Premier League’s Best Left Backs: There is more than Ashley Cole

From time-to-time, we have to have a conversation of this kind when it comes to looking back on Premier League football. Past and present, there are individuals who stand out above the rest when performing in the challenging position of full back. We wanted to focus specifically on those that perform at left back, as many deserve credit for their achievements.

There is typically one name that comes to mind when asking any football supporter ‘Who is the best left back in Premier League history?’. After extension research, it proves there are 10 standout individuals that will come to head in that discussion. Below, we talk through each of those, in no particular order, highlighting their strengths and how successful they were in the Premier League.

Nigel Winterburn

Best known for his time at Arsenal, he made his name forming part of ‘that’ back four with the Gunners alongside Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Tony Adams. He joined the club in 1987, a good few years before the Premier League was formed, but he was a stalwart in being part of the Arsenal team that won the Premier League and FA Cup double in 1998.

Winterburn also moved onto West Ham after a 13-year spell at Highbury, which is where he ended his career. Whilst strong defensively first and foremost, he would demonstrate more offensive qualities after he was under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger. It was criminal he only had two England caps, but he had more than proved his worth at club level.

Ashley Cole

The man who went on to replace Winterburn in the team was an unknown youngster called Ashley Cole, and he would never look back. He would install himself as arguably the best left back the Premier League has ever seen, whilst some would argue the same when pulling on an England shirt. One-against-one, he was almightily difficult to pass and no right winger enjoyed facing him.

On four occasions he would rightfully earn a place in the PFA Team of the Year through his all-action performances. He would win three Premier League crowns across spells with Arsenal and also their rivals Chelsea. Whilst strong defensively, he could contribute in attack and would be a regular overlapping the left winger to then supply accurate crosses into the box.

Ashley Cole
File photo dated 25-09-2004 of Ashley Cole, who after a successful Arsenal spell, moved to Stamford Bridge following a protracted transfer saga in 2006 and secured a Premier League title, four FA Cups, the League Cup and the Champions League as well as the Europa League. Issue date: Friday August 12, 2022. – Photo by Icon sport

Luke Shaw

Shaw is still playing to this day, which is testament to him given he made his professional debut around 11 years ago. Next season will be his tenth playing for Manchester United, where he has endured an ups-and-downs, but is now thriving as not only one of the best left backs, but also a more than solid central defender, too. He is firmly a regular for England, too.

He too has been named in the PFA Team of the Year, twice for him. His close ball control is one notable quality he has improved season-on-season, whilst his maturity out of possession makes him an excellent all-rounded. Whilst he maybe doesn’t overlap and swing in crosses like he did in his younger days, his eye for a pass and creativity means attacks continue to progress. However, he remains without a Premier League trophy.

London, England, 23rd April 2023. Luke Shaw of Manchester United in action during the The FA Cup match at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture credit should read: Kieran Cleeves / Sportimage – Photo by Icon sport

Graeme Le Saux

Le Saux played over 12 seasons at Premier League level during spells with Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton, and the Jersey-born full back would never disappoint with his output. He quite simply had many different strings to his bow, but was perhaps best known for being a defending defender, that occasionally got into attacking areas.

His longevity is a credit to his fitness levels, and it was in the mid to late 1990s where he probably saw him at his best. He could swing in a dangerous ball, was a threat on set pieces and never shunned away from making a strong challenge. Le Saux twice made the PFA Team of the Year, and can look back on his career as a strong Premier League player, even if he did have a fight with a teammate!

Patrice Evra

Whilst it is mostly said that Ashley Cole was the best left back in Premier League history, Patrice Evra was the man to potentially enter that conversation. When Manchester United were at their best under Sir Alex Ferguson, the Frenchman was a big part of their game. A strong individual that showed great positional awareness, whilst also showcasing great skill in attacking situations.

He enjoyed eight-and-a-half seasons at Old Trafford, and would depart with five Premier League titles on his CV. Three times he earned a spot in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, and the fact he went on to win honour with Juventus further enhanced his reputation. In 2009 he formed part of the FIFA FIFPro World XI and also the UEFA Team of the Year. He loves this game!

Soccer Aid World XI’s Patrice Evra looks on during Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2023 at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Sunday June 11, 2023. – Photo by Icon sport

Leighton Baines

Baines was as loyal as they come. He only played for two clubs in a career spanning from 2002 to 2020, and from 2005 onwards he played entirely in the Premier League. The England international went on to become an Everton legend in the eyes of manner, and more than deserves to be part of this left back conversation.

Defensively, he would never let his team down, whilst going forward he would be frequently involved in attacking phases of play down the left back. Baines could score a spectacular goal or two, free kicks and penalties, and his range of passing and crossing was exceptional. No Premier League title but was twice in the PFA Team of the Year.

Gaël Clichy

Clichy is the third player with an Arsenal involvement in this list and he proved to be one of Arsene Wenger’s best recruits in terms of value for money. He was playing in the lower leagues in France at the time, and three years later he was Wenger’s first-choice left back, being the man to takeover the mantel after Ashley Cole left for Chelsea.

He would also spent six seasons at Manchester City, who signed him for around £7million, another bargain price! He was an energetic player that loved to get up-and-down the left side. More of a dribbler during his time at Arsenal, with City he’d show more of an eye for that killer pass. He is still playing in Switzerland these days, and has three Premier League winners medals from his time in England.

Andrew Robertson

21st July 2017 proved to be a big day in the life of Robertson as this is when Jurgen Klopp signed him for Liverpool for £8million from Hull City. This was seen as a bit of a shock move at the time, but the German manager clearly knew what he was doing. With Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right side, these two are arguably the best full back pairing of the Premier League era.

The Scotland captain has energy to burn and can be regularly seen running at full speed either on the ball driving forward or looking to play his part in attacks. At 29, he is entering the peak of his career and has every chance of adding to his one Premier League title. Twice he has made the PFA Team of the Year, and has cemented the Liverpool left back spot all to himself.

Andrew Robertson #26 of Liverpool during the Premier League match Liverpool vs Nottingham Forest at Anfield, Liverpool, United Kingdom, 22nd April 2023 (Photo by Steve Flynn/News Images) in Liverpool, United Kingdom on 4/22/2023. (Photo by Steve Flynn/News Images/Sipa USA) – Photo by Icon sport

Danny Rose

This is perhaps a name that may surprise one or two, but the fact of the matter is that Rose was really appreciated by those around him at the peak of his powers. Although his time at Tottenham didn’t end in great style, he spent 13 seasons with the club and won a spot in consecutive years in the PFA Team of the Year when Mauricio Pochettino was in charge.

Rose was not really seen as a left back in his younger days, so it is a big credit to him that he transformed his game to excel in this new role for several seasons. He would spend practically his entire career in the Premier League, never looking flustered in possession, reading the game to a high standard and offensively showing real moments of brilliance.

Denis Irwin

Last and by no means least, Irwin had to make the list. Any Manchester United fan would argue his case and although many current fans may not remember his impact, Irwin was an early trendsetter for the modern day full back. The fact he could comfortably play on the right side as well further proves his talents. He is a Premier League great in more ways than one.

With seven Premier League titles from his time at Old Trafford, the Irishman is the most successful player on the top-10 for this particular accolade. As a player, he really was ahead of his time. He was doing what all full backs do today when he was in his pomp. Twice in the Premier League Team of the Year, Irwin was an exceptional all-rounded and one of Ferguson’s first names on the team sheet.

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