Midfield band-aid idea: Wan-Bissaka as a defensive inverted fullback

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Fair play op. 9/10 for the effort you’ve gone to.

1/10 for the idea sorry. AWB needs to buckle down and sort the FB role out before he evolves to/tries something else.

Not getting caught out of position so often would be a start (though he’s not the only FB that applies to….). With Varane and Maguire out, next couple of games could be car crash (or brilliant. Who knows, fingers crossed).
 

Artimities

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I’m really worried about our defense at the moment. We have looked horrible on set pieces. I swear sometimes I can see the opponent getting ready to score. You can feel it.
I think our problem is that our pace/ ball movement is good at first and then slows down to a crawl. The opposition just has to sit back and let us beat ourselves
 

lex talionis

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I love the creative thinking but we can’t trust AWB to manage passing responsibilities well.
 

Sandikan

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I'm certain that people who propose these sort of things don't realise that a centre midfielder can't operate at Manchester United just based on making a few tackles.

They have to have a bit more than that.
 

wolvored

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When you think about WB you realise how bad this club is run. They bragged they scouted over an hundred players before decided on spunking £50 million on a player whos only talent is last ditch tackling, which is getting worse.
 

GlasgowCeltic

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Would be reminiscent of Momo Sissoko in Liverpools midfield, just legs everywhere
 

Artimities

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While AWB is certainly not our worst player on the squad, I do feel that his last ditch tackles present problems for us defensively. His crosses are more times poor than not. He is not known to score, and yet is always involved in our buildup.
Maybe focusing on him not going over the half way line. We have so much scoring talent, do we really need AWB as part of that?
 

hungrywing

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When you think about WB you realise how bad this club is run. They bragged they scouted over an hundred players before decided on spunking £50 million on a player whos only talent is last ditch tackling, which is getting worse.
TBF, that was Woodward thing. Not that it makes it any better. But presumably that genius one-man black-hole of intelligence isn't running the show anymore.
 

Paxi

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He’s nowhere near good enough technically to play in the middle. It would be a disaster.
 

SirAF

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How’ve you been bud? Hope all is well. Geez thinking back now, when was our actual last decent midfield pairing? During SAF’s days of Carrick and Scholes? :lol:

Considering the amount of managers appointed since, and the money spent, that’s quite staggering. Fellaini, Schneiderlin, BFS, Herrera, Matic, Pogba, Fred, DvB. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure I’m missing a couple more signed.
All good man, we need Blaggs back on Telegram though!
 

Someone

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I'm all for experiments. Fergie was never shy to give it ago, he tried Rafael at some point. I think Lindelof is a good shout as well.
 

kthanksbye

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A better idea would be to try and emulate how Italy play.
Di Lorenzo stays back to defend and the right side attack is managed by the RW and CM/AM, while on the left Spinazzola (the LB) has much more freedom to join the left winger.

This also solves the issue of Pogba not being behind the ball to defend as now we have another body, Varane can push up with more confidence, something he's comfortable doing.

We can then show some of our own creativity by creating situations when Pogba and Bruno take turns to attack from the right.

I might be on to something here. Someone make a twitter thread with diagrams.
 

Paxi

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“Not a bad touch for a big man” every fecking time AWB is on the ball…
 

TheRedHearted

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TL;DR:



In the time-honoured tradition of armchair tacticians with fanciful ideas, here is mine. There is no easy solution to our midfield problems, but I think they can be mitigated in the short term.

(Spoilers are added for readability if you just want to get the gist, not because they contain any footballing secrets. In fact some of the arguments are trite.)

