Ranking the Top 10 Left-Backs in World Football
Ah, the left-back.
No longer there merely to stop the opposite team's right-winger wreaking havoc, the modern game dictates that now he must be both a defensive giant and an attacking force.
As the notion of inverted wingers continues to grow and central areas see a greater number of bodies and become ever tighter, full-backs are being increasingly looked toward to offer an outlet and for width.
With that in mind, a left-back who can mix both defensive and attacking contributions are becoming a vital commodity for the top clubs.
As such, here's a look at ranking the top 10 left-backs in world football.
Before the list however, a few caveats:
- Fabio Coentrao isn't included for the list due to playing second fiddle to Marcelo at club level. Were he playing week in, week out, he'd have a high probability of being on the list.
- Philipp Lahm, having played much of his football for both Bayern Munich and Germany in the last two/three years on the opposite side, was not included either.
With all that being said, remember to offer your opinions in the comments section below.
And with that, onto the list:
Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain)
Not the quickest, nor the most adventurous of full-backs, but the experienced Brazilian is a solid presence for the French champions. A good reader of the game, it's little wonder why his list of past clubs include the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and Ajax.
Juan Camilo Zuniga (Napoli)
Being used ever more as a left-back both for Napoli and Colombia, the energetic Zuniga is a great outlet in an attacking sense—all direct running and pace—while he isn't a bad one-on-one defender either.
Daley Blind (Ajax)
The 23-year-old Dutch international has improved greatly in the last few seasons. Like Maxwell, he may not be the quickest, but is rarely found wanting positionally while very comfortable in possession.
Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund)
The 25-year-old German international has more than played his part in Borussia Dortmund's renaissance under Juergen Klopp, offering great tenacity and energy up and down the left flank.
And onto the top 10:
10. Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
Now 32, the vastly experienced Patrice Evra has been a mainstay of the Manchester United defence pretty much since his arrival from Monaco in 2006, during which time he has won five Premier League titles and one Champions League crown.
Solid in the tackle, quite good aerially considering his small stature and always a willing option on the outside, Evra offers much in an attacking sense. His mixture of pace and dribbling prowess somewhat underrated, the French international remains important to the reigning English champions.
Over the past 12-18 months, criticism has been aimed at Evra, with a school of thought being that he is something of a declining force. David Moyes' summer chase of former charge Leighton Baines, which culminated in a deadline day £15 million bid according to Jamie Jackson of The Guardian, has only served to add to that feeling.
Nevertheless, while the occasional lapse—often due to a lack of concentration as much as anything physical or technical—have become more frequent occurrences in recent times, Evra remains a fine defender when fully focused.
Perhaps he isn't as dominant defensively as he was some three or four years ago, when he could genuinely lay claim to being one of the top three left-backs in the game. However, the Red Devils defender is still among the world's top 10.
9. Gael Clichy (Manchester City)
The Manchester City defender has been amongst the Premier League's most consistent and best defenders for quite some time now.
Solid if unspectacular, the 27-year-old Frenchman is the kind of unfussy, unassuming defender that doesn't garner many headlines, but instead does the job he's paid to do: something like a modern-day Dennis Irwin, a defender who won't get many nines or 10s in the newspaper ratings, but will rarely post lower than a seven.
Defensively, Clichy is more than solid: positionally sound, quick across the ground and tenacious in the tackle. It's not often he's given the run-around by an opposing wideman nor found out of position.
Additionally, he's also a good attacking outlet. Decent technically, Clichy rarely loses his composure when in possession and he possesses the happy knack of seemingly always finding a same coloured shirt.
Furthermore, his pace and intelligent reading of the game often mark him out as a decent overlapping asset to his side whenever they switch play.
8. Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg)
Zenit St. Petersburg's Italian defender is someone much like Shakhtar Donetsk's Darijo Srna on the opposite flank. Because they don't play in the most fashionable league, they are often forgotten about.
But the Naples-born defender, who moved to Russian football from Genoa in 2011 and is still only 26, remains one of European football's most underrated defenders.
Having started his career as a centre-back, the 6'0" Criscito is a ferocious competitor in the air who doesn't mind getting touch tight with opposing forwards, nor flying into a tackle when the ball is there to be won.
