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The Evolution of the Modern Fullback in Modern-age Football

In days gone by the greatest fullbacks were standout defenders. Fast and strong, difficult to beat. The game however is changing and the role of the modern fullback extends far beyond the constraints of defending. Fullbacks are no longer outright defenders. A shift to attacking, entertaining football has changed the skill set demanded from today’s Fullbacks. They are now expected to be explosive down the wings putting quality balls into the box for attackers.

Modern Fullbacks
Image Courtesy : Twitter.com

This shift to attacking fullbacks is personified by Liverpool‘s dynamic duo – Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson. Since their debut the duo have a combined 75 assists between them in the Premier League since their debut. Such numbers from fullbacks are unheard of in the past. The unconventional role initiated by these English youngsters has found favor among the world’s biggest managers. Just defending is no longer sufficient to break your way into the fullback positions of the world’s best teams.

To put matters into perspective, Trent and Robertson had the first and second highest assist numbers in the Premier League in the 18/19 season. They were also second and third highest respectively in the 19/20 title winning season, bettered only by the phenomenal Kevin De Bruyne. Their tallies of 13 and 12 assists each were vital to Liverpool winning their first title in 30 years. They also scored 6 goals between them including a few perfectly placed free kicks by Trent.

With this need for an attacking prowess stamina plays a larger role than ever before. To run up and down the wing for 90 minutes at full intensity requires a superior level of fitness. With advancements in medical science and sports technology, the training programs are now customized based on the needs and abilities of each player.

Another defining aspect among modern fullbacks is their highly improved set piece ability. A large number of full backs are now found at corners and free kicks. Trent Alexander-Arnold has shown his expertise from dead ball positions on more than one occasion. So has Crystal Palace left back Patrick Van-Aanholt and Everton left back Lucas Digne.

Image Courtesy : FC Bayern US Twitter

Another upcoming global talent that has adapted this role of a fast powerful and attacking fullbacks is Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies. Aged just 19 years, the youngster has already taken the world by storm. After crucial performances in the knockout stages  of this season’s Champions League and crucial games in the Bundesliga, Davies is now considered one of the most promising young talents in the world.

This evolution of the modern fullback has raised the intensity of the game as well as the attacking quality. It has also led to a tactical evolution in managerial styles. With Fullbacks pushing high, Central defenders now need to be faster and sharper than before. The space left in behind these wing-backs creates opportunities for attackers. It is now the duty of the central defenders to provide defensive cover and hold off any attacking threats while the fullbacks get back into their defensive shape.

Football is constantly changing and evolving with the times and this new role of the modern fullback has added an extra dimension to the game. The market value of quality attacking wing backs who can also defend has increased significantly. Fullbacks are now the creative heart and soul of many of the world’s best teams. It is important for managers to adapt to this new trend and build teams based on these philosophies if they are to keep up with the best.

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