Over the last three years, the role of the fullback has dramatically changed and has become one of the most important positions on the pitch; this puts the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Trent Alexander-Arnold at the centre of several discussions. But, when taking a more in-depth look at the two players, there is only one winner and that is Trent Alexander-Arnold. Heres why.
How Trent Alexander-Arnold Exceeds Aaron Wan-Bissaka as a Modern-Day Fullback
The Role of a Modern-Day Fullback and How Trent Alexander-Arnold Fulfils It
Five years ago, the first responsibility of a fullback was to defend; a fullback’s position was either box to box or even, in some cases, their own box to the halfway line. And this role saw the birth of legends such as Gary Neville in England, who became known for his defensive attributes, something that was perhaps more needed back then. Aaron Wan Bissaka would have been the perfect fit for that Manchester United side, with his ability one on one and tackling success rate, his best assets.
Nowadays, however, a modern-day fullback’s first responsibility is to support the attack; the best fullbacks currently in world football include the likes of Alphonso Davies, Andy Robertson and Alexander-Arnold who play this role with huge success.
And, in contrast to a fullback 5 to 10 years ago, fullbacks are being asked to play almost a right midfield position, with the back four playing a high line. This is something that Liverpool have applied with great success this season with the back four pushing up to the halfway line when on the ball, which is usually 70% of the time. And with the back four pushed up, the fullbacks have been pushing up further and further, squeezing the opposition into breaking point.
And most possession-based sides, which is most of the worlds best, have implemented this tactic with Manchester City’s fullbacks also seen further up the pitch. The tactic allows for the fullbacks to be a source of creativity and gain possession of the ball more than most players on the pitch. And, on the ball, there isn’t a better fullback than Alexander-Arnold in the modern-game, making him the perfect fit for most top sides around Europe and a better option than Wan-Bissaka.
When comparing the two, it is clear that both players adopt a contrasting style of play. Alexander-Arnold has become known for his creativity in attack and his passing ability that has seen him record the record amount of assists by a defender this season with 12. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, however, has managed just the two assists. When it comes to chances created, too, Alexander-Arnold’s tally of 16 beats Wan-Bissaka’s low number of three. The Liverpool man has also completed more forward passes, through balls, crosses. He also has been dispossessed the least out of the two.
So, it is clear that the Liverpool fullback is better in the final third when comparing the two. But, at the other end of the pitch, it is impossible to match Wan-Bissaka’s stats. The United man has made 99 tackles this season, a stat only Leicester City’s Ricardo Pereira has bettered, and 54 more than Alexander-Arnold. Although due to the amount of possession Liverpool often have, the opportunity to tackle isn’t always there for Alexander-Arnold. Wan-Bissaka has also won more aerial battles and has fewer errors leading to goals. This suggests that he is the better defender between the two.
After comparing the players it is clear that Wan-Bissaka is better off the ball, in defensive one on one situations. But, the problem with this is, a player cannot use these assets to great effect if their team has 70% of the ball, which is the case for most top teams. Instead, top teams will want a fullback that is talented going the other way, a weakness of Wan Bissaka’s.
The fact is, Alexander-Arnold gets into most if not all top teams around Europe due to the fact most of them play possession-based games, asking fullbacks to be a source of creativity, something the Liverpool man has become famous for. But, Wan-Bissaka needs a more defensive, off the ball tactic to realise his potential; this is a tactic that is dying amongst the very best around Europe.
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