There are a number of good left backs, with many of them being English, in the Premier League. It is a position that can be ignored at times, but the likes of Leighton Baines can sometimes have a telling impact on a match. The full back used to be a player who operated purely for defensive reasons, but now they are expected to have a high work rate and be able to run up and down the pitch. They must be able to create chances, while it is a bonus if they are able to score a few themselves like Baines has shown he can down the years. Other notable left backs in the Premier League are Cesar Azpilicueta, Nacho Monreal, Danny Rose and Aaron Cresswell and these will be the focus of the comparison.
As defenders, it is crucial that left backs contribute and don’t leave too much space for the opposition attackers to exploits, this means that they must be assess the risks before going forwards and be selective at times about when best to join attacks. In terms of aerial duels won, it is Cresswell (66.1%), Monreal (62.5%) and Azplilicueta (57.1%) who have won more than 50% of their battles in the air. However in total duels won, Leighton Baines leads the way as he is successful in 55.96% of his attempted duels. They have all won more than 50% of their duels, and it is Cresswell and Monreal who are closest to Baines. Cresswell is way ahead in terms of blocks as he has made 20, compared to the others, who have all made less than 10. Meanwhile Monreal has made the most interceptions with 64, and Tottenham left back Rose comes in second with 48. Despite his good showings in other departments, Cresswell has made the least interceptions with just 28.
Being strong in the tackle is important for left backs as they are defenders at the end of the day. Danny Rose has won the most tackles out of the five after making 55 tackles to date this season. Chelsea full back Azpilicueta follows closely in second with 54, while Baines makes up the top three with 36 tackles. After looking across the five’s defensive contributions, Cresswell is the best in two out of the five areas, but his tackling and interceptions are far lower than the others. Although Azpilicueta doesn’t lead in any of the five stat areas I have looked at, he is the most consistent across the board as consistency as a left back is crucial. Monreal also comes out as a very consistent left back defensively.
As the game is becoming more centred around possession, it’s key that full backs don’t lose the ball easily, therefore they must be comfortable at retaining possession. This is another new area of their game as they could rely on clearing the ball out of play in times gone by as their role would be based on preventing the other team scoring. Now they must contribute in their own team’s attacking play. Monreal and Baines both have a pass completion rate of 85%, while Azpilicueta is closely behind with 84% and Rose is also very good at retaining possession with a pass completion rate of 79%. These are all very impressive, but they all play in sides who like to keep the ball, therefore it’s not surprising that these are so high. Cresswell, who plays in a more functional side, has a pass completion rate of 73%, which is still very good.
As teams are now starting to use inside forwards instead of wingers as they seek their wide players to cut inside and shoot across goal, getting to the byline and putting crosses in is an important part of the full back’s duties. Unsurprisingly, Baines has the most assists with 8 this season, which is remarkable for a full back. Cresswell and Rose both have 4, while Azpilicueta has 3 assists. Monreal only has 1, but Arsenal rely less on wide players as they like to play through the centre of the pitch. In terms of chances created, the Everton man once again comes out on top with an incredible total of 53, with his nearest challenger being Cresswell with 27, while Rose makes up the top three having created 22 chances. A full back isn’t expected to score many goals, but Baines and Rose both have two goals this season, Cresswell has one, while the other two have yet to find the back of the net in this campaign.
It’s difficult to choose the best left back of the five looked at over this article. Aaron Cresswell has certainly been impressive in his debut Premier League season and has shown an ability to contribute in both halves of the pitch. Cesar Azpilicueta and Nacho Monreal have both been consistent, without really shining through in either half of the pitch, but both deal with competition at their clubs and that may have contributed to their lower stats. Danny Rose has been improved this season for Tottenham and he has shown himself to be a good Premier League left back. However for me, Leighton Baines’ incredible attacking talents and his decent defensive contributions make him the league’s best left back and he should be England’s starting left back for years to come.