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TWO IN ONE

Ricardo Pereira is a hybrid of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Trent Alexander-Arnold

“Nobody wants to grow up to be a Gary Neville.”

Jamie Carragher’s famous tongue-in-cheek dig at his Sky Sports colleague a few years back was part of a more sincere point about the inception of full-backs.

“You’re either a failed winger or a failed centre-back,” the Liverpool legend declared.

Playful banter

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Playful banter

It’s true that the majority of full-backs came through as midfielders or centre-backs before being converted.

But as the position has increased in prominence with the evolution of tactics, it’s likely we’ll see a generation of kids wanting to grow up to be Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Liverpool wonderkid impressed as a midfielder in the academy before finding his niche as the first team’s threatening right-back.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Reece James have earned deserved praise for their efforts in the same position in recent times, giving Gareth Southgate a welcome selection conundrum with Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier also in contention.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment right-back became the most fashionable position in the Premier League, but it’s an undeniable trend that shows little sign of petering out.

Influential

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Influential

Outside of Southgate’s remit is Ricardo Pereira.

And a case can be made for Leicester’s No21 being the most well-rounded full-back in the league.

You don’t have to venture far online to find Liverpool and Man United fans debating (arguing) Alexander-Arnold vs Wan-Bissaka.

This debate is futile because the pair excel in opposite disciplines.

United’s right-back is a defensive monster who racks up tackles like they’re going out of fashion — only two players have made completed more successful challenges in the league this season (more on that in a moment).

However, the former Crystal Palace player has proved relatively ineffective in attack.

Solid

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Solid

Wan-Bissaka has provided four assists in 63 Premier League games, compared to Alexander-Arnold’s 23 assists from 80 games.

Anfield’s golden boy has created 27 big chances (as defined by OPTA) to Wan-Bissaka’s six and has delivered 556 crosses to the Man United defender’s 137.

In terms of defence, the contrast between the two is almost as extreme in favour of Wan-Bissaka.

Alexander-Arnold is still developing the defensive side of his game and has occasionally been targeted by opposition managers.

Leroy Sane, Marcus Rashford and Wilfried Zaha have all caused him significant problems in the last 18 months.

Get yourself a man who can do both

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Get yourself a man who can do both

They both play be right-backs, but since they specialise in contrasting disciplines, comparing Alexander-Arnold and Wan-Bissaka is as useful as pitting Frank Lampard against Claude Makelele in a head-to-head of central midfielders.

Happily for Brendan Rodgers, Pereira is a hybrid of the two.

No player has made more tackles (105) in the Premier League in 19/20 than the Portugal international — team-mate Wilfred Ndidi is the only other player with more than Wan-Bissaka.

For all the praised heaped on Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans, Pereira may be the primary reason why only Liverpool and Sheffield United have a better defensive record than the Foxes at this stage of the season.

Class act

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Class act

It’s not justifiable to equate his attacking output to Alexander-Arnold, who is only trailing Kevin De Bruyne in terms of league assists.

Pereira’s five goal involvements (three goals, two assists) is a respectable return but doesn’t fully represent his importance to Leicester’s forward play.

The 26-year-old has an inexhaustible engine and stretches opposition with his relentless shuttles up and down the right flank.

Anybody who has taken even a vague interest in Leicester’s campaign can’t have failed to note Pereira’s unerringly willingness to get forward.

This dual purpose means the ex-Porto defender rivals Alexander-Arnold for the imaginary crown of the league’s best right-back, though the champion elect probably edges it for his significant contribution to what is likely to be a record-breaking title win.

Even with the likes of Ndidi, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy for competition, Pereira may well be Leicester’s most important player.


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