Attacking Full Backs are Essential in Hughes’ System

Over the last decade or so what is to be expected from a full back has significantly changed. During the Pulis era the full backs were deployed as out and out defenders; two conventional wingers in the form of Etherington and Pennant meant there wasn’t too much space for a full back to overlap anyway. The conventional role for a full back in the modern game is to hold the defensive line when the team is without possession and to maraud forward, overlapping the winger, when with possession. Pochetinno’s Tottenham are a fantastic example of this system, using the full backs to overlap in attack, Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, and now Manchester City, have the full backs come inside to take up the position of a conventional holding midfielder when with the ball, and some systems, such as Antonio Conte’s Italy, have the wide defenders in an even more attack orientated role as wing backs. Hughes’ system requires the two full backs to adventure forward to help aid attacks similar to Spurs, but at the moment the system is nowhere near as successful as it could be.

The system should work that when Stoke have possession of the ball on the wing, either Pieters or (for last week at least) Bardsley, give Shaq or Arnie another option by overlapping around the opposition full back. This can then create several options for the next phase of the attack. The simplest is for the winger to play the ball through for the full back to run on to and then cross into the box. If the defending full back follows the overlap run, then this opens up a second avenue for success. The defender moving away gives Shaqiri or Arnautovic the space they crave to set in motion their fortes. The cut inside. What they choose to do in this moment is up to them. They will often shape to shoot, perhaps dink the ball into the box or go for a gallivant into the box. Whatever they do, the fact that the full back overlapped can often be the catalyst for chance creation.

Our first XI is always likely to include Arnautovic on the left wing and Shaqiri on the right. The first instinct of both wingers is always likely to cut inside. With this in mind it is absolutely vital that we have players that can stick to the line and cross the ball. As I have alluded to, this has to be the full backs in our system. According to Squawka, neither Bardsley or Pieters completed a single cross on Saturday against Boro, and we wonder why Diouf seemed isolated. To be fair to Pieters he does occasionally at least try to get into these positions and swing in a cross. The issue with that is that he is not particularly good at it. It is a similar tale on the other wing when Bardsley plays at right back. However, on Saturday he was often in a position on the inside of Shaqiri, instead of looking for the overlap. This, in my opinion, causes more problems going forward than it solves. The only outcome of this move is to take up space for a potential run on the inside, and it is a position where one of our CMs would take up naturally anyway.

Of course Bardsley isn’t our first choice right back, that accolade is reserved for Glen Johnson. Famously confident in the opponents half and surprisingly secure in our own half, he is the perfect player for our desired style of play. The ex-Liverpool man is quietly one of the most important cogs in the clockwork of our team and his return to full fitness is of vital importance to the side. On the left side I don’t think the solution is as crystal clear, but there are a few potential remedies. We can stick with Pieters and hope the attacking aspects of his game improve, look to the transfer market for a replacement, or, maybe the fan favourite option, bring Joel Taylor through to the first team and see what he can do. It almost seems like the perfect fit for him. After picking up the young player of the season award last season and being a part of the pre-season tour, he even travelled with the squad of Saturday, the stars could be aligning for the young Englishman to make his mark on the first team.

Diouf didn’t manage any shots, on or off target, at the weekend and part of the reason for that was the lack of support he received from the wings. Shaqiri, Bojan and Arnautovic all like to have the ball on the floor rather than looking to cross to the middle, which means crosses need to come from somewhere else. In a team where chances come less often than every other blue moon, getting back to basics and delivering some crosses seems an easy way to start challenging the opposition goalkeeper. All of Diouf’s goals last term came of his noggin and I believe the assists for his goals are much more likely to stem from a full back. Johnson’s imminent return to first XI will be a huge bonus but there are still question marks over Pieters’ position as a modern full back. Time will tell on which strategy Hughes will opt for in sorting out any problems on the left side but if they are not sorted out then I believe our struggles to create chances in the last third are only set to continue.

What future do you see for our full backs? Let me know on Twitter @bajcartwright

Written by Ben Cartwright



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