Football often develops additional roles for players through constant progression in methods of play, putting increased significance on certain tactical styles. New footballing philosophies are created and developed to improve performance levels, and bring fresh ideas into the game. The basis in which players are instructed to be responsible for various duties within any one position is rapidly increasing. This can be seen in every position from goalkeeper through to striker. The ways in which these tactics are instructed upon a team will usually interlink with one another, thus providing team balance and fluidity.
Rampaging full-backs bombarding up and down the flanks has long been associated with the Brazilian National team. They have been at the forefront of benchmarking a full-backs attacking duties. Players such as Carlos Alberto, Roberto Carlos, Cafu, through to Maicon and Dani Alves. As the game has evolved many others have followed suit, and none more so than English Premier League teams. Teams have changed their midfield shape in recent times, increased emphasis has been placed on the role of attacking full-backs.
The traditional winger has lost its place in the modern game. Inside-forwards and attacking playmakers have been adopted, narrowing the forward line by cutting in from the wings. To ensure the weapon of width isn’t sacrificed, managers will ask full-backs to get forward and support the attack. Crucially, this allows teams to have two extra players in attack, and this has proved to be very successful. However, as this method of play requires commitment in numbers, it is generally adopted by teams with the ascendancy to attack.
A look at the table above shows how teams across Europe are exploiting the attacking talents of their full-backs. Leighton Baines has been well regarded on these shores for many years now, culminating in his recent command of the regular left-back spot for England. What people may be surprised to see, is that it is Baines who dominates the stats across the top European leagues for goals and assists from full-backs. Adding a total of 9 goals, by either assisting or scoring himself from August 2012 to 11th March 2013, Baines is contributing more to the cause than many strikers. These totals can be the difference for teams final standings in the league table.
Over recent years we have seen that goalkeepers have been given a new role under the name of ‘sweeper-keeper’. This focuses on the importance of a goalkeeper being able to use his feet as well as his hands. It allows teams to hold a higher defensive line, the keeper patrolling the penalty area looking to sweep up any loose balls in and around his box. Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was predominantly signed by AVB for this purpose. His introduction of this style allowed explosive defender Kyle Walker to get forward whenever possible. Had he followed this up with a top attacking left-back, Tottenham may have been more successful under his reign, and he may of still been in employment.
Manchester City are a fine example of the modern day use of full-backs. Manuel Pelligrini has enforced this upon his team tremendously this year, as recently as Sunday City scored from a Kolarov cut-back from the byline for Dzeko to slide home from six yards. As midfielders David Silva and Samir Nasri cut in from the flanks, overlapping full-backs Kolarov and Zabaleta allow the team to still utilise their powerful forwards in and around the box from the wings.
City are not the only Premier league team to adopt this philosophy. Everton built a solid team balance both home and away whilst also getting massive success from attacking through their full-backs. This season has been no different. In Leighton Baines’ absence, Bryan Oviedo stepped into the side and contributed with the only goal at Old Trafford in a recent victory for the toffees.
The no.10 role has been the major transformation in how most teams are set up. Many of Europe’s top teams have reverted from using two strikers, instead preferring one to drop into the ‘hole’, allowing easier link up play with the midfield. When this is adopted alongside wingers who play on the opposite flank to their preferred foot, play becomes very congested. Adding full-backs into play creates space and opportunities for teams.
Throughout football, new methods and philosophies are constantly being produced, and introduced into our wonderful game. This recent rise in emphasis upon attacking full-backs has clearly been successful for many teams. How teams will counter this threat remains to be seen but certainly for now it is adding entertainment value for spectators. The freedom in which teams are playing with has undoubtedly allowed creativity to blossom.