Who should be our first choice left-back?

Fulhamish 8th October 2021
© Dara Curran

In August 2018, Fulham signed Joe Bryan to fill the void of the recently-departed Matt Targett. Two years later, after Bryan’s play-off heroics, Antonee Robinson joined Scott Parker’s Fulham in the Premier League. Since then, a relegation and change of manager has seen both players remain part of the squad, despite various transfer links.

When it comes to the impression left on the Fulham fanbase, Bryan’s stellar performance taking down Brentford has given him a hero-like status. We want to see him succeed every time he puts on black and white.

But in Antonee Robinson we have a left-back with a tremendous upside. Still 24 years old, he’s a full USA international and even courted Italian giants AC Milan (in case you didn’t already know). So, who is best suited to the LB berth in our starting XI?

The Marco Silva way

Marco Silva entered the Fulham frame with an reputation for dynamic, possession-based football, and soon after his arrival our expectations were confirmed. Silva invites his full-backs to push up the pitch significantly, being extremely tight to Fulham’s forward wingers allowing overloads and opportunities to supply a target man, in this situation orientated around Alexander Mitrovic. This is a role both left-back candidates are capable of filling.

During Bryan’s time at Bristol city, he made 99 appearances in left midfield, and 98 appearances at left-back, demonstrating his experience and capability to be involved in the attacking third of the pitch. While Antonee Robinson hasn’t demonstrated the same recent experience in that role, playing predominantly left-back, his ability to fill Silva’s vision of the left-back role has come from a contrasting angle, being known for his excessive speed and work rate, evident in his impressive heat maps.

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Bloomfield blunder

In order to fully develop the debate between Robinson and Bryan, we need to consider the environment this Fulham side is competing in. A 46-game haul sees unpredictable Championship fixtures on a regular basis. The consequences surfaced in our trip to Blackpool in September. The 1-0 defeat, in my opinion, should be largely pinned on Silva’s squad rotation. Despite Fulham not being in action for around two weeks, the national team fixtures ploughed on ,with Robinson featuring just two days before the trip to Blackpool.

As a result, Fulham were very sluggish at the back, with multiple errors leading to Bowler’s goal which ultimately made the difference. Additionally, to support this motive the following trip to Birmingham saw Bryan get his first league start in what was an efficient win at St. Andrews. Being Silva’s first season in the Championship, and the recent injury of Kenny Tete and Fabio Carvalho, it’s clear he has things to learn about the influence of a large fixture list on a strong Fulham team.

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The verdict  

Overall, I believe that Antonee Robinson should be considered the first choice left-back in this Marco Silva set-up. His crossing ability since Silva took over the managerial role has been a huge improvement to what was a prior weakness. With that said, in a long enduring championship fixture list, it’s important to rotate this area of the pitch to maintain the standards in a largely attacking full-back role. There is no doubt that both left back options are to a very high standard, and if Silva is to get the best out of this Fulham team, he must ensure both have a role to play.