending prefers to go down the line and cross (because he is not able to shoot well with his right), try to force them inside instead by denying them the space to the byline. Example: Andrew Robertson.

When Attacking from a Right-Back Position in Soccer

  • Overlapping Runs are very effective. Making an overlapping run serves two important purposes. First, you can receive a pass in a good position to make a dangerous cross. Second, even if you do not receive the ball, your movement can give your teammate additional space & time to keep the attack flowing. This is because an additional defender is needed to cover the overlapping run.
Here, the right-back ($2white) overlaps the right midfielder/winger from behind (never run in front) and moves into a great position for a dangerous cross. With this simple move, the right-back creates a great dilemma for the defender (#5red). If he stays with #7white, the right-back will be in a good position for a cross. If #5red follows the runner (the RB), it gives more time and space to #7white to create a dangerous play.
  • Looking for open space at the back post. If your team is attacking from the left, there is an opportunity to overload the back post from the right-back position. However, before the right-back moves into this position, he/she must make sure there is enough defensive cover. In the illustration below, #2white leaves his two center backs outnumbered, which could easily lead to a dangerous counter-attack.
The right-back attacks the back post but leaves his team in a poor defensive shape.
  • Recycle possession with purpose. Most attacks do not end with a goal/key pass. As a right-back, one of the best things you can do for your team is to keep the ball possession for your team and find your teammates in good positions. If there are no good options going forward, going sideways or backward is just a good option.


Being a right-back is an important role. To be a good right-back, one must be able to control the entire right side of the field. Modern right-backs are able to defend and attack well. Understanding tactical nuances as a right-back can elevate your game tremendously. If you enjoyed the article (or if you think it can be improved), I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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