There are a multitude of clichés that are used to stress on the importance of having a strong defence in football. A team can have an ensemble of the best attackers on the planet but if they are too frail in defence, they will stumble along the way.
'Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.' This one Sir Alex Ferguson quote is thrown around so much only because it rings true. The greatest teams in the history of the sport have all been defensively formidable. Teams need top centre-backs who can hold their fort down.
Centre-backs do the bulk of the defending inside their defensive third. They need to have good positional awareness, game reading abilities and plenty of composure in order to do a good job. It might not be the most glamorous job on a football pitch but that doesn't mean it's any less important than the others.
There is no dearth of highly talented centre-backs in the modern game. Without further ado, let's take a look at five of the best centre-backs of 2021.
#5 Thiago Silva (Brazil/Chelsea)
When Chelsea signed Thiago Silva on a free transfer in the summer of 2020, a lot of eyebrows were raised. After all, Silva was only a couple of months away from turning 36 and it looked like he was walking into the twilight of his career.
Chelsea were desperate to add some experience to their backline and Silva is a veteran of the game. But the Brazilian international has silenced his doubters and proved to be a massive signing for the Blues.
He is one of the best tacklers on the planet and one of the most well-rounded defenders in Europe. Silva is a strong defender who is great at aerial duels as well. His positional sense, awareness and game-reading ability have all helped Chelsea greatly.
Silva brought all his experience to the fore under Thomas Tuchel and was instrumental in Chelsea transforming into one of the most defensively solid teams on the continent. The 37-year-old is a good passer of the ball as well and continues to be one of the best in the business at what he does to this day.
#4 Leonardo Bonucci (Italy/Juventus)
Veteran Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci has been a standout performer for both club and country over the past decade or so. Bonucci is one of the best when it comes to anticipating and reading the game. He has shared a wonderful partnership with Giorgio Chiellini for both club and country.
The experienced centre-back pairing played a crucial role in the Azzurri's triumphant run at Euro 2020. Bonucci and Chiellini were not dribbled past by a single opponent in the continental competition.
The 34-year-old is a ball-playing centre-back who excels at launching attacks from deep. He is a solid tackler and a mobile centre-back who can stand his ground against the best attackers in the world.
#3 Marquinhos (Brazil/Paris Saint-Germain)
Marquinhos has been a mainstay in Paris Saint-Germain's lineup since 2013. He has been immense for the Ligue 1 giants and is one of the most technically proficient defenders in the world. Marquinhos is so good with the ball at his feet that he can play in midfield quite easily.
He is also a guaranteed starter for Brazil on the international circuit. The 27-year-old is excellent at making recoveries. In addition to being a very effective tackler, Marquinhos is pretty good at aerial duels despite being just 1.83 meters tall.
He doesn't mind putting his body in harm's way and is great at making blocks in the final third. Marquinhos also chips in with a fair amount of goals and is a constant threat from set-pieces thanks to his aerial ability. He is a tough cookie to crack and getting beyond him is an extremely difficult task.
#2 Antonio Rudiger (Germany/Chelsea)
Antonio Rudiger is an absolute warrior on the football pitch. After becoming a peripheral figure at Chelsea during Frank Lampard's managerial reign, Rudiger has resurrected his career under Thomas Tuchel.
Rudiger has been unerring in his performances and has showcased plenty of passion and aggression for Chelsea under Tuchel. His exploits were crucial to Chelsea's Champions League triumph in the 2020-21 season.
Rudiger is one of the fastest centre-backs in the world and is an aggressive tackler as well. He also excels at aerial duels and the German international has won a lot of praise for his mentality.
The 28-year-old's current contract expires next summer. Chelsea are keen to extend it but an agreement hasn't been reached yet. This makes Rudiger one of the most sought-after centre-backs in the world right now.
#1 Ruben Dias (Portugal/Manchester City)
Manchester City signed Ruben Dias from Benfica in the summer of 2020 for an initial fee of €56 million. There was an argument that the Cityzens had overpaid for the youngster. But it didn't take long for Dias to put all such concerns to rest.
Dias' maturity on the pitch belies his age. He has been a calming presence at the back for Manchester City and has been able to strike up a wonderful partnership with John Stones at the back. His exploits were crucial to Manchester City winning their third Premier League title in four years in the 2020-21 season.
2021 has been a breakout year for the Portuguese international. Not only is he a strong tackler and wonderful passer of the ball, he also possesses great spatial awareness and is excellent at aerial duels.
Dias is two footed and is thus very comfortable in possession. He doesn't rush into tackles and is excellent at making last-ditch challenges when the need arises. Dias has undoubtedly been the best centre-back of 2021.