The world’s best left-backs require a wide range of attributes, with the finest full-backs in the game now responsible for key contributions at both ends of the pitch.
From buccaneering defenders who bomb forward at pace, to those tasked with inverting into midfield to help build from the back, the evolution of the full-back role has been one of the most fascinating tactical tweaks of modern times.
Assessing the best left-backs in the world was a difficult task, but we’ve attempted to rank the finest five in the game right now.
Ranking the five best left-backs in world football right now.
5. Luke Shaw – Manchester United
Luke Shaw has had a fine season under the management of Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, with the England defender underlining his status as one of the most effective full-back options in the Premier League.
Shaw is technically proficient in possession and tenacious without it, offering drive from deep down the Manchester United left. The 27-year-old fell out of favour early in the campaign, but has since responded with a consistent run of performances and has demonstrated his adaptability after adjusting to a centre-back role on occasion.
He has formed a fine partnership with Marcus Rashford down the left-hand side and Shaw’s overlapping runs provide space for the forward to move inside into dangerous areas. A key performer for club and country, Shaw has bounced back from a challenging 2021/22 season in fine fashion.
4. Oleksandr Zinchenko – Arsenal
Oleksandr Zinchenko’s arrival at Arsenal was one of the major factors in the club’s improved performances under Mikel Arteta, with the former Manchester City left-back having had a transformative impact on the side’s style.
The Ukrainian international has started nominally at left-back before inverting into midfield, a role which has seen Zinchenko dictate games from a central possession and thread passes forward between lines.
💬 “The main thing when you’re in central midfield is to know what’s going on behind your back, and you need to know what you’re doing with the ball before you receive it.”
Oleksandr Zinchenko gives us an insight into his inverted left-back role with Adrian Clarke 👇
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 31, 2023
Zinchenko’s return of one goal and two assists might appear underwhelming on surface level, but his role was integral to Arsenal’s unexpected challenge for the Premier League title.
Compared to his positional peers in Europe’s top five leagues and UEFA competition last season, Zinchenko ranked in the 93rd percentile or higher for attempted passes, pass completion, progressive passes and aerials won per 90 minutes.
An often overlooked figure during his time at Manchester City, he has been central to Arsenal’s best performances this season and has handled the complexities of his fluid positional changes superbly.
3. Theo Hernandez – AC Milan
Theo Hernandez is one of the most exciting left-backs around, a footballer at his best when breaking forward at pace and driving into opposition territory.
Full-backs have not often been fashionable, but Hernandez’s brand of football is helping change that narrative. The Frenchman flies forward at will for AC Milan and was a driving force in the Rossoneri’s title-winning campaign in 2021/22, providing more goal involvements (5 goals & 6 assists) than any other defender in Serie A.
Few full-backs carry the ball as confidently as 25-year-old, whose brilliance when powering forward was evidenced with a stunning solo goal against Atalanta in May 2022 that saw Hernandez run
95 metres in possession before scoring in a 2–0 win.
— Lega Serie A (@SerieA_EN) June 7, 2023
Named in the Serie A Team of the Year in three consecutive campaigns, he has dovetailed devastatingly with Rafael Leao in recent seasons.
2. Andy Robertson – Liverpool
Andy Robertson might have fallen below his usual standard for periods of last season, but the Scotland captain remains one of the most complete full-backs in Europe.
Robertson combines relentless energy with excellent delivery from out wide and has now provided more assists than any defender in Premier League history (57).
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 27, 2022
No left-back in the Premier League created more goals than Robertson (8) last season, who ranked in the 92nd percentile or higher among his positional peers in Europe’s top five leagues for assists, expected assists, shot-creating actions and attempted passes per 90 minutes.
Add in a level of application that ensures the 29-year-old never gives less than 100% commitment and it is an all-round package few full-backs can match.
1. Alphonso Davies – Bayern Munich
Alphonso Davies burst onto the scene during the 2019/20 season as Canadian full-back starred during Bayern Munich’s run to Champions League and treble success.
Davies suffered a setback after being diagnosed with mild myocarditis, but has since returned to improve his argument as the world’s leading left-back. The youngest non-German to reach 100 Bundesliga appearances for the club, the 22-year-old has already won FIVE Bundesliga titles and became the first Canadian to score at a World Cup in Qatar last winter.
Davies lives up to his Roadrunner moniker with explosive running power, with his recovery runs often bailing out the rest of the Bayern backline. Statistically, he is a phenomenon when compared to his positional peers.
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) September 15, 2022
The left-back ranks in the 95th percentile or higher for metrics including shot-creating actions, pass completion, progressive carries, successful take-ons and touches in the opposition penalty area per 90 minutes, while sitting in the 80th percentile or higher for blocks, assists, attempted passes and progressive passes.
That variation of elite productivity – alongside pace that makes Davies one of the quickest players in world football – means Bayern’s left-back position looks locked down for the foreseeable future.