Preseason is a period for trying new things. It is the ideal moment for the coaches to put fresh people, systems, and even player positioning to the test. Players frequently benefit greatly from switching positions, achieving levels of success they never imagined were possible.
This year’s preseason began, and positional adjustments have already begun to take place. We’ll take a look at five of these occurrences that have attracted our attention and have the potential to stick around for the entire 2022–2023 season.
Here are five players who could be used at different positions next season:
- Frenkie de Jong – Barcelona
Barcelona central midfielder Frenkie de Jong is one of the most gifted players of his generation. So far, fans have seen him excel in the middle of the pitch. But the 2022-23 campaign could see him operate as a centre-back from time to time. Xavi deployed Frenkie de Jong in a 1-0 friendly win over Real Madrid on July 23. He took on a similar role in a 2-2 draw with Juventus on Tuesday night (July 26).
The former Ajax man did not look at home, of course, but cut out a few passes and played out from the back quite effortlessly. At Ajax, De Jong impressed with his long ball distribution from deep. It will be interesting to see if he can put that skill to good use as a centre-back at Barcelona.
- Antonio Rudiger – Real Madrid
Former Chelsea centre-back Antonio Rudiger joined Real Madrid as a free agent at the start of July. The Germany international was expected to form a new partnership with Eder Militao, while David Alaba would take Ferland Mendy’s place at left-back.
To everyone’s surprise, Carlo Ancelotti kept Alaba’s pairing with Militao intact in Madrid’s first pre-season clash with Barcelona on July 23. He deployed Rudiger as a left-back. The 29-year-old, who is exceptionally quick off the block, performed well as a left-back. He was solid at the back and charged forward when an opening presented itself. His final ball lacked finesse, but it was refreshing to see Rudiger in a new avatar.
Rudiger might not play regularly as a left-back in the 2022-23 season, but Ancelotti would be pleased to know that he has that option.
- Eden Hazard – Real Madrid
From being arguably the best player in the Premier League to becoming merely a passenger at Real Madrid, the last couple of years haven’t been kind to Eden Hazard. The Belgian forward, however, could still turn his fortunes around with a memorable 2022-23 campaign.
Hazard, who is generally at his best on the left-flank, faces stiff competition from Vinicius Junior. Given the form the Brazilian is in, it is unlikely that the former Chelsea star will dethrone him. On the right, Los Blancos have Marco Asensio and Rodrygo, making it difficult for Hazard to become Madrid’s go-to right-winger as well.
The 2022-23 season could see him operate in a more central role. In Karim Benzema’s absence, Hazard could operate as a false 9. That way, he would be able to use his dribbling skills and show how potent he can be in front of goal. Ancelotti has already deployed him as a false 9 in a couple of pre-season matches. It will be interesting to see if the Italian keeps it up when the new season commences.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Barcelona
After months of speculation, Barcelona have finally signed Robert Lewandowski from Bayern Munich. Being one of the best strikers of this generation, the Poland international is expected to operate as the Blaugrana’s primary striker. His former Borussia Dortmund teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could have to settle for a wider role to accommodate the 33-year-old.
Xavi deployed the players together for the first time in Barcelona’s 2-2 draw with Juventus on Tuesday. Lewandowski was seen operating down the middle, while Aubameyang regularly drifted to the left to create space for his teammates. Thanks to his pace and nimble footwork, the former Arsenal star cut in from the left several times to make life difficult for Juventus’ right-back and right-sided centre-back.
Additionally, Ansu Fati has a dodgy injury history, meaning Aubameyang could be seen operating down the left flank quite a few times over the course of the season.
- Anthony Martial – Manchester United
On paper, Anthony Martial has always operated as a centre-forward or a winger, but this could be the season when he finally becomes an out-and-out goalscorer. With Cristiano Ronaldo’s future in the air (as per ESPN), Martial could be the player to solve United’s goalscoring woes.
As made evident by the pre-season fixtures, the Frenchman enjoys playing high up the pitch. He has impressive attacking acumen and the ability to find the back of the net from the tightest of angles. The 26-year-old does not contribute as much to the press, but he can more than make up for it by being clinical in front of goal.
Martial started all four games in Manchester United’s pre-season tour of the United States, scoring thrice. His passing was great, he combined well with his teammates, and made himself available for the final pass on every occasion. If he can keep it up, Erik ten Hag might not have to sweat too much about Ronaldo prematurely leaving the club this summer.