It’s rare that two of the Premier League’s best players in a single position can be found playing on opposite halves of the same city. Yet, for Merseyside that is the case this season. Everton’s Lucas Digne and Liverpool’s Andy Robertson are both staking a claim to be the best left-backs in the division.
On the blue half of the city, there is Digne. The Frenchman arrived from Barcelona in the summer as a long-term replacement for Leighton Baines. That was an unenviable task given the status Baines had built for himself over 11 years at the club. It’s one Digne has completed in just under a year. If you need an example of how good he is, just head to statistics website WhoScored.Digne is the only player in the division to sit in their team of the week, team of the month and team of the season. The same website has him as the Premier League’s most in-form player over the last six games. The only other defender on that list is Virgil van Dijk.
He’s made the £18 million they paid to get him from the Nou Camp look like the bargain of the century. There is no denying they could sell for twice, even three times that should suitors come knocking.
For Liverpool and Robertson, the fee would be ten times what they’d paid. It took the Reds £6 million to prise him away from Hull City in a deal that looks ridiculous in hindsight. At the time, it was one that many questioned. Liverpool needed a new left back and should have been spending big money to get one.
Instead, they were spending buttons on a Scotland international from a recently relegated team. It looked dubious but has turned out to be genius. After a slow start at Anfield, Robertson has become one of the best left-backs in Europe under Jurgen Klopp’s tutelage. Indeed, you would be vindicated in arguing that he’s the German’s best signing at Anfield to date.
The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah have had more significant impacts, but Robertson has proven to be the most excellent value by some distance. Robertson is a solid, reliable defender when it comes to aiding his side’s defensive cause. It’s his impact at the other end of the pitch that is the most telling, though. For example, no defender in Europe has managed more than his nine assists this season. In fact, he’s in the top ten-assist makers in the entirety of Europe. For comparison, the player with the most assists this season is Jadon Sancho with 13. Joshua Kimmich is the only defender with more than Robertson, and he’s got ten.
In the attacking stats, in particular, Robertson and Digne dominate. While Liverpool’s defender dominates the assist charts, no defender has managed more key passes than Digne’s 56. It’s a fair argument that he’d have more assists to his name if he played in a team with a potent front three as Robertson does.
Separating the two players in the numbers is a difficult task. Defensively, they are entirely level across eight separate stats. On a per game basis, Robertson manages more tackles, 2.4 compared to 1.9, and concedes fewer fouls. He also wins more offsides per game 0.5 compared to Digne’s 0.3 and is yet to concede an own goal. Digne, though, manages twice as many interceptions per game, 1.9 compared to 0.9, posts more clearances, 2.6 compared to 1.4, and registers more blocks. He also gets dribbled past less often than the Scotland international.
There is also a minimal difference in the offensive stats. Digne has more goals, three compared to zero, but trails Robertson’s nine assists by five. He’s ahead when it comes to shots per game, 0.9 compared to 0.5, and averages more key passes per game as well. Robertson, though, dribbles more and is yet to get caught offside. He’s also dispossessed less often, 0.7 compared to one, although Digne registers fewer unsuccessful touches. Digne is also fouled more often, although it is debatable whether that can be classed as a winning statistic.
What is not debatable is that these players are the best in their position in the Premier League. There aren’t any full backs who have been consistently excellent as Robertson and Digne this season.
Robertson has been a critical component in a Liverpool team challenging for the title. He’s also been excellent in Europe and produces in the big games, as he did against Tottenham last week. Digne has likewise been a consistent star performer for Everton. Few would argue he’s been the Toffees signing of the season and their player of the year in an inconsistent campaign.
While Everton and Liverpool may not be battling at the same end of the table, their full-backs have ensured there is at least one battle for dominance on Merseyside this season.
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