However, when more finesse is needed, he is also an articulate reader of the game. Depending on circumstance, Criscito can close up shop and get closer to his centre-backs or can open out into a more attacking stance and rampage up the left flank to help the attack.
Something of an all-rounder, the versatile Criscito would have been a part of Italy's Euro 2012 squad, had he not been under investigation for match fixing, something which he was later cleared of.
7. Leighton Baines (Everton)
The Everton defender has come on leaps and bounds in the last two years, taking his game to a level where he is now spoken about as one of the Premier League's best full-backs, while also becoming (for some) a viable alternative to Ashley Cole at international level.
As far as being an attacking threat, there isn't a player featured on this list who is a better crosser of the ball than Baines. His ability to whip over crosses with both direction and pace is unmatched within this group, while he also is a constant threat down the flank and is reliable in possession.
The 28-year-old is a regular contributor where goals and assists are concerned for the Toffees, thanks to his oft-clinical final ball and excellent set-piece taking. According to Transfermarkt he has nine goals and nine assists in the English top division since the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign.
Defensively, the Merseyside-born defender is solid enough also. A decent turn of pace (though not electric), strong tackling and good positional sense mark him out as a tough opponent.
However, against the very trickiest and speediest of widemen, Baines can be susceptible. It's perhaps why he has never supplanted Cole in the national side, while he also lacks top European and Champions League experience compared to others listed.
Those reasons play a part in his ranking of seventh, rather than anywhere higher.
6. Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid)
The Brazilian powerhouse has long been pointed toward as one of La Liga's premier full-backs, but under the stewardship of Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid these past 21 months, his game has reached a whole new level.
The 28-year-old has long been an impressive physical specimen, capable of both dominating opponents and powering up and down the left flank to help out both on offense and defence.
Yet, since Simeone's arrival at the Vicente Calderon, Filipe has become somewhat more nuanced in his defending, knowing precisely the moments when he can afford to bomb forward and when he must stay home and close ranks alongside the rest of the Atleti defence.
Going forward, Filipe is a strong runner, capable of carrying the ball considerable distances while he also has a decent ability in the final third to pick a cross or to find a clever pass.
But it is defensively where he increasingly continues to thrive. Filipe's tough tackling, no-nonsense style in his own last third playing a big part in the excellent defensive game the Rojiblancos have put together these last 12 months or so.
5. Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan)
Much like Philipp Lahm, De Sciglio is an extremely capable footballer who can play in either full-back position.
Perhaps having mentioned Baines' lack of European nous, it is unfair to rank a De Sciglio so high, given that he has only one full senior season under his belt. However, in that short time the talented Milanese has done nothing but impress.
An extremely intelligent reader of the game for one so young, positionally De Sciglio is outstanding and is more than capable of switching from being in a back four to a wing-back role. Rarely does he need to dive into tackles, due both to his speed and anticipation, but when necessary, he does so with assurance and often comes away with the ball in his possession.
In an attacking sense, De Sciglio provides quite the outlet. Always looking for an attacking advantage, he uses his pace and technical ability—he's a very good passer with either foot—to patrol the entire left side with purpose, something he showed wonderfully at the Confederations Cup. Moreover, rarely does he ever look anything other than composed in possession.
Despite his relative inexperience, the versatile defender has become an important player for both club and country due to his technical, physical and mental qualities, and his potential is utterly staggering.
In years to come, expect him to only be ranked higher on lists such as this.
4. Marcelo (Real Madrid)
As an attacking tour de force, the 25-year-old is nothing short of outstanding. He aggressively attacks the left side with gusto, always offering an outlet, while his ability on the ball, featuring a wide array of tricks with which to go past people, have made him a hit from the Maracana to the Bernabeu.
Additionally, his passing is both creative and intelligent, and his two-touch play in conjunction with Neymar (international level) and Cristiano Ronaldo (club level) is at times simply jaw-dropping. He also weighs in with the occasional goal from open play.
Nonetheless defensively, there remain question marks over the 27-cap Brazilian international, despite his successes both with club and country.
