Defenders of the month: The nominees
While January marked the reawakening of Europe’s domestic leagues, February announced the return of European football across the continent.
With players playing in their home leagues as well as the UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues, here are the five best defenders from Europe for the shortest month of 2013:
1.) Maxwell, Paris Saint-Germain
Ever present in Les Parisiens’ travails during the month of February, the Brazilian left-back ensured the capital side lost just one game in Ligue 1.
A 3-2 loss away at Sochaux-Montbeliard aside, Maxwell ensured his side chalked up victories against Bastia and did the double – once in the league and once in the Coupe de France – against Marseilles (both 2-0) at the Parc de Princes.
Away from the capital, Maxwell oversaw PSG’s 4-0 mauling of Toulouse and of course, their vital Champions League victory against Valencia at the Mestalla in Spain.
The 31-year-old was also never substituted during this period.
2.) Dante, Bayern Munich and Brazil
A rather obvious choice given his humble rise in the Bundesliga and the Bavarian side’s excellent performances during February, leading to his second call-up for the Brazil National Football Team.
Dante was ever present in Bayern’s domestic and continental successes last month, and is definitely a shoo-in for Defender of the Month. Die Roten maintained their winning streak in all competitions as they brushed away all of their Bundesliga opponents during the month.
Kicking off with a 3-0 demolition of Mainz on the road, Dante marshalled the back four as Bayern racked up consecutive wins against Schalke (4-0) and Wolfsburg (2-0) before walloping Werder Bremen 6-1.
This season has seen the Allianz Arena outfit break many records and Dante was present in Bayern’s slender 1-0 away win at Hoffenheim as his side set the record for the longest time without an away goal being conceded, breaking Cologne’s record of 565 minutes being conceded in 2009-10. The cherry on top that cake is surely Bayern’s 3-1 away win of Arsenal at the Emirates in the UEFA Champions League.
3.) Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham Hotspur and Belgium
Arriving from Ajax Amsterdam over the summer, Belgium defender Vertonghen has taken to White Hart Lane like a duck to water.
Missing only one game in February – Spurs 2-1 home win over Newcastle – the 24-year-old ensured his team went through the month unbeaten.
Vertonghen earned his side a clean sheet in their away win at West Bromwich Albion before ensuring his team held the advantage in the Europa League, posting a 2-1 win over visitors Lyon. After holding Les Lyonnais at the Stade Gerland (1-1) to ensure his team progressed to the Round of 16, Vertonghen was an integral part of a Spurs team that orchestrated a come-from-behind 3-2 win at West Ham United.
4.) Raphael Varane, Real Madrid and France
The young Frenchman only arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu last summer, but his impact is already being noticed.
Although he missed Real’s victories against Sevilla (4-1) and Deportivo La Coruna (2-1), Varane had skipped those games to serve a greater purpose.
Despite losing their opening game in February at Granada (1-0), Varane was present in the capital side’s defence as they beat Rayo Vallecano in the league.
What was of greater importance was the Frenchman’s contribution in the cup games. He scored that crucial third goal to seal Real’s win at the Camp Nou as they knocked Barcelona out of the Copa del Rey and held English Premier League giants Manchester United to a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu when it seemed likely that the Red Devils would put more than one past the home team.
5.) Andrea Barzagli, Juventus and Italy
Italy international Barzagli helped Juventus maintain their lead on top of the Italian Serie A and consolidate their position in Europe in the month of February.
The Bianconeri’s loss to Roma aside (1-0), Juve won every game they played last month. Key for them in that run of fixtures was centre-back Barzagli.
The versatile defender oversaw domestic wins against Siena (3-0), Fiorentina (2-0) and Chievo Verona (2-1), in addition to a comprehensive 3-0 away defeat of Scottish outfit Celtic in the Champions League to ensure them a very healthy insurance policy for tonight’s game in Turin, at the time of writing.