VOLUME 2: Things start to get interesting
Moving forward to our second article of the EURO 2020 series, we present to you the statistical breakdown of full backs. As I have already written in the introduction these articles do not aim to analyse every aspect of the game and cannot possibly include an analysis of every different role and style of play of individual positions. Therefore, full-backs, wing backs, and complete wing backs will feature the present article.
In the first article of the series, I tried to explain how difficult it is to enable comparisons between players, especially in a competition like EURO 2020. Not only do players feature a different number of minutes, but most importantly, they do not play against the same teams during the tournament. A team might be lucky enough to face easier opponents than another team, or a style of play that they can handle easier than another one. To analyse the statistics, we present and you are reading. you always have to take into consideration the tactics of their teams and the opponents, the styles of play, other circumstantial things, and many more details.
As I have already given the reasoning behind some of the numbers we get as the ones we analysed in my previous article I will not do it again for this article, the premise remains the same. What is important to note before looking at some numbers is that when we are talking about full backs and their performance, we need to analyse almost every type of play and the statistics around them. In their position these players need to perform highly defensively, offensively, and for 21st century’s football, in the transition. Furthermore, how much distance they cover, how fast they do it, their stamina, and where they move are of the outmost importance to understand their game and analyse their performance. Unfortunately, there is no space and time to dwell into these important statistics. I have chosen a limited number of statistical categories to make it easier to the reader, not lengthy and technical, not because I don’t find others useful but because I am writing an article not a report.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.
The way we present and read data
Scroll down to the end of this article to request the dataset we used.
To avoid unfair comparisons, we are not considering total sums since the players haven’t played for the same number of minutes. To avoid this problem, we have calibrated the statistics per 90 minutes, which is a fair way to enable comparisons. Furthermore, we cannot take into consideration very small statistical samples. Therefore, we will only take into consideration players that have played at least 180 minutes in one position. This way we can include players from teams that were disqualified in the Group Stage even if they did not play three full games.
Total distance, in yards, a player moved the ball while controlling it with their feet, in any direction
|CPA||Carries into the 18-yard box|
|CrPA||Crosses into Penalty Area:|
Completed crosses into the 18-yard box
|Distance Covered||Distance Covered (km)|
Passes that directly lead to a shot
|PPA||Passes into Penalty Area: |
Completed passes into the 18-yard box
Completed pass sent between back defenders into open space
Number of players tackled
|xA||Expected Assists — xG Assisted|
xG which follows a pass that assists a shot
Provided by StatsBomb.
Best full backs according to numbers
Andrew Robertson is the ultimate example of a player that not only impresses fans but also does very well for his coach and for any analyst. Liverpool‘s star player is known for his creative skills, his technical ability with the ball, passing and crossing included, while he is also capable defensively. Some people consider him one of the best in his position and we will see why that is not a stretch at all. He was first in three categories, and features in the top-ten of 5 out of 10 categories. Considering that Scotland didn’t make it past the Group Stage, in my opinion his stats are excellent. He came first in xA (0.33), key passes (3), and crosses into penalty area (1.67). He also was tenth in total distance of carries (242.67 yards) and seventh in passes into penalty area (2). His numbers totally reflect how good he is offensively and the fact that he is balanced defensively but not the best out there.
My personal favourite, Joakim Mæhle, had an equally great tournament, showcasing that he is enjoying the best form of his life. The Danish full back was by far first in distance covered (10.52km), second in carries into penalty area (1.89), and sixth in total distance of carries (269.21 yards), while he worked very hard tactically for his coach and teammates. Atalanta‘s newest sensation is a well-rounded full back that can play the whole side as a complete wing-back, he performs exceptionally well in both sides of the pitch, uses both his feet, is well-balanced defensively but also knows how to create problems with his crossing, passing, and finishing.
Luke Shaw has been unfairly criticised over the past years for various reasons. I say unfairly, as in EURO 2020, he really displayed his true potential. You might not consider him great overall, but his performance was certainly eye-catching this summer. Manchester United‘s left back was second in Assists (1.38) and made the top-ten in another four categories. He was seventh in through balls (0.31), ninth in xA (0.17), tenth in carries into penalty area (0.47), and passes into penalty area (1.57). In our analysis of England‘s central defenders’ performance we spoke about their inability to hit the top-ten, quite the opposite for the full backs that featured plenty of them.
