With the new Premier League season inching ever closer to getting underway, we at 101 have decided to take a look at the predicted standout performers in each position on the pitch.
This piece, in turn, will focus on the English top-flight’s five finest left-backs.
The first man up on our left-full list comes in the form of Arsenal stopper Kieran Tierney.
Scottish international Tierney of course made the move to the Emirates in the summer of 2019, on the back of a lengthy and at times testing pursuit.
To say that the persistence on the part of those in a position of power in North London has since paid off, though, would be putting it lightly.
After struggling for fitness across his debut campaign in the English capital, this past season saw Tierney showcase exactly why now ex-boss Unai Emery pushed so hard for his signature in the first place.
The 24-year-old boasts a whole host of standout qualities, both from an attacking and defensive standpoint.
His lung-busting bursts up and down Arsenal’s left flank proved particularly key for Mikel Arteta’s men in 2020/21, with Tierney, despite his position on the pitch and further niggling injury issues, having created more chances from open play than any other Gunners star:
Kieran Tierney created more chances from open play than any other Arsenal player in 2020-21 – 41.
— Orbinho (@Orbinho) July 14, 2021
Perhaps most impressive of all when it comes to the Scot’s repertoire of talents, though, is his never-say-die attitude.
Time and time again this past season, whilst other members of Arteta’s squad wilted when the lights shone brightest, Tierney stood tall, showcasing the kind of grit and determination so long pleaded for on the part of the club’s fanbase.
Calls for the former Celtic man to be handed the captain’s armband at the Emirates have, in turn, come as little surprise, with Arsenal’s faith in Tierney’s talents having been evidenced by the new long-term contract handed to the stopper late last month.
An unquestionable inclusion on our left-back list, and one who is only set to get better over the years to come.
Next up comes an international teammate of the aforementioned Tierney – Liverpool’s Andy Robertson.
Ex-Hull City standout Robertson was actually regularly singled out for criticism last season, amid the widely publicised struggles of Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
This, however, only came as a result of the sky-high standards set by the Scot over the course of his previous couple of campaigns at Anfield.
There is no questioning the fact that, when fully fit and firing, Robertson stands as one of world football’s finest in his position.
Whilst the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and even fellow stopper Virgil van Dijk so often took the plaudits amid Liverpool’s historic run to both the Premier League and Champions League, the fact remains that Jurgen Klopp never once had to worry about the level of production stemming from the left side of his back-4.
Add a wand of a left foot to a near unmatched engine and a genuine will to defend in moments of need, and you have for yourself the prototype of the modern full-back – Robertson.
The 2018/19 and 19/20 campaigns combined saw the 27-year-old rattle off an eye-watering 23 assists, numbers unheard of amongst defenders until Robertson joined forces with Trent Alexander-Arnold on Merseyside:
Most assists in a season by a defender in Premier League history:
13 Trent Alexander-Arnold (19-20)
12 Andy Robertson (19-20)
12 Trent Alexander-Arnold (18-19)
11 Andy Robertson (18-19)
Unreal 👏 pic.twitter.com/Ed6Wez5neJ
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) July 30, 2020
With Virgil van Dijk primed to return, and summer signing Ibrahima Konate adding further to Liverpool’s strength at the back, expect Robertson to return to the peak of his powers over the season to come, as the Reds go about reclaiming their Premier League crown.
Crossing the divide to the blue half of the river Mersey, we stumble upon yet another of the English top-flight’s finest left-fulls.
The man in question? Lucas Digne.
Like those before him on this list, French international Digne’s standout quality comes in the form of his ability in the final third. What truly sets the 27-year-old apart not only in England, but all of Europe, though, is his absolutely pinpoint delivery from out wide.
Digne possesses a remarkable knack for not only picking out the right kind of cross (driven, bending, lofted) time and time again, but also putting the ball in the ideal position for incoming teammates to find the net:
What a ball from Lucas Digne! 🎯
He puts it on an absolute plate for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Everton go 1-0 up against Leeds! 🍽 pic.twitter.com/zAE3gYUM73
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 3, 2021
Yes, the ex-Roma man, at times (albeit considerably less often than during the early years of his career) can be found wanting when it comes to defensive positioning.
