Winger vs Wide Midfielder

Winger vs Wide Midfielder – What’s The Difference?

Last updated on March 12th, 2022

It may be challenging to pinpoint the difference between a winger and a wide midfielder, especially since their positions on the field are rather similar.

Here’s a guide to help you understand how these 2 roles are actually quite different!

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Differences between a winger and a wide midfielder 

A wide midfielder is usually considered a part of the midfield, rather than an outright forward or attacker. Therefore, the wide midfielder is expected to serve a dual function in games. He will hold the width for his team in midfield and provide support at both ends of the pitch. Meanwhile, a winger is primarily an attacker whose main role is to provide goals and assists for his side. 

Here is a further explanation of the differences and similarities between these two roles.

Position on the pitch

Generally, the wingers and wide midfielders occupy a similar space on paper. Their starting position is usually at the widest point of the pitch.

A winger is primarily stationed slightly further forward to line up either in front of the midfield or alongside the striker. Some of the formations that use a winger include:

  • 4-3-3
  • 4-2-4
  • 3-4-3

Here’s an example of the 2 wingers in the 4-3-3 formation (Players 9 and 10).

4 3 3 Wingers

For the wide midfielder, they are stationed alongside the midfielders at the halfway line. They can also be slightly further forward depending on the following formations:

  • 4-4-2
  • 3-5-2
  • 4-1-4-1
  • 4-4-1-1

Here’s an example of the 2 wide midfielders in the 4-4-2 formation (Players 8 and 9).

4 4 2 Wide Midfielders

Both wingers and wide midfielders are expected to combine with the strikers to create chances for their team

This is similar to how RMs and RWs line up.

However, it is more expected of a winger to score and assist than the wide midfielder regularly.

Common numbers associated with these positions

Until the late 2000s to early 2010s, wide midfielders were the order of the day before managers chose to embrace the formations that permitted them to use wingers more.

This was borne out of a desire to create more chances and provide more dangers close to the opposition goal. 

Back then, players sported shirt numbers that correlated with their positions on the field of play. As such, the wide midfielders took on the numbers 7 and 11 fundamentally. As a result, it was the norm to see a Ryan Giggs or Damien Duff clad in the number 11 shirt, and a David Beckham clad in the number 7 shirt.

However, as football evolved, numbers began to lose significance concerning the position a player plays for his team. 

Wingers assumed the numbers previously worn by wide midfielders after teams moved away from formations that required them to play with wide midfielders. As a result, it is the norm today to see Salah with the number 11 Jersey and Heung-Min Son with the number 7 jersey. 

There is the occasional oddity of seeing players like James Milner and N’Golo Kante wearing the number 7 shirt despite them being midfielders and not wingers nor wide midfielders. 

Roles on the Pitch

A wide midfielder has a job that is similar to that of a winger. However, the significant difference is in their output and productivity. Wingers are expected to provide more goals and assists than wide midfielders because they are much closer to the opposition goal. 

The differences in the roles of a winger and a wide midfielder on the pitch are as follows:

A wide midfielder is usually deployed to provide width for their team. They are always the widest players for their team, which puts them in the prime position to send crosses into the box for the strikers.

In addition, they are normally required to provide support for their full-backs by blocking off the paths for the opposition’s wide players.

On the other hand, the wingers are required to push further upfield and play beyond the strikers. They may need to cut inside on the ball and play as inside forwards by managers to utilise their pace and shooting skills in more central areas much closer to the goal. 

The primary emphasis is usually on goal scoring and chance creation to help their teams outscore their opponents.

One of the most prolific wide midfielders in football history remains Cristiano Ronaldo

At the start of his career at Manchester United, Ronaldo played on the right of a 4-4-2 under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson. From this position, the then-Portuguese youngster asserted himself as one of the best players in the world, winning the Ballon d’Or in 2008. 

You can view a comparison between the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s The Best awards here.

Similarly, Ricardo Quaresma started as a wide midfielder in the Primeira Liga. 

