Fullbacks - the versatile all in one player
Long gone are the days when fullbacks only thought backwards, only defended and destroyed. In modern football, the outside defenders also have an important role in the offensive game. Meanwhile, the teams are so well organized that the lines have to be increased lines situationally by additional players.
This has massively changed the demands on the full- or wingbacks. The demands on technique, dribbling, long sprints and good passing, even for delivering assists and goals, have greatly increased. No wonder more and more midfielders are "converted" to lateral defenders.
The full back is a kind of all-in-one position.
First as a solid defender, when it is needed at the back, later as a midfielder he supports the build-up of the game. And when the ball arrives in the final third, he has already intelligently stolen a few meters forward. This guarantees him a short distance to the offense and allows him as an additional attacker to create superiority and make the difference in the offense.
The fullback is like the pawn in chess. He can cover, protect the chain, defend forward, steal forward, and then turn into the powerful queen in attack.
Whether the fullback manages to get involved in the attack depends less on the player himself than on the coach's playing philosophy and structure. Many coaches nowadays manage to get the fullbacks involved in the offensive play.
Expected Assists (xA)
Our stats are based on the saison 2020-21. Datasource is Wyscout. As evidence, let's first look at the ability of goal assists in last season's data. Here we do not take the number of assists, but the more meaningful Expected Assists (xA) value. We take the sum of the expected assists (xA) generated by the outside defenders per 90 minutes.
When assessing the performance of players/coaches, a distinction must be made between three-man and four-man defenses. In a three-man system, the outside defender Wingback is protected by the three defenders and has to take on far fewer defensive tasks. At the same time, he is already further forward in the build-up to the game and has an easier time getting involved in offensive play. Thus, he will achieve higher values than in a four-man defense.
Top teams Expected Assists (xA) by wing backs in teams with three defender
Adi Hütter with Eintracht Frankfurt was the lonely top in Europe. He achieved 1.2 expected assists per game with the wingbacks. This means having one more top striker on the field, so to speak. With the high values play of course
F. Kostic and S. Zuber with their qualities play an important role on this.
He is followed by Franck Haise (Lens), Antonio Conte (Inter), Paulo Fonseca (Rome) and Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea) who also achieve a very good 0.7 Expected Assist per game.
Among the midfield teams, Pellegrino Matarazzo (Stuttgart), Ivan Juric (Torino) and Eusebio Di Francesco (Hellas Verona) are still above a good 0.5 xA per game.
As benchmark each team should compare its values with the other teams in the same competition,
Top teams Expected assists (xA) by Fullback with four-man defense
In a system with a four-man defense, for the Fullbacks it is harder for the outside defender to continuously join the attack.
Even more than the skills of the players, the tactical skills of the coach play a big role. How well does he manage, with his playing philosophy, to get the outside defenders involved offensively. We consider this to be an important criterion for a coach and therefore also for coach scouting.
When it comes to four-man defenses, David Moyes is the lone leader with West Ham. He managed 0.74 Expected Assists per game with wing backs. He is followed by Nico Kovac (Monaco), Gerardo Seoane (Young Boys), Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid), Lucas Olaza (Valladolid) and Alain Geiger (Servette).
The offensive challenges for the Full- and Wingbacks
In standardized industrial football, the offensive wings often take away space from the Fullbacks. Since the Fullbacks often need a few meters of safe space for ball control and acceleration, many teams are too "fat", so to speak. This makes it difficult to create superior numbers and gives the opponent more time to organize or hedge.
If you're too wide, you have to keep "eating" your way through the entire opponent's block.
Still and again you see Fullbacks and wingers togehther on the line. This gives away a player. Few coaches are able to overload the positions in attack with the lateral defenders and get them to finish themselves. Fullbacks with scoring chances is a strong predicate for the coach's playing philosophy.
One of our tactical concepts we call "attacking block".
We deliberately overload one side to then play through or quickly shift to indented players.
Sum Expected Goals (xG) Wingbacks per 90Min (3 player defense)
Pellegrino Matarazzo with Stuttgart and
Gian Piero Gasperini with Atalanta lonely top. They manage a fantastic 0.81 and 0.62 Expected Goals (xG) per game with the outside defenders. That is more than most strikers have.
Gasperini is a great developer. He *gasperinizes" masses of superficially average players and turns them into Europe's TOP players with his game structure and philosophy.
We already see very very big differences in the ranking of the top teams.
The vast majority of teams achieve a very weak value <0.1 xG. In the reverse conclusion a large unused potential by the coaches.
This is followed by Antonio Conte (Inter), Adi Hütter (Frankfurt) and Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig).
Surprising that Graham Potter with Brighton & Hove Albion reaches the same value as Thomas Tuchel with Chelsea.
I still figuratively remember a RB Leipzig goal where the outside defender scored after a cross pass from the other outside defender.
Sum Expected Goals (xG) Fullbacks per 90Min (4er defense)
In the four-man defenses, Marco Rose was the best with Gladbach. He managed 0.43 Expected Goals per game with the outside defenders. So almost in every second game an Expected Goal.
They are followed by Scott Parker (Fulham), Oliver Dall'Oglio (Montpellier), Sebastian Höeness (Hoffenheim) and Enzo Maresca (Parma).
The values are generally so low that they require closer examination. The vast majority of teams are far from a systemic offensive approach to the game.
Great unused potential - criterion for choice of coach
Fullbacks play a very important role in modern football. Skillfully used, they create a superior number in the attack. They can then be used to create goal-scoring opportunities. The challenge is not to have the wingers too wide, so that the space is not taken away from the outside defenders. In addition, timing and opponent fixation play an important role, so that the outside defender can be played quickly and directly.
The several coaches mentioned above have all found solutions for themselves and clearly stand out from the competition. The xA and xG value generated by the outside defenders is an important criterion for us when selecting a coach.
Of course, the offensive involvement of the outside defenders is not the only way to create superiority. Nevertheless, from our point of view it is a really good strategy. Especially because big differences exist and many coaches still have a big unused potential.
In sum, well used fullbacks can bring one more top striker on the pitch.
New Skills - New Mindset
The changed demands on the outside defender also change the demands on his attitude.
He must be courageous and leave little safety margin so that he can play out the action quickly and as close to the opponent's goal as possible.
Technically weak players are thus in the wrong position today.
The fullbacks and wingbacks can be the new striker collective!
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