Managers Rafa Benitez and Sir Alex Ferguson have recently deployed players in the wide positions for more than just the capability to take people on.
Before Liverpool’s recent goalscoring run, the sight of Dirk Kuyt on the team sheet on the right of midfield would usually have been proceeded by more than a groan or two. Thought not to be quite dynamic enough to be a winger and, if you ask the wrong people, not quite good enough to be a striker. But Liverpool’s goalscoring run has owed itself much to Benitez finding the balance between defence and attack, which Kuyt is an integral part of.
“I do not think people realise how important it is to keep the balance [between defence and attack],” says Rafa Benitez. “Because we are organised some people say we are not an attacking team. It’s so clear we are an attacking team and a very good attacking team. It means the team have a very good offensive mentality and we still keep the balance and defend well. That is important for winning.”
Benitez’s Liverpool is all about controlling space with the ball, that means having all players who are capable of creating chances and off the ball, in the form of systemised pressing. Kuyt’s willingness to run allows them to do that.
For Manchester United, Wayne Rooney has played on the left to nullify opponents attacks and give greater protection to the full back. When Lennon was coming out on top in his battle with Evra, Ferguson put Rooney back into midfield and his work-rate pinned the Tottenham winger back. Park Ji Sung has played out wide all season obviously less for his dynamism and more for his industry which in theory should bring more rewards.
Maybe none of these players are defensive wingers as such but increasingly both managers have stuck someone out wide for more than just their attacking threat. A less attack minded winger could be deployed to cater for specialists and individuals therefore allowing others to play with greater freedom (i.e. Ronaldo), a means for balancing the side or to give more protection.
A dynamic winger would be best to control the space in the wide areas but that may not be easy said as done. Ronaldo’s unwillingness to drop back with much urgency meant Ferguson had to find another way. While Liverpool tried to sign Quaresma but the Portuguese star opted not to join as Benitez wanted to instill a greater focus on his defensive game.
Former Ecuador manager Luis Fernando Suarez argues the physical development of the game and the packing of central midfield means that effective wing play could be the key. But the greater search for controlling space means that even his go-to place is becoming just a slight more complicated.