How To Play Center Back In Soccer


A center-back or a central defender is a significant figure in every successful soccer team. To play center back, you have to fully understand the role of this position, be aggressive without fouling, and be strong. So, what makes an excellent center-back player, and what should be considered to excel in this position? 

In soccer, the center back is the player that has the primary defensive function. The center back takes the center position on the field close to their own goal, and their task is to prevent the opposition from creating a scoring opportunity. They tackle opposing players, intercept passes, and stop crosses played in attacking positions.

The center-back position demands leadership skills and technique, so you need to learn them if you intend to play this position and be good at it. This article will tell you everything you need to know about what makes an excellent center-back player and the tasks that come with this position. Keep reading to find out how you can become an exceptional center back!

How To Become A Good Center Back In Soccer? 

If you want to play in the position of a center back in soccer, you have to understand the main concepts related to it. Namely, you have to comprehend several notions that make an excellent center-back because this is one of the most significant positions of a soccer team. These notions include: 

  • The role of the center back in the soccer team. 
  • The techniques incorporated by the center back. 
  • The attributes of the center back.

The Role Of The Center Back On The Soccer Team 

Center backs in a 4-3-3 formation in soccer
Center backs in a 4-3-3 formation in soccer

The role of the center back in the soccer team is to anchor the defensive backline of the team. The center back is positioned in the middle of the defensive backline closest to the goalkeeper. Center-backs act as the protectors of the box, clearing away the opposing team’s attacking attempts and delivering outlet passes to start the counter-attack.

The center-back is the player that anchors the defense, aligning the backline to adapt to the movement of the opposing attack. This means that the center back comes with leadership traits that can help the whole team, especially in pressing situations. 

The center back establishes good defense by preventing the opposing team from creating situations where they can score goals. Center-backs typically match up against the opposing team’s striker, monitoring them and stepping up to defend as they approach the box.

Since the center back’s task is to provide defense for their team, they need to be able to perform particular techniques. These techniques include:

  • Defending opposition players when they have the ball
  • Intercepting passes so they cannot reach dangerous areas.
  • Co-ordinating the marking of players by fellow teammates
  • Starting the counter-attack with crisp, accurate passes

In addition, the center back needs to stop crosses in dangerous areas of the soccer field. 

Furthermore, the player in the center back position needs to organize the other defenders and establish a consistent defensive strategy during the game. As mentioned before, this position requires leadership skills.

The Techniques Incorporated By The Center Back in a Soccer Match

There are several key attributes and techniques that good center-backs have and use during a soccer match. Enclosed below is a list of attributes that center-backs must have or use to play effectively:

Adaptability and Anticipation

The center back is required to adapt based on the opposing team’s attacking approach and strategy. Namely, the center back must be able to adapt their game strategy to the type of striker they are marking during the game. Adaptability means that the striker also needs good observing skills to study their opposition and acknowledge which techniques should be incorporated on the field. 

The center-back must also anticipate the play in order to know where to position both themselves and the other defenders as well as when to step up vs drop back and defend.

Partnership With The Other Central Defender 

Two center backs defending in front of net
Two center backs defending in front of net

As referenced earlier, the center-backs must coordinate both with each other, the goalkeeper, and the outside backs to ensure that the defense is aligned and understands their roles as the play develops.

Communicating things like who to mark, when to switch assignments, and where and how to position themselves are essential to a successful defensive structure. Center-backs are the lynchpin to the defense.

Playing Aggressively and Assertively 

The center back needs to be quick and assertive during every match to provide the exact defense their team needs. The center back needs to be able to sprint and tackle other players while making sure that they will avoid fouls. Since the center-back is an important figure in the soccer team, they need to ensure that they are playing aggressively yet without fouling. 

To learn how to play aggressively without fouling, check out our Guide to Aggressive Soccer Play without Fouling.

