Football Features

The Premier League players who switched roles this season

By Steve Jennings

Published: 12:49, 29 March 2019

For a variety of reasons, footballers are often asked to play in a different position to the one they are used to.

Sometimes it is a result of injuries or a lack of squad depth, while often a manager is simply looking for a way to improve the team or an increase an individual’s effectiveness.

So far this season, a number of Premier League players have been tested in new roles. Some have ended up finding their new best position, others didn’t deal with the unfamiliarity quite so well.

Below, we’ve picked out 14 examples and made a call on whether they have been a hit or a miss after switching roles.

1. N’Golo Kante

Switched from: Defensive midfield
Switched to: Central midfield

Hit or miss? HIT

The arrival of Jorginho from Napoli saw Maurizio Sarri controversially move N’Golo Kante, arguably the best defensive midfielder on the planet, into a slightly more advanced role to the right of Jorginho, a position he has remained in for the entire campaign.

And while Jorginho hasn’t performed too well defensively, nothing can be taken away from Kante’s improvements in his new role. At first people were critical of wasting the Frenchman’s defensive talent, but Kante has proven himself able of carrying the ball forward and getting into attacking positions for Chelsea’s benefit.

His freedom also sees Kante closing down opponents higher up the pitch, winning possession in the attacking third 31 times this season. Only Mohamed Salah (32) has done that more in the Premier League.

2. Mohamed Salah

Switched from: Right wing
Switched to: Centre forward

Hit or miss? HIT

Liverpool were renowned for their frightening front three last season, but Jurgen Klopp has tweaked the trident when it suits the Reds this term with Roberto Firmino dropping a little deeper and Mohamed Salah playing as more of a centre forward.

Salah’s unpredictability from the right made him impossible to contain last year. A slow start to this season suggested he had been somewhat found out, but he has come good through the middle when used there, currently joint-second in the Premier League scoring charts with 17 goals.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri

Switched from: Right wing
Switched to: Central attacking midfield

Hit or miss? HIT

Xherdan Shaqiri was expected to provide back-up for Liverpool’s front three, but he has effectively carved out his own position in the line-up at times, playing as the most advanced member of a midfield three. Jurgen Klopp obviously recognised his attributes for that role despite him mostly playing on the right for Stoke.

The Swiss international has proven to be an important addition to the squad, popping up with six goals in 21 Premier League appearances for the Reds to date. His ability to link the midfield and attack has worked perfectly in certain games, none more so than the 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Anfield in December.

4. Nemanja Matic

Switched from: Central midfield
Switched to: Centre-back

Hit or miss? MISS

Jose Mourinho turned to Nemanja Matic during a centre-back injury crisis a few weeks before he received his marching orders from Manchester United. Unsurprisingly, the switch didn’t exactly work out and Matic will be far happier now he is back in midfield under Solskjaer.

After a 2-2 draw against Southampton at St. Mary’s, in which Matic played at the heart of the defence, Mourinho said: “I would like to have Nemanja Vidic but no Nemanja Vidic, just Nemanja Matic – he’s a midfield player.” We could have told you that, Jose.

5. Ander Herrera

Switched from: Central midfield
Switched to: Centre-back

Hit or miss? MISS

Mourinho used no such excuse when he selected Ander Herrera on the right side of a back three against Tottenham back in August. For 50 minutes, it seemed Mourinho and Herrera knew what they were doing, but the plan unravelled when Spurs scored three second-half goals.

In fairness to Mourinho, the club failed to bring in a centre-back over the summer, and the Portuguese coach was reacting to his side shipping three goals at Brighton in the previous game. Like Matic, Herrera is now back in midfield where he is comfortable.

6. Paul Pogba

Switched from: Central midfield
Switched to: Central attacking midfield

Hit or miss? HIT

Since Pogba arrived at Manchester United there have been calls for him to be pushed upfield and given more freedom. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has finally done that, introducing Matic and Herrera as a partnership in central midfield and permitting Pogba to roam.

The 26-year-old has prospered, as has just about the entire United team, under Solskjaer’s positive outlook. Indeed, Pogba created 1.43 chances per 90 league minutes under Mourinho this term; he has created 1.72 under Solskjaer.

7. Eden Hazard

Switched from: Left wing
Switched to: Centre forward

Hit or miss? MISS

Following the loan signing of Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus, Eden Hazard has returned to his usual position, starting on the left wing and cutting inside to affect games. It’s a far cry from the ‘False 9’ role he played for a few weeks.

