Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons: Norwich City's flying young full-backs
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Last Updated: 18/01/19 6:42pm
Norwich City have had an impressive season so far in the Sky Bet Championship, and two young full-backs have been vital to their success.
Left-back Jamal Lewis (20) and Max Aarons (19), have been regular features for Daniel Farke's side, playing a key role in their promotion bid.
Ahead of Norwich's clash with Birmingham - which is live on Sky Sports Football on Friday night - Andy Hinchcliffe, the former full-back and Sky Sports pundit, tells us why he has been so impressed with the pair of them...
To have one young full-back of that talent at your disposal is one thing, but to have a pair of them is extremely unusual. As a former full-back myself I am always looking out for them and these two are something special.
The vitally important thing for them is they are already playing regular games at such a young age. It was something I did but it is not as normal now. Youngsters are playing a lot more academy football and can be 21 or 22 before they get into the first teams and beyond.
These two have proved they are physically strong enough and are both the perfect build for the modern full-back job, while they also have shown they are mentally strong enough as well.
The amount of ground you have to cover getting forward and backwards has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Full-backs used to be converted centre-halves but they are getting smaller and leaner to suit the job they have to do. They certainly aren't the shape I was!
When I was playing I wasn't being asked to cover the same ground these guys are. They are having to cover 50 yards to get into positions, whereas I had a midfielder in front of me who did that job, and I would only have to run 10 yards to recover. Those are the demands now and you need to have the abilities to do it.
We were stockier and defenders by trade. I played in a 4-4-2 alongside a centre-back and I had a midfielder in front of me who did the forward stuff. Maybe I would get up on the overlap but my main job was defensive.
They are absolute machines in terms of getting up and down the pitch in terms of athleticism and dynamism. It is not a surprise they are standing out.
The two of them are essentially playing as wing-backs in a back four, which takes a lot of doing. They are playing ahead of their centre-halves and the amount of ground they have to cover is huge.
Threatening in attack
While they are both incredible athletes, Lewis in particular was a champion middle-distance runner when he was younger, they are also clearly great footballers as well.
You need the balance as well because when the ball comes your way you need to be able to play. That is what has really impressed me about them.
They are both all-round players who love getting over the halfway line. It helps that at Norwich they are encouraged to get forward and play to their strengths.
When they get forward it is all about the supply lines after running 50 or 60 yards, because they are there to provide the width and service. They will get it wrong sometimes but with more experience they will make better decisions.
Many modern full-backs like the forward bit but when it comes to defensive work they can fall short.
I remember speaking to Kyle Walker about this and asking him if he saw himself as an attacker or as a defender who takes pride in clean sheets, and he said it was the latter.
To be a full-back you still have to want to get in the way of crosses and get round on the cover. Sometimes you still have to just knock the ball down the channel to get it clear and this is what these two do so well.
It is like they are playing two positions and that is what top sides do now. It is what is required by Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola at Liverpool and Manchester City, the high-energy, high-press style.
If they keep playing the way they are and Norwich don't get promoted then they will be in demand, because they are both perfect for that job. In terms of skill-sets they have both got the complete package and you could see them going for huge money, because that is what happens with modern full-backs now - they are invaluable.
Vital for Norwich
I don't see any reason why they can't make the step up to the Premier League. From working under Daniel Farke they will be very tactically aware and they will have good knowledge of their positions. It is not about age, it is about how good you are.
Coaches need full-backs to stretch the play and it is a huge pat on the back to Norwich and their youth set-up that these two have developed the way they have, because they look so comfortable already.
Norwich will be desperate to keep them because they are so good and unusual for their age, but they will be hugely in demand. Even top-six Premier League sides will be watching them soon, if they aren't already.
Right now they are better off at Norwich because they are playing every week in a system that suits them and for a manager who has shown huge faith in youth. They shouldn't move unless they will be playing regularly, because they are too good not to be in action every week.
I have been so impressed with them and they have been a huge part of Norwich's success so far this season. Young players normally thrive in a team with experience around them, but these two are leading the way.