Tigerish in the tackle and a fearsome combatant in one-on-one battles, Marcelo continues to suffer from both basic positional mistakes—often too far from his central defensive pairing—and frequent lapses in concentration. When there appears to be no danger, he is still prone to the same issue of switching off, as he did when he first arrived in La Liga in 2007. When his rapid acceleration cannot fix the issue, he is often punished.
Arguably, given his attacking prowess, Marcelo is the most exciting player on this list.
However, while his defensive game has improved in the past few years, he still needs to be more disciplined and to show greater awareness if he is ever to truly be viewed as the world's best left-back.
3. Jordi Alba (Barcelona)
An emerging force, Barcelona's Jordi Alba has come from almost nowhere in the last two years to become one of the world's finest left-backs.
Having been converted from a left-sided midfielder by Unai Emery while at former club Valencia, Alba has developed to the point where he is now a major attacking weapon for both club and country, while also being a tenacious and talented defender.
A whirlwind dervish down the left side, offensively the 24-year-old mixes lightning pace, cutting movement and technical acumen to offer an outstanding outlet for both club and country—something perfectly encapsulated by his goal in the final of Euro 2012.
In addition, intelligence has become a key feature of Alba's forward-thinking game, knowing exactly when to hold his position and when to make a lung-bursting 50-yard dash into the final third. That has helped him net five international goals from just 23 caps.
On the defensive side, Alba is also more than solid. Despite his small stature, he throws himself into tackles with gusto and stands his ground under aerial bombardment—a case in point being the Spanish Super Cup where Atletico targeted him with the physical Diego Costa. He recovers his ground quickly so as not to be caught out in opposing transitions; of course, with the way Barcelona play it happens occasionally, but not as often as you may think.
His first season at Camp Nou saw the diminutive defender prosper. With more seasons like that under his belt, he'll challenge for the No. 1 spot.
2. Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
A veteran of 105 international appearances, a three-time Premier League winner, seven-time FA Cup winner, Cole is a serial winner who has added Champions League and Europa League medals to his collection in the last 16 months.
Defensively, Cole remains an awesome proposition, one that all managers would love to have in their team. Solid and dependable, positionally Cole is excellent, always the correct distance from his colleagues and his opponent. Additionally, he is quick on the cover, merciless in the tackle and capable of standing up to the very best attackers and coming out on top.
On the attack, he doesn't bring the same kind of cut and thrust as other younger members on the list, but he still offers discipline up and down the left side. He's an overlapping option whenever the opportunity arises, while his calmness and passing ability have long stood him in good stead.
Over the course of his career, since his Arsenal and international breakthrough in 2001, Cole has been firmly set among the world's best full-backs.
It is a position where he remains to this day, a warrior who at his best has been—and remains—genuinely world-class.
1. David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
Bayern Munich's Austrian powerhouse is very much the complete modern-day full-back, and the German club's return to the top of the European game has coincided with David Alaba's ascension to a place where he can now be considered as the best left-back in world football.
Still only 21, Alaba has been a vital part of the Bayern side that reached the last two Champions League finals and which won an unprecedented German treble in 2012-13.
Attackingwise, Alaba is a fantastic proposition. Charging along his flank like a steam train, he frequently raids into the final third, utilising terrific running power and pace to provide an outlet for Bayern. His intelligent overlapping often creates opportunities both for himself to make a telling contribution or his partner on Bayern's left, Franck Ribery.
Additionally Alaba's technique is of the highest order. An intelligent passer with good vision—something helped by playing central midfield for his country—he's capable of creating chances for others. He also possesses a fierce shot himself, making him a goal threat even when he's some 30 yards from goal.
Defensively, he's learning all the time but already is a fearsome opponent for opposing widemen. Alaba is quick across the ground, strong and sure in the tackle, positionally disciplined and offers excellent aerial cover at the far post. He also reads the game well and is a remarkably cool head on young shoulders who doesn't commit himself unless necessary.
Certainly, as he matures, his future may see Alaba return for club to the central midfield role that he occupies for his country.
But at present, his wonderfully consistent high-level performances mark David Alaba out as world football's premier left-back.
Thanks for reading and remember, your input is always welcome.
Please leave your comments below or feel free to Tweet me: @AA_Richards
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!