UEFA Euro 2016, B/R 200: Top 20 Right-Backs

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2016

UEFA Euro 2016, B/R 200: Top 20 Right-Backs

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    Full-back is rapidly becoming one of football's premium positions.

    Frequently used as outlets and not pinned down to just defending, full-backs who play up-and-down roles are ideal for the game's current climate.

    Right-backs who can shut down wingers, are intelligent when runs are being made down the channels and are wise to counter-attacks but also provide width are coveted property.

    Not easily hidden, great full-backs are crucial members of their teams; weak right-backs are perpetual targets for rampaging wingers and even the opposition's left-back.

    Before the world's second-most prestigious football competition—behind only the FIFA World Cup—Bleacher Report is asking which UEFA Euro 2016's right-backs are considered the best.

    Germany's Philipp Lahm has retired, Branislav Ivanovic's Serbia did not qualify and Spain didn't originally call up Arsenal's Hector Bellerin, but Europe is dense with right-back depth.

    Criteria is weighted for a best-possible score of 100.

    The first 50 points are measured by defence: this includes tackling, marking and positional sense.

    The last 50 points are measured by attacking: this includes crossing, overlapping, underlapping and overall technical ability.

    When added together, our overall score is made. In the event of a tie, we asked, using what we hope is common sense: "Who would I rather have at this competition?"

20. Florian Klein, Austria

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    Defensive Rating: 34/50

    Kevin Grosskreutz left Borussia Dortmund for Galatasaray in September 2015. Eligible to play for the Turkish side Jan. 1, the German moved to VfB Stuttgart on Jan. 6.

    After his virtual five-day career in Turkey, Grosskreutz's change of heart disrupted Stuttgart's first-choice right-back, Florian Klein.

    The Austrian started 13 of 17 league fixtures before Jan. 6—only missing games for suspension or injury. Subsequently, however, he started just four of 17 matches.

    Making things (substantially) worse, Stuttgart were relegated from the Bundesliga.

    Attacking Rating: 35/50

    In 10 starts, Grosskreutz did not score or assist. By comparison, Klein assisted twice in his allotment of matches.

    As the Bundesliga's worst defence, which conceded 75 goals (10 more than the nearest club), Stuttgart's offence was its only hope. They scored 50 goals (tied for sixth most in Germany's first division) and demanded their full-backs push forward.

    It wasn't enough to keep them up, though.

    Overall Rating: 69/100

    Klein can escape his misery for a month at Euro 2016. After starting every match of Austria's qualifiers, the right-back will have the world's eyes looking at him—an ideal place for a relegated man entering the summer transfer window.

    With a great tournament, it's more than possible the defender finds himself at another club—preferably in their league's first division.

19. Peter Pekarik, Slovakia

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    Defensive Rating: 38/50

    Peter Pekarik, who played 30 of 34 league matches, was a mainstay for Hertha Berlin last year. Naturally, 2015/16 was projected as a promising season for the defender—until it wasn't.

    After suffering a shoulder injury during the year's first international break, the Slovakian missed the next 17 Bundesliga fixtures. He played a dozen league matches in 2015/16—not the number he and his club envisioned.

    Despite this, Hertha Berlin missed UEFA Champions League qualification by just five points—maybe if the Slovakian had been healthy, they would have got closer. Pekarik is a defensive-minded full-back who displays above-average tackling, so his absence was notable.

    Attacking Rating: 32/50

    Pekarik's career stats show he is more comfortable in the defensive third than the attacking third.

    In 396 matches (at club and international levels), the right-back has assisted 24 times. Twenty years ago, that number might have been accepted as attacking for a full-back, but in 2016—with Dani Alves and the likes around—not so much.

    Thankfully, attacking isn't his job for Hertha or Slovakia—he leaves that to the men employed for it.

    Overall Rating: 70/100

    Pekarik was linked with Leicester City in April, via the Sun's Alan Nixon. The Premier League champions can find a better alternative to Danny Simpson (supposing they want one), but such rumours are a compliment to the Slovakian.

    An established Slovakia international with 65 caps, the right-back—who's back to full fitness—has Euro 2016 to impress Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri—and the rest of Europe for that matter.