The why:

- Our players often forms two separated and incoherent blocks.
- The defensive half (including the midfield pair) struggle to get the ball forward.
- The attacking half struggle to contribute defensively and during the build up.
- This is not inherently bad if a team can be balanced in other ways, but we field too many attackers for this to be feasible.
- We are not good at linking the two blocks by physically occupying the space in-between, either through a midfielder advancing forward or an attacker dropping deep.
- We are also not good at advancing the ball by working the space with purpose and patience.
- So we resort to probing passes from deep, which require technique, imagination and a forgiving opposition.
- Pogba has the technical abilities for the third option, but he is also a liability in a double-pivot.
- Fred is a direct and risk-tolerant passer: the deeper whence he operates, the more wasteful his playmaking becomes; however, he can quicken the tempo if allowed to interplay more closely with forwards.
- Aimlessly keeping the ball is obviously not ideal, but sometimes we cannot even do that when we need to assert control.
- Our midfielders struggle when they are pressed.
- Whether we dominate possession or not often feels like a tactical decision by the opposition.
- The most frustrating games this season have not been those when we could not break down the defence, but those in which we are neither proactive in the attack nor reactive on the counter, and thus never even beginning to test the defence.
- We have been more vulnerable on the counter this season.
- The weakness has been the porous central midfield.
- This was understandable when we were experimenting with personnel, but even with Fred and McTominay, we still get overrun on the break.
- This is possibly a sign of tactical adaptation, but it remains to be seen.
- There is not much to say here: Fred and McTominay, once in position, are still reliable defensively compared to the alternatives.
- The pair only needs help during defensive transitions.
- Pogba and Van de Beek both struggle to protect the defence; fielding either would require additional cover.

The how:

- When defending, plays his normal role at right-back;
- Does not join the attack, either through overlap on the wing or underlap in the middle;
- Instead, runs in-field and acts as an auxiliary ball-winning midfielder;
- If on the ball, recycle possession with quick, unambitious passes;
- If off the ball, avail as a safe passing option;
- During defensive transitions, prioritise stopping the counter through the middle;
- If we are chasing a goal, attempt to win the ball back;
- If we are not chasing a goal, delay play until the midfielders are back in position, and then return to right-back.
- When defending, plays his normal role as one of two central midfielders;
- During attacking transitions (assuming no countering opportunity), focus on recycling possession until Wan-Bissaka arrives in midfield;
- Once numerical advantage is present, physically occupy the space between the two blocks, where he can afford to be more dynamic and robust;
- If the left forward is Pogba, then position more widely to avoid occupying the same space;
- During defensive transitions, press if we are chasing a goal; recover if we are not.
- When defending, plays his normal role as a central midfielder - his vulnerabilities here means this should be used sparingly;
- During attacking transitions, focus on directing the ball forward (if the opposition is already defensively organised, recycle possession until numerical advantage is present);
- In attack, has freedom to orchestrate play from deep or roam forward, similar to his role at Juventus and, occasionally, for France;
- During defensive transitions, press if we are chasing a goal; recover if we are not - this is the part he struggles with the most, so having an auxiliary defensive midfielder for this would yield the most benefit.
- This is slightly misleading, as he would still play his normal role;
- But he is drifting wide more frequently this season, so instead of both flanks, he would restrict his lateral movements to the right side only to make up for the loss of combination play;
- Does not have to provide Wan-Bissaka's overlaps;
- Does not have to do Wan-Bissaka's defending, but if he happens to be in the area...
- In general, the objective is to make Fernandes the extra man when playing against a three-men midfield.

The benefits:

- The no. 8 role (central midfielder with rear support) is more natural for both Fred and Pogba; this would allow either to play parts of the match in that role.
- Although still risky, this is the only way playing Pogba in a double-pivot is justifiable.
- Van de Beek's positioning and Matic's immobility would be less exposed if either player needs to fill in one of the midfield slots.
- Wan-Bissaka's pace and tackling often bail him out of trouble; they can be used more often in this hybrid role and somewhat compensate for his lack of experience there.
- Wan-Bissaka has good close control and rarely loses the ball when challenged; however, he does need space ahead of him which somewhat mitigates this point.
- The right-back area would no longer be a "kill-zone" for oppositions to initiate pressing.
- Out-numbering opponents in midfield can be a "cheat" to make us more press-resistant.
- Overloading might be the lowest form of creativity, but at least it is a form of creativity.
- If the midfielders cannot move the ball forward, we can at least move the midfield forward.
- The numerical advantage encourages rudimentary counter-pressing, so sustained spells of control will be easier to maintain.
- No attacking slot is sacrificed, so we can continue to field a top-heavy team in the short term.

