Armchair Tactician Old Fashioned Wing Play
By Simon Gallagher
Thursday 14 Jul 2011 09:20:00
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Tune into any television or radio commentary of Man Utd and you'll hear the commentators waxing lyrical about how Ryan Giggs is a proper “old fashioned winger”, getting to the byline and whipping the ball across. They'll usually go on to say how you just don't see his kind very often any more, or that he is a “dying breed,” and that much is true, which is why wingers can have devastating effect given the right circumstances. This is precisely why former no-hopers like Matt Jarvis at Wolves are able to get into the England squad pretty much out of nowhere on the back of half a season of impressive performances, and why Gareth Bale is suddenly being talked about as one of the world's most valuable players. Because, at the end of the day, as much as strikers are responsible for scoring the lion's share of goals, it is the supply line that matters most.

 

But the simple fact of the matter is, wing-play is no longer as fashionable as it once was- the rise of the Defensive Midfielder, and narrower continental formations like the diamond put paid to that. In addition, centre forwards are not the same breed of player that they used to be, so clubs will shell out ridiculous sums of money like £35m when one does come along. The problem for Liverpool is that they simply don't have an old fashioned winger in their ranks- meaning they have had to abandon their progressive brand of passing football in favour of getting Jamie Carragher to lump the ball forward aiming at Carroll in the centre forward position. And it's only a matter of time before the Kop gets on the team's back.

 

The other problem for Liverpool is that modern wingers have now evolved, and getting their hands on players to fill the wide berths to provide service to Andy Carroll will become increasingly difficult. Rather than Stanley Matthews types, we now see circumstances where traditional central midfielders like Steven Gerrard and our own Joey Barton are pushed out to the right or left of midfield, and told to distribute from there, without bombing up and down the wings like the wing wizards of the past. So much is at stake that wider midfielders cannot be afforded the non-tracking-back luxury that followed David Ginola around, and instead we now have players who will seamlessly track back into the hole created by overlapping full-backs, whose advances forward are far more of a rarity in most cases than a typical on-pitch sight.

 

There is definitely still a place for the winger, given the impact they have- look at Aaron Lennon, a player who is blessed with pace and skill, but who does not seem particularly blessed with other more simple skills, and games often change on the strength of his attacking play (just as it did when we played them). It is just a matter of re-adopting the old 442 system without the modern variances.

 

Despite my argument that wing-play is essentially dead, I strongly believe that Newcastle already have the capabilities within the squad to offer that style of play (albeit without a finished product player who can get on the end of crosses- though Best occasionally looks able, and Shola sometimes looks willing to try). The keys lie in the way we deploy Jonas Gutierrez and Hatem Ben Arfa next season, both of whom are blessed with enviable levels of skill, and the invaluable ability to go past men. Gutierrez may not always seem to have that final ball in his locker, but his career has proved he can cross (look at his Mallorca record for proof) and Ben Arfa delivers a ball very well. If we can get a centre-forward to replace Carroll, and can take advantage of Gutierrez and Ben Arfa in wide, advanced positions, we could re-establish a goal-scoring front line like the best under Kevin Keegan's regime.



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