The role of the mezzala in 3-5-2 formation

What is Mezzala in Soccer? [Complete Tactical Guide]

Central midfielders are the most versatile players on the pitch. However, even they have some advantages that they can express, especially in attack. Being able to wear many hats, a mezzala needs to find the right time to drift to the wing and create an overload. Often cooperating with the wing-back and the winger, can truly create confusion for the opponents. If the three players on the wing have the pace to do overlapping and underlapping runs, the defense can have their hands full. Furthermore, if they end up dragging more defenders, then a quick switch to the other side or a cross can create a numerical advantage in a very dangerous area. We have seen some fantastic players, such as Iniesta and Odegaard, really owning this role. Let’s look at what is needed to excel in it and the systems in which it makes sense to use it.

What is the Role of Mezzala in Soccer?

Mezzala is the role of a central midfielder that occupies a wide forward area of the pitch. The main purpose is to provide support to the team by pushing high in the winger area when the team is in possession. Mezzalas are often used to provide support to the wingers and wing-backs. This is especially true if some of them play in inverted roles. While attacking patiently and switching the ball from one flank to the other, a mezzala can create a numerical advantage. Also, they can create quality or dynamic superiority is hard to defend against. The players need to have good technical qualities, but also tactical knowledge to time their runs. That will avoid being caught off possession, and allow the opponents to progress in a counter-attack.

Formations for a Mezzala

There are lots of different ways to use mezzalas. Because it’s not easy to coach it, you will rarely see it in youth soccer teams and their tactics, even when you see players randomly drifting into it. The most typical ones are the 4-3-3 formations, which have been seen a lot by Guardiola and his disciples, Arteta and Xavi. We see that technically gifted and incredibly creative players with vision can make a difference in the wide areas, not just through the middle. In fact, they can contribute more when the opponents cannot predict their passes while positioned in the half-spaces, as it opens too many channels. Furthermore, with the rise of inverted fullback, the wingers do need support, especially if they are outnumbered.

Other common formations that support the mezzala role are 3-4-3 or even 3-5-2. As you can notice, in all cases the importance is to have many of players in the middle, so that the abandoned space is not easily targeted. If the players are dynamic that is easier, as they cover lots of ground. However, the positional awareness of the teammates to occupy the place in the center of the pitch is vital for the mezzala to have the freedom to help in attack.


11v11 soccer formation 4-3-3 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool

In a 4-3-3 formation, the fullbacks can act as traditional fullbacks or as inverted fullbacks when attacking. However, keeping the wingers high and wide can create distance from the fullbacks. Getting the right amount of support for them is often the role of the attacking midfielders who will need to drift. Furthermore, they might need to occupy that area if the winger cuts in or plays as an inverted winger. The 8 and the 10 are fairly balanced in the attacking and defensive duties. Therefore, the moment of attacking the wings is up to them to time it. Similarly, if one of them goes wide, then the other one might need to balance that by coming more central. Either way, it’s not an individual decision that can work without cooperation with the teammates.

3-4-3 Formation

3-4-3 soccer formation. 3 defender formation

With the 3-4-3 formation heavily concentrated in the middle, it can be hard to break low-block teams. However, that also means that the central midfielders need to have the freedom to bring confusion in the opposition’s defense. If they can drift to the sides and create overloads, that can create opportunities for the wingers. Then strikers push through the half spaces and cut in passes to the middle. Easier said than done. Having versatile central midfielders who can keep possession and exploit these spaces will be of great benefit to the team.


The role of the mezzala in 3-5-2 formation
Mezzala 3-5-2

In the 3-5-2 formation the central attacking midfielders can act as carrileros, but also as mezzalas. In fact, in a well-managed system, there can be mismatches. For example, if one of the fullbacks bombs down on the flank, but doesn’t get much support from the striker that stays central, then it is natural for the midfielder to act like a mezzala. On the other flank, maybe the other striker wants to drift and act like a raumdeuter. Well, then we can have a supporting act of a carrilero. It is up to the coach to understand the quality superiority of their team.

Attributes of a Mezzala

As it is a role that can change over the course of the game, it is often flexible in the requirements. However, the key is to have experienced, versatile players to complement the others on the team. First of all, their positioning and timing have to be excellent, otherwise, it creates more issues than it solves. Secondly, their decisions must be correct or it will leave the team exposed. Finally, their physical attributes will require them to quickly cover a fair amount of ground, as they will essentially play in somewhat distant areas in possession vs. in defense.

Attacking traits

The main attacking attributes of a mezzala are proficient first touch, passing, and vision. The first touch is important for any player that receives passes in the opposition third, especially with high pressure and high pace. This goes together with dribbling and flair, mezzalas are in positions to produce something out of nothing if there is an opportunity. When the player is placed in a position to play 1v1 near the box, they have to quickly control the ball and take a chance to score or assist. If that capability is not there, then there is no threat to the opponents and the effectiveness is much smaller.

If the numerical advantage is lost, then it’s up to the player to have the vision and passing ability to move the ball to another area. This patient approach might frustrate the team, but it will be even more annoying to the opponents. However, that assumes that the player can identify the opportunities and take them, but also make a good decision when there is no opportunity and move the ball quickly.

