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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
13/10/11 at 22:08:52 #11
hi rafa, this isnt really a comment about your blog ,its more of a thankyou for giving myself and my son some fantastic memories during your time at the helm of our great club.i'll never forget chelsea
, the destruction of madrid and leverkusen , garcias goal against juve, and of couse istanbull.there are so many more wonderfull memories you have given us... to many to list.you may now be gone from our great club rafa but you will never be forgotten. and finally rafa all that is left to say is THANK YOU!!!! Y.N.W.A
13/10/11 at 23:19:48 #12
Rafa's Red Men
Thank you.
14/10/11 at 01:58:40 #13
i think you helped to kill them off Rafa :)

with the R & L midfield players doubling up with the RB and LB, they became less effective.

maybe the question should be how effective is traditional wing play now?

the LB & RB positions have fast players to match wingers for pace now.

strikers prowl the wings so that they can cut in with a good angle but they are not wingers, a good example is david villa, 50 in 80 international matches.

the striker can also go dead centre, whereas wingers became one-dimensional.

i personally am not a fan of crosses into the box as a primary strategy, it's an option. i prefer the arsenal or barca approach of using space to make space but keep the ball on the floor as much as possible.

keep the pressure up with short sharp passes, the defense get nervous & make a mistake. when a cross comes in from wide & is cleared by the CB or GK (& they are v.gd in the air) the ball is cleared a good distance & gives them a breather, a sense of relief & motivation.
14/10/11 at 09:30:50 #14
why cant we ave striker turned winger like kuyt,since he was a striker his movement off the ball is really good and knows how to create space and it also helps the manager to alter the formation without making substitution...switch to plan B
14/10/11 at 15:15:53 #15
Conrad Lodziak
It is fair to say that old-fashioned wingers are in decline and that attacking full-backs are the order of the day. Mostly the latter augment the midfield and give it numerical advantage over the opposition. However, the most important thing is that as many players as possible feel and are comfortable in all areas of the pitch, so that the team can always attack in width, regardless of who is occupying the wide positions.


Thank you for your interesting comments.
14/10/11 at 15:35:59 #16
Mark Ashley
Love the website and it nice to be able to learn about all of your tactical knowlege. As a big Liverpool fan i was very sad to see you leave. I think Kenny has done well since coming in but i would certainly like to see you in charge at Liverpool again in the future!! Thankyou for the memories, KING RAFA YNWA.
14/10/11 at 19:39:22 #17
Michael Perry
Do you not think a lack of wingers is a result of a grassroot problem, perhaps not many willing to be deployed in a typical winger fashion requiring running long stretches of the pitch. Or is it more of a global issue of tactics. If so, then is it responsability of coaches to bring goos wingers through.


Obviously the have to run more than other players, maybe now with the 4-3-3 that we can see sometimes the Academies will try to produce more specific wingers.
15/10/11 at 05:21:00 #18
Hello Rafa, I'm a die-hard Liverpool fan for the past 35 years. It's a shame that the current Liverpool owners did not come to the rescue during your time. I always regard you as the best tactician in the world. All the best in your future club.
18/10/11 at 14:22:37 #19
Latif Haidari
Hi Rafa,I am not going to comment about your blog, i just would like to get an advice from you. As a coach you are one of the most respected figures in the world football and among the current generation of Liverpool fans for what you have done during your time at Liverpool. I myself truly admire you and your coaching at Liverpool really motivated me to take a step to become a coach. I am only 17 but my playing career is over so the next step for me is to get into the coaching field. Therefore, I would like to get an advice from you how to start my coaching career, I also watch soccer games every week and I am very keen to analyse them.
I am not a fluent English speaker but I hope you find this to understand. I would be very grateful to you if you are able to offer me an advice.


Hello Latif, you have to read some books about football, the things that you like, to look for these things in internet and also, if you can, to go and see any team to train, you will enjoy. Thanks.
21/10/11 at 15:32:24 #20
Hi Rafa - you are a liverpool legend! thats a fact..

i noticed that during the 08/09 season, in many games you'd start with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but during the course of the match, the fullbacks would push high up the pitch, the CBs move further apart and alonso would drop into the gap, creating a somewhat 3-3-3-1 formation.

did you find this more effective against traditional 4-4-2? or was it only possible because of alonso's passing ability from deep and mascherano's ability to cover the middle of the pitch effectively by himself.

basically did you create systems and patterns of play to suit the players?

The system should always be created to suit the players you have. Any system can be amended to be effective against a particular opposition