In the past, it was difficult for defenders to contribute directly to their team’s goals as they were instructed to stay close to their own boxes at all times.

Football, however, has changed drastically in the last few decades and modern tactics often requires defenders, particularly sidebacks, to venture into the opposition half more frequently to participate actively in build-ups to goals.

Successful managers like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have been some of the pioneers who have ushered in the change.

Nowadays, every top club, in Europe and elsewhere, looks for fullbacks with good crossing and overlapping abilities, while centre backs are no longer judged only by their tackling ability and are expected to thread through pinpoint passes for the attack.

Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson, for example, is a fine benchmark for the perfect modern-day attack-minded defender and boasts some incredible stats in the other end of the pitch. The Scottish right back recently broke the record for the most assists by a defender in the Premier League.

Most assists by a defender in Premier League

Player 

Club

Appearances

Assists

Andrew Robertson*

Liverpool

233

54

Leighton Baines

Everton, Wigan Athletic

420

53

Trent Alexander-Arnold*

Liverpool

178

46

Graeme Le Saux

Chelsea, Blackburn Rovers

327

44

Ian Harte

Leeds United, Sunderland, Reading

237

36

Andy Hinchcliffe

Everton, Sheffield Wednesday

219

36

Cesar Azpilicueta* 

Chelsea

338

35

Gary Neville

Manchester United

400

35

Dan Petrescu 

Sheffield Wednesday, Chelsea, Bradford, Southampton

215

33

Kyle Walker*

Aston Villa, Tottenham, Manchester City

344

32

(*) Active players

Andrew Robertson - 54 assists

Liverpool signed Andrew Robertson from Hull City in 2017 and the Scotsman took little time to establish himself as one of the key components of Jurgen Klopp’s new project at Anfield. His ability to constantly run up and down the right flank, making crucial attacking contributions while performing his defensive duties diligently is crucial to Liverpool’s game. His partnership with Trent Alexander-Arnold is considered one of the best fullback pairing in Premier League history. 

Leighton Baines - 53 assists

Leighton Baines always stood out for his set piece skills and in his illustrious career with Everton and Wigan Athletic, the left-back made 53 assists. For his top-notch passing ability, former Everton manager Roberto Martinez often deployed him in a defensive midfield role as well. Baines was also his club’s chief penalty taker whenever he was on the pitch. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold - 46 assists

Robertson’s partner-in-crime, Trent Alexander Arnold is expected to give his Scottish companion a tough fight for the top spot in the list in the coming years. Rated by many experts as the best attacking defender in the world, Alexander-Arnold already holds the record for the most assists by a defender in a single season (13 assists in 2019/20). 

Graeme Le Saux - 44 assists

Graeme Le Saux is fondly remembered for his exploits in Blackburn Rovers’s title-winning campaign back in 1994-95. He had assisted five times in the league that season and scored thrice. He had a couple of spells at Chelsea before and after his stint with Blackburn, assisting 44 times in 327 appearances. 

Ian Harte - 36 assists 

One of Elland Road’s all-time favourites, Ian Harte was a workhorse in defence, but was perhaps more renowned for his attacking skills. The Irish left-back was a free-kick specialist as well, who scored 39 goals for Leeds United. He also represented Sunderland and Reading in the Premier League, contributing 36 assists in 237 matches.

Photo Credit: Alamy