Guide to Football
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It is important to use wide players in your team to effectively defend the flanks and to provide width in attack. The structure of your team on the flanks and the roles and duties used for your wide players should be well balanced and allow your team to carry out your desired tactical style effectively.

Choosing a suitable structure was discussed earlier in the Structuring Your Team guide. Balanced role and duty combinations are explained below, along with recommendations for each of the attacking styles detailed in the Tactical Styles guide.

1. Wide Partnerships

In a wide partnership two players, a wide defender and a wide attacker, work together to both defend their flank and contribute to attacking play from wide.

1.1. Balancing Wide Partnerships

There are two main considerations when choosing roles for a wide partnership that are well balanced and suitable for your tactical style. The first is how defensive and attacking responsibilities should be shared between the two players. The second is what the wide play of each player should be.

Sharing Responsibilities

A wide defender is not necessary a purely defensive player and a wide attacker is not necessarily a purely attacking player. These terms simply relate to each player's relative general position as determined by your formation. Instead, defensive and attacking responsibilities should be shared between the two players. Each player will, to a varying extent depending on his role and duty, both stay deeper to provide defensive cover and attacking support for his partner, and move into more advanced positions on and off the ball to provide an attacking threat.

To achieve a balanced partnership it is important to avoid using two particularly attacking roles as this would leave too much space behind both players for the opposition to exploit. Similarly, using two more defensive roles should be avoided as this would cause the partnership to fail to provide effective wide options during attacks.

However, it would also be ineffective to have two players who both provide some defensive and attacking support without overly contributing in either area. This differs to the situation with lone wide players where there would be two extra players in the central positions who can add to the defensive and attacking support on the flanks.

Furthermore, it is generally inadvisable to assign a particularly defensive role to the wide defender and a particularly attacking role to the wide attacker, since this would result in the wide defender failing to effectively link up with and support the wide attacker. However, you may wish to make an exception in certain circumstances. This will be discussed below.

Therefore, to balance your wide partnerships you will need to decide which player on each flank should be more attacking and which should be more conservative. This choice depends on your tactical style.

Wide Play

When off the ball, a wide player can either stay wider and provide an attacking outlet for your central players, or sit narrower where he can link up with and support your central players. When on the ball, he can either take the ball down the flank from where he can deliver crosses or passes from wide, or take it inside from where he can attempt creative passes, runs at the defence or shots at goal.

For wide attackers, the wide play of each role is as follows:

  • Winger - stays close to the touchline, takes the ball down the flank close to the touchline.
  • Defensive Winger, Wide Midfielder - stays wide, takes the ball down the flank.
  • Wide Target Man - stays wide, holds up the ball rather than taking it on.
  • Raumdeuter - sits narrower (and roams into available space), takes the ball down the flank.
  • Advanced Playmaker and Inside Forward - stays wide, takes the ball inside.
  • Wide Playmaker - sits narrower (and roams into available space), takes the ball inside.

For wide defenders, the wide play of each role is as follows:

  • Complete Wing Back - stays close to the touchline (and roams into available space), takes the ball down the flank.
  • Full Back - stays wide, takes the ball down the flank.
  • Wing Back - stays wide, takes the ball down the flank (takes the ball close to the touchline with an attack duty).
  • Limited Full Back - stays wide, opts to pass or clear rather than taking the ball on.
  • Inverted Wing Back - sits narrower (and roams into available space), takes the ball inside.

Generally, any wide play combination in a partnership can be well balanced, unless both players sit narrower or take the ball inside. The main issue is instead ensuring that the wide play of the partnership is suitable for your tactical style.

1.2. Role Combinations

Listed below are suggested role combinations that provide a good balance according to the above analysis. For each combination advice is given on which tactical styles the combination is suitable for.

You may wish to use a different combination on each flank. This can create more varied and effective attacking play and make it easier to balance the roles of your wide players with those of your central midfielders, as will be discussed in more detail later.

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Support) - Wide Midfielder (M(L/R) Attack) / Winger (M(L/R)/AM(L/R) Attack) - The wide attacker will be the main attacking contributor. He will get forward to receive the ball in more advanced positions, from where he will make crosses. With the Wide Midfielder role he will also attempt more creative, risky passes from wide and make crosses more occasionally. With the Winger role he will stay closer to the touchline, make more runs on the ball and attempt to get to the byline before crossing. The wide defender will provide defensive cover and attacking support, while he will also occasionally make crosses from deep.

