Full-backs. Whatever your system, they’re vital. And the Premier League is blessed with arguably the best full-backs in the world right now.
Unlike the central defenders they flank, full-backs come in all shapes and sizes. There are attacking full-backs and defensive full-backs. Full-backs who love to get up the pitch to create, and those who can be relied on the hold the fort while their partner marauds.
Not to mention the wing-backs. Some may consider it a different role entirely, but wing-backs share similar some of the full-backs’ responsibilities. You have your ultra-attacking wing-backs who might as well be wide midfielders or even wingers, and then you’ve got the defensive wing-backs making up a back who might as well be full-backs.
Like we said, the Premier League is blessed with a number of top quality full-backs (and wing-backs) this season, including those excelling in attack and defence. But who is the best? We’ve given our best shot at ranking them below.
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10. Takehiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal)
When Arsenal added to their squad in the summer, the main signing people focused on was Aaron Ramsdale, which meant the arrival of Takehiro Tomiyasu flew somewhat under the radar. But he won’t be forgotten now.
When fit, Tomiyasu has been a cornerstone of the Arsenal defence, forming a back line that can be impregnable on its day. The Japanese star is one of the aforementioned defensive-minded full-backs, holding his position to allow his teammates to do the attacking, providing stability in the back line.
Tomiyasu averages 1.87 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season and 1.28 interceptions, while also winning 5.56 duels. The 23-year-old’s quality is also shown by how Arsenal play when he hasn’t been in the side, looking a much weaker team defensively.
9. Tino Livramento (Southampton)
Tino Livramento’s campaign was ended by injury a few weeks ago, but the Englishman has been excellent in his debut season at Southampton. Signed from Chelsea in the summer, Livramento had been killing it on the right flank for the Blues’ academy. But not many will have expected him to take to top-flight football so quickly.
Still just 19, Livramento is seen as an attacking full-back, and there’s no surprise there given how he uses his pace and strength to blast down the wing, attempting 2.25 take-ons per 90 minutes. He isn’t as much of a crosser as other full-backs in the league, but he does get himself and the ball forward – with 4.53 final third entries per 90 and 2.86 penalty area entries.
However, Livramento is more than capable defensively too. He averaged 2.21 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, 1.92 interceptions and 7.19 ball recoveries. We hope he has a speedy recovery from injury and can hit the ground running next season.
8. Stuart Dallas (Leeds)
Stuart Dallas is an interesting case as, this season, he has played in various positions for Leeds, including defensive midfield. But the majority of his campaign has been played either at full-back or wing-back, so he makes the list.
Among full-backs this season, only one player has made more tackles than Dallas’ 93 in the Premier League, and the Northern Irishman averages 2.86 per 90 minutes – your quintessential defensive full-back – also averaging 1.76 interceptions. But that hasn’t stopped him from getting the ball forward, with 5.76 final third entries per 90 in the Premier League this season, which is impressive when you consider the change in style Leeds have undergone in switching from Marcelo Bielsa to Jesse Marsch.
7. Matty Cash (Aston Villa)
Matty Cash was recently named Aston Villa’s Supporters’ Player of the Year and it’s not hard to see why. The English-Polish right-back has played every game for Aston Villa in the Premier League this season, missing just 40 minutes across the campaign. Like Dallas, he has played at wing-back and full-back, really coming into his own in a back four under Steven Gerrard.
Cash’s full-back role is a slightly more rounded one, with the 24-year-old contributing in both defence and attack. He has 2.39 tackles and 1.35 interceptions per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season but has also had 2.45 touches in the opposition box. Like Livramento, Cash’s attacking influence is less about putting the crosses in and more about supporting his teammates in the dangerous areas.
6. Tyrick Mitchell (Crystal Palace)
Remember when we said only one full-back had made more tackles than Dallas? Meet that full-back. Tyrick Mitchell is the latest on a list of right-backs coming out of Crystal Palace, and fans will be hoping he doesn’t go the same way as Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Defensively, Mitchell has been nothing short of outstanding in the Premier League this season, with 98 tackles at an average of 3.02 per 90 minutes. He’s also averaged 1.23 interceptions per 90 and 6.81 ball recoveries, forming part of a Crystal Palace backline that has only conceded 43 goals this season. There’s a reason he was given his England debut earlier in the campaign, and it won’t be his last. The question is, can Palace keep hold of this one?
