Listen to many football fans and they will often refer to “who’s playing on the wing”. I think in today’s football where midfields are congested and teams play with two “holding” midfielders, I can’t readily think of any premiership team that plays with wingers in the old fashioned sense. Of course I don’t have the stats to prove it and I am sure many of you will start citing examples. I don’t generally fill my posts with stats and diagrams as my opinion is usually based on what I see. But certainly none of the top teams seem to play with wingers either here in England or in Europe.

Width nowadays seems to be provided by full backs and this is why they are key in today’s modern game as is their ability to deliver a decent cross or show some productive intent on the flanks. Of course how much productivity actually comes from the wide areas depends on so much. For example: are you facing a defensively compact unit; what system is the other team playing; are team instructions to cut inside or back in the final third to create alternative attacking angles; do you only have one striker in the box thereby making a cross a high risk option and so forth.

What we mustn’t confuse however is the responsibilities of left or right sided midfielders/attackers with “wingers”. For example just because Eriksen may play on the left of a three behind the front man, or Chadli plays on the right of a three behind the front man, this does not mean that we will see either of these players bombing it down the wing aiming to cross from the by-line. That is not their job and therefore they are not by definition “playing on the wing”. They are as likely to cut inside, bring others in to play or attack themselves more centrally after linking with a lone front man.

Fans need to stop asking themselves “what’s Eriksen/Dembele/Paulinho (delete as appropriate) doing on the wing?”, because they are not on the wing. They are not Gareth Bale or Aaron Lennon in a 442 nor are they Tony Galvin or Peter Taylor, and if you don’t remember the latter two, they are not David Ginola either. Those players played in a way that not many people or teams do nowadays because that is the way that people used to play the game. The position is now practically defunct. Even Lamela is not a “winger” in that sense and has never played on the wing for his previous club(s) with the objective of providing crosses. Well not as far as I am aware anyway. And whilst Townsend may technically be an old school winger, you can see that even his style of wing play is being under-utilised in tactical formations and he is starting to change his game.

Which brings me to the issue of whether crosses are indeed the answer, especially if you only have Harry Kane in the centre. Crosses seem to be more impactful if you have two strikers playing as far as I can tell. That said there is nothing better in my mind than seeing someone get to the by-line and cut the ball back for someone to score (not necessarily a high cross as such) and I am sure someone like Soldado would have loved us to play like that at Spurs but we don’t and haven’t done for a while, well at least not since the season before Bale left (as he spent most of his last season playing everywhere but wide and scoring screamers).

No, it would appear to me that the old school winger is dead and there is no point bemoaning that fact. Football appears to have changed and when Eriksen is on the left of an attacking midfield three just remember – he isn’t on the wing.

Advertisements