18. Mikael Lustig, Sweden

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    Defensive Rating: 35/50

    In 2015/16, Celtic scored 93 league goals, conceded 31 and won their fifth straight Scottish Premiership title by 15 points.

    Right-back Mikael Lustig has received four of those winner's medals.

    The Sweden international played 46 matches in all competitions last season. Lustig captained the Bhoys seven times in those games and has integrated himself well into the Scottish heavyweights. He arrived in 2011/12 and featured just five times that year, but his relatively quick rise was a welcome addition.

    Attacking Rating: 38/50

    Responsible for 12 goals last season, the 29-year-old is an attacking threat.

    During his last two stops (at Norway's Rosenborg BK and Celtic), Lustig has created or scored 71 goals in 263 appearances. Aggressive getting forward, he is a capable crosser.

    Moreover, at 6'2", his frame makes him a set-piece nightmare for undersize defences.

    Overall Rating: 73/100

    Capped 50 times for Sweden, Lustig played in Euro 2012 (albeit twice in two losses) and is one of his country's more adept footballers.

    As team-mates with one of the competition's biggest threats, Lustig and his defence will handle the responsible of holding on long enough for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to conjure something—which will determine their longevity.

    If the Celtic man contributes to the cause with key passes and/or goals—even better.

17. Theodor Gebre Selassie, Czech Republic

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    Defensive Rating: 38/50

    Werder Bremen were saved from relegation—in the 88th minute of the Bundesliga's last game—by Chelsea loanee Papy Djilobodji. Scoring with two minutes and stoppage time left in one's season is the height of procrastination, but it's better late than never.

    Bremen defender Theodor Gebre Selassie had the most tackles, clearances, interceptions and won the most aerial duels of any right-back in the German first division.

    A testament to his health, fitness and defending, the Czech Republic international was immense for his side defensively.

    Attacking Rating: 36/50

    Despite playing 33 games in the Bundesliga, Gebre Selassie's offensive numbers aren't as great. While only Bayern Munich's Philipp Lahm and Schalke 04's Junior Caicara had more key passes at the position, Bremen's right-back directly created just three goals.

    One goal and two assists could be improved upon, but in a relegation scrap, he was required in more defensive areas.

    Overall Rating: 74/100

    Completing the dream of many relatively unknown footballers entering a major international tournament at Euro 2012, Gebre Selassie had a great competition four years ago—earning himself a contract with Werder Bremen.

    Another great showing at Euro 2016 could net the 29-year-old one last move.

16. Gokhan Gonul, Turkey

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    Defensive Rating: 37/50

    After nine seasons with Fenerbahce, Gokhan Gonul is available on a free transfer this summer. West Ham United were linked with the 31-year-old, per Aksam (via Turkish-Football.com's Emre Sarigul), but Besiktas appear to be favourites for the veteran's services.

    Gonul was probably the Turkish Super Lig's best right-back last year, so the split seems odd.

    In just short of a decade, Gonul wore the Yellow Canaries shirt on 337 occasions. Staying in Istanbul with Besiktas would be a brave move, but Fenerbahce's local rivals would receive an adequate tackler teeming with experience.

    Attacking Rating: 39/50

    Known more for his attacking than defending, Gonul has played right winger and right midfielder, but right-back is his favoured spot, especially at 31.

    Having made 64 goals in his time at Fenerbahce, the Turkey international is an expert dribbler on the right flank. He's called the "Turkish Cafu," per UEFA's official website, and that technical skill is invaluable when crafting chances and making space to cross.

    Overall Rating: 76/100

    In the Turkish national team since 2007, Gonul has maybe two more international tournaments left in him (Euro 2016 included).

    The right-back, who never played for his country at the youth level, has been Turkey's best option for almost a decade—and that hasn't changed this summer.

15. Sime Vrsaljko, Croatia

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    Leicester City were the Premier League's shocking package; while not champions, Sassuolo were Italy's surprise story. After escaping relegation in their first top-flight season (2013/14), and then finishing mid-table (2014/15), the club from Serie A's smallest city finished sixth in 2015/16—above AC Milan and Lazio.