Italy‘s full backs had a good tournament in general, rounding stats and helping their team win the competition. Leonardo Spinazzola hadn’t he suffered a gruesome injury he would definitely have been a candidate to be considered the best in the tournament but even after that he made it to 7 top-ten. He came first in carries into penalty area (2.62), third in assists (0.92) together with Thomas Meunier, fourth in total distance of carries (288.57 yards), fifth in key passes (1.9), ninth in crosses into penalty area (0.95), tenth in xA (0.17), and was among the best in distance covered per 90. Giovanni Di Lorenzo made one top-ten, coming seventh in tackles (3.08). Stats don’t lie in this instance. AS Roma‘s full back is a very good attacking full back who is known to be very good at creating chances and dishing goals, and he performed exceptionally well for as long as he played. SSC Napoli‘s full back might have good career numbers for assists and goals, but he was used in a more defensive role in this tournament where he equally impressed tracking the opponents’ best wingers.
I was also impressed by a couple other players that not only played very well for their national teams but also had the numbers to back their performance. Vladimir Coufal was by far first in interceptions (3.8), fourth in passes into penalty area (2.2), among the fifth in Assists (0.46), and was included in many other top-ten, 7 out of 11. The Czech was also sixth in crosses into penalty area (1) and eighth in xA (0.18), to round up a very balanced performance in every aspect of the game. Well done to the West Ham‘s assister (7 assists in Premier League last year), he was truly one of the best in EURO 2020!
Joshua Kimmich also had a very good tournament; he might feel that he could have done more to help Germany reach the Semi-Finals but his individual numbers were excellent. He was first in passes into penalty area (3.25), second in crosses into penalty area (1.25), second in carries total distance (303.75 yards), third in through balls (0.5), and sixth in xA (0.25). Overall, he did great, managed to get into many top-ten, most of them associated with offensive plays, and tried hard to help his teammates win matches. No surprises here as he was truly one of the best players for his country and in his position in general.
EURO 2020’s young blood
The full-back position requires pace, acceleration, strength and stamina. It comes to no surprise that football teams around the world increasingly rely more on youngsters as starters or at least to cover their experienced full backs. This is only natural as players’ physical attributes decline over the last years of their career and the full back position is highly demanding athletically. For example, Phillip Lahm was an excellent full back and remained a top-class player long after he was moved to central positions to cover his declining physical presence. So, did EURO 2020 feature many under21 full backs? The short answer is no, the long answer is not even close to what we expected. The reason might be that the stakes are high and in competitions like EURO 2020 coaches prefer experience over young talent.
The only under21 player that made even a single top-ten of the categories we analysed was Croatia‘s Joško Gvardiol. RB Leipzig‘s youngster undoubtedly wins the title of the best under21 full back, not only because he had limited competition but also because he was actually good for his team. The 19-year-old was only ninth in carries into penalty area (0.49) and came seventh in total distance of carries (263.41 yards) managing to make a few top ten. Furthermore, he not only did very well in distance covered but he actually was by far Croatia’s fastest player (33.3 km/h) and came seventh among all players that played in EURO 2020.
What is even more impressive for the product of the famous Dinamo Zagreb‘s academy is that his primary position is not even full back bur rather central defender. Most of his appearances for the Croatian side came as a central defender preferably in the left slot. Gvardiol’s future is very bright; next year he will be tested in a very difficult competition, Bundesliga, and he will most likely play in the Champions League for the first time in his career. His 16 million euros move to the German side was finalised last year, but he remained in Dinamo to get more games under his belt. Now with Ibrahima Konate‘s transfer to Liverpool he will have every opportunity to showcase his skills and win himself a positions in Leipzig’s first team.
Where will they end up?
Will Atalanta be able to keep Joakim Mæhle and Robin Gosens with them for another year? If they do, they will have two of the best full backs in EURO 2020 featuring their line-up. Gosens has recently attracted Juventus‘ interest and with his performance over the last year who could blame them for wanting him? He did great in Euro 2020 featuring in 6 top ten, being among the first five in four of those categories. However, the teams interested in him are facing some difficulties in signing him, primarily due to the high price tag, some say 30 million euros others say 40. Even Barcelona has been linked with the German who will enjoy this summer for attracting the interest of some of the best teams in Europe.
The other Atalanta’s full back mentioned here, has only moved to Bergamo very recently, a 11.5 million move of last January from Belgium‘s Genk side. However, the 24-year-old’s performance was exceptional and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Many clubs will be targeting him over the next year and according to transfer rumours Southampton has already made an enquiry to receive as a response, that his starting price could be around 28 million. Arsenal fans took the social media to ask Mikel Arteta to sign him for their team, and I am convinced that before next summer he will be playing for a different club in a different league.