What an eventful transfer window it has been already. We’ve seen three new arrivals, old faces depart, and plenty more have been linked with the club.
Curiously though, barely any of the rumoured acquisitions have been in the fullback positions, an area that was once thought to be a priority. However, since Pablo Zabaleta was confirmed to be staying for at least another year, it seems like both Manuel Pellegrini and Mario Husillos are content with their options, but could this faith be misplaced?
The increased importance of fullbacks has been on the agenda for a while now, and this significance has only heightened given the record-breaking number of assists from Liverpool duo Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
While it would be unfair to expect the same output from our own fullbacks, the gulf in the numbers is a major pointer as to how that fabled ‘next level’ can be reached. As the Liverpool duo registered a staggering 25 assists between them, Aaron Cresswell, Arthur Masuaku, Pablo Zabaleta and Ryan Fredericks only managed a meagre three.
When compared to Leicester (10 assists) and Everton (six assists), teams in a similar bracket who predominantly use a flat back four, we fall significantly short in this area, even when accounting for only two players from each team. This consistency of selection could partly be to blame for our lack of potency from each flank, but there is no consensus in the fanbase as to who the first choice right-back and left-back is.
Naturally, the attacking output from this position is dependent on who is leading the line, and it could be that a more orthodox focal point (like Maxi Gomez) could provide us with a better aerial route to goal; apart from Cresswell, crossing isn’t the main attribute for any of our fullbacks.
In more general terms, we saw the benefit of Fredericks’ pace towards the back end of last season, giving us a dimension that Zabaleta simply cannot provide. With the expected return of Andriy Yarmolenko on the right wing, the prospect of the Argentinian backing him up is worrying – a distinct lack of pace meaning any potential counterattack must come from the opposite flank.
For traditionalists, the primary job of these players is to defend, but we have seen this area be exposed on a regular basis, especially when Pellegrini opts for a 4-4-2. Though Fredericks and Masuaku improved in this regard towards the end of the season, we need more output offensively to offset the damage at the back.
It was always unlikely that both positions would be sorted in this transfer window, but the lack of change is a risky move. Though we should have faith in Pellegrini and Husillos to get things right, there’s nothing with a little scepticism here and there, and doubts over both fullback positions are sure to remain.
By George Lewis (@georgelewiss97)
(Featured image from whufc.com)