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Full-backs: How to defend against a 4-3-3

I’m a full-back and whenever my team comes up against a side that plays a 4-3-3 formation our defence falls apart. I never know what my job is. Can you help?
Tom Chase, via email

Stuart Pearce says:

“If you’re playing full-back against a 4-3-3 system you need to understand that your centre-halves don’t need a great deal of help.

They’re two on one against the central striker – that’s their responsibility. One of them is always tight on the striker, the other one is offering a little bit of cover. They don’t need you to drop in and provide cover when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch

No matter where the ball is – within reason – your main responsibility is always the striker playing wide on your side.

If you’re playing left back and the opposition has the ball in an attacking position down the left flank you’re going to have to offer some cover, but not as much as if the opposition were playing with two central strikers.

Your responsibility then is to stay with your man wherever he goes. When he makes a run out wide and the ball arrives at his feet, you should be arriving touch-tight at the same time and not letting him turn.

If he comes inside, which strikers tend to do nowadays, and finds some space, go with him and the responsibility of your wide player is to go with the opposition’s overlapping full-back.

You have to have the confidence to say, ‘Look he is my responsibility, if he stays wide and the ball arrives at his feet, I have to arrive at the same time.’

If he comes off his line and drops inside, stay with him. If he drops in to the midfield area, stay with him. If at any stage he goes too far and beyond your midfield line, let him go and recover your position. That’s the information that I would give him.

If he drops inside give your centre-half a shout, “Player on”. Once the striker has dropped in to a central position your centre-half would then mark him and you would offer a touch more cover than you normally would playing against a 4-4-2 system.”

Pearce was talking at an event for Vauxhall, the England sponsor. Keep up to date with news and comps at, @VauxhallEngland

For more football tips see:
Ashley Cole: How to handle every opponent
Defending for full-backs: Tricks of the trade
Chris Hughton: Dealing with a quick winger
Peter Taylor: Wingers and full-backs working together
Playing the offside trap as a full-back: the do's and don'ts
Full-backs: covering your centre-back