Defending skills

Obviously, a mezzala shines when the team has possession. However, the role is not of a poacher, so it has some defensive duties. The most important feature is to recognize when it needs to transition into them. The anticipation ability is key for the role. If the player can see a move or two ahead and repositions themselves (off-the-ball skill) to account for more aggressive offensive opportunities or more cautious defensive or even counter-pressing situations, then we have a quality mezzala in the squad. The only way a player can do this effectively is if they possess a high work rate and amazing stamina. Putting these together in one player is what makes it really challenging.

Famous mezzalas

As this is a very specific role with many challenges, there are not many players who have played their entire careers as a mezzala, but there are some who have become famous in the soccer world while excelling in it. They often played as central midfielder, a winger, or a creative playmaker in some systems. However, when there was a need, they stepped up to the challenge.

The most obvious one today is Martin Odegaard in Arsenal. He plays with Bukayo Saka on the wing, often inverted, in a 4-3-3 formation. Similarly, Mason Mount (and others) were acting as mezzalas in the 3-5-2 Chelsea team that won the Champions League in 2021. However, if you are looking at a masterclass, look no further than Iniesta. He was not a classic 10 or 8 (as his jersey number suggested). He was flawless in finding the wide areas to exploit at the right time. Clearly, his technical skills resulted in high effectiveness when playing as the mezzala in the legendary Barcelona teams for over a decade.


There it is – a full guide of mezzala in soccer. We covered what the role is, which formations to use it in, and the characteristics of it. The details of the role are so fascinating that they cannot be explained in a brief definition, so we decided to make a guide out of it. Finally, we looked at famous players who have played the role at the highest level. They made us think of the balance that our teams need to have in order to win games and maintain possession.

man people summer grass

How to Become a Great Soccer Center-Back? [FULL Guide]

“We always build out of the defense!” I’ve heard that saying from coaches on my first ever practice… and a million times ever since. The value of a quality defender particularly a center-back is self-evident. It is reflected in the price that these defenders are traded for. Virgil van Dijk, Josko Gvardiol, Harry Maguire, Matthijs de Light, Wesley Fofana, and Lucas Hernandez, have all been traded for over 80 million euros!

Yet, for some reason, every new young player asks to be a striker! The center-backs are still generally undervalued for their importance. The best coaches in the world see that, but the general public doesn’t. Let’s shed some light on the role, the formations where it is used (spoiler alert: all of them!), how to train for it, and how some players have written their names in soccer history as legendary center-backs.

What is a Center-Back?

A center-back, also known as a central defender, is a player positioned in the heart of the defense, typically as part of a pair or trio of defenders. Their primary role is to defend opposing attacks, win aerial duels, and distribute the ball strategically to initiate offensive plays. The actual role can vary based on the teammates and especially the opponents. However, there is nothing clearer in soccer than the primary role of center-backs and goalkeepers – prevent the opposition from scoring goals!

Generally, the center-backs play in 3 or 4-player formations. Based on that, they either have a sole central role paired with wider supporting roles or a natural partnership of two center-backs. In the first setting, the role of the central defender is to defend – period. The wider defenders often support the buildup play, sometimes even pushing up to assist or score.

When there is a partnership of two players, the center-backs try to balance each other. One is the natural aggressor, trying to prevent easy passes to the opposition striker. The other one has to provide backup any time there is a danger. We have seen that with the best teams in history, including the best teams today.

Formations with a center-back

As we said, you can’t really have a formation without a center-back, or really at least two of them. I usually play in a 4-3-3 formation until U15, so that no youth player takes the responsibility of being the last defender. The burden can be too big if the team starts to concede goals. However, in a formation of 4 defenders, it is likely that one player will push higher and help the attack when we are a controlled possession. Here are a few options of how to use fullbacks, but also how can a center-back become a ball-playing defender and even an inverted center-back. We have seen Manchester City doing that with John Stones in the 22/23 legendary treble season. It is a shorter distance for a center-back to push higher while the fullbacks come closer than it is for a fullback to move to the center of the pitch. Pep Guardiola recognized that and solved it with Stones coming to the middle. Also, he put natural center-backs on the sides, so now they have solid defense regardless of “losing” Stones as a defender.

Center-backs in 4-player defense- traditional and inverted

3-player defense

The 3-player defense, such as 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, can be very effective. While not ideal for youth soccer formation coaching, it provides solidity with the right players. As I said in the beginning, it is hard to find quality players when they are very young who want to play as center-backs. It requires patience, very limited risk-taking, and often lots of pressure. The role of defending the entire game can be uninspiring for them. However, at one point they realize the importance and can specialize in certain roles. The one role that symbolizes this is the sweeper or libero. They are the last person in the defense and, therefore carry lots of responsibility.

3-4-3 soccer formation. 3 defender formation
3 center-back formation – 3-4-3 soccer formation

What is a sweeper in soccer? What is a libero?