Use in Tactical Styles - With the Winger role in particular this combination is a natural choice for the Attacking The Flanks style as the wide attacker will provide an attacking threat in advanced wide areas. It is also a good option for the Counter Attacking style as the wide defender will provide defensive security while the wide attacker can penetrate the opposition on the break. It can be a useful option for the Playing To A Target Man style since the wide defender will make early crosses while crosses will also be provided by the wide attacker. With the Wide Midfielder role it can also be a useful option for the Passing Through The Defence style as the wide attacker will help to stretch play and will contribute with creative passes, in addition to providing an alternative threat by making crosses.

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Support) - Wide Target Man (AM(L/R) Attack) - The wide attacker will be the main attacking contributor. He will get forward to act as an outlet in advanced positions for direct passes from deep, and will hold up the ball to allow teammates to get forward. The wide defender will behave as in the above combination. There will be less of a direct attacking threat from your wide players than would be the case with most other wide partnerships as neither player will regularly run with the ball or attempt creative passes.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination is a natural choice for the Playing To a Target Man style if a strong wide attacker is used. Early crosses from the wide defender will be useful if a strong central attacker is used as well. It is also a good option for the Counter Attacking style, allowing your team to get the ball forward quickly after possession is won, even if a counter attacking opportunity is not clearly available. It can be a useful option for the Running At The Defence style to help get the ball forward quickly to central attackers via the wide attacker.

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Support) - Inside Forward (AM(L/R) Attack) - The wide attacker will be the main attacking contributor. He will get forward to receive the ball in more advanced positions, from where he will take it inside and run at the opposition. The wide defender will behave as in the above two combinations and provide a wide option when his partner moves inside.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination is a natural choice for the Running At The Defence style. The wide attacker will help to stretch play and will also directly contribute to your team's attempts to run at the centre of the opposition defence. It is also a good option for the Counter Attacking style. The wide defender provides defensive security while the wide attacker can penetrate the opposition on the break. It can be a useful option for the Playing To A Target Man style since the wide defender will make early crosses while the wide attacker will provide an alternative threat.

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Support) - Raumdeuter (AM(L/R) Attack) - The wide attacker will be the main attacking contributor. He will get forward and move into available space in an attempt to receive the ball in dangerous positions closer to the centre, from where he will make simple passes or take shots at goal. The wide defender will behave as in the above combination. There will be less of a direct attacking threat from your wide players than would be the case with most other wide partnerships as neither player will regularly run with the ball or attempt creative passes.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination can be a useful option for the Passing Through The Defence and Running At The Defence styles as the wide attacker will provide an effective passing option for your central attackers as they attempt to play through the opposition. It can also be a useful option for the Playing To A Target Man style as the wide attacker will provide good attacking support for a strong central attacker, albeit from a fairly wide position, while the wide defender will make early crosses.

  • Inverted Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support) - Wide Midfielder (M(L/R) Attack) / Winger (M(L/R)/AM(L/R) Attack) - The wide attacker will be the main attacking contributor and behave as in the first combination. The wide defender will provide defensive cover and attacking support, but sit narrower and roam inside to help create space for himself, the wide attacker and other teammates. When he receives the ball he will take it into central midfield, again helping to create space for the wide attacker and others, from where he will attempt creative passes.

Use in Tactical Styles - With the Winger role in particular this combination is a good option for the Attacking The Flanks style as the wide attacker will provide an attacking threat in advanced wide areas. With the Wide Midfielder role it is also a good option for the Passing Through The Defence style since the wide attacker will help to stretch play and both wide players will contribute with creative passes, while the wide attacker will provide an alternative threat by making crosses. It can be a useful option for the Counter Attacking style since both wide players will contribute to attacks on the break, but the wide defender will provide less defensive security due to his roaming and cutting inside.

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Attack) / Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) / Complete Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) - Wide Midfielder (M(L/R) Defend/Support) - The wide defender will be the main attacking contributor. He will get forward and overlap the wide attacker to receive the ball in more advanced positions, from where he will make crosses. With the Wing Back role and an attack duty, and with the Complete Wing Back role, he will make more runs on the ball and attempt to get to the byline before crossing, while with the Complete Wing Back role he will also roam into space in an attempt to receive the ball in more dangerous areas. With the Wing Back role and a support duty he will only make more occasional crosses. The wide attacker will stay slightly deeper when off the ball to allow his partner to overlap, providing him with defensive cover and attacking support, and making occasional crosses. With a defend duty he will concentrate more on holding his defensive position than providing attacking support.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination is a good option for the Passing Through The Defence and Running At The Defence styles as the wide attacker will stay deep to support the central attackers while the overlapping wide defender in particular will help to stretch play and provide an alternative threat. It can be a useful option for the Playing To A Target Man style since both wide players will provide crosses, with many being from deeper positions (depending on the roles used for the wide defender).

