Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich and Germany) 29 games, 0 goals ***
It’s hard to see how the season could have gone any better for Philipp Lahm. As well as skippering Bayern to an historic treble he personally enjoyed a wonderful vein of form, back in his preferred right-back slot. That he provided 11 assists in the Bundesliga alone, more than any other defender in Europe’s big leagues, showed that he hugely proficient going forward but it will have been the strength of the backline that really pleased the Germany captain.
Jordi Alba (Barcelona and Spain) 29 games, 2 goals **
The 2012-13 season was a strange one for Jordi Alba. One the one hand he effortlessly adapted to life at the Camp Nou, winning at a canter the Liga title that was Barcelona’s primary aim after last season’s painful setback. On the other, the manner of their crushing defeat to Bayern Munich appeared to mark a passing of the baton in European football and Alba, along with the rest of the Barca side, looked totally incapable of providing the much needed cutting edge. On the whole it was a positive start to his second spell in Barcelona but one with a bitter aftertaste.
Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk and Croatia) 25 games, 2 goals **
The 12 assists that Srna provided for Shakhtar in their exceptional league campaign underlined the quality he provides in the final third. Having spent a decade in Donestsk he has claimed an incredible seven titles and witnessed the transformation of the club from a provincial powerhouse to one of Europe’s most complete sides, capable on frightening the likes of Chelsea and Juventus. Nobody among the playing staff has done more in that time to set the club on the path and even at 31 the Croatian can expect many more successful years to come.
Leighton Baines (Everton and England) 38 games, 5 goals **
Another excellent season for Baines saw him secure his place among the Premier League’s best full-backs. An expert from deadballs and a superb crosser, the danger he poses on the left wing was best evidenced by the fact he created more chances than any other defender in Europe’s major leagues. Given his continued excellent form Roy Hodgson now has a difficult task ahead in selecting England’s best left-back with the Everton defender’s attacking instincts proving a worthy alternative to Ashley Cole’s defensive security.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City and Argentina) 30 games, 2 goals *
A barren campaign at the Etihad has seen the majority of last year’s most important figures dramatically wane in their influence. Yet while City’s glamour players have dropped off one of their less frequently recognized heroes has stepped up again. Zabaleta’s tireless industry down the right flank has been a key factor in the successes the club did enjoy, even if his needless sending off in the FA Cup final was the height of foolishness.
Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid and Brazil) 32 games, 1 goal *
Having been omitted from the Brazil squad for a number of years, this season has marked a deserved return to the Selecao for Filipe Luis. A hugely adventurous attacking full-back his forays into the opposition half have been a consistent feature of Atleti’s build up play this season. Quick and an excellent crosser of the ball he may yet prove a worthy rival to Marcelo for a starting berth at the Confederations Cup.
Stefan Lichtsteiner (Juventus and Switzerland) 28 games, 4 goals *
It would have been easy to think that the arrival of Mauricio Isla in Turin might have spelt the end of Lichtsteiner as Juve’s first choice right-wingback. However, this season saw the Swiss international reaffirm his position in Antonio Conte’s side. Certainly the energy and drive he provides down the right flank would not be easily replaced and on current form there are few who could match his overall contribution.
Carlos Martinez (Real Sociedad and Spain) 29 games, 1 goal *
The story of the season in La Liga was the remarkable achievement of Real Sociedad. The club’s defensive solidity was the key to their success and the contribution of Martinez to that was vital. Equally effective going forward his raids down the right were a regular feature but it was the combination he formed in a hugely impressive back four that really set him apart from his rivals.
Mattia de Sciglio (AC Milan and Italy) 27 games, 0 goals *
One of the revelations of the season in Italy, De Sciglio has already drawn comparisons with Milan legend Paolo Maldini for his performances this year. That should be no real surprise given that he is a right-footed full-back who has often been deployed on the left in order to strengthen a fragile defence but it does show the regard in which he is held. The youngster still has a long way to go to justify such lofty expectations but in an ultimately successful year he has been an undoubted bright spot.
