The full back revolution hasn’t merely been restricted to the right side of the pitch. Although, that is where many of the tagged revolutionaries strut their stuff.
Being deployed at left back was once an insult; it’s where you’d likely see the worst player on the team attempt to impress if you strolled down to your local playing fields on a Sunday morning. It was a position nobody wanted to play.
However, the rapid evolution of the sport in the 21st century has morphed the left back position into a desirable one. It’s an incredibly demanding function with modern-day tactical obsessives trying their utmost to complicate the role as much as they can. Thanks, Pep.
But their work has brought about a new breed of left back and we’re now blessed with a myriad of stars in that position.
Ranking the top 25 left backs in the world is no easy task, but here’s our attempt at doing exactly that as part of our 2023 Welcome to World Class series.
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Nuno Tavares’ long term future at Arsenal is a bit uncertain given he was allowed to leave for Marseille on loan with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Kieran Tierney ahead in the pecking order.
He showed a remarkable eye for goal over in Ligue 1 but where he’ll be playing at the start of the 2023/24 season remains to be seen.
Once Crystal Palace graduate Tyrick Mitchell took his chance at Selhurst Park, he never looked back.
Mitchell capitalised on Patrick van Aanholt’s departure and made the left back spot his own under Roy Hodgson. He has also attracted recognition on the international stage, playing twice for England.
Signed by Napoli in 2022, Mathias Olivera contributed to the team’s first Serie A title in over three decades last campaign.
He’ll continue to be a solid option for the team during the 2023/24 season too.
It’s fair to say that the 2022/23 campaign was a banner one for Marcos Acuna.
The Argentine won the FIFA World Cup with his national team, before winning the Europa League with Sevilla. A pretty damn good medal haul if you ask us.
Javi Galan has climbed through Spain’s divisions to sign for one of the nation’s biggest clubs in Atletico Madrid.
He’s certainly a late bloomer but Galan’s determination and rugged tackling ability should help him fit right in under Diego Simeone after leaving Celta Vigo.
David Alaba this, Marcelo that. No. Jordi Alba was the left back of the 2010s. Although, we’re open to debate.
Alba’s form continued into the new decade and amid a tumultuous period for Barcelona, both on and off the field, the diminutive Spaniard was a model of consistency.
However, he was usurped by Alejandro Balde at Barca and has since moved on to Inter Miami.
Despite being just 20 years old, Luca Netz is already making waves thanks to his impressive performances for Borussia Monchengladbach.
Big things are expected of the youngster over in Germany.
There have been occasions in recent history where Mario Rui has looked like Napoli’s biggest fool, but he was important in their 2022/23 Scudetto charge.
Contributing seven league assists, Rui did have to battle Uruguayan Mathias Olivera for the left back spot during the second half of the campaign.
Jose Gaya is one of those guys who has long been respected and often crops up in rankings just like this.
The Spaniard has been a consistent performer amid a tumultuous period for Valencia and if it wasn’t for the perpetual brilliance of Jordi Alba, he certainly would have earned more caps for the national team.
Gaya is revered for his attacking prowess and his energy down the left is infectious. He’s been Valencia’s best player for quite some time now and has served as their skipper since Dani Parejo’s 2020 departure.
David Raum is a relentless supplier of goals.
Following a superb campaign with Greuther Furth in the German second tier, Raum would enjoy an assist-laden season with Hoffenheim before again moving to RB Leipzig.
Raum is a versatile defender who can function in a variety of systems, but he’s undoubtedly at his most effective when he’s given the freedom to advance into the final third.
He’s one of the best attacking left backs in the world, but he does have a couple of defensive drawbacks, including his ability in one-v-one situations.
Unfortunately injured for the majority of the 2023/24 season thanks to ACL surgery, Jurrien Timber was tipped to become of the Premier League’s best defenders upon his arrival at Arsenal.
The Dutchman, when he returns, will be a brilliant left-back for the Gunners, offering cover in numerous other positions for Mikel Arteta.
Leonardo Spinazzola played such a key role in Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph despite picking up a devastating Achilles injury in the Azzurri’s quarter-final triumph over Belgium.
The overlapping runs of the flying left back were crucial to Roberto Mancini’s possession structure and his reputation soared in the aftermath of the tournament as Italy eventually prevailed.
He returned to action faster than anticipated and is showing his creative best again under Jose Mourinho at Roma.
There aren’t many full backs as dynamic as Raphael Guerreiro. The diminutive Portugal international is so fun to watch.
Guerreiro stands out with his efficient work in the final third but he’s also an exceptional ball-carrier. He’s the epitome of a modern-day full back with his positivity in possession crucial in ensuring Dortmund get up the pitch.
While there are physical shortcomings, Guerreiro boasts the defensive nous to ensure such drawbacks are minimised. He’s the latest Dortmund star to be pinched by Bayern Munich.
Questions were raised over Ben Chilwell’s viability as a £50m full back when Chelsea signed him from Leicester in 2020. His senior career had started brightly at the King Power, but there’s no doubt that the Blues were taking a big financial risk.
