The Left Back and Left-Wing Back positions are two positions on the football field that are quite similar. There will be a high chance that you have come across these positions while watching football or playing FIFA on your console.
However, they are actually quite different from each other, depending on the formation and tactical setup of a team.
Here’s a guide that explains both of these positions to you:
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Differences Between an LWB and an LB
The tactics and formation deployed by a manager will determine the Left Back and Left-Wing Back roles during a game.
On paper, the left-wing back is more of a midfielder than a defender, and he focuses more on the attack than the defence. Moreover, an LWB is expected to maintain control of the entire left flank, both offensively and defensively. On the other hand, a left-back is primarily positioned to defend his team. Meanwhile, joining the team in attack is a secondary duty to a left-back.
Here are some of the details to better explain how the two positions differ:
Position on the pitch
Both the LWB and LB positions look quite similar because they usually have to maintain the defensive shape of a team. They also prevent the opposition from creating chances and goalscoring situations from wide areas.
A left-wing back would easily fit into the following formations:
With these formations, there is a common factor – three central defenders. When a manager decides to play with three central defenders, the team is often set up with wing-backs in the wide position.
However, a left-back has a more defensive mindset of the two roles. The position fits into the following formations:
Both sets of players are required to combine with their wingers to create goalscoring chances. However, the LWB has a greater responsibility in attack and is expected to have more goals and assists.
Despite this, a quality LB is also expected to be very involved in his team’s attack, contributing goals and assists to the best of his abilities. However, a left-back should not become negligent of his defensive duties, which is his primary role in the team.
The role of a left-back in an attack differs from team to team and manager to manager. For example, Barcelona’s left-back Jordi Alba is perfect at holding his runs until the last minute to make unannounced entries into opposition territory.
Similarly, players who play in a counterattacking setup must have the pace and stamina to follow their team’s attacks easily.
Common numbers associated with these positions
The left-wing back position is an “evolving position” that managers developed to have extra players in attack without giving up their defensive numbers. This means that the players in this position do not have any traditional numbers.
Also, in recent years, specific numbers are no longer common to particular positions, and players can now choose their favourite numbers or numbers with distinctive meanings. For instance, Newcastle United midfielder Bruno Guimaraes wears number 39 because his father owned a taxi that had the same number.
Being a traditional role, the left-back position had its own specific shirt number- No. 3. Players who wore the number 3 were usually the left-backs for their teams.
You can check out the reasons why goalkeepers wear these specific numbers here.
Roles on the Pitch
Both left-back and left-wing back positions have similar roles on the pitch because they have to help their team defensively and offensively.
However, a left-wing back has a larger responsibility in attack when compared to the left-back. The general qualities expected of both the left-back and left-wing back include the following:
- Spatial awareness
- Crossing ability
- Provide width for the team
Here are the differences in the roles they perform:
The left-wing back is usually expected to provide width in midfield and fashion out goalscoring chances from wide areas for the forwards.
A left-wing back could also be used as an underlapping player in attack to play inside more centrally instead of holding the width for the team.
Apart from the attacking role of the left-wing back, he is expected to also be diligent in defence whenever necessary. With the team normally set up with three central defenders, the left-sided defender usually covers the spaces left by a left-wing back.
On the part of a left-back, he is usually a member of the defensive back four of a team. This makes his defensive role paramount at all times. In addition, however, he should be available to help his side’s attacking play whenever he gets the chance to move forward.
Under normal circumstances, the left-back should play as the widest man of his side’s defence.
Recently, however, the role has been modified, and managers like Pep Guardiola ensure that he sets up his left-back to have a playmaker’s role.
As a result, Joao Cancelo takes up an average position akin to that of a central midfielder despite playing as a left-back for Manchester City.
You can find out the differences between a winger and a wide midfielder here.
The LWB and LB positions cannot really be separated because they are alike. In fact, some players can easily switch between the two positions. For example, Ben Chilwell was Chelsea’s left-back under Frank Lampard but became a left-wing back under Thomas Tuchel.
Similarly, AC Milan plays Theo Hernandez as a left-back or left-wing back, depending on the formation the side deploys.
Traits required for the roles
Both positions have some specific traits that enable players to perform effectively.
A left-wing back must have a quick fit to perform in the position effectively. Speed is vital because an LWB is expected to regularly travel up and down the pitch.
Moreover, he might have to go up against speedy wingers, and it will become difficult for him to perform his defensive duties if he lacks pace.
While moving regularly up and down the flanks, a left-back must possess a great deal of stamina to perform optimally. Strength and endurance are critical qualities a left-wing back must possess to stand the test of 90 minutes and still perform at his best.
A left-wing back also needs to be an excellent shooter to score goals when he has the opportunity to do it. Also, an LWB should be excellent at crosses. Scoring and creating chances are two of the essential duties of a left-wing back.
A left-back has to be aware of his position on the pitch at all times. This is to prevent runners from getting behind him, leading to goalscoring opportunities against his team.
A left-back also has to be excellent at defending because it is his primary duty. A left-back that is a liability in defence is usually overlooked when a coach decides to play with a back four.
For instance, Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso hardly thrives as a left-back for the club due to his limitations in defence.
A good left-back must put in dangerous crosses to contribute to his side’s attack. Using crosses effectively is one of the easiest ways of unlocking stubborn defences.
For example, Liverpool leveraged the ability of Andy Robertson to cross the ball excellently.
Here are examples of famous players who play in these positions:
LWB #1: Marcos Alonso
Marcos Alonso thrives excellently in the left-wing back position to the extent that he hardly puts in a massive shift whenever he plays as a left-back. This is proven by the number of goals and assists he delivers regularly.
LWB #2: Ivan Perisic
Croatian star Ivan Perisic started his career as a winger, but he has thrived in the left-wing back position in recent seasons. Perisic filled in for Inter Milan in the position as they won the Serie A in the 2020/21 season.
Perisic’s attacking qualities and defensive discipline make it convenient for him to perform at the highest level in this position despite not being a naturally defensive player.
LWB #3: Renan Lodi
Brazilian defender Renan Lodi is another player that excels in the left-wing back role for Atletico Madrid. His pace, aggression and crossing make him a perfect fit for the position.
LB #1: Andy Robertson
Liverpool and Scotland ace Andy Robertson is one of the best left-backs in the world at the moment. The Scottish International possesses all the traits required of a top left-back.
LB #2: Alphonso Davies
Canada’s poster boy and Bayern Munich youngster Alphonso Davies has made his name in Germany as a world-class left-back.
His blistering pace makes it difficult to get past him, and he has enough attacking qualities to make him a threat to opposing defences.
LB #3: Joao Cancelo
Although primarily a right-back, Joao Cancelo is re-defining the LB role with Manchester City. The Portuguese defender has played in this position and performed excellently for Manchester City throughout his time there.
Here is a summary of the differences between an LWB and LB:
|Position||Left side of midfield||Left defender|
|Role||Emphasis on the attack |
with defensive duties
|Emphasis on defence with the |
license to attack where necessary
|Common numbers |
|Famous Examples||Marcos Alonso|
|Andrew Robertson |
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