The drawbacks:

- Wan-Bissaka's build-up play has improved this season; although it is still one of the more dispensable aspects of our attack, this would be unfair on the player.
- The lack of overlapping option makes it harder to field Greenwood, an inside-forward, on the right over a natural right-footer.
- The loss of width, though a conscious sacrifice, would make it harder to stretch play; whether we are currently doing that to any success is a different matter.
- Even if Wan-Bissaka tracks back as diligently as he does when he plays as an orthodox fullback, oppositions will target the area during transitions; whether that is necessarily a drawback is debatable.
- Defensive positioning is not Wan-Bissaka's strong suit, although it is not as bad as we sometimes exaggerate; he is not being asked to protect the defence in this role so that helps, although he will still be tested.
- A lot will be asked of Varane (and indirectly, Maguire), both mentally and physically during defensive transitions; he is probably the most suitable defender in the world for this, but it will be too much at times.
- This only makes some aspects of the team better some of the time; it is not a permanent solution, which can only be actual improvement of the midfield.

The alternatives:

A. Wan-Bissaka as an auxiliary centre-back: He stays back at all times and tucks in when we have the ball; one of Maguire or Varane steps up as the fourth midfielder; they are both competent passers of the ball but the exposure is riskier and more exploitable.
B. Shaw as the inverted fullback: He arguably already does a lot of underlapping when going forward; he actually can play penetrating passes and is good on the ball; however, with him in this role we lose his attacking play and width which are crucial at the moment.

Other idea, sell Bissaka to inter Milan!
 

Tarrou

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this might be a new low

our midfield is that shit we're hoping Aaron Wan-bi-fookin-saka is the answer
 

cyril C

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Absolutely Rubbish.

How AWB win the ball - often taking high risk, not by positioning, resulting in free kick if lucky, a card sometime. There is big difference between conceding a free kick in the middle, and free kick on the side.

What to do after you win the ball - intercepting the ball is only half of the job, if you can't pass it, or better, pass it as killer as Pogba's pass, you are useless. Kind of remind me using Park and Rafael as CMF, and neither would give away as many free kick as AWB.
 

Ace

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Stopped reading as soon as I saw Fred included in the starting XI.
 

FatTails

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I really like this thread! Great effort and so detailed.

I, almost equally, don't like the idea. Of all our panicky players in possession, AWB is among the most panicky. Add to that his positioning issues and the lack of a passing range, and he doesn't really fit in the middle of the pitch.
 

Pronewbie

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You want a player who isn't press-resistant, has a poor first touch, mediocre vision and passing, to play in a drop-back midfielder role.
You may be surprised to learn that the players who are synonymous with such a role are the opposite of Wan Bissaka. Think Mascherano, Busquets, retirement-age Keano, Carrick etc.
 

deleon

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Thanks for reading everyone. I appreciate those who tried to let me down gently.

I'd like to try defending it at least once before moving on. I should clarify that I'm not going to argue against the consensus that AWB would not make a good defending midfielder. So if you think that should be enough to settle the matter then fair enough. After all, it is against common sense to play someone in a role for which they are unsuited, not to mention it does operate with a bit of wonkiness. I cannot reward your patience if you read this.

The biggest flaws pointed out so far are, in order of their resonance:

1. AWB cannot pass the ball;
2. AWB has poor positioning;
3. AWB has no close control; and
4. Inverted role would expose right flank.

Again, I don't disagree with these, with the possible exception of (3). I think he is more comfortable on the ball than he's given credit for, but that's not a hill on which I'm willing to die. So briefly, I think he has an okay rate of getting out of trouble when cornered near the touchline, and that he is not entirely to blame for receiving the ball in bad situations in the first place. In any event, enough people have made the opposite point to make me reconsider this.