A sweeper in soccer, also referred to as a libero, is a specialized defensive player positioned behind the center-backs in a defensive formation. The sweeper’s main responsibility is to read the game, anticipate attacks, and use their exceptional ball-playing skills to initiate counterattacks and distribute passes from deep positions. They often decide on when to make offside traps, too. With the emergence of ball-playing sweeper keepers, having a libero is less popular.

Training guide for a center-back

The most important characteristic of a center-back is the psychological composition. A defender would rather draw 0:0 than 3:3. They would play it safe whenever they can, not taking risks. However, they are targeted by the strikers with whatever weaknesses they might have. Therefore, the center-backs can’t have significant weaknesses. If a center-back is slow, the opposition will put the fastest player they have against them and try to outrun them. If height is the disadvantage, then there will be high crosses for the entire game. Fair or not, attackers can use their strengths and center-backs will be attacked at their weaknesses. Similarly, strikers can play bad all game, but one moment of magic (or luck) will make them heroes. In contrast, center-backs can win all their duels, but one bad mistake can cost them the game.

Becoming a center-back

There are two major items to work on in order to become a world-class defender: individual defending and team defending. Individual defending is something that you simply have to excel in order to be good in the role. This means a combination of physical training, such as agility, speed, and strength. That 1v1 ability is often what we define as a natural talent for a soccer defender. Also, individual technical training – yes, technical defending practice is needed at the highest levels. Finally, basic ball manipulation skills are needed. However, the most important trait is the psychological barrier when playing against attackers who are excellent both technically and physically. It is vital to have focus, bravery, and determination. Again, these are things that can be learned and must be practiced. We won’t go into the drills here but will cover them in other upcoming articles.

Team defending takes 5 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. The main goal is to only attack the opponents when we have an advantage – numerical, positional, or qualitative. The center-backs are the ones who will need to excel in making these decisions because they have to get them right. Of course, they will need to know how to delay the opponents and force them into a disadvantageous position, but then they need to be able to do the final strike. The whole concept of team defending is too much to dig into at this point, but it’s well worth reading about.

X factors of world-class defenders

Assuming we have mastered individual and team defending, we still know of players that have become legends in defending and others that are just “solid defenders”. It takes some time to motivate the young soccer players to get proficient in all these skills. But then there is something more to them, still. So what are those characteristics that we can see with the best center-backs?

Communication – Captains at the pitch and Leaders in the locker room

We talked about how to get players to communicate when they are young. As you remember, most of it was about defending as a unit. Now, that’s the minimum for defenders. However, because of their dominant presence and importance to the team, many of them become leaders. That still needs to be nurtured, as they are often young and inexperienced. So, it is important not to only give them the armband and the opportunity, but also to guide them to become leaders to their teammates and to themselves.

Defense is the best attack

I often want to rotate the soccer position of the players when they are young, even if they have picked theirs. let my center-backs play a few friendly games as strikers, especially when they are young. Understanding how attackers think is crucial. The defenders are often less pressured, so they can take their time and pick long passes if they see a gap to exploit. Of course, they need to be able to do these long passes. At the highest level, that’s not a problem given the time and space.

Reverse psychology is important, but so is the skill of attacking. Center-backs are naturally big and strong, so using them to defend and attack set pieces, such as free kicks and corners is important. Almost every world-class center-back has several goals each year from set pieces. Some of them are headers, but many are just acrobatic kicks. Being in positions to attack and knowing how to execute are important traits at the highest level.

Famous center-backs

There are many center-backs that left their mark in the world of soccer. The most famous school of defenders is the Italian one. Franco Baresi, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, and Fabio Cannavaro are easily in the top 10, if not the top 5 center-backs in history. Franz Beckenbauer, Rio Ferdinand, Sergio Ramos, John Terry, Carles Puyol, and Nemanja Vidic, are right up there, but as you can see they are scattered from other nations. There is something in the Italian National Soccer Team and the way they coach defenders that yields superior results.


We explored the role of the center-back in modern soccer. We looked at the variety of them, how they fit in various formations, and how to become one. I have no doubt that for these world-class players, it is much more of a calling to become so good at protecting the goal. The traits are specific, the practice is intense and the work is never-ending. However, it is such a rewarding and valuable role, that I hope you appreciate even more after reading this guide.

4-4-2 diamond soccer formation by Rondo Coach

What is a Diamond in Soccer? [Complete Tactical Guide]

There are many formations that are hard to explain to young players. Sometimes we play with two strikers, other times with one. Sometimes we have inverted wingers and fullbacks, other times we have wingers and inverted fullbacks. Double pivot vs. single pivot? Ok, it can get really complicated. However, one of the simplest ones to explain is the diamond formation. Often used in the 4-4-2 or 3-4-3, this is a shape that is not only easy to explain because of the clear roles and responsibilities but also because it can be incredibly effective both for retaining possession and counter-attacking style of soccer. Let’s into this guide to the diamond!

What is a diamond in soccer?

The “diamond” in soccer refers to a tactical formation where players are arranged in a diamond shape on the field. It features a deep defensive midfielder, two central midfielders, and an attacking midfielder at the tip, often providing a balance between defense and attack.