Traits required for the roles

The winger and wide midfield roles require similar traits since the positions are similar. Here are some of the traits:

#1 Speed

Wingers and midfielders should have explosive speed to get past their markers in their respective positions on the pitch. Their speed also enables them to track opposition runners to counter-press and stifle opposition counterattacks.

The wide midfielder may be required to be faster since he has to often run from one end of the pitch to the other because of more defensive duties.

#2 Dribbling

Wingers should be very skilled with the ball at their feet. They should have the excellent technical quality to dribble around opposition markers and use their quality to create openings for their fellow attackers to profit from. 

Wide midfielders must also be gifted with good dribbling skills that help them to get out of tight situations. In fact, a wide midfielder must be able to skip past oppositions to provide the crosses and assists needed for the strikers.

#3 Shooting

Wingers must be good ball shooters to allow them to play as inside forwards when needed. As inside forwards, they have to drift in-field from their positions out wide to try and score goals.

Also, there should be nothing stopping wide midfielders from scoring. They occasionally get into positions where they can score goals.

#4 Crossing

Wingers should also be good crossers. This trait is vital for finding runners into the opposition box with accurate balls to convert. The same goes for a wide midfielder, whose responsibility is even more as a creator than a goalscorer.

#5 Stamina

Wide midfielders require a great deal of stamina to maintain their strength throughout a game. Wide midfielders perform more defensive duties and must also create chances in the offence.

They will need to run around a lot across both ends of the pitch.

Famous examples of players in each position

Here are some of the notable examples of players that have played as wingers and wide midfielders:

Winger #1 Neymar

Brazilian winger Neymar is one of the world’s most complete wingers. He possesses all the features required of a modern-day winger and is one of the best in the world.

Winger #2 Mohamed Salah: 

Liverpool star Mohamed Salah has become a Premier League great due to his achievements for the club. He is another complete winger and is one of the best in the world.

Winger #3 Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo transitioned from being a wide midfielder into a winger in his early years at Real Madrid. He enjoyed a brilliant goalscoring spell and is regarded as one of the best to ever grace football.

Winger #4 Eden Hazard

Belgium captain Eden Hazard is another winger who has excelled in his career. He enjoyed a successful career at Lille and Chelsea before injuries hampered his performance at Real Madrid.

Wide Midfielder #1 Ryan Giggs

Premier League legend Ryan Giggs played as a wide midfielder throughout his career. He holds the record for the most assists in the history of the English Premier League

Wide Midfielder #2 Damien Duff

Damien Duff featured for Chelsea and Newcastle United in the Premier League in the 2000s.

Wide Midfielder #3 Marc Albrighton

Marc Albrighton has represented Aston Villa and Leicester City as a wide midfielder so far in his Premier League career.

Verdict

Here is a summary of the differences between wingers and wide midfielders. 

WingerWide Midfielder 
PositionEither side of
the striker 
Either side of the
central midfielders 
RoleEmphasis on
goalscoring
Emphasis on
chance creation
Shirt
Numbers
7 or 117 or 11
TraitsShooting
Dribbling
Pace
Pace
Crossing
Dribbling
Famous
Examples 
Neymar
Mohamed Salah 
Eden Hazard
Cristiano Ronaldo 
Ryan Giggs
Damien Duff
Marc Albrighton 

Is a winger a midfielder or a forward?

A winger is considered as a forward and not a midfielder, due to the position that the player has upfield. The winger rarely drops deep and will stay at the opposition’s half, which is different from a midfielder who will play around the centre of the pitch.

Is a winger considered as an attacking midfielder?

A winger is not considered to be an attacking midfielder, as a winger’s role is more of a forward, rather than a midfielder.

One such example of an attacking midfielder is the centre attacking midfielder (CAM), whose primary role is to create chances for the striker to score.

Conclusion

A winger plays a primarily more attacking role, while a wide midfielder will have some defensive duties too.

Ultimately, it depends on how the manager lines the team up, and whether he prefers a more attacking or defensive approach!

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