Long gone are the days when only strikers and attacking midfielders were involved in the bulk of their team's attacking plays.
Some of the best teams in recent times have had ball-playing defenders. The modern game necessitates attacks to originate from the back, which means that teams require personnel who are not only adept in their defensive responsibilities but can also contribute significantly up front.
A team's centre-backs do have a presence in the attacking-third during set-piece situations, but the full-backs are the ones who often have more opportunities to showcase the attacking side of their games by making marauding overlapping runs down the flanks, peppering crosses into the opposition box.
It's been a trope that has become especially popular in the game in recent years, with many successful teams employing this blueprint to yield rich dividends.
In teams managed by German tactician Jurgen Klopp, who is renowned for his high-pressing attacking football, full-backs are an essential attacking component. Marcel Schmelzer and Lukasz Piszczek championed this aspect of the game by tirelessly blazing down the flanks at Borussia Dortmund, something that was subsequently taken up several notches by Trent-Alexander Arnold and Andrew Robertson at Liverpool.
In fact, the marauding Liverpool full-back duo topped the assists tally by defenders in the top-five European leagues last season. The pair conjured up assist numbers that were up there with the ones eked out by the very best attacking triumvirates in the game.
Top five defenders with the most assists in Europe's top-five leagues
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have indeed tallied impressive assist numbers in the last few seasons. But let us find out how they fare in the list of defenders with the most assists in Europe's top-five leagues over the years.
#5 Lukasz Piszczek - 49 assists
The 35-year-old Piszczek started out as a centre-forward at Zaglebie Lubin in his native Poland before joining Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga in the fall of 2007. He played there as an offensive midfielder or on the left wing before an injury to Arne Friedrich forced Piszczek to slot in as a right-back.
Although he lost his place in the starting-XI to the fit-again Friedrich, Piszczek had done enough to impress in the defensive position and was soon back in the lineup as Friedrich was shifted to centre-back.
In the summer of 2010, Borussia Dortmund came calling, and the player hasn't looked back ever since.
Piszczek particularly made his mark as a marauding right-back under Jurgen Klopp. Covering almost as much ground as a box-to-box midfielder, he tirelessly tore down the right-flank and also exhibited great defensive discipline. The Polish player's 15 cumulative league assists in his first two seasons at the club were key in Dortmund winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles.
Long after Klopp's departure, the indefatigable Piszczek remains a key player for the club; he has made at least 19 league appearances in each of his ten seasons in North Rhine Westphalia.
Talking about his longevity despite being into his mid 30s, Piszczek has said that his professionalism, dedication and work ethic have kept him in good stead over the years:
"You have to oil the machine continuously. I don't just pay attention to the sporting side of things, but also the psychological. That's essential in modern football. Younger players are better trained and in great physical condition, but there's still a demand for players like me. I feel more like I'm 29 or 30."
The player, who has been an epitome of sustained excellence and longevity, has no immediate plans of retirement as he signed a contract extension with the club till 2021.
"Lukasz Piszczek is a real leader in our team, and he's also in top shape physically. It was only logical to extend his contract by another year," said Dortmund's sporting director Michael Zorc.
#4 Jordi Alba - 54 assists
After starting his career in the youth ranks of Barcelona, Jordi Alba made his professional debut for Valencia before returning to his boyhood club in 2012 where he has been a regular fixture ever since.
With Alba strutting his stuff down the left-flank and Dani Alves doing so on the other, the two marauding full-backs were an integral part of the club's attacks. Even after the Brazilian left Camp Nou in 2016, Alba has been integral in providing Barcelona's attacking thrusts from the left-flank as his pin-point crosses find the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with unerring accuracy.
In fact, after Neymar left Barcelona in the summer of 2017, Jordi Alba thrived as the team's creative outlet down the left-flank, with the player himself admitting as much:
"I now have more space to run into and, sincerely, it is much better for me (without Neymar)."
Alba provided an impressive 18 assists in the next two seasons as Barcelona won back-to-back La Liga titles before being pipped by Real Madrid in 2019-20.
Even though he doesn't score a lot of goals, the 31-year-old has provided assists aplenty for his Barcelona teammates over the years. All but six of Alba's 54 La Liga assists have come while playing for the Blaugrana.
It is even more impressive to note that the injury-prone Alba's creative prowess in the attacking-third has not come at the cost of his defensive responsibilities. He does a more-than-impressive job in tracking back, cutting out the opposition's creative thrusts and then venturing upfield to contribute to his team's attacks.