Sweeper is one of those positions that modern soccer coaches don’t implement anymore! It is weird because couple of centuries ago, this position was almost the most important one …
… There are still some big teams that still rely on this position, especially in the Calcio (Italian League) which means that it is still relevant to this date!
This article breakdown everything you need to know about the sweeper in soccer.
Let’s dive in!
What is the sweeper position role in soccer?
The position of this player is behind the defensive line of the team he plays for. His main task is to eliminate all the omissions and oversights of the players in front of him and to enable the flow of the ball to the midfielders.
This position was created as a solution for the team to oppose technically superior opponents!
The position of the sweeper has evolved throughout soccer history. From a role that was strictly related only to defensive tasks, over time the sweeper became a very important player in the organization of attacking movements.
Players in this position must primarily be characterized by good concentration and reading of the game in order to prevent the opponent’s attack.
Proper placement, timely done tackles and calmness in the pass when distributing the ball to midfielders are very important characteristics of a sweeper.
A player in this position must recognize situations where the opposing team will send the ball into space and command the defense of his team.
The sweeper is not strictly tied to guarding the opponent’s striker but the space behind the defensive line. Indeed, if one of the defensive players drops out of the game, the sweeper is there to make up for his mistake.
Players in this position are characterized by a large radius of movement. They usually get a great amount of freedom in the game and they have the role to roam from their position.
In which formations do the sweeper fits into?
The position of the sweeper is primarily related to the formations with three players in the central part of the defense.
For the 3-5-2 formation, the central part of the defense, there are two central defenders and behind them, there is the sweeper.
The side players in this formation are quite offensive in terms of vocation and have a large radius of movement.
Here, the side players play as defenders and prevent penetrations on the flanks. In this formation, the sweeper is one of the most important positions in a team.
He has to command the defense, constantly communicate with the two central defenders in front of him and be the safety if one of them drops out of the game.
A sweeper must be an intelligent player who can predict the movement of the ball and the situation on the field.
He represents the leader of the defense on the field and his duty is to close all approaches to the goal.
This formation is very offensive and therefore the role of the sweeper is even more emphasized. This team setup requires much more communication between the defensive players of a team.
In this formation, in addition to defensive security, the role of the sweeper is also reflected in the passing play.
Many coaches were not happy with the distribution of the ball in the formation with the four behind, so they found the solution in the sweeper, which should provide better ball movement.
Ball control, its handover and calmness in the passing game are very important for a sweeper playing in this formation.
This formation leaves a lot of space for the opposing team, so the sweeper has the role of a classic cleaner.
He must eliminate the danger of a goal with his foot and head, and his communication with the goalkeeper when defending a set piece is very important.
Concentration must be at the maximum level because even the smallest mistake can cost the team greatly.
This one is considered very defensive with as many as five defensive players, four midfielders and only one striker.
This formation is the continuation of the famous Italian Catenaccio!
Catenaccio was characterized by formations 1-3-3-3 and 1-4-4-1 where the sweeper played a key role.
The formation was a symbol of goalless games. The role of the sweeper in this formation is reflected in the composure of the defense as well as the creation of counterattacks.
Playing with many defensive players, imposes waiting for the opponent’s mistake. It is the sweeper by reading the game and cutting the ball that should enable the start of the counterattack for his team.
The concentration of sweeper in this formation is of vast importance. He needs to eliminate all the potential mistakes of his team’s defensive lines.
The position of the sweeper was quite perfected in the period of the Catenaccio.
Attributes that a sweeper should have …
1. Technical Attributes
Ball control – sweeper should have good ball control because even the smallest mistake can be fatal for his team.
Handing over the ball – he is in charge of starting the organization of the attack and distributing the ball to the midfielders. Calmness and precision are very important in these situations.
Head play – due to frequent long balls and interruptions, a player in the position of a sweeper must have a good head play in order to eliminate the danger from his goal as far as possible.
Long ball – when cutting the ball and chasing the result, the sweeper uses this method to create attacking play fast and endanger the opponent’s defense. That is why he must constantly work on this segment.
Tackling – taking the ball is one of the main characteristics of a good sweeper. The most important thing is to take the ball without creating offense.
Marking – represents the skill of covering space. He must monitor the movement of the ball and make a good assessment of the situations in which the ball can be fired.
