We’re into the full swing of Welcome to World Class 2021, and it’s time to debate the best right-sided defenders on the planet.
While the title may read ‘right-backs’, the rise to prominence of the wing-back role means we’ve also incorporated those who are adept at doing the best of both: providing width to attacks as they bomb forward and always mucking in at the back.
There has already been plenty to discuss in our rankings of goalkeepers, centre-backs, defensive midfielders, central midfielders, attacking midfielders, left-backs AND left forwards.
If you are somehow unfamiliar with #W2WC, we’ve spent the last couple of weeks judging the game’s top players against a series of metrics, and now we’re releasing our top fives per position in ranked order.
But before we get to that, some ground rules on how we arrived here.
- A world class footballer is defined as one of the top five players in the world in their position.
- All players can fit into one of 10 on-field positions; GK, RB, LB, CB, DM, CM, AM, RF, LF, ST.
- All players have been graded across ten different subcategories in the decision-making process – you can find more information on everything mentioned above here.
- Performances for club and country are considered.
- We want you to have your say – check out details on how to get involved below.
But let’s get on with it.
All statistics are provided by StatsPerform over the period of January 1, 2021 to November 30, 2021 (inclusive of domestic and continental cup competitions).
5. Reece James (new entry)
Clean Sheets: 14
Reece James’ rise over the past two years has been nothing short of meteoric. The Chelsea academy product didn’t even make the W2WC shortlist in 2020, but finds himself among the very best in his position this year—and that is undisputed.
The embodiment of the ingrained do-or-die attitude at Stamford Bridge, James is already a master of the wing-back role and has been unplayable there at times in 2021, combining monstrous strength with wicked crossing technique and finishing ability.
Just 22 years old, he earned huge plaudits for his defensive performance against Manchester City in the Champions League final victory (big metric points), and he has more than demonstrated his attacking prowess this season with five goals and assists at the time of writing.
4. Kyle Walker (-)
Clean Sheets: 16
Barring a few rushes of blood to the head on and off the pitch, Kyle Walker has been the picture of consistency for Man City and England over the years, and that’s demonstrated by the 31-year-old holding on to fourth place in our right-back rankings.
Although he may rely on his recovery pace on occasion, Walker is an excellent defender who is also able to pose a significant attacking threat despite being deployed in a flat back four.
Walker finishes the year with another Premier League winner’s medal, he reached the Champions League final and was a key member of England’s back line – keeping James out of the team – as the Three Lions just fell short in the final of Euro 2020 in the summer.
3. Cesar Azpilicueta (new entry)
Games played: 44
Clean Sheets: 18
In 2012, if you had told a Chelsea supporter that a relatively unknown Spanish right-back signed from Marseille would go on to win (almost) everything there is to win at club level for the Blues over a nine-year period, they would surely have laughed in your face.
Well, that became a reality in 2021 when Cesar Azpilicueta held the European Cup aloft in Porto in May.
Despite never being the most technically gifted defender, Azpilicueta has battled to become one of the best around – developing an excellent tactical understanding of the game to compensate for his lack of pace, and adapting to become an ever-reliable option in four positions: right-back, wing-back, centre-back and left-back.
2. Achraf Hakimi (up 3)
Clean Sheets: 10
Having come fifth in the 2020 W2WC right-back rankings, Achraf Hakimi’s stock has only risen in 2021.
Like James, he has become an expert in the right wing-back role and was a key player from that position last season as Inter secured a first Scudetto in 11 painful years by running away with the title in Serie A, finishing the campaign with a ridiculous seven goals and 11 assists.
Despite an enforced summer move to Paris Saint-Germain and a flat back four system after just one season in Milan, Hakimi has stayed true to his attacking values and provides another dimension to PSG’s glittering front line (as if they needed one). That’s not to detract from his work at the back; a physically imposing defender, he is a formidable foe for any winger.
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold (-)
Games played: 41
Clean Sheets: 16
There was only ever going to be one winner. While the other names on this list may have reinvented themselves and risen to stardom in an unfamiliar position, Trent Alexander-Arnold has redefined what it is to be a right-back altogether – and no-one does it better.
Almost a deep-lying, right-sided playmaker at this stage, Alexander-Arnold has racked up a ludicrous 18 assists in 2021 for club and country – 13 of which have come this season. Although his defensive ability has been called into question, the stats demonstrate that he is adept at both ends of the pitch.
While Liverpool didn’t land any silverware and the 23-year-old missed out on the England squad for Euro 2020, his form – and that of his club – has been outrageous this calendar year.