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Attack) / Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) / Complete Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) - Winger (M(L/R)/AM(L/R) Support) / Defensive Winger (M(L/R) Defend/Support) - Attacking responsibilities will be shared more between the two wide players, but there will be slightly less defensive security on the flanks. The wide defender will behave as in the above combination. The wide attacker will also behave similarly when off the ball to how he would in the above combination. When he receives the ball though, he will make runs into more advanced positions while his partner provides attacking support and limited defensive cover. With the Winger role he will stay closer to the touchline and attempt to get to the byline before crossing. With the Defensive Winger role he will be more likely to pass inside to a central teammate or his wide partner.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination is a good option for the Attacking The Flanks style as both wide players will provide an attacking threat in advanced wide areas. It is also a good option for the Passing Through The Defence style as the wide attacker will stay deep to support the central attackers while the overlapping wide defender in particular will help to stretch play. Both wide players will also provide an alternative threat. It can be a useful option for the Playing To A Target Man style since both wide players will provide crosses, with some being from deeper positions (depending on the roles used).

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Attack) / Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) / Complete Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) - Wide Target Man (AM(L/R) Support) - The wide defender will be the main attacking contributor and behave as in the above two combinations. The wide attacker will act as an outlet for direct passes from deep and hold up the ball to allow the wide defender and other teammates to get forward, and will also make occasional crosses. He will concentrate more on holding his defensive position than providing attacking support.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination is a natural choice for the Playing To A Target Man style if a strong wide attacker is used. Crosses from the wide defender will be useful if a strong central attacker is used as well. It can be a useful option for the Running At The Defence style to help get the ball forward quickly to central attackers via the wide attacker, while the wide defender will provide an alternative threat.

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Attack) / Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) / Complete Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) - Wide Playmaker (M(L/R) Support/Attack) / Inside Forward (M(L/R)/AM(L/R) Support) / Advanced Playmaker (AM(L/R) Support/Attack) - The wide defender will be the main attacking contributor and behave as in the above three combinations. The wide attacker will stay slightly deeper when off the ball to allow his partner to overlap, providing defensive cover and attacking support. When he receives the ball he will take it inside and attempt creative passes, while his partner will provide a wide option. With the Wide Playmaker role he will sit narrower and roam inside to create space for himself when off the ball, and take the ball into central midfield when he receives it. With the Advanced Playmaker role he will take the ball into central attacking midfield. With an attack duty, and also with the Inside Forward role with a support duty, he will make more runs on the ball at the opposition, while his partner will provide a wide option and limited defensive cover. There will therefore be slightly less defensive security on the flanks.

Use in Tactical Styles - This combination is a natural choice for the Attacking With Creative Wingers style, since the wide attackers will take the ball inside and attempt creative passes. With an attack duty or the Inside Forward role for the wide attacker it can also be a useful option for the Running At The Defence style. The wide attacker will help to stretch play and will also directly contribute to your team's attempts to run at the centre of the opposition defence, while he will provide an alternative threat by attempting creative passes.

1.3. Defend Duties for Wide Defenders

Wide defender roles with defend duties are not included in the combinations suggested above. This is because a player with such a role would not tend to provide sufficient support to a wide attacker with an attacking role and duty, while if the wide attacker had a more conservative role and duty then there could be a lack of attacking threat on the flank.

However, you may want to give a wide defender a defend duty in certain circumstances; for example:

  • if you want your team to play very defensively against much stronger opposition,
  • if you want to contain a particularly dangerous opposition wide player or partnership, or
  • if you have a wide defender with particularly poor speed or general on the ball ability.

Defend duties are available for the following roles:

  • Full Back
  • Wing Back
  • Limited Full Back - this is for use with wide defenders who have particularly poor on the ball ability to reduce the chances of them giving the ball away. It is similar to the Limited Defender central defender role and is not suitable if you want your defenders to make shorter passes.

2. Lone Wide Players

A lone wide player will need to contribute to both defensive and attacking play without the help of a wide partner. He will need to stay deep enough to defend the flanks effectively and get forward enough to provide a useful wide option when your team is attacking.

The full extent of his required defensive and attacking responsibilities depends on the level of support provided by the central players behind and ahead of him. Generally though, a lone wide player in the wide midfield position with an attack duty, or in the wide forward position with any duty, will be too attacking. A lone wide player in the full back or wing back positions with a defend duty will be too defensive.

The Full Back role with a support duty is not usually a good option since a lone wide player in this role will not make sufficient forward runs off the ball.

