How Attacking Left Backs Are Redefining Traditional Roles

How Attacking Left Backs Are Redefining Traditional Roles

Long gone are the days of soccer’s traditional full backs. 

Those defensive players lining up either side of a centre-back partnership whose main priority is to nullify the opposing winger. 

Yet with the demise of the rigid 4-4-2 formation, modern soccer has seen the classic wideman almost disappear from the game. As a result, the evolution of a new type of full back has emerged. 

The age of the “wing-back” has spawned a host of left sided defenders who combine the roles of full back and winger to devastating effect.

Let’s explore how attacking left backs are redefining traditional roles?

Traditional Role

Nigel Winterburn
Nigel Winterburn

The role of left-back was once simple and defined. 

Traditionally tasked with defensive duties, these players are now at the forefront of offensive maneuvers, revolutionizing the game and catching the attention of fans and analysts alike. However, this shift isn’t just transforming the field; it’s also altering the landscape of sports betting, injecting new variables into the equation for punters and bookmakers alike

Unsurprisingly, the position focused largely on defensive work and less around attacking play. The player’s main responsibilities involved winning the ball, passing it to a ‘forward-thinking’ teammate and then focusing on a solid defensive shape. 

Left-backs typically provided a limited number of assists and a handful of goals. For example, Arsenal’s Nigel Winterburn registered just 19 assists and nine goals across eleven years at Highbury. 

Yet things were set to change as the new millennium approached and the demands placed on defensive players intensified. 

Evolving Roles

Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos

By the turn of the 21st century, full-backs were no longer considered the preferred option as more attack-minded defenders became the trend. 

Players such as Brazilian Roberto Carlos and Chelsea’s Ashley Cole were prime examples of the dynamic, athletic left-backs that had quickly come to dominate the game. 

Premier League mainstays like Everton’s Leighton Baines and Patrice Evra developed the role further with surging runs into the penalty area and use of the ‘underlap.’ 

In Europe, left-back Dani Alves consistently displayed all his offence talents, over the years registering 105 assists as part of Guardiola’s masterful Barcelona sides

Redefining The Role

Andrew Robertson
Andrew Robertson

Today, the role of attacking left-back has truly been redefined with a crop of European soccer’s brightest talents leading the way in innovating their position. 

Andrew Robertson transformed Liverpool’s left side after making his breakthrough in 2017. His continuous running of the flank, constant involvement both in attack and defence, only highlights a spectacular work ethic. 

In 2018/19, Robertson ran an average of 10.74km per game, the most of any Liverpool player that season. To date, the defender has provided a monstrous 59 assists across just seven seasons and also scored ten goals.

Robertson is the perfect illustration of a left-back who has redefined the position’s traditional roles. 

Often found in the opposition’s half, like an old fashioned winger he is required to make surging runs into the penalty area and deliver dangerous cutbacks or crosses. 

AC Milan’s Theo Hernandez is amongst the most effective left-backs in European soccer and has also helped redefine how position is approached. 

In 2022/23, he contributed 11 goal involvements in Serie A, including five strikes and six assists. Hernandez is one of AC Milan’s best attacking players having provided 48 assists!

The Frenchman is an astute ‘winger-like’ dribbler, exciting in possession, able to take on players and overload opposition defences. Hernandez is often advanced enough to take regular shots at goal and has scored 29 goals whilst in Italy.  

Bayern Munich’s Alfonso Davies has developed into one of the world’s finest left-backs.

The Canadian is amongst the fastest players on the planet with top speeds of 36.51 km/h! Even on the rare occasion he’s beaten by an attacker, Davies has the pace to make up the ground and win the ball back. Yet importantly, his game is built around so much more than speed.

His dribbling and body movement are akin to some of the game’s most effective forwards. At first glance you would be forgiven for mistaking Davies as an attacker. He has consistently provided goalscoring opportunities for his teammates with 29 assists across four campaigns. 

Attacking left backs have not only redefined the roles of traditional defenders but also impacted wider attackers too. The evolution of full-backs has seen old-fashioned wingers fade with wide forwards now the fashion, changing the face of soccer’s offensive approaches for the foreseeable future.

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