Inverted Fullbacks For The Future?


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Almost everyone knows Joao Cancelo right? I believe you do. What an outstanding player for Manchester City. Doing so well under Pep Guardiola. Sadly got suspended against Real Madrid in the first leg of the semi finals because he faced a second yellow in the game against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. He is a right back though. But as you've all seen, he mostly plays at Left back. So that makes him as an inverted fullback. Pretty unconventional. Who else uses a right footed left back? Well Chelsea does sometimes. In Cesar Azpilicueta. But isn't a right footed left back meant to be out of position and thus a failed experiment? How are these players doing so well? And how Cancelo is taking the world by storm by playing in a symmetrically different position. Let's discuss.

Going back all the way to Paolo Maldini's early days. He was playing right back as he's right footed. And he was very talented and was doing very very well in that position. Come the year 1980 and Milan signed a guy called Tasotti he would go on to become a Rossonerri legend himself. He's nit the subject though. Fact is, Milan's coach back then, Arrigo Sacchi supported the idea of playing a young player in the fullback position. So bringing in Tasotti (who is also a right back) to replace Maldini in that position wasn't something Sacchi was looking forward to. He also didn't want to bench Maldini as he was an indespensable talent. Then he cooks a wild idea of playing Maldini in left back. And Maldini excelled. Him playing there would cause opposition wingers quite some problems. Back then the wingers weren't as creative as today, they were out and out wingers. They would hug the byline and deliver a cross into the box whenever possible. Or cut in to the box from the byline. Maldini being right footed led many wingers to think Maldini was weak there. And they could exploit him first and then go on about their business. These thoughts backfired badly. We all know how.

Maldini led to inspire many others after him. Who would idolize him and embody his role of playing an inverted right back. These players are relatively solid defensively. They tend to act as for of a half back rather than a fullback. Usually in a back 4 formation there are two center backs and a defensive midfielder guarding the defense. 3 people. The rest push forward. This creates an unstable situation when the team faces a counter attack. But when there's an inverted fullback the fullback usually doesn't pushes all the way up. Rather he stays in a more midfield position. This restores balance to chaos on a counter attack. Also, being there in the midfield there are lots of passing options for the fullback. And midfield is the place where teams win the ball the most. So these half backs can very much spread passes throughout the field according to the situation. And being slightly deeper than usual these players can get back to their defensive duties faster and provide the team more stability.

Zambrotta, Philipp Lahm, Javier Zanetti, Joao Cancelo, Cesar Azpilicueta are all successes of the inverted fullback culture. All of them are right footed left backs. We're yet to see any left footed right backs. But in the pace that football is evolving, who knows?

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