His form, meanwhile, tailed off alongside the rest of Everton’s squad over the 2nd half of the 2020/21 campaign, as the Toffees slipped from top-4 contenders all the way to the depths of mid-table in the Premier League.
But, as he showcased before so cruelly being struck down by injury at the European Championships, Digne can turn it on at the drop of a hat.
With the ever-demanding Rafael Benitez now at the helm at Goodison Park, and the excuses having all but run out for an under-performing Everton outfit, expect Digne to return with something to prove upon the new campaign getting underway.
The finest left-back in the Premier League at this moment in time? It would be hard to argue otherwise.
Luke Shaw is fresh off the back of his finest-ever season at club level. Having time and time again seen his credentials called into question after departing Southampton as a raw teen, the now-26-year-old has finally begun to deliver on his early-career promise.
Whilst Robertson may possess a better engine, Digne a superior left foot and Tierney more elite leadership qualities, none, at this moment in time, can compare to Manchester United’s left-back when it comes to sheer completeness.
The 2020/21 campaign appeared to see something click in the head of the stopper, with Shaw, sporting a new-found mean streak, having looked near unbeatable in one-on-one situations.
Not only that, but his production at the other end of the pitch also reached previously unseen levels, to the point that Alex Telles, on the back of a much-hyped summer arrival from FC Porto, was restricted almost entirely to backup duties.
— ً (@utdrobbo) July 12, 2021
Shaw’s stellar form carried over onto the international stage this summer, too.
Amongst the elite of the elite at the European Championships, the Red Devils star continued to prove his credentials, notching a goal and three assists across six appearances for England, including the opener in the Three Lions’ finale showdown with Italy:
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) July 11, 2021
Have there been any indications that Shaw’s relentless resurgence could be halted over the season to come? Hardly.
Instead, expect the 26-year-old, on the cusp of his prime, to add further weight to his case as not only the Premier League, but European football’s best left-back.
Perhaps the toughest call on our list, a number of candidates sprung to mind when deciding on the final of the five best left-backs in the Premier League.
The likes of Sergio Reguilon, Oleksandr Zinchenko and even Matt Targett were all undoubtedly worthy of consideration.
In the end, though, we have decided upon Ben Chilwell.
Chelsea man Chilwell is of course fresh off the back of his debut season at Stamford Bridge, after being lured to West London amid the Blues’ remarkable recruitment drive last summer.
And though the 24-year-old, at times, struggled to justify his hefty price-tag, all told, his first year in the capital proved a successful one.
As proved the case throughout England’s Euro 2020 adventure this summer (albeit with considerably more success), Chilwell was made to fight for his place by Thomas Tuchel in 2020/21.
With Marcos Alonso continuing to cling to his Chelsea career by his fingernails, the Spaniard, over the 2nd half of the campaign, was often favoured to his more glamorous teammate, on the back of Frank Lampard being replaced in the capital following the turn of the year.
Tuchel, for his part, assured that such calls came simply as a result of Alonso’s superior physicality:
‘We had the reason, it was not because we were unhappy with Chilwell but we opted for more size to defend set-pieces.’
In truth, though, Chilwell was dropped due to his performances simply not being up to scratch.
A test of character and grit ensued, with the English international tasked with winning back his spot on the left of Tuchel’s backline.
And Chilwell, to his credit, went on to pass this test with flying colours.
Amid a spell of four starts in Chelsea’s final five outings of the campaign, the ex-Leicester City man reminded fans of his true talents, not least of all in a stellar showing en route to a 1-0 Champions League final downing of Manchester City.
The only player on our list to have moved clubs last summer, expect Chilwell to kick on next time out, with the 24-year-old’s haul of 4 goals and 5 assists amid something of a down season a testament to just how productive he can be when firing on all cylinders.
How do you feel about our list? Did we miss anyone? Was any player included who shouldn’t have been?
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