How to control your center backs aggressively! - Learn modern defending!
October 29, 2020


One of the biggest defending tips that new players get to hear all the time is "Don't touch your center backs or backline in general! Instead use your CDMs to run backwards and cut passing lanes or put pressure from behind.".
However that advice is very much outdated and limits your defending capabilities quite a lot. So let's take a look on how to defend modernly by selecting your center backs more aggressively!

Why running back with the CDM is not enough

You may ask why the concept of pulling your CDMs back and using them to pressure and cut passing lanes isn't enough of a defending plan after all. Well, here are a few reasons:
  • running after an attacker gives him space to go forward, closer to your goal
  • you miss out on easy pass interceptions and tackles
  • you miss out on putting pressure on the attacker to force him to slow down the attack
  • you risk selecting your CB too late and allowing the attacker to pace through
Of course this doesn't mean that you shouldn't use your CDMs to defend. They are a very important piece of the puzzle. But you have to find the right balance and in order to select the right defender at the right time, you need to master player switching with L1/LB and the right stick first. 

Scenarios when selecting the center back early is valuable

Let's get a bit more concrete now and analyse when you should switch to your back line early and how exactly to use the center backs in each situation!

Intercepting passes towards strikers (scenes #1 to #6)
This is definitely the scenario with the highest benefit and if you do your player switching early and efficiently also the one that occurs most! When you see that the opponent is looking for a pass into his striker that you are not able to cover with your CDM because he is out of position, then perform a quick switch with the right stick to the CB covering that striker and move him forward into the passing lane slightly. If the pass is played, continue to move forward into the ball and intercept it!

What's important is that you
  • are not rushing out too aggressively at first
  • hover towards the passing lane in the beginning by holding L2/LT or L2+R2/LT+RT
  • continue to move into the pass if it's played and you think you can intercept it
With some time and experience you will gain a feeling for this follow through and will be able to make tons of easy interceptions, which in return allow you to counter attack dangerously (scene #2)!

Tackling the opponent right when he is receiving the ball (scenes #7 to #10)
But even if you're not able to intercept the pass right away, you can still win the ball back right afterwards! If you would run after the ball with a CDM it would take you a few seconds to catch up to the player and apply pressure. But since you switched to your CB early and moved him towards the attacker you are now very close and can challenge right away! 

So if you are able to tackle into the opponent or just 'walk' into him with L2/LT exactly when he is trying to receive and control the pass then that will make it very hard for him to not lose the ball! Be aggressive and be confident but remember this only works if you are standing on his feet immediately! If you're still 2-3 meters away don't worry though and instead continue with scenario 3.

Pressuring and zoning the attacker (scenes #11 to #15)
So you have switched to your center back early but you weren't able to intercept the pass right away and you're also still too far away for a promising tackle. What you want to do now is
  • move closer to the attacker with L2/LT steps and apply pressure
  • position yourself so that you cover the passing lane towards the other attacker at the same time
  • intercept the opponents pass if he still plays it (scenes #11, #12 and #15)
  • resume to your normal defending if opponent slows down attack, make sure you don't pull out your CB all the way (scenes #13 and #14)

By doing this you are putting pressure on the opponent that many players aren't used to and therefore they will make easy mistakes! And even against good players you are cutting a lot of options at the same time, so they have to be patient and continue their attack differently.

Risks of selecting your center back early

Mainly there are two risks when selecting your back line early and you wanna watch out for them because winning a few easy balls can lead to being overly excited and aggressive which then gives the opponent very simple ways to score.

Committing too early and too far to intercept the pass (scenes #16 to #17)
First off you can't be too sure of yourself that you're always having the correct read on the opponents next pass. If he delays the pass to his striker for a bit or maybe didn't even consider it at first and then sees that you are pulling out your CB all the way it gives him the opportunity to play a simple through ball into the now open space behind your back line.

So remember the hovering and follow the steps described above because a 50/50 ratio of intercepted passes and goals conceded isn't really gonna end up with good results.

Pulling out center backs but not winning the ball back (scene #18)
This is something which can happen against good players who are able to manage their dribbling and passing balance well
  • they don't play the pass to their other striker when you cover it
  • they out dribble you when you go for the challenge
In this case it can happen that controlling your CBs and moving them out of position gets punished with some one-two passes and quick dribbling turns. If it happens a couple of times then it's best to adapt and play a bit more passive with your back line. Maybe even use your CDMs more often to defend and see how that goes.


So all in all I can only recommend to put the time in and learn the defending concept and techniques involved in this entire topic. Strong and aggressive defending is an art and because of how rewarding it feels to cut the opponents attacking options like this and win back ball after ball early, this has become one of my favourite topics to cover!
So if you're not actively using your center backs to their full potential yet then go on, have some trust in their and also your abilities and level up your defensive game! Trust me, it's gonna be worth it.
About the author:
Georg "CruZzAve" Raffelt is creating educational FIFA content since FIFA 13 around which time he also started his competitive journey in the game. He was able to qualify for the Grand Final of the German National Championship 'Virtuelle Bundesliga' twice in 2014 and 2015. Online he managed to reach the weekly and monthly Top100 in the Weekend League numerous times.

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