Unai Emery says he’s using pre-season to try and strengthen the defensive play of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac.
The pair were regularly deployed as wing-backs in a five-man backline last season, a formation that plays to their attacking qualities, but the boss also wants them to be comfortable as traditional full-backs in a four man defence.
It sounds as though the duo struggled at times during last night’s International Champions Cup victory over Bayern Munich in Los Angeles, but Emery isn’t concerned at this point. He just wants them to work on improving.
“I spoke with him [Maitland-Niles after the game],” Emery told his post-game press conference. “It’s good to have this problem in the pre-season.
“Today my objective with Ainsley and Sead [Kolasinac] above all; we were playing lots of matches last year with three centre-backs to allow them to go to the attacking moment.
“Today our target was to work defensively, the first objective is to keep the back four [protected].
“They struggled in one moment because Bayern Munich have very good wingers. But it’s good.
“It’s one process for us and them. Individually when we can play maybe against players like Coman and Gnabry we can play five to have more balance. Today one-to-one working is good for them.”
We’re guessing here, but we suspect the boss would like to play a back four more regularly next season. Given that Hector Bellerin and potential new-signing Kieran Tierney will in all likelihood start the new campaign on the sidelines, it certainly makes sense to focus on Sead and Ainsley.
We already know that Nacho can play the left-back position although the older he gets the more susceptible he is to the pace of opposition wingers.