Jordi Alba (Barcelona and Spain) 15 games, 2 goals **
No transfer this summer looked more certain to be a success than Jordi Alba’s return to Barcelona. Having served his footballing apprenticeship at La Masia and enjoying an excellent understanding with so many of his new team mates from the Spanish national team he has slotted in immediately. His arrival looks to have solved one of the few remaining problems for Barca and he looks set to be a fixture in the side for many years to come.
Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich and Germany) 17 games, 0 goals **
Arguably the most consistent full-back of the last decade, it seems incredible that Lahm is still only 29. This season has been among his best and his leadership skills have helped to propel Bayern to one of the best Hinrunde performances in Bundesliga history. At present it seems hard to see any rival emerging and if the team can hold on it will see their captain clinch a fifth league title.
Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk and Croatia) 17 games, 1 goal **
The energy supplied by the Croatian veteran down Shakhtar’s right-flank remains at crucial as ever. With Alex Teixeira frequently drifting off the wing and into his preferred central position, Srna tends to have a great deal of space in which to operate and deliver his pin point crosses. Facing a tough Champions League draw as the reward for their group stage exploits, Shakhtar will need their captain’s vast experience if they are to progress further.
Leighton Baines (Everton and England) 21 games, 3 goals **
Everton’s excellent start to the season had much to do with the fine form of Baines. Not just a strong defender, what marks him out is his offensive contribution with superb crosses well suited to Everton’s aerial threats. For a number of years the understudy to Ashley Cole, there is now a reasonable argument that he should be England’s first choice left back. Rumours of a move to Manchester United continue.
Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus and Ghana) 18 games, 1 goal **
The immense vitality that Asamoah brought to bear at Udinese has been more than apparent down the left flank of Juventus this season. From his wing-back role Asamoah is at his best when marauding forward, but he does his fair share of defensive work too. The Ghanaian’s power and strength now mark him out as one of the most athletic players in the game.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City and Argentina) 16 games, 2 goals *
Manchester City have experienced a perplexing start to the season. Woeful in Europe, the team still find themselves in the hunt to retain their league title despite the failure of many of their big stars to hit top form. Probably their most consistent performer this season has been utility man Zabaleta, whose steely determination contrasts so sharply with many of the high earning dilettantes who litter the Etihad.
Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid and Brazil) 14 games, 0 goals *
There are certainly players who have taken more plaudits for Atleti’s excellent start to the season than their left-back. Despite that Filipe Luis has been a constant source of invention down the flank and a regular threat to opposing defences. Having rejected the chance to play for Poland, the nation of his father’s birth, he will be hoping for a recall to the national team in recognition of his impressive play.
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham and Belgium) 19 games, 1 goal *
In the absence of Benoit Assou-Ekotto the Belgian has found himself playing at left-back rather than his preferred central position throughout his early period in England. Despite that he has acquitted himself admirably, drawing praise for his excellent distribution and general calm on the ball. A cleanly taken strike against Swansea recently reminded fans of the potency in front of goal he was renowned for at Ajax.
Bastian Oczipka (Eintracht Frankfurt and Germany) 17 games, 0 goals *
Bayer Leverkusen acquired one excellent full-back during the summer in the shape of Daniel Carvajal and allowed another to slip through their grasp. Oczipka has been the Bundesliga’s most creative defender so far this year, with a phenomenal seven assists in the first half of the season. An excellent crosser and hugely comfortable going forward the young German has been a vital part of Frankfurt’s shock rise.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea and Serbia) 19 games, 4 goals *
This season has seen Branislav Ivanovic asked to switch frequently between right-back and centre-back as the Blues have looked to cope with the loss of John Terry and accommodate the attacking threat of new signing Cesar Azpilicueta. The Serbian’s versatility has been important, but equally significant have been the goals he has scored from defence. As fine a header of the ball as there is in the league, he could yet finish on double figures if he continues this way.
Cicinho (Sevilla and Brazil) 14 games, 1 goal *
Often confused with his compatriot of the same name, it can’t be too long before everyone is aware of Sevilla’s exciting young right-back. It was unsurprising that the Andalucians swooped for his services after an excellent spell at Palmeiras saw him selected as the best player in his position in the Sao Paulo state championship. Now Sevilla are struggling and find themselves in the bottom half of La Liga at the winter break, it will increase the pressure on their young Brazilian to maintain his impressive form.
Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund and Poland) 16 games, 1 goal *
Despite their excellent league form over the previous two years Dortmund surprised many with the way in which they cruised through one of the most difficult Champions League groups of recent seasons. Piszczek has been one of the stand out performers for Die Schwarzgelben during their golden period and has maintained his best form during the season so far. For the time being he seems happy in the Ruhr, but many of Europe’s wealthiest clubs have an eye on the Pole.
Benoit Tremoulinas (Bordeaux and France) 15 games, 1 goal *
A debut for the French national team was just reward for an excellent start to the year for Tremoulinas. The attacking left-back has been raiding down the flank all season and was back at the level he showed for Bordeaux in their title winning year of 2010. Didier Deschamps is a clear admirer and given a lack of potential rivals he has the quality to cement the position as his own.
Daniel Carvajal (Bayer Leverkusen and Spain) 15 games, 1 goal *
A product of the Real Madrid youth system, Carvajal has settled in excellently during his formative months in the Bundesliga. An attacking full-back, the youngster has already displayed the offensive potential which marked him out in Spain, with four assists before the Christmas break. Right-back is probably the position in which Spain are currently least strong and Carvajal may well be battling Cesar Azpilicueta and Martin Montoya in the years ahead.
Ismailiy (Braga and Brazil) 6 games, 1 goal *
Many Brazilians arrive in Europe with vast price tags and equally large reputations. Others, like Ismailiy, fly under the radar and are forced to earn every ounce of recognition they receive. The youngster moved to Portugal with second flight Estoril, before stepping up two years ago with Olhanense. His efforts in the Liga Sagres were sufficiently impressive to lead Braga, one of the shrewdest judges of talent in European football, to acquire his services and so far he has not let them down.
Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow and Russia) 18 games, 6 goals *
Whether at left-back or on the left of midfield, Russian international Kombarov loves to venture forward down his wing. Yuri Zhirkov’s absence during the autumn internationals allowed him to show Fabio Capello his strengths, including the set-pieces which are his real specialism. Spartak’s disastrous Champions League campaign was enough to unseat Unai Emery, now returning manager, Valery Karpin, needs Kombarov to be at his best if the club are to return to the competition next season.