The discourse surrounding the role of full-backs in modern football has significantly changed as the position has undergone a tactical innovation in the last few years.
Traditionally, the primary role of full-backs was to support the central defenders and to prevent opposing attacks in wide areas. These players were initially mere after-thoughts, believed to be individuals who were simply not proficient enough to be wingers.
Today, the position is in the midst of a revolution as full-backs are expected to be more attack-minded and to provide a numerical advantage in the middle of the park. These players are encouraged to foray beyond the halfway line, a task which demands more athleticism as they are required to make high-intensity runs along the flanks.
The last few Premier League campaigns have witnessed the notable emergence of deft full-backs who are as capable of carrying defensive responsibilities as they are of quality deliveries in the box.
The 2019-20 season, or what we’ve seen of it before its suspension, has also seen its fair share of such players, who are now more involved than ever in the success of their respective teams.
With that said, we take a look at three of the best full-backs in the Premier League this season:
#1 Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold has taken the evolution of the full-back position to new heights as he continues to push the perceived limitations that come with the underrated role, much to the benefit of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
The young defender came through the ranks of the Reds’ football academy back in 2016 and has since established himself as not only the first-choice right-back in the team but also as an irreplaceable cog of their manager’s title-winning set-up.
Alexander-Arnold is arguably the galvanic creative figure in the Merseysiders’ tactical system and regularly gets involved in his team’s attacking play. He is often seen delivering crosses from deep to the lethal trio comprising of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino while also making sure he tracks back on time to stop opposing attacks.
Last season, the England international set the record for the highest number of assists ever delivered by a defender across a single Premier League season (12). He now looks set to break his own record as he has already matched the tally in the present campaign. He has also netted 2 goals for the Reds this term, and the numbers are likely to increase if the season resumes.
The right-back has a tackle success rate of 67% in the Premier League this term but his defensive contributions have admittedly been scrutinised by certain critics. However, any defensive lapses can be easily overlooked when one considers his overall contributions on the pitch.
At just 21, Alexander-Arnold has won a Champions League title, a Club World Cup and is well on his way to winning his maiden Premier League trophy. Together with left-back Andrew Robertson, he continues to change the perception of what a full-back should be while also inspiring a new generation of kids to follow the footsteps of someone other than a striker.
#2 Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is quickly emerging as a potential rival for Trent Alexander-Arnold in the England national team as his solid defensive performances for Manchester United have earned him massive plaudits this season.
The 22-year-old, who was signed from Crystal Palace last summer, did not take time settling at Old Trafford and has proven himself to be the out-and-out specialist that the Manchester giants had desperately needed for years.
Unlike Alexander-Arnold, the former Crystal Palace man is known for his combative defensive performances on the flank. He has a 67% tackle success rate this term and is hardly ever beaten in one-on-one situations. The number of tackles he makes, which is the second-highest in the English top-flight this season, and his unusually low tally of fouls are a testament to his technical abilities as well as his intelligent reading of the opponent.
Wan-Bissaka has much to improve when it comes to his attacking output, especially if he wishes to dethrone Alexander-Arnold in the Three Lions squad. He is yet to find the net in the Premier League this season and has tallied two assists for the Red Devils so far.
#3 Ricardo Pereira
Ricardo Pereira, who arrived at the King Power Stadium two summers ago, has established himself as an integral figure in Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City set-up this season.
The 26-year-old has emerged as one of the finest defenders in England and his contributions have helped the Foxes keep one of the best defensive records in the Premier League this term, second only to Liverpool.
The Portugal international boasts of the highest number of tackles in the English top-flight (119) and has a tackle success rate of 57% in the present campaign. Since he made his debut for Leicester City, the right-back has made more tackles than most of his contemporaries, with Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Southampton’s Jan Bednarek the only players with more interceptions.
Having said that, Pereira is naturally an attack-minded defender whose marauding runs forward have been a constant threat to opposing left-backs throughout the season. His speed and technical skill, coupled with his sharpness in the final third, make him one of the most efficient modern-day full-backs in the Premier League.
The Lisbon-born star has registered 3 goals and 2 assists in the league so far this term and his season-ending ACL injury is surely a big blow for Leicester City, who will be looking to maintain their place in the top four once the season resumes.