David Alaba (Bayern Munich and Austria) 23 games, 3 goals *
A meteoric rise for Alaba meant that a player who was unsure of his place in the Bayern side at the start of the season was being described as the best left-back in Europe by Graeme Souness by the time the Champions League final rolled around. That improvement has been a gradual one but Alaba is well suited to a team like FCB who are so committed to attack. With Philipp Lahm unable to play on both flanks at the same time there are many who wish the Austrian was available to play for Die Mannschaft at the next World Cup.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea and Serbia) 34 games, 5 goals *
Whether at right-back or in the centre of Chelsea’s defence Ivanovic proved again to be a rock at Stamford Bridge. Scorer of the winning goal in the Europa League final, his ability at attacking set pieces is the equal of anyone and he is a constant danger for opposing markers. Perhaps the most memorable moment of a remarkable season was being bitten by Luis Suarez at Anfield in April, an incident in which the Serb did exceptionally well to keep his cool.
Patrice Evra (Manchester United and France) 34 games, 4 goals *
Once the best left-back in Europe Evra declined markedly in recent seasons and was considered by many to be the weak link in a fine United side going into this campaign. This season that changed and while his defensive assuredness returned he also developed a previously hidden ability at attacking set pieces, impressive for a player of his stature. Four goals and five assists, with many coming at crucial times, meant that he certainly played his part in the title run in and subdued rumours that he was due to be replaced by Leighton Baines.
Daniel Carvajal (Bayer Leverkusen and Spain) 32 games, 1 goal *
Seven assists from right-back were one of the key reasons that many rated Carvajal among the best newcomers in the Bundesliga this year. The potential displayed by their youngster prompted Real Madrid to include a buyback option in the defender’s sale to Bayer Leverkusen and they now look set to exercise that after just one year in Germany. Now Carvajal may be well placed to usurp Alvaro Arbeloa for both club and country.
Maxwell (Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil) 33 games, 2 goals *
Having reined in some of his attacking instincts Maxwell has matured into one of the most reliable full-backs in Europe. Capable on the ball and a fine passer he has been a constant presence in Carlo Ancelotti’s defence offering stability and certainty in a frequently changing line-up . It would not be surprise though if PSG went in search of a more glamorous option this summer to bolster their Champions League assault.
Rafael (Manchester United and Brazil) 28 games, 3 goals *
Some observers doubted the temperament of Rafael before this season and questioned whether he had the defensive discipline to make it at a club of United’s stature. Those reservations have been comprehensively demolished this season as the youngster has improved leaps and bounds. While his twin Fabio was struggling at Loftus Road Rafael put in a year of great maturity and must now be a potential alternative to the fading Dani Alves.
Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina and Italy) 35 games, 2 goals*
The threat posed by Pasqual down the left has been a major factor in the surprise success of Fiorentina this campaign. Handed license by Vincenzo Montella to get forward with abandon, his six assists were the most of any defender in Serie A. Although the Viola were pipped to third place on the final day of the season Pasqual showed why he has long been regarded among the best wing-backs in Italy.
Adriano (Barcelona and Brazil)
Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus and Ghana)
Daley Blind (Ajax and Netherlands)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea and England)
Lucas Digne (Lille and France)
Mikel Gonzalez (Real Sociedad and Spain)
Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord and Netherlands)
Jefferson (Estoril and Brazil)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool and England)
Juanfran (Atletico Madrid and Spain)
Sebastian Jung (Eintracht Frankfurt and Germany)
Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow and Russia)
Matthew Lowton (Aston Villa and England)
Nacho Monreal (Malaga/Arsenal and Spain)
Jeremy Morel (Marseille and France)
Bastian Oczipka (Eintracht Frankfurt and Germany)
Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund and Poland)
Stefan Radu (Lazio and Romania)
Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund and Germany)