The 2021/22 Champions League is here! And with it, some very fabulous flanks.
Obviously the Champions League is full of fantastic full-backs and wonderful wingers, and while those positions often get ranked or analysed, it’s always on their own as wingers or full-backs.
We here at Squawka have instead decided to see how they interact with each other on a single flank, so we’ve looked all around Europe and come up with a list of the five best “flanks” on the continent; that is to say a winger and a full-back on either the right or left side of the pitch. Two players from two different lines of a team acting in concert to devastate opponents.
So who are in the top five flanks for this season’s Champions League? Read on and find out!
5. Vinicius Jr. and David Alaba
In truth there were several options for this fifth spot, with Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mané being one (Mané’s staggering profligacy over the last season and a bit hurt them) Jordi Alba and Memphis Depay another (this has the potential to move into the list, but could just as easily become Alba and Ansu Fati – Barcelona are a wait-and-see right now) and, of course, Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford (but for Rashford’s injury they would have probably gotten the nod).
The one flank that is too hot to ignore right now is over at the Santiago Bernabeu, where star free agent signing David Alaba pairs up with Vinicius Jr. Alaba’s bonafides are unimpeachable, but Madrid signed young Vini almost sight unseen in 2017, and for years it looked like they had signed an extremely talented, but absurdly erratic, wing wizard.
However, the Brazilian has started this season in blistering form with four goals in his first four league games and even if he starts on the bench he can still come on to make the difference in a game. Just ask Levante. With Alaba’s experience and Vini’s blistering pace and newfound confidence in front of goal, Los Blancos have a lethal left flank.
4. Leroy Sané and Alphonso Davies
Speaking of the lethal lefts, the reigning Bundesliga champions are quietly putting one together with Leroy Sané and Alphonso Davies. Inverted wingers are a feature of this list, but here we have an instance where Julian Nagelsmann’s side are just “playing it straight” by having Sané play on his natural left-flank the way he also now does for Germany and famously did for Manchester City.
Having Sané playing on his strong side allows him to receive the ball in more advantageous positions for him and act more decisively with the ball, while Davies is a human blur capable of crossing or shooting. So whether Sané drifts in or stays wide, Davies can adjust his run accordingly and the pair are exceedingly creative; in the Bundesliga this season Sané has 2.64 chances created per-90 minutes while Davies has 2.01 for two assists (Sané has one goal and one assist).
3. Jack Grealish and Joao Cancelo
From two lefties on the left to two righties on the left. It’s very rare you see an inverted full-back, especially with an inverted winger, but Manchester City’s left-back position has caused them problems for years. In truth, Cancelo has been their best performer there over the last season anyway, and with £100m man Jack Grealish now operating in left-wing the two dovetail nicely.
Cancelo can overlap, but the strength in this flank is their powerful ball possession. They protect the ball superbly, shifting it about to avoid opponents while creating chances for each other through dribbling and passing. Grealish is a creative maverick with the second-most chances created so far this season (13) and a commendable 7/11 take-ons completed. With Cancelo backing him up, all City really needed was a striker moving off the ball to bury the chances they will create.
Champions League 2021/22 Outright odds from William Hill
- PSG (3/1)
- Man City (4/1)
- Chelsea (8/1)
- Bayern Munich (8/1)
- Man Utd (9/1)
- Liverpool (10/1)
Odds correct at time of publication (11:00, 14/09/21). You have to be 18+ to gamble. Be Gamble Aware.
2. Lionel Messi and Achraf Hakimi
We’ve barely seen this duo play together but in theory, on paper, PSG’s right flank is utterly preposterous. Lionel Messi and Achraf Hakimi are two of the most absurdly talented players around right now, in very different ways.
Hakimi is obviously a freight train of a right-back, acting more like a winger. Since 2019/20, Hakimi has had more touches in the box than any other full-back in the top five leagues (276) and is a constant source of creativity.
How many will Lionel Messi get of each in his debut season with Paris Saint-Germain? pic.twitter.com/pDZiwAxhx8
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 11, 2021
Meanwhile Messi is the greatest player on the planet. His numbers speak for themselves and so does his outrageous ability. Pairing him with a hurricane-like Hakimi is almost cruel to every opponent PSG will have this year. Sure, in theory they’ll be able to counter-attack into the space left by this dynamic duo but who would bet themselves to win a shootout against Messi and Hakimi? Not many.
1. Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold
When it comes to pure production there has been no better flank in the world over the past few years than Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Liverpool pair have won a Premier League and a Champions League together, and their understanding and skill-sets are key to the way the Reds play and have been playing. It’s all on them.
Salah drifts infield, either with or without the ball, and Alexander-Arnold overlaps to send lethal crosses into the box. Salah is the team’s primary goalscorer and Alexander-Arnold its primary creator. Sure they need the defensive balance provided by someone like Jordan Henderson or Fabinho to help them not be an open highway back there, but they are so ridiculous in attack it doesn’t matter.
Why, in just the four Premier League games we’ve had so far this season Alexander-Arnold has created the most chances (20), Big Chances (four) and bagged two assists while Salah has created the joint-second most chances (13) while scoring three goals and getting two assists. They are incredible, and while the PSG right may surpass them this season, it’s not a sure thing and even if it happens no one could deny that, with the most hilarious of ironies, the Liverpool right is incredibly powerful and has dominated the last few years of football.