The job of the full-back has changed dramatically over the years, arguably more so than any other role on the pitch. Club and opposition pending, a full-back is expected to work up and down the flank more so than a traditional wide midfielder in many sides these days, and the right and left-backs' role in creating chances is often key to a team's attacking threat.
With this in mind, WhoScored.com investigates Europe's leading attacking full-backs, taking a number of statistics into consideration. We have collected the 7 best players at either right or left back for combined figures concerning key passes per game, successful dribbles per game and accurate crosses per game.
Our findings show that two of Europe's best attacking full-backs are located in one city, with rivals Everton and Liverpool boasting two of the top left-backs in the Premier League. You have to travel to Barcelona to find a full-back who even comes close to our leading attacking defender in terms of the attributes analysed.
Just Like Watching Brazil - On Merseyside!
Leighton Baines is key to Everton's play in so many ways. The left-back is a set-piece specialist but also a superb outlet on the left in open play, as well as being a very capable defender. The 26-year-old has created 24 chances this season (2.4 per game) and 20 accurate crosses (2 per game), which are both considerably greater than any other defender in Europe.
His constant forages down the left have seen him complete 12 successful dribbles (1.2 per game) to give the England international a combined tally of 5.6 key passes, successful dribbles and accurate crosses per game. Of our 5 leading attacking full-backs the Everton-man makes the fewest tackles per game (1.5), though he has made an impressive 2.2 interceptions per game and been dribbled past just 3 times all season.
Dani Alves is the only other full-back to create more than 2 chances per game on average (2.1), and while his 1.2 accurate crosses per game is particularly impressive when considering Barca's reluctance to cross the ball into the box, his dribbling is somewhat lower than one may expect. With 1.1 per game he is down on Baines' figure and the second worst of the 7 players analysed. Perhaps another surprise sees the Brazilian complete more tackles per game (3.2) than our other contenders, earning an exceptional WhoScored rating of 7.63.
Jose Enrique has had an excellent start to his Liverpool career and is already proving an astute signing by Kenny Dalglish. The Spaniard has made 1.7 dribbles per game, which is significantly higher than both Baines and Alves, but has also shown an end product to complete 1.8 key passes per game, which is the third best of any full-back behind the duo. Defensively he has made a fairly meagre 1 interception per game on his way to a decent WhoScored rating of 6.89.
German Game Favouring Flying Full-Backs
A telling stat that goes a long way to indicating the difference in playing styles across Europe's top 5 leagues, and the Bundesliga in particular, shows that only 5 teams from the remaining top 4 leagues complete more dribbles per game than the bottom club in Germany for that statistic (Freiburg - 9).
A key area in which German sides tend to attack is down the flanks, and many clubs let their full-backs attack at will in order to create chances. There are 4 in particular who have roamed down their respective flanks to devastating attacking effect, and as seems to be the trend for all players in Germany right now, they have age on their side.
Leverkusen's Gonzalo Castro has only completed fewer key passes per game than Baines, Alves and Enrique (1.7), but beats the trio for dribbles per game with 1.8. Just 1 accurate cross per game is a figure that could be improved upon, but the defender has worked tirelessly to make 2.2 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game. The 24-year-old's main weakness is perhaps a tendency to get beaten by his man having been dribbled past 1.6 times per game.
Marcel Schafer of Wolfsburg has excelled when it comes to crossing in particular, with his figure of 1.9 per game only bettered by Baines. A modest 0.9 dribbles per game proves that he tends to deliver early, with 1.6 key passes per game highlighting that his crosses have not only been accurate, but have led to a considerable number of chances.
Marco Hoger was signed by Schalke from Aachen this summer and has started 6 of his sides 12 games thus far. The 22-year-old has impressed going forward, with 2.1 successful dribbles per game the best of any full-back in Europe. An average of 1.4 accurate crosses per game is very decent but has led to a lowly 0.7 key passes per game. Like Castro, the youngster’s weakness may lay in his ability to not let players past having been dribbled round a costly 1.7 times a match.
Our youngest attacking full-back is German-born USA international Timothy Chandler. At just 21, Chandler has established himself as a mainstay in the Nurnberg side, impressing in attack and defence to bring up some superb figures. His 1.8 dribbles per game is certainly a key strength and while 0.9 key passes and 1.3 crosses per game are down on many of the leaders in the position, one should consider that they are exactly that - leaders in their position.
Defensively, Chandler has made a very respectable 2.2 tackles per game and a team-leading 3.3 interceptions per game, proving he may have what it takes at both ends to succeed at a significantly higher level.