On the first Monday Night Football of the season, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher had a very interesting discussion on using full-backs as wing-backs. Neville argued the fitness aspect is completely different playing at wing-back rather than full-back, whereas Carragher argued the modern full-back has enough attacking intent to fit into the role nicely.
Oddly enough, in different ways, they are both right.
In the 3-5-2 system that they are discussing, wing-backs have different expectations depending on the score and the opposition. In a game they think they will win comfortably, the wing-backs will join in at pretty much any attacking opportunity and neglect part of their defending duty. Against a stronger team or a game they are winning, they might sit slightly further back in a more traditional full-back role and whilst they will still get forward, they may cross from deep so not to compromise their defensive positioning.
Taking Neville’s point, you do need that extra fitness to fill the role. It would be incredibly taxing for a player to track all the way up the field and back, regardless of where they used to play it’s an extra effort than they would be used to. A former full-back wouldn’t have ran up to join his winger at each attack and vice-versa, an ex-winger wouldn’t always track all the way back.
The best of full-backs, players like Philipp Lahm would never commit to every attack and often would simply jog up the field to add an extra option. That’s different to what would be expected of a wing-back, who would need to be in an advanced position quickly to help add more width to the side.
However, taking Carragher’s point, a lot more modern full-backs get forward with alarming consistency. Look at players like Marcelo, Dani Alves and David Alaba, players regularly found in those attacking areas to cross the ball, go past their winger or even score the odd goal.
It’s becoming much more common to see them like that, despite their obvious defensive issues due to the space they leave, but that would be covered by a defender in the 3-5-2 formation. The best example of a player with all the right characteristics is Serge Aurier, ability to get back and forth without being a liability at either end.
The new in-vogue formation for the Premier League will expand the tactical talk over the next few months which will be entertaining but it’s always good to see something different. Whilst it can always switch to 4-3-3 in a pinch, it’s interesting to see managers playing to their players strengths instead of what they feel works best.
In the case of the full-backs and wing-backs, you will need that extra fitness but many will be at least a little adjusted due to the new role of full-backs in the modern game. What will be more interesting is whether the formation will be a success, with clubs from each end of the table employing it and whether some will keep it for the future.