England’s strength at right-back is well documented, but the emergence of James Justin for Leicester City adds another name into that discussion.
There’s definitely an air of style and glamour within which footballing position you decide to play in. Historically, it’s been considered fashionable to play in the attacking positions – as either a winger or striker, as most young, aspiring footballers dreamed of grabbing the goals rather than negating them.
But, has this popular trend shifted, with more emphasis on playing in deeper areas of the pitch, maybe as an attacking wing-back – a position that delicately blends the responsibilities of both attacking and defending?
Regardless of whether it’s stylish to play as a wing-back in this current era, the amalgamation of talent in this position is becoming somewhat oversaturated for England. The jokes of fielding an entire starting XI with just players who predominantly feature as right-backs has been plastered over the mainstream media, so who will Gareth Southgate turn to when there’s only a single player available to play right-back for the upcoming international tournaments?
Fortunately, this dilemma isn’t actually problematic for England, it’s much more desirable to have a plethora of options for a single position and having a headache over that decision instead. When looking at what Leicester City can provide for the national team at right-back, there’s James Justin.
The fact that the 22-year-old is even being considered for an England call-up, which would’ve been ridiculed prior to the 2020/21 Premier League season, is a testament to his exceptionally, and most importantly consistent, performances this season – which have now placed him inside the debate. To understand how likely a place in the England squad is, let’s look at the wider competitors for the right-back position to see who’s the “best” choice for Southgate when dissecting the data.
First and foremost, the candidates I’ve analysed as potential starters for the right-back spot are; Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Reece James (Chelsea), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Manchester United), James Justin (Leicester City), and Matty Cash (Aston Villa). I’d suggest the latter are more “unconventional shouts” for the starting position, but still deserve honourable mentions and have a chance of making the squad.
I’ve not included Kieran Trippier in this shortlist – this isn’t due to footballing reasons, as his performances at Atletico Madrid have been exemplary, it revolves around his recent ban for gambling-related offences which will most likely rule him out of the competition (or at least remove his chances). It’s a good job there’s plenty, if not too many, choices for the right-back position for Southgate.
Initially, the requirement of a full-back is to be defensively astute – as important as attacking is in the modern era, being good defensively should be considered one of their essential assets. To understand how these players fare in defensive situations, I looked at tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes of football. The “per 90 minutes” variable is used to cluster together players who have played more games with those who have played less, to average out the results for a fairer comparison.
The clear leader for this metric was Aaron Wan-Bissaka (with 5 tackles/interceptions per 90) – quite often proclaimed as being the best “defensive right-back” for both England and Manchester United, whilst struggling to impact proceedings in the opposing third, it was perhaps expected that he’d perform well inside this metric.
Reece James was second with 3.92 tackles and interceptions p/90, closely followed by Matty Cash (3.9), James Justin (3.53), Kyle Walker (2.64), and unsurprisingly, Trent Alexander-Arnold (2) in last place – this is partially due to how much Liverpool control the ball when compared with the other represented teams, meaning less of the game is spent with the opposition in possession thus giving him less opportunities to tackle and intercept. Once you delve past Wan-Bissaka’s leading numbers, the following pack have similar defensive involvements – aside from the outlier of Alexander-Arnold.