Rarely seen in the modern professional game, the sweeper position is nonetheless still used frequently in youth, amateur, and college soccer, both in the U.S.A and abroad. A thorough understanding of the position is essential for any coach wishing to utilize a sweeper in their team and maximize their chances of success. In this guide, we will explain what the sweeper position in soccer is, how to play as a sweeper, and look at some of the greatest sweepers of all time.
What Is The Role Of The Sweeper In Soccer?
A sweeper in soccer is a type of central defender that plays behind the rest of the defensive line. They act as the last defender on the field (beside the goalkeeper), covering the space behind all the other defenders. If an opposition attack makes it past the rest of the team, the sweeper’s role is to ‘sweep up’ and prevent a goalscoring opportunity. At advanced levels, a sweeper can also move up into midfield areas when their team is in possession of the ball. Coming from a deep position, this can often be difficult for opposing midfielders to combat and defend against.
Do Soccer Teams Still Use Sweepers?
Soccer teams do still use sweepers in soccer, but this is primarily at the youth, amateur, and college levels. In modern professional soccer, the role of the sweeper is rarely, if ever, seen.
What Is A Stopper In Soccer?
A stopper in soccer refers to the sweeper’s central defensive partner in the middle of the defense. The stopper’s job is to mark the opposition striker and stop balls from being played directly to their feet. In a flat-back four, the two central defenders (left and right) interchange between their first and second-defender roles depending on where the ball is. When teams play a sweeper within a back 4, the stopper will always be the first defender, and the sweeper will always cover the space behind.
What Formations Use A Sweeper In Soccer?
Sweepers can be used in any formation, but they are most commonly seen in the 4-4-2 or the 4-3-3 formation. Historically, a sweeper was also often used in the 3-5-2 formation, although this is less prevalent now as teams tend to play with three forwards as opposed to two.
How To Play The Sweeper Position
A good sweeper needs to have a high soccer IQ and be able to read the game well. in addition to this, a player should have the following qualities to play the sweeper position well:
- Good Heading Ability: Competent in attacking the ball in the air, particularly from crosses and corners.
- Excellent Reading Of The Game: Able to consistently anticipate through balls by opponents and pick up visual cues on when the ball may be played behind the defense.
- Good Communication: Able to communicate effectively with teammates, particularly their fellow defenders.
- A Good Organizer: Able to understand and help their fellow defenders with positioning and marking other players.
- Confident And Effective In 1v1 Duels: As the last defender, a sweeper needs to be able to make well-timed tackles and win the ball off opponents when they are through on goal.
- A High Pass Completion Rate: Able to make accurate passes over both short and long distances.
With the exception of the goalkeeper, a sweeper is the last line of defense between the opponent’s attackers and the goal. As such, their defensive responsibilities are as high or higher than anyone else on the team. When defending, a good sweeper needs to do the following:
- Anticipate through balls, sit behind the rest of the defense and be sure to get to passes played over the top or behind before the opponent.
- Communicate and organize the defenders in front of them and make sure all attacking players are marked, the defense is compact, and the goal is protected.
- Intercept attempted passes behind the defense.
- Win 1v1 duels by making well-timed tackles and challenges as forwards attempt to beat them on the dribble.
- Constantly provide cover and support for other defenders as they try to win the ball.
- Look to attack crosses into the penalty box and be first to the ball.
- Be prepared to put their body on the line to block shots, particularly when in their own penalty area and close to the goal.
Although a sweeper’s primary role is defending, a good sweeper will be able to contribute when attacking, too. This is especially true for progressive teams that look to build out of the back when in possession. When attacking, a player in the sweeper position should do the following:
- Receive the ball from the goalkeeper to start attacks. When the goalkeeper decides to play short, the sweeper must look to create a good angle of support and receive the ball with their hips open so they can make another progressive pass forward to either side of the field.
- Provide a deep passing option for both the left and right full-backs as well as the stopper or other center backs. This passing option can be utilized when the relevant player is unable to find a forward pass and progress the ball.
- Upon receiving the ball, look for opportunities to play passes forward, wide, or over the top of the opponent’s defense.
- Dribble the ball forward into midfield when given the opportunity by the opposition.
- From corners, a sweeper should use their strong aerial ability to provide an attacking threat in the opposition’s penalty box.
- Always anticipate a potential loss of possession and ensure the defense is ready to halt a quick counter-attack from the opposing team.
Best Sweepers Of All Time
The Dutch Maestro was a key player for the mid 90’s Barcelona dream team and, incredibly for a defender, was the Champions League top scorer in the 93-94 season. Koeman was exceptional at bringing the ball out from defense into midfield and forward areas and had a thunderous shot that terrorized Europe’s best defenses of the time.
‘Der Kaiser’, as he was known, is arguably the best sweeper of all time. As his nickname suggests, Franz Beckenbauer was a strong leader, but he also read the game exceptionally well, and he possessed elegance and comfortability on the ball.
The England World Cup-winning captain was another classic sweeper who was as good with the ball as he was off it. Along with lifting the World Cup, Bobby Moore featured in one of the most iconic defensive tackles of all time when he calmly and cleanly stole the ball off an advancing Pele during England’s famous 1970 game versus Brazil. His ability to win the ball off silky strikers and then help his team maintain possession is remembered to this day.
More Position Guides
Thanks for reading. I hope you found this guide to the sweeper position in soccer useful. Before you go, check out these other position guides you might find useful:
The Center Back Position In Soccer
The Full Back Position In Soccer
The Wing Back Position In Soccer