Chievo Verona
Game Details
Game Details
 By Michael Cox

Can Mandzukic become the latest out-of-position Champions League winner?

One of Juventus' key performers en route to this weekend's Champions League final against Real Madrid has been Mario Mandzukic, who has performed a magnificent job in a hugely unfamiliar left-wing role, having been accustomed to playing as a centre-forward over the course of his career.

But a player being deployed out of position for a European Cup-winning side is nothing new. Here are five examples of players, who sacrificed their game for the good of the team on the biggest stage.


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David Beckham: Manchester United (1998-99)

Manchester United's four-man midfield from their treble-winning campaign was legendary. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and David Beckham provided the perfect balance in the centre of the pitch: A dribbler, a passer, a tackler and a crosser. Throughout that campaign, however, it was unquestionably Beckham's crossing that proved most effective, with his right-sided combination with Gary Neville producing a succession of chances that forwards simply couldn't miss.

But for the Champions League final against Bayern Munich, Sir Alex Ferguson had a huge problem: Both Keane and Scholes were suspended, which meant he was forced to completely re-shape his midfield. Nicky Butt coming into the side was an obvious move but, more controversially, Ferguson decided to shift Beckham inside, deploying Giggs on the right flank and Jesper Blomqvist on the left. United suffered out wide, with the two wingers unable to beat their full-backs and get crosses into the box.

Beckham, however, competed well in the centre, spreading play nicely and showing intelligent positional sense in an unfamiliar position. That said, United's spell of late pressure came after Ferguson rejigged again and ended up pushing Beckham back to his natural right-sided position. The Beckham-Neville partnership made inroads and, eventually, United completed a miraculous turnaround. Beckham's good work in the centre, however, shouldn't be underestimated.

Wayne Rooney: Manchester United (2007-08)

Ferguson rarely attempted to build his sides around one superstar individual, generally favouring a more harmonious, collective approach. But there was an exception in the mid-to-late 2000s, when he realised that Cristiano Ronaldo was such an incredible talent that he needed to be indulged, with everyone having to support him. That meant Wayne Rooney playing second fiddle and, as Ronaldo was increasingly pushed to play as a centre-forward, Rooney was forced to get through the dirty work in wide positions.

In a 2-0 quarterfinal first leg victory at Roma, for example -- a game famous for Ronaldo's incredible header for the opening goal -- Rooney and Park Ji-Sung spent much of the game tracking the home full-backs in extremely defensive positions, before sporadically springing forward on the break. And even when Ferguson used a 4-4-1-1 formation in the semifinal first leg with Barcelona, it was Carlos Tevez deployed in the No. 10 role. United's defensive organization was exceptional and Rooney was again deployed wide.

An injury meant he did not play in the second leg victory and, when he returned for the final, Rooney was back in his favoured centre-forward position. Ronaldo was deployed on the left to target right-back Michael Essien and responded by towering over the Chelsea man to head home the opening goal. When Ronaldo departed for Real Madrid a year later, Rooney became United's focal point and, arguably, his tactical discipline has never really returned.

Yaya Toure: Barcelona (2008-09)

Yaya Toure, left, moved back into central defence and helped clinch Champions League glory for Barcelona.

In a positional sense, Yaya Toure is amongst the most peculiar footballers of this generation. During his formative years he was regarded as a highly promising attacking midfielder, a position he's often played during his time at Manchester City when his lack of tactical discipline has occasionally been highlighted as a problem, with Toure failing to perform basic defensive tasks.

That's somewhat odd considering that, at Barcelona, Toure was regularly deployed as a holding midfielder, sitting in front of the back four and allowing Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta to push forward. But for the 2009 Champions League final, a selection crisis -- Eric Abidal And Dani Alves were suspended -- meant Toure was forced to play at centre-back and Carles Puyol was at right-back.

Although Barcelona rode their luck in the opening stages, Toure coped expertly against the runs of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was effectively playing as a lone striker for United. When Sir Alex Ferguson introduced Dimitar Berbatov to play as a more conventional striker in the second half, Toure outmuscled him to high balls, while his distribution throughout was fantastic. That evening in Rome, Toure proved himself one of the best total footballers of his era.

Samuel Eto'o: Inter (2009-10)

The 2009 transfer of Samuel Eto'o from Inter to Barcelona was strange, in that here was an established world-class performer being used as a mere makeweight in a deal that took Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the Camp Nou. As it transpired, Ibrahimovic was unable to help Barca defend their title, while Eto'o won his second consecutive Champions League. He did so, however, largely from a wide midfield role.

At the start of the campaign Jose Mourinho used a 4-3-1-2 formation with Eto'o upfront alongside Diego Milito but, in the latter stages rounds, he increasingly turned to a 4-2-3-1. This meant Milito staying upfront with Eto'o and Goran Pandev, a midseason arrival from Lazio, deployed in the wide roles. Lots of strikers are asked to play out wide but, in Mourinho's ultra-defensive system, this was something entirely new for Eto'o.

He spent long periods of the semifinal win over Barcelona and the final victory over Bayern Munich inside his own third, doing nothing more than protecting his full-back. Counter-attacking opportunities were rare and Eto'o was barely a goal threat. But Mourinho somehow convinced one of the most dangerous strikers of his generation to sacrifice himself for the team, which was testament to his man-management skills in arguably his greatest season.

Ryan Bertrand: Chelsea (2011-12)

While other players have been permanently played out of position throughout a European Cup-winning campaign, Chelsea's Ryan Bertrand was forced to make his Champions League debut in the most intimidating circumstances imaginable: The final, against a Bayern Munich side that were heavy favourites and playing at their home stadium.

Most problematically, Bertrand wasn't even deployed in the left-back role to which he was accustomed. Instead, Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo used him in an unfamiliar left-sided midfield role, with the strict tactical task of tracking the runs made by Philipp Lahm and doubling up with Ashley Cole to prevent Arjen Robben coming inside from the Bayern right and attempting to score his classic goal.

And, for long periods, it worked very nicely. Bayern had all the possession but found it impossible to make inroads down the right. While Bertrand offered relatively little counter-attacking threat, which was why he was replaced by Florent Malouda, he performed very well against Lahm, perhaps the best full-back of his generation. In that respect, the use of Bertrand should be considered a very fine tactical move from Di Matteo and one that might have caught Jupp Heynckes' Bayern by surprise.

Michael Cox is the editor of and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.


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