Soccer Sweeper? Does Anybody Play with One Anymore?

soccer sweeper, soccer positions, defense, soccer formations

A dominating Soccer Sweeper in today's game is tough to find, mainly because modern professional soccer is generally played with a flat back four and the sweeper positions has been almost eliminated.

The days of old where sweepers use to run the show at the back are gone, but there is good news. All the qualities, traits and attributes of the position are still vitally important in all defenders particularly center backs.

"so coach what position am I playing today? ummm, well Jimmy

you can play.. let me see, okay sweeper....."

"sweeper? really? thanks coach"

"yeah sure you can be sweeper of the field before the game make sure it's clean for the players Jimmy"

The position acts as a security blanket for the back four defenders and virtually for the entire team. The sweeper generally doesn't really man mark but "sweeps" in behind the back four defenders in the case of any mistakes or just as a safety valve. 

Can One of the Two Center Backs Play Sweeper at Times?

If they are doing their job they should be rotating the sweeper role constantly all game long.


Well any good center back knows when a ball is being played in to the posting forward or over their heads one center back steps with the man and the other provides cover in behind acting as a sweeper temporarily.

As the game develops the two center backs (if doing their jobs right) will be providing a 5-7 yard cushion off of the other providing support and safety to the play. This sounds a lot like the role of a sweeper of sorts, providing support and safety.

Do Professional Sides Ever Play with a Sweeper?

As a set formation, rarely. The reasoning is because the flat back four or three most sides play with provide protection without giving up the long ball over the top.

Also players these days can handle at times one or two strikers coming at them with four players plus the help of their midfield line.

Adding another player to fortify the backline is taking one away from your attack, this is the philosophy that many teams and coaches have adopted and if it works for the best teams in the world who are we to argue. What was all that defense wins championships talk?

So to tell it to you bluntly no, it will be truly unique to see teams lining up to start a match with a sweeper in behind their back line.

Does a Soccer Sweeper Ever Get to Attack?

A Sweepers main responsibility is to hold down the fort in the back breaking up plays and creating defensive harmony. There are although times where the second last man back gets to go forward and join the attack.

Mainly this goes on during set plays. If your team happens to get a free kick or corner then the big man (the sweeper is generally one of your bigger players) get to go forward and try and get their head on the end of a ball swung in.

The rare opportunity may arise when a sweeper goes on a run forward and connects on a scoring opportunity. This either results in something positive or a seat on the bench next to the coach if your team gets exposed. Stick to defending big man and do your job.

Soccer Sweeper and Keeper

This relationship is vital. The sweeper (last defender) and keeper (last man back) need to be on the same page at all times, any lapse in judgment or timing can result in an opposition punishing them on the scoreboard.

Traits they must poses to remain in unison:

-Strong sense of communication and chemistry

-Understand each other’s roles and responsibilities

-Trust one another’s judgments

-Through good and bad remain positive

-Strong positional awareness

Technical Attributes of A Great Soccer Sweeper:

-Ability to clear the ball with all parts of the foot both left and right

-Proper defensive stance with attackers back to them, stationary or dribbling at speed toward them.

-Proper heading technique in clearances of the ball and directional heading

-Sound technically in passing and receiving with both feet for distribution if necessary

Physical Attributes of A Great Soccer Sweeper:

-Quick Backward movements being able to jockey and track back to chase down attackers

-Excellent timing and co-ordination in assessing tackles

-Strong Lower body Strength (1v1 duels with attackers)

-Strong Upper body Strength (Holding off attackers) 

-Very aggressive and powerful in the air

-High level of speed both forward and backward

-Agile lateral movements

-Powerful tackler and insurance policy in the back 

Essential Foundational Attributes of A Great Soccer Sweeper:

-No non-sense tackler and clearer of the ball

-Nice and Tidy (does not try and do too much with the ball)

-Understand his role as a defender and not as a distributor

-Confidence of teammates to act as the last line of defense

-Leadership skills in organizing and arranging formations as they develop

Whether your considering bringing the sweeper role back its former glory or you’re a center back trying to see what you can learn from this almost extinct position it’s important to remember a few things.

First, all the same technical and physical attributes still apply if you’re a center back

Second, the man in the back is the leader, general and directs traffic at all times and is responsible for the whole team.

Third warrior like mentality is a must for any quality soccer sweeper, sticking your head where most wouldn’t put their feet.

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