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The top 10 left-backs in the world

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

In modern-day football, there is more to being a full-back than just defending. These 10 Left-backs prove that there is much more to being a defender.


Times have changed for left-backs as they are no longer forgotten. Some of these players are integral to the way their teams and countries play. They are not just defenders, but also highly valuable attackers, that can create chances on their own and show up in the opponents' penalty area to score goals and provide assists. We also see that the world's best left-backs are becoming a jack of all trades. Below we have listed the top 10 best left-backs according to our data.


Ranking

On basis of FACTS' Player Level, this is the current top 10 ranking of the best left-backs in the world:



In this article, we will take a look at some of the key attacking and defending stats for a left-back in modern-day football. We will analyze what the difference is between the left-backs and why it is important to always look at the data when analyzing players.



Data vs Opinion

After we put together our list of the top 10 best left-backs we were very curious to see if others came up with similar rankings. We started off by searching for similar articles on the internet and we come across 2 articles from Sport Bible and Novibet. They both made their own ranking of the 10 best left-backs. If we compare our list with them, we can see that FACTS and Sport Bible have the same names on the list but in a different order. Novibet however has a lot of new names on the list. It is very interesting to see that both articles are more written from the opinion of the author than on underlying data that can support what is written.


Below we compare the ranking from FACTS with Sport Bible & Novibet

If we look at the comparison we can see that Jordi Alba is in all 3 lists, but he has a different position each time. Another interesting fact is that Davies scores the first spot for Sport Bible, but that he is not on the list for Novibet and ending up in 6th place for FACTS. The lists from Sport Bible and Novibet are both based upon the opinion of the author, and this is not a bad thing, as football is a sport where opinion is an important factor. However, data allows you to objectively look at players with more consistency.


The above rankings are all made around the same time and it is very interesting to see that there are some big differences between them. This shows the importance of looking at the facts rather than looking at opinions. We as FACTS help clubs and agents to objectively look at the players by using the available data.


In the rest of the article, we will be analyzing different attacking and defending stats that are important for a left-back. We will start off by analyzing important attacking stats and we will look at passing, goals, dribbling, and crosses. After the attacking stats, we will also be looking at some defending stats, like clearances, duels, and recoveries. The different left-backs will be compared on the basis of scatter plots. In the scatter plots it will become clear what the strengths and weaknesses are of each left-back.



 

Attacking stats

To start our comparison, we are going to take a look at the attacking aspects of all the left-backs to see what differences there are. We will look at some important attacking stats and put them into scatter plots to easily compare the different left-backs and see their main strengths and weaknesses.



Forward passes vs % of passes forward

First, we take a look at the forward passes the different left-backs make to see how often they move up the field of play and create attacking opportunities.

Looking at the scatter plot, Alphonso Davies has the worst stats out of all the left-backs. When we look at his passing stats, it becomes clear that Alphonso has a low number of forward passes per game compared to other left-backs and also has a lower amount of forward passes, which results in this outcome.


On the other hand, we can see that a high percentage of passes from Shaw and Digne are directed forward and that Alba and Robertson have the highest number of forward passes.



Goals vs Assists

In the next scatter plot we are going to look at the goals vs assists of all the players, to analyze how involved they are in the goals that are scored.

When we analyze the scatter plot it becomes clear that there are 3 players that really stand out from the rest of the left-backs.


Jordi Alba has by far the highest average number of assists provided by any left-back, this is due to Barcelona's style of playing where both backs in the team are involved high up the pitch and inside the box.


When looking at the average number of goals we see that Davies and Guerreiro both score a high number of goals when compared to other left-backs, and are also more involved with assist than other left-backs.



Dribbling

After looking at the goals and assists of the different players, we will now be looking at another important attacking aspect for left-backs that is dribbling. Dribbling is important for left-backs as this enables them to create opportunities for the team by themselves.

We can see that Alphonso Davies attempts a lot of dribbles per 90 minutes, but they are not always that successful. This also explains his low amount of forward passes, because Davies attempts to get past on his own rather than playing the ball forward.


Looking at the successful dribbles, Shaw, Tierney, and Mendy are very successful, but Shaw, for example, only averages 2 dribbles per 90 minutes. So he is much more conservative and really only attempts dribbling when he knows it has a high chance of succeeding.


According to FFT Theo Hernández is arguably the best dribbling left-back: "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." However, if we look at the data presented above we can see that there are 4 players that have a higher success rate when dribbling.



Crosses

After dribbling, we are now going to analyze which left-back has the most crosses and who is the most successful. For teams that have strikers that are deadly in the air, backs that can cross the ball into the box can be a very deadly weapon for those teams.