    Their best outfield player not named Domenico Berardi is right-back Sime Vrsaljko. Sassuolo paid Genoa £2.6 million for the Croatia international in 2014, and he's been a constant in their back four.

    Vrsaljko is an aggressive tackler—maybe too much so. His nine yellow cards resulted in two card suspensions last season—but if you take away his determination, you probably ruin the player.

    Attacking Rating: 37/50

    At one point, Vrsaljko had an assist in three straight games. Though not necessarily indicative of his overall game, the 24-year-old showed his forward potential.

    In two years, he has eight assists and zero goals. He's still learning the position at a more competitive level, so his timing and technical skill will improve, but the Croat's natural ability makes him an interesting prospect for the summer transfer window.

    Overall Rating: 76/100

    Croatia captain Darijo Srna is also a right-back. Vrsaljko could play left-back during Euro 2016, displacing Ivan Strinic, or Srna could play farther forward at right midfield.

    In either event, Croatia's national team is in good hands on the right flank—but the decision has serious ramifications.

14. Christophe Jallet, France

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    Defensive Rating: 38/50

    Christophe Jallet was Paris Saint-Germain's first choice for four seasons, but his fifth year in the French capital was beset by injury. Two summers ago, attempting to extend his career, the right-back left PSG for Olympique Lyonnais.

    Lyon have used the 32-year-old 70 times in two seasons, so the move worked.

    Jallet is at the point where his game-reading and experience outweigh his physical attributes. He's a leader and consummate professional—not just a defender; his role for Ligue 1's second-best side helps their cause immensely.

    Attacking Rating: 38/50

    The veteran is no stranger to the final third. In 295 Ligue 1 matches, Jallet has made 46 goals—averaging a goal or assist every 6.4 games.

    He's a great defensive full-back, and the completeness of his attacking game makes him an ideal candidate for Didier Deschamps' squad.

    Overall Rating: 76/100

    That said, if Mathieu Debuchy's Arsenal experiment had been more successful, Jallet would've had more competition to make France's Euro 2016 side. But the former Newcastle United man failed to impress at the Emirates Stadium, and the proverbial coast was clear to be Bacary Sagna's deputy.

    As one of the competition's best back-up right-backs, Jallet is more than capable of performing should anything untoward happen to the Manchester City defender.

13. Cedric Soares, Portugal

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    Southampton bought Cedric Soares from Sporting Lisbon last summer for just under £5 million.

    He featured in 24 Premier League fixtures, so the Germany-born Portugal international was money well spent during his first English campaign. Manager Ronald Koeman and his scouting staff have shown a particular skill for finding young, emerging talent on the continent; Cedric is another in the line.

    Only central-defensive midfielders Victor Wanyama and Oriol Romeu made more tackles for Saints than the 24-year-old full-back in 2015/16.

    Attacking Rating: 39/50

    Defending comes naturally to Cedric, but his offensive game requires some polishing. His pass-completion rate was under 70 percent during the Premier League season, which could be attributed to England's pace and intensity shocking his system.

    It will take time to make the adjustment to the EPL's speed, especially since he came from Liga NOS, but Cedric is sure to receive instruction from his manager.

    Overall Rating: 78/100

    One of Portugal's more prolific youth players with 72 caps (ranging from U16 to U21), Cedric has made nine senior appearances for his country. Euro 2016 will be his first bow in a major international tournament.

    It might be too early for him to take the first-choice mantle, as he'll compete with VfL Wolfsburg's Vieirinha for a place in Fernando Santos' side, but with Jose Bosingwa seemingly gone, the path is clearer.

12. Elseid Hysaj, Albania

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    Defensive Rating: 40/50

    Elseid Hysaj was a relative newcomer two seasons ago. After earning promotion to Serie A with Empoli, the Albania international played one season before moving to Napoli last summer.

    Immediately inserted into head coach's Maurizio Sarri's starting XI, the 22-year-old has taken to his new club swimmingly. He appeared in 37 of 38 league games, missing one match for an accumulation of yellow cards, and proved a reliable defender.

    Napoli qualified for the UEFA Champions League, so Hysaj will get to test his defensive acumen in the best club-cup competition Europe has to offer.

