Wednesday, October 27

Are we in the golden age of the left back of the Premier League? | Football

Jerry Seinfeld tells a joke (in fact, it is the first joke he ever tells) about the plight of lefties. “So I’m left-handed,” he says, “and left-handers don’t like that the word ‘left’ is associated with negative things. Left foot. Commendation for lefties. ‘What are we going to have for dinner? Leftovers.’ You go to a party, no one is there. ‘Where did everyone go?’ ‘They left!'”

As they say, it’s funny because it’s true. But if you look away from the comedy scene to that of high-level English football, something quite different appears. Because, right now, the left is not negative, specifically when it comes to the left wingers. Every team has always had at least one, but it has rarely been the case that so many have been so good at the same time, especially from an attacking point of view.

Andrew Robertson, Aaron Cresswell, Lucas Digne, Luke Shaw, Kieran Tierney, and Sergio Reguilón, to name six, and that’s before moving on to Oleksandr Zinchenko, James Justin, Matt Targett, Ryan Bertrand, Ezgjan Alioski and Ben Chilwell. It’s quite the list call and leads to an obvious question: is this the most disturbing moment in a golden age of the Premier League’s left backs? And if so, was it produced by chance or design?

Graeme Le Saux is well placed to comment given that he was one of the best left-backs of his generation, won 36 games for England and was part of the Blackburn team that won the title in 1995, and regularly watches the current vintage like a television expert. , especially for the American station NBC. Le Saux has little doubt that what we are seeing in the Premier League, and beyond, is not an accident. Rather, it is a trend that has emerged through specific factors that have led a once-a-fad player to become the norm.

“I don’t look any different than any of the current left-backs,” says Le Saux, who also works as a manager at Real Mallorca. “At Blackburn especially, I was encouraged to move forward and be creative, and I set goals for how many crosses I wanted to box in each game for players like Alan Shearer, Mike Newell and Chris Sutton. He wasn’t happy unless he delivered at least three in each half that created opportunities for those forwards.

James Justin, center, is congratulated after scoring in Leicester's 2-0 win over Fulham on Wednesday.  The 22-year-old has been excellent as a left back this season.
James Justin, center, is congratulated after scoring in Leicester’s 2-0 win over Fulham on Wednesday. The 22-year-old has been excellent as a left back this season. Photograph: Peter Cziborra / EPA

“Then there were the likes of Bixente Lizarazu and, of course, Roberto Carlos, and a little later Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines. All very well, attacking left wingers. But they were very few. Now we see a whole generation of left wingers who stand out as much as anyone on the pitch, and that’s because of training: young wingers are generally taught and encouraged to be outlets; get ahead of the ball instead of lagging behind and hold your position in a back room. “

The important role played by full-backs, and especially left-backs, from an attacking point of view is supported by statistics. After the final round of the Premier League in January, three of the top eight assist providers in the division were left backs: Robertson, Cresswell and Digne, all of whom had provided five assists, more than, among others, Roberto Firmino and Raheem Sterling. Robertson, meanwhile, was sixth for opportunities created (38) and led the way in open crosses (103) and passes (1,575), and this during a season in which the form of the 26-year-old for Liverpool It has been mixed to say the least.

West Ham's Aaron Cresswell is among the left backs who have provided more assists than Roberto Firmino and Raheem Sterling this season.
West Ham’s Aaron Cresswell is among the left backs who have provided more assists than Roberto Firmino and Raheem Sterling this season. Photograph: Arfa Griffiths / West Ham United / Rex / Shutterstock

The left backs of the Premier League rule, and there’s no question that overall, wingers now tend to be just as good offensively as they are defensively, if not better. Returning to Le Saux’s point that this has been achieved through training, another question arises: have the wingers become adept at advancing because that is what the modern game has increasingly demanded of them, or has the modern game has become a prominent environment for all players? -retroverses who are experts in moving forward because many have passed? Is it chicken or egg?

“From a tactical point of view, the game has been narrowing for some time, there are fewer extremes, so more and more have been used to the wings to provide the breadth in the future,” says Le Saux. “I don’t have the science to back it up, but I have a strong feeling that for many years kids who have played winger in 11-a-side football, at whatever level, have been told to move on and go to the holding midfielder to give security to the two centrals, and that will have been a reaction to the way the party has developed.

“All full-backs now need to feel comfortable with the ball and be tactically astute to know when to go and when to stay. Physically they also need to be at a high level given the distances they need to cover. That’s what makes Robertson so impressive – no matter how hard he works on a game, he always seems to have something left. He is a fantastic athlete. “

Graeme Le Saux in action for England against Romania in the 1998 World Cup.
Graeme Le Saux in action for England against Romania in the 1998 World Cup. Photograph: Tom Jenkins / The Guardian

The Scotland captain has been the best left-back in this country for at least a couple of years, but he certainly faces competition in that regard from the current crop, and from none other than Shaw, who after years of Fighting has stood out at Manchester United. this season. The 25-year-old has been strong on defense, seen most vividly in his handling of Mohamed Salah during last month’s goalless draw at Anfield, and offensively he has improved significantly compared to the previous season. There have been more crosses, more touches in the opponent’s area and more opportunities created, all of which has led to his assists contribution soaring from zero to three, his two most recent in Tuesday’s 9-0 win at Southampton, when , attacking In the same vein, it could be said that Shaw had his best game for Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side.

“Now he’s playing at his level and the key is to trust himself physically,” says Le Saux. “There were always periods in a game where I was squatting and blowing, thinking I couldn’t go on. He got over it with the series of games he’s had and now he’s confident in his ability to keep going up and down the field. As a winger, there is no better feeling in the world. “

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As good as Shaw has been, he’s not as important to his team as Tierney has been to his, and the 23-year-old is now firmly one of Arsenal’s best players, especially from a player point of view. attack. Across north London, Reguilón has been a revelation for Tottenham since arriving from Real Madrid last September. “He’s got a phenomenal engine and he can throw a ball from anywhere,” says soccer writer and Spurs fan Harry Sherlock. “He has become a key member of the best XI of José Mourinho and the fans are already wondering if Real will come to call for him in the summer; they have a buyback clause, after all. “

“There is sure to be a very good crop of left-backs in the Premier League, and as a former left-back I am delighted that they are finally getting the credit they deserve.” Says Le Saux. “In all seriousness, I think if you covered their faces, put them in an alignment and just looked at their bodies, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They are all chubby but not too wide, not too tall, and have nearly identical ratios of power to agility. There are exceptions like Dan Burn in Brighton, who does a good job at that position despite being over 6 feet, but generally that’s the standard model for everybody modern sides. Now there is a type defined “.

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