The roles are incredibly clear. The holding midfielder acts like a single pivot, in front of the defense. The attacking midfielder is always the first possible pass, likely the most creative player on the team. The two other midfielders are the dynamos that has to be versatile players. They can act like carrileros, mezzalas, box-to-box midfielders, deep-lying playmakers, or any mix-and-match combinations. We’ll get into these variations and ideas on how to make use of this shape.

Formations to use a diamond in soccer

The diamond shape formation was historically created in the 4-4-2 formation. It’s natural to keep the diamond compact so that players have options to pass to. Also, instead of a flat 4 in the middle, by having the diamond, we open ourselves to assigning specific roles to the midfielder. For example, a creative player would play in the attacking midfielder role, while a defensive-minded player would take the holding midfielder role. However, depending on the rest of the formation and the result, we can vary them. If we have received a red card and try to hold to a one-goal lead, we will keep the diamond, but pull all four players back.


4-4-2 diamond soccer formation by Rondo Coach

As simple as it gets, we have a 4 player central midfield. They are tight and compact, letting the sides be occupied by the wingbacks. For backup, they can have the sides of the diamond support them as carrileros or mezzalas. Alternatively, when attacking on the flanks, we can have the two forwards act as raumdeuters or even wingers. In this scenario, the diamond stays narrow in the middle. The benefit is that this formation is flexible, but requires creativity. Having two forwards means that our attacking midfielder can cause havoc with passes behind the defense. This can be both in counter-attacks and when fighting to overcome low-block teams.

History notes: Arrigo Sacchi is the master of the 4-4-2 formation. While he didn’t use an obvious diamond shape, he allowed fluidity. Some great soccer players, future coaches, and soccer leaders were in the heart of it, such as Carlo Ancelotti and Rijkaard. Similarly, Guardiola, Xavi, and Arteta were the ones in the La Masia diamond.


While many teams play in the flat 3-4-3 formation with two wide midfielders, a better option is to deploy the diamond. The benefit of this formation is that we can have a high press, but have protection at the back. This means that the middle of the pitch can look empty at times if we use the wide midfielders. So, many formations force the striker to be a false nine. Instead, we can keep the diamond shape and use the wingers, while having a classic poacher in the middle.

A bit of history: it was Johan Cruyff who perfected the 3-4-3 diamond formation during his time at Ajax and Barcelona. In fact, all youth categories and the first team in Ajax played the same. That way it was a seamless transition when a youth player was promoted to play with the senior squad. It is still used today, especially to counter the more popular 4-3-3 formation. However, Cruyff was playing possession “total football”, while today we have Tuchel and Conte being more defensive and counter-attacking.

How to counter against the diamond in soccer?

If we want to understand how to play effectively against the diamond, we need to understand the gaps. The diamond shape is great when it stays in that shape, but it’s rigid when we want to add one more player to it. The team can play well with two wingers, creating a bunch of triangles. However, we kind of break it if we overload the central area.

In a 4-4-2 formation, the strikers cannot really come and help without breaking the shape and causing confusion. What we need to do instead is overload and prevent clear balls to the strikers. This means that we need to have tight markings on the passers.

When playing against 3-4-3, we need to make sure we overload the center area with 5 players but prevent clean passes to the wingers. Those passes will make us shift our entire formation to help imbalanced areas. It is not easy to play against a 3-4-3 diamond formation if they are playing a high tempo. So, we need to slow them down, by preventing clear passing lanes.

Rondos: The Diamond in Soccer

Have you noticed that the diamond shape is what we use in rondos? Do you think that’s a coincidence? The fact that we have three options for passing always makes it natural for players to have preferences, but also backup options. It becomes a subconscious decision-making activity. We always want to break the lines. If that’s not possible, we have backup options to retain possession. In the end, we look for ways to get advantage over the opponents and keep the ball. Either way, the diamond in the heart of the midfield area, and by practicing the rondo throughout their career, it becomes second nature for players to operate in the diamond shape.


We talked about what a diamond in soccer is, the formations in which we can use it, and how to counter it. What I am particularly excited about is the usage of it in youth soccer formations. If we have practiced rondos (and we should have!), the players should expect to see their teammates in a diamond shape naturally. Also, they would place themselves like that, too. It’s exciting to see how much of the formation will be planned, and how many players will be using it subconsciously.

4-4-2 Diamond Soccer Formation. Perfect Soccer Formation for Carrilero

What is Carrilero in Soccer? [Complete Tactical Guide]

I often see a midfielder going sideways while everybody is going forward. It is almost as if they are playing their own game. We see that the opponents kind of ignore them and just find them weird. Then all of a sudden, they receive the ball and make a killer assist. When we see a pattern of this repeating in certain teams, we realize that it’s not a random initiative the player takes. It is a tactical pattern instructed by the coach. In order to create chaos in the opposition’s defense and make use of the particular qualities of the players, coaches decide to give special instructions to technically gifted players with great passing range and play them in the carrilero role.

What is the Role of Carrilero in Soccer?

