Football has become increasingly universal, meaning old stereotypes no longer hold.
One pertinent example is how defenders are now a credible threat in the opposition half, as well as being a presence in their own.
It’s no longer shocking to see defenders make regular attacking contributions. And with certain managers embracing attack, we are seeing full-backs effectively become auxiliary wingers.
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As much is clear when looking at the top-10 list of defenders with the most Premier League assists (data since records began, sourced from the league’s official website). All of them play(ed) at right- or left-back.
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Read on for the full list. Four current stars make the cut, with Aaron Cresswell missing out for now.
Meanwhile, given their respective conversion from a midfield or attacking positions at Old Trafford, we chose to omit both Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia as they never exclusively played in defence throughout their careers.
10. Kyle Walker
Club(s): Aston Villa, Tottenham, Manchester City
Premier League appearances: 343
“I think Kyle [Walker] is one of those players who we’re not going to appreciate until he stops playing,” said Troy Deeney on TalkSport a couple years back.
Manchester City certainly appreciated his talent enough to invest over £50 million in his transfer for Tottenham in 2017, but the rise of Reece James and Trent Alexander-Arnold has somewhat overshadowed Walker’s performances. He is one the Premier League’s most consistent fixtures of the past five years and a vital member of a City team who have won three of the four full Premier League seasons since his arrival.
9. Dan Petrescu
Club(s): Sheffield Wednesday, Chelsea, Bradford, Southampton
Premier League appearances: 215
Dan Petrescu truly made his name at Chelsea, where he was part of the club’s emergence as a Premier League force. A 95-time capped international with his native Romania, he’d famously score against England at the 1998 World Cup, a tournament that also saw him — and his teammates — bleach their hair blond.
8. Gary Neville
Club(s): Man Utd
Premier League appearances: 400
A graduate of Manchester United’s fabled Class of ’92, not many banked on Gary Neville enjoying an illustrious playing career. Deemed too short to play centre-back, Neville reinvented himself at right-back, closely studying teammate and multifunctional full-back Denis Irwin, and would strike up a legendary tandem on the right flank with David Beckham.
7. César Azpilicueta
Premier League appearances: 334
Affectionately nicknamed “Dave” by his Chelsea teammates, it took a while for Cesar Azpilicueta to settle at Stamford Bridge. But since the Spaniard found his feet, he hasn’t looked back. A two-time Premier League winner, Azpilicueta now leads Graham Potter’s men into matches wearing the captain’s armband.
6. Andy Hinchcliffe
Club(s): Everton, Sheffield Wednesday
Premier League appearances: 219
A set-piece master, Andy Hinchcliffe came through at boyhood club Manchester City but would join Everton a few seasons before the Premier League’s inception. He’d spend the majority of the 1990s at Goodison Park before seeing out his career at Sheffield Wednesday.
5. Ian Harte
Club(s): Leeds United, Sunderland, Reading
Premier League appearances: 237
Ian Harte was known more for his goalscoring during his time at Elland Road, particularly from dead-ball situations. But like his fellow compatriot (and full-back) Kelly, the Irishman didn’t need a second invitation to maraud into the opposition half.
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4. Graeme Le Saux
Club(s): Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers, Southampton
Premier League appearances: 327
Graeme Le Saux was part of Blackburn’s Premier League-winning side under Kenny Dalglish, a stint that was sandwiched between spells at boyhood club Chelsea. During that run, he’d collect 36 England caps with his only goal coming against Brazil.
3. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Premier League appearances: 176
Widely regarded as world football’s premier right-back (when it comes to attacking, at least), such is Trent Alexander-Arnold’s seamless ability to create that there are some observers who believe he could end up playing in central midfield.
“The passing of [Alexander-Arnold] is just utterly sublime,” wrote Gary Lineker. “Will play a huge part in England’s progress over the next few years. He’s on another level and has to play.”
2. Leighton Baines
Club(s): Wigan, Everton
Premier League appearances: 420
During the 2010/11 season Leighton Baines registered 11 assists, the most by a defender in a single Premier League campaign equalling former Toffee full-back Hinchcliffe’s total in 1994/95.
That was until Alexander-Arnold burst onto the scene and set a new record with 13 in Liverpool’s title-winning 2019/20 campaign.
1. Andrew Robertson
Club(s): Hull City, Liverpool
Premier League appearances: 231
The other half of Liverpool’s irresistible full-back duo, Andrew Robertson briefly tasted Premier League action with Hull City before their 2018 demotion. His performance during that one season convinced the powers that be at Anfield to sign him, a transfer that has gone down as one of the best bargains in Premier League history.
“He’s like the full package, as the defender and the attacker, that you wish for in the position. He’s a leader in the team and all this kind of stuff,” his manager Klopp enthused.
With his assist against Aston Villa, Robertson equalled Baines’ total in 189 games fewer.