4 Players We Need To See In Different Positions

Over the past five seasons or so, we have experienced a tactical renaissance that has seen the world’s biggest sides and players operate in positions based on roles rather than suitability for the area. We have seen conventional wingers such as Ivan Perisic and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco become wing-backs, swiss-army knife players such as James Milner and Lorenzo Pellegrini play wherever they’re needed, and most famously as of late, Newcastle striker Joelinton becoming one of the leading box-to-box midfielders in the world. Despite these jumps, there is still work to be done and abstract ideas to be explored and these are four players we need to see in these experiments.

Trent Alexander-Arnold: RB → CM

An easy and popular switch as of late but valid, fans have speculated what Alexander-Arnold at center-midfield would look like. Given who he is, what he’s asked to do, and his skill set, it may be a step backward to make such a generational full-back talent revert to a conventional midfielder but this may lead to one of the most entertaining players in the middle of the park as a result. The Liverpool native doesn’t even play right-back for most of the game since Jordan Henderson drops into that role as Alexander-Arnold pushes forward and wide, sometimes allowing Mohamed Salah the freedom to get into the box as he delivers crosses. At a baseline level, Alexander-Arnold operates as a very passive Mezzala in attack, playing higher than the other two midfielders while being the creative hub in between defense and attack. Liverpool is normally so dominant higher up that they essentially all set up in the opponent’s half and do not have to move around often, but with Sadio Mane’s off-ball prowess now absent, Alexander-Arnold can float in and around the right side as someone like Thiago does on the left.

So, what’s the switch here? Alexander-Arnold is allowed to totally embrace the attacking responsibility a Mezzala would have. Despite Liverpool’s defensive struggles this season, the team is solid on that end and can allow insurance for the English right-back’s preconceived defensive blunders. Since Jurgen Klopp’s tactical approach is more established around Alexander-Arnold at right-back, however, the positional modification would apply better to the England setup with the Three Lions switching to a 4-3-3, putting out a midfield trio of Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice, and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Rice is completely capable of picking up any defensive responsibility and progression from their own half to allow Alexander-Arnold free roam higher up to create chances for an aerially dominant Harry Kane as Bellingham maintains the work rate and acts as the engine in progression going forward.

Granit Xhaka: CM → CAM

Granit Xhaka’s resurgence this season was a shock to most of the football world, but we should have seen it coming. Amidst the tactical evolution we are seeing, Mikel Arteta is one of the managers that has leaned heavily on roles over positions on paper dating back to last year. He didn’t create the “elbow” backline setup but was definitely among the most successful sides in employing it and beyond that, Granit Xhaka acted as his lab rat as a result of numerous injuries. The Swiss international played left-back, center defensive midfield, left-side center half in a back three, and even winger to no avail, but his success this year proves he can bring back the classic number 10 role that football has seemingly forgotten.

Xhaka doesn’t have a defined position as it stands, starting in a double pivot with Thomas Partey but remaining around the top of the box as Oleksandr Zinchenko fills in the pivot. It may sound like Xhaka has already made the switch but he still tracks back often and sometimes covers the left flank when Zinchenko pushes forward and Gabriel Martinelli drifts inwards. Martin Odegaard is also the defined creator of the team but as the game progress, the Arsenal captain enjoys going right to allow Bukayo Saka more freedom to cut inside. Gabriel Jesus also sits deep, meaning that Xhaka in an advanced role implies that he is the only acting center forward, which could be very fun given how great he is at striking the ball but his mobility can limit how quickly Arsenal plays. Overall, this switch would be very situational but like Alexander-Arnold, relieving defensive responsibility can lead to a monstrous output and Arsenal’s controlled, yet chaotic, positioning and movement can facilitate the move.

David Raum: LB → LW

RB Leipzig hasn’t enjoyed the most stellar start to the season, but despite some dull moments and underwhelming results, many individuals have been exciting and new signing David Raum is a top prospect for modern football going forward. Boasting an insane burst with the ball, the German international’s dynamism in attack from the back is among the best in the Bundesliga for the past two seasons, implying his capability of moving even higher up.

Marco Rose has established a 4-2-3-1 system for the Red Bull club but with Christopher Nkunku’s versatility and rumored move away from the club, Raum can slot in on the left wing and reach the box quicker to make the most of his direct nature. With the rotation Leipzig has upfront, Raum could take advantage of Andre Silva’s natural goal-scoring ability or Nkunku’s movement to make Leipzig a fluid and dominant attacking force. Having him operate as a deep winger may work as well, picking up the ball deep in the opponent’s half and progressing forward while the rest of the forward line sets up around the box. The unfortunate reality is that Raum will likely never see a switch in this manner unless Leipzig faces numerous injuries and departures, with Germany probably being even more reluctant as they seemingly have a depth issue in both full-back positions and more than enough talent out wide. We can only dream.

Antoine Griezmann: CF → CM

The little Frenchman has gone through a strange run of seasons since his move to Barcelona, but even during Atletico Madrid’s comical handling of a buy obligation clause, Antoine Griezmann still proves he can at the very least serve a role if he isn’t the star man. In terms of underlying numbers, Griezmann is a fairly positive player but Joao Felix must be the focus of the front line if they want to make his fee worth it, so where could that put Griezmann? In a much deeper, creative role.

Atleti’s struggles in the past years have been immense but Diego Simeone is still a strong defensive coach with great defensive talents, despite the drop-off in production for numerous stars. This is to say that Griezmann in center-midfield wouldn’t exactly expose more holes than there already are. Though an unsuccessful presser, he’s still a very willing one with 21 pressures per 90 minutes, and if his numbers defensively aren’t above average for attacking midfielders, they are average, so no harm. Attacking-wise, we know what he is capable of even during his slow decline. His creativity hasn’t faded with poor performances or age and allowing him to operate as a very, very deep Trequarista can cover up for his passive nature in terms of progression, as much as it contradicts the purpose of the role. It may be too much for a manager like Simeone who is hellbent on his style but having the World Cup winner almost be a false center-midfielder may add a level of dynamism to the Spanish giants.

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