Wingers – More than just an offensive force

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Especially when opponents are sitting deep and defending a lead, it is up to the wingers to keep the offensive game alive. The great responsibility forces the players to perform at a higher physical level. In the fifth part of our blog series "Physical demands of a soccer player" we take a closer look at the abilities of a winger.

Be it through tireless sprints on the flank, impressive dribbling or precise cross passes into the penalty area. Without a strong wing player the offensive game of a team will stall sooner or later. Thinking of the most famous players of this position, you immediately picture Arjen Robben's inimitable drive during his dribbles or Gareth Bale's dreaded speed on the wing. Players who are blessed with both technical and physical skills usually play on the wing position, and rightly so! Gareth Bale, Ronaldo or Neymar - Each of these players loves to search, find, and win 1-on-1 situations on the flank, trying to make sure their team ends up scoring every time that they touch the ball.

Dangerous wingers must be respected by their opponents even so much that they can support their team’s attacks even without touching the ball. If they spread the field, they will keep opposing defenders away from the middle, allowing their teammates to set up an efficient passing game much easier. But unless you're called Cristiano Ronaldo, the job as a winger is not done by only dribbling, passing and scoring goals. If the defense is under pressure wingers will have to track back.

The scientific facts

The results of scientific studies confirm that wingers are heavily involved in the attacking game. So it comes as no surprise that this position ranks first when it comes to total distance run and high-intensity runs in a game. The position-specific tasks leave the players no choice. They have to run near the sidelines to spread the field and bring themselves in a good position to receive through passes, as well as leave the flank to make room for modern full backs that are pushing up. Wingers also have to enter the penalty box and position themselves near the second post if the cross is coming in from the other side of the field. These are all tasks that require a willingness to run at high-intensities.

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Yet, the study results also illustrate the growing defensive tasks of this position. As soon as the own team is not in possession of the ball the wingers are part of the Counterpressing. They will have to move with the ball or prevent any attacking efforts, in cooperation with the full backs. The change in position responsibilities is also reflected in the scientific numbers. Between the seasons of 2006/07 and 2012/13, the distance of high-intensity runs with ball increased by approx. 20%, while the total distance run without the ball increased by close to 30%. At the same time, the number of sprints increased by as much as 54%.

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Position-specific training

This complex load profile must now be considered in practice, which is not an easy task for coaches. Wingers have outstanding aerobic endurance, allowing them to sprint long distances with only little lactate accumulation. This ability prevents premature lactate-induced fatigue during the game. At the same time, those players then regenerate faster from high-intensity runs, which is confirmed by the shortest regeneration time among all positions. To train this ability really football-specific, drills and small sided games with interval runs are particularly suitable.

Our drill “Coordination training: Dribbling & Shot on goal” is a fitting example

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In this exercise setup your players must solve different coordination tasks between tempo dribbles and at the same time practice their shot on goal. Due to the intensity and high technical requirements of the exercise, your winger will be prepared for almost anything that awaits him or her in the game.

The following exercise can be used for modern-day full backs as well as wing players:

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In this exercise setup, the wing player will run 30-50m according to the requirements of a soccer game. The tempo dribbling is performed at a high-intensity pace and completed with a football-specific element, the cross. The player then transitions into slow jogging Tempo to the opposite station. The recovery time between runs should match the scientific game data of 50-70 seconds.

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To increase the load and complexity of the exercise, a previous "1v1" on the outside lane can then be integrated. This guarantees that the winger will be trained in all position-specific components.

Your Team


[1] Tierney, P. J. et al (2016). Match play demands of 11 versus 11 professional football using Global Positioning System tracking: Variations across common playing formations.
[2] Bush, M. et al (2015). Evolution of match performance parameters for various playing positions in the English Premier League.
[3] Bradley, P. S. et al (2013). Match performance and physical capacity of players in the top three competitive standards of English professional soccer.
[4] Bradley, P. S. et al (2009). High-intensity running in English FA Premier League soccer matches.
[5] Bradley, P. S. et al (2010). High-Intensity Activity Profiles of Elite Soccer Players at Different Performance Levels.
[6] Di Salvo, V. et al (2007). Performance Characteristics According to Playing Position in Elite Soccer.
[7] Dellal, A. et al (2010). Physical and technical activity of soccer players in the French First League - with special reference to their playing position.
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