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Jul 2013
10:58 Comments (28)
Where are the wingers?

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Rafa Benítez

Why have wingers disappeared? Why has it become fashionable to use fullback-wingers? To understand this we have to know a bit about systems of play. When a coach places his players on the blackboard he is defining his system of play. These are the most common:

ImagenFigure 1

ImagenFigure 2

Figure 3

Starting with this theory, we then come to what actually happens on the pitch, the players movements, that is to say whether we play with a defensive line or with a sweeper, whether we use a second striker or whether we penetrate more on the left or the right, this is what we call tactics.

If we look at older systems we can see that tactics have evolved in to moving the forwards deeper with the clear objective of dominating the defensive areas and the midfield whilst at the same time looking to surprise the opposition from deep. If we can create space by dropping a striker deep, we can use a player running at the defence and if we cannot create space, because the defenders stay in their zones, it is easier to break the line with our player’s pace. The classic quick and tricky winger used to come up against defenders who were less prepared than the modern defenders. Nowadays, the physical, technical and tactical preparation is much more comprehensive and players can give more. Also they will resort to fouls to stop opponents

In search of solutions to the dearth of wingers, there is a continual combining of the wide players and full backs to supply strikers with the ball. The attacking full back was covered by the inside player while he recovered position and from this the 1-5-3-2 system became the next step. On realising that the full backs were causing problems it was thought that an inside player, with more quality than a full back, could do even more damage. If we add that the opposition may play with no more than one or two strikers, the attacking freedom of our full back would give us a perfect system. The advantages of 1-5-3-2 or 1-5-4-1 are that we have a lot of players at the back which gives more defensive and midfield security.The surprise incorporation of the inside players or full backs means that we should profit from all our attacks (see Figure 3). This requires inside players and full backs with good quality and in good physical condition to make long runs and finish them with good crosses. In practice, what usually happens is that the fullback-winger can’t keep going forward and getting back in the wide areas for the whole match, covering large distances every time, so they tend to have a starting position in the middle third and the system is really converted to 1-3-3-2-2, since the fullback-winger pushes the inside player higher (see Figure 4).

ImagenFigure 4

Every football fan knows that it is easier to convert a forward to a defender than vice versa, since it easier to clear a ball than to use it in a reduced and defended area like in the goal mouth, so the gradual dropping of natural wingers to the full back position was a logical progression.

These full backs with some defensive qualities and excellent attacking ability (they dribble and cross better than a classic defensive full back) ought to enhance the game and keep it true to its origins, as they are really wingers who attack as much as they can to accomplish their old job which was to penetrate behind the opposition full back and create goals thanks to their crossing.

28 Comments Send us your opinions
12/10/11 at 12:42:32 #1
Hi Rafa. While I agree with a lot of what you are saying, do you not believe this is really something that has occured more amongst the top teams? Barcelona, Man City and Chelsea (this season) are the prime examples of your statement in my opinion. A lot of teams in the Prem however still play with the classic 4-4-2 or the variations of it (4-4-1-1) and still rely heavily on the wide players to play as wingers in order to create goal scoring opportunities. E.g. Spurs (last year in particular) Bale and Lennon, Stoke have Etherington and Pennant, Wolves, Jarvis and Hunt. I don't believe Wingers have 'died' I just believe that bigger clubs possibly have better resources to play this style of football (e.g. full backs competent at attacking and defending, wingers comfortable out wide, inside, up front etc.)


I think that you are right. These teams have good wingers, but there are not too many more around. It is difficult to find them in the market, at least for a top side.
12/10/11 at 18:06:00 #2
It would also seem that utility of the modern fullback has diminished the role of the natural winger.

As teams push forward there's only so much space left in the attacking part of the pitch. A left footed winger playing on the left side of the pitch won't cut in as often as a reverse footed winger - and as such won't give the fullback as much space to move forward.

As fullbacks develop and become more able to put in crosses or run past defenders, it makes sense to use opposite footed wingers who can cut into the middle of the pitch - thus giving room for the fullback to move forward and assist in the attack.

I actually wish we could see more of this at Liverpool - I like the idea of putting Downing on the right and perhaps Maxi on the left - especially if Johnson and Enrique can play - it would give a strong attacking threat from our fullbacks and a lot of movement in the attacking third.
12/10/11 at 20:57:35 #3
Rafa's Red Men.
Hi Rafa, good article.

Can you please consider doing an article on the strength's and weakneses of the Zonal Marking system to the Man marking system, only explanation I have heard in favour of the man marking system, was “The running man can beat the standing man in a Zonal marking system” which is very limited to say the least, I would appreciate some more qualified to address this issue please.

Many thanks.

Keep up the good work, you’re a credit to this world.


I will talk about the zonal marking in the Audience next Sunday 16.

12/10/11 at 21:22:21 #4
Hello Rafa, excellent topic.

So is it that full backs have become better defensively thus nullifying opposition wingers? Or offensively more technical and therefore replacing the winger?

I agree with previous comments re: wingers still evident in the premier league, but also agree that they are a diminishing part of modern football as you say.

Have players like Messi, Silva, Aguero et al become more prominent tactically?
13/10/11 at 04:43:59 #5
With an increasing trend of using attacking fullbacks, the midfield anchor role will probably be as important as ever. A new task will be for them to slot into the "back 4" when required. Like Sergio Busquets or Javier Mascherano, these types of players are important to defend in the transition where one of the full backs are 80 yards away from its own goal. While on the other hand, its important these players are midfielders by trade because distribution will also be important
13/10/11 at 10:02:03 #6
Your Cousin Deezak
When you are talking about 'moving the forwards deeper' you are obviously talking about false-9's, e.g. messi. David Silva played this role for Spain against Scotland the other day - did you see the game? These players are a menace for defences: if a defender follows him, space is created in the defence which is then exploited by a runner; if a defender doesn't follow him, the false-9 is left free to create an overload in midfield. I find it hard to think of a way to deal with this type of player - WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST WAY TO NULLIFY THE THREAT OF A FALSE-9?
Thanks, and keep pumping out these brilliant articles!
Luv, Your Cousin Deezak.
13/10/11 at 12:13:41 #7
Hi Rafa. We all looking forward to see you in Spartak Moscow football club.
13/10/11 at 12:58:55 #8
Hi Rafa,A great winger like say Bale or in the past Giggs would have the effect of keeping the oppositions wing backs busy so quiet so in effect this would be my preferred option.I think with Giggs as an example he never tracks back he just stays way out on the left waiting for the ball,so you would think this would be to the oppositions advantage for the right wing back to make runs up field,yet because of the quality of Giggs the wing back marking him dare not make a run and run the risk of leaving Giggs free to recieve the ball in space.I see what you mean though the lack of quality wingers means this scenario is rare and the wing back is more productive than an orthodox full back.Alves in my mind is the perfect wing back,great energy,great defender great at going forward and his delivery and shooting ability are better than most players.Craig L
13/10/11 at 13:59:33 #9
Rafa, i am a big big fan of you. For me you are the best Tactician in the world. how your team play in such a tactical perfection always amazes me.i can't wait till i see you with another team playing electric football. thanks
13/10/11 at 18:51:40 #10
what i do think about this is winger are no dead but just the classical winger are dead .
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