In Search of Wing Backs: Creating Bespoke Profiles in TransferLab

Eric Laurie creates a bespoke profile for wing backs in TransferLab.

Recently, I looked at the role of the outside centre back, building a profile in TransferLab to assess which players might be suited to that role. To do this, I selected various metrics which I felt best represented the skill-set of the outside centre back, using this as a way of filtering out unsuitable candidates. 

Off the back of that, I will now have a look at finding players who may project as good options to play in the role of a wing back. In some sense, this goes hand in hand with the outside centre back profiling; any team looking to implement a three-man backline will also need to fill the role of wingback in their side. 

As mentioned in the centre back profiling, teams at both club level and international level have seen relative success in the last year when playing with a three-man backline. Taking this into account it could be interesting to find natural fullbacks or wingers who could make an impact if they were to be transitioned into a wingback role.

The Role of a Wing Back 

In modern football, pretty much every position on the pitch requires players to be two-way players, meaning they should be able to contribute to the side both offensively and defensively. 

This holds true for both full backs and wingers alike. While full backs can get by with some attacking deficiencies, they are still expected to be adept offensively and act as a creative outlet for their side. Wingers, on the other hand, are typically expected to produce offensively and can at times be forgiven for lack of defensive prowess. Conversely, wingers with the ability to track back in addition to defending on the front foot are of great value.

In both cases, though, there is leniency given for those players who excel in one area as long as they make up for it in the other.

Understandably, then, the role of the wing back is a very demanding profile to fill. Typically, a wing back is tasked to cover the entirety of their flank throughout a match, offering both attacking and defensive output. A player who can attack like a winger and defend as a full back, in addition to having the capacity to continuously get up and down the wing, would obviously make a perfect candidate for this role.

Wingers as Full Backs

To get started, I had a look at wingers who rate highly under the already established “Full Back – Defensive” profile in TransferLab. 

I have decided to use the “Defensive” profile as opposed to the “Attacking” profile based on the fact that the “Attacking” profile will suit wingers who simply rate well offensively. In this particular scenario, we want to find wingers who rate well defensively. Wingers who rate well in defensive metrics could potentially make the switch to a more defensive role of wingback compared to their more natural attacking role further up the pitch.

Here we can see the wingers who rated highest under the profile of “Full Back – Defensive”:

Interestingly enough, players such as Amadou Haidara, Marc Albrighton, Jeffrey Schlupp and Nahitan Nandez have seen time in a more defensive role than classic winger, playing as full back or wing back with their respective clubs. 

Equally, however, there are certain players on the list who wouldn’t really be suited to the wing back position. Mikkel Damsgaard and Jamal Musiala stand out in that regard. 

Attacking Full Backs

Having looked at wingers who measure well defensively, we can now also have a look at full backs who show up well under the “Winger – Classic Winger” profile. This search will highlight players who are categorised as full backs in TransferLab but who rate highly in various metrics which in theory would be important for a wide forward–and by extension, wing backs.

Understandably, filtering in this way shows up a lot of players who play in wing back roles for their clubs (no doubt due to the fact that TransferLab doesn’t categorise players as wing backs). Achraf Hakimi, Tariq Lamptey, Silas Wamangituka, Juan Cuadrado, Angelino, Filip Kostic, Solly March and Borna Sosa have all played as wing backs for their clubs.

Both of the searches I have undertaken have thrown up strong potential wing backs. But there have also been some suggestions that have not been strong candidates for the wing back position. The question is: how do you distinguish the good from the bad without already knowing the individual players?

Profiling Wing Backs

As we have said, when searching for a player suited to the role of a wingback, we will want players who can both attack and defend at a high level, ideally not specializing in one or the other. Using TransferLab, we can start to build a profile which attempts to highlight the skill-set a wing back does to help us in our search. 

The metrics that we choose to include in our wing back profile should cover a variety of actions while also weighting the importance of each metric. Here are the metrics I selected in TransferLab for the “Wing Back” profile (yellow stars indicate selected metrics):

By applying this profile to all of the full backs and wide forwards in the TransferLab database, the following players are brought up:

Many of the names are familiar and it is no surprise to see players such as Luke Shaw, Joao Cancelo or Theo Hernandez amongst the top-rated players. The list also brings up names such as Juan Cuadrado, Reece James and Marc Albrighton who have played matches at wing back for their respective clubs over the past season.

The Next Step

Of course, the problem with approaching the wing back position in this way is that you’re always trying to balance off the full back position with a wide forward position and find some sort of happy medium between the two. A better solution would be to build a wing back profile using bespoke metrics within TransferLab that allows us to hone in on specific qualities you might want your wing back to possess.

Fortunately, TransferLab is built on a model which allows us to do just this. By taking event data and using a Markov Chain model to assess how each action on the pitch increases the likelihood of a goal being scored (or, conversely, a goal being conceded), we can start to isolate specific actions that we might want our wing back to excel in so as to start highlighting stand out players in this action.

For example, you might want to isolate a player’s pressing actions in wide areas but specifically in the opponent’s half to emphasise players who excel pressing higher up the pitch. Alternatively, you might want to isolate a players build-up passing in wide areas but in the middle third of the pitch to help you assess players who are good at build-up in those areas.

By thinking about the actions you want your wing back to excel at, the TransferLab algorithm can be extended to allow us to create these bespoke metrics which give us a better picture of the wing back position. In future weeks, we shall generate some of these bespoke metrics and see who they show up as potential wing backs in our database.

Analytics FC provides software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking. We provide cutting-edge software solutions such as TransferLab, which helps improve and simplify recruitment decisions. To find out more about TransferLab and our other data services, or to find out more about us, visit our website.

At Analytics FC, we provide software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking.

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