If someone says they play as a 7 or 11, they mean they play as a winger. The 7 plays on the right as a right winger and the 11 plays on the left as a left winger. Wingers almost always have exceptional pace and a big engine. To play as a winger, you need to be able to cover a lot of ground on the flanks. Wingers understand when to make runs in behind the defenders, when to pull wide, when to tuck inside. Wingers also possess excellent 1v1 skills in open areas but are still technical like the 9/10 with regards to being able to play intricately around the penalty area.
In the modern game, you often see many teams putting their top talent in wide positions. Talented players with pace and skill love to find room out wide to run at the back line and take advantage of the isolation of 1v1 situations. Some of the best players to exemplify this in the modern game are the likes of Gareth Bale and Ronaldo…or their counterparts at Barca, Neymar and Messi. Bale and Ronaldo are probably better if they could just get along.
Bale: "Come on, I help you score loads of goals, I voted for you for Ballon D'Or, I even saw your movie...let's be friends."
Ronaldo: "No dice Bale-keep up the good service and stay off the dead balls around the penalty area."
Let’s take a look at a few of the characteristics of the 7 and 11 player and try to make a few of those our own.
Characteristics to Play as a Winger
1. Speed and Stamina- These are entry points to the position. I know Ronaldo doesn’t track back, but the rest of us have to.
2. Crafty, Well Timed Runs.
3. Comfortable in 1v1 situations (defending and attacking) in open areas.
4. Excellent service providers (crosses, through balls, etc)
5. Read the Game Well-understand when to drift wide and when to drift in.
The primary role of the 7/11 (to play as a winger) is to provide width to the game, particularly in the offensive half of the field. This position does carry large defensive and tracking responsibilities in the modern game, but let’s discuss our goals going forward. When the ball is with the wingbacks, the 7/11 look to provide width and an outlet up the line.
This works to keep the oppositions wingers and wingback honest in respecting the sideline, which opens up middle channels for 8/9/10 to get on the ball directly. You take what is on and looks to be the highest percentage in retaining possession. In the same diagram, you can see how when the ball is with the 11, the 7 on the opposite side of the field has tucked inside. If the ball were to switch to the opposite side, say 6/8/ were to get on the ball, 7 would look to provide width on the opposite side of the pitch and 11 would tuck in.
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How to Make Runs as a 7/11 in the Attacking 3rd of the Field?
Once we've advanced the ball through the midfield, the 7/11 wingers need to have an understanding of how we make runs in the final third. These runs really depend on what the outside backs are doing. If the backs are outside, leaving a channel between them and the 4/5, then we try to make an inside run. If the backs are tucked in, supporting the 4/5, then we look for an outside run.
Once the wingers make their runs and are rewarded with the pass they need to make decisions:
1. If they make an inside run they can look to go to goal or commit the goalkeeper and defense to the near post and look to layoff for a more clear goal scoring opportunity.
2. If the winger makes the outside run, they need to be thinking about serving the ball to players making runs into the box. Try to angle your body so you are facing the goal, this will allow you to see players making runs into the box better and keep you from slicing the ball out of play.
Expert wingers understand the value in "getting the endline." This is when you can get in behind or beat your defender and drive at the goal on the endline. This allows for the forwards and midfields to cue up the runs and the defense and goalkeeper have to honor you with the ball driving at the goal, very difficult to deal with.
When to Dribble as a Winger?
Many wingers in the modern game like to receive the ball in wide areas and come inside. Many players who favor their right foot (Ronaldo) look to go wide on the left (11) and many left footed players (Messi) go on the right (7) so they can penetrate on their strong foot. In the 1990's when Manchester United's 4-4-2 was dominating European football, you would have righties on the right and lefties on the left. Man United used to rely on expert service into the penalty areas and long diagonal balls to frustrate defenders and goalkeepers alike. With the emergence of Barcelona in the late 2000's as the leader in European football, we have seen an adoption of the 4-3-3, predominately in the shape of a 4-2-3-1. In this system, you want your wingers giving width but also looking to drive inside and create channels and angles for the #9 and opposing winger to get in behind the defense.
11 Penetrates on Dribble toward the heart of the defense, opening up angles and runs for 9/7/10.
If the 9/7/10 aren't in good positions for runs and are late arriving into the area then the winger has to make a decision. He can try to go 1v1 and look to get a shot off depending on his confidence level going against the outside defender. Or he can make the decision to take the defender on the outside and get his service in, and by doing so will allow the supporting cast more time to get themselves into dangerous areas in the penalty area.
How to Defend as a Winger?
Unless you are Ronaldo, odds are you are going to have to defend as a winger. This means after making a streaking run up the line, you could very well find yourself in the predicament of not having received service and then having to track back quickly to deal with a counter attack. As a winger, you need to track back until you are goalside of your opponent. Depending where you are on the field, you may need to be touch tight, such as in your penalty area. Or, if you are at midfield then setting 5-10 yards off your opponent to account for not getting the ball played in behind you.
If you happen to be overlapped in the midfield by your wingback, what do you do then? A good strategy is to set back for the wingback and momentarily switch roles, providing support to the play. However, if your back line has slid over, with your center and opposite wingback filling the void, then you can look to go attack. A good center back will alert you to this, communicating that he has slid over to cover and for you to go forward and try to create an overload on the overlapping side. Visual cues, awareness, and communication are key for this to transpire, but it's not a terribly difficult maneuver once trained a few times on the practice field.
That concludes a basic overview to play as a winger in the 7/11 roles. The primary responsibility is to give the field width, tuck in when the ball is on your opposite side. Look to make runs in behind on the outside when you defender is inside, and look to make inside runs when your defender is outside. Always look to get the endline when possible, and when you dribble, going into the middle causes the center backs much frustration as they have to deal with you on the ball, plus runners off their back shoulders.