Antonio Conte changed the traditional nature of English football with the formational revelation of the “full back” which has proved to become a recipe for success in modern soccer, writes Lorcan Berg
For the longest time I had seen full backs as the most disposable and undesirable position on a football pitch. It just seemed that if you were in a room with all the positions and were told to shoot one, full back would be the one to bite the bullet.
Until Antonio Conte came to manage in the premier league in 2016/17 for Chelsea and blew my Liverpool-faithful mind.
English football is laden with tradition, and it doesn’t come more traditional than a good four-four-two, but my life was forever changed when Conte incorporated a 3-4-3 system. A blend of defensive discipline and overwhelmingly confusing attacking threat allowed for Chelsea to walk the Premier League.
The names Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses would probably not be the first to get credited with Chelsea’s success, behind Fabregas, Hazard and Diego Costa, but the two aforementioned figures were pivotal. That season was the first time ever that I recall wing backs being utilized with such productivity, and the plan was executed perfectly.
With three center backs this meant that the two either side of the central one doubled as “back up full backs”. The reason for this was that Chelsea played their full backs in a very advanced position, as wingers basically. Alonso and Moses would make overlapping runs after overlapping runs, with defense being a distant priority because they knew they had cover at the back with the wide center backs and holding midfielders like Matic and Kante filling in the space when needed.
The use of attacking full backs also opened up further possibilities going forward. With the full backs essentially playing as defensive minded wingers what happens to the wingers? Hazard would cut inside more frequently because he knows he has Alonso behind him and either Pedro or Willian would form a double act with Moses.
It gets even scarier when you have the brute that is Diego Costa putting his body on the line for every ball swung his way.
Since Chelsea’s successful 3-4-3 campaign of 16/17, I’ve paid a lot more attention to wing backs and the progression of their role in the modern game. We now frequently see a lot of the attacking responsibilities placed up on the full backs which requires them to have insane stamina, technical and mental sharpness as well as pinpoint distribution.
Some teams notoriously employing full back reliant attacks are Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Man City, although Pep has his own thing going on with inverted full backs and position-less full backs like Cancelo. Whilst I watch football subjectively and base my opinions around the club I support like everybody else I really appreciate the sport for what it is. I am incredibly lucky that I get to witness the intricate details and mind games of modern football and to see them from a mostly neutral viewpoint.
On a more biased note I hope that whatever curse was put on Liverpool to viciously derail the entire infrastructure is soon lifted so that we can go back to playing liquid possession-dominating, counter attacking, full back dependant football because lord knows we are making the Roy Hodgson era look like prime Barcelona. Most importantly, I hope my kid grows up to be a wing-back.