Left-back used to be where you’d stick the worst player on the team. No left foot, no problem – left-back was the spot for anyone who didn’t have a specific job on the team.
Well, times have changed. Fullbacks are no longer the forgotten men. Indeed, some of the players on this list are integral to the way their club and country set up. Not just defenders, but also invaluable attackers, creators, scorers, set-piece takers and jacks of all trades.
So, without any further ado, here are the 10 best left-backs on the planet.
10. Lucas Digne (Everton)
Whether Everton play a back four or a back three, you can expect consistency from Digne. The France international has become a leader at Goodison Park, driving the team forward down the left flank. Six assists last season are evidence of his attacking contribution for the Toffees but he is among the best in the world from a purely defensive standpoint.
Attackers know they are going to have a tough afternoon with the 27-year-old on their case.
9. Ben Chilwell (Chelsea)
So good were the Englihsman’s performances for Leicester City across a COVID-ravaged 2019/20 campaign, nobody batted an eyelid when Frank Lampard’s Chelsea paid £45m for his services last August.
Chilwell has every tool the modern fullback needs: pace, stamina, composure, pinpoint delivery and defensive intelligence. At 24, he still has plenty of time to improve. Five assists and two goals in his first Premier League campaign at Stamford Bridge are evident of his attacking ability, yet new Blues boss Thomas Tuchel wants to see some improvements in his defensive skill set.
8. Jordi Alba (Barcelona)
Once the gold standard for European left-backs, Alba’s star has fallen slightly in recent seasons. In truth, though, that has as much to do with Barcelona’s decline as a true European superpower than anything he’s done personally.
The Spaniard remains his usual blend of speed, composure, final product and dazzling footwork, as evidenced by his three goals and seven assists in La Liga this season. At 32, Alba’s coming to the end of his prime years fast, but his technical ability means he’ll still be capable of playing at the top level for a few seasons yet.
7. Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund)
The Portugal international was included in the UEFA Team of the Tournament as his nation were crowned European champions five years ago. Guerreiro also joined Borussia Dortmund that summer in 2016, and has developed into one of the Black & Yellows’ most consistent and feared performers.
Few left-backs in world football boast the footwork, first touch and finishing of the Bundesliga man, with teammate Jude Bellingham informing FFT that Guerreiro has impressed him more than any other player since joining the club. Nine assists and two goals in the Bundesliga is an exceptional contribution for a full-back, and Dortmund will do all they can to sign him up to a longer deal, with his current terms expiring in 2023.
6. Kieran Tierney (Arsenal)
The Scotsman has proved himself one of the few really top class players earning his bread at Arsenal since joining. The Gunners have a number of talented youngsters – and plenty of misfiring stars – but perhaps only Tierney among their outfield players has shown the consistency, tenacity and quality of an elite footballer.
The 23-year-old is aggressive on and off the ball, hassling and harrying opposition wingers when out of possession and bombing forward when his side has the ball. Unless Arsenal can offer the former Celtic man a better chance of winning major silverware in the seasons ahead, it might be tough to keep hold of him.
5. Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid)
Having to fill Marcelo’s boots is not a fate you’d wish on your worst enemy. Yet Ferland Mendy has shown he has all the ingredients to help take Real Madrid into a new era. No, he doesn’t have the jaw-dropping samba-magic of Real Madrid’s no.12, but he makes up for that with defensive intelligence and extreme physicality.
Mendy is lightning quick, good on the ball and reads the game well. He dovetailed with the Brazilian master last season – Marcelo is still among the world’s top full-backs himself – and appears to be thriving under his tutelage. He needs to work on the attacking side of his game – particularly his crossing – but there are few better defenders on this list.
4. Theo Hernandez (AC Milan)
The standout left back in Serie A last season, Hernandez contributed to nine league goals for AC Milan last campaign (four goals and five assists). Arguably the best dribbler on this list, the Frenchman is a joy to watch when in possession, taking on players and helping to overload opposition defences.
On the ball, his composure and passing are unparalleled among Serie A defenders, though his crossing leaves a lot to be desired. Still just 23, Hernandez is yet to play for the senior French national side – evidence of the strength in depth Didier Deschamps has. He’s got a huge future ahead of him.
3. Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
Nicknamed “Roadrunner” by his teammates, Alphonso Davies broke the Bundesliga sprint speed record in June 2020, clocking an eye-watering 36.51 km/h (22.6 mph). The Canadian is lightning quick, possibly the quickest player in world football right now, but there’s more to his game than speed.
A natural winger – Davies still plays in a more attacking role for his country – he’s a serious threat going forward. His movement and dribbling are world-class, meaning defenders often find themselves overwhelmed when he advances to join Leroy Sane down Bayern’s left flank. This, in turn, allows the German to move inside and cause havoc in the box. Davies is a solid defender too, with one on ones rarely resulting in his opponent coming out on top. On the rare occasion he is beaten, Davies has the speed to recover and win the ball back.
2. Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
Few would have included Luke Shaw on a list of the best left-backs 18 months ago, but now you’d be silly not to.
Shaw has been a phenomenon for Manchester United for months now, defending with tenacity and providing a consistently dangerous threat from the left-wing. Shaw became a whipping boy under Jose Mourinho but has got his confidence back and then some – he was been expected to lose his place to Alex Telles last season but he instead rose to the challenge.
An incredible comeback for a player who appears to have been around forever and yet, at 25, is still a few years off his peak. And that Euro 2020 showing in the summer was phenomenal – not just for his final goal. It’s good to see him back to his best.
1. Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
Last year was a difficult season for Liverpool defenders but Andy Robertson has been a ray of consistency for club and country forever. Jose Mourinho famously said he got tired “just by looking at Robertson” and that workrate has helped drive Liverpool into a title challenge: you’ll never get less than 100% from the former Hull City man.
The Scotland captain has arguably the best delivery of any player on this list. His crossing, even at full speed, is rarely anything less than pinpoint, making him a valuable part of Liverpool’s attack. He is quick, tenacious, a good passer and a vocal organiser at the back.