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Poll: Does Liverpool Need Traditional Wingers?

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stewart downing liverpool

We need a proper winger! came the constant refrain. Kuyt may have been a lock on the right for years, and before him Steven Gerrard may have had his best statistical season cutting in from the flank, but neither was a proper winger. Meanwhile on the left, be it Babel or Benayoun or Garcia, it seemed a role largely filled by default, a place to dump an extra creative player who couldn't quite manage to get a game anywhere else.

Outside of a few short months when Albert Riera was on form and hadn't yet fallen out with the manager and fellow players, Liverpool fans would have had to reach an awfully long way into the past for a player who'd been a reliable, consistent, high level contributor for the club from a traditional wide role.

And so the constant chant: We need a proper winger. And so of course, almost inevitably, now that the club finally seems to have one, there are growing doubts as to whether it's something that was needed in the first place. At least if one is discussing traditional, chalk on the boots, proper wingers and not the myriad variety of narrow, inverted, or more centrally attacking midfield players who spend most of their time not-quite-wide and driving at the box while leaving the responsibility of providing any width to the fullback.

Liverpool, after all, have had a surplus of those sorts of not-quite-wide players over the years. Even while many were identifying the lack of a genuine winger or two as the squad's biggest weakness, there were others arguing that in modern football the best approach was instead leaving those wide areas to offensively gifted, attacking fullbacks who from their deeper positions could run at the defense having built up a full head of steam after those not-quite-wide attackers had pulled their defenders inside, creating an excess of space to be exploited.

However, it's always easy to look not at what one does have but at what one doesn't; it's aways easy to see the grass as being greener on the proverbial other side. And so Liverpool's squad, filled as it was with players whose skill-sets lent themselves to formations built around attacking fullbacks, narrow attacking midfielders, and solid midfield cover to provide a bit of balance, was seen as fundamentally lacking. And so, of course, now that the club has a proper chalk on his boots winger out on the left many have found themselves rather uninspired, with a growing chorus preaching the need for a narrow, cut to the box, not-quite-wide player to more properly compliment the club's rampaging left back. Somebody like Maxi or Craig Bellamy who's already on the books—or perhaps Damien Comolli could invent a time machine and capture a player like Juan Mata or David Silva, one with buckets of creativity and almost no will to drive to the goal line and whip in crosses.

Certainly it's always nice to have options, and so at the very least having a natural wide player who looks set to be part of the squad for years to come is something the club and its followers should be glad of. Yet after years of vocal demands for a proper winger each and every transfer window, now that the club finally has one those demands have rather shifted away from the touchline. Some would suggest that Stewart Downing simply hasn't provided enough as a traditional wide midfielder slash winger and that that is the root problem, yet when asked who would be preferable to him speculation invariably turns to players who aren't traditional wingers.

Which option, then, do fans see as the way forward now that they've had a taste of both sides? Should the club be pushing ahead with Stewart Downing—or some other traditional wide player to be acquired in the future—as the preferred, primary provider of width on the left? Or should the club look to embrace the width provided by an attacking fullback like Jose Enrique with a more narrow left-sided attacker who will draw defenders narrow and create room for the overlap, relegating a more traditional option like Downing to Plan B?