Lee Carsley: Why England U21s choose players for roles not positions
Written by Training Ground Guru — July 14, 2023
ENGLAND Under-21 boss Lee Carsley says he deploys players in terms of roles not positions.
England beat Spain 1-0 last weekend to win the European U21 Championship for the first time since 1984. One notable feature of their tournament was players being used in different positions to those they usually fill for their clubs.
Anthony Gordon, who has been used as a winger by Everton and current club Newcastle United, played as a centre-forward and was named player of the tournament by UEFA's Technical Observer panel.
Angel Gomes, who has generally been used as an attacking midfielder by Manchester United and Lille, was deployed as a deep-lying midfielder. And Ben Garner, bought as a midfielder by Everton, made the team of the tournament as a right-back.
In an interview with Talksport, Carsley said he sees players in terms of their characteristics and how this fits the role he wants them to fulfil.
He said: “We try and not be too restrictive on playing in a certain position, it’s more the role and the responsibility in the area of the pitch they’re in. As opposed to seeing them in positions, have they got the profile and attributes (we want)?
"And they all have. All of the players you have mentioned have got a really good understanding tactically of their role in that area of the pitch.”
This concurs with an article that Ben Mackriell of Stats Perform wrote for TGG in October 2020.
“We might label players as ‘right back’, ‘central midfielder’, ‘defensive midfielder’, but there are actually lots of different types of these positions," Mackriell wrote.
“This makes using the restrictive data labels of positions a problem. Depending on your team's playing style, you will be asking very different things of your players depending on your principles of play.
“At Stats Perform, we wanted to remove the bias that comes with these labels and look at the characteristics of players and how they perform the roles they’ve been tasked with.
“We look at where they perform their actions on the pitch and then how successfully they do it, against the role they’ve been asked to fulfil.”
Carsley added that he encourages his players to “play where the space is.”
“We are trying to control the game as much as we can, in and out of possession,” he said. “We are encouraging the players to play where the space is. If the opposition press us high, can we play through them, can we play over them?
“And giving the lads the confidence and ownership and responsibility to try and play. The more you can control play going through the thirds, you have got a better chance of getting the next phase of play. We tried to do that in and out of possession.”