Winger in Soccer: A Comprehensive Guide

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Imagine you’re sprinting up the sideline, ball at your feet, as defenders rapidly close in from behind. You take a deep breath and decide your next move.

Did your instinct guide you to pass or drive you to cut inside and shoot?

In the high-paced role of a winger in soccer, split-second decisions are constant, whether or not you have the ball.

A winger must decide when to pass when to shoot, when to accelerate, and when to slow down. This might explain why many wingers’ positions in soccer are among the most celebrated in the sport.

The traditional striker’s role is gradually fading, giving way to the dynamic wingers who command the flanks.

The raw power of a large, strong forward capable of holding the ball, turning, and scoring is being overshadowed by the attributes of speed, athleticism, and creativity.

So, let’s delve into the art of playing as a winger in soccer and its transformative impact on the modern game.

What is a Winger in Soccer?

When we talk about wingers in soccer, we mostly discuss the offensive-minded players who play on the edges of the field. They will help the wing-backs on defense the same way the wing-backs assist the wingers on offense.

Depending on the coach, most teams play with a left winger and a right winger, and their job is to control the sides of the attacking third. 

While they start on the wing, wingers have the flexibility to roam into the middle of the field when the opportunity arises.

In the modern game, the wingers are typically your best-attacking players because they are both excellent shooters and precise passers. They can use their speed to find open space while also possessing the balance and athleticism to change directions at a moment’s notice.

How to Play Winger in Soccer?

There is no correct way to play a winger in soccer because different coaches ask different things from the winger position in soccer.

There are some generalities such as being positioned on one side of the field and, for the most part, never crossing the invisible line separating the two sides. 

You also need to be good with the ball at your feet and separate yourself from a defender, whether with your speed or another crafty method.

In addition to the playmaking skills above, you need to be tactically aware of what’s going on around you on the field.

Clues everywhere tell you when to pass and when to shoot when to accelerate past a defender, or when to allow the attack to build up more slowly. 

Attributes Of a Good Soccer Winger

Now let’s dive deeper into those qualities we discussed above about how to play winger in soccer.

Pace

More than speed, a great winger must master the control of their pace on the field.

Someone with a good pace could simply sprint past an opponent, but the wingers with the best pace know when to go full speed and when to dial it down.

It’s less about how fast you are than how well you use the different gears to move past defenders.

Dribbling

To be a great winger, you must possess exceptional touch and control of the ball at your feet. So much of a winger’s game comes when they have the ball, so protecting it while moving up the field is vital.

Dribbling may be one of the first things you learn when playing soccer, but that is because it is so important for the winger position in soccer and so many others.

Crossing Ability

When the ball is at your feet, you have two options—passing or shooting. A great winger can do both, but the elite ones are at their best when they are equally dangerous.

It isn’t as easy to cross the ball accurately as many would think, especially when you’re sending it on the run. The best wingers know how to find teammates with pinpoint-accurate crosses, whether on the run or standing still.

Shooting

The reason many wingers are famous is because they often score goals. They have the skill to send the ball flying through the air into the net, keeping their shots accurate.

It takes a lot of technique to lift shots over defenders and sneak them under the crossbar. Great wingers are not just good at shooting; they’re experts who always need to be watched when they’re near the goal box.

Defensive Contribution

What separates a winger from a striker is their responsibilities on defense. Most of the time, the wingers need to stay with the wing backs who may make long runs up the sideline to give their teams more attacking threats.

Keeping up with athletic defenders is a challenge, but it’s a crucial skill wingers must master to earn trust on the field. 

Decision Making

As we have already hinted at, wingers must make quick and impactful decisions on the field. So much of a winger’s game is about when to pass the ball and when to attack a defender.

Then it becomes a question of whether to make a threatening pass forward or a safer pass behind them or even switch the field to take advantage of some space.

Tactical Awareness

The winger is the position that controls the pace of attack, and the wingers must be aware of where everyone is on the field. Much like a point guard in basketball, the winger needs to know when to speed up the attack to try to catch the defense flat-footed and when to slowly build up the offense.

Wingers also need to make sure they are putting their teammates in positions to succeed and not being wishful with their passes.

Physicality and Stamina

A winger is a true endline-to-endline position, which means the elite ones can run a long way without losing too much energy.

Most wingers are also deceptively strong to prevent themselves from being pushed off the ball by a defender’s aggression. If a winger isn’t one of the fittest on the team, it can spell trouble in the latter part of games when everyone starts to tire.

Versatility

So much of sports is about being unpredictable and a versatile winger adds so much to the attack. The great wingers are excellent passers and great shooters and do both so well in similar positions.

