The tactical side of football is always evolving, although it can be argued that such trends tend to be circular in nature. For example, it wasn’t too long ago that players like Lionel Messi and even Kevin De Bruyne (briefly) were being successfully deployed as so-called “false nines”, while Bayern’s Thomas Muller has also played such a role with distinction.

However, as teams have looked to deploy increasingly high and compact defensive blocks (which has optimised the space left in behind the defensive line), we’ve seen “traditional” strikers thrive once again.

These include Karim Benzema and current Barcelona forward Robert Lewandowski, while the incredibly efficient Erling Haaland plundered 52 goals in 53 appearances playing as a pure number nine in the 2022/23 campaign.

But will we see a similar resurgence when it comes to traditional wide players and wingers? Here’s our take at DFK!

Who are the Classic Wingers in Modern Football?

Ultimately, modern football isn’t blessed with a huge number of traditional wingers. PSG’s Ousmane Dembélé is one that stands out (as is Leon Bailey at Aston Villa), while the pacy Nigerian Samuel Chukwueze made his name on the right of Unai Emery’s structured 4-4-2 shape at Villareal.

Then there are pacy and direct runners like Jérémy Doku and Bukayo Saka, who both possess tremendous pace and are constantly looking to beat their opposing defender.

However, they also play as inverted wingers, which means that they more commonly look to drift infield onto their stronger foot and seek out shooting opportunities.

Why Traditional Wide Players Could Make a Return?

The emergence of inverted wingers and wide forwards coincided with the popularity of the false nine. After all, the latter would drop deep and drift into wide positions, creating space for the former to drive into.

Inverted wingers have also been used by teams to create central overloads and dominate possession high up the park. This can also help with effective counter pressing, as teams will subsequently boast a high concentration of players in close proximity immediately after possession has been lost.

However, the focus on creating increasingly high and compact defensive blocks hasn’t only created space in behind for sides to exploit. In fact, it has also created open spaces in the wide areas, especially in an age where full backs also invert during attacking phases or periods of extended possession.

This could encourage teams to deploy at least one traditional winger, who operates on the side of their strongest foot and predominantly looks to hold the width. This type of player can also provide an attacking outlet and crucial out ball at all times, while creating far greater balance in an age where so many teams look to pack the central areas of the pitch.

What are the Advantages of Playing With Traditional Wingers?

From a tactical perspective, there’s definitely an argument to be made for playing at least one traditional winger in specific games. This is also something that Pep Guardiola has done at times with Manchester City, while we recently saw Argentina wide player Alejandro Garnacho excel and provide a new attacking dimension for Manchester United on the right of a 4-2-3-1.

This offers several natural advantages too. For example, it arguably makes players more unpredictable, as they’re far more likely to attack the byline and defenders on the outside when playing on their natural side. This is in addition to cutting inside and inverting, which will remain a key tactical demand for the foreseeable future.

If an inverted winger is employed on the opposite flank, this also creates far greater balance during attacking phases of the game. Most importantly, it attracts defenders into wide areas and stretches opposing back lines, creating additional space for attacking midfielders to operate in.

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