Ryan Giles, Issa Kabore and Alfie Doughty: The intriguing Luton Town wing-back battle
Wing-backs have become increasingly important in the modern game, and that is particularly noticeable at Luton Town where a five-at-the-back formation has been the norm for quite some time. In today's world, wing-backs need bundles of energy to provide a reliable defensive service, whilst ensuring they can get up the pitch to pose an attacking threat.
Luton's summer transfer window presented itself as evidence of how vital these areas of the pitch can be, with the Hatters breaking their spending record in bringing Ryan Giles, a left-wing-back, to Kenilworth Road. The recent arrival from Wolves enjoyed a fantastic loan spell with Middlesbrough last time out and has now been tasked, like the majority of his teammates, with stepping up to the world's most competitive division.
On the opposite flank, the Hatters used one of their domestic loan spots in the exciting Manchester City prospect Issa Kabore, who spent last season on loan at Marseille. The 22-year-old has proven thus far to possess a different skillset to Giles and started the first two league games.
Ensuring that there is competition in the wing-back areas, Alfie Doughty has proven during his time at Luton that he can operate on both flanks and return very strong performances. The 2022 addition, who former boss Nathan Jones pushed hard to get in at Kenilworth Road, has particularly thrived under Rob Edwards' stewardship and cemented himself as one of the Championship's most impressive performers during last season's run-in.
Versatile Irish attacker Chiedozie Ogbene is another wing-back option, although he is more effective higher up the pitch.
It is still too early to dive into the data to gain a further understanding as to how the wing-backs have performed so far, so here, is more of an opinion-driven breakdown of how the wing-backs have fared during Luton's opening three games of this Premier League campaign.
The Luton Town wing-back battle
Patience always needs to be afforded to new signings, especially when recruiting players who have no, or very limited experience in a particular division. There have been lots of positive glimpses from Giles during the opening few games of the season but it is also fair to point out that there have been a few mistakes or hints of naivety.
Town fans were told to expect lots of crosses and that is exactly what he has done so far, showing a machine-like desire to get the ball out of his feet and ask questions with his delivery from wide positions. He has also combined with his teammates well to work himself into better attacking positions, whilst his work ethic has been impressive.
From a defensive standpoint, this is where adapting to the Premier League has been a rigorous process for him. Solly March's header for Brighton on the opening day of the season arose when the intelligent winger found space inbetween Amari'i Bell and Giles, whilst a similar scenario played out when Jarrod Bowen nodded in at Kenilworth Road earlier in the month. He also endured a difficult evening against Raheem Sterling at Chelsea, however, it is important to stress that the England international causes chaos for even the most elite defenders in England's top-flight.
The international break provides time for Giles to continue this adaptation process from a technical and tactical perspective and ultimately, he is still an extremely exciting talent who will only improve with time.
Onto the right-wing-back position and Kabore has particularly impressed in his 1v1 defensive duels, with the Man City loanee gaining lots of plaudits for how he effectively shut off the rising Premier League star that is Karou Mitoma on the opening day of the season.
Possessing excellent pace and agility, he has proven to be an impressive carrier of possession and showing good combination play too, he has worked himself into some promising positions, however, there are improvements to be made with his final ball. With physically imposing forwards in Elijah Adebayo and Carlton Morris, quality from wide areas has been vitally important for the Hatters over the last couple of seasons and you cannot help but feel if Kabore is able to improve this aspect of his game, then he will emerge as a real assist threat.
Then, onto a player who has thoroughly impressed during his first experiences of Premier League football, Alfie Doughty. In the build-up to the 2023/24 campaign, Town fans were constantly reminded that the step up to England's top division is about as steep as anywhere in the world. Therefore, the 23-year-old's seamless transition into a Premier League player has to be applauded, especially considering that he had to settle for a spot on the bench for the first two games.
In assessing Kabore and Giles thus far, it has been clear that both players have a rather specialist skillset but in Doughty, you have a player that combines Kabore's ball-carrying capabilities and Giles' threat from wide areas, all whilst tactically meeting the demands of the top-flight. Interestingly, Doughty's minutes have come on the right thus far and it is his versatility that could eventually land him a consistent spot in Rob Edwards' starting XI.
All managers want tough decisions to make when competition levels are high and that is exactly what Edwards has at present. He has three young, hungry and developing wing-backs whose battle for two starting positions will hopefully drive performance levels in the right direction.