Inverted wing-backs: what’s the point?
Inverted wing-backs are often just seen as full-backs standing in central midfield. An excuse to pass sideways. An excuse to bring natural full-backs out of position. An excuse to play 20,000 bleeding passes for the sake of it!
However, believe it or not, using inverted wing-backs correctly can give your side an unrivalled attacking threat. If you’re still with me, I’ll try to explain how!
As you can see, some people would rather have more variety in the standard wing-back options than use inverted wing-backs. This user raises some interesting points.
It might seem confusing that inverted wing-backs don’t start wide and cut inside in FM19; that’s exactly what inverted wingers do! In the clip below, as my centre-back Baugmartl drifts wide, my inverted wing-back darts inside:
The inverted wing-back is automatically set to cut inside and sit narrower:
It’s certainly a departure from what we expect of wing-backs. When the back four are in their starting positions, the inverted wing-back stays wide to maintain the team’s defensive shape. However, roaming wing-back might be a better name for the role; when you build attacks, the inverted wing-back will get involved whenever possible.
See that late run in the opposition box? It’s my right inverted wing-back: Matthias Bader.
Normally, wing-backs aren’t expected to do any of these things. If anyone’s expected to cut inside or sit narrower, it should be the wide man ahead of them. Inverted wing-backs try to combine what’s expected of wing-backs with dictating the game.
Back to the Twitter user’s point, the official Football Manager account responded:
That response didn’t quite address his point. As the user replied, even if your defensive line is set narrower, your wing-back will always be comparatively stuck out wide. You don’t have much control over what they can do in that regard.
However, the user’s conclusion, that wing-backs should be able to cut inside or stay narrower, misses the point of their role. Full-backs and wing-backs are the widest players on the pitch! If anything, it should be possible to set inverted wing-backs to either stay wide and cut inside, or stay inside and run wide.
Essentially, inverted wing-backs would be better understood and utilised if they were understood as roaming wing-backs. It would be an added bonus if you had more tactical choices when using them!
Subject to the limitations I previously described, how the inverted wing-backs play depends on their duty and player instructions. It also depends on the rest of your tactical setup!
Look at Kane Wilson’s player instructions. My inverted wing-backs are set to ‘go further forward’, dribble more, press aggressively, and take more risks. That might explain why you saw Matthias Bader make such an adventurous late run earlier.
However, player instructions don’t directly affect a player’s position in the structure of the team.
Player instructions determine the players’ propensity to perform the prescribed action, even if it involves deviating from what they would do otherwise.
Therefore, this version of a supporting inverted wing-back just has positive instincts. He’ll try to offer support centrally, while operating like a wing-back defensively. However, when he sees an opportunity, he’ll knock out his opponents, dribble forward and make killer passes. He’ll also either his opponents, or himself, look stupid by making these forward runs.
Let’s compare that with how the inverting wing-backs work on the attacking and defensive duties!
Attacking inverted wing-backs have more fixed player instructions. Unlike supporting inverted wing-backs, they always ‘take more risks’, ‘dribble more’ and ‘get further forward’. As per the role description, the attacking inverted wing-back looks to adventurously support the attack. He doesn’t settle for moving into central positions to support the play around him.
That enterprise is the purpose of his role. Therefore, unlike the supporting version, the attacking inverted wing-back’s positive instincts won’t be curbed by his role. He’ll start deep, but push forward so aggressively that opponents won’t be able to track him. In addition, teammates will hopefully have more space to run into.
However, this brings a massive danger. If the inverted wing-back isn’t entirely clear what he’s doing, he might make the wrong runs. That’s also a possibility if he simply isn’t good enough!
If that occurs, there’s a danger that your entire flank will be left open. Without clear restrictions, a player with an unvarnished ‘roaming’ role might subconsciously use the creative extremes of it to avoid responsibility for taking the ball.
You see plenty of players like this in real life, who continuously leave the ball for someone else when it’s going in their direction. They then have a fit at their teammate for not being intelligent enough to pick their run out.
Now, for the defensive inverted wing-back.
Defensive inverted wing-backs also have additional fixed player instructions. Along with crossing less often, sitting narrower and cutting inside with the ball, they have to hold their position and dribble less.
Most notably, these additional instructions match that of a half-back at defensive midfield.
Like half backs, defensive inverted wing-backs sit deep to recycle possession and prevent counter-attacks. They sit in narrow positions, right in front of the centre-backs, to give the team more options when playing out of defence.
Wide full-backs, and wing-backs, aren’t ideal when playing out of defence. Stuck out wide, with less room and passing options, they’re an easy target to close down. When being closed down, they became prone to passing backwards and losing the ball.
Out of possession, defensive inverted wing-backs operate like standard full-backs more than either of the other duties.
How does this abstract nonsense fit in my tactical setup and help me win games in the Moldovan second division… if it exists?
Up to now, I’ve just meandered over some random Twitter user’s question from months ago and outlined facts about the inverted wing-back role. We now need to put this theory into action.
Here’s my tactical setup:
And here’s my recent results:
My inverted wing-backs have been invaluable towards this run of results. Due to their deep and central starting positions, they’re an easy option for recycling possession. They enable the half-back to drop between my two centre-backs, who then run wide.
With an inverted wing-back just in front of the wide centre-back, he has a clear forward pass if he’s closed down.
The security provided by the half-back, in combination with the two deep centre-halves, enables the inverted wing-back to drift further forward.
As you can see, the inverted wing-back is essentially a cut-back option for the raumdeuter. Furthermore, inverted wing-backs are the easiest role to use underlapping runs with.
To incorporate inverted wing-backs, you need enough defensive security. After all, you will lose possession sometimes. I prefer a defensive midfielder and two centre-backs, but a back three might also work; especially if you want an attacking inverted wing-back!.
You also need other players providing width in attack. In my tactic, the raumdeuter’s are technically set to sit narrower. However, they’re ‘space investigators’. Therefore, around the penalty area, they’ll roam out wide if your inverted wing-back’s sitting inside.
Remember, the inverted wing-back will only stay wide when your team’s in possession in two circumstances:
- When there are at least two defensive midfielders. The space that the inverted wing-back would otherwise move into is now blocked.
- When there is no wide option ahead of them.
If you want your inverted wing-back’s attacking runs to be utilised often, ‘run at defence’ and ‘counter’ are effective team instructions. On a support duty, the inverted wing-back will only make their forward runs in relatively risk-free situations; teammates must create enough space. Those two instructions mean your team will always be looking forwards, for opponents to take out of the game and spaces to exploit.
This obviously comes with a risk of the ball being lost. With the right tactical balance and team instructions, however, you should be able to regain possession quickly.
If nothing else in my analysis has convinced you that the use of inverted wing-backs, as described above, can be productive, look at these statistics below:
Thanks for reading!
If you have any thoughts on anything within this article, please don’t hesitate to start a conversation in the comments below! You can also do this via our social media channels. Alternatively, I can be found at @BenDewison on Twitter. I’ll be back!
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