Football Features

Under the radar full-backs around Europe – and the Premier League clubs who could sign them

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:04, 26 May 2019

It’s that time of year again, with the Premier League transfer window open for business.

Several teams are in need of serious investment to improve on the previous campaign, as they look to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool.

One position which has risen in importance in recent years is that of the full-back, whose attacking responsibilities have increased significantly. But they do still need to be able to defend, meaning the perfect full-back is a rare sight.

There are some amazing full-backs around Europe such as Liverpool pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, but they won’t be going anywhere this summer.

But what about the lesser known full-backs across Europe? The ones not getting the same coverage as those at the top despite showing Premier League-level abilities.

We’ve picked out 10 under-the-radar full-backs and suggested which Premier League clubs should be targeting them.

Right-backs

Youcef Atal (Nice)

Who should sign him? Wolves

Wolves are preparing for life in the Europa League this season and need to bolster their squad if they are to avoid copying Burnley’s poor campaign. While Nuno Espirito Santo’s men may be persuaded to turn to Jorge Mendes clients, a look to Ligue 1 could find them good competition for Matt Doherty on the right side of defence. Youcef Atal has played all down the right-hand side for Nice this season, ranging from a standard right-back to appearing as a winger on occasion. The 23-year-old has also proved more-than-capable in both defence and attack this season.

Key stat: Youcef Atal completed 96 take-ons in Ligue 1 this season, more than any other defender.

Davide Calabria (AC Milan)

Who should sign him? Manchester United

Manchester United are in dire need of adding capable young players to their squad, with Ashley Young still commanding a first-choice role at right-back. Though the Red Devils do have Diogo Dalot, who has a lot of promise, the Portuguese youngster did not impress enough in his first season at Old Trafford. Should they wish for a more suitable replacement for Young and Antonio Valencia, United should make a move for Davide Calabria, who made AC Milan’s right-back spot his own before injury cut his season short.

Key stat: Davide Calabria made 79 tackles in Serie A this season, the third-highest among defenders.

Mehmet Zeki Celik (Lille)

Who should sign him? West Ham

West Ham need to build on their 10th-place finish in the Premier League and their fans will welcome a move away from the declining stars the Hammers have previously brought in. One of those is 34-year-old Pablo Zabaleta, who started 23 Premier League games at right-back last season. Should West Ham desire to lower their average age and provide good competition for Ryan Fredericks, then they need to go in for Mehmet Zeki Celik. The Turkish international has been a key player for Lille as they secured second in Ligue 1.

Key stat: Only four Ligue 1 defenders have made more tackles than Mehmet Zeki Celik’s 90 in Ligue 1 this season.

Enock Kwateng (Nantes)

Who should sign him? Everton

Seamus Coleman may have recovered from injury to become Everton’s first-choice right-back once more, but the Irishman does look a shadow of his former self. The Toffees could do with a replacement for the 30-year-old, as they did with Leighton Baines through Lucas Digne. Step up Enock Kwateng, who has proven himself to be a rock at right-back for Nantes in Ligue 1, sniffing out and putting a stop to danger on many an occasion.

Key stat: Enock Kwateng has made 74 interceptions in Ligue 1 this season, more than any other Nantes player.

William (Wolfsburg)

Who should sign him? Bournemouth

Bournemouth had an inconsistent season in 2018/19, flitting from big win to heavy defeat all too frequently. This was, in part, to the Cherries’ injury problems which stretched the campaign. One particular position in which Bournemouth suffered was right-back, with Adam Smith and Simon Francis having spells out across the campaign – leading to the loan signing of Nathaniel Clyne in January. But with Clyne set to return to Liverpool, Bournemouth could look to the Bundesliga for Smith’s competition, with William a strong contender after his good season with Wolfsburg.

Key stat: William (85) made more interceptions than any other defender in the 2018/19 Bundesliga season.

Pol Lirola (Sassuolo)

Who should sign him? Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur have had an incredible season in their run to the Champions League final, with most of their squad stepping up. But Spurs have had one big weakness across the campaign, at right back. Kieran Trippier is not the same man who set the World Cup alight, while Serge Aurier has also failed to consistently perform. Should Tottenham look to strengthen with an attack-minding right-back in the summer, Pol Lirola would be a good option after his role in Sassuolo’s good Serie A campaign.

Key stat: Pol Lirola (six) has recorded more assists than any other defender in Serie A this season.

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Left-backs

Nicola Murru (Sampdoria)

Who should sign him? Manchester United

Not just having problems at right-back, United could also do with another left-back to provide adequate competition for Luke Shaw. In Nicola Murru, they would find a left-back who has proven himself defensively solid in Serie A this season. But Murru has also been an attacking threat for Sampdoria, recording five assists from 31 chances created.

Key stat: Only Domenico Criscito (110) made more tackles in Serie A among defenders than Nicola Nurru (84).

Ruben Duarte (Alaves)

Who should sign him? Arsenal

After Unai Emery’s first Premier League season in charge of Arsenal, it is clear that defence remains the Gunners’ biggest problem. Injuries have hit Arsenal’s back line bad, and reinforcements are needed on both sides of the defence. One way Emery could strengthen Arsenal’s left side is with Ruben Duarte, the Alaves full-back who has been tough to beat in defence this season.

Key stat: Ruben Duarte made 72 tackles in La Liga this season, the second-highest among Alaves players.

Pedro Rebocho (Guingamp)

Who should sign him? Watford

Watford will be looking to build on their FA Cup runners-up spot next season, but signings will be needed to ensure Javi Gracia’s men do not slip behind their rivals in the race for a European spot. Jose Holebas has been a good servant for Watford at left-back but at 34, it might be time for a refresh. In Pedro Rebocho, Watford could have a suitable alternative, with the 24-year-old devastating in attack for Guingamp. And the club’s relegation from Ligue 1 could push Rebocho in Watford’s direction.

Key stat: Only Kenny Lala (61) has created more chances among defenders than Pedro Rebocho (51) in Ligue 1 this season.

Aaron Martin (Mainz)

Who should sign him? Manchester City

Once again, Manchester City have had to go through most of the season without Benjamin Mendy, with the Frenchman succumbing to long-term injuries. Though Oleksandr Zinchenko has done well in his place, City could do with a recognised left-back to replace Mendy. Aaron Martin has spent the season on loan at Mainz from Espanyol and will make the move permanent in the summer, but that should not stop City from making a move for the ever-attacking left-back.

Key stat: Aaron Martin (63) created more chances from open play than any other defender in the Bundesliga this season.