The Inverted Wing Back and Wide Playmaker roles are unsuitable since a lone wide player with either of these roles will sit narrower and take the ball inside. This will prevent him from offering an effective wide option and can cause the flanks to be poorly protected if possession is lost.

The suitable roles are therefore restricted to the following:

  • Full Back (D(L/R) Attack) - This role will tend to make crosses from fairly deep and will get forward when off the ball to provide attacking support.
  • Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) - With a support duty this role will make crosses occasionally and from fairly deep and will get forward when off the ball to provide attacking support. With an attack duty it will provide a more direct attacking threat by making more runs on the ball and providing crosses more often and from the byline, and so it is advisable to use three or more players in defensive midfield and central defence to provide sufficient cover.
  • Complete Wing Back (D(L/R)/WB(L/R) Support/Attack) - This role will provide a direct attacking threat by making runs on the ball and crossing from the byline. It will also get forward and roam into available space when off the ball to provide a better attacking option. It is advisable to use three or more players in defensive midfield and central defence to provide sufficient cover.
  • Wide Midfielder (M(L/R) Defend/Support) - With a defend duty this role will make crosses occasionally and from deep but will provide little attacking support when off the ball, remaining in its defensive position. With a support duty it will provide more attacking support when off the ball but still make crosses occasionally and from fairly deep. A defend duty is advisable if less than four players are used in defensive midfield and central defence, and a support duty if there are four or more.
  • Winger (M(L/R) Support) - This role will provide a direct attacking threat by making runs on the ball, which can lead to crosses from fairly advanced positions, but when off the ball it will tend to stay fairly deep. It is advisable to only use this role if there are four or more players in defensive midfield and central defence.
  • Defensive Winger (M(L/R) Defend/Support) - With a defend duty this role will provide little attacking support when off the ball, remaining in its defensive position. However, it will provide a direct attacking threat by making runs on the ball, which can lead to crosses from fairly advanced positions. However, it will be less reliant on crosses than the Winger role, instead being more likely to look for a passing option. With a support duty it will play similarly, but will provide more attacking support when off the ball. A defend duty is advisable if less than four players are used in defensive midfield and central defence, and a support duty if there are four or more.

Details of wide play for each of these roles was given above when discussing wide partnerships. In particular, the Complete Wing Back and Winger roles will play wider than the others when off the ball, and the Wing Back (with an attack duty) and Winger roles will play wider than the others when on the ball.

2.1. Use in Tactical Styles

For tactical styles that play early crosses to a strong central attacker, such as the Playing To A Target Man style, roles that make crosses from deep or fairly deep would be beneficial.

For more cautious styles, such as the Counter Attacking style, roles that take a fairly careful approach by making fewer runs on the ball are advisable. Such roles will provide better defensive security, but you will need to ensure that your team is set up to effectively attack through your central players. If you want your team to counter attack down the flanks then wide partnerships are recommended instead. Alternatively, you may want to forgo an element of defensive security on the flanks by using more attacking roles for your lone wide players, preferably in combination with a central defensive trio where the off-centre central defenders can help to protect the wide areas.

For styles that tend to use central attackers to play through the opposition, such as the Passing Through The Defence and Running At The Defence styles, wide players can provide a useful option to help stretch play and destabilise the opposition defence. Therefore, roles that provide a direct attacking threat can be useful. However, using wide partnerships can be a more effective way to achieve this.

3. Balancing With Central Midfield

When choosing roles for your wide players it is important to also consider the roles of your central midfielders in order to keep your overall tactic well balanced.

When using a more attacking wide defender or lone wide player, such as a Full Back with an attack duty, or a Wing Back, Inverted Wing Back or Complete Wing Back with a support or attack duty, your team can be left defensively vulnerable when he moves forward. Therefore, it can be a good idea to only use such a player on one flank, with a more conservative player on the other side. By doing this you can then position your holding midfielder off-centre and closest to the side of the more attacking player to provide defensive cover. Using different roles on each side can have the added benefit of creating more varied and effective attacking play. If you are using wide partnerships then this will also involve using different roles for your wide attackers so as to keep the partnerships balanced.

A similarly positive effect on attacking play can be achieved by positioning a more attacking central midfield runner off-centre on the opposite side to your more attacking wide attacker or lone wide player.

Another important point to consider is that it is inadvisable to use a creative wide player, such as an Inverted Wing Back, Wide Playmaker or Advanced Playmaker, or an Inside Forward with a support duty, if he will take the ball into the territory of a central midfield creator. Again, positioning such a central midfield player off-centre on the opposite side to the creative wide player can resolve this issue. Alternatively, you may want to position the central midfield creator in a deeper or more advanced position by swapping his position with that of a central midfield runner.

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