Pep Guardiola and full-backs is perhaps the greatest love story there ever was. Pep Guardiola is like a small kid in a chocolate shop, with all the different chocolates representing the different full-backs in European football. The kid sees the options and cries, “I want them all!”
Guardiola’s system is based on quick movement of ball and creating width on both sides to push the opposition defenders wide. This facilitates the wingers to tuck into the space created and create goal-scoring opportunities. No wonder Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane have been banging in the goals in the last few seasons.
With Joao Cancelo becoming yet another world-class full-back to join the Pep army, we take a look at the top 5 full-backs to play under the master tactician. These include some of the biggest stars from FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich and Manchester City, with really no surprises in the countdown. Lets begin:
5. Kyle Walker
Kyle Walker jumped at the opportunity of linking up with one of the greatest manager of all time. When Pep came calling, Walker responded and forced a move away from Spurs.
At Spurs, Walker had made a name for himself as one of the best full-back in England. And he only strengthened the claim at City, showing his versatility and adaptability.
Pep played Walker as a pure right-back in his first season, making the most of his extreme pace and brilliant crossing skills. In his second season though, Pep experimented with a back-three.
He played Kyle in a back three to improve his defensive capabilities to round his game up. Walker is one of the best in the business and he has grown leaps and bounds under Pep.
4. Eric Abidal
Eric Abidal was a curious left-back. He did not possess blistering pace, did not show attacking mastery, yet he was one of the key members of Pep Guardiola’s tiki-take revolution at FC Barcelona.
He comfortably fended off competition a peak Maxwell and a young Adriano to be a regular starter for Pep Guardiola. He was strong defensively and had an intelligent footballing brain.
Abidal was so good that his health issues put a major spanner in FC Barcelona’s season. They ultimately ended up losing out on the La Liga title and getting knocked out of the UCL in the semifinals. Such was his importance, that he was almost as indispensable as Xavi and Iniesta.
3. David Alaba
David Alaba is one of the best full-back in Germany and is probably the greatest player of his generation for Austria. Alaba is strong defensively, bombs forward at will and has got a wicked left foot.
Alaba formed a formidable partnership with Franck Ribery, something Pep Guardiola understood well, exploiting it to the fullest in his three seasons at FC Bayern Munich. Surprisingly, he played as a centre-back for Pep.
Unsurprisingly, he excelled at it as well. David Alaba is a complete defender and is one of the best in the business. He played his best football under Pep Guardiola as a full-back, and rightfully deserves his place in this list.
2. Philipp Lahm
Lahm is a once in a generation player. He was consistent, never injured and always showed up for the big games. His intelligence on the ball, the quickness with which he saw the big picture and his winning mentality made him the perfect Pep Guardiola player.
Guardiola loved him so much that he wanted him to influence the game even more than he did from full-back. He thus moved Lahm into the CDM role in the latter half of his tenure. Nevertheless, Lahm was and is one of the best full-back to play under Pep.
He might not have the blistering pace of some of the other full-backs, but he was no slow horse either. Lahm conquered Germany with Pep, instilling a winning mentality into the team, something which he carried into the 2014 World Cup on the way to International glory.
1. Dani Alves
It had to take a really really special player to keep Philipp Lahm off the top spot. And Dani Alves is exactly that player. The veteran journeyman enjoyed his best years as a professional at FC Barcelona, winning every possible trophy over and over again.
No other player in the history of football has won more trophies than Dani Alves. And he won a total of 12 of them under Pep. Alves was formidable in attack, with his trickery on the ball, pin-point accuracy in his crosses and solid overlapping runs making him an attacking genius.
In defense, Alves always did the right thing, hardly ever putting a foot wrong. Alves understood the game extremely well, linked up brilliantly with Xavi and Busquets and also ran toe-to-toe with Lionel Messi, keeping pace with the maestro’s magic.
Alves will fondly be remembered as the jovial guy who conquered Europe again and again and again. But for Pep, he was the greatest full-back he ever coached, someone who was key to the tiki-take way, had a fierce winning mentality and was a solid-solid player.