The modern day full-back is tasked with pressing forward and overlapping the attack-minded players as a means of providing an offensive outlet to his team, but also having the fitness levels to return to their starting position to perform defensive duties. Mathieu Debuchy and Ricardo Rodriguez, of Newcastle and Woflsburg respectively, have exhibited these qualities this season and are two prime examples of how a right or left-back should operate.
Both currently feature in the WhoScored European team of the season, with Debuchy earning a rating of 7.46 and Rodriguez, 8.08. However, there's a hotbed of talent with regards to full-backs in France at present, with a number of youngsters impressing in Ligue 1 this term.
Fellow defender Kurt Zouma may've stolen the headlines with a big money move to Chelsea, but Ligue 1 boasts a number of budding full-backs that deserve their fair share of the limelight. Using our unique rating system, and of every performer aged 21 or under, we analyse the best young full-backs currently plying their trade in France's top tier.
Layvin Kurzawa - Monaco
The 21-year-old is currently WhoScored's fifth-highest rated perfrormer in Ligue 1 with an average rating of 7.57, while only Jérémy Toulalan (7.58) boasts a better score of every Monaco player. Layvin Kurzawa came through the ranks with Les Rouge et Blanc and having made 5 first-team starts in the 2010/11 season, has taken to the rigours of France's top tier like a duck to water upon Monaco's return to the division.
Perhaps Kurzawa's greatest asset is his reading of the game, with 'ball interception' a statistically calculated strength. The youngster has made an impressive 76 interceptions this season already, a figure bettered only by Crystal Palace's Mile Jedinak (79) in Europe's top 5 leagues. This not only denies the opposition from creating potential goalscoring opportunities, but allows the left-back to recover possession and increases the chances of Monaco instigating counter-attacks.
Should Kurzawa hold onto the ball, he has the ability to carry possession forward and provide an attacking threat for Monaco, epitomised in his 4 goals and 2 assists in Ligue 1. His 5 man of the match awards is surpassed only by Alessandro Lucarelli (7) of every defender in Europe's top 5 leagues and highlights just how impressive Kurzawa has been this term.
Serge Aurier - Toulouse
While 14 of Serge Aurier's 19 league appearances this season have come at centre-back, the young Ivorian is renowned for his ability at full-back, having made 25 appearances at left or right-back last term. Alain Casanova's decision to swap from a four-man to a three-man defence has seen Aurier feature prominently in the heart of the backline and though he's impressed at centre-back, earning an average rating of 7.42 in the role, some are of the opinion that his best position is on the right, with his rating rising to 7.52 in his 5 appearances at right wing-back.
The 21-year-old boasts the necessary attributes to succeed at either centre-back or right-back, but the latter is likely to be where his future lies, with Arsenal reportedly eyeing him up as Bacary Sagna's long-term successor. Aurier is currently averaging 1.3 successful dribbles and 1.1 accurate crosses per game, two necessary traits for the modern day full-back that have led to the accumulation of WhoScored strengths in both departments.
The Toulouse regular also excels defensively when necessary, as highlighted in his average of 3.3 tackles and 2.6 interceptions per game, so it's evident that Aurier boasts the attributes to fulfill his potential. Disappointingly, with centre-back Aymen Abdennour moving to Monaco, Aurier is unlikely to be deployed regularly in a role that allows him to display his full-back qualities between now and the end of the season.
Fabinho - Monaco
Operating on the opposite flank to Kurzawa, Fabinho has adjusted seamlessly to Ligue 1 following his loan move from Rio Ave. The Brazilian may've started only 10 of 23 league games this season as he competes with Andrea Raggi for a regular starting spot at right-back, but has impressed in those 10 starts, securing an average rating of 7.46.
While the 20-year-old is yet to score or register an assist this term, Fabinho has become a formidable opponent for wingers in Ligue 1 when called upon. A WhoScored strength of his is 'tackling' and it's herein where the youngster has excelled, averaging 4 per game in his 10 starts, ensuring Monaco are able to repel attacks on the left side of the pitch.
Moreover, if Fabinho is able to hold onto the ball when robbing the opposition of possesion, he's capable of maximising his strength of 'dribbling'. The right-back has averaged 1.4 successful dribbles per game in his 10 starts, a notable return for a player in his position, allowing for Monaco to swiftly move from defence to attack.
Lucas Digne - PSG
The left-back has made only 8 league starts following his arrival from Lille, but Lucas Digne has impressed when called upon by the Parisian outfit this term, highlighted by his average league rating of 7.51. With Maxwell entering the twilight years of his career, PSG were understandably keen to land his successor and the 20-year old is viewed as exactly that.
Perhaps the most notable asset to his game is his passing ability, with Digne boasting an accuracy of 90% this term. His ability to pick out a teammate will stand him in good stead with head coach Laurent Blanc, with 'possession football' recognised as one of PSG's styles of play. Furthermore, his efficiency when on the ball fits the mantra of the modern day full-back, with Digne seemingly adopting a 'give-and-go' mentality as a means of attacking.
Despite standing at just 5'10", the young left-back has developed a strength of 'aerial duels', winning an average of 2 headed battles per game. While players in his position aren't commonly known for their heading ability, the PSG defender is able to overcome opposition in the air with minimal fuss; a testament to his timing when contesting such duels. While Digne is still not first choice with the Ligue 1 champions, it's only a matter of time before he establishes himself in Blanc's XI and he's proven that he has the potential to make the starting spot his own.
All statistics courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com where you can find yet more statistics and player ratings.