Defensive Soccer Positions: Everything You Need to Know

Post title over image of soccer defender

During a game of soccer, each player is assigned a specific position on the field. Some of those players will be chosen to be defenders and given the role of playing defense for the team.

If you’re here looking for information specifically on defensive positions in soccer, then this article will provide you with all you need.

There are 5 defensive soccer positions:

  • Goalkeeper (GK)
  • Sweeper (SW)
  • Full Back (FB)
  • Center Back (CB)
  • Wing Back (WB)

Each of these positions performs a unique role for the team and is situated in a specific area of the field.

In this article, we’ll look at each of these responsibilities. We’ll also cover the formations the positions are used in and find out why not all these defensive positions are used in every game.

If you want more info on every soccer position, including the numbers, roles, responsibilities, and formations of all the players on a soccer field during a game, check out my Complete and Easy to Understand Guide to Soccer Positions. It will give you everything you want to know about soccer positions.

And if you specifically want to know more about Youth Soccer Positions, then check out this guide I recently put together.

Position of the Defenders on a Soccer Field

Defensive soccer positions are some of the most important positions on a soccer team. They have the responsibility to defend their team’s goal as well as be the foundation of many attacking moves.

The first thing to understand when we are looking at defensive soccer positions is where the defenders are actually positioned on the field during a game.

Every defensive player is positioned at the end of the field nearest the goal they are defending. As you can see in the image below, the defenders are spread across the width of the soccer field.

Defensive soccer positions shown on soccer field
Positions of defensive players on a soccer team

I’ve used the abbreviation for each position shown in the above image, but as a quick reminder of what each of them means, here is the list:

  • GK –Goalkeeper/goalie
  • SW – Sweeper
  • CB – Center Back
  • FB – Full Back
  • WB – Wing Back

If you want a full list of all the abbreviations used in soccer for the positions, have a look at this complete list I put together. It even has a downloadable image you can keep with you to refer to when you need a reminder.

In soccer, the goalkeeper or goalie is always positioned in front of the goal they are defending. They are free to move away from the goal during the game, but it is in their team’s interest to stay reasonably close and be available when called upon.

The player in the position of the sweeper is positioned just in front of the goalkeeper but behind the other defenders. The sweeper is based in the center of the field and may cover the entire width of the field throughout a game.

The center back position is in the center of the defense. Depending on the formation being used, there may be two players playing in the position of center-back during a game. In this situation, one center-back will play to the left of the center, and the other will play to the right of the center.

full-back in soccer is positioned at the side of the soccer field near the touchline. During a game, there will often be two full-backs playing, one on the left-hand side of the defense and the other positioned on the right-hand side of the defense. If you want to find out why I think this position is the easiest position on the soccer field, check out this article I wrote.

The position of wing-back is similar to that of the full-back, but a little more advanced. A wing-back will be positioned on either side of the defense near the sideline. This position is further forward than the other defenders, however, as they have a more offensive role than the other defenders.

Let’s look at the role of each position now.

Role of Each Defensive Soccer Position

As with any position in soccer, each of the defensive positions carries a slightly different role to one another. Let’s start by looking at the role of a goalkeeper.


In soccer, a goalkeeper is a very unique position. The goalie has a role that no other player on the team has and can do things that no other player is permitted to do.

The primary role of a goalkeeper is to prevent the ball from getting into the goal they are defending. The goalkeeper is positioned in front of the goal for this very reason. They are the last line of defense between the opposition and the goal.

Because of this role of stopping the opposing team from scoring, the goalie is the only player on a team who is allowed to touch the ball with their hands.

This benefit means the goalie has one of the most influential roles in a team. They can use any part of their body to stop the ball and distribute the ball to other players on the team.

Just remember that there are restrictions on when and where they can use their hands, and I have outlined these restrictions in this article here.

The position of the goalkeeper, situated at the end of the field behind the rest of the defense, also gives them a unique ability to see everything that is happening on the rest of the field.

They can see the full picture of where each player is on the field and where the ball is. This is why a goalkeeper often has one of the most vocal roles of any player in the team.

They can effectively direct their own team’s players into positions that will be most beneficial for the team and prevent the opposing team and the soccer ball from getting near the goal. Every other defender would be wise to listen to instructions from the goalie.

If you have a slow player on your team and you can’t decide what position they should play, I suggest putting them in a goalkeeper. Find out why here.


As I mentioned above, the sweeper is positioned between the goalkeeper and the rest of the defense. The role of the sweeper in a soccer team is to “sweep up” anything that gets beyond the defensive line. If an opposition player gets past a defender, then the sweeper will be ready to come in behind the defender and tackle the player.