Carrilero is the role of a central midfielder that occupies a wide area of the pitch. The main purpose is to provide support to the wingers without pushing high. Often used in a diamond-shaped midfield, they are the two players on each side of the diamond. They are particularly effective when playing against low-block teams. Carrileros provide a numerical advantage when patiently attacking the flanks. This means that wingers can drop the ball back to them for switching to the other side, but also play one-two passes to them. The players are usually solid technical players with great vision and decision-making abilities.

Formations for a Carrilero

There are lots of different ways to use carrileros. Historically, the role was originally created in the 4-4-2 diamond formation. However, over time coaches looked at smart central midfielders to bring balance to their teams. Any time they saw a hole created by an aggressive fullback or winger, they decided to move a player there. On the other hand, if the midfielder needs to be the aggressive one, then they become mezzalas. This means that often in a 3-5-2 formation, the wide areas are covered by one player, which creates a disadvantage against other teams. Similarly, when using 4-3-3 with an inverted fullback, we have a misbalance in the wide areas. That’s a perfect opportunity for a carrilero to step in.

Carrilero Soccer Formations

4-4-2 Diamond

4-4-2 Diamond Soccer Formation. Perfect Soccer Formation for Carrilero

In a classic 4-4-2 diamond formation, the fullbacks act as traditional fullbacks. This means they would often push high, almost wingers when attacking. This would leave a gap on the wide areas between the defenders and the winger area. So, the central midfielder closest to that area would drift to the side to occupy that place. Now, the timing has to be perfect for the player not to block the fullback’s run, but also not too late, so there can be support for it. Lots of communication and smart decision is required for this pattern to give the desired effect.

3-5-2 Formation

3-5-2 Soccer Formation with Carrilero

The main issue in the 3-5-2 formation is that the players are heavily concentrated in the middle of the pitch. This means that defensively it operates well, but it’s hard to play against similar teams with low blocks. Therefore, while the wingbacks can push all the way to the front of the line or act in a 5 line defense, there will always be a numerical disadvantage against teams that play with both fullbacks and wingers. To fix this we need carrileros. They stay in the heart of the pitch but opportunistically move to the side. They provide support behind the wingback in attack when the wingback pushes forward. Similarly, they play in front of the wingback when we defend with all 5 players. Remember, the wingbacks move vertically, while the carrileros move horizontally.

4-3-3 with an Inverted Fullback

We often create a misbalanced formation when attacking with an inverted fullback. While one of the fullbacks moves as a second pivot, the coach often wants the other side to have the benefit of a fast wingback. Therefore, one side has both a wingback and a winger, while the side that has the inverted fullback has only a wide player – the winger. To provide support, we have the role of a carrilero on that side. This means that at moments we can play in a 4 player central midfield, but other times we can shift one player to the side. On paper that is fine, that is fine to defend. But when the attackers move between these formations, it is going to create opportunities for penetrating runs and passes into space. It is often the carrilero’s job to find these passes.

Attributes of a Carrilero

As it is a very specific role, it is often fluid in the requirements. However, I like to find experienced players to complement the others on the team. First of all, their positioning has to be spot on, otherwise, the team looks chaotic. Secondly, their decision-making has to be right or there is not much point in having them. Finally, their physical attributes are more dependent on agility than pace, as they don’t need to cover lots of ground, but have to win duels.

Attacking traits

The main attacking attributes of a carrilero are technical brilliance, long-range passing, and vision. The technique is developed over time, but it is key for the player to understand how to operate in the middle of the pitch. They usually have the freedom to try uncertain passes to the attackers, but most of the time it is all about ball retention. Having experience playing as a 6 or 8 is important, ideally as a deep-lying playmaker or regista.

Vision means they can see the attacking and defending players. However, that doesn’t mean that they can play all the passes. In fact, good vision without long-range passing ability can lead to switching the ball with shorter passes to the other side. Similarly, long-range passing without vision means that the player might more often find the wingers on the side, even though their poacher keeps making clever runs in front of the goal.

Defending skills

The defensive attributes of carrileros are similar to the ones of box-to-box midfielders or deep-lying playmakers. They need to be able to delay the opponents when playing as a cover for an attacking fullback. They often just need to make sure there is no easy outlet for a counterattack by being good at marking and positioning, rather than recovering the ball. Similarly, we can assume that there are at least 2 or 3 defenders behind them, so speed is not the main consideration here. When playing in front of the fullbacks, presumably in our own half, they need to make sure they drift wide and back to the middle, to create a compact unit with the rest of the team. Positioning is more important than aggressiveness, in this case.

Famous carrileros

There are many players that have played in multiple positions over their career and carrileros were just one of them. Therefore, no soccer player will actually write in their biography that their role was a carrilero. It is more likely that they would play one match there, then the next match maybe as a regista, then box-to-box, and so on.

In more recent history, Jordan Henderson has famously occupied that role in Liverpool. With the wingbacks pushing so high and the wingers often inverting, he brought balance to the squad. Oftentimes, Fabinho in the same system would do the same. That’s a classic example of the 4-3-3 or even 4-4-2 formation with traditional fullbacks needing carrileros.

