We have seen it very rarely over recent seasons; probably because the demand for success or survival is simply so high nowadays. But playing players out of position is a dying trend in the Premier League and on the few occasions it does happen, fans and punditry panels alike are quick to undermine the decision, giving it little airtime as a rash and brainless dabbling of the system. One of the most extreme changes of position was that of Blackburn’s Christopher Samba last term as the centre back was deployed in a forward’s role to hold the ball up and give Rovers more of a physical presence or should I put it more bluntly; battering ram up top. The decision, although eyebrow-raising at the start was a relatively successful one with Samba possessing a surprising good touch and an astute holding up of the ball.
More successful shifts in position famously include Gareth Bale who has forged a reputation as one of the finest wingers in the Premier League following advancement from the left full back berth. Perhaps the most recent example of a positional change has been Martin Jol’s decisions to deploy Moussa Dembele in a central midfield berth for Fulham. The natural second striker has been dropped deeper for his dribbling abilities and ease on the ball and it seems to have paid off with the Belgian flourishing in his new role over the past month or so.
So why don’t managers execute positional changes far more often? It must be contended that for every first choice there is a usually a backup squad player and it would frustratingly resemble an insult to play a player out of position rather than deploy a natural replacement. Nevertheless, with the modern breed of full backs raiding down the channels more greatly than ever before, surely there are more ‘Bale’s’ out there in the sense that the pacy full back is almost a second winger anyway. For example, Aaron Lennon at Tottenham has been injured in spells this term and has often had to be replaced by Niko Kranjcar or an unpopular decision to shift Luka Modric to the flank, where it is understandable that he isn’t best suited here. Kyle Walker would be adept at fulfilling Lennon’s role in that he is fast, can whip a cross into the box and is direct in his attacking of the opposition full back. Whilst we must accept Spurs let go of their replacement right back Vedran Corluka in January and need Walker’s consistent abilities at full back in this particular scenario, you see the point I am trying to make.
It has been noticed at Manchester United also, that Antonio Valencia is an unorthodox, yet trusty full back when widespread injury strikes. The fact the Ecuadorian is one of the Premier League’s hardest working players, possessing substantial upper body strength and good tracking back skills, means he can drop back into the full back position and achieve an assured performance as a Rafael or Fabio might do for example. Of course, United have flourished recently using Valencia’s excellent crossing abilities to create many assists further up the pitch, but by discovering players’ hidden versatility and looking even closer at their exploits, costly decisions to carelessly wade into the transfer market just might be avoidable.
Undeniably, the monetary repercussions of football nowadays mean experimenting and dabbling with positional changes usually occur in an involuntary sense; whereby a manager is forced into the decision, as the pitfalls or dissenting abuse for a positional gamble or risk are huge. Perhaps pre-season friendlies could employ more of a focus on positional changes but such an idea would be met by likely dissent.
Centre backs transformed to full backs are generally accepted as a fairly safe transition with many of the tackling and strength attributes being required at full back also. Branislav Ivanovic has probably been the best example of this. Also defensive midfielders moving to centre half have been met by some applause with Alex Song and Javier Mascherano at Barcelona representing that this positional change can breed relative success.
But cavalier decisions such as Dembele and Samba are still of the rare variety and positional changes still have that ‘emergency’ tag when they could be judged with more astuteness. Only time will tell, and the random nature of the Premier League means we just may uncover a hidden gem who currently is yet to find his new prosperous role.
Are these points too radical or can you see the benefit in such decisions? Follow me @ http://twitter.com/Taylor_Will1989