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Jul 2013
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.