The most famous carrilero in the 3-5-2 formation is Kante as part of Chelsea FC. Even though he came as a holding mid, he played up in Chelsea to support the wingbacks. Over time the coaches started deploying other players there, such as Kovacic and even Mount, but Kante really excelled in that role.

Finally, I want to give a shoutout to Santi Cazorla in Arsenal. In the early years, he was a winger and sometimes an attacking mid. However, over time his pace and stamina were not up to the standards of the Premier League. So, Wenger started deploying him in the center of the pitch. With his experience, we would often shift to the side as a carrilero, leaving space for the fullbacks and (inverted) wingers to attack. This made the team very unpredictable and difficult to defend against.


There it is – a full guide to carrilero in soccer. We covered what the role is, which formations to use it in, and the characteristics of it. The specificities of the role is so interesting that it cannot be explained in a brief definition, so we decided to get into the details of it. Finally, we gave examples of the players who graced the role at the highest level. They definitely made us think of how to balance our teams to win possession and games.

people watching soccer game

Inverted Fullback: Guide to the Tactical Role

When one of my teams moved to play from 7v7 to 9v9 at the U11 level, one of the players came to me disappointed. As you know, I play 2-3-1 and transition to 2-3-2-1, with little difference on the wingbacks. So, the player, a very natural fullback, said it’s boring to play the same role again. Of course, they said they knew everything there is to know about that position. Little did they know that I had a 5-year plan for them to learn things that will make them a complete master of the fullback position. At 9v9 they will learn both overlapping and underlapping runs. However, at the U14 level, the player is ready to discover the Inverted Fullback position. Those that know how to play it effectively, can revolutionize the soccer team they join.

What is the Inverted Fullback Position in Soccer?

The inverted fullback position in soccer is similar to the traditional fullback in defense but plays in the central area of the pitch when the team is in possession. They transition between two positions when the team wins or loses the ball. While playing in a formation of 4 defenders, by inverting, the fullback leaves only 3 players on defense and adds an extra player in the midfield. This effectively makes the team change formations, like 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 or even 3-2-5.

There is no requirement if the inverted fullback is the one from the right or the left side of the pitch. However, only one fullback can do that. When I play with two traditional fullbacks, each of them has the freedom to push higher in the attack. Of course, they would do that only if the ball is on their side. Otherwise, they slide to form a 3-men defense. However, in the inverted fullback role, the side that moves to midfield is already decided as soon as the ball leaves that area of the pitch.

Inverted Fullback in 4-3-3 Soccer Formation

Which formations should I use?

As I said, it has to be at least a formation that starts with 4 defenders. If there are only 3 defenders, it is unlikely that the wider defenders will move to central midfield. More likely, the central defender will push higher, leaving a 2 player defense. However, even that is unlikely. Similarly, in a 3-5-2 formation, the central area is already congested. Of course, you can remove some of that congestion by giving a carrilero role to a player, but it has to be right fit. Furthermore, the wide areas have only the wingback, so they will probably stay hugging the line.

Youth soccer formations and development plan

As I said before, we don’t coach this until U14. Why? Because until then the players need to learn the traditional fullback and winger role. Their positioning is already not ideal and often the middle of the pitch is full of players running after the ball wherever the ball goes. However, by the time they play at U14, they are ready. They had at least a year to play in a 4-3-3 formation. At this point, the wingbacks know how to push up the field and make overlapping and underlapping runs. More importantly, they also know how to slide into a 3 person defensive line.

OK, so now that we have put a player into the central midfield, how will they perform? Well, it depends if you have done the groundwork. At U11, U12, and U13 levels, you have to vary the soccer positions of the players. That doesn’t mean that every player will play at each position. However, a striker should try playing as a winger and attacking midfielder at least. A standard central defender should at least try playing as a holding mid and a wide defender. Even the goalkeeper has to play outfield at this age! So, several of the fullbacks should have experience in playing in the central midfield. This is the time for them to experiment and learn.

When should I use an inverted fullback?

Now that you know how to create these invaluable types of players, you should think about when to use them. Firstly, we need to analyze the advantages of our team and disadvantages compared to the opposition. For example, the talent advantage is that our fullbacks are super fast and are good at crossing to our big strikers. Then we should use that whenever we can. Think about the legendary Manchester United team with David Beckham in it. They needed to get Beckham in a situation where he can cross the ball to the tall strikers. They would never move Gary Neville to invert and play through the middle. You play to our advantage.

However, if you are playing against a team that uses a low block with 1 or 2 attackers pressing the middle, you can really benefit from a 3-2-5 attacking formation. You will overload the front line, but still dominate the middle of the pitch. Their attackers will not have time to hold the ball up, as they will be surrounded by your players.

Note that this is only for patient buildup play. When you plan to have counterattacks, you cannot wait for your fullback to invert. As you probably noticed by now, you shouldn’t plan on doing this when the opponents are dominant in possession. Instead, use this if you know that you will retain most of the possession in the game. Does that mean you will selectively play in this role? Most likely yes, unless you have the technical dominance in the league over everybody else.

