The Premier League's left-sided bias: Why so many teams attack down their left flank

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Daniel Zeqiri
·2 min read
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 Luke Shaw of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United  - Getty Images
Luke Shaw of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Manchester United - Getty Images

Arsene Wenger once remarked that football teams find a way to play through their strongest point and it is not unusual to have an attacking bias towards one flank. What is striking though, is that for 14 of 20 Premier League teams this season it has been their left.

Only Brighton, Chelsea, Leeds United, Leicester City, Newcastle United and Wolves have favoured their right side and in each of those cases the difference is marginal. When a team has a substantial bias, it always seems to be towards the left.

We can posit a couple of theories for this trend. One is that teams are more inclined to use their left-back as an attacking outlet than their right-back. Left-footed players are sought-after at every level of football, and left-footed wingers or wide forwards who can hug the touchline while churning out end product are hard to find. Leroy Sane is a rare example. If a manager wants to maintain width in his attack on that side, it often comes from the left-back.

This is closely connected to a second factor which is the number of right-footed, goalscoring forwards who play or have played from the left in the Premier League: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marcus Rashford, Heung-min Son, Richarlison, Timo Werner, Raheem Sterling and Sadio Mane. These players want an attacking left-back on their outside to push them into the left half-space and closer to goal.

It will not come as a great surprise that Crystal Palace and Aston Villa are the two most left-side dominant teams in the division due to the influence of Wilfried Zaha and Jack Grealish. More than 44 per cent of their attacks come down the left, compared to 31.3 per cent down the right from Villa and 33.2 per cent from Palace. When West Ham won at Villa Park this season, they played two right-backs in Vladimir Coufal and Ryan Fredericks to negate this threat.

Manchester United are next with 43.15 per cent of their attacks coming down their left, followed by Southampton and Sheffield United. Whether Jadon Sancho or another target, United are still searching for a right-sided player to balance their attack with Rashford, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba all favouring the left. Luke Shaw has also been back to his bombastic best.

Arsenal and Everton are next on the list, with two of the best attacking left-backs in Kieran Tierney and Lucas Digne. Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe who have all played on the left of Arsenal's attack, and much of their build up play goes through the left-foot of Granit Xhaka who naturally passes more to this zone. Whether by instruction or intuition, teams are still finding ways to play through their strongest point.