A relatively unknown quantity, the inverted fullback position is typically used to combat wingers that like to cut inside to get involved in the game. Bucking the trend of staying wide when on the ball, inverted fullbacks will carry the ball into central areas when going forward. One example of this niche position is Bayern Munich’s use of their German stalwart, Phillip Lahm, at left back.
The major benefit of this concept is that players who are able to play this way are often effective in nullifying the threat posed by inverted or false wingers due to their tendency to drift infield. An inverted fullback playing the position well would have the ability to show an inverted winger down the line lessening the threat they pose.
If the team is playing with a two-man midfield, then having a fullback cutting inside to join the attack will offer another option when on the ball. Teams now traditionally play with a three-man midfield in order to dominate proceeding. The concept of the inverted fullback is one way of helping the centre midfielders when in possession.
The obvious problem for inverted fullbacks will arise is they face up against an old-school, traditional winger – the type who gets their head down, bombs for the by-line, then whips in a cross. The fullback will be forced to defend on their weaker foot making their defensive duties substantially more difficult. For example, Chelsea’s use of César Azpilicueta as a left back doesn’t raise too many issues when Chelsea are attacking. However, when forced to defend, there is the opportunity to take on the Spaniard on the outside due to the fact he is a right footed defender plying his trade at left back.
Secondly, due to the fact they cut inside when joining the attack, the likelihood of them offering an overlapping run for the player in front of them is cut dramatically. This can pose problems as the opposition can double up when defending against the winger playing in front of the inverted fullback.
Inverted fullbacks can also make central areas overcrowded. Some matches just need players to stay wide, stretch the opposition and make the pitch big. If you have a number of inverted players in one team, then you will undoubtedly be able to throw a blanket over at least half of the team. These positions might be fashionable in the modern game but they should not be overdone.
The inverted fullback is more effectively used when you are able to see that the opposition is playing a player who gets more joy from cutting inside. Used in these situations and it can be a very effective tool. However, if used against wingers who force them to defend on their weaker then it isn’t likely to reap many rewards.