If the ball is played past a defender, then the sweeper will have anticipated that move and will be there to “sweep up” the move.

The sweeper may be based in the center of the field, but they have the freedom to move from one side of the field to the other, covering the width of the field. They go wherever the ball will be.

Although the role of the sweeper isn’t as popular in modern-day soccer as it was during the 20th Century, you do still see a sweeper used occasionally. They can play an important role in a team.

Center Back

The role of a center back is to defend the goal behind them. They are, first and foremost a, defender, and they must do all they can to protect the goal and the goalkeeper behind them.

Although there is usually another player behind them on the field, a center back’s aim is to do their best to stop the ball from getting past them.

Because of this, a center back is usually a bigger and stronger player than many other players on the field. Their role is to disrupt the opposing forwards. To get in their way and intercept any passes, shot, or moves they make.

However, a center backs defensive role is not all they are expected to do.

A center back should also be available to receive a pass when needed. There will often be times when another player has the ball and cannot move forward. They may look around, and the best option is to pass backward. At this moment, the center back should be ready and available to receive the pass and support the rest of the team.

Because of the regular opportunities to play with the ball at their feet, the center back also has a role in beginning attacking moves from the back of the field. They should have enough awareness and skill to look up and see a pass that could set their team up for a scoring opportunity.

Full Back

Positioned on either side of the soccer field, the role of the full-back is to defend against any attacks from the opposition that originate along the sidelines. The left full-back will protect the left side of the field, and the right full-back will defend the right.

The full-backs must be aware of any opposition players that move into the area of the field they are defending.

If an attacking player gets past the full-back, then there is a high chance that they could get a cross or pass into the penalty area and create a goal-scoring opportunity. Preventing opposition players from getting a cross into the penalty area is a vital role of a full-back.

As well as defending, the full-backs also have an offensive role to play in the team. When they have the ball, they can set up attacks along the sides of the field or pass to an attacking player who can create an opportunity to score.

Wing Back

The role of a wing-back in a soccer team is similar to that of a full-back. The main difference is that a wing-back has more emphasis on supporting the offensive players in the team.

A full-back’s primary role is to defend. In contrast, a wing-back has an equal responsibility for supporting the team’s attack as they do for defending.

When a team uses a wing-back in their formation, they will be positioned a little further forward on the field than a full-back. This is because a wing-back is expected to cover a larger area of the field than a full-back.

This is often why wing-backs are fast players with a high level of stamina.

They spend a lot of the game running up and down the touchline, supporting the attack in one moment and supporting the defense in the next. The role of the wing-back is more extensive than many of the other positions on the team.

Defensive Formations in Soccer

Now we understand the role of each defensive soccer position, I want to quickly show you 3 of the most popular formations that defenders will play in.

Knowing the formation a team is set up to play in will help you understand where each defender will be positioned for that game. It will also help to explain why some defensive positions are used in some games and not others.

5-4-1 Formation

5-4-1 Soccer Formation displayed on soccer field
5-4-1 Soccer Formation

The 5-4-1 formation is one of the most defensive formations any team can use.

The balance of the team is heavily weighted towards the defense. A team would most likely use this formation if they were facing a much stronger team and wanted to do all they could to stop the opposition from scoring too many goals.

Any formation making use of 5 defenders provides an excellent opportunity for the team to make use of a sweeper. Four of the defenders can play in the most common defensive positions, while the sweeper can play just behind them.

5-3-2 formation

5-3-2 Soccer Formation displayed on soccer field
5-3-2 Soccer Formation

The 5-3-2 formation is another highly defensive formation. But this formation is focussed a little more on keeping the majority of players in the center of the field. It also allows for an extra player in attack to increase the chances of the team scoring a goal.

This is a good formation if a team wants to make use of wing-backs. Having only 3 players in midfield provides space down either side of the field for the wing-backs to move up and down as they need to.

4-5-1 Formation

4-5-1 Soccer Formation displayed on soccer field
4-5-1 Soccer Formation

The 4-5-1 formation is a defensive formation that is focused on providing strength in numbers in midfield.

Having four defenders across the back allows a team to play with two center backs and two full-backs, but a team could move one of the center backs into the position of a sweeper and play with three defenders across the middle of the field instead if preferred.

For a much more in-depth look at soccer formations, you need to check out my Complete Guide to Soccer Formations.


I hope you now feel as though you have a better understanding of defensive soccer positions.

If you want to find out how you can be a better soccer defender, I would encourage you to check out my article – 21 Qualities of a Soccer Defender. There, you will find tips and advice on how to improve your game.

And if you are looking for more information on how soccer works, take a look at this article I wrote. It gives you a step-by-step guide to the essentials of soccer that you need to know.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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