2. Physical Attributes
Stamina and endurance – sweeper has a huge radius of movement and must have good endurance to be able to respond to all efforts during the game.
Strength – due to common duel game, this attribute is one of the most important parts of sweeper’s game. In order to emerge victorious from a duel, a player must be strong and able to endure these encounters.
Composure – the sweeper must keep his head cool and stay calmed and focused, which is especially important in a 1 on 1 game with an opposing striker.
Positioning – essential skill for defensive players. Sweeper must constantly monitor the movement of the ball on the field and be well positioned.
3. Mental and personal Attributes
Aggression – represents the fighting spirit of the players to win the ball. It refers to his desire to win the ball and without making a foul or offense on the opposing player.
Bravery – is needed because of the frequent duels. It is desirable for all defensive players, especially for sweeper.
Determination – to win a duel and win the ball. Sweeper must have strong will and desire to give maximum effort to accomplish his tasks and recover the ball when in defense.
Influence – sweeper must be the leader on the field. Therefore, his influence on the team is important, as he must communicate and guide his teammates.
Decision-making – making good decisions on how to react in a given situation in defensive, as well as in attack building activities. Wrong decision in organizing the beginning of the attack may result in quick loss of the ball and a chance for an opponent.
Anticipation – represents the ability of reading the opponent’s game. This is a feature of intelligent players and sweeper must have an ability to predict situations on the field.
Why this position is less common in modern soccer?
Modern soccer is much faster and more offensive, where players are not strictly tied to the position they play.
Unlike soccer before, which was played much defensively and required the role of a sweeper, modern soccer represents a much more offensive game.
Teams mostly play in a formation with 4 defensive players and the role of sweeper was taken over by the goalkeeper. A typical example of the goalkeeper’s role as a sweeper is Manuel Neuer.
In addition, playing on offside traps has contributed to the fact that the role of a sweeper is not needed.
One advantage of playing without sweeper is that exclusion of sweeper, allowed the addition of another player in the offensive part of the team.
Countries or leagues where this position is still important …
Italy, as the cradle of the famous Catenaccio formation, has always been tied to the position of sweeper.
In this league, even the biggest teams like Juventus and Inter still play in formation with two central defenders and a sweeper.
In the Italian league, tactics play an important role, and the position of sweeper is key to getting a favorable result and saving your own goal.
Even the Italian national team in some matches plays in a formation that includes sweeper as a cleaner behind the defensive line of the team.
Is there a chance of a comeback of the sweeper position?
More and more coaches are deciding to return the sweeper to the team formation.
Some of today’s most popular coaches such as Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri while leading Juventus have regained this position in the team.
Many teams in Europe have embraced this trend, so it is increasingly common to see a formation including a sweeper.
In this way, the coaches want to strengthen the middle of the field and narrow the space available for the attacking team.
Famous sweepers over the years …
When it comes to the sweeper, surely the biggest player in this position was Franz Beckenbauer. Until his appearance, the role of the sweeper was exclusively defensive.
He brought a whole new dimension to the role of the sweeper. At the offensive role of the sweeper, he represented the playmaker of the German national team and Bayern Munich.
From the last line of the team, he was able to bring confusion to the opposing defenses with great passes straight toward the attackers.
Along with Beckenbauer, the best defense commander was the legendary Italian Franco Baresi. No sweeper read the game like he did, and he could do anything with the ball.
Although short, he was an insurmountable obstacle for all opposing attackers. With his steadfastness, he brought stability to AC Milan and the Italian national team.
He will be remembered as one of the best defensive players in the history of soccer.
Another fantastic player who played as a sweeper was Miodrag Belodedici. One of the most intelligent players who played in this position won the Champions Cup titles with Romanian Steaua and Red Star.
With his great positioning and reading of the game, he was the backbone of the teams in which he played. The control of the ball and the calmness in the passing game were also the characteristics of this once great defender.
Final Thoughts …
Really hope this article has given you all the information you need about this amazing position!
For me, in the few teams I’ve played for, I was never asked to play in this position, however I’ve always find it really interesting and worth researching & understanding …
… I really hope that modern coaches will starts coming back to the sweeper, at least as a secondary tactical choice, simply because I believe that its benefits and the tactical choices it offers for a team are really important!