But the best wingers are also able to play both left winger and right winger, making them indispensable in the lineup because they are equally as dangerous on both sides of the field.

Teamwork

A great winger relies heavily on their teammates’ support, but the team equally benefits from the winger’s contributions. A winger needs to be able to support the defense when a wingback makes a run into the attacking third or the back line is being overloaded by attackers.

At the same time, the wingers are needed to assist in the attack and add to the numbers trying to score in the attacking third.

Best Left Wingers in Soccer Right Now

Vinícius Júnior 

Vinícius Júnior 

Do not let this Brazilian’s small stature fool you; there is a reason Vinicius is considered one of the world’s best players. His offensive flair is dazzling to watch with Real Madrid or the Brazilian national team, as he showcases so much technical skill.

He has the speed to blow past defenders, the touch to keep the ball close to his body at all times, and the power to shake off tackles from defenders.

Rafael Leão 

Rafael Leão 

There is something about Leao’s direct attack that makes him appealing to watch. Dribbling is the Portuguese player’s strength because he uses it as a weapon in tight areas against defenders.

He is quick on his feet and able to use his speed when needed, but there’s something special about the AC Milan winger’s ability to break down great defenders in one-on-one situations easily.

Jack Grealish 

Jack Grealish 

Several journalists have called Grealish an “old-school player” because he does not possess many of the physical attributes of the new-age wingers. He is not exceptionally quick, but he moves fast on the field and uses his skills well to get past defenders.

The Englishman is an attacking nightmare for opponents because of how well he controls the ball, and the vision he has for where his teammates are on the field at all times.

Phil Foden 

Phil Foden 

Foden is a hybrid winger who can play in all three levels of a team depending upon what the coach asks of him. The Englishman has shown he has a knack for scoring, but he is truly a full-field player who defends as well at his end as he attacks the opponent’s goal.

You can see why he has been boasted as England’s future since his 2017 U-17 World Cup performance when you look at how many ways he impacts games for Manchester City.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia 

This Georgian made a strong impression on the European football world as the Serie A Most Valuable Player in 2022-23. Kvaratskhelia is a selfless playmaker who led the Italian league in assists for a reason.

He can pick out any teammate in the box with ease but is also more than capable of finishing himself if given the space. He is the true dual threat on the wing that teams fear going against every week.

Best Right Wingers in Soccer Right Now

Mohamed Salah 

Mohamed Salah 

What can we say about this Egyptian playing for Liverpool? He is as cool, calm, and collected on the ball as someone enjoying a stroll on a summer’s day.

He is as clinical as they come when it comes to scoring goals but does so in the most unselfish of ways. He is the ideal winger for any young player to study while trying to improve their skills at the position.

Bukayo Saka 

Bukayo Saka 

This English youngster is a shining star for Arsenal’s attack as he has continued to live up to the promise many saw in him at a young age. Saka absolutely can score goals with the best attackers in the world, but what truly stands out is his smarts on the field.

He knows how to read the game and deliver exactly what is needed at that moment, whether it be that long, aggressive run with pace or a more leisurely build-up.

Serge Gnabry

Serge Gnabry

Those looking for a more inspirational story to motivate you, this German is your man. Gnabry can score, and he has a lot of the qualities you look for in a winger, yet it’s his defense that stands out.

No one on this list works as hard to get back and defend as this German, and that is difficult to do when your main job is attacking.

He is a great example of the work required to make deep, dangerous runs in the box on offense, only to sprint back and play excellent defense as well.

Luis DĂ­az

Luis DĂ­az

Despite being 28 years old, Diaz’s rise onto this list has only come in the past three years at Liverpool. There is nothing very fancy about his game, but has a never-ending supply of energy, allowing him to look as strong in the 90th minute as he did in the first.

He is the exact type of offensive weapon clubs would love to have coming off the bench, let alone starting up front for them.

Rodrygo

Rodrygo

The young Brazilian needs to have the gaudy statistics of many of his counterparts on this list. However, much of what he has done successfully for Real Madrid will show up in something other than traditional stats.

Rodrygo is a pressing fiend who is putting pressure on the opposing defense and focusing on the small details. The goals do come in bursts for the winger because he is consistent in the details and helping Real Madrid in other ways.

Conclusion

Now, you know what makes a great winger and what sets the best ones apart in soccer. 

Given all the tasks they’re expected to handle, wingers play a vital role on the field. They often get the spotlight for scoring goals and setting up their teammates to score.

But it’s also important to see how wingers support every part of the field. They help out in defense, add energy to the midfield to regain control of the ball, and create opportunities for the offense. 

Wingers have a big impact everywhere they play, which is why they’re so well-known and admired.

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