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Long seen as a position no one wanted to play, wing-backs are becoming increasingly important in the modern game. Wing-backs have to attack and defend, which means they are often the players who make a difference for their team. We take a closer look.
A position where one doesn't have the best technique, but can run for ages. A bit of a bully-boy, who likes to lecture his team members. Often, these characteristics were stereotypes of the wing-backs (left and right fullbacks) on the team. Let's be honest, it's not the position that young players dreamed of, and was long summed up in knowing how to "defend and run fast".
But in more recent years and with the development of new football tactics, wing-backs play a much more expanded role. At the highest levels, wing-backs are sometimes even the best players on their teams, who have great ability to dribble the ball as well as great vision (of play), worthy of the #10's of old. So while it's imperative that they know how to defend well, these days it's hard to imagine a team with pistons on the side who are unable to cross and threaten the opposing goal.
The modern winger must be fast. Their ability to outflank opponents will depend on their peak speed. But without a good ability to centre (cross) the ball, outflanking won't do much good. This is why wing-backs must also have excellent technical ability. Be sure to regularly work on this aspect of your game, which can make a big difference for your team. Liverpool under Kloop would not have had as much success last year without the excellent work by Robertson and Alexander-Arnold.
Good wing-backs are also able to position themselves correctly relative to the wingers in front of them. The latter are increasing "wrong footed", having the tendency to cut in and speed towards the goal with the ball. A good wing-back can then take advantage of the space that's been freed up on the sides. Making use of these lanes effectively requires good timing and a good read of the game. Repeated practice of these tactical schemas during training will help you improve this aspect of your game; you can also benefit from observing top players at this position in matches on the TV and increase your understanding on your own. If Marcelo is often able to score and penetrate the final third, it's in large part due to getting the timing right (along with exceptional technical abilities, of course).
Knowing how to attack is important. But being able to defend well is at least as important. To perform at an expected level in both these areas, a wing-back must be in top physical condition and have outstanding cardio capabilities. Otherwise, it will prove impossible to sprint up the field and then back as required by the position.
Wing-backs must also be able to position themselves correctly relative to the centre full-back, providing support on the sides. During defence stages, when the opposing team has the ball, they must provide coverage to protect their goal and prevent the opposing #9 or winger from finding open space ahead. And when their team has the ball, they must also make themselves available and help move the ball up the field. Whether it's staying close to the centre full-back or #6, supporting the winger, attacking the space from deep, etc., wing-backs have many options open to them.
In short, the evolution of the wing-back position over time means that to perform well at that position you must be a well rounded player and have both defensive and attacking abilities. It's a big challenge!