As for exposure on the right, it is certainly a problem - but one that is already happening. AWB already has to recover from the opposition by-line every time he joins the attack, and we already lack cover to compensate for this.

The difference is that instead of recovering from the end of the pitch, he would be recovering from the base of midfield. The distance is shorter, but he also has less time to do it. Overall, I suppose there is a fair chance that the exposure could be more exploitable as admitted in the OP.

Whether that is worth the potential risk depends on two things: (1) If a counter attack is on (for the opposition), and we are open both in midfield and at right back, is defending direct balls towards the latter preferable to being run over in the former? and (2) If we are dealing with both exposures simultaneously, and we can place a man in either area, which option would be more effective?

Question (1) is a bit of an over-simplification, but I think the general point holds, and the answer is "yes". The sideline is friendly when it comes to long balls and it limits the succeeding options.

Question (2) depends on whether AWB can defend effectively in midfield. So this is where his positioning becomes problematic.

Certainly I think he would be terrible if he's asked to sit in front of the defence and cut out passing options. He can't do what Makélélé or Carrick (in his later years) did. I'd like to think that's not what I implied in the OP either.

The test should be whether he is sharp enough to closely engage opponents as soon as we lose the ball, and then either attempt dispossession or delay until the real midfielders recover. Positioning isn't unimportant here, but I think we are imagining how bad AWB is if we think he'd be a net-negative here.

Remember, our midfield will include at least one of Fred, Pogba, Matic (whose positioning isn't bad, but just lacks the mobility to actualise it) and van de Beek, so the alternative isn't fielding a defensively sound midfielder, it's fielding a defensively poor midfielder with no rear cover.

Here's what will likely happen: With Rashford returning and Sancho improving, we are going to see Pogba in a double-pivot again. After a few games, we are going to complain it doesn't work and we need the solidity of McFred. So we will revert to that for a while. And a few toothless displays later people are going to urge Ole to be more attacking, and back to Pogba in midfield we go, and the cycle continues.

So if Pogba in midfield is inevitable, are we worse off by relying on his wanting defensive discipline, or by providing him with an imperfect transitional cover? The problem, if you've made it this far, is having to speculate whether that cover will be useful 90% of the time, or 10% of the time. Obviously, I am saying that despite his poor positioning, his aggression will be useful enough to outweigh the risks.

Now on to the most difficult part to reconcile with: AWB's passing. I don't want to re-use the argument that this is something already happening (i.e. his poor passing is already costing us offensively). For one thing, it would be bad faith: poor passing in the final third or out wide in our own half is less dangerous than poor passing in midfield; for another, I realise I am less harsh a critic on his wing-play than some on here (even though that's the raison d'être for this idea).

You might find it laughable if you read the OP that this scheme is meant to primarily improve the attack, and only secondarily the defence. Here was the thinking: The double-pivot will likely always feature one of Fred/Pogba, who will carry the creative responsibility (presumably over McTominay). For Fred to be more useful, he needs to occupy the space between the upper and lower block; for Pogba to be more useful, he needs freedom and more than one person covering him.

Theoretically, having AWB invert his runs when we are trying to exit the transitional phase creates 4v3 situations in midfield. I had hoped that calling it a "defensive inverted fullback" in the title would distinguish it from the role that Pep employs at Man City or that Shaw occasionally undertakes for us. The job description in the OP was "do not join the attack" and "recycle possession with quick, unambitious passes".

Of course, it still takes a great passer to do this well to the degree of a Busquets or a Carrick. But we are not looking for excellence, we are looking for better than what we currently do, and for-the-rest-of-the-season will, have. What AWB would have are Maguire and Varane behind him, Shaw and McTominay/Matic next to him, Fernandes and Pogba/Fred ahead of him, and a numerical advantage.

