The Premier Leagues Top Full-Backs of 2018/19
Defence is an essential part of a successful team and the players are too often overlooked. Here we take a look at some of the most impressive full-backs in the Premier League this season.
It seems almost unbelievable that Andy Robertson started in just two Premier League games before December in his first season with Liverpool. He was still impressive last season, but this season he seems to have reached another level.
He is a vital part of Liverpool’s defence and Virgil van Dijk has said that he could be a future Liverpool captain. Jose Mourinho once described him as “absolutely incredible”, Pep Guardiola has said that he would like to sign him and he has even won high praise from Phil Neville.
Last month Neville described Robertson as, “the best left-back I see in Europe at this moment in time”. Since then Robertson seems to have been doing his best to prove Neville correct. He appears to have endless energy, fantastic pace, and is a hugely dynamic player. Most impressively, he has just turned twenty-five.
It is difficult to pick out weaknesses in Robertson and the only defenders to record more assists than his nine in a single Premier League season are Leighton Baines (2010/11) and Andy Hinchcliffe (1994/95), both 11. Hull City, Robertson’s previous team, must still be kicking themselves for letting him go so easily.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka didn’t get the chance to prove himself in the Premier League until Martin Kelly and Joel Ward fell victim to injuries in the middle of a relegation battle last February. He was thrown in at the deep end together with senior teammates such as Jairo Riedewald, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Patrick van Aanholt and Alexander Sorloth. However, he rose to the challenge and is now one of the most respected players in Europe. His development has been so impressive that he has attracted a huge amount of attention. He enjoys a huge amount of natural talent and he looks set to continue going from strength to strength.
Last season Ben Chilwell was spoken about as the apprentice of Christian Fuchs but now he has undoubtedly taken Fuchs’ position. Fuchs started 20 Premier League games at left-back for Leicester City in 2017/18, and just two this season. Furthermore, Leicester lost both of those games.
There is little doubt that Chilwell is an improvement on Fuchs, even when Fuchs was at his best. Chilwell is an excellent defender and he has displayed his attacking credentials as an England international with a maturity rarely seen in one so young.
Chilwell’s teammate Wilfred Ndidi is the only player aged 22 or less to have played more league minutes than Chilwell across the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 this season, with 3,007 to Chilwell’s 2,880. He is widely considered to be the second-best left-back in the Premier League and is likely to attract a huge amount of interest from other teams this summer.
Lucas Digne has proven himself to be one of the best signings of the season and one of the main challengers to Andy Robertson in the city of Liverpool. He is considered to be Europe’s second most creative defender at present, having made as many key passes (58) as Dries Mertens and Bernardo Silva, nine more than Angel di Maria, 57 more than Papy Djilobodji, and one less than Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho this season. Everton have a very expensive attack, but only three players have scored more league goals and none of them have more assists than the left-back. Furthermore, only midfielder Idrissa Gueye has made more than Digne’s 61 tackles for Everton.
It was not very long ago that Jurgen Klopp felt that he had to defend his right-back saying “Trent is a very young boy still. He had two weeks off in the summer, that’s not a lot. It’s clear we try to have an eye constantly on him fitness-wise, not working with the group, stuff like that.”
It came after he had had a difficult few months; he was dropped for the draw against Manchester City, the win over Huddersfield and the defeat at PSG. He was also substituted at half time during the loss to Red Star. However, since then his form has been fantastic, and since he was forced to rest due to injury at the start of the year, he has looked very fresh and focused.
Liverpool have dropped points in just eight of their Premier League games this season and Alexander-Arnold was side-lined for four of them. There is no doubt that he has become one of Liverpool’s key players.
Matt Doherty has been one of the only constant’s at Wolverhampton Wanderers during a time of great upheaval for the club. He was signed from Bohemians when the club was last in the Premier League, back in 2010, and he has finally firmly established himself as a first-team regular. The team’s next longest-serving player is Ethan Ebanks-Landell, followed by 2014 signing Kortney Hause. However, Doherty is one of manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s most important players.
Prior to this season the only Premier League appearance that Doherty had was a 45-minute second-half cameo in a defeat to Liverpool in September 2011. In that game Roger Johnson scored an own goal, while the midfield of Karl Henry, David Edwards and Jamie O’Hara all struggled at Anfield. Wolves have come a long way since then and Doherty has proven himself repeatedly along the way.
Just two players across the whole of Europe have made more than 100 tackles and completed at least 50 dribbles this season. The aforementioned Aaron Wan-Bissaka is one of them, and the other is Ricardo Pereira. Leicester have a number of players that receive far more attention than the Portuguese player does. While he was the club’s most expensive summer signing, both James Maddison and Youri Tielemans, as well as a number of other long-serving teammates have overshadowed him.
Pereira has not started in seven games this season and Leicester’s only wins from those games have come against Huddersfield in the Premier Leagues and Fleetwood Town and Wolves in the League Cup. The other four games included draws with West Ham, Fulham and Southampton, and a defeat to Manchester City, showing just how important Pereira really is.
Last season Kyle Walker was arguably the best full-back in the Premier League. This season he has still been impressive, but not as impressive.
He hasn’t reached the same standards as he did last season, his first with Manchester City, and in his final few years with Spurs. Speaking after a poor performance against Crystal Palace last December Pep Guardiola said, “He will learn. Footballers do good things and bad things but everyone else is involved too, those at the front as well as at the back.”
His reduced performance has also resulted in a reduced role at international level. However, he is still an important member of Manchester City and the England side. It is also worth noting that only Ederson and Aymeric Laporte have played more minutes for the team this season, 4,350 and 3,722 respectively to Walker’s 3,673.
It took a long while for Watford fans to warm to Jose Holebas after he was signed from Roma in 2015. This is likely to do with his attitude upon arrival, when he pointed out that, “Roma arranged my transfer without asking me,” that “I haven’t signed anything yet, I have to see the contract first,” and that “I never said I wanted to leave”.
In his first season he played just 11 times, he came very close to beating the all-time record for bookings in a single Premier League season in his second season, and he was dropped towards the end of his third season under Marco Silva. However, Javi Gracia recognised his talents when he arrived at the club in January 2018 and since then his form has been rapidly improving.
At present, Joshua Kimmich is the only defender across Europe’s top five leagues with more combined goals and assists this season than Holebas. Holebas has nine, the same as Andy Robertson and Jordi Alba, while Kimmich has 13.
It is now about a year since Luke Shaw was ridiculed in the press and two years since Jose Mourinho publicly lashed out at the player. However, Shaw seems to have turned things around and for now, at least, he is very much Manchester United’s left-back. Despite his relatively poor form, Mourinho did keep Shaw on at United and 17 of his 34 Premier and Champions League starts this season came under the Portuguese. Furthermore, Shaw has been one of the most consistent players at United this season and he has ensured that he has an important role to play in the team.