Friday, 6 December 2013
Everyone wants Wingers!
I received this article about ten days ago and was about to post it up this time last week when news came through of Sean O'Driscoll's sacking. It didn't seem like the right time. However, having got through the weekend and the immense volume of tweets, forum posts and Facebook comments on Steve Cotterill's appointment, I've finally got around to re-reading it and thought, you know what, it's no less relevant now, so let's post it up for people to read.
So here you go - it's from Matt Franklin and I'm sure will resonate with more than a few other fans. What Cotterill decides to do with the team set-up will be interesting to say the least, and perhaps Matt may just get his wish.
“There may be no more exciting a goal than when a winger, who is hugging the touchline, receives a long diagonal ball from a midfielder, beats his full back on the outside, then whips in a fast paced cross for a striker to bullet head home.
You know the goal. The one where Brian Tinnion sprays it out to Scott Murray on the right wing. This type of goal has become rarer throughout the world, let alone at Ashton Gate.
So where have the wingers gone? Where are the Stuart Ripley’s and Jason Wilcox’s? Where are the Franz Carr’s and Ian Woan’s? How many times do you see on Match Of The Day teams set up in a 4-2-3-1or 4-3-3 formation without one natural winger? And since when did the possession statistic become more important than the corner count?
I read an interesting report from the Harvard University by Jan Vecer on the negative impact on scoring that crossing has. After analysing an entire season in England’s and Germany’s top division, he declares “Crossing from an open play is hugely inefficient, only 1 open cross in 4.87 is an accurate cross, and only 1 open cross out of 91.47 leads to a goal on average”. In the opening chapter of the absorbing book ‘The Numbers Game’ by Chris Anderson and David Sally, crosses from corners are dissected from all over Europe, with a damming conclusion -“Corners are next to worthless; given the risk of being caught on the counterattack, with your central defenders marooned in the opposition’s box, their value in terms of net goal difference is close to zero.” And in Rafa Benitez’s pre-season blog ‘Where are the wingers?’ the Spaniard explains “The classic quick and tricky winger used to come up against defenders who were less prepared than the modern defenders. Nowadays, the physical, technical and tactical preparation is much more comprehensive”.
Of course conclusions from these far from imply that the classic wing play of dribbling and ‘getting it in the mixer’ will quickly become a thing of the past but it does highlight how football has changed.
Even though Scott Wagstaff and Joe Bryan have given us some of our more entertaining passages of play this season (The Bristol Derby and Carlisle immediately spring to mind), there is still a general consensus that our team lacks width. However, while four midfielders that favour central positions lined up a couple of weeks ago at Prenton Park in the 1-1 draw at Tranmere - it was Brendon Moloney and Greg Cunningham getting up and down the flanks from their full back position, both getting to the by-line regularly, providing plenty of attacking threat.
If your midfield have the quality to keep possession, and your full backs have pace and the ability to get forward well, a narrow quartet in the middle of the park can overload the oppositions. On the flip side, long and frequent diagonal balls is a way of cutting down the amount of times attacking full backs will get forward - A tactic that Sean O’Driscoll implemented at times to suit a particular situation, not because he had run out of ideas.
I think the aerial game has changed things too. The majority of successful teams nowadays want to keep the ball on the floor with the emphasise on fluidity and keeping possession - this way of playing could isolate an out and out winger of old; and because a lot of width now comes from the full backs, the wider midfielders have more of a role defensively anyway.
But it is not just the lack of wingers that has changed attacking play. We have seen a lot of teams set up with just one centre forward, often due to most teams setting up in less rigid formations like they did, with a clear objective of dominating defensive and midfield areas. Attacking players have to be more versatile these days; no disrespect to these guys but it would be interesting to see title winning centre forwards such as Alan Smith and Lee Chapman in today’s modern game, where there is an ever increasing importance on a forwards movement.”
Whether or not Cotterill 're-introduces' wingers or not remains to be seen. What is clear is that Moloney and Cunningham offered good advanced width against Leyton Orient and it seemed to make a difference, perhaps creating additional space for Sam Baldock in the middle to have more of an impact than he often has done?
Will Cotterill provide the flair and excitement Matt was after, or will the situation we're in drive a more pragamatic, tighter approach to the middle of the pitch. Results may come with one method, but there's no doubt the majority of fans would love to see two nippy widemen bombing down the flanks...
My thanks to Matt - as it's his debut on the site please let him know what you think!
The Exiled Robin
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