Walker - understanding the maligned full-back role

Over the last few articles we have looked at a tactical analysis of our game, seen a video of the basic 4-3-3 concept, what it's trying to achieve, established player roles within the system and looked specifically at our own game and how our Head Coach (Manager) Andre Villas-Boas has us operating his version of the 4-3-3 system.

The greatest area of confusion and misunderstanding is over inverted wingers and full-backs which polarises opinion about certain players, Walker being a prime example.

Traditionally full-backs played alongside centre-backs in a flat back four but that is generally no longer the case. Now the full-back starting position is well in advance of the centre-back. Next time the ball is with Hugo Lloris look at the starting positions Rose and Walker take. During the game have a quick look where they are, you'll see them much further forward than you'd expect.

In today's game the full-back is an attacking weapon who needs sprinting speed to get back and defend. Where it is usual within the system for one to attack and one to hold back, alternating depending upon which side the ball is, under AVB's version of the system they both go forward at the same time to join the attack giving us seven attackers. If we lose the ball we can initially look to hunt the ball back in numbers.

Spurs defensive positions

AVB likes to play with one winger who can play as a winger or cut in inside and one more traditional winger, that's the approach he adopted with his treble winning Porto side and the approach so far adopted with us. We get into problems if both wide men want to come inside all the time as we lose the element of surprise and are asking the full-back to do an immense amount of work. Constantly overlapping and constantly having to get back is tiring, fitness is key.

Let's look at defending. The full-back tucks in when defending so as not to leave a big gap between them and the centre-half the attacking team can exploit. If the ball goes to a wide man he has to rush out to them, that is his role, Walker does it well, yet fans amazingly complain that he's doing it, thinking he is out of position and not tight on his man, man marking him as it were. What he mustn't do is get to close to his central defender so that if the ball is played to the wide man there is nothing he can do about it.

It is his role, along with the wide forward to patrol the area outside the penalty area to the sideline so when defending Chadli against Arsenal should be helping Rose out when Arsenal scored, however he and Dembele don't get back in time and Capoue has to come across. Rose shouldn't have been the one to close down the player on the ball but Arsenal had worked a two-on-one situation. Had Capoue covering taken that role on Rose could have drifted wider to cover Walcott. I highlight and show a video of this not to blame Rose (he has almost been forced into this) but to demonstrate a point how one lapse can be costly.

Play the video below and stop it after just 3 seconds.

Look at the defence, Rose goes to the ball when the player inside him, which I think is Capoue, should be the one doing that so Rose can cover the wide man. Ideally it should be Dembele or Chadi there undertaking that role but they hadn't made it back yet.

Moving back to attacking, playing with advanced full-backs we then have options. The full back can stay behind the wide winger, he can come inside ready to play the ball in behind the opponents full back (Walker looks for this pass a lot with Lennon, Townsend isn't reading this pass yet) or he can overlap the winger when they come inside. The example below against Crystal Palace shows Walker about to play the ball in behind the full-back and Lennon you will notice has already set off for the pass to beat the defender to it.

Kyle Walker passes to Aaron Lennon

Lennon is proactive, he has read the game, knows what is going to happen, Townsend understandably is still developing that understanding with Walker and is currently more reactive, he goes when the pass has been played. Many fans when they see Walker play this ball and when nobody gets on the end of it knock him calling it a bad pass, but it's not, it's the right pass, it's a defence penetrating pass, exactly what we want, so unless he over hits it it's down to the winger if he watches and doesn't get on the end of it.

By the full-back being heavily involved with attacking play when we lose the ball again the same fans complain Walker is out of position, well quite frankly he's not because that's where AVB wants him to be. I use Walker as an example here but equally the same can be said for Rose.

The three man defence, two centre-backs and holding midfield player, are tasked with holding up play until the full-back can get back. It's disappointing when Walker has to shut his Twitter account because of abuse from fans who simply don't understand the role of the modern day full-back. Let's hope Rose doesn't have to suffer the same fate.

Now with an attacking full-back overlapping the winger has an unseen role to play here.

Think about this, if you want Walker and Rose to be putting in a lot of crosses from near the byline for you, they have a long way to keep sprinting back. Now that's OK but how many times a game do you want them to do that and how long before they get tired?

What happens when a player get tired, usually late in the game, he has lapses in concentration which lead to mistakes. As a winger you can't simply cut in all the time and expect your full-back to have super human qualities and be overlapping every time. The winger has to manage the full-back if you like. If Walker or Rose has just sprinted back from the byline they need a minute or two to recover. This may simply be a thumbs up between them or the winger appreciating that next time he gets the ball he'll attack on the outside instead of cutting in to give the full-back some recovery time.

There was a prime example of this in the England game against Moldova at Wembley. Walker was beside the opposition penalty area with an England attack, however we lost the ball. He was then in picture sprinting back the full length of the pitch and caught his man before our penalty area, we won the ball back, he played it inside and obviously he needed a little breather. The ball came back over to Theo Walcott who had tucked in a third of the way into the opposition half and he simply back flicked the ball without looking and it went out for a throw in to Moldova. Walker was standing on the half way line, not expecting the flick and quite frankly not wanting it, he wanted, needed a breather. It's something simple, a piece of game management, player management, but it immediately gave the opposition the ball.

Lennon and Walker operate very well together, they have developed an understanding, they are both very quick and can help each other out defensively. Townsend on the other hand, if playing on the right, simply wants to cut in and have an eye catching shot. Great for the cameras but it puts Walker under an enormous amount of pressure to be supporting the attack overlapping to stretch the defence all the time.

For those of you shouting Bale did it, I'll remind you once again of the stats. Bale's shooting accuracy from outside the box last season was the best in Europe, 44%, Townsend's was 18% and he created nothing for his teammates either. It has it's place but greater game awareness is needed otherwise Walker is effectively playing as a winger and a full-back and has the physical effort of being in two places a t once almost.

It's end product that counts and at the moment we are not getting an end product from our wide men. They are not feeding Soldado who scores goals from inside the box. One blocked shot from a cut back in the first 80 minutes against Arsenal should tell you all you need to know. Erik Lamela will quickly need to form an understanding with Walker and be the team player Lennon is, interlaced with moments of individuality.

For Townsend to flourish as an inverted winger he has to learn when to come inside, when to go outside and to use his right foot, which Les Ferdinand tells us he is doing. Our winger options are Lennon as a traditional winger on the right, Lamela, who can use both feet, as a traditional winger who can also play like an inverted winger, Chadli, who can also use both feet, can perform the same on the left and Townsend who can play traditional on the left or inverted on the right.

Quite a few options and Rose and Walker have to form an understanding with all of them. Tough job being a full-back. Fortunately we have a set system and players come in to fill a role within that system, in their individual way, so we don't change our basic game simply because someone is injured or suspended.

Chadli and Rose seem to have struck up a working relationship very quickly, they have started to work as an attacking unit well together with Rose looking for the flicks that sets him free. I've not looked at them as a defensive unit much yet, apart from the video example of the Arsenal goal in Monday's article, only Rose in isolation so that's one for the future.

Across on the right hand side Walker and now Lamela one expects, haven't yet played together so will have to learn each others game and develop an understanding. Townsend will continue to develop his game and that will put Lennon under pressure for probably the first time.

Previous articles:
Tottenham - A Tactical Analysis
Video - The 4-3-3 explained
Player roles within a 4-3-3
Players attacking roles within a 4-3-3 system
AVB Formula for Success

Think about the system we are playing, watch the 4-3-3 video again and you'll be watching our games in a new light.

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