Role of the Midfield Winger
Many wingers think their sole responsibility is to run up and down the field, take throw-ins, corner kicks and be fast. However, there is more to being a midfield winger than this. Depending on the formation your team plays you will have different duties.
4-4-2: in this formation the wingers’ main offensive responsibility is to provide through-balls to the forwards, cross the ball into the 18 yard box when in the attacking third of the field, attack defenders with the ball and a lot of runs off the ball to receive passes from your teammates, specifically center midfielders. There is always a defensive responsibility where the winger will have to guard the opposing teams winger. This means running all the way up the field and back to cover.
3-5-2: remember in this formation the winger has to do the most running of any position on the field. The winger always has offensive and defensive responsibilities. However, in a 3-5-2 formation the winger must cover a distance greater than most other formations. Since there are only three defenders it then becomes the wingers responsibility to cover the defensive wing. Therefore, there is a tremendous amount of running involved. The winger must come all the way back to the 18 yard box if necessary yet but ready to run on the counter offensive. Similarly to the 4-4-2 if you have the opportunity to cross the ball into the 18 yard box when in the attacking third of the field or attack defenders with the ball this should be taken advantage of.
Crosses: some coaches like the winger to attack defenders with their use of speed, dribbling with the ball and going forward with the ball. Once you get into the attacking third of the field you are more or less free to swing the ball into the 18 yard box or cross it in. The cross should delivered with power and speed. It should not be crossed with the arc of a rainbow. The reason for this is the forward on the receiving end will not be able to put any power behind a header or power on another ball for that matter. Also, note whether your coach wants an in-swing or out-swinger cross. Both of these can be very dangerous when delivered effectively.
The most famous soccer player in the world is David Beckham. Not only is Beckham famous for the marketing image he has created but for his brilliance on the field. As a winger Beckham delivers dangerous crosses throughout a game. Though Beckham is an older player and there much younger and faster wingers, the quality of the passes he makes are dangerous enough to expose any defense in the world.
Common mistakes of not crossing the ball in: sometimes wingers like to hold onto the ball too long or make unnecessary extra dribbles. Even if you are successful at beating your defender there are a number of scenarios to consider. You have ten other teammates on the field, specifically two strikers in the 18 yard box (provided you are playing a standard 4-4-2 formation). Your strikers will be switching, running and making every effort to lose their defender so they can make contact with a cross you provide. However, if you do not provide this cross right away, not only will the forward be unable to make contact with the ball with speed and power but he/she be much better guarded by the defender. In essence a great opportunity will be lost. As winger, when the opportunity arises make that cross into the 18 yard box for your strikers to head or kick into the net. Take advantage of the scoring opportunity by crossing the ball right away.
Running at defenders: Ryan Giggs is a great example of winger who attacks defenders in a full out sprint while dribbling the ball. This style of play is most effective when a winger has the speed to beat defenders. If the defender is quicker and will win more of the sprints than perhaps a tactical change will need to be made in order to break down that defense.
There are many different formations and styles of play that coaches like to use. What becomes evident is wingers need to be fast with the ball at their feet. In other words quick, but they also need to be fast while dribbling the ball in a full out sprint. Wingers need to be able to provide quality distribution through precision passing, through-balls to forwards and dangerous crosses when the opportunity arises. Some coaches prefer a winger that constantly attacks defenders with their speed such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Other coaches prefer a winger that specializes in the quality of crosses, take David Beckham as an example.
What formations and styles of play do you think are most effective for wingers? As always, your comments and feedback are appreciated.