Inverted Wingers

If you ask me, there isn’t much more exciting than seeing a rapid winger driving at the full back, cutting inside and being a threat to goal. The speed, power and trickery that these players possess, especially at the top level, is incredible. It’s not just the goal threat that they have, it’s the ability to draw fouls, creating dead ball opportunities for the team.

It makes me wonder how many goals get scored from the winger winning a free kick in a dangerous area, or a corner?

What they bring to a team is huge. The goal scoring threat, the opportunity to counter and assist, and that dangerous out ball. And nowadays, in quite a lot of cases, the wide players are actually the clubs highest scorers.

So what makes the very best so good?
Firstly is their ability to be direct. Their first thought is to receive the ball, look up and see if they can attack the full back. The direct approach is something defenders hate, and players like Salah, Rashford, Mane and Sterling know exactly that. If you’ve got an explosive winger running at you, dropping their shoulder with plenty of skills in their repertoire, then it’s not going to be a pleasurable experience.

The wingers get the ball and drive, committing the defender, forcing them to make a decision. Defenders will find it much harder to jockey or force the player away from goal if they have to make a decision on whether to tackle or stand up in a short space of time.

If you take a look at these players, Mbappe springs to mind, their ability to be so effective comes from the fact that they drive forward with intensity and purpose, forcing the full back to feel uncomfortable.

Spurs Winger Son Heung-Min is in the form of his life.

Having this direct play is important, but the control on the ball is vital. Quick step-overs, a flip flap, or drop of the shoulder while keeping the ball under control is key. We can have pace and a direct style of play, but with no control it can be clumsy. They get on the ball, drive at their opponent and then cut inside to become a threat to goal.

Cutting inside is dangerous for the opposition, especially near their own goal. The full back wants to force the winger wide, to the edge of the pitch and away from trouble but if they are being attacked with speed, control, and skill, then it can be a tricky situation.

When the wingers get in these positions then there has to be an end product, shots on target or chances
Clinical Mo Salah
One of the best for this is Mohammed Salah, possessing the ability to look up and play a one two creating chances for himself or others. When he gets into these goal scoring positions he is clinical, ruthlessly putting the ball in the corner of the goal away from the keeper.

They make it look easy, but it’s not. Inverted wingers can finish, not just with power on the laces, but with calm controlled finishes in the box.

From the table below we can see that four of the top ten goal scorers in the league this season are what we’d class as an inverted winger. Salah, Son Heung-Min, Rashford and Zaha are all becoming regular, if not prolific scorers, and that’s even without Mane or Sterling on the list. Players who I expect to pick up plenty of goals by the end of the year.

Premier League Top Scorers as of 13/1/2021
Premier League Top Scorers (21/1/2021). Photo credit

It just shows that the role of a winger has changed hugely. It used to be that their primary function was to get crosses in the box for their forwards. Now it’s about becoming much more of a goal threat by getting into the penalty area more and looking to get on the score sheet.

So if you’re an inverted winger make sure to receive the ball and be direct, running at the opponent with the ball at you’re feet. Be direct, and also be direct if you don’t have the ball at your feet.

Come short every now and again to get the full back to follow you, then spin in behind into the space, being a threat to the oppositions goal by running into the area that the full back has vacated by following you. Midfielders with the technique to play a driven ball over the top, into your path, will love this, giving you the opportunity to bear down on the goal.

Then when the ball is in the final third these top players have goals on their mind, making runs into the area, following in on shots and being ready to pounce on crosses into the box.

The role of the winger is changing, but it is an exciting and exhilarating position to play in. Make it your own like these top players by having fun, being direct, and getting in on the goalscoring action.