World Cup 2018: Five number twos to set the flanks alight

With just two days to go, it's fitting to look at the best number twos in Russia.

If you believe the prevailing wisdom, you’ll know that the concept of defending is dead. Centre backs can no longer hold their line, and goalkeepers are favoured more for their kicking than their handling.

You can read RealSport’s best number twos feature HERE.

It’s the position of fullback -or wingback-, however, that has been re-imagined most fully in the modern game. What was once the preserve of plodders has now become a vital position of attack.

Despite the likes of Kyle Walker and Cesar Azpilicueta excelling at right back, these names are likely to occupy roles in the centre of the defence, hence their exclusion.

With two days to go until ceremonies in Russia get underway, we take a look at five of the most dangerous right backs that will grace the tournament.

  1. 1 Trent Alexander-Arnold [England]

    REUTERS/Phil Noble

    What a year for the Liverpool teenager.

    A reserve at the beginning of the season, he was thrust into Jurgen Klopp's XI after an injury to Nathaniel Clyne, since becoming a mainstay as Liverpool reached the Champions League final.

    Perhaps the biggest testament to Alexander-Arnold's meteoric rise is how comfortable he looked against Cristiano Ronaldo on Europe's biggest stage.

    KEY STAT: Trent Alexander-Arnold only made his senior England debut last Thursday against Costa Rica.

    With Kyle Walker set to play at the heart of Gareth Southgate's five-man defence and Kieran Trippier the safe right back option, Alexander-Arnold could see playing time against Tunisia and Panama, with England in need of an attacking threat to break down their low block defences.

    Alexander-Arnold is a rapid player, offering a brilliant final ball, confidence in possession and defensive solidity. Perhaps one of the best right backs unlikely to play in Russia.

  2. 2 Santiago Arías [Colombia]

    REUTERS/Henry Romero

    Not a household name on the international stage, but Santiago Arias was a vital component of PSV's Eredivisie victory, with six assists and three goals.

    A rugged competitor, he is as likely to collect a yellow card as he is to fire a dangerous cross into the box, and Arias is going to be important at both ends of the pitch for Colombia.

    Arias is more attack-minded than he is defensive, however, and Colombia will be relying on him to improve the defensive aspect of their game if they want to have a deep run in the competition.

    KEY STAT: Santiago Arias made 1.8 key passes per game, the second-most of any defender in the Eredivisie.

    At 26, he'll be hoping that a decent showing in Russia will provide him with the transfer he craves.

  3. 3 Sime Vrsaljko [Croatia]

    REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

    Part of the gravity-defying Sassuolo set-up in Serie A, Sime Vrsaljko's stamina and consistency earned him a deserved move to Atletico Madrid two summers ago.

    Despite an uneven time at the Wanda since then, Vrsaljko has established himself as the first choice right back for Diego Simeone's side, providing four assists in La Liga.

    KEY STAT: Sime Vrsaljko became one of Croatia's youngest-ever captains at the age of 22, when he filled in for Darijo Srna in November 2014.

    The 26-year-old, though, is a key part of a Croatian defence that relies too much on the ageing Vedran Corluka.

    He is no Darijo Srna, but he is a talented wing back who will look to bomb forward in support of genii Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modrić.

  4. 4 Joshua Kimmich [Germany]

    REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen

    Arguably the best right back in world football, Joshua Kimmich is a crucial element of both Bayern Munich and Germany.

    Spectators were treated to a taste of what's to come from Kimmich after he appeared in Germany's final group game of Euro 2016, going on to feature in the Team of the Tournament. Kimmich also made two assists in the victorious Confederations Cup.

    KEY STAT: Joshua Kimmich registered 13 assists in all competitions for Bayern Munich in 2017/18.

    Despite his position as a right back, Kimmich is in the mould of David Alaba and Philipp Lahm, able to play in midfield and as a centre back.

    His defensive awareness is comparable to that of Lahm, whilst he also maintained a 90% passing accuracy in the Bundesliga, as well as netting six goals in all competitions, including a stunning effort against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final.

    Able to fulfil a number of duties as a right back for Germany, Kimmich will certainly catch the eye in Russia.


  5. 5 Ricardo Pereira [Portugal]

    Rejected at Benfica, Ricardo Pereira made his name as part of Lucien Favre's wondrous Nice side, before returning to Porto this year, becoming a key cog of Sergio Conceicao's intense Dragoes side.

    Pereira, who has just completed a move to Leicester City, is a clean tackler who chips in regularly with assists from the flanks, registering five assists in Liga NOS.

    INTERESTING FACT: Ricardo Pereira has only managed 126 minutes for Portugal since 2015.

    As one would expect for a man playing under Fernando Santos, the 24-year-old is conscientious and scrupulous in his defensive responsibilities, averaging 1.7 interceptions and 1.6 clearances per game, whilst being elastic enough to provide a reliable outlet on the touchline.

    An under-appreciated right back headed to Russia, yet might be benched in favour of Cedric.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

  1. POLL: Which right back will have the biggest impact?

    1. Joshua Kimmich
    2. Santiago Arias
    3. Ricardo Pereira
    4. Sime Vrsaljko
    5. Trent Alexander-Arnold
    5 votes
    Share Your Result

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Chris Weir

Chris is a Senior Writer for These Football Times and has appeared on The Guardian and TalkSPORT.