With January being the month where a majority of European leagues awoke from a month-long winter slumber, here are five defenders who stood out across Europe in the first month of 2013:
Nikolce Noveski (FSV Mainz 05 and Macedonia)
Having started all 21 of Mainz’s games this season, 1979-born Noveski was a key part of his team’s run in January as the Bundesliga‘s surprise outfit went unbeaten in their three fixtures.
A goalless draw against Freiburg followed by a 3-0 stroll against Greuther Furth away was always a welcome start to the resumption of the German league, but what topped January was a 3-1 home win against Stuttgart.
Helping his team mates keep two clean sheets in three games, Noveski makes the grade ahead of his more publicised peers.
Samuel Umtiti (Olympique Lyonnais and France U-20)
We all saw academy product Samuel Umtiti’s goal against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League last Thursday, but he has been one of the mainstays for his club this season.
Eight-time consecutive Ligue 1 winners Lyon also kicked off January in the league. A 4-2 loss to Stade Espinal in the Coupe de France on penalties aside, Umtiti helped Les Gones keep two clean sheets in three games.
An away win at ES Troyes AC was followed by a goalless draw at home to Evian Thonon-Gaillard FC before beating Valenciennes 2-0 on the road.
Leighton Baines (Everton and England)
Two 2-1 wins and two goalless draws gave further momentum to Everton’s push for the coveted Champions League spots, but they would not have been able to do so without left-back Leighton Baines’ brace (one a penalty) against West Brom and the equaliser against Newcastle.
Goalless draws away to Southampton and at home to Swansea and 2-1 wins away at Newcastle and at home to West Bromwich Albion saw Baines make waves with the Toffees yet again.
Conceding an average of half a goal (courtesy two clean sheets) means Baines is worthy of being nominated as England’s best for January.
Tito (Rayo Vallecano)
Like Mainz and Everton, Rayo Vallecano are one of the surprise outfits in Europe this season.
One of their main contributors to this is Roberto Roman Triguero, more commonly known as Tito. Having appeared in 23 games for Rayo in the league, he is their most capped outfield player.
With a 2-1 defeat of Malaga on the road, a 3-0 home win against Betis and a 2-1 giant killing of Athletic Bilbao in the Basque region, he helped his team collect three wins out of four – one loss against Granada away – to put them just two points off a Champions League spot.
Paolo Cannavaro (Napoli and Italy)
The younger brother of Fabio Cannavaro has come into his own in Naples. With him as captain, Napoli were second in the table at the end of January, courtesy his defensive prowess in managing the back line as the team where Diego Maradona made a name for himself in Europe romped 4-1 past Rome at home before despatching Palermo with a comfortable 3-0 win.
Although they were held to a 1-1 draw in Florence, they bounced back with a 2-1 win away to Parma. Integral to their performances this season is 31-year-old Cannavaro who makes it into this list as Italy’s finest.Published 21 Feb 2013, 20:15 IST