Football Features

How the Champions League’s most interesting full-back pairings work

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:01, 16 February 2021

Full-back has become one of the most important positions on the field, making full-back pairings a huge help to teams.

Having a complimentary and skilled full-back pairing can literally be the makings of a Champions League-winning team. In fact, if you look at the recent winners of Europe’s greatest cup competition you have to go all the way back to 2012 to find one (Chelsea) that didn’t have a top-notch full-back pairing powering their success.

Whether it’s the contrasting playmaking styles of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, the rampaging courage of Dani Carvajal and Marcelo, or the crossing bombardment of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson; you need a good full-back pairing to function in the modern game.

So we’ve had a look at some of this season’s most interesting Champions League full-back pairings and describe how they work.



“The Champs”

Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez

Bayern Munich

Where else to start but the heavyweight champions of the world? Pavard and Hernandez are World Cup-winning full-backs (who also play centre-back), having shone for France in Russia 2018 and now they do the same for Bayern.

Hernandez is a duelling machine and his ability to get up and down the touchline, engaging with opponents and getting into the box make him impossible to handle. Pavard, meanwhile, is a centre-back playing right-back, but due to his low attacking profile he actually ends up being involved a lot at the key stage of attacks with lots of touches and crosses from dangerous positions. Hell, he even scored the goal that won Bayern the Club World Cup recently from eight yards out. These two offer Bayern defensive cover and enough offensive threat that, well, the German side are favourites to retain both their Bundesliga and Champions League titles.

“The Playmakers”

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson

Liverpool

What more can be said about Trent and Robbo? These two guys are offensive juggernauts and, essentially, Liverpool’s chief playmakers. Their entire system is structured to get these two in open positions so they can produce in overwhelming numbers. Sure they aren’t the sharpest defenders, but they are so relentlessly productive in attack that you have to just let them get on with it.

“The Stopper & The Scorer”

Nordi Mukiele and Angelino

RB Leipzig

Leipzig are a tactically intelligent side, one capable of playing in a back four or a back three to an elite level. Part of the reason behind that is the versatility of their main full-backs Nordi Mukiele and Angelino. Mukiele is a defensive phenom who excels in duels and the pressing game, while Angelino operates mainly as a winger. The Spaniard was actually Leipzig’s top scorer in the group stages and made getting into the box a feature of his game while Mukiele provided balance on the other flank. Julian Nagelsmann’s men are a tactical headache because of these two.

“The Master and The Apprentice”

Sergino Dest and Jordi Alba

Barcelona

While the Blaugrana have been searching for a right-back for years, Jordi Alba has been a dominant force in the side since signing in 2013. Alba’s psychic connection with Leo Messi makes him a terrifyingly potent outlet on the left flank and he is, despite being a left-back, a major player in their offensive structure. Dest is still making his way in his new side but already has shown an Alba-like ability to dominate his flank coupled with the one thing Alba never really had: duel dominance. Dest is a formidable tackler and mesmeric dribbler. As Alba ages there will be a passing of the torch from left to right (just as Dani Alves passed the torch from right to left).

“The Mix n’ Match”

Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro

Juventus

Juan Cuadrado has always been a perplexing figure. Is he a winger? A wing-back? A full-back? The answer is somewhere in the middle but what he has become for Juventus is a phenomenal offensive outlet. No one had more assists than the Colombian in the group stages of this season’s Champions League. Meanwhile Alex Sandro is a true do-it-all full-back who can dominate defensively in all the areas where Cuadrado is weak. This gives Juventus a tremendous balance at the back.

“The Pep”

Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko

Manchester City

Pep Guardiola knows how important full-backs are to his style of play. He’s spent over £150m on them at Manchester City to varying degrees of success but Joao Cancelo can be considered nothing but a hit. The Portuguese has evolved into an Dani Alves and Philipp Lahm-level presence in the Manchester City attack, primarily involving himself in the build-up phase.

Playing out of the half-space, Cancelo really does get involved in almost everything except for crossing, which is the remit of City’s wingers or Kevin De Bruyne. He is the total package. Zinchenko, meanwhile, plays the same kind of role albeit nowhere near as dominant or productive as City tend to funnel play through Cancelo (and De Bruyne) on the right.

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