None of this matters if he doesn't have the technique to be at least competent, but I'd argue AWB isn't that kind of bad passer. His flaw is his inability to see beyond the obvious and the routine. His passes hurts our attacking momentum, but are relatively accurate considering whence they are made. Other than final balls, he most frequently gives away possession when he is isolated and surrounded near the touchline. As I said, I don't think he is solely to blame for being in those situations.

Ironically, WhoScored currently describes passing and ball-holding as his strengths so far this season, although I'm the first to concede it doesn't truly reflect his ability apropos the former. (It cites his interception skills too, but again, I'm not attaching too much weight to it.)

The point is, if asked to be a simple water-carrier, I argue that he would be tolerable enough despite his passing. He will waste possession more often than (some, though seemingly if harshly not ours) natural midfielders, but it is worth the risk if we can turn Fernandes into a free man with relative frequency and get Pogba/Fred to play in a more natural position.

I know that someone commented they stopped reading as soon as they saw Fred's name - and I get the frustration - but what we have is what we have. We cannot already be thinking about the summer window as solution.

Simultaneously, we shouldn't be comparing it to what Man City's inverted wingbacks do. They form arguably the best midfield in the world and we struggle to keep the ball against Aston Villa. Our requirements are very different.

To sum up, here's what I'm trying to say: Can the team attack better with an additional midfielder instead of an attacking fullback? Yes, despite AWB's passing. Is the team harder to hit on the break with the defender recovering from midfield instead of the bylines? Yes, despite his positioning. Is the right side more exploitable with an inverted fullback instead of an attacking fullback? I don't know, but I think the difference is small.

Because of the two big "despite"s, I don't think too many will be persuaded by this follow up. But to paraphrase a bit of Biden-ism: don't compare it to the Almighty, compare it to the alternative.
 

Artimities

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I appreciate Fred's hustle and his energy, but i sometimes question his positioning and his thought process is often all over the map.
McTominay to me gives us "big game" energy. He has fire and hustle and that makes up for his lack in other areas.
Matic is soooo inconsistent to me. There are times he looks fantastic and times he looks old and slow.
VDB... I just have not seen enough of to get a feel for.
Pogba, can work wonders but disappears at points and get caught out.

I'm ok with our attack breaking down with the final ball. We have too much talent for those final balls to not get us goals. My problem is when the attack breaks down at midfield or just inside midfield and we are left playing defensive scramble.

How many times have we seen Shaw or AWB or Matic out of position and giving the ball away in horrible space?
 

DevTheRed

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I don’t think he could be a DM because his passing isn’t good enough.. but I think there could be something to him becoming a third centre back when we attack to give us some defensive stability. Would allow us to play 3 at the back and let the midfielders push on.. especially if we do play Pogba in CM.

De Dea
AWB Varane Maguire
Fred
Bruno Pogba
Sancho Ronaldo Rashford Shaw​

So pretty much set up like this when we attack, let Pogba and Bruno commit forward and find space in the holes, Fred can (try) recycle possession, AWB and Maguire to play pretty much as ‘wide centre backs’ to support the play and then the width coming from Shaw and Sancho.
 

FriedClams

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This was actually a very good read, and as is often the case with lengthy arguments, I found myself nodding along and agreeing on some points. But looking at it logically, It's never likely to happen especially when we still continue to be linked with right backs meaning there may not be full confidence in AWB moving forward.

I think part of where the idea comes from is the way Walker/Cancelo play for city, but Guardiola's emphasis on tactical fouls means they rarely get caught out by left wingers because the ball rarely stays in play long enough, and usually teams just go backs to the wall against City. Plus, almost everyone in the City team works their socks off, whereas we cant rely on greenwood/Sancho to track back enough. Remember, tactical foul is really just another way of saying "make sure that we don't get exposed because this tactic is great when we have the ball but less so when we don't have it, so foul". I don't think our players are savvy enough to make this type of formation work, and that's before getting into AWB limitations on the ball.