It's said that central defenders are known to peak at relatively later stages of their careers. Defending requires a good deal of smartness that only comes through experience.
On that note, here are the five young central defenders who are expected to be the next big stars in this pivotal position.
# 5: Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester City)
Caglar Soyuncu has had an impressive 2019-20 season for Leicester City before the COVID-19 pandemic forced an indefinite suspension of all major sporting action.
Leicester’s defence was supposed to suffer after Harry Maguire’s transfer to Manchester United. And it would have if it wasn’t for Soyuncu’s timely influx.
Soyuncu has shown a lot of potential in the four league starts he made last season. The Turk defender is aggressive, strong and brave. With 1.8 tackles per game, he is one of the most exciting defenders in the modern game.
He’s also good on the ball as is evidenced by the fact that he has only been dispossessed once this season. If you like to watch a good battle on the field, look no further than Soyuncu. Not surprisingly, clubs like Manchester City have shown a strong interest in the Turkish defender.
# 4: Joe Gomez (Liverpool)
It is Joe Gomez’s ability to play all across the backline that makes him such a valuable defender. Besides being quick in defensive transitions, Gomez can provide cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold when the latter makes attacking runs in the opposition half.
Joel Matip was supposed to be Klopp’s preferred choice to start alongside Van Dijk until he got injured. But since then Gomez’s performances have been so impressive that Matip hasn’t been able to find a way back into the starting eleven.
He isn’t just pacey and robust; he is also astute. Gomez reads the danger well, and his coordination with Van Dijk is crucial. He is not only a defender for the future but is also the present.
# 3: Unai Nunez (Atletico Madrid)
Athletic Bilbao, who have some top quality defenders in their squad, are renowned for nurturing some of the best defensive talents. One of them is Unai Nunez who has played in twelve games this season.
In a Liga game against Real Madrid, despite Real maintaining a 70% possession, Unai Nunez and Unai Simon were two players who stood out for Atletico. Nunez didn’t let anything past him and had an impressive eleven clearances in that match.
Switching between 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2, Unai Nunez gets his chance to shine in the latter formation. But due to a lack of game time, the defender is likely to move ships very soon. Several clubs are lining up to welcome him with open arms.
The likes of Inter, Bayern and Arsenal are monitoring the situation of the 23-year-old defender who has a release clause of € 30 Million.
# 2: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
There’s not much to be said about Dayot Upamecano that hasn’t already been said. Upamecanoo starts Leipzig’s attacks and like a brickwall nips in the bud every attack against the club.
Teammate Timo Werner has this to say about the central defender:
“I’ve not seen a faster centre-back, and Dayot has an unbelievable physique.”
He is just another one of France’s repository of brilliant centre-backs, and he’s probably the best of the lot.
Upamecano was not started in a U-21 game for France. Ralf Ragnick addressed this fact by saying:
“If there are four better centre-backs than Dayot Upamecano, I want to see them.”
Ragnick may not have found many better central defenders than Upamecano, but he ended up signing Ibrahima Konate as a result of his scouting reports.
Many call Upamecano the Kylian Mbappe of defenders as he is the future. Every big club is trying to get his services, and he has the privilege to choose his next destination.
Upamecano is, after all, a generational talent.
# 1: Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)
After a stellar 18-19 campaign, Matthijs de Ligt became one of the hottest commodities in the football world as clubs like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus jostled for the then Ajax captain's signature.
Kudos to the young defender for deciding to join Juventus; it was a brave and smart choice.
De Ligt is known for his athleticism, technical skills and above all, his passion for the game. Grown and nurtured in Ajax’s 'Total Football' philosophy, the 20-year-old is as good on the ball as any defender out there.
After Juventus were knocked out in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals last season, Cristiano Ronaldo asked Matthijs De Ligt to join Juventus. Such is the talent of this kid.
Following Giorgio Chiellini’s anterior cruciate ligament injury, De Ligt was forced into the starting lineup. The young defender took his time to adapt to the rigours of Serie A but has since found his feet and is starting to resemble his old Ajax self again.
At just 20, playing alongside the likes of Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, De Ligt has the perfect environment to hone his defensive game. "Learn from the best to become the best" could not have been more true for the young Dutch defender.