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Top 5 centre-backs in the league this season | Premier League 2019-20

Virgil van Dijk has been a colossus at the back for Liverpool this season
Virgil van Dijk has been a colossus at the back for Liverpool this season

"Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles," the Premier League's most successful manager of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson, once famously claimed. Even though it’s the attacking players that grab the lion’s share of the headlines, it’s very rare for an English side to achieve any sort of success in the league without a solid defence holding fort at the other end of the pitch. And as full-backs become more and more attacking-minded, at the heart of that defence has to