PLAYER ANALYSIS – Bernardo and the Forgotten Fullback Role

Fullbacks have been an everchanging role, that has evolved from it’s role in the 90s as more wide centre halves, growing into players that are able to contribute in the final third. In one of the most famous clips in Monday Night Football’s history, Jamie Carragher said that fullbacks are either “failed wingers or failed centre halves.” While an element of that is true, with Manchester United finishing second in the Premier League last season with their first choice fullbacks being Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, two players who were used during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign in his latter years. Even current prospect Aaron Wan-Bissaka came through Crystal Palace’s academy as a winger, but was moved further back. It can paint this image of a fullback being a position that isn’t of grave importance, compared to the demand for well rounded forwards or centre halves with a vast range of passing. This is of course far from the truth. It’s a position that offers great flexibility and seperates a mid table team to a truly elite one. There have been huge innovations in this field, with like many of the changes in the modern game, go back to Pep Guardiola. The Catalan coach deployed Alves and Abidal more as wingers, with their need to defend absent thanks to Pep’s emphasis on possession. After his sabbatical, he became Bayern Munich’s and went to further innovate, using the incredible versatility and intelligence of defenders David Alaba and Philip Lahm, to use them more as inverted full backs. They would come inside and overload the midfield, to make the simple job of tracking them nearly impossible. Antonio Conte was another who changed how fullbacks could be seen, using two failed wingers in Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses as wingbacks in his famous 3-4-3 system at Chelsea. Both were athletic and could contribute effectively in the final third, giving the side plenty of numbers defensively and offensively.

One would wonder what does any of this have to do with Bernardo? It’s more for context, and how the original purpose of a fullback has changed so much since the turn of the millenium. It seems their role as defenders has been forgotten, but Bernardo is different. The Brazilian was part of the Red Bull machine, starting his career at Red Bull Brazil, and going on to play for RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig respectively. After having a very good season with Leipzig, he earned a £9m move to Brighton. It was a very good signing, like many of their signings last summer. It made a lot of sense for Bernardo as well. While playing 1350 minutes last season is fine for a player who still hasn’t hit his peak. Moving to a club that was willing to make the same step up was the perfect solution for both parties. Bernardo is apart of a strange new breed of defender, strangely being defensive first. As mentioned, the role of the fullback has changed over the years. Bigger sides realised that having as many players have attacking ability gives them such an advantage. It’s different at the other end of the table. Players like Bernardo, Wan-Bissaka and Chilwell are all really good defensively, but do not offer much on the attacking end. There is an assumption that all fullbacks now bomb forward and help the other wide players. They might help give an option for their teammates, but defending is their priority. Bernardo is the best example of this. In their most recent game against Tottenham, The Brazilian showed all of his best qualities. He is very good in the air, winning more than half of his aerial duels. His tactical versatility has been very impressive. He helps keep the defensive line and is so good in a one on one. Lucas Moura struggled in the first 30 minutes because Bernardo kept forcing him wide, making him so much less effective and persuading Pochettino to switch him and Son. He caused Tottenham a lot of problems when they were attacking. His tackling is by far one of his best attributes. He attempts 4.1 tackles per 90, and wins 80% of them. That’s better than Chilwell’s 65% and not far off Wan-Bissaka’s insane 92%. The 3 players mentioned rarely get dribbled past. Bernardo has only been beaten 0.7 times per game, showing just how solid he is. He definitely lacks attacking qualities, but that isn’t his role or his strength. Brighton are a side that will fear relegation for the next couple of years. They don’t want a full back who will make Marcelo eat his heart out, but someone who won’t get beaten and help make sure their side aren’t conceding preventable goals, and Bernardo is filling that void.

The next sensible question would be if Bernardo could handle a step up into a side that demanded more from their full backs offensively, and I wouldn’t think he could. It’s not to say that he couldn’t join a club with more prestige than Brighton, but he couldn’t join a side, like Tottenham or Napoli, who demand a lot from their fullbacks. He would have to join a side with a more pragmatic approach, where he could still focus on the defensive side of his game. One key area he would have to improve in however is his distribution, Bernardo has averaged a pass accuracy of 73% throughout his career, that would have to peak in the eighty’s if he could be relied on in possession. He turns 24 soon, which gives him less time to improve as other younger full backs, but some teams could truly use a player like Bernardo, where his offensive inability can be brushed aside when seeing just how good he is for his side defensively.