Training guide and attributes needed for inverted fullback

We mapped out the time to introduce the inverted fullback role – at the U14 level. However, that’s not day 1 in your development. In fact, that’s just the cherry on top. By then the targeted players should have most of the tools ready. It is your job just to show the final touches on how to fit in the model. By that time they should know how to defend and attack on the wing, slide into a 3-person defense line, throw in and receive from throwing, do overlapping and underlapping runs, and understand how to drop and switch the ball to the other side. Let’s examine when they should learn these skills.

U9 and U10 – 7v7 formation

7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
7v7 soccer formation 2-3-1

In our 7v7 tactical analysis, we talked about how we will always play in the 2-3-1 formation. So, the fullbacks are both defenders and wingers. This means that they would learn how to attack the wings, including staying wide, cutting in, and crossing. Let’s not forget that the most important thing for a fullback is to learn how to defend. They need to defend 1v1 but also understand how to transition between attacking and defending. By that I mean, in defense they compress as a team and stay between the opponent and the goal. When attacking, they spread out all the way to the edge of the field. Finally, this is the moment they learn how to throw in – the wide players always take them in this formation.

U11 and U12 – 9v9 formation

9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1 by Rondo Coach Formation Tool
9v9 soccer formation 2-3-2-1

As we are in the 9v9 competition for 2 years, the default formation is 2-3-2-1. At this point, the fallbacks have a basic idea of the role they need to play. The two new players will stick mostly to the attacking midfield or the half-spaces. This gives us a perfect opportunity for the fullbacks to learn how to do overlap runs. However, this is also the moment when they need to learn how to form the 3 person defense line with the fullback that doesn’t push up. They will learn how to pass the ball backward and move it across the central defenders to the other side. It sounds simple, but players at their age will never pass backward unless practiced. Never, ever 🙂

As we have two years, we can spend six months on rotating positions, allowing the fullbacks to experience playing in the center of the pitch. However, if you decide to spend half a year on the 3-1-3-1, then the fullbacks can play as wingers. This means they will learn how to receive throw-ins as wingers and also do underlap runs as fullbacks.

U13 and U14 – 11v11 formation

Finally, it’s time for 11v11 and for many 12-year-old kids, it can be overwhelming. Therefore, for the first year, we just stick to the classic 4-3-3. However, then we can pick one of the fullbacks to try and invert. Obviously, we’ll pick games where we are technically dominant. They will practice receiving throw-ins as center midfielder. They would also do underlaps if they played a more attacking role. However, their biggest new experience will be to learn how to switch the ball from side to side. They will learn with the other central midfielders to retain possession and help move the ball from one winger to the other. Similarly, some of them will learn to drift to the side areas, taking the roles of carrileros and mezzalas. At any point they can also look for a pass forward. They can be deadly against lazy defenders that switch off from time to time.


The inverted fullback is gaining popularity in modern soccer tactics. Because of the unpredictability, versatility, and often both technical and physical qualities, players that can play in that position bring high value to the teams they play. Also, that means they are more likely to find a spot in the starting 11. Coaches like the option to change the formation and approach without a substitution.

We covered how to train players for this position and role, from 7v7 in U10, through 9v9 in U11 and U12, all the way to the 11v11 in U13 and U14. After that, you will have players trained in both traditional and inverted fullback roles. With this guide, you will get a good idea of when to use them and how to get advantage over the opponents by deploying your inverted fullback.

man in green shirt playing soccer

What is a Poacher in Soccer? [Complete Guide 2023]

“I want to be a striker!”. I have heard that so many times when coaching kids that cannot even tie their shoelaces. However, as they get older, they understand that the role of the striker can vary significantly. If the advantage over the defenders is in speed, then they would do runs into the space behind them. Big player will act more like a target man. If our team has deadly wingers, we might deploy the striker as a false nine. However, if our striker is a poacher in soccer, we expect them to score goals. They operate in virtually all soccer formations, but they are always the ones leading the front line.

The Role of a Poacher in Soccer

The primary role of the Poacher is to score goals. They operate in the penalty area, looking for tiny gaps between the defenders to just take a touch on the ball and put it in the back of the net. The poacher is often called “fox in the box” and is very tough to guard against. The attributes required to excel in the art of poaching are reflexes, agility, and anticipation. Perhaps the best way to describe poachers is that they have a “smell for goals”. They know when and where to make the short sprint. They get in front of the defenders and score the goal.

A poacher is a player who operates in the offensive line with a primary focus on scoring goals through close-range opportunities. Their positioning and anticipation skills are key, as they thrive on being in the right place at the right time. So the timing and explosiveness, as well as the clinical finishing is what the poacher needs to practice constantly. Poachers exploit defensive errors, rebounds, and loose balls to convert them into goals. While not necessarily involved in the buildup play, their ability to finish chances efficiently makes them a valuable asset to any soccer team.

