Football journalist and FIFA fan Darren Cross looks at how to use wing-backs effectively in the World Cup game.
Wing-backs are back.
That’s what popped into my head after watching Mexico use them so well against Cameroon in their opening game of the World Cup, and in Holland’s big win over defending champions Spain. In both matches the influence of the wing-backs really stood out, and that inspired me to see if I could use them as effectively online in the World Cup game.
Since then I’ve been playing exclusively with a 5-3-2 formation, putting real emphasis on making the most of my wing-backs. Not only has this gone really well – I’ve scored goals, conceded fewer than normal over the same period of games and picked up plenty of wins – but I’ve also really enjoyed the different style of play. As someone who mostly uses a 4-2-3-1 these days, switching to a completely different formation like this has been a good challenge, and I’ve really enjoyed changing my playing style.
It’s been so good that, in this week’s Backpage, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned about using wing-backs effectively in attack and defence when playing online. If you’re yet to try a formation with wing-backs like 5-3-2, hopefully these tips will help you get off to a flying start.
If you’ve decided to have a go with a five at the back formation using wing-backs, then you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the players with the right attributes to do the job.
In order of preference I look for pace – both Acceleration and Sprint Speed – Crossing, Dribbling and Stamina as the wing-backs will mostly be charging up and down the pitch, taking players on and getting crosses into the box. For Acceleration and Sprint Speed I’m happy with anything above 80, I like 85+ for Stamina and low 70s and upwards for Dribbling and Crossing. If you can find players with all of these qualities plus a good Long Shot, that’s going to help too as you’ll be a threat going outside to look for a cross or moving in-field to take a long-range effort. Basically I like my wing-backs to have all the attributes you’d expect to see in good wingers, but with a bit more Stamina. Of course having height and good tackling ability helps defensively, but it’s the attacking attributes I look for first as I think that’s where wing-backs can really give you an advantage.
I always make sure that the wing-backs are playing on the same side as their strong foot, which means they’ll be able to get into crossing positions quicker as they won’t have to check back to swap feet before whipping the ball in. I also pay attention to work rates. For me it’s useful if both wing-backs have high attacking work-rates when playing five at the back, otherwise you can end up lacking width when going forward. I think it’s better to have wing-backs automatically venturing forward to give attacking width than it is to have them playing cautiously by not going forward, leaving you with fewer passing options.
At the moment I’m playing a lot online with Mexico, and in Aguilar and Layun they have fantastic wing-backs at four-star team level. Both are quick, can run all day, dribble past a defender, get a good cross in and look to join in going forwards thanks to their high attacking work rates. They generally cope well defensively, too.
Attacking With Wing-Backs
One of the toughest things to get used to about playing with a formation that uses wing-backs like 5-3-2, is that you often need to delay attacks for longer than usual so that the wide players can get into good positions. For example, in a formation with regular wingers they will probably be hugging the touchline more-or-less in line with the rest of your midfield, so you can usually get the ball out wide nice and early. But in a 5-3-2 most of your width will come from your wing-backs, who obviously start off some distance behind the midfield, so you’ve got to keep possession long enough for them to join in. If you don’t then there’s only one way your attack can go – through the middle – which your opponent should figure out pretty quickly.
I’m not saying every attack should be slow and patient, if you see a good opportunity for a quick counter here and there then go for it, but in the main you should benefit by playing an extra pass or two between your midfielders so that your wing-backs can advance and help out.
Once you have the ball with a wing-back it’s likely that you’ll run into traffic pretty quickly, and in situations like that I find the LB button really useful. If you press LB on its own while you’re dribbling then your player will stop sharply. Sometimes just doing that can be enough to get you past your marker if they’re pressing aggressively and expecting you to move forward, as their own momentum can create enough of a gap for you to move into. Often though that short stop gives me the time to have a look at where my team-mates are, then I can usually trigger a one-two with the closest central midfield player. Remember, in a 5-3-2 there’s no wide player ahead of the wing-back to pass to unless one of the strikers is making a run, but even then there’s usually so much distance between the two players that a pass can be tough, so a short ball inside to a midfielder is often the best option.
To mix the play up and keep my opponent guessing I do occasionally look to switch the ball from one wing-back to another with a long pass, and sometimes I’ll go for a diagonal lofted through ball to one of the strikers if I spot them making a good run. It’s difficult to execute so doesn’t work every time, but I have scored a few goals online following unexpected passes like this.
As with all formations and playing styles, being unpredictable is the key to making attacks work consistently, so be sure to vary how you use your wing-backs. Look for one-twos, try early crosses from deep, take players on and drill the ball across the box, head inside to have a shot and switch play to the other side of the pitch – anything to keep the defending player wondering what you’re going to do next.
Defending With Wing-Backs
My top tip here is to try to avoid pressing too much with your wing-backs. If you get caught high up the pitch then your opponent will have a huge space behind your wing-back to play into. Your closest central midfielder will most likely head there to pick up a runner, or your nearest centre-back will move over, but both of those things obviously means spaces are opening up elsewhere. When the other team have the ball, make sure you’re not using contain or secondary contain with your wing-backs – let them retreat to a more defensive position. Try to think of them as a traditional left or right-back when you don’t have the ball – ideally they’ll be almost in line with your central defenders.
One of the great advantages about playing five at the back is having those three central defenders, especially if you struggle to stop through balls against teams using a pair of strikers. With three defenders in the centre two will pick up the strikers, leaving you free to select the spare defender and drop him deeper into a position where he can sweep up any through balls. It works really well and is another reason why I’ve enjoyed playing with a 5-3-2 so much recently.
That’s how I use my wing-backs, and so far it’s been great. If you have any extra tips for playing with wing-backs, please share them with other fans of the game by commenting below or tweeting me @darren_cross
As always, thanks very much for reading.