Despite being a Premier League regular for over a decade now - cementing his place as one of the top flight's all-time great right-backs - people still continue to doubt whether Kyle Walker is world class.
That's fine. It's a game of opinions. I mean, it's the wrong opinion to think Walker isn't top quality, that's ok. But at least hear out the case for him making 90min's top five right-backs of 2021.
Our friends at Opta have provided us with some key stats comparing the world's best players in club games from 1 January, 2021 until 30 November. For the sake of ease, we recommend opening our accompanying article in another tab/window so you can view these numbers in full.
There are two key areas in which Walker trumps his right-back rivals - passes (2,929) and his pass completion (90.6%). Despite playing marginally fewer games than Trent Alexander-Arnold, Achraf Hakimi, Cesar Azpilicueta and Reece James, Walker made the most passes this calendar year and far more consistently.
The obvious caveat critics will have to this is that Walker plays in a Manchester City team where he isn't required to make killer passes because of the playmaking talent elsewhere in the side. Ok, sure. That's probably an excuse that would explain the disparity between Walker and Alexander-Arnold, who is generally Liverpool's creator-in-chief, but not the others.
However, other key stats are to do with City and Walker's respective styles and talents. Note that Walker made a mere 42 tackles this last year - 23 fewer than his Liverpool counterpart, nearly half those made by Hakimi and James, and over half of Azpilicueta's total.
You can put that down to a few factors. Walker's recovery pace makes it easier for him to sweep up and return to his position, something intangible and that can only be measured by the eye test. City have quietly become a defensive juggernaut in recent years (weird Champions League blips aside) and Walker is a consistent figure in that backline - his presence had often forced Joao Cancelo to the other flank.
Walker's clearance totals are similarly way below that of the other four. Hell, he made under a third of the clearances that Azpilicueta did this year. For someone often criticised as rash and error-prone, the 31-year-old is clearly a safe in and out of possession.
Pep Guardiola splashed around £50m to sign Walker from Tottenham over four years ago and hasn't looked back - if one of the best managers of all time didn't rate him, he simply would have replaced him by now.
Source : 90min