8 Premier League players who've benefited most from a positional change this season
Things couldn’t have gotten much worse for Arnautovic when he was subbed off against Brighton in October. That was his seventh appearance in a West Ham shirt, but the Austrian had still failed to score or set up a single goal. Over that same period, he'd been sent off once and lasted the full 90 minutes just twice. The £20 million fee paid to sign him looked rash.
Fortunately for both player and club, things have changed since David Moyes took charge. Since being installed up front by the Scot, Arnautovic has scored all of his goals (10) and managed all of his assists (4) for the season, from only 17 appearances. Two of those goals came against his old manager, Mark Hughes, in a huge 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Southampton.
Freed from the defensive duties his old wide role came with, the 28-year-old has looked rejuvenated. Moyes has even compared him to a certain iconic Swede: “He is a little bit of a Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] in as much as the players look to him,” said the Hammers chief.
Benjamin Mendy was expected to fill the left-sided full-back spot within Pep Guardiola’s 4-3-3 system after joining Manchester City in a £52 million deal last summer. However, two months after signing, the Frenchman ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament. With no obvious candidate to replace him, Delph stepped in.
Despite his unfamiliarity with the left-back role, the combative former midfielder quickly excelled. His settling period was undoubtedly helped by the fact that Guardiola’s full-backs often act as central midfielders during attacking moves, drifting infield to support build-up.
Having previously been no more than a fringe squad player at the Etihad, Delph’s conversion offers hope of a long-term future at Manchester City. Through determination and versatility, the Englishman has made it into his manager’s good books. “It’s not easy when for a long period you don’t play,” Guardiola said. “It means a lot... he’s a guy who always tries to help.”
With games to spare, Lingard broke his own personal record for league appearances in a single season – and doubled his previous best tallies for both goals and assists in a Manchester United shirt. The 25-year-old's newfound levels of performance are down to a subtle tactical modification.
Before 2017/18, Lingard was no more than a utility player who was brought into the side on the wing when necessary. Now, however, the Englishman is a pivotal figure in a busy attacking midfield role. He has relished the added responsibilities so much, in fact, that there is now serious debate about whether he should start ahead of Dele Alli for England this summer.
A hard worker and team player, Lingard is ever-willing to press in attack and his pace makes him a threat on the counter-attack. With those attributes in mind, it’s clear why Jose Mourinho has grown to love him.
Gross always had a good reputation for chance creation back in Germany. Since joining Brighton from Ingolstadt, the 26-year-old has been pushed into a more advanced central role – where his creativity has come to the fore once again.
Gross was previously seen as a versatile operator capable of filling in on the wing or in central midfield, but has acted as a second striker in Chris Hughton’s favoured 4-4-1-1 system for the majority of this campaign. Not only has he established a strong relationship with Glenn Murray, setting up a third of the striker’s 12 league goals, but he’s grown into one of the Premier League’s most productive playmakers.
Only six players – Mesut Ozil, Kevin De Bruyne, Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard and Christian Eriksen – have made more key passes per game in 2017/18. Gross attributes such form to his role within the team shape, saying: “In this system I come into situations where I can shoot or make the last pass.”