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5. Marc Cucurella (Brighton)
Another solid all-round full-back this season comes in the form of Brighton’s Marc Cucurella. The Spaniard is a graduate of Barcelona’s famed La Masia and signed from Getafe in the summer, after thriving as a hybrid wing-back.
Cucurella, still only 23, has used his past as a wide midfielder to his benefit in the Premier League this season, creating 38 chances from open play – the third-highest by a full-back, behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. He also has 7.7 final third entries per 90, advancing the ball for Brighton.
But Cucurella also performs his defensive duties with expertise and can be tough to beat when one-on-one. He has won 2.73 tackles per 90 in the Premier League this season, giving some of the best attackers in the division tough matches on more than one occasion. Barcelona will be kicking themselves.
4. Reece James (Chelsea)
A big “what if” from the Premier League this season will be where Chelsea would have finished had Reece James (and Ben Chilwell) not suffered so much with injuries. The wing-back is one of Chelsea’s best players, crucial to their attack under Thomas Tuchel, and they looked lost in front of goal when he wasn’t in the team.
James has averaged 2.24 chances per 90 minutes in the Premier League so far this season, the 13th-highest in the division (not bad for a defensive player). He has also recorded seven assists in just 1,685 minutes of action, with only Mason Mount (11) managing more for Chelsea. One of James’ biggest outlets is his crossing, and he’s completed 1.01 per 90 excluding corners, with only eight players managing more. He’s not bad defensively, either, with 1.76 tackles per 90 although, as a wing-back, he has less defending to do than others.
There’s a reason he’s considered among the best right-backs in the Premier League right now, and he’s still just 22.
3. Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
Not too long ago, Andrew Robertson was being called the best left-back in the world and there’s still a case to be made for the claim even now, depending on who you class as a left-back.
The Scot continues to be an integral part of Liverpool’s squad and the way they play, averaging 91.8 touches per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season (only four Reds players have managed more). He has also averaged 7.34 penalty area entries per 90, still being a big part of how Liverpool work the ball into the box even though some may look at him has having a less intregral role compared to recent seasons.
But that’s just because he is being outshone by his full-back partner (more on him a bit). Taking Robertson’s statistics and performances in isolation, he is still averaging 2.02 chances created per 90 minutes anyway and 3.23 touches in the opposition box.
2. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
This was a tough one. There is so little to separate the top two, but we’ve put Trent Alexander-Arnold as second (just).
In a word, Alexander-Arnold is obscene. The way he works the ball shouldn’t be possible for any footballer, let alone for a full-back. And yet the Englishman seems to have full control over where his crosses go as if he was controlling them midair with a magic wand.
But the real wand is his right foot. Alexander-Arnold has completed 1.34 crosses per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, the third-highest in the division. He’s also averaged 2.74 chances created, also the third-highest, and only Mohamed Salah has more assists than his 12. This is a defender we’re talking about,
remember. Everything Liverpool does moves through Alexander-Arnold at one stage or another, with no Reds player having more touches than his 3,013.
1. Joao Cancelo
A chart showing a player’s stats compared to a position group (full-backs), where the outer and most inner boundaries represent the top and bottom 5% figures of the wider footballing population. Cancelo’s output is in blue.
Joao Cancelo isn’t a right-back. He isn’t a left-back either. He is a FULL-back. The Portuguese defender can play on either side of the defence and has done so for Manchester City this season, excelling wherever he is.
No player has had more touches in the Premier League this season than Cancelo (3,794) who can either hug the touchline or move centrally depending on what Pep Guardiola wants in a specific match. Defensively, he has averaged 2.35 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season and 1.66 interceptions, while also winning 6.11 duels. In attack, he’s got 12.28 final third entries, proving vital to Man City’s build-up.
Perhaps the one thing that might let him down in the eyes of some is that he doesn’t have the attacking numbers to match Alexander-Arnold does in terms of chances created and assists. Regardless, he may be the most complete full-back in the world right now, so just gets our (very slight) nod.