We can see that Tierney and Digne average a high number of crosses per 90 minutes, when we look at their respective teams we can see that Everton and Arsenal both have strikers that are strong in the air, so crossing the ball into the box can always create a dangerous opportunity for those teams.


Now focussing on Guerreiro we can see that he has the lowest amount of crosses per 90 Minutes, but when he attempts a cross it has a high chance of succeeding. Looking at Borrusia Dortmund we can see that they usually play the ball low into the box and if we look at Haaland, we see that he is also better at scoring goals with his feet than with his head.


FFT also mentions the following about Robertson: "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." The scatter plot however shows that Robertson has the lowest percentage of successful crosses after Chilwell.


Progressive runs

Progressive runs and touches inside the box show how involved certain players are when the team is attacking. We see that most left-backs are quite similar, but there are some exceptions.

The scatter plot points out that Alba and Davies have the highest number of touches inside the box, this makes a lot of sense when we look at the goal/ assist statistics. There we can see that Alba has a high number of assists and Davies a high number of goals. Furthermore, if we look at Davies we can see that he also has a lot of progressive runs that complement his dribbling stats really well, as he is a player that likes to run forward with the ball and create opportunities that way.


Looking at the other side we can see that Lucas Digne has a low number of progressive runs and touches inside the box. This means that he is a more defensive-minded left-back, and it also explains his relatively high number of crosses per match. Digne plays further from the goal and is less involved in the attacking play of the team.



 

Defending

After having looked at some important attacking stats for left-backs, it is now time for our second comparison where we are going to look at some of the defending aspects of the game. We will be comparing the different left-backs on the basis of the different scatter plots. The scatter plots will once again allow us to easily compare the strengths and weaknesses of the left-backs.



Clearances vs Sliding tackles

In the first scatter plot we are going to analyze the difference between the clearances and sliding tackles among the left-backs. Clearances and sliding tackles show the more defensive capabilities of left-backs. It is interesting to see that all Premier league left-backs have a higher number of clearances and sliding tackles than left-backs in the other big leagues.

When analyzing the scatterplot, it is clear that Lucas Digne has the best score when it comes to clearances and slide tackling. The lowest score is by Raphaël Guerreiro. However, low clearances can mean that Raphaël Guerreiro keeps possession instead of clearing the ball.



Duels

After analyzing the difference between clearances and sliding tackles, we are going to look at another important stat for defenders and that is personal duels. Winning a duel is important for all defenders as it allows you to stop the opponent from creating opportunities.

When analyzing this scatter, it shows us that the majority of defenders average around the same amount of tackles per 90 minutes, however, Theo Hernández averages a few more with a higher success rate, in comparison to the other defenders. Jordi Alba scores the worst, with the lowest amount of duels per 90 minutes, along with a low success rate.



Losses vs Recoveries

Above we have looked at clearances, sliding tackles, and personal duels. These stats give a good overview of the defending capabilities of left-backs, however, there is 1 more comparison that is also important for left-backs and that is how often they lose and recover the ball. Recovering the ball is important for the entire team, as it can allow you to quickly go from defending to a dangerous counter-attack. To be able to recover the ball it is important to position yourself defensively, so you can capitalize on any mistake the opponent makes. It is also important for a left-back to not lose the ball as this will most likely start a dangerous attack for the opponent.

Looking at the scatterplot above, we can see that Luke Shaw has a relatively high number of recoveries per game and a low number of losses. This shows that Shaw is a more defensive-minded left-back and doesn't take many risks that will make him lose the ball. We also see that Digne has the highest number of recoveries per 90 minutes, but he is also more likely to lose the ball.


On the opposite side, we have Chilwell who has the highest number of losses per 90 minutes. When we take a look at his dribbling & crossing stats we can see that he has a very low success rate in both of them. This explains why he also loses a lot of balls per game. Raphaël Guerreiro has the lowest number of recoveries out of all the left-backs, however, he also rarely loses the ball, as he has a low number of losses per 90 minutes. This indicates that he is a more conservative player this also shows in his low number of clearances, sliding tackles, and crosses per game.



 

Conclusion

Above FACTS has presented the top 10 left-backs in the world at this moment based on data. After having looked at all the different scatter plots we can see that there are a lot of different types of left-backs. Jordi Alba for example scores high in the attacking stats, Ferland Mendy is a jack-of-all-trades with an average score in all scatter plots, and Lucas Digne scores better in the defending stats.


Do you agree with the top 10 left-backs? let us know in the comments.


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