And Lord Carragher said unto Lord Neville at MNF, “I look at fullbacks and think, there’s only two things for a fullback- you’re either a failed winger or a failed centre-back. No one wants to grow up and become a Gary Neville.”
Wonder what Gareth Bale or Paolo Maldini have to say about that.
The job of a modern day full-back is unbelievably demanding, which also coincides with the dearth of world class fullbacks. The fullbacks are responsible for providing almost all the width going forward (with the emergence of inverted wingers). Besides providing attacking width, the full-backs deliver those stinging crosses in the box and are involved in the interplay/overlap with the wingers. They supply cover in case the CB messes up and are often found tussling and muscling with their opposing forward.
Gone are the days when the full-backs were supposed to stay in their own half and could be physically outclassed by the opposing wingers. The emergence of an attacking fullback can be traced back to the Brazilian World Cup winning squad of 1958 and 1962 that saw marauding full-backs in Djalma Santos and Nilton ‘The Encyclopedia’ Santos. The role was later revolutionized globally by Carlos Alberto (also from Brazil) who scored this goal vs Italy in the 1970 World Cup Finale. The likes of Fachetti, Emlyn Hughes, Breitner redefined the job of a left back while Roberto Carlos simply took it to another level. With Pep Guardiola making effective use of inverted full-backs (for the first time in PL), it is incessantly becoming one of the most intriguing positions on the pitch.
By the end of summer transfer window of 2016, there was a lot of fuss over Liverpool’s failure to procure a competition/cover for struggling Spaniard Alberto Moreno. In steps James ‘boring-no-more’ Milner who has acquainted himself to his new position just about good enough. Elsewhere, the arrival of Marcos Alonso did not deter Conte from fielding Ivanovic on the right and Azpilicueta on the left (in all but one matches). Kolarov has played 3 of the 7 games as a Centre-back for Pep as he continues to shuffle between the Serbian and Clichy. Luke Shaw is finally starting to find his feet at Old Trafford with some impressive performances (barring the Watford display) before picking up yet another injury while the North Londoners Danny Rose and Nacho Monreal remain integral for their team’s back four performing so well. Then there are the likes of Charlie Daniels, Jose Holebas, Ryan Bertrand and Patrick Van Aanholt chipping in for their respective sides.
Let us take a look at how the left-backs have fared since the start of the season and which of these full-backs are influential in their team’s performance.
Note: All statistics taken from Squawka.
Figures in per 90 minute metrics (The per-90 metric works out how many times an on-ball action has been performed by a player per min then multiplies this by 90)
First things first, I personally believe that the number of tackles made in a match never really tells you about the prowess of a defender and I always find it irrelevant while comparing defenders. My all time favourite and arguably the greatest defender of all time Paolo Maldini averaged a paltry 0.56 tackles per game. The defender so good he did not even had to make a tackle Maldini explains, “If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake”.
Monreal leads the way in interceptions made (per 90 minute metrics) with 3.67 followed by Aanholt at 2.78 while Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand averages a block every game (more than any other LB).
Aleksander Kolarov leads the line for clearances (5.66) and the number of aerial duels won (3.15) albeit featuring at CB on three occasions. Sunderland’s Aanholt wins a meagre 0.37 Aerial Duels and has also contributed to a defensive error along with Rose and Shaw for their respective teams.
The forgotten foxes hero Fuchs wins 56.72% of total duels with Danny Rose not too far behind at 56.25%. Now as a defender, you don’t want to give your manager a headache by conceding cheap fouls in a dangerous areas and that is where the discipline of Milner stands out conceding only 0.51 fouls per 90 minute metrics compared to Danny Rose committing 1.75 fouls every game.
Luke Shaw leads the pack for the most number of successful take ons with 1.66 (Holebas 1.29, Milner 1.20) so it might be a result of not having a consistent partner at the left flank of United which is stunting Shaw’s progress into the attacking third.
Jurgen Klopp’s James Milner and Pep Guardiola’s Aleksander Kolarov are two standout performers going forward contributing with 61.43 and 61.36 passes per 90 minute metrics.
While Milner, Monreal and Bertrand possess an 87% pass completion rate, it is Conte’s Cesar Azpilicueta (59.71 passes) who edges out with 88% pass completion rate. As far as chance creation for their respective teams is concerned, Milner again leads the pack (by a mile) with 2.2 chances created every 90 minute, one more than Aanholt who is second best at 1.1. Milner has also bagged an assist along with Bertrand, Holebas and Fuchs.
Interestingly, Walter Mazzarri’s LWB has taken 12 shots already (with an accuracy of 44% though) while Kolarov, Azpilicueta and Van Aanholt are second best with 5 shots each. Fuchs, Rose and Milner boast a 100% shot accuracy (4 shots each) and owing to the penalty duties for the former Manchester City, Aston Villa and Newcastle midfielder, Milner has been on the scoresheet four times already ahead of Patrick Van Aanholt’s tally of two goals with Rose and Holebas chipping in with a goal each.
Nacho Monreal has been dependable for Arsene Wenger’s side and looks rock solid defensively though should be doing better going forward.
James Philip Milner has worked really hard to make an impact playing as a left back and has been gifted with due applause and rewards.
Kolarov has rolled back the years and is a joy to watch in Guardiola’s intriguing setup for inverted fulbacks while Azpilicueta deserves all the plaudits in both the attacking as well as defensive third of the pitch.
Danny Rose is going from strength to strength under Pochettino and was one of the better players for England in a goalless stalemate against Slovenia.
Luke Shaw needs to have a run of games and a constant partner at the left flank to reflect more on his otherwise bundle of talent.
Holebas is an FPL punt in my opinion and has a decisive season playing for Mazzarri while Charlie Daniels still harbours England hopes as Bertrand looks forward to keep Danny Rose on his toes. Patrick Van Aanholt will look forward to replicating or even bettering his tally of 4 goals and 3 assists last season playing under Moyes (and escaping relegation yet again).