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Why Isn't Good Work-Rate the Norm for Attackers in the Premier League?

29/11/2013 12:55 | Updated 29 January 2014

Following West Brom striker Shane Long's magnificent performance in the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa, it calls into question why more attacking players in the Premier League aren't as hard-working on and off the ball.

Long, 26, was West Brom's lone forward and ran the Villa defence ragged throughout. Deservedly named man-of-the-match, the Republic of Ireland international was winning the majority of aerial duels and stretched the Villans' backline with his tireless running of the channels - not to mention his link-up play being a particular delight when dropping deep to receive the ball. Put simply, he was a thorn in their side.

Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney is another player consistently praised for his tireless efforts. Regularly topping the charts for covering the most ground in games, the England international puts a lot of strikers to shame with how hard he works on and off the ball while still getting among the goals and assists. Players like Rooney and Long are a dream for managers to have, but they are also a rarity for the top sides.

And then there is the flip side, which is when a manager has a lazy player not willing to put the work in to track back and help the side when they've lost the ball - case in point, Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa. Dubbed a mercurial talent, the French international is a player who frustrates as much as he excites. The 26-year old has produced some magical moments in a Newcastle shirt, but he hasn't featured of late for the North-East side as he doesn't work hard enough, according to his manager Alan Pardew.

Despite the public comments, Ben Arfa still hasn't worked hard enough at training to prove he's willing to track back and help out when the side are without the ball.

Another fine example is Chelsea's Juan Mata. New manager Jose Mourinho, currently in his second stint with the Europa League holders, openly stated that he had dropped last season's Chelsea Player of the Year because he wasn't happy with his work rate. Jose Mourinho is a manager who has more often than not had his wide players working tirelessly to aid the side in defence. Is it any surprise that he's been so successful?

If these professional Premier League football players are in such good shape, why are some noticeably harder workers on the pitch? Some players are of course explosive in their playing style, which would mean that they are required to be pushing the limits of their body whenever they receive the ball - for example, running at top speed on multiple occasions during a match.

But why is running forward seemingly so much easier for them to do than running backwards? Is it a mental battle with their body that makes them feel tired when they have to do something other than make a forward burst with or without the ball?

Bundesliga side Bayern Munich proved how effective hard-working wingers are last season when the side won the treble - Bundesliga, German Cup, and Champions League. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery were two players who never used to track back to help out the fullbacks when the side were without the ball, but in the last 18 months they were always seen goalside of their opposite number when the side were without the ball and as a result it's meant their defensive record in the league is among the best in the world - 18 conceded last season, seven conceded from 13 games this season.

While a number of sides do have wide players and forwards who work hard on and off the ball, it's certainly something a host of other top flight clubs should be demanding more often from their attacking players.

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