Attributes Needed for Poacher in Soccer

  1. Sharp Instincts: Poachers possess an innate ability to read the game, predict where the ball will land, and position themselves accordingly. This requires exceptional situational awareness and football intelligence. Now, this is a combination of innate abilities and experience. Many of the poachers decline physically over the years but manage to score more goals in their 30s. The most recent players that have shown us that are Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, and Karim Benzema.
  2. Quick Reflexes: Given the close proximity to the goal and the rapid pace of the game, poachers must react swiftly to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Their ability to make split-second decisions sets them apart. The best strikers manage to get their foot before the defenders just a fraction of a second sooner. That’s all that is needed at the highest level and the highest pace.
  3. Clinical Finishing: The hallmark of a poacher is their proficiency in converting even the most challenging chances into goals. A composed and accurate finishing touch is essential to make the most of the limited space and time available. When two even teams are playing, often there aren’t many chances on either side of the pitch. So, that difference in who takes their chances is the deciding factor.
  4. Movement and Positioning: Poachers must be adept at making sharp, deceptive movements to outwit defenders and find pockets of space within the penalty area. Their positioning ensures they are ready to pounce on any loose balls or rebounds. This is a combination of knowing where the opponents are blocking them and where their teammates can find them with the ball. Poachers don’t rely on being found, they make sure they will be.
  5. Anticipation: Anticipating the trajectory of crosses, shots, and passes is a crucial skill for a poacher. This allows them to position themselves optimally for goal-scoring opportunities. Some of the best poachers are always scoring rebound goals. In theory that is not a plan for success. However, some of the best poachers have scored dozens of goals each year that way.

Practice Drills for Poachers in Soccer

  1. Rebound Drill: Set up scenarios where the goalkeeper makes saves, and the poacher must react quickly to the rebounds, ensuring they’re in the right position to convert the loose ball into a goal. Ideally, it’s a 3 person drill: one player takes something like a freekick, the goalkeeper tries to save it and the poacher makes a run to pick up the rebound ball.
  2. One-Touch Finishing: Work on improving quick decision-making and accuracy by practicing one-touch finishes from various angles and distances. This hones a poacher’s ability to react swiftly and make the most of tight spaces. This is the bread and butter for poachers, so these drills never stop for them. It starts from early age in soccer practice, and it keeps building over time.
  3. Positional Play: Create exercises that simulate real-game scenarios, focusing on the poacher’s movement within the penalty area. This helps them understand how to find gaps in the defense and position themselves optimally. We like to do a variation of the rondos, maybe a 5v2 rondo, where the poacher is the only player that can shoot on goals. We leave two goals to make it easier to shoot, but the real goal is for the poacher to find space to receive and shoot.
  4. Crossing and Finishing: Have players practice crossing the ball from different areas of the field, while the poacher aims to connect with these crosses and score. This improves the poacher’s ability to read and anticipate deliveries. Practice low crosses, medium crosses, and high crosses. Similarly, vary the short distance, medium distance, and long distance. There is lots of overlap with the one-touch finishing of it, so they can often be combined.
  5. Defensive Pressure Drill: Simulate scenarios where the poacher faces defensive pressure while receiving the ball. This drill enhances their ability to stay composed and finish under pressure. While the poacher in soccer doesn’t always need to hold the ball high, it is useful to have that skill. Now, if they can sometimes get around the player with a one-touch dribble, that can make them a big threat. Similarly if they can create space to shoot with a tight dribble, that can lead to more shots on goal and more goals.

Famous Poachers in History

  1. Gerd Müller: Known as the “Der Bomber,” Müller was a prolific German striker who played for Bayern Munich and the national team. His exceptional positioning and clinical finishing earned him 68 goals in 62 international appearances. He is not one of the players in history that were transformational, like Pele or Maradona. However, he was so clinical (>1 goal per game for Germany) that he epitomizes the role of a poacher in soccer.
  2. Ruud van Nistelrooy: This Dutch striker was renowned for his poaching skills during his time at Manchester United and Real Madrid. His ability to convert half-chances into goals made him a feared presence in the penalty area. Nobody could pinpoint only one quality that he had, except that he would score lots of goals.
  3. Miroslav Klose: A World Cup-winning German striker, Klose’s ability to score goals from close range made him the all-time leading scorer in World Cup history. His anticipation and positioning were instrumental in his success. He played alongside world-class players, but he knew exactly where to be at the right time. Simply brilliant!
  4. Filippo Inzaghi: Inzaghi, an Italian striker, was celebrated for his knack of being in the right place at the right time. His poaching prowess helped him win numerous titles with AC Milan and the Italian national team. When it comes to shooting technique or physical attributes, he was inferior to other strikers and the defenders that defended him. However, he always came out as a winner on the other side.

From the active players, we have to highlight Erling Haaland, Robert Lewandowski, Luis Suarez, and Karim Benzema. These players are so good at scoring goals that it’s news when they don’t score a goal in a game. They play as classic poachers, converting half-chances or just loose balls to goals. The poachers score so many goals that they become the biggest soccer stars that everybody talks about.


The role of a poacher in soccer may not involve intricate playmaking, but it’s a specialized and valuable position that demands unique skills. The ability to anticipate, react quickly, and finish with clinical precision sets poachers apart as goal-scoring machines. After all, nothing motivates soccer players more than scoring goals. With practice drills and dedication, aspiring players can hone their instincts and become lethal poachers on the field, leaving an indelible mark on the world of soccer, just like the famous names who have come before them.