There can be no denying the importance of those wily wingers out wide.
They once bore the brunt of surging down the byline and whipping balls into the box; now they come in many guises. From inside forwards, to traditional wingers, or even Thomas Muller’s famed ‘Raumdeuter’ role, the wide-man is much more than just a purveyor of crosses these days.
Not only are they tasked with stretching the play and creating chances, but in many cases, they are the goalscoring fulcrums, usurping their centre-forward counterparts. Just look at Cristiano Ronaldo or perhaps the prolific exploits that have been unravelling on the flanks at Anfield these past few seasons.
But, it’s not just on Merseyside or at the feet of one Portuguese legend where wide-play has flourished this season. In the Premier League, there have been some notable performers thriving on the flanks. Here we take a look at those and marvel at the 10 best wingers of 2019/20 so far.
For the sake of consistency and clarity, we’ve assessed footballers who have featured more times on the wing than say, up front, in the case of Richarlison and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — two players who have both featured more prominently in the centre-forward role this term.
10. Dwight McNeil
Burnley have had a strange season, mixing runs of form with poor patches, but they look comfortable in 10th with nine games remaining. Part of the reason for their position has been the performances of McNeil who is continuing to grow under Sean Dyche.
Playing both as a winger or a wide-midfielder, McNeil has been the creative hub at Burnley this season, creating 43 chances in the Premier League, more than any other Clarets player. The 20-year-old has also recorded the joint-most assists (five) and completed the most take-ons (61), but also ranks highly for tackles (41), with only James Tarkowski (49) managing more for Burnley.
9. Harvey Barnes
It has been quite the breakthrough season for Leicester’s academy gem, who featured sporadically last term, but has come to life under the paternalistic tutelage of Brendan Rodgers this campaign. Before the football calendar was disrupted there were whispers of an England call-up for Euro 2020 — and with good reason.
The Foxes often find answers centrally, thanks to the metronomic exploits of James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, but in Barnes, Leicester have a creative cog out wide. The 22-year-old is the club’s top assist provider this term (six) and boasts the third-best output for both chances created (31) and goals scored (six).
Ayoze Perez has looked impressive in spells, but at £30m that was always expected. For Barnes, his barnstorming form has helped catapult Leicester into third — and he cost the club zilch.
8. Raheem Sterling
There have been some arguments that Sterling has endured an underwhelming season, by his standards certainly — a goalless run stretching back to December would attest to this — but we’re still looking at a winger who has netted 11 goals in just 24 games.
That scoring metric is impressive enough for any wide player across an entire campaign, but considering there is still a third of the season left to play, this prolific streak is accentuated all the more. It is often the mark of a world class athlete that, even when the chips are down, results remain forthcoming. Despite not yet finding the back of the net in the Premier League in 2020, the England international continues to be an invaluable cog in Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut.
7. Emiliano Buendia
To say Norwich City’s top-flight future is in precarious territory would be an understatement to say the least, but wherever the Canaries find themselves next season, one thing is for certain: Buendia will be hot property in the next transfer window.
That no wide player has created more chances than the balletic Argentinian this term (73) — the fourth most in the league — is testament to his ability, despite playing for the division’s basement club and the least prolific side. His seven assists and immense creative ability are magnified when considering the quality around him and it may not be outlandish to think La Albiceleste are keeping a close eye on his progress.
Emiliano Buendía is the only player in the 2019/20 Premier League season with:
❍ 50+ tackles made
❍ 50+ chances created
❍ 50+ take-ons completed
And leads the division for successful through-balls. 🔰 pic.twitter.com/caR72pXofm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 2, 2020
6. Son Heung-min
The spellbinding South Korean could probably clinch top spot for that one goal alone. We all the know one I’m referring to here. That solo effort against Burnley was Son in microcosm; collecting the ball and shimmying past players freely before devastatingly slotting home.
It has been an unsettling season for those of a Lilywhite persuasion, and at times for Son too — with two red cards to his name, though the first against Everton was certainly contentious — but the incisive winger has largely been a consistent threat for the club and his numbers reflect that, with nine goals and seven assists.
Either way, there is just no getting away from that goal, which will unequivocally go down in Premier League lore as one of — if not the — greatest goals to grace these shores. A true masterclass.
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5. Adama Traore
The Adonis-framed speedster has been a revelation this season, finally translating his potential into tangible success. Too many times have we seen great prospects burst onto the scene, only to drift out of the limelight and evade our minds.
However, Traore has firmly cemented his mark on us this campaign. His hulking physique belies a sharp intellect and clinical edge, which he has showcased numerous times this term. He has tormented full-backs, snapped ankles and shown a clean pair of heels to anyone brave enough to go toe-to-toe with him. Not to mention he’s added some end product to his dribbling, with seven assists and four goals.
4. Marcus Rashford
Before a back injury abruptly stopped Rashford in his tracks, the England international was in simply scintillating form, and he was really starting to realise his true goalscoring potential. There have been question marks over Rashford’s ability to become a 20-goal-a-season forward, but this campaign he has made those claims seem foolish.
On top of that there has been the quandary as to what exactly is Rashford’s best position? Is it up-top in a lone role, in a two-man partnership or out wide? Going on his current purple patch, the latter position has solved that particular puzzle.
3. Riyad Mahrez
After a somewhat underwhelming maiden campaign at the Etihad, exemplified by that penalty miss against Liverpool, the Algerian has really stepped up to the plate and proven his worth this season. And in truth, Guardiola has really needed him to with the long-term injury sustained by Leroy Sane last summer.
Mahrez may have forged a reputation for his dribbling ability and a goalscoring edge, but that has been amplified this season with his creative output, so far registering the third-most assists in the league (eight) — only teammate Kevin De Bruyne (16) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (12) have notched more.
2. Mohamed Salah
There are few synonyms left to describe Salah, who is enjoying another stellar campaign under the guidance of Klopp. With 16 goals to his name already, the Egyptian is on track to net 20+ league goals for the third consecutive campaign.
Of course, no one is certain as to the outcome of this season due to unforeseen circumstances, but one thing is clear, Salah has been instrumental to Liverpool’s quite breathtaking campaign and exceptional title charge. After just two and a half seasons, Salah is already a true Liverpool great.
1. Sadio Mane
Klopp is blessed with an embarrassment of attacking riches and Mane is just one of the many jewels in the German’s crown. But, this season he has arguably shone brightest — his almost telepathic understanding with his attacking teammates helping the club to reach unrivalled heights. The goalscoring machine boasts a combination of lightning quick feet, dribbling ability and a predatory instinct in the box — a deadly trident of traits that has seen him flourish this term.
Honourable mentions: Gerard Deulofeu, Daniel James, Willian, Robert Snodgrass, Ayoze Perez