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Few positions represent the changing nature of football tactics than the full-back.
Back in the day, full-backs were simply just another cog in the defensive unit, charged with snuffing out wingers with often robust tactics. Attacking forays into the final third were certainly rare.
Nowadays, however, they play a key role for sides going forward, providing width as inside forwards tuck into central positions, getting crosses into the box and providing cut-backs for onrushing teammates. Just take a look at the great Man City and Liverpool sides of the past couple of years for proof.
Of course, they’re still defenders first and foremost, meaning full-backs have taken on an incredible workload in recent years, bombing up and down the touchline.
So, focusing primarily on left-backs, who are the top 10 in the world right now? Let’s take a look.
10. David Alaba
Club: Bayern Munich
Key stat: Alaba completed 1507 passes during the 2018/19 Bundesliga season.
Okay, so David Alaba isn’t technically a left-back nowadays, thanks to his immense versatility, Bayern’s struggle for centre-back consistency and the emergence of other players in his position.
But left-back is definitely where most people still associate the Austrian sensation playing, and with good reason.
At his peak, there arguably wasn’t a better left-back on the planet than Alaba and given he’s continued his brilliance centrally, it only felt right to kick off this list with him.
9. Ben Chilwell
Club: Leicester City
Key stat: Chilwell has won 128 duels in the Premier League this season.
Ben Chilwell has gone from promising prospect to ultimately reliable over the last couple of years, seemingly nailing down his place in Gareth Southgate’s England side in the process.
Along with Ricardo Pereira on the opposite flank, Chilwell plays a key role in providing width for Brendan Rodgers’ impressive Leicester side, with the likes of Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes tucking inside further forward to maintain vertical dominance.
But more than that, the 23-year-old is also rock-solid at the back, brilliant in one-on-one situations and quick enough to keep up with almost any winger the Premier League has to offer.
Chilwell could have the England left-back spot nailed down for years to come.
8. Raphaël Guerreiro
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Key stat: No Borussia Dortmund player has provided more successful open play crosses in the Bundesliga than Raphael Guerreiro (10) this season.
Portugal are absolutely blessed in the full-back department right now and Raphael Guerreiro is just one of a multitude of options available for the European champions.
The 26-year-old has been superb for Borussia Dortmund this season, helping Lucien Favre’s men not only keep pace with Bayern in the Bundesliga title race, but make them genuinely fear for their long-standing German supremacy.
Guerreiro is a stylish footballer, versatile and incredibly effective in the final third, further adding to Dortmund’s all-action approach.
7. Juan Bernat
Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Key stat: Bernat has provided six assists across Ligue 1 and Champions League play this season.
Having been unable to oust Alaba at Bayern Munich, Juan Bernat moved to PSG in 2018 and quickly set about making the left-back spot his home.
The Spaniard has really come into his own this season, improving the previously-lacking defensive side of his game — only PSG’s midfield human shields Idrissa Gueye (65) and Marco Verratti (54) have made more tackles than Bernat (42) in Ligue 1 this season.
Thankfully for Thomas Tuchel, that hasn’t come at the cost of Bernat’s attacking output, with the former Valencia man still hugely effective in the final third for the French champions.
6. Ferland Mendy
Club: Real Madrid
Key stat: Ferland Mendy has averaged 5.38 duels per 90 minutes in the Champions League this season.
With an initial €48m fee on his shoulders, it’s safe to say Ferland Mendy arrived at Real Madrid from Lyon with plenty to live up to. So far, the signs have been incredibly positive.
The France international has rotated with Marcelo, offering a more robust defensive option than his Brazilian teammate when Zinedine Zidane has required it.
Still only 24, Mendy’s signing was very much made with the future in mind but he’s already proving his point at the Santiago Bernabeu.
5. Alphonso Davies
Club: Bayern Munich
Key stat: Alphonso Davies has completed more dribbles (19) than any other Bayern Munich player in the Champions League this season.
Alphonso Davies only arrived from Vancouver Whitecaps in January 2019 but he’s quickly set about proving why MLS is no longer the retirement junkyard some still believe it to be.
The Canada international has been ruthless in attack this season and showed the world just what he is capable of during Bayern’s recent Champions League mauling of Chelsea.
Alphonso Davies has been a force of nature for Bayern Munich this season.
— Chris Smith (@CJSmith91) April 4, 2020
Perhaps more terrifying is the defensive solidity his relentless speed gives him, allowing Davies to recover and shut down counter-attacks no matter how far he pushes up the pitch.
At 19 years old, there’s no telling just how much Davies can achieve in the game.
Club: Real Madrid
Key stat: Marcelo has provided five assists across Champions League and La Liga play this season.
He may be advancing into his thirties, but Marcelo remains a force of nature going forward for Real Madrid.
The Brazil international has enjoyed immense success with Los Blancos since joining from Fluminense in 2007, lifting four League titles, four Champions Leagues and two Copa del Rey crowns.
The arrival of Mendy has seen Marcelo rotated more, but it’s a very fluid arrangement, with the former shoring things up at the back when required, and the latter opening up the pitch in the final third for Madrid.
3. Alex Sandro
Key stat: Only Paulo Dybala (45) and Cristiano Ronaldo (40) have completed more dribbles than Alex Sandro (31) among Juventus players in Serie A this season.
With Maurizio Sarri often opting to keep his midfielders and forwards tucked inside, he is heavily reliant on his full-backs to provide width, both in possession and transition. Alex Sandro is probably the best left-back the Italian has ever had at his disposal in this regard.
The Brazilian has notched up 35 tackles, three assists and 13 successful open play crosses in Serie A this season, further illustrating just how much of a well-rounded game he has.
The longevity of Marcelo has limited Sandro to just 23 senior caps for Brazil so far but with 10 of those coming during 2019, there’s been a clear shift in power in that position for the Selecao.
2. Jordi Alba
Key stat: Alba has averaged 0.46 successful crosses per 90 minutes in La Liga this season — more than any other Barcelona player (six or more appearances).
There hasn’t been a left-back in world football more consistent than Jordi Alba over the past decade, with the Spaniard mopping up titles domestically, continentally and internationally with Barcelona and La Roja.
Alba is a much more sturdy defensive force than rival Marcelo, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute in the final third as well — he is a converted winger afterall.
Despite turning 31 in March, Alba is showing no signs of slowing down and even with Barca signing Junior Firpo last summer, remains the Blaugrana’s first-choice left-back as they continue to dominate La Liga.
1. Andy Robertson
Key stat: Teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold (25) is the only defender to provide more assists in the Premier League than Robertson (23) since his Liverpool debut.
Signed from Hull City in 2017 for just £8m – even less when you factor in Kevin Stewart heading in the opposite direction -few could have predicted the meteoric rise of Andy Robertson.
Jose Mourinho once claimed he was worn out simply watching the Scotland international tear up and down the touchline, and his energy does admittedly help Liverpool remain just as air-tight defensively as they are ruthless going forwards.
There’s a whole clutch of world-class left-backs on this list but Robertson comes out on top for being such an important part of what is arguably the greatest side the Premier League has ever seen.
Honourable mentions: Lucas Digne, Alex Telles, Bukayo Saka, Lucas Herandez Jonny Otto, Renan Lodi, Sergio Reguilón, Luke Shaw, Nicolas Tagliafico.