The role of the fullback in modern football as the most important position on the pitch is a view regularly put forward by this blog. Last season I rambled about this in great length in a comparative study of our own left sided marauder Leighton Baines and the league’s premier fullbacks Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra. In Saturday’s Merseyside derby another left back, Liverpool’s Jose Enrique, a player that embodies the key attributes of the modern fullback, will be on show. This short post will look at the strengths and weaknesses of Baines and his opposite number Enrique; a player who interestingly enough was bought by Sam Allardyce at Newcastle after the portly former Toon boss failed in an attempt to sign his number one target Leighton Baines from Wigan.
This season Enrique has made more tackles and clearances per game than Baines. Last season Enrique had a better tackle completion (81%) than Baines (74%). Last season, Enrique was also culpable for fewer mistakes which directly led to goals (1) than Baines (2) Baines has made more interceptions than Enrique this campaign (Everton have recorded the highest interceptions per game in the league so far) Last season, Baines won more 50/50 challenges ( 55% v 51% ) than his Liverpool opponent. On aerial challenges last term Baines also won comfortably 63% to Enrique’s 32%.
Enrique has averaged more passes and more dribbles per game so far this campaign. This is an area Enrique bossed last season also, recording 65 to Baines 26. Despite Everton averaging more long balls per game than Liverpool, Enrique has averaged more long balls per game than Baines. Everton’s no.3 is also fouled more than Enrique.
The Blues fullback’s trademark is his crossing – last season his cross completion was slightly better than Enrique. In terms of creating goal scoring chances for colleagues, Baines has led the way this season as he did last season when he managed 74 which led to 11 assists, with Enrique creating 30 with just 1 assist.
Both men will be key players come Saturday. Enrique’s quality lies in his ability to beat his man, strength in the tackle with a slight weakness being his ability aerially. Baines qualities lie in his superb range of delivery through crosses and dead balls. His ambition in getting forward has been targeted by opposition manages in recent seasons, specifically in counter attacking situations and would be his principal weakness.
Many thanks to opta and whoscored.com for the statistics used in this article.