We’ve done the best centre backs in the Premier League, but the defensive dissection hasn’t ended. It’s time to run through which five players are among the best fullbacks in the Premier League.
Jamie Carragher once declared “no one wants to grow up and be a Gary Neville.” Those days are now long gone. But who is the cream of the crop of the Premier League’s loaded fullback class?
Fullbacks are having a moment. The days where their predominant requirement was to clamp down opposing wingers and prowl the touchline in support of their own forward men are well and truly behind us.
Thanks in large part to tactical innovation from one of football’s greatest ever managers, Pep Guardiola, a substantial workload is placed on the modern fullback. Depending on the system they operate in, they can either galavant and create like wingers or tuck infield and operate as central midfielders – sometimes doing both.
In the 2023-24 Premier League season, the British topflight is blessed with arguably the highest quality fullbacks in world football. Whittling down this talent pool to five is a difficult task, but today it’s a duty Only Sports is prepared to undertake.
Best fullbacks in the Premier League, 2023-24: Top 5
Here’s our top five, for the Premier League’s best fullbacks. Away we go.
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool
Even if their increased attacking involvement may masquerade it, the fact remains that defence remains an incredibly crucial component of a modern fullback’s modus operandi. While Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive capabilities remain highly questioned – these doubts may well last the course of his career – there can be no doubt he is the world’s premier creative fullback.
Famously a midfielder throughout his youth career who was pigeonholed into right-back by Jurgen Klopp before cementing his place there, Trent, as he is colloquially known, possesses all the on-ball qualities of a central midfield, providing Liverpool with an unrivalled attacking point of difference. His striking of a football is so beautiful it can often draw comparisons to some of the game’s great midfielders, with this technical threat often meaning Jurgen Klopp’s men are a goal threat from anywhere on the pitch.
Trent’s danger from anywhere and everywhere on the pitch is compounded in the minds of opposition players by the brilliant combination he and Mohammed Salah have struck in their time together. The pair have been paramount to Liverpool’s recent success.
It appears Klopp’s masterstroke to invert his young right back at the back end of last season – which illuminated his playmaking potential while mitigating his defensive flaws – will remain in place this season. This shift could prove key in reviving Trent, and Liverpool’s fortunes.
2 Kieran Trippier – Newcastle
Newcastle’s inspirational leader and brilliant right-back was a core component of their return to the Champions League. Having led his side to a fourth placed finish and the equal best defence in the division would not have been possible without the former Spurs and Atletico Madrid man barking orders and organising the troops from the right of defence.
Whilst his importance at the back is crucial, what Trippier offers going forward is off equal importance to Eddie Howe’s side. Only Trent Alexander-Arnold (9) and Andrew Robertson (8) created more goals for their teammate’s than Newcastle’s captain (7). Moreover, his presence draws the best Miguel Almiron, who had a career year with his skipper overlapping him and supporting him along the way.
The well-oiled machine that Eddie Howe’s transformed Newcastle into would not be possible with Kieran Trippier. Fresh from a successful spell in Spain, of all the world-class talent Newcastle’s new regime have signed, the signature of their captain is the most important of any.
3. Reece James – Chelsea
Don’t let the injuries fool you – Chelsea’s newly appointed captain missed 25 games last season through injury – Reece James is one of the best fullbacks in world football. In some circles, the argument could be made he is the perfect modern right-back, capable of marauding forward like a winger and producing quality in the final-third, snapping opposition wingers in half with his resilient defence, as well as invert into central midfield – he spent 13 games in that position during a successful loan spell at Wigan in 2018/19.
Injuries have limited the young Englishman throughout his fledgling career, but without them his stature in the game would be higher. When he is on the pitch, there have been fewer players more important to Chelsea in recent years. Under Mauricio Pochettino and with the captain’s armband tightly wrapped around his bicep expect his importance and output to explode.
4. Oleksandr Zinchenko – Arsenal
Few fullbacks perform the inverted fullback role as expertly and seamlessly as the Ukrainian. At times last year Zinchenko would spend entire blocks of games sat in the centre of midfield dictating play, assisting the Gunners’ build up, and establishing a solid, reliable foundation for Arsenal’s garden of creative talent to comfortably and freely conduct their business.
Had the Ukrainian played more than 27 games last season, maybe Arsenal’s title challenge would’ve ended with silverware. The fact he didn’t, and that Mikel Arteta was unable to find an adequate in-house replacement for him, highlights not only his importance but also the talent he possesses to be able to undertake it at such a high level.
5. Ben Chilwell – Chelsea
It might seem unfair having two players from the same side on this list especially when considering the calibre of players we’ve left off but if anyone deserves this spot it’s Ben Chilwell (and maybe Andy Robertson).
After missing a large portion of last season through injury, the Englishmen has begun this season strongly registering one assist in three games and generally being one of Chelsea’s strongest performers. Under Poch, Chilwell has the license to roam as far forward as he pleases and would’ve added a goal to his name against Luton had he not opted to pass instead of shoot.
Should he remain healthy for the entirety of this season Ben Chilwell could cement himself as one of football’s finest left backs and become a key cog in Chelsea’s return to Europe’s elite.