End of an era: The Premier League’s greatest left backs

Tactical Analysis: Ashley Cole & Patrice Evra - scout report

Ashley Cole and Patrice Evra announcing their retirement from football mark the end of an era of two of the Premier League’s greatest left-backs. Mirroring their Premier League rivalry with Chelsea and Manchester United, this tactical analysis examines their reign in the Premier League

Patrice Evra

Patrice Evra Joined Manchester United from Monaco in January 2006 and made 379 appearances in all competitions, scoring 10 goals. A well-balanced fullback who defended as well as he attacked; his defensive tenacity was such that he sometimes featured in central defence for Sir Alex Ferguson. Evra’s most prolific year came in the 2012/13 season when he delivered four goals and five assists.

His contributions to the club yielded five Premier League titles, five community shields, three league cups, one Champions League and one FIFA club world cup. Individual honours while at United include three PFA Team of the year inclusions and one appearance apiece in UEFA’s Team of the year and FIFPro World 11.

The 81-caps French international left United in 2014 and after spells at Juventus at Marseille; made a return to England with West ham. That six-month spell with the Hammers in early 2018 yielded only five appearances, his final as a professional football player.

Ashley Cole

A member of Arsenal’s invincibles team of 2004, Ashley Cole controversially joined rivals Chelsea in the summer of 2006. He would go on to make 338 appearances in Chelsea blue, scoring seven goals; and become the record holder of FA cup wins with seven winners medals. Cole was much like Evra in being balanced in defence and attack and made a habit of goal-line clearances. His most productive year saw him score four and assist three in the 2009/10 season. He was a key part of the tactics under all Chelsea managers. With Chelsea, he won three league titles, three community shields, four FA cups, one league cup, one Champions League, and one Europa League.

Being England’s most-capped fullback in history with 107 appearances, individual honours were undoubtedly a regular feature in his career; four PFA Team of the year inclusions, two-time UEFA Team of the year left-back and England’s 2010 Player of the year.

Statistically, Cole and Evra had very similar careers for Chelsea and Manchester United. They both netted seven league goals but Evra had two more assists for United than Cole did for Chelsea. Evra also had more shots overall with 135 to Cole’s 124. Although the Chelsea man completed 87.91% of his passes to 84.16%, Evra was more of a crosser into United’s strike duo of that period; completing 713 crosses against Cole’s 489. Defensively, Evra made 68 blocks, seven more than his counterpart and also edges in tackles won (525 to 449) and interceptions (445 to 333).


Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole were superb offensively as much as they were defensive.
Although both never faced each other directly on the pitch – probably even at corners – theirs was a pioneering era for the modern-day premier league fullback. A team rivalry that transcended into a less-talked-about rivalry of two of the greatest left-backs in Premier League history.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Buy your copy of the July issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.