how to play as a center back

How to Play as a Center-Back (Drills and Coaching)

The center backs are considered the spine of a team’s defense. They use their impressive physique and brilliant reading of the game to position themselves in the right spots to clear dangerous balls.

Virgil Van Dijk is considered the best center-back in the world

For a Center-back the game has become more about being in the right place at the right time than anything else. It’s evolved from crunching tackles and bravado towards understanding and making sure you’re in a position to stop that ball from getting into those positions in the first place. Minimizing risk is the name of the game with Van Dijk being a prime example of playing this way.

We’re going to look into some of the key drills and detail into how you can excel at the position and make it your own. Remember, Visualization is the key.

Defending Crosses

drills for stopping crosses into the box
Drill for stopping crosses
  1. Play starts with player 4 having the ball and passing it to his right-winger.
  2. Player 11 now has a decision to make, whether to take on the blue no.2 and then cross or cross it without doing the dribble.
  3. The blue center-backs 3 and 4 now have different responsibilities to ensure that red attackers 9 and 10 get completely nullified from the attack. Blue center-back 3 has the responsibility to clear the cross on the far post and blue center-back 4 has the responsibility to clear the low cross which red striker 9 will be keen to meet by making an off-the-ball movement.
  4. The clearance is conducted and the play starts again.

It is to be noted that there are 7 red players in comparison to 6 blue players to ensure that the red team’s no.4 doesn’t have any problem from being the ball from the deep and connecting it with his wings. The intensity is not that big a factor, however, the reading of the game is.

Defending Wide Areas

drills for wide areas
Drill for attacking wide areas

In the above drill, we showed you how to defend the crosses coming from wide areas. In this, we will show you to ensure that crosses never come in the first place. If you are a fan of Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Manchester United, you would definitely know where we are coming from.

  1. The play starts with blue 5 having the ball and passing it to his right-winger.
  2. Unlike the previous drill, the red 3 doesn’t give him any room to make a decision, nor he checks the winger’s movement.
  3. This ensures that the only way blue 7 gets past him is by an amazing piece of skill, which is very very unlikely.
  4. The red 3 has recovered the ball and can start a counter-attack.

It is important to note that this drill only applies to teams with 3 at the back as the third CB can close into the winger having 2 center-backs behind him to defend the low and far post crosses.

Defending Advanced Areas

Drill for attacking the advanced areas
  1. The ball-playing yellow CB has the ball to start the proceedings. He makes the space available for him by going with the ball from the deep, which is highlighted by the green area.
  2. A long-ball is played in the final third in which the yellow striker feeds the ball to his winger.
  3. Now the yellow winger has to time his pass to perfection for the other striker to feed. D2 now has the responsibility to, first of all, ensure that he wins the ball in the air so that the yellow striker cannot feed the ball to the winger.
  4. If the 3rd step doesn’t get completed and D2 is taken out of the equation, D1 then has to cover up for the missed header of D2 by tracking the run of the yellow striker alongside him.

It is to be noted that the drill is 2 red players against 4 yellow players in order to ensure that the two center-backs learn how to play against situations when the opposition overloads the advanced areas. The reading of both the center-backs in this situation is extremely important.

Playing Out From The Back

Main Activity #1
  1. White players prioritize the small goals.
  2. Outside defenders 2, 3 position themselves on the sides to be the first options of attack A and B. As players A/B have the ball, the rest of the field players check-in and adjust as the picture above.
  3. Defensive midfield 6 positions themselves between half line and penalty area.
  4. Player 3 checks in to cover. If the ball is played to option A, (2 does the same thing if B is the first option instead).

This drill depends upon the decision making of the center-back. He has to pick the right pass where he feels that the player he wants to pass is not having any danger of being in danger, or if an opposition player is marking him, he has it in him to dribble past his press.

Main Activity #2

This is the same activity as the previous one with the exception of more white players in attack and midfield for the whites. Additionally, there are more defenders for the blues. Combinations and will to join the attack is crucial in this aspect.


We have identified three different drills for the interceptions. They are as follows:

Simple Interception
  1. One team is placed 1-0 up.  They begin with the ball and must pass it to keep possession.  They are not allowed to score at this stage. 
  2. The opponent wins the ball back, by intercepting a pass. There should not be any tackles in this aspect. 
  3. They try to score. 
  4. After scoring, they become even more dominant by having the ball.
  5. The coach puts a limit of touches on the ball depending on the ability of the players.

This soccer practice drill works with two teams of five, including a goalkeeper. It is important to keep yourself switched on as a 1-0 lead is never decisive, but is definitely a healthy position to be in.

