As a football fan, there is nothing I enjoy more in the game than watching a winger go past their full back and then deliver a menacing cross into the box. The Premier League has been blessed with some fantastic wingers or wide midfield players in it’s time, from Ryan Giggs to Gareth Bale, Marc Overmars to Arjen Robben and of course the incomparable Cristiano Ronaldo.
But in the past season, the winger as we know it, seems to have disappeared somewhat. There now seems to be more of a preference for the wide midfielder who cuts inside and shoots rather than the one who drives past the full back and crosses the ball in. Few teams employ what would be considered wingers at the very top level, Manchester United the exception. That is why I am somewhat excited by Man City’s potential signing of Jesus Navas, as I would love to see the traditional wide player return to the Premier League.
This season the responsibility for creating chances has fallen far more onto the head of players consider to be a “Number 10”, the diminutive, trick, skillful Juan Mata type player who operates in the hole behind the striker whilst the width of teams now tends to be provided far more by the full backs than wide midfielders.
This is demonstrated in the statistics for the leading assist makers of the 2012/2013. Of the top 10, only one of them is what you’d consider to be a traditional winger, Theo Walcott, and even he has spent some of his season playing through the middle for Arsenal. Lukas Podolski has also played out wide during the season, but again he is not what would be considered a winger in the traditional sense.
Of the top 10 assist providers, three of them are strikers, there is one central midfielder in Steven Gerrard and then 4 players who would be considered as a “number 10”, the top three assist providers would all be considered to be this type of player. It is not just in assists where you can see that the winger is becoming somewhat of a dying breed at the moment.
This is the top 10 list for the total number of chances created throughout the season. Top of the table is Leighton Baines, who created 116 chances for his team-mates. There is an even bigger dearth of wingers in this top 10, with Gareth Bale and Steven Pienaar the only players who have played in wide midfield on a consistent basis for their clubs this season.
The 2011/2012 season tells a similar tale to that of this season, of the top 10 assist makers in that season only three were wingers-Nani, Luis Antonio Valencia and Gareth Bale with a “number 10” again topping the list, that year it was David Silva.
You have to return to the 2010/2011 season to find the last season where the winger or wide midfielder was the main contributor in terms of creating chances for his team-mates.
As the table shows, the top chance-creator in the 2010/2011 season was Florent Malouda playing from the left hand side whilst Chris Brunt, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Nani were also in the top 10 for the number of chances created in that season, meaning that 50% of the top 10 were the more traditional type of wide player that now seems to be lacking. The assists chart for this season also highlights how it was the last vintage season for wingers in the Premier League, as Nani topped the list for number of assists whilst Brunt, Young and Andrey Arshavin also made the list.
The potential arrival of Jesus Navas, coupled with Wilfried Zaha joining up with Manchester United, may mean that this upcoming season will see the return to importance of the winger. I am one football fan who really hopes that is true.
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