Football Features

Ranked: The best full-back pairings in the Champions League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 10:57, 1 March 2019 | Updated: 12:00, 28 January 2021

Full-back is one of the most essential positions in modern football.

It used to be the butt of all jokes, or a place where you’d leave your defenders that were too short to play centre-back, but now it is absolutely essential.

The way modern football has developed, you simply cannot thrive at the elite end of the game without great full-backs.

The recent history of the Champions League shows just that with recent winners Real Madrid, Real Madrid and, err, Real Madrid (also Barcelona and Bayern Munich) heavily involving their full-backs in their style of play.

With that in mind, we’ve ranked the best full-back pairings left in the Champions League round-of-16. Their performances across all competitions will be considered, but with special weighting to the European Cup.

10. Kyle Walker and Oleksandr Zinchenko

Club: Manchester City

Combined Champions League appearances: 11

Given Manchester City’s tremendous outlay on full-backs you’d be surprised to know that one of them is still a makeshift midfielder, but thanks to Benjamin Mendy’s injury woe that’s the case.

Oleksandr Zinchenko is stepping into the breach nicely but he’s clearly no full-back which is why City are so far down the list despite Kyle Walker’s relentless professionalism.

9. Leo Dubois and Ferland Mendy

Club: Lyon

Combined Champions League appearances: 11

Leo Dubois could have qualified for this list by himself after his all-action defensive display against Barcelona in the round-of-16 first leg, as it is he’s put in other more offensively-minded displays this season.

On the left is the irrepressible Ferland Mendy, a human in rocket shoes whose skill and dynamism will surely see him depart Lyon in the summer.

8. Noussair Mazraoui and Nicolas Tagliafico

Club: Ajax

Combined Champions League appearances: 13

Ajax’s return to the Champions League has been a thing of wonder. They competed superbly in their group, battling Bayern Munich to a standstill and their full-backs are a big reason why. Mazraoui is an incredible young talent on the right but veteran Tagliafico on the left has added an incredible offensive threat to the Dutch side.

He’s got three goals in the competition and had a fourth incorrectly ruled out against Real Madrid! Ajax’s boys are not to be messed with.

7. Lukasz Piszczek and Achraf Hakimi

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Combined Champions League appearances: 10

Taking the Bundesliga by storm, Piszczek and Hakimi are superb down either flank and it was Dortmund’s inability to field them together that contributed to their downfall against Spurs.

The sheer athleticism of Hakimi is a game-changer whilst Piszczek’s passing is precise; they are top of the Bundesliga and will fancy their chances of a dramatic fightback in Germany for the second leg.

6. Dani Carvajal and Sergio Reguilón

Club: Real Madrid

Combined Champions League appearances: 8

For the longest time Real Madrid’s full-backs reigned supreme in European football as Los Blancos won three consecutive Champions Leagues. Dani Carvajal and Marcelo: as individuals they were constantly among the top two or three for their position and as a duo they were unmatched.

But now Carvajal has had health issues and Marcelo’s form has fallen off a cliff to the extent that he has been replaced by the irrepressible and popular youth player, Sergio Reguilon.

With time these two should creep up the rankings – when fully-fit and firing, Carvajal is the finest right-back on the planet – but for now they’re stuck sixth.

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5. Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba

Club: Bayern Munich

Combined Champions League appearances: 13

Joshua Kimmich has come a long way since the Pep Guardiola shouty pep talk and he’s now arguably the best attacking right-back around. The German is a huge part of what Bayern do offensively (no Bayern player has more key passes per-game in Europe this season) and takes a wicked set-piece.

David Alaba meanwhile is finally getting close to the form he last showed under Pep Guardiola after a couple of really bad years. Both men have two Champions League assists each, more than anyone else in the Bayern squad.

4. Juanfran and Filipe Luis

Club: Atlético Madrid

Combined Champions League appearances: 9

How are these two still here? Alright, this entry has been lifted enormously by their absolute dominance of Juventus in their round-of-16 first leg, but there’s no denying that Juanfran and Filipe Luis are phenomenal players.

Veterans of two final defeats, these old stagers will be out for one last gut-it-out run with the hope that it’ll be third time lucky in their home stadium.

3. Joao Cancelo and Alex Sandro

Club: Juventus

Combined Champions League appearances: 11

For a brief moment there, Joao Cancelo became Maicon reborn. The Portuguese right-back has blossomed since moving to Italy and Juve are now reaping the rewards as they have a genuinely great option to go opposite the relentlessly competent Alex Sandro.

They’re walking away with Serie A but Juve will need to progress beyond Atleti if they’re to be reunited in Europe again as Alex Sandro is suspended for the second leg of the clash against the Madrid side.

2. Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba

Club: Barcelona

Combined Champions League appearances: 11

Jordi Alba has been the best left-back in the world for about a year now and watching him be a key part of Barcelona’s attack is genuinely unsettling because… when did he get this good? He has 12 assists across all competitions this season!

When Ernesto Valverde has the good sense to pair him with Nelson Semedo on the right, which doesn’t happen as often as you’d expect – hence their place at no. 2, Barcelona have a perfectly balanced pair of full-backs where one is a relentlessly dynamic defender and the other is a bowling ball with legs that moves like he’s been shot out of a cannon.

1. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson

Club: Liverpool

Combined Champions League appearances: 13

It’s hard to explain just how good Liverpool’s full-backs are except that maybe their 20-year-old right-back registered a hat-trick of assists in a recent Premier League game and no one was surprised. Alexander-Arnold isn’t the best defender in the world but his range of passing adds so much to the Liverpool attack.

Meanwhile on the left Andrew Robertson plays like he has three lungs and they’re all nuclear powered robot lungs and his ligaments are made of mithril.

This man simply never stops, an endless dynamo who has registered an incredible eight Premier League assists to go with Alexander-Arnold’s six.

Together they have as many assists as Cardiff City (14) and more than Huddersfield (nine). That’s right, two full-backs have more assists together than an entire team. There can be no greater argument for Liverpool’s lethal full-backs being no. 1 than that.