How Liverpool’s full-backs have evolved over the last 100 years

Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold. (Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Liverpool, Trent Alexander-Arnold. (Photo by Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Football is always changing and so are the roles within that, so we decided to track how full-backs have changed for Liverpool over the last 100 years.

Currently the Reds have got the two most attacking full-backs on the planet in Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

A century ago, this was not the case. The no. 2 and no. 5 role was predominantly a defensive one patrolling the wide areas of the pitch in the final third. These players rarely scored goals, unless they were proficient penalty takers.

For the most part, these players stayed in their defensive areas of responsibility. From the end line to the midfield line on the right and left third of the pitch respectively. Many of these defenders were expected to play on either side of the center backs.

So the specialization required in no. 2 and no. 5 jerseys would take another 50 years to evolve.

An early formation from a century ago utilized a defensive structure that employed three defensive backs. The formation, a 1-2-3-3-2 saw the right and left back line up forward of the center backs with a sweeper back in the middle, (traditional no. 6), roaming between and behind the lines to defend against long balls over the top of the defense.

Another variation was the 1-2-3-4-1 formation.

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It should be noted that English football during this period and going forward through the next half century was characterized by long balls over the top. This would prove to be a great strength for English sides and the national side for several generations.

It would also highlight a glaring weakness in attack that foreign sides would use to exploit by sitting deep in defensive blocks doing battle in aerial duels and winning second balls. This was why it was necessary for a sweeper role which most always fell to a full-back.

Right-backs as a rule are strong right foot dominant players. They were required to defend their right third of the park, which meant superior positional awareness and timing in tackling the ball at the feet of attackers. Their job was to disrupt the rhythm and tempo of attacks; and to mark attacking runs into the danger zones through their third of the pitch along the right side touch line.

These defensive backs for the most part stayed at home in their designated space and rarely if ever pushed forward beyond the midfield stripe. These players were expected to have certain skill sets including: tackling, dribbling, crossing.

Long ball passing accuracy over the top of defenses and passing proficiency from their strong right foot to areas in the middle and through into the final third were also important skills to have. Their linkup play to the halfbacks often started the build up for attacks going forward.

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Most attacks in the run of play during this era are characterized by strong central middle of the park thrusts going forward. The idea of wingers and wide downfield runs along the flanks just took too long to develop and were seen as easy to defend.

This era is characterized by a shift from old footballing formations and styles of play to a more attack minded tactical scheme usually exemplified by the 1-4-3-2-1 model. This would culminate in the 4-3-3, and 4-4-2 that is predominantly in use today.