Through The Gates
  1. Two sets of ‘gates’ are set up on either side of the pitch close to the halfway line.  One additional player must remain in the center circle.  He plays for whichever side is in possession.
  2. The attacking side attacks the empty space to score a goal. A limit on the number of touches can be imposed by the coach, depending on the ability of the players.
  3. The defensive side intercepts the ball and then prepares the counter-attack for his team.
  4. They can either play the ball to the additional player or passes it through either of the gates to an ‘imaginary’ attacker who starts a counter-attack.

For this drill, there are two teams of between three and six, the more players, the easier the drill is to complete.  The drill uses half of the pitch. This drill develops intercepting skills, but also creates the opportunity for decision making to turn defense into attack.

Press From The Front
  1. The drill begins with the goalkeeper, and he rolls the ball out to a teammate. 
  2. The defensive side tries to move to the halfway line with the ball under control. 
  3. The attacking team aims to press from the front leading to a misplaced pass and an interception.
  4.  When they make the interception, all players on the team come forward to create a goal-scoring opportunity.

This interception is also integral to the concept of pressing which could be done by everyone, not just the center-backs. For this drill, we have four defenders, including a goalkeeper. Working across a half-pitch works well. The attacking side pressing the ball has three forwards and two defensive players whose aim it is to intercept the long ball. 

We used to bite like mad dogs and recover the ball in 2 seconds

Jose Mourinho on his FC Porto team

Some of the greatest sides in Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool always prioritized in pressing defenders that were on the ball. This forces teams to hit long, hopeful passes forward, and possession is regained.


We have identified three different tackles for a center-back to configure.

In a block tackle, plant the non-tackling foot firmly; make contact with the middle of the ball, like a side-foot pass; ensure body weight is behind the tackling foot and keep the knee and ankle locked; keep the head down over the ball; put a foot under the ball if it becomes stuck to lift it away.

In a slide tackle, approach from the side; wait until the attacker separates from the ball; use the leg farthest from the ball and tuck the other leg underneath the backside; slide on the outer thigh/ hip; tackle with the laces and contact the center to the top half of the ball; clear the ball in opposite direction to retain it or knock it out of play.

In a pock tackle, approach from the side or behind; get close; use the foot nearest the ball; stab the ball away using the toes to kick near its center.

1. Block Tackle 2. Poke Tackle 3.Slide Tackle

Block Tackle

  1. Place a ball in the middle of a 10-yard square for a 1v1.
  2. The drill starts with the players standing opposite each other, about three yards either side of the ball.
  3. On your signal, players try to win the ball with a block tackle and dribble across the line at the opposite end.
  4. Make sure players practice using both feet.

Slide Tackle

  1. Players start at opposite ends.
  2. The attacker dribbles forward steadily at half speed so he can be caught, before the second player, the defender, begins his run and slide tackle.
  3. After several attempts, players switch roles. Make sure players practice using both feet.

Poke Tackle

  1. Now both players start at one end, with the attacker close to one touchline and the defender next to the other touchline.
  2. At half pace, to begin with, the attacker dribbles the ball towards the opposite side, allowing the defender to practice executing the poke tackle.
  3. After several attempts, players switch roles. Make sure players practice using both feet.
2v2 situation for tackling

Each team attacks an end zone and scores a point by dribbling the ball into that end zone.However, teams score bonus points for completing a successful tackle that either wins possession or knocks the ball out of play. 

4v4 situation for tackling
  1. Set up four mini goals, one on each side of the pitch.
  2. One team will attack the goals across the width of the pitch while the other team will try to score in the other goals.
  3. Place the ball in the center of the pitch, with one player from each team at either end.
  4. On your signal, they run to begin a 1v1.
  5. Once a team has scored or the ball goes out of play, add one player to each team and restart play with a pass-in, until each team has four players. 


Drill for blocking an attack
  1. On the coach’s instruction, the attacker runs with the ball and prepares to beat the dummy. On the other hand, the defender comes racing in from the opposite side of the goal.
  2. The defender has to match his run to perfection so that he is in front of the goal at least 5 seconds before the striker prepares to take the shot.
  3. Now it’s all about putting your body on the line, block the shot, and get it out of play.
John Terry defending
John Terry putting his body on the line

Chelsea fans would definitely know what it feels like to have a defender with that sort of quality.

The Offside Trap

The offside trap
  1. Attacking players in white after receiving a pass from the GK must combine to create space and set up a shot on goal.
  2. Defenders in yellow must work on staying compact and preventing penetration.
  3. If the defending team wins the ball the counter to small goals or pass to waiting players.
  4. When the drill is finished ball starts again with GK, the white team now becomes the new defending team.

The main objective of this drill is to ensure that no space is provided to the strikers. Communication and organization are vitally important in order to gain perfection in this drill.


We hope that after reading this article you’d be able to provide yourself with enough information to perfect your role as a CB in your team. It has slowly become one of the most important and difficult positions in the modern game.

More responsibility, more impact.

Until Next Time


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