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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
25/10/11 at 10:18:12 #21
Good day Rafa. I think the decline of a classic winger comes from tactics that deploy these players into a more central position.

Case in point Mesut Ozil when he plays for Werder Bremen. Rather than staying central and trying to find space between the lines, he instead drifted wide to receive a pass.

Operating behind the strikers with his style of play, he is both a playmaker and an auxiliary winger coupled with his intelligent runs provide Werder Bremen the width that they needed.

I think classic wingers are being phased out to accommodate these new 'central wingers' to bring a variety to the team attacking outlet.
04/11/11 at 15:07:26 #22
How different do you the current system liverpool play with their wingers is compared with the liverpool system under you considering that there are not really any genuine wingers during your charge?

Another question: how should one adapt the system/formation when there are no genuine wingers in the team?


We were signing wingers with pace and ability (Leto, Mark González) but they didn't give them the work permit, then we signed Babel, Riera, Pennat and also we had Malouda as a first choice. Now they have spent some money in wingers that we didn't have or we didn't want to spent.

The partnership Torres-Gerrard was a great adaptation without proper wingers. Thanks.
06/12/11 at 13:06:22 #23
you are right rafa more teams are playing this type of systym.but wher does this innovative play originate from?is it the brazillian way of playing?
25/01/12 at 15:53:42 #24
Hi Rafa,

With regards to comment #22 and your answers, you had Riera on the left during 2008/09, is he not a traditional and proper winger? For me, Riera provided a lot of balance to the team, as did Benayoun whenever he played, with Kuyt making the right side his own. In that formation, is there a place for someone like Suarez, unless he plays in the Gerrard position as Torres' partner? It's a genuine question that perplexes me because I feel Suarez and Gerrard are the type of players that occupy different positions.
15/07/13 at 18:09:11 #25
Hi Rafa,

Thinking about the next progression of fullbacks, do you think that we will start to see more teams using inverted fullbacks with inside progression on the ball & fullbacks switching sides during games (like rotating wingers) to help the team find different offensive solutions?
23/07/13 at 02:22:48 #26
Hi Rafa,

I love the post! It is extremely insightful. I was just wondering what you would think would be the best way to counter a system which uses attacking full backs. Should we play an unbalanced formation (for example, 1-4-5-1 with two left or right midfielders/wingers) to exploit the space left behind by the attacking full back? Is it better to expose the full back when he is tired (in the second half) rather than starting off with an unbalanced formation? I think I saw Luiz Filipe Scolari employ a formation like this to try to stop Jordi Alba from attacking in the Confederations Cup Final, although I am unsure.

Thank you so much for your time. You're an amazing and inspiring person!


Hi Simon, the game plan and the system it depends on the players that you have, but to attack the space behind the offensive full backs is a good idea. Long and frequent diagonal balls seems to be an option for me. Thanks.
23/07/13 at 12:10:48 #27
this football mis wingers,beck ,offesnive midfielders ,strikers ,in thissuppose evolution football don`t exist defensive players as at at one time ,for example before 10 years,now lateral becks don`t have a defensive qualiti ,expect lahm,arbeloa ,ivanovic ,in this constalation , winger is or useful for team ,without qualiti of passlog or short ,qualiti plat 1 on 1 ,or is replaced from other postion,on positon winger .this kind is offensive midfielders or player whose postion ,behind striker ,examples is that 2 kind ,miller ,ozil,gerwinho ,and 1 from 1 st kind is candreva,valencia ,some teams plays without winger,milan or juventus ,napoli .
20/08/13 at 09:49:31 #28
Dear Mr Rafa,

The modern game today seems to be defined by:

1. Ball circulation & keeping possession

2. Overlapping full-backs

3. Combination play

4. High intensity pressing in advanced areas

5. One touch football

This seems to be the prevailing style of football being "preached", supported by the successes of Barcelona & more recently, Dortmund & Bayern Munich.

Is it necessarily so, that this style of play would give better chance of success?

Can there be room for other styles to attain sustained success?

How do we understand the implementation of one style of play throughout a country?

Seeking your kind enlightenment.

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