Sarri’s hand was forced by the poor form of Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud. Hazard ironically looked less of a goal threat as a centre forward and Chelsea struggled to score, even more so than when Morata or Giroud led the line. Higuain’s arrival couldn’t have come at a better time – though the Argentine has not done too well himself.

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8. Harry Kane

Switched from: Centre forward
Switched to: No. 10

Hit or miss? HIT

Harry Kane has never been a traditional No. 9. The striker has always dropped deep and shielded the ball, bringing others into play in the process. This season, though, his role has become even more supportive than usual and he has often resembled a No.10 as opposed to a centre forward.

The goalscoring form of Son Heung-min and, sporadically, Lucas Moura – and thus their ability to play as strikers – has taken some of the pressure off Kane, who has created 1.16 chances per 90 minutes this season compared to 0.96 last term. The Englishman continues to score, too, bagging 17 so far this season.

9. Marcus Rashford

Switched from: Winger
Switched to: Centre forward

Hit or miss?: HIT

Speaking of English strikers who have switched positions this season, Rashford is one of the benefactors when it comes to Kane’s deeper role as the pair combined to devastating effect for England in the Uefa Nations League against Spain.

Rashford was usually stuck out on the wing for United by Mourinho, but Solskjaer has pushed him back inside to the centre forward role where has been excellent of late. His run of fine form through the middle was summed up by a superb touch and powerful finish in United’s 1-0 win over Leicester at the start of February.

10. Christian Eriksen

Switched from: Central attacking midfield
Switched to: Central midfield

Hit or miss? HIT

Kane’s deeper role is perhaps a result of Tottenham’s change in formation this season, as is that of Christian Eriksen. The Dane has played on the left of a midfield diamond, the tip of which is usually occupied by Dele Alli, who roams behind Kane and Son.

That Eriksen has moved further back shows Spurs are less reliant on him in attack than they once were. However, the Dane is still a crucial part of the team. He now picks up the ball in deeper areas, sometimes starting attacks from his own half rather than waiting in an advanced position.

11. Callum Paterson

Switched from: Right-back/attacking-midfield
Switched to: Centre forward

Hit or miss? MISS

Callum Paterson has always been something of a utility player, but the Scotland international – who has primarily played at right-back in his senior career – probably didn’t expect to be a Premier League centre forward this season.

He was signed as a right-back but often played in attacking midfield or on the wing. “When I signed him, I knew he would score six or seven goals as a full-back but what I didn’t know is that he can’t defend,” Warnock told reporters last March.

And this term he’s often been deployed even further up to the pitch as a centre-forward.

The 24-year-old was originally a striker but hasn’t played there frequently for Hearts or Cardiff. He has scored four goals in 27 league appearances this term – not a terrible tally, but not enough for Neil Warnock to trust him as a regular centre forward.

12. Fernandinho

Switched from: Defensive midfield
Switched to: Centre-back/central midfield

Hit or miss? HIT

In Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Etihad in February, Fernadinho appeared to be tasked with playing a hybrid role, somewhere between centre-back and central midfield. He would drop into a back four when Arsenal attacked, and roam into midfield when the hosts were in possession.

While some City fans would prefer to see Fernandinho in his usual singular post, the Brazilian’s ability to effortlessly switch between roles can only be a good thing for Pep Guardiola’s side, especially when they are short on centre-backs.

13. Calum Chambers

Switched from: Centre-back/right-back
Switched to: Defensive midfield

Hit or miss? HIT

It is perhaps confusing to see any defensive Fulham player labelled a hit right now. The Londoners have conceded 70 Premier League goals this season, more than any other side. Yet Chambers, who is spending the campaign at Fulham on loan from Arsenal, has been on of the team’s standout players.

Throughout his career, the 24-year-old has switched between centre-back and right-back with varying degrees of success, mostly struggling to impress consistently. But Chambers has looked very much at home sitting in front of the back four, so much so it is likely to become his new permanent position.

14. Matt Ritchie

Switched from: Left wing
Switched to: Left-back

Hit or miss? MISS

Newcastle signed left-back Antonio Barecca on loan from AS Monaco on deadline day, which indicated Rafael Benitez isn’t completely happy with the job Matt Ritchie has been doing at left-back in recent games, despite the fact Newcastle have conceded just two goals across two matches against Man City and Spurs.

Regardless of their improved defensive record of late, Ritchie has been the weak link in the back five. Three centre-backs have allowed him to get forward and worry less about defending, but Barecca’s arrival should see Ritchie return to midfield where he belongs.