Sancho and Rashford.

Who plays left and who plays right?

Friday 11 February 2022 07:00

Manchester United's wide players have the flexibility to operate on either flank, often rotating during games.

Jadon Sancho has started the last couple of games on the left, with Marcus Rashford on the right, and some fans have pointed out that both can be equally effective in the opposite roles.

Anthony Elanga is also able to perform on both flanks and the modern tendency has been for wide forwards to be able to cut inside onto their favoured foot, rather than hugging the touchline and going past their marker. This task often falls upon the full-back to provide an overlap and extra width, as was the case when Luke Shaw got to the byline to cross for Paul Pogba's goal at Burnley.

The fact Rashford played the pass to his England colleague also illustrated how frequently the wingers switch positions.

Marcus Rashford is on the left when involved in the build-up to the goal at Burnley.

Ben Thornley knows a thing or two about wing-play, having been a key part of United's successful Class of '92 and breaking into the senior side under Sir Alex Ferguson. The MUTV pundit would love to see a return to the classic ideals of exciting wide men hugging the touchline but appreciates modern tactics tend to point to players cutting inside to fire shots on goal.

"To be perfectly honest, if you're comfortable with either foot, it shouldn't matter whichever side you play on," he told us. "I do feel as though this sort of inverted winger teams develop these days is all well and good but where are the old-fashioned wingers? Can it not be combined with someone like that? With Marcus and Jadon, it may be they would be more suited for Marcus to play down the left and Jadon right but then they're both right-footed.

"We've spoken about how well Sancho is playing at the moment and is looking like someone who can make things happen. The only thing I feel he might still be lacking is he's got a low centre of gravity and really good body movement, he can go either way, so I would love to see him actually unbalancing the full-back to go on the left-hand side to the touchline and whizzing a cross in.

"There is so much emphasis of late, in the last five years or so, on these inverted wingers and yeah, it's great to be able to sort of step inside and bend one in the top corner. But, when you've got two players playing who favour the same foot, such as Jadon and Marcus do, then one of them has got to do something different. There has to be a stage where they take on their opponents on the outside."

According to, Sancho has started 15 games on the left for the Reds and seven on the right. Rashford has played eight times this term on the left and five on the right. So it is clear they can easily switch for any given game. Yet it seems, in the modern game, there is a greater emphasis for the full-backs to provide the actual width during attacks.

"I think United get a lot of joy getting to the byline, as we did at Burnley and the goal was a prime example with Luke Shaw on the overlap," added Thornley. "I feel we've got really good players in wide positions anyway and I don't want Luke to stop the overlapping runs because it's a massive plus in the way that we attack. However, I also feel we've got players who can beat opponents and, yes obviously go inside, but also outside as well. 

Ben Thornley, pictured before making his senior Manchester United debut in 1994.

"Even if, for Sancho, it's not his favoured foot, he can go outside and doesn't have to be lightning quick. He's so good at manoeuvering the full-back and has such good feet that he can only take half a yard and be outside him and then pulling balls into the box, either on the floor or in the air.

"So, as much as I understand why it works to a certain extent, I'm still also in favour, partially because I'm biased as you know, of old-fashioned wingers. Let's square the full-back up like Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis used to do. Real old-fashioned wingers want to go past the full-back. Sometimes, it means coming inside, maybe playing a one-two, but in Keith Gillespie's case, he would just knock the ball a few yards the other side to do you for pace and beat you to it. 

"I just don't see it anymore and I don't want it to be a dying art, as much as the birth of the inverted winger seems to curry a lot of favour in the Premier League."