Dani Alves (Barcelona and Brazil) ***
Still the game’s best full-back, Alves appears to go from strength to strength. The only real question seems to be whether he is really a defender at all. Such are the frequency of his forays into opposition territory that he often appears to be among Barca’s most potent attacking threats. Certainly nobody else in the team offers the much needed width of the Brazilian and yet again he is chipping in with his share of assists. Brazil fans must wish that he could only replicate his Barca form for the Selecao.
Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich and Germany) **
Returning to his less favoured position on the left-side of defence following Rafinha’s arrival in Munich, Lahm has been close to his best in the first half of the season. Consistently raiding down Bayern’s left flank he offers the option of overlapping to his winger and is a major threat with his crossing ability on either foot. Germany’s captain remains among the very best in his role.
Marcelo (Real Madrid and Brazil) **
The arrival of Fabio Coentrao at the Bernabeu might have signalled the end for Marcelo, instead he has continued with the form from last season which made him the best-left back in the world. While defensive frailties remain he is improving in that department and offers such pace and energy down the left side that his weaknesses can be forgiven. One of the great mysteries of the contemporary Brazilian football is his absence from the Brazilian national team.
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus and Italy) **
For so long one of the best centre-backs in the game, 2011-12 has so far seen Chiellini return to the left of defence where he made his name at Fiorentina. Antonio Conte is surely lucky to have such a versatile defender within his squad for the Italian international has looked more than at home in his new position. Energy and tenacity remain two of Chiellini’s greatest strengths and his teammates know that he will never leave the pitch without giving his all.
Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur and England) *
Last season Kyle Walker was named as the finest right-back in the Premier League by the Football Writers’ Association, despite only playing half a season on loan at Aston Villa. This season he has excelled at Spurs and solved one of the few problem positions remaining for Harry Redknapp. Still very raw and unpolished, the youngster possesses electric pace and offers a great attacking threat for both club and country. In tandem with Aaron Lennon there are few full-backs who can match Spurs for pace down the right side.
Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus and Switzerland) *
Arguably the best full-back in Serie A last season, Lichtsteiner has maintained that form in Turin following his big money summer move from Lazio. The defensive solidity enjoyed by Juventus has been the basis of their early season success under Antonio Conte and the Swiss defender has made the right flank secure. A long spell with the Old Lady now looks a certainty.
Lukasz Piszczek (Borrusia Dortmund and Poland) *
One of the finds of last season, Piszczek was a key component in Dortmund’s title victory and has excelled this season as they fight to retain their crown. Rarely caught out of position the Pole is strong defensively, but also offers width when going forward and is an accurate crosser with a fine right foot. With Poland co-hosting Euro 2012 the opportunity will be there for the right-back to show his worth on the biggest stage.
Micah Richards (Manchester City and England) *
A model of power and strength, Richards has so far this season displayed many of the characteristics which brought him to prominence early in his career. While not gifted with the delicate touch or skills of many of the finest full-backs, his athleticism and drive have fashioned numerous goalscoring chances for City so far this year. Despite his strong start to the season, it appears that Fabio Capello remains unimpressed and Richards finds himself as England’s fifth choice right-back. He must hope that Capello’s successor is more favourable.
Mathieu Debuchy (Lille and France) *
Exceptional last season in Lille’s successful title challenge, Debuchy has again been vital to their fine form this campaign. France have enjoyed a series of excellent right-backs over the last 30 years with Battiston, Angloma, Thuram and Sagnol all dominating their flank and it would appear that the Lille native is the next in the illustrious line. Despite their Champions League exit the club are well placed in Ligue 1 and will be well fancied to outpace PSG and Montpellier in the race for the championship.
Marcel Schmelzer (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) *
Despite Dortmund’s disappointment in the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp’s men have continued to impress on the domestic front. Schmelzer came to mainstream attention last season as an ever-present for the champions and this season he has maintained his excellent form at left-back. Few nations can rival the wealth of young talent that Germany currently have emerging and with skipper Lahm preferring to play on the right Schmelzer may well be a key part of a new “golden generation”.
Jordi Alba (Valencia and Spain) *
One of the greatest strengths of Valencia this season has been the excellent combination play down the left flank of Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu. Both men are comfortable at either left-back or left-wing and so have largely shared the relative duties of the roles between them. The result has been a fluidity to Valencia’s attacking and a collective sense of responsibility in defence. So far he is still in the early stages of his international career, but could well be a star of Euro 2012.
Yuto Nagatomo (Internazionale and Japan) *
Following his loan move from Cesena last season Nagatomo impressed sufficiently last season to earn a permanent move to the San Siro. Already this year he has vindicated the faith shown in him with a number of fine displays. Full of industry and tireless running, the Japanese international might not be in the class of Javier Zanetti, but he does possess some of the attributes which made the Argentine a favourite in Milan. Inter’s disastrous early season form (which saw the departure of Gian Piero Gasperini) is now well and truly behind them and under Claudio Ranieri they look set to challenge again.
Henri Bedimo (Montpellier and Cameroon) *
Cameroon are well placed at left-back with Tottenham’s Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Montpellier’s Henri Bedimo competing for a single berth. So far this season Montpellier have been surprise contenders for Ligue 1 and while many have focused on the goals of Olivier Giroud, the performances of his colleague Bedimo have frequently been missed. Bedimo has up until now been something of a journeyman (Montpellier are his sixth club in France) but now he is finally demonstrating some top class form.
Jose Enrique (Liverpool and Spain) *
Given his experience at Newcastle it is perhaps no surprise that Enrique has settled so well at Anfield. Despite that, the Spaniard has probably been the most impressive of Liverpool’s summer signings and has proven good value at just £7m. At the half-way point of the season Liverpool can boast the meanest defence in the Premier League and no small part of that has been due to the solidity of Enrique. The next challenge must be to overhaul Jordi Alba in the race to succeed Joan Capdevila for Spain.
Christian Fuchs (Schalke and Austria) *
Recent years have been a particularly barren time for Austrian football. Throughout the twentieth century Austria produced a raft of talent and were able to compete at the highest level, in recent years there have been precious few players to measure up to their illustrious forbears. Finally that might be changing as Christian Fuchs has been among the stand out full-backs in Germany this year. A superb crosser of the ball and a danger at set pieces, the young Austrian proves that his country’s well of talent might not yet have run dry.