    Attacking Rating: 38/50

    Part of his growing process is to learn the correct times to come forward. Full-backs play in space, which affords them time—in most cases—to analyse situations and make the right decision.

    Reading the picture and making the right move comes with seasoning. As a young defender, that education comes last, but Hysaj's accelerated growth bodes well for his eventual graduation.

    Overall Rating: 78/100

    Youth is on Hysaj's side. Having gained valuable playing time in Italy and his national side, the young right-back will be a coveted prospect for the next few summers.

    Should Euro 2016 be his breakout moment—and big names from Spain, Germany or England come calling—staying in Naples and maximising his potential is the correct course of action, but that's easier said (or typed) than done.

11. Vieirinha, Portugal

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    Defensive Rating: 34/50

    Vieirinha split time between three positions—right wing, right midfield and right-back—at VfL Wolfsburg this season. Though he spent more time collectively between wing and midfield, the Portuguese played right-back the most.

    Required in that space to facilitate Daniel Caligiuri and/or Julian Draxler, Vieirinha allowed manager Dieter Hecking to deploy more attackers without losing much steel in the defensive area.

    Not to be confused for a defend-first right-back, Vieirinha gets forward, covers ground and serves his purpose.

    Attacking Rating: 46/50

    As a preferred midfielder acting as a right-back, Vieirinha has an unfair advantage when compared to many of his fellow Euro 2016 right-backs. He's a great dribbler, crosser and overall passer, and his technical ability affords him time and space—coveted resources.

    He's not a world-class winger or full-back, but the 30-year-old could be interesting at wing-back.

    Overall Rating: 80/100

    Jose Bosingwa was not selected for Euro 2016. That move opened space for Cedric Soares in the Portugal squad but also created slight confusion. The Southampton man is young but experienced at youth level. Vieirinha is not an out-and-out defender but spends enough time there.

    Wolfsburg's man seems the better option, if only for connectivity with advanced options and to provide balance for Cristiano Ronaldo on the left (or through the middle).

10. Darijo Srna, Croatia

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    Darijo Srna, who will retire from international football after Euro 2016, has earned 129 caps for Croatia and is set to play his sixth major international tournament in 12 years.

    His nation's captain since 2009, the right-back is a born leader and experienced hand. Along with international captaincy, Srna has been Shakhtar Donetsk's captain since 2011—and has played 445 matches for the Ukrainian side in 13 seasons.

    Srna's longevity at right-back is possible mostly because of his attacking value but also because of his ability to control his team-mates and keep goals out.

    Attacking Rating: 44/50

    One might not expect the 34-year-old to be an offensive weapon, but he's a dead-ball specialist and penalty-taker for the nine-time Ukrainian Premier League champions; Srna's right boot is lethal.

    In his 445 games with Shakhtar, the right-back has scored or assisted on 151 goals.

    He is a man to be shut down.

    Overall Rating: 83/100

    With Sime Vrsaljko's presence in the Croatia national team, manager Ante Cacic might consider playing his captain farther forward. A right-back like Srna can be lost by the opposition, giving him an advantage; in right midfield, he'd become a focal point.

    Does Cacic want to risk losing that threat by playing Srna in advanced positions? If he can get away with it, there is no reason not to—it's just a massive "if."

9. Matteo Darmian, Italy

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    Defensive Rating: 45/50

    One of many Manchester United injuries of last season, Matteo Darmian was bitten by whatever bug was flying around Old Trafford's dressing room. He suffered multiple setbacks, including a dislocated shoulder, and missed 20 games in all competitions.

    Bought last year from Torino after four seasons there, the right-back and right wing-back cost the Red Devils £13 million. Louis van Gaal tried to play a back five in his first season as Manchester United boss but quickly found that task a challenge in the Premier League.

    Thinking a true wing-back would work, the Dutchman tried Darmian and—while the tactic still had snags—the Italy international played well for an EPL rookie. 

    Attacking Rating: 39/50

    Darmian scored five goals for Torino in 2014/15, but that was an outlier.

    In 233 senior matches, the Italian has scored eight times. If Manchester United thought they were getting a two-way player last summer, they were mistaken.

    He's far more defensive-minded than offensive-minded, but new management could make for an advantageous disposition. For Van Gaal, however, it wasn't ideal.

