There’s an argument, made convincingly elsewhere, that the wing-back is the most vital role in modern football today.
A position long decried for its lack of glamour, it has since been transformed into a vital means of attack with the ability to cross and dribble deemed essential skills for any player hoping to succeed there.
It has been an exceptional year for wing-backs.
Stephen Ward, for a long time considered nothing more than a journeyman during a quiet career, has enjoyed a tremendous campaign with Burnley. So too has Kieran Trippier, whose inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad is no surprise.
Neither, however, made the following list of the five best wing-backs to grace the competition this year.
5 Trent Alexander-Arnold
In the aftermath of his selection in the England World Cup squad, Trent Alexander-Arnold tweeted a picture of himself in the country’s kit, professing it be his dream “since I was a kid”.
Arnold is barely nineteen and was a virtual anonymity before the season began.
Injuries to Nathaniel Clyne provided an opening, however, and he has taken it with aplomb, excelling regularly with his chugging athleticism and dangerous crosses.
He might just have a vital role to play in Russia.
4 Fabian Delph
Another inclusion in Southgate’s squad, although it remains to be seen how the England manager will plan to use him. Such is Delph’s versatility.
A midfield prodigy at Leeds and Aston Villa, he largely struggled for game time in Manchester before filling in as an emergency left-back this season.
The emergency quickly faded. Delph, who has been dominant and dependable at Eastlands, becomes the latest player to be totally reinvented and bettered under Pep Guardiola.
3 Kyle Walker
Briefly the most expensive defender in Premier League history, Kyle Walker’s move to Manchester City was met with derision by Tottenham supporters. He was past it, they said. He had pace but not a lot else.
How wrong they were. Walker has been simply unstoppable for Pep Guardiola this year, routinely contributing assists whilst offering defensive solidity rarely supplied by John Stones and Nico Otamendi.
He has also deputised frequently as a right-sided centre-back, lodging a number of respectable performances.
He is twice the player he was in North London last year.
2 Antonio Valencia
Antonio Valencia is the type of player who’s only noticed by his absence. Unless you count the opinion of Gary Neville, the man whose place in the team he was taken without so much as a hiccup.
“I think Antonio Valencia has done brilliantly to be honest,” admitted the Sky Sports pundit in midweek. “He’s been a star for three years.”
What makes Valencia’s form all the more impressive is the fact that he spent the vast majority of his career in an entirely different role.
The Ecuadoran, however, has set about his task diligently under José Mourinho and deserves to be ranked amongst the best full-back in the league for his consistent displays.
1 Andy Robertson
At first, the hype surrounding Andy Robertson felt hollow.
Yes, he went on a suicidally-aggressive run against Manchester City at Anfield but what had he done in a football sense before then?
He hadn’t even started the season as a regular with the oft-maligned Alberto Moreno selected ahead of him.
He has answered the critics resoundingly since then, featuring consistently and commendably in his side’s run to the Champions League semi-finals. Robertson still has work to do defensively but his work-rate and crossing ability have offered Jurgen Klopp some real weapons on the left-hand side.
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