 

7 Young Players To Watch This Season

With the season underway, let’s look at 10 players who look like they could be real stars in the future, based on their starts to the new season. They have to be under 23, otherwise anything goes. I will not be including Kylian Mbappe or Ousmane Dembele, for obvious reasons that they are already top level players. These are players are not yet the finished article.

Jadon Sancho

The player currently on the lips of every Englishman, Sancho has been spectacular at the start of the season. With only having one start, he has already scored and assisted 6, the most in Europe. It has blown many away, who didn’t know who he was 12 months ago. I knew enough about him before his transfer, being he was a player highly rated at Manchester City, and scored for England at the under 19s World Cup. However he left City for the purpose of game time. Bernardo Silva was signed shortly before his departure, which was a real wake up call for him. He decided to make the big move to Dortmund, and so far has definitely paid off. While first season was definitely an adjustment period, his second season has started off so well for him. The winger has been coming off the bench late in games, causing tired defenders even more troubles. He shows such maturity for his age, with the forward usually choosing the more selfless option for his side. This isn’t exactly how a forward, with such a great ability on the ball, should always be approaching the final third. He will eventually learn how to not only create, but score. There are improvements to be made, but there is so much promise to be seen here. Favre seems to be handling him very well in the first team. Playing a winger with such speed and rawness come on at the end of the game, where it is usually much easier to face defenders, makes it much easier for him to shine. Let’s hope he is able to earn more starts for his side.

Ben Chilwell

I’m trying incredibly hard to be creative with these picks. Most people choose Maddison, Sterling, Alexander-Arnold and Ruben Neves. They are all pretty boring answers because they are all covered constantly. Everyone already knows that they are talented players, so let’s look at someone else. Ben Chilwell looks to be a perfect modern day full back for any club, and he is still only 21. He has been a player I have been aware of for a few years now, and I was just waiting for him to be given consistent starts. That happened last season, with the young Englishman starting 24 games, starting double of the games he did in the previous season. Having both Chilwell and Pereira as starting fullbacks gives Leicester and excellent pair of full backs, considering their size compared to other teams. Chilwell has started the season with excellent numbers. He’s making 1.3 key passes and completing 2 dribbles per 90. Those are amazing numbers for a full back. From your full back, you usually expect at least a key pass and to complete at least a dribble, and Chilwell is definitely achieving those numbers. While he isn’t as good in his own third as the opposition’s, he is still producing okay numbers. He does win an impressive 2.9 aerial duels per 90, with the Leicester defender also completing 2.2 tackles and interceptions per 90. That is fine enough, but his success rate in his tackling does leave a lot to be desired. He completes roughly 60% of his tackles. That will need to improve if he wishes to become a top defender in the future. I have no doubts that he will improve. He has already shown enough to start for England and to earn a big move in the next couple of years. If his first couple of England starts are anything to go by, he could becoming a complete full back in no time at all.

Nicola Milenkovic

While Piatek has started the season on fire, I do think 23 is pushing it, so I’ll go for Fiorentina defender Nicola Milenkovic. The Serbian was signed in the previous summer, however he is now starting to become a regular in the side. He has started all 8 games this season, and has played well for a defender of his age. Judging from his stats, it does seem like he is playing as more of a sweeper (makes less tackles and interceptions because he is there to cover for his other defender). He has only managed 2.2 tackles and interceptions this season. Fiorentina are in the top 4 in Serie A for tackles and interceptions. It might seem low but his partner, Vitor Hugo, has managed a combined 4.9 tackles and interceptions. Milenkovic has also averaging 1.6 fouls per 90, which shows how he is usually the player to make those last ditch fouls. Playing such a role at a young age, covering for another defender, is so impressive for such a young player. He is also a huge threat from set pieces, scoring 2 goals already, and taking 1.3 shots per game. It would explain why is aerial duels are at such a solid 2.4. Milenkovic does have some great attributes at only 21. Being able to cover for another defender, and show resilience when dealing with opponents in the air, are qualities to admire. His ability on the ball should also be commended, with the defender averaging a 77% pass accuracy. That is very good considering what kind of passes he is attempting. He attempts 9.5 long passes per 90, with roughly a 50% success rate. Seeing a young player, with such a good range of passing, is a sign that he should be at a higher level. Milenkovic has the ability to reach the top level, and this could be his breakout season.