The Attributes Of A Center Back

An effective and efficient center-back needs to possess particular qualities and attributes that will serve as valuable assets on the soccer field. The following attributes are regarded as essential traits of a center back: 

  • An excellent reader of the game, so they will be able to determine which strategy and technique to implement during a match. 
  • Effective decision-making traits enable them to make decisions quickly while ensuring they can produce successful results. 
  • Organization traits help them organize other defenders on the soccer field and secure a win for the team.
  • Leadership skills enable the center back to organize other players on the field and establish a good strategy for defense. 
  • Strength to battle strikers and center forwards for the ball both on the ground and in the air
  • Effective passing skills for both short and long balls to attacking players
  • Strong ball control skills to win the ball and keep it away for attacking players
  • Ability to stay calm and execute their role effectively under pressure

Soccer Position Guide

Soccer Position Guides
PositionLink to Guide
Strikerlink
False 9link
Wingerlink
Defensive Midfielderlink
Wingbacklink
Left backlink
Right backlink
Stopperlink
Sweeperlink
Center Backlink
Goalkeeperlink

Frequently Asked Questions 

Is Center Back A Hard Position In Soccer? 

Because center backs have to battle the strikers from the opposing team, center-back is a challenging position. Center backs need to be physically strong and tough to endure this demanding position throughout a whole match.

Center backs are the last line of defense in front of the goalkeeper. They need to be aggressive without fouling. They need to be strong in the air to head balls away from danger. Center backs should also be good at making good outlet passes to start the offensive counter-attack.

How Many Center Backs Are There In Soccer? 

Usually, most soccer formations have two center backs positioned in front of the goalie. However, for certain formations, like the 5-3-2 formation for example, there are actually three (3) center backs.

What Jersey Numbers Do Center Backs Usually Wear? 

Traditionally, the most common number center backs wear on their jerseys is the number 5. However, that is far from a hard and fast rule. Enclosed below is a list of English Premier League center backs and the number they wear:

Premier League Center Backs and their Numbers
NameNumberTeamLeague
Jan Bednarek35SouthhamptonEnglish Premier League
Lyanco4SouthhamptonEnglish Premier League
Jack Stephens5SouthhamptonEnglish Premier League
Benjamin White4ArsenalEnglish Premier League
Gabriel6ArsenalEnglish Premier League
Rob Holding16ArsenalEnglish Premier League
Takehiro Tomiyasu18ArsenalEnglish Premier League
Tyrone Mings5Aston VillaEnglish Premier League
Ezri Konsa4Aston VillaEnglish Premier League
Kourtney Hause30Aston VillaEnglish Premier League
Pontas Jansson18BrentfordEnglish Premier League
Kristoffer Ajer20BrentfordEnglish Premier League
Ethan Pinnock5BrentfordEnglish Premier League
Julian Jeanvier23BrentfordEnglish Premier League
Mads Bech Sorensen29BrentfordEnglish Premier League
Lewis Dunk5BrightonEnglish Premier League
Joel Veltman34BrightonEnglish Premier League
Adam Webster4BrightonEnglish Premier League
Shane Duffy24BrightonEnglish Premier League
Haydon Roberts28BrightonEnglish Premier League
Ed Turns55BrightonEnglish Premier League
James Tarkowski5BurnleyEnglish Premier League
Ben Mee6BurnleyEnglish Premier League
Nathan Collins22BurnleyEnglish Premier League
Kevin Long28BurnleyEnglish Premier League
Bobby Thomas37BurnleyEnglish Premier League
Antonio Rudiger2ChelseaEnglish Premier League
Trevor Chalobah14ChelseaEnglish Premier League
Andreas Christensen4ChelseaEnglish Premier League
Thiago Silva6ChelseaEnglish Premier League
Malang Sarr31ChelseaEnglish Premier League
Cesar Azpilicueta28ChelseaEnglish Premier League
Joachim Andersen16Crystal PalaceEnglish Premier League
Marc Guehi6Crystal PalaceEnglish Premier League
James Tomkins5Crystal PalaceEnglish Premier League
Martin Kelly34Crystal PalaceEnglish Premier League
Michael Keane5EvertonEnglish Premier League
Yerry Mina13EvertonEnglish Premier League
Mason Holgate4EvertonEnglish Premier League
Ben Godfrey22EvertonEnglish Premier League
Jarrad Branthwaite32EvertonEnglish Premier League
Ryan Astley38EvertonEnglish Premier League
Liam Cooper6Leeds UnitedEnglish Premier League
Robin Koch5Leeds UnitedEnglish Premier League
Diego Llorente14Leeds UnitedEnglish Premier League
Pascal Struijk21Leeds UnitedEnglish Premier League
Caglar Soyuncu4Leicester CityEnglish Premier League
Jonny Evans6Leicester CityEnglish Premier League
Wesley Fofana3Leicester CityEnglish Premier League
Jannik Vestergaard23Leicester CityEnglish Premier League
Virgil van Dijk4LiverpoolEnglish Premier League
Ibrahima Konate5LiverpoolEnglish Premier League
Joe Gomez12LiverpoolEnglish Premier League
Joel Matip32LiverpoolEnglish Premier League
Billy Koumetio89LiverpoolEnglish Premier League
Ruben Dias3Manchester CityEnglish Premier League
John Stones5Manchester CityEnglish Premier League
Aymeric Laporte14Manchester CityEnglish Premier League
Nathan Ake6Manchester CityEnglish Premier League
Raphael Varane19Manchester UnitedEnglish Premier League
Harry Maguire5Manchester UnitedEnglish Premier League
Phil Jones4Manchester UnitedEnglish Premier League
Eric Bailly3Manchester UnitedEnglish Premier League
Victor Lindelof2Manchester UnitedEnglish Premier League
Jamaal Lascelles6Newcastle UnitedEnglish Premier League
Fabian Schar5Newcastle UnitedEnglish Premier League
Ciaran Clark2Newcastle UnitedEnglish Premier League
Frederico Fernandez18Newcastle UnitedEnglish Premier League
Paul Dummett3Newcastle UnitedEnglish Premier League
Grant Hanley5Norwich CityEnglish Premier League
Ozan Kabak15Norwich CityEnglish Premier League
Ben Gibson4Norwich CityEnglish Premier League
Christoph Zimmermann6Norwich CityEnglish Premier League
Andrew Omobamidele44Norwich CityEnglish Premier League
Davinson Sanchez6Tottenham HotspurEnglish Premier League
Cristian Romero4Tottenham HotspurEnglish Premier League
Eric Dier15Tottenham HotspurEnglish Premier League
Joe Rodon14Tottenham HotspurEnglish Premier League
Malachi Fagan-Walcott46Tottenham HotspurEnglish Premier League
Brooklyn Lyons-Foster53Tottenham HotspurEnglish Premier League
Christian Kabasele27WatfordEnglish Premier League
William Troost-Ekong5WatfordEnglish Premier League
Francisco Sierralta31WatfordEnglish Premier League
Craig Cathcart15WatfordEnglish Premier League
Kurt Zouma4West Ham UnitedEnglish Premier League
Angelo Ogbonna21West Ham UnitedEnglish Premier League
Issa Diop23West Ham UnitedEnglish Premier League
Craig Dawson15West Ham UnitedEnglish Premier League
Ajibola Alese42West Ham UnitedEnglish Premier League
Conor Coady16Wolverhampton WanderersEnglish Premier League
Willy Boly15Wolverhampton WanderersEnglish Premier League
Maximilian Kilman23Wolverhampton WanderersEnglish Premier League
Yerson Mosquera14Wolverhampton WanderersEnglish Premier League

Based on the data in the table above, the three most popular player numbers for center backs in the Premier League are:

NumberNumber of Teams with Center Backs Wearing this NumberPercentage of Teams that have a Center Back Wearing this Number
51470%
41260%
61050%

Final Thoughts 

As you can see, the center back is the central defender in a soccer team, meaning that they play a significant role in each game. If you intend to become a good center-back, you should consider starting practice right now. It is a difficult position, and it requires a lot of work, so start getting that practice in now!   

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