In a season when playing three at the back has seen the full back role ignored by teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United. Even when the latter plays with four defenders, it is Antonio Valencia who plays at right back, despite being known as a winger. There are a number of good right backs in the league this season with Pablo Zabaleta, Branislav Ivanovic, Kyle Walker and Nathaniel Clyne putting in consistent performances for their clubs yet again. A new name this season has been Newcastle’s Daryl Janmaat who has been one of the few bright sparks of their season as he has shown he is adept defensively and offensively has he has broken the record for the most assists by a Newcastle defender in one season.
When it comes to defending, Janmaat and Zabaleta lead the way with 59 tackles won, with the latter playing less often than the Dutchman. Clyne has won 57 tackles, Ivanovic has won 53, while Walker has won just 26, albeit with a lot less game time. This is surprising as Ivanovic is considered the best defensive full back in the league, but Zabaleta, Janmaat and Clyne have all won more tackles. Janmaat has put in the most interceptions (59) and blocks (5), which shows how important he is to the Newcastle defence, and his performances this season might attract some interest in the summer. Nathaniel Clyne is the next best with 48 interceptions and 4 blocks, and he has been one of the standout performers at Southampton securing a place in the England setup in the process.
A big part of the full back’s role is to challenge aerially from goal kicks as often they go down either wing. Although you would expect Ivanovic to have the best aerial success rate given his height, it is Pablo Zabaleta who comes out on top with a 70.18% success rate in aerial duels. Ivanovic comes next with 60.77% and then it is Kyle Walker with a success rate of 58.33%. The other two win less than 50% of their aerial duels and it is perhaps a weak spot in their game. Branislav Ivanovic has the best total duels win percentage with 58.86%, with Kyle Walker (58.12%) and Zabaleta (50.22%) making up the top three.
In the defensive errors, none of these five full backs have made an error that led to a goal. However Zabaleta is the only one not to make an error all season, which highlights the consistency of the Manchester City right back. He is arguably the best defensively out of the five full backs, and that proves that he offers City real defensive quality, and not only an attacking option at right back. His consistency is a reason why Bacary Sagna has failed to break into the first eleven at City. Meanwhile Ivanovic has made 2 defensive errors, which is the most of the five. This might surprise some as the Serbian is considered as a dependable option for Chelsea. All three of Cyne, Janmaat and Walker have made one defensive error to date this season.
The modern full back has to be dangerous going forwards and some managers will put attacking output above their defensive duties. The leading goalscorer of these five is unsurprisingly Ivanovic who has contributed with four league goals this season. Given his physique and aerial abilities, he gets to go forward for set pieces, but he also contributes from open play with some powerful runs into the opposition final third. Nathaniel Clyne has scored two highlighting the attacking capabilities he possesses, while Zabaleta and Janmaat both have one goal. Kyle Walker has none, but he has played significantly less football than the others.
Daryl Janmaat has the most assists this season with six, which is an incredible tally for a full back. It is double the tallies of both Zabaleta and Ivanovic, while the English duo of Clyne and Walker have no assists this season. The Dutchman has been impressive for Newcastle as he often gets the ball in the final third and his side rely on him a lot to break down defenses. His crossing abilities are better than many of the wingers in the side and bigger teams will have noticed Janmaat’s attacking abilities.
After looking at all aspects of their games, a case could be made for two or three of these as being the most complete full back in the Premier League. I think Ivanovic is the most complete as he wins the ball back a lot in defense, while he has directly played a part in 9 goals, more than any of the other full backs. He scores a number of crucial goals as well and Chelsea wouldn’t be as far ahead in the league without him. For consistency, Zabaleta is one of the best as he rarely makes mistakes, while he can be relied upon to win balls in the air and to make tackles when required. Meanwhile both Janmaat and Clyne have really come on this season and could be attracting interest from bigger clubs.