Maxi Gomez

While Milenkovic could have his breakout season, Gomez already had his. Last season, Gomez scored 17 and assisted 4 for a very attack minded Celta Vigo side. However looking at his stats from last season, it was clear how he could have been a bit fortunate to have scored that many. It is still very impressive to see a 21 year old score that many goals in his first real season as a starter. His form earned him a spot in Uruguay’s world cup squad. He didn’t have much of an impact, but the experience must have been very beneficial. His game has already shown such improvement this season. Antonio Mohamed has been using him as a player to bring others into play this season, using his amazing ability in the air to assist both Sisto and Aspas. He is arguably one of the best players when it comes to winning headers. The sheer height in his jumps, to his ability to find his teammates is invaluable to how Celta play. He has scored 4 and assisted 4, seeing him equal his total of assists last season. This change of game is evident in his stats, where he is winning double his aerial duels, from 2.5 to 5.1. He’s making twice as many key passes, from 0.6 to 1.3. However due to his more selfless role, his shot numbers have slightly dropped, going from 2.3 to just 2. He has went from a player who was just in great form for a majority of last season, to a player with such a desirable use. So many clubs would love a striker like Gomez, someone who is able to bring more talented players into play. PSG could take a gamble in replacing Cavani, however it is his other Uruguayan teammate that needs replacing. Barcelona have already expressed interest in Gomez, because of his attributes being extremely beneficial for a side who have so many talented players in less advanced roles. If Gomez continues on his current trajectory, he will definitely be playing in the Champions League next season.

Harvey Barnes

Mason Mount has been on the lips of everyone keeping up with the Championship, but Harvey Barnes is the young Englishman who is tearing the league apart. The Leicester loanee has been very impressive at the Hawthornes. He has already scored 5 and assisted 2. He originally started playing on the left side of midfield, but as soon as Darren Moore moved him into the number ten position, where he took his already impressive start, onto another level. He has been key to why West Brom have the best attack, with the 20 year old taking the most shots in the side, with a huge 3.3. He has the third most goals in the side, with only forwards Dwight Gayle and Jay Rodriguez scoring more. He has also done very well in a creative sense, averaging 1.7 key passes per 90. That is very impressive considering the amount of shots he takes. With Mount being the young Englishman that everyone is raving about, it could lead a club to buy Barnes on the cheap, because of his lesser presence. It does help that West Brom are currently doing better than Derby, with the Baggies having the highest goal difference and sitting 1 point behind Sheffield United, who are currently top of the Championship. However it is still impressive he’s been able to have a such an influence on a side that already had many experienced players. If he continues this form going into next season, the only way is up for Harvey Barnes.

Ibrahim Sangaré

As mentioned before, Ligue 1 has been the same, yet not. PSG are leading the table as expected, but below that has been interested. Marseille and Lyon are unable to show any sort of consistency, and Monaco have fell off a cliff. It has brought to light some of the performances of teams and players this season. Lille have excelled with their wide talent carrying them with style and flair, Montpellier showing extreme resilience at the back, and now Toulouse. The Violets have had a relatively fine start to the new season, currently sitting in 8th place. While it hasn’t been as spectacular as the likes of Lille and Montpellier, but one of their players have been stand out, and that is Ibrahim Sangaré. The Ivorian plays in defensive midfield, and has started the season in blistering form. Sangaré’s defensive work is by far his best attribute, with the 21 year old completing 4.3 tackles per 90. What else is important to highlight is his dribbling ability. He attempts 3.2 dribbles, with a 71% success rate. His role in this side is similar to Geoffrey Kondogbia or Allan, to recover the ball and quickly transition the ball by using their strength and ability on the ball. Players like this usually have big tackle numbers and a high dribble success rate. These players have recently been in huge demand. They protect the back four in excellent fashion and ensure that attacks are started quickly. Sangaré fits this mold perfectly, and if he keeps this up, he could comfortably fit in any side who need this role. Toulouse are known for selling players at not so high amounts. He could be a summer bargain for any side with a solid defensive midfielder in need.

Wenderson Galeno

Now onto another player that is not exactly on the radar, Galeno is currently play for Rio Ave, on loan from Porto. The young Brazilian has started his loan spell in great form, already scoring 2 and assisting 2 in Liga Nos, playing as a wide attacking midfielder on both sides. Galeno’s game is not exactly perfect. While he does shoot 3.9 times a game, a majority of those are from outside the box, and considering he hasn’t scored a goal from outside the box, it seems he is a very wasteful player in those areas. However decision making like that does improve as you grow as a player. His creative numbers are still very impressive. He averages 2.1 key passes, 1.6 crosses, and 2.2 dribbles per 90. He is showing some real good attributes at a young age, and his future could be seen a creator. There are still so many areas he needs to improve, but the foundation is there for him to succeed.