Watching the Tottenham v Chelsea game at the weekend, it was striking how Antonio Conte’s game-plan was built around packing the central areas, as they were more or less playing with three defensive midfielders. This forced Tottenham to play out wide a lot more, where they had to rely on their full-backs, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier to provide the width.
As good as these players are, their delivery and attacking ability in forward positions was somewhat lacking, meaning that the big boys at the back for Chelsea were largely able to soak up whatever pressure was being thrown at them.
How different it might have been then, had Mauricio Pochettino been able to call upon a winger to play a little bit further up the pitch than those two were, thereby either exploiting the space in behind the Chelsea wing-backs, give better service to his fellow attackers, or beat a man with a piece of trickery.
How they fit in tactically
There seem to be two trends in the modern game that make the necessity of wingers all the more pressing. The 3-4-3 formation that has now seemingly come into fashion across the Premier League often uses wing-backs to get forward and provide the width in attacking areas.
It’s not just 3-4-3 where we see these players used in this fashion, with teams like Manchester United (who tend to play four at the back) also relying on their full-backs to get forward. This means though that there is often space in behind them for opposing teams to exploit, such is the need for them to get forward.
Using a winger could not only exploit this hole more directly but also nullify the full-back in an attacking sense.
Stretching the defensive line
We also see, especially when it comes to bigger teams taking on smaller sides (though we also saw it on Sunday from Chelsea), the tendency for teams to sit back, put men behind the ball and try and frustrate their stronger opponents. In order to create spaces against this massed defence, an attacking team should circulate the ball quickly from side to side, dragging their opponents out of shape.
By using a winger, you can use as great a width of the field as possible, taking the ball out of the congested centre and perhaps freeing up space for the attacking team. So many sides seem to be content with going through the centre, and trying to pick a way through via there, when there is often loads of space out wide to exploit.
Granted, full-backs are encouraged to come up and exploit this area, but their ability to provide quality in forward areas is not always the best (hence why they’re full backs and not wingers) and furthermore, they’re probably less likely to be able to provide a trick that beats a man.
Time and time again, we see players cutting back in field, rather than going on the outside of a defender, when the latter is much more preferable since that is where space is.
Bring back the wingers
Old fashioned wing play is no longer as popular as it once was, such is the preference for having loads of players in the centre of the park, so as to maintain possession of the ball.
However, for so many decades, the tactic of having a winger beat his opponent, get to the byline and pull it back to a teammate in the centre, was one that was widely used in football. Perhaps we shouldn’t jettison it just yet, since the idea of having an attacking player who can beat a man at speed is maybe one of the most important parts of attacking play.
In Spurs’ case, Pochettino may look towards Heung-Min Son and, when fit, Erik Lamela to offer his potent attack a further dimension when facing a compact defensive unit.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?