Once arguably the most unfashionable position on the pitch, the role of the full-back has become one of ever increasing importance in the evolution of the modern game.
The inclusion of attack-minded full-backs is now of vital importance to Premier League sides and those across Europe, with perhaps none more influential at present than Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The academy graduate continues to shine in Jurgen Klopp’s winning-machine, the 21-year-old having become a deep-lying playmaker for the European champions, providing eight league assists so far this season.
With full-backs now more important than ever before, we’ve decided to analyse some of the best in the division.
Here are our ratings of the first-choice right-back for each of the Premier League’s top six…
Arsenal – Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Hector Bellerin’s long standing injury problems has seen Maitland-Niles emerge as Arsenal‘s first choice at right-back, despite the 22-year-old’s preference for a role in midfield.
Assessing the impact of the academy graduate has been difficult following an indifferent season so far, beginning brightly with an assist on the opening weekend against Newcastle before spells out of the team and an unnecessary sending off against Aston Villa.
A regular starter since Mikel Arteta took over, Maitland-Niles will hope to cement his position as an automatic pick, despite admitting the role of a full-back remains foreign to him.
His utility status since emerging as a first-team player has increased his opportunities to play, and as an attacking threat he has looked comfortable in a deeper role, though like with many modern full-backs his defensive game needs much work.
Whether Maitland-Niles remains as the club’s first-choice right-back remains to be seen, but he will need to markedly improve if he is to retain the shirt he holds at present.
Chelsea – Cesar Azpilicueta
The Chelsea captain has been one of the club’s shrewdest investments in recent years, winning a host of major honours since arriving from Marseille for just £7m in 2012.
Azpilicueta may not be the same force of old but he is still a dependable member of Frank Lampard’s side, whilst his versatility in being able to play across the back four increases his value at Stamford Bridge.
The Spaniard has made over 350 appearances for the west London side and has been a model of consistency throughout his stay in the Premier League, though his status as first-choice is now under threat from academy graduate Reece James who looks set to be a star of the future.
Recent fixtures have seen the 30-year-old switch to left-back to accommodate the youngster, though he remains a first-choice selection with his leadership vital to Lampard’s inexperienced outfit.
Despite his greatest strength being defensively, Azpilicueta has contributed a goal and three assists in 20 Premier League appearances so far this season.
Liverpool – Trent Alexander-Arnold
A player whose contribution is changing perceptions of the right-back role, Alexander-Arnold has been one of the stars of the season so far in a Liverpool side racing towards a first ever Premier League title.
The West Derby-born starlet has thrived since being handed his first-team opportunity at the Reds in 2016, establishing himself as an influential figure and becoming the youngest ever player to start in consecutive Champions League finals.
Still just 21-years-old, Alexander-Arnold is regarded by many as the best attacking full-back in world football, breaking the Premier League record for assists by a defender in a single season last term and well on course to break his own record in the current campaign.
Possessing a wicked delivery from set-pieces and open play, no player has provided more than the England international’s 20 assists since the start of last season. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a right-back, whilst he has also shown his goal threat with two strikes so far this season.
Aside from his productivity, his ability to set the tempo from deep and launch attacks with raking cross-field balls are a vital part of Jurgen Klopp’s side’s game, and but for slight deficiencies in his defensive game would be rewarded with full marks here.
Manchester City – Kyle Walker
Kyle Walker’s England future may be in jeopardy at present, but the full-back remains as key to Manchester City‘s hopes as ever having made 17 Premier League starts so far this season.
The 29-year-old’s greatest strengths have long been his athletic prowess, with few players in world football capable of matching Walker for pace and power.
Those attributes allow the former Tottenham star to compete with even the quickest of opposition wingers, though his all-round game has undoubtedly improved under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, often tasked with tucking into midfield and filling in centrally on occasion.
One goal and two assists have come from Walker’s Premier League appearances so far, a tally with could perhaps be improved given the threat he can pose going forwards.
Despite facing a battle to save his international future amongst a growing contingent of emerging right-backs, the City star remains one of the leading players in his position at present.
Manchester United – Aaron Wan-Bissaka
Manchester United‘s search for a new right-back saw the club complete a £50m deal for Crystal Palace’s Wan-Bissaka last summer, the youngster moving to Old Trafford in a big-money deal following a stand-out season at Selhurst Park.
Nicknamed ‘The Spider’ by teammates for his ability in one-on-one defending, Wan-Bissaka is one of the best defensive full-backs around and a prolific tackler, making the skill an art form and taking pride in his ability to dispossess opponents.
That said, for all his dogged defensive work, Wan-Bissaka has proven fairly limited as an attacking threat thus far, providing no goals and just one assist in 19 Premier League appearances.
For a side such as United who will have aspirations of challenging for silverware in the near future, this will need to improve significantly, Wan-Bissaka needing to prove he can be just as important with possession as he is without.
Tottenham – Serge Aurier
Spurs decision to allow Kieran Trippier to depart for Atletico Madrid last summer raised many eyebrows, despite the below-par showings of the England international throughout much of last season.
Further surprising still was the club’s decision not to sign a replacement, instead entrusting Serge Aurier to become the club’s first-choice at right-back.
The former Paris Saint-Germain star has shown occasional glimpses of his potential as an attacking full-back, though these displays have often been mixed with defensive lapses in concentration, not least his two yellow cards in quick succession against Southampton in September and clumsy challenge to gift Liverpool a penalty at Anfield the following month.
Despite playing regularly this season question marks remain on his long term future in north London, Aurier perhaps lacking the discipline associated with defenders in a Jose Mourinho side.