However, he quickly took to life in west London and his game was taken to another level after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as Chelsea boss in January 2021.
The England international loves a niggle, however, and seems to run into a fitness issue whenever he builds up some momentum.
Pervis Estupinan made a name for himself while out on loan at Osasuna in La Liga during the COVID-hit 2019/20 campaign. Estupinan assisted five times in the league that season as his precise delivery and proactive defensive style became revered in Spain.
The Ecuadorian is an incredibly energetic full back who excels in all phases of play. He’s an excellent dribbler and proved while playing in the Champions League with Villarreal that he can perform to a borderline elite level in high-pressure moments.
He’s been electric under Roberto De Zerbi at Brighton and has all the makings of an exceptional wing back.
Underrated for so long, Oleksandr Zinchenko is now garnering the plaudits he deserves. The Ukraine international stars for the national team as a midfielder, but the vast majority of supporters regard Zinchenko as an archetypal Pep Guardiola inverted full back.
He performed such a complex function to an incredibly high standard at the Etihad as he perpetually played an unsung role in four Premier League title wins.
His arrival at Arsenal thrust Zinchenko more into the limelight and his impact in north London has been immediate. He’s a leader on the field and many regard him as one of the finest technicians in the sport.
Italian flier Destiny Udogie is the talk of the Premier League right now.
The full-back has become one of Tottenham’s best players overnight, causing havoc with his burst in the final third and quality on the ball.
After starring in Ligue 1 with Lyon, Mendy departed for Real Madrid in 2019 and made an immediate impact. With stalwart Marcelo on the decline, the Frenchman was signed to be the Brazilian’s long-term successor at the Bernabeu.
He has certainly shown he’s capable of performing at the very highest level and has had a hand in two La Liga title wins as well as Los Blancos’ most recent Champions League triumph.
Mendy has almost gone under the radar for Real in the past couple of years with his domestic minutes limited by injuries. But he’s stepped up when it has mattered most and his well-rounded skill set means he’s one of the most complete left backs in the world.
Federico Dimarco’s breakout performances at left back for Inter mean the Italian club don’t really know what to do with previous entrant Gosens.
His searing pace has become crucial for Simone Inzaghi and his sweet left foot is a proven threat in the attacking third. There are few better in Serie A than the Italy international, who played a key role in Inter’s run to the Champions League final in 2023.
Young Nuno Mendes endured a pretty turbulent debut campaign in Paris, often deployed in a flat back four by Mauricio Pochettino.
The Portugal international had excelled as a wing back at Sporting CP and started the 2022/23 campaign brilliantly with Christophe Galtier switching to a back three.
Despite his youth, Mendes is a league champion in two different countries and has all the makings of a superstar. He is as explosive as they come and his pinpoint crossing ability means his output should increase soon.
He’s relentless down the left flank and his attacking threat must be consistent with the futures of PSG’s forward stars up in the air.
When Luke Shaw latched onto Kieran Trippier’s teasing delivery to open the scoring in the Euro 2020 final, it was the culmination of the left back’s impressive resurgence having previously been written off.
Shaw’s majestic Euros had come off the back of a brilliant season – arguably his best – at Manchester United and he is now regarded as one of the world’s best left backs.
Injuries take their toll every now and then but Shaw impressed in Erik ten Hag’s first season at United, often filling in well at centre back.
Barcelona’s squad needed plenty of work when Xavi first took over but the emergence of Alejandro Balde at left back meant no pricy replacement for Jordi Alba was necessary.
The youngster’s emergence helped him make the Golden Boy shortlist and eyes are peeled to see if he can back up his excellent 2022/23 season.
While his stellar contemporaries have often peaked and dropped in recent years, Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson has been as consistent as they come.
Signed from Hull for a modest fee in 2017, Robertson has gone on to establish himself as one of the protagonists in a side that has won both the Premier League and Champions League in the past three years.
Robertson plays a crucial role in ensuring the Reds are able to suffocate and dominate opponents and will hope to play a major role as Jurgen Klopp looks to engineer a title charge in 2023/24.
6’0 tall and built like a brick you know what, Theo Hernandez has blossomed into a borderline superstar at AC Milan.
Theo loves to break forward from defence and is without question the most proficient ball-carrier among players at his position in world football – just check out his goal against Atalanta in Milan’s most recent Scudetto win.
The left back has forged a deadly dynamic with Rafael Leao down the Rossoneri’s left and the pair were absolutely pivotal to their title success in 2021/22. Theo can attack on the inside and outside, with the sheer power he possesses often enough to overwhelm opponents.
When Bayern Munich were crowned European champions in 2020, Alphonso Davies was on top of the world with many regarding the likeable Canadian as the best left back on the planet.
Davies’ rise was brought to a halt when he was diagnosed with myocarditis following complications with COVID-19. He’s back now, though, and looking to reclaim his status as the world’s premier left back.
He stands out in almost every statistical category. He relentlessly contributes in the final third, aids Bayern’s ability to progress the ball down the left, and he can dominate defensively.
Davies is physically imposing and one of the quickest players in world football. His recovery running is something to behold.