When playing in a 4-5-1 or 4-4-3 formation you are meant to stay in your zone on the pitch.

The defenders need to be part of the back 4 and not move into the forward postions.

How then do defenders get out of position and actually score goals ? Given that goals are encouraged (obviously) but isn't being out of position a bad thing from the manager's point of view?

5 Answers 5


In modern soccer, the formation is not a rigid structure, and the player positions are more flexible.

Especially the wingbacks (defenders at the far left and right) combine the functions of a classical full back with a (midfield) winger – when they get to the ball, they quickly move forward along the side to prepare an attack, often even participating in its final phases (and, therefore, they can sometimes even score a goal). It is obviously important other players know their tasks in such a situation.

This is a useful part of modern soccer tactics, and is prescribed by managers (well, not always, obviously), not discouraged.

  • Wingbacks are an important part of an attack, but I don't think they are particularly frequent goal scorers. I'd suggest central defenders have a better chance to score since they sit in the middle, from where they can try long-range shots when the ball is cleared out in their direction. Wingbacks have fewer such opportunities. That being said, I'm sure more goals by defenders come from set pieces. Commented Feb 25, 2012 at 7:02
  • Managers often send "the big guys" up for corners and free kicks as centre backs are often the best headers on the team.
    – Alex Logan
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 11:43
  • In modern football, the idea of defending has also changed when you talk of central defenders.How high up the pitch they play also matters a lot.Many defenders who are agile and good and getting into advantageous positions score goals that is because defenders are usually tall and used to clearing the ball and have more chances of winning the ball.If you observe,usually defensive midfielders stay back to win the ball back in case the possession is with the opposition and they start with the counter. Also,since wing backs usually track faster, its not a problem to let defenders have a go.
    – kartshan
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 11:20

One way is through corners and free kicks.

The central defenders are often the best headers of the ball in the team, because they need to be able to defend crosses and long balls when defending. Because of this strength, they will often take a position close to the opposition goal for corner kicks and free kicks in the opposition half, and try to score a headed goal.

An example of this was the only goal in the world cup semi-final between Germany and Spain, scored from a corner by defender Carlos Puyol.

2010 FIFA World Cup knockout stage (Germany vs Spain)

As you suggest, this can be a risky tactic, and if the corner/free-kick is defended successfully, then the defender has to try to get back in position as quickly as possible, to prevent a successful counter attack.

A manager may decide whether the risk is worth taking, depending on the score. While in the lead, he may tell defenders to stick to their positions, but while losing, he may tell the defenders to be try and score a goal.

  • Quite often they're great longer-range strikers as well (e.g., Roberto Carlos), presumably due to more practice (clearing the ball, taking free kicks so the other players can go upfield). Commented Feb 21, 2012 at 22:38
  • @MatthewRead: interesting theory, there's always been these crazy defenders with heavy shots. One particular favorite from my childhood days is R. Koeman.
    – posdef
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 11:12
  • Guardiola implemented a system at Bayern where when his team had possession, the two full backs would come inside and become deep lying playmakers, while the holding midfielder would drop into defense to form a back three. This 3-2-2-2-1 meant that Lahm and Alaba would have more freedom to drift into goal scoring areas.
    – Alex Logan
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 11:48
  • most times, defenders will be up there in the box to try and score during freekicks and corners. The quick players (often the shorter ones because they have less chance of heading the ball during corners and freekicks) will be the ones who would be there between the penalty box and central line with the job of defending/avoid opponents counter attacking during these time.
    – Vishnu Raj
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 5:04

Just to add some illustration to the existing good question and answers. The top five goalscoring (excluding penalty kicks) defenders in the history of the Premier League are:

  1. John Terry (26)

  2. William Gallas (24)

  3. Dan Petrescu (23)

  4. Sami Hyypia (22)

  5. John Arne Riise (21)

As you can see from this, you've got Terry and Hyypia who are very dominant in the air, thus being a great asset from corners and free kicks. Riise and Petrescu are known for their attacking wing play as well as Riise being a free-kick specialist. Gallas, whilst used to playing more centrally, had a spell as a left-wing-back for Chelsea and, at Arsenal and Tottenham, does like to get forward at all opportunities.

Incidentally, if you include penalties, the top five would be:

  1. David Unsworth - Goals: 38 (22 penalties)

  2. Ian Harte - Goals: 28 (10 penalties)

  3. John Terry - Goals: 26 (no penalties)

  4. Julian Dicks - Goals: 24 (15 penalties)

  5. William Gallas - Goals: 24 (no penalties)


A good defender is able to join the attack when his team has the ball and then retreat to his defensive position when they don't. This allows them to participate in offense and have chances to score goals.

Often when a defender goes forward, a midfielder will drop back to cover his exposed position. Besides giving the opponent a new threat to worry about, it also allows players to conserve their energy as they can "take turns" going forward, which can be important since most players who start the game never get a break, aside from half time. Alternatively, the entire defense may shift in one direction to cover up for a defender who has gone forward.

As mentioned in other answers, defenders can also be important for set pieces. These situations make it easier for them to get back in position if the attack fails, because the ball usually either goes out of bounds, or the opposing team has so many players inside their own box that it is difficult for them to counter-attack quickly. Either way, it gives them time to get back into position so it is not a big risk to have them attacking.


After you get the ball, the 1-2 style is a great way of scoring goals. Pass the ball to a player in front, then run forward to an empty space so that he can pass back to you. Continuing this, it's easy to mess up the opposition defense and score goals, even if you are a defender...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.