Due to the way that the game has developed, it is impossible to analyse the Wing-Back role as a whole. We have managed to break down the Wing-Back role into 3 variations. To compare the 3 types of Wing-Backs; complete, standard and inverted you have to look at all their contributions to the team.
Inverted Wing-Backs are much more defensive minded and in a sense operate as a full back if you look at how defensive they are. One positive of having an inverted Wing-Back is that they add an extra man in midfield when attacking instead of offering just width, which varies their role and gets them around the pitch more, hence they contribute to the team more with their involvement around the centre of midfield. However, one drawback of having an inverted Wing-Back is that they do not offer much width and therefore narrowing your teams playing area making your team easier to defend against. Due to them often taking a more central position, inverted Wing-Backs are very defensive, which helps prevent counter-attacks. This does however restrict how far forwards an Inverted Wing-Back will get; they will often play in significantly deeper roles compared to the other two Wing-Back roles. In conclusion, inverted Wing-Backs should be used in a team where the attack and midfield can control and dominate the game, so they don’t need the help of the Wing-Backs and can focus on defending more. Manchester United would be a side where inverted Wing-Backs could be beneficial due to their shaky Centre Backs, however West Ham use these.
A complete Wing-Back has a desire to attack, and offers a dual threat down the flanks as an attacker (the main focus on his mind) and defending, thus making him a nightmare for opposing teams to deal with. One positive of having the complete Wing-Back is that they can assist the attack with their width and crossing ability, meaning more chances are created for your team to score. They offer that extra dimension to the attack with a burst of pace or a turn round an opposing full-back. Also, due to their positioning, they free up space in the middle for creative attacking players to use. One negative of using a complete Wing-Back is that they tend to stay high up the pitch and in some cases are caught out in defence by a counter-attack. Having the complete Wing-Back means you will score more goals, but it leaves you more likely to concede. Chelsea’s style of play would be suited to having Complete Wing-Backs because of their solid Central Defensive pairing which can comfortably defend on their own, and their abundance of creative attacking talent, however Arsenal are the side which uses this the most, despite a lack of quality in central defence.
The standard Wing-Back is the most common variation of the Wing-Back role, partly because they can both attack and defend to good effect, offering a good tactical balance. They fulfil every defensive need better than complete Wing-Back, but they aren’t as effective when attacking. One positive of having a standard Wing-Back is that they are a safe option. They can attack and bring forward the ball to the final third, but they are reliable defensively and will very rarely get caught out of position. One negative of having a standard Wing-Back is that they don’t contribute enough to either the attacking or defensive phases of play. The other two types of Wing-Back are attacking-focussed or defensive-focussed, and the standard Wing-Back is meant to include both, however it can sometimes show neither attacking nor defensive qualities. A standard Wing-Back is definitely the safe choice, but it isn’t as exciting as the other two roles. Manchester City would utilise standard Wing-Backs effectively because there is usually very little need to join the attack in the final third due to their attacking players being effective on their own, but a Wing-Back is still needed to stretch the play when Silva/Nasri want to cut inside, or to allow Yaya Toure more space in central areas.
So, should Manchester United use Wing-Backs?
Van Gaal.s 3-5-2 system at United has been heavily slated, but I am an optimist of the tactic as it brings fresh air to United. With Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw/ Ashley Young United have some very flexible Wing-Backs who can operate in the complete Wing-Back role or as Wide Midfielders. The reason the 3-5-2 system hasn’t worked at United isn’t because of the Wing-Backs, which is where everyone is aiming the criticism. It is because of the CBs and their immaturity of the system. I believe that over time this system will work as it provides width, something United need to get service to their world class strikers. Ashley Young has exceeded expectations in a Complete Wing-Back role, as it focuses on the need to stay wide, get into attacking positions and deliver good crosses into the box, something (maybe the only thing) he is good at. Despite mostly playing on the left, and cutting on to his right foot, Young plays more like a Complete Wing-Back than an Inverted Wing-Back because he remains very close to the touchline at all times, unlike an Inverted Wing-Back who will drift into central areas. This “Hugging the touchline” provides space for the central players, whether it be Di Maria, Rooney, Mata or Falcao, to create chances for each other, as well as the opportunity to score from crosses from the Wing-Back. If McNair and Blackett were replaced with top class Centre-Backs such as Hummels and Pique, this Manchester United 3-5-2 would be a prospect to be feared by the rest of the Premier League, and Europe.