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5 best ball-playing defenders in football right now

  • Modern football has witnessed a tactical evolution of defensive roles within a team.
  • We take a look at five of the best ball-playing defenders in football at the moment.
Mibom Taggu
CONTRIBUTOR
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 02 May 2020, 12:04 IST

Virgil van Dijk is currently one of the best centre-backs in the world
Virgil van Dijk is currently one of the best centre-backs in the world

Defenders form the foundation on which the best football teams are built on. The greatest teams of the nineties were littered with world-class defenders with the likes of Paulo Maldini, Tony Adams and Martin Keown anchoring their respective clubs. Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson understood the importance of defenders in a team and once famously said

“Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.” 
Alessandro Nesta (left) looks on as Lionel Messi goes past Phillipe Mexes
Alessandro Nesta (left) looks on as Lionel Messi goes past Phillipe Mexes

The likes of Alessandro Nesta and Paulo Maldini were centre-backs who showed great ability on the ball and defied the stereotype that usually comes with being a defender. However, it was not until the 'tiki-taka' revolution brought on by Pep Guardiola and his Barcelona team that playing out from the back became a staple in the beautiful game.

We will now take a look at five of the best centre-backs in world football who are as comfortable on the ball as they are putting a tackle in.


#5 Aymeric Laporte

Aymeric Laporte has grown into one of the best ball-playing defenders under Guardiola
Aymeric Laporte has grown into one of the best ball-playing defenders under Guardiola's tutelage

A player whose arrival arguably completed Pep Guardiola's Manchester City transformation, Aymeric Laporte spent his formative years playing for Athletic Bilbao, shuffling between the left-back and centre-back positions.

Brought to the Etihad for £57 million in the January transfer window of 2018, the Frenchman has been the most consistent of the Citizens' centre-backs and was a rock for the club last season during which he made 35 appearances. 

Laporte's range of passing and distribution from the back was one of the key reasons why Guardiola was so determined to bring him to Manchester. The defender's recent injury woes and subsequent absence from the team have caused major problems for City, who have since suffered and fallen off their place in the Premier League without him. 

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#4 Raphael Varane 

Raphael Varane has always stood out for his technique and defensive ability
Raphael Varane has always stood out for his technique and defensive ability

A Rolls Royce of a defender, Raphael Varane was so good that Jose Mourinho gave him his debut when he was 18 years old. The pressure of being a Real Madrid player, however, never outweighed his shoulders at the time and he has gone on to make 309 appearances for the club.

The Frenchman has since emerged as one of the most decorated players of his generation, having picked up one World Cup medal and four Champions League titles in this decade alone. Many describe Varane as a player who has the perfect blend of technique and athleticism for a defender, making him one of the best in the world in his position.


#3 Sergio Ramos

Sergio Ramos has established himself as a legend in Real Madrid
Sergio Ramos has established himself as a legend in Real Madrid

A Real Madrid legend and Raphael Varane's partner at the centre of the Los Blancos defence, Sergio Ramos is one of the most successful players of his generation. Having played as a right-back early in his career, the Spaniard is an exceptional passer of the ball and has even scored some crucial goals during his stint at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Due to his tactical versatility and technical ability, the defender has also occasionally been used as a central or defensive midfielder, specifically under Carlo Ancelotti during the 2014-15 season. Having won two Euros, a World Cup and four Champions League titles, 34-year-old Ramos has achieved almost everything a footballer could dream of.


 #2 Gerard Pique

Gerard Pique was the poster boy for the ball-playing defender during Guardiola
Gerard Pique was the poster boy for the ball-playing defender during Guardiola's Barcelona days

Gerard Pique is an ideal example of a ball-playing defender and was central to Barcelona's 'tiki-taka' revolution under Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard developed one of the most iconic centre-back partnerships of all time with Carles Puyol, whose technique and bruteness helped their Barcelona team sweep everything that lay before them.

The 33-year-old is also one of the most decorated footballers of his era and has won a total of 34 trophies in his career so far. Regarded as one of the best defenders in the world, Pique is also known for his forays into the offensive parts of the pitch where his height gives him an aerial advantage. 


#1 Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk has been a pivotal figure in Jurgen Klopp
Virgil van Dijk has been a pivotal figure in Jurgen Klopp's squad in the last two years
"He is a defender who knows how to judge his timing and wait for the right moment to challenge or jockey [the attacker]. He is very fast and big, but he has a lot of agility for his height. He is fast because of its [sic] great stride, and he is impressive both in defense and attack because he scores lots of goals"- Lionel Messi on Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk is an anomaly of a defender because there are very few players you can compare him to. He is a tall and strong centre-back who possesses flawless technique and an eye for goal. The Dutchman is also exceptional on the ball and maintains a solid defence alongside the likes of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who are perfect examples of modern-day full-backs.

The 2018-19 UEFA Men's Player of the Year has been a revelation since he joined Liverpool in January 2018. He has since helped the Reds transform into one of the most lethal forces in Europe and is likely to taste more success with the team in the near future.



Published 02 May 2020, 12:04 IST
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