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The K League Coach: Round 3

The K League Coach Analysis Round 3: Inverted Wingers
Having already looked at zonal versus man marking, communication breakdowns in defence in previous weeks, for round three of the 2018 K League 1 season, the K League United coach takes a look at the other end of the pitch. Gangwon FC, Gyeongnam FC and Ulsan Hyundai all come under the microscope this week for the KLU coach's analysis on the inverted winger.

(Image via Gangwon FC)

Inverted Wingers

Round three saw Gangwon, Gyeongnam and Ulsan each use one of their international players as an inverted left winger The most well known use of the inverted wingers is Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, placing Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery on the wings, with both players stronger foot leading them to cut inside and drive at defences. Robben mastered cutting across the box and striking into the far corner and despite often seeing it coming, opponents couldn’t do much about it. Playing a right winger who prefers to use their left foot, and vice-a-versa, posses several questions of the opposition and creates overloads in the final third. The winger will be encouraged to cut inside and as full-backs are dragged narrow, a channel opens for the attacking team to push their full-back forward and overlap. It also gives the winger chance to link up with the striker in tight dangerous areas around the box.

Gangwon FC

Coming in from the left onto his stronger foot made this an easier finish for Diego

Diego was employed on the left-hand side and was always looking for opportunities to come inside. Using his pace and power he was a handful for the Sangju Sangmu defence. More used to playing as a target striker, Diego perhaps lacks delicate technique when carrying the ball but showed his instinct for goal-scoring when coming in to attack a cross from the right-hand side.

When playing as an inverted winger it gives the player an advantage when attacking a cross as they will try and strike the ball using their “front foot”, the one nearest the crosser. This allows them to get in front of defenders and also set their balance easier. Diego's striker instincts were on display as he arrived in the box from a wide area and struck home for his second of the game. Diego also helped Gangwon in the other direction, offering a physical presence defending the left flank.

Sangju try and force Diego onto his left foot. The Brazilian struggled with the more intricate play when crowded out.

Gyeongnam FC

Out of the three teams, Gyeongnam used the new space out wide to push their full-backs forward best.

Gyeongnam also pushed a player who is more used to playing as a striker out to the left, Brazilian Negueba. Though played in a similar role as Diego, Negueba offers something very different to his Brazilian compatriot at Gangwon. Negueba is much more comfortable dribbling with the ball and able to turn in both directions and has a decent array of tricks.

His goal came from driving in towards goal and some quick interplay with Marcao. Though Negueba offers a more varied threat from out left than Diego, it’s also important to note that Negueba wasn’t as effective when defending. In the 75th minute Negueba fell asleep, forgetting to track the run of his man, and was lucky to see them screw their shot wide as he was scrambling to recover.

Ulsan Hyundai

An early strike from Orsic sailed wide.

The third application of an inverted winger came during the Ulsan Hyundai versus Jeju United game, with Croatian Orsic being played wide left for Ulsan. Very early in the game, the plan to get Orsic cutting in to shoot from distance was evident; in the first minute he curled a shot wide of the far post from the corner of the box. However, unlike Diego and Negueba, Orsic wasn’t to get on the scoresheet and was actually rather quiet. A glimpse of his ability came in the first half when he cut across defenders and tried to slip a defence-splitting pass onto the forward's run, but maybe lacking in pace and power to really drive at and past players makes this a difficult role for Orsic. His vision and touch on the ball are certainly valuable, but perhaps better suited to playing in a more traditional number 10 role.

Moving forward

Opposition scouts will surely have noted this approaches and will be preparing ways to deal with the threat. One option is to try and force the player wide rather than driving inside, hoping they struggle to shoot or deliver crosses on their weaker foot. To go with this some coaches have tried to respond by playing inverted full-backs, so as the winger cuts across the defender they are now attacking the defender's strong side. However, this has implications for the teams attack, having a “wrong” footed full-back going forward, something the coach may feel is too much of a sacrifice. Another approach is to perhaps accept that there may be times where you simply can not stop them cutting in and to prepare for that fact by playing a very disciplined defensive midfielder who has the responsibility of immediately closing down the winger as he comes inside, and thus clogging up the centre of the field.

In reply, teams using inverted wingers must be brave enough to push their full backs high and wide to take advantage of the space created in wide areas. An additional tactic, that was often used by current Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill, is to keep switching the wingers during the game, meaning the opposing defence has to keep adjusting to the changing threat or inverted and more traditional wingers.

It will be interesting in the coming weeks to see which teams continue to use inverted wingers, and to see which coaches continue to develop the system through improved movement of their full-backs and striker. Gyeongnam may have the best personnel for the system and have had a fantastic start to the season. But will they be willing to risk the full backs pushing high in attack and hoping a striker turned winger remembers to defend when playing against the best teams in the league?

Images via SPOTV and K League

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