With the 2016-17 Premier League season well underway, theScore is ranking the best players on offer at various positions on the pitch so far.
We shift our focus out wide, where the Premier League’s elite full-backs can be found marauding up and down the flanks.
10. Cedric Soares – Southampton
An early-October ankle injury shelved Southampton’s first-choice right-back for over a month, but having regained fitness and looking set for a return this weekend against table-topper Liverpool, Cedric Soares should once again remind everyone what the Saints have been missing over the last month.
Built like a stout brick house and possessing both pace and attacking intellect, the Portuguese international, 25, has been one of the Premier League’s finest full-backs since his move from Sporting Lisbon last summer. Soares looks like yet another prime candidate to earn an opulent move from St Mary’s to one of England’s elite in the very near future.
9. Luke Shaw – Manchester United
It’s been just over a year now since Luke Shaw’s horrifying leg break, and while the 21-year-old Englishman is, understandably, yet to regain the form that saw him become one of the hottest young commodities in the sport, there have been signs of life that suggest it’s just a matter of time.
He’s come under intense scrutiny from Jose Mourinho of late – the Portuguese questioned his toughness, which seems a puzzling critique considering the pain he endured and work he put in to return after his leg was snapped like a twig 14 months ago. Perhaps Mourinho is simply trying to motivate a youngster he expects great things from, or maybe his once vaunted man-management skills have truly withered; whatever the reason, Shaw has more than enough quality to shove that criticism back in his face and develop into the Premier League’s most electrifying left-back.
8. Seamus Coleman – Everton
It might be his age and the feeling that he’s been around forever – he’s now 28, and no longer among the class of “exciting youngsters.” Or perhaps it has more to do with his presence at a club that isn’t quite in the upper echelon of the Premier League – sorry, Everton supporters. Whatever the reason, Toffees star Seamus Coleman has consistently flown under the radar despite being one of the league’s premier right-backs.
His attacking exuberance has been an integral part of the club’s play for the past six seasons. The Irish stalwart hasn’t hit the heights of his breakthrough 2013-14 campaign, in which he found the net six times, but he remains a key avenue through which Ronald Koeman’s side crafts opportunities.
7. Nathaniel Clyne – Liverpool
Overshadowed somewhat by more adventurous compatriots who also occupy the full-back positions – three of whom we’ll get to shortly – Nathaniel Clyne seems to go more quietly about his business. A solid, consistent contributor who couples bright attacking forays with defensive awareness.
He doesn’t boast the explosiveness of Kyle Walker, who is the current first-choice right-back for the Three Lions, but the Liverpool stalwart arguably offers more security than his Tottenham counterpart. Durable as they come, the 25-year-old has played at least 33 Premier League matches in three of his last four seasons.
6. Ryan Bertrand – Southampton
Much like his opposite number Soares, Southampton left-back Ryan Bertrand has seen the early stages of his 2016-17 campaign blighted by various ailments; a pre-season knee problem delayed his debut, and a hamstring niggle suffered on international duty has further scuppered his ability to roam the left flank at St Mary’s. Don’t allow his lack of minutes this season (528) to make you forget about his considerable talent.
His experience playing further forward in a left midfield role – the position he occupied, famously, for Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final – shines through when he makes a burst into opposition territory. Boasting pace and skill on the ball that both match his unrelenting willingness to attack, Bertrand is among the most exciting full-backs in England’s top flight.
5. Marcos Alonso – Chelsea
There have been many factors contributing to Chelsea’s surge up the Premier League table, but among the most critical has been Marcos Alonso’s ability to make the left flank his kingdom in Antonio Conte’s ballyhooed 3-4-3 system.
Arriving in west London after a £23-million switch from Fiorentina on the final day of the summer transfer window, the rangy Spaniard has been the perfect compliment to Victor Moses on the right side, offering a willingness to get forward that is complimented by a strong sense of defensive duty. His 4.5 tackles per 90 minutes lead the team, while, in the other direction, he’s producing an impressive 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes. For someone who has played both left midfield and centre-back in his career, his role under Conte looks a perfect blend of his talents.
4. Danny Rose – Tottenham
Few players have seen their reputations enjoy such a wildly positive swing in recent years as Tottenham’s explosive star Danny Rose. The 26-year-old has gone from being viewed as a complete liability – his perceived defensive ineptitude was ridiculed at nauseam earlier in his career – to England’s first-choice left-back in a matter of a couple seasons.
It’s likely that everyone simply exaggerated the extent of his struggles earlier in his career – evaluating young defenders remains one of the game’s most difficult tasks – but there’s no doubting the diminutive Doncaster native has improved in all facets, and is now an automatic selection for Mauricio Pochettino and a Spurs side looking to mount a title challenge.
3. Kyle Walker – Tottenham
Although not as extreme as his aforementioned teammate, Kyle Walker has risen to prominence in a similar vein with Tottenham. The 26-year-old, who moved to White Hart Lane from Sheffield United in 2009, had to be patient before getting an extended opportunity to start, but ran with the chance and quickly made the right side of the pitch his own.
Blessed with exhilarating pace, Walker is the prototypical modern full-back; adventurous, frighteningly fast, and powerful, the Englishman has all the tools necessary to be a dominant force.
2. Cesar Azpilicueta – Chelsea
The man affectionately known as Dave – teammates and fans alike quickly gave up trying to pronounce Cesar Azpilicueta’s name upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge – is the definition of consistent.
Solid, if unspectacular, the 27-year-old Spanish international isn’t the flashy attacking full-back that highlights this list, but he is the most versatile. The former Marseille standout has played both left and right-back at Chelsea, and this season has been been vital to the club’s recent success by shifting into a central role in Antonio Conte’s back-three. The ultimate defensive Swiss Army knife.
1. Hector Bellerin – Arsenal
Hector Bellerin’s ascent up the ladder of elite full-backs has been rapid; his star has risen as quickly as he flies up and down the right flank every week.
The Spaniard, who will unfortunately be out of action for a month due to an ankle injury, is among the fastest players on the planet, but it’s a credit to his intelligence and talent that he doesn’t simply rely on his absurd pace to dominate matches. A constant attacking threat on a side boasting so many, Bellerin’s 1.7 successful dribbles per 90 minutes are fourth among Arsenal players who have featured in half of the team’s league matches thus far
Meanwhile, tackles like this, in which the 21-year-old looks like he was shot out of a cannon, are why Barcelona is sniffing around its former La Masia stud – and why Arsenal is on the verge of offering him a massive new contract.