    Overall Rating: 84/100

    Because of injuries to Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Conte's Italy squad are two world-class central midfielders short. AS Roma's Alessandro Florenzi was used as a right-back for the majority of 2015/16, but he's capable of playing in midfield and should be moved.

    The Azzurri prefer a back three (or back five), so putting Darmian's speed and tackling wide—then having Florenzi's more complete game in central midfield—makes sense; if that wasn't already Conte's thinking, it should be.

8. Bacary Sagna, France

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    Defensive Rating: 46/50

    After moving from Arsenal to Manchester City, Bacary Sagna must have thought he made a mistake in 2014/15. The Frenchman appeared just nine times in the Premier League (16 times overall), as he was kept out by City mainstay Pablo Zabaleta.

    Last season, however, Sagna played 45 matches in all competitions, starting 42 (including the Capital One Cup final).

    The 33-year-old has been one of the Premier League's best right-backs for the better part of a decade. He was never quite the same athlete after his 2011/12 leg breaks, but whatever he lost in athleticism, he gained in footballing intelligence.

    Attacking Rating: 42/50

    Sagna's offensive game has suffered slightly. He was required at centre-back and even left-back by former City manager Manuel Pellegrini, which cut into his attacking productivity.

    That could signal worry with Pep Guardiola coming to Manchester City. Sagna was never the most forward-thinking right-sided full-back, and the Spaniard has enjoyed Dani Alves and Philipp Lahm.

    Could a permanent move to centre-back be in his future? If he wants to stay with the Citizens, then maybe so.

    Overall Rating: 88/100

    Sagna doesn't have too many international competitions left, but the former AJ Auxerre and Arsenal defender remains France's first-choice right-back.

    Ruled out of Euro 2012 following those aforementioned leg breaks, Sagna has a chance for some version of redemption at Euro 2016 in his home country.

7. Seamus Coleman, Republic of Ireland

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    Defensive Rating: 41/50

    Everton lost themselves defensively last season. From goalkeeper to back four to supporting midfielders, former manager Roberto Martinez's side were a leaky ship. It got the Spaniard sacked.

    Their best defender three seasons ago was Seamus Coleman. In 2013/14, the right-back scored six league goals, assisted twice and was named Everton's Player of the Year and a Professional Footballers' Association Team of the Year member.

    Since then, the Republic of Ireland international has been burdened with abject defensive tactics and injuries.

    Five Premier League clubs conceded more goals than Everton in 2015/16—and three of them were relegated. Coleman, who featured 28 times, cannot take full responsibility, but the stench is somewhat unavoidable.

    Attacking Rating: 47/50

    It's rather incredible David Moyes bought Coleman from Sligo Rovers for £60,000 in 2009; the player is one of England's more dangerous full-backs and probably worth around £25 million in today's market.

    Though a decent tackler and man-marker, the right-back's primary function is getting forward.

    In 219 games for Everton, the Irishman has scored 20 goals and assisted 20 goals.

    Overall Rating: 88/100

    Since it's grouped with Belgium, Italy and Sweden, third-place qualification looks like the Republic's best route to the knockout stages. If third or better is the mission, Coleman's health is vital.

    Named in manager Martin O'Neill's 23-man squad but having missed the last five EPL games with hamstring troubles, the 27-year-old provides much-needed dynamism in wide areas. Coleman's fitness will determine his side's longevity in the tournament.

6. Nathaniel Clyne, England

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    Defensive Rating: 46/50

    Liverpool played a massive 2015/16 schedule. Sixty-three matches in all competitions is monstrous, and Nathaniel Clyne played in 52 of those games after joining the Reds last summer for £12.5 million.

    Preferred over fellow countryman Jon Flanagan—under both Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp—the right-back excelled in back-three, back-four and back-five formational setups.

    He took naturally to the German's gegenpressing (or counter-pressing) style, and his energy and tackling make him an indispensable defender.

    Attacking Rating: 44/50

    The 25-year-old continues to improve his tactical awareness and understands when he's needed to help the attack and when staying home is more advantageous.

    More to his manager's delight, and maybe his own, Clyne gets forward—as he did for Southampton and Crystal Palace before—and applies pressure to wingers and midfielders.

    Overall Rating: 90/100

    Clyne's competition for England's starting right-back job is fairly steep. Tottenham Hotspur's Kyle Walker had a great season with the north London side. Injured for the first portion of the European qualifiers, the Spurs defender gave Liverpool's man an opening.

    Either way manager Roy Hodgson goes, he shouldn't regret his decision too much, but Clyne's considerable number of 2015/16 fixtures could go against him.

    Some rest for the weary—maybe. Possibly.

5. Lukasz Piszczek, Poland

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    Defensive Rating: 45/50

    Jurgen Klopp left Borussia Dortmund a year ago, and while manager Thomas Tuchel has started a rebuild of sorts, some players looked like one season wasn't enough to erase the former boss from their memory. Right-back Lukasz Piszczek was one in that camp.

    It took the Poland international a few months to pick up new instructions after returning from a hip injury in last season's early going. Piszczek didn't play in eight of Dortmund's opening 12 Bundesliga games, so he didn't hit the ground running, but he found his feet after the winter break.

    A full-back who can do whatever is asked defensively, the 30-year-old has an expert command of right-back. The only enemy he had last season was his own body.

    Attacking Rating: 45/50

    Piszczek overcame those injury woes while getting the occasional rest and had a run of three assists in seven league starts. He also scored in the UEFA Europa League versus FC Porto.

    Tuchel's confidence in 22-year-old Matthias Ginter (who was curiously absent from Germany's Euro 2016 squad) dented Piszczek's complete return, but Ginter's ability to play multiple positions helped free right-back.

    Overall Rating: 90/100

    Poland have an interesting squad. They're not the most flashy or flamboyant side, but there is an endearing quality to their work.

    Piszczek and his defensive team-mates will be mandated with one job at Euro 2016: keep clean sheets. Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and the attacking options are charged with scoring goals.

    The Poles cannot afford lapses in judgement or concentration at the back. Goals are a premium for any club—and more so those with Poland's overall quality.

4. Kyle Walker, England

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    Defensive Rating: 44/50

    Unlike his left-back counterparts Danny Rose and Ben Davies, Kyle Walker was Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino's first-choice right-back from day one last year—and, when healthy, he's been that in north London since 2011/12.

    Spurs overachieved in 2015/16. White Hart Lane's faithful might have been expecting to challenge for the UEFA Europa League, and maybe join the UEFA Champions League somehow, but their finishing third felt a disappointment considering the bigger picture.

    Walker is improving his defensive game. Though sometimes reckless and a liability, when he's in control of his pace and tackling, the Premier League does not have many better right-backs.

    Attacking Rating: 47/50

    The 26-year-old's speed is frightening. His team-mate DeAndre Yedlin and Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin might be quicker, but those are the EPL names above the England international.

    It could be said Walker's pace alters his first touch, which starts a domino effect in his technique, but the right-back's presence and willingness to eat ground does considerable damage. By creating space for the likes of Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen, Walker makes for a vital cog in Spurs' attacking wheel.

    Overall Rating: 91/100

    Just keeping Liverpool's Nathaniel Clyne at arm's length, Walker should be England's first-choice right-back at Euro 2016. He missed the 2014 FIFA World Cup and several European qualifiers with a groin injury and his subsequent recovery but returned with a point to get across.

    Roy Hodgson will need every ounce from the defender from the Premier League's best defence last season.

*3. Daniel Carvajal, Spain

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    Defensive Rating: 45/50

    When Real Madrid bought Danilo from FC Porto last March, they probably weren't planning on playing the Brazilian defender so much in 2015/16, but injuries and suspensions to Daniel Carvajal set fire to those plans.

    The Spain international featured 18 times in La Liga but could not get a substantial run of games until Zinedine Zidane took over for Rafael Benitez. While playing eight straight league matches from Jan. 9 to Feb. 27, Carvajal showed signs of his enormous potential (including three assists), but the football gods did not co-operate.

    One of Spanish football's more aggressive right-backs, the Real Madrid defender enjoys tackling and uses his anticipation and rapid pace to collect possession.

    Attacking Rating: 48/50

    In forward areas, Carvajal interchanges with some of Earth's best footballers—primarily Gareth Bale on the right flank—and crosses into an 18-yard box filled with the Welshman, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.

    Despite playing half a season, the budding full-back had four assists, which tied for second-most in La Liga.

    Overall Rating: 93/100

    Depending on Spain manager Vicente del Bosque's thinking, either Carvajal, Juanfran or Cesar Azpilicueta could find themselves at right-back. The Chelsea man splits time at left-back, so usurping Atletico Madrid's veteran looks the primary mission for the 24-year-old.

    With all the attacking talent at Del Bosque's disposal, including Juanfran or Azpilicueta's defensive steel seems the more likely option; if forward momentum is required, though, Carvajal is the holders' ideal candidate.

    Update: Carvajal's injury suffered in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League final has ruled him out of Euro 2016, as reported by BeIN Sports.

    He was replaced in Spain's 23-man squad by Arsenal's Hector Bellerin.

2. Stephan Lichtsteiner, Switzerland

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    Defensive Rating: 46/50

    In something of a health scare, Stephan Lichtsteiner was "ruled out for a month after undergoing minor surgery on his heart" in October, as documented by ESPN FC's Ben Gladwell.

    Can heart surgery ever be minor? This is a football article, not a medical journal, but Lichtsteiner missing eight games last year for a heart operation seems more than minor. In any event, the Switzerland international returned for Juventus and won his fifth Scudetto in five seasons.

    Using pace and intelligence, Lichtsteiner is a two-way player in manager Massimiliano Allegri's back five. Playing right-back and right wing-back, the Swiss is an all-round footballer.

    Attacking Rating: 47/50

    As Juve's right-sided wing-back, the 32-year-old's stamina and technical ability are world class.

    Needing the energy to roam from defensive and offensive positions, and vise versa, Lichtsteiner (nicknamed the "Swiss Express" and "Forrest Gump"), is ideal for the Italian champions.

    He's approaching 200 matches for Juventus and has created 37 goals in all competitions.

    Overall Rating: 93/100

    Recently named captain of his country, Lichtsteiner has more than just playing responsibilities heading into the summer. One half of arguably Euro 2016's best full-back duo with Ricardo Rodriguez, he must lead by example.

    Switzerland have never advanced past the European Championship's group stage. In conceivably his last chance, Lichtsteiner (and his team-mates) will aim to amend that fact.

1. Juanfran, Spain

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    Defensive Rating: 48/50

    Playing for Europe's best-coached side in Atletico Madrid, Juanfran is protected by manager Diego Simeone's tactics, but he also makes those tactics function. Scarcely found out of position, the right-back provides both an attacking outlet and defensive barrier.

    Modern football's obsession with inverted wingers means right-backs normally are charged with shutting down left wingers. In La Liga, that translates to marking Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar, for example.

    Juanfran's role in Simeone's defensive block is crucial to the team's stability and balance. One breach and the cost is punitive. The 31-year-old and his team-mates were mostly impervious, though, conceding just 18 league goals last season—11 fewer than second-best Barcelona.

    Attacking Rating: 46/50

    Though Atletico's tactics are tilted toward defence, they should not be mistaken for impotent. Their full-backs, Juanfran and Brazil's Filipe Luis, are of paramount importance when it comes to retrieving possession and launching counter-attacks.

    The Spain defender is an underrated crosser—his technical ability in the final third likewise. In short: Juanfran doesn't lose his head in the opposing half.

    How his missed penalty in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League final shootout affects his attacking confidence at Euro 2016, though, could be something to monitor.

    Overall Rating: 94/100

    A relative late bloomer, having made his senior international debut at 27, Juanfran's mastery of his Atleti role earned him a call-up to Vicente del Bosque's Spain side for his second straight European Championship (though he didn't see the field in 2012).

    He has competition at right-back in Dani Carvajal, and even Cesar Azpilicueta, but if his Atletico form is remotely transferable, Juanfran should be his country's starter.

    ICYMI: UEFA Euro 2016, B/R 200: Top 20 Left-Backs

    *Stats and transfer fees via WhoScored.com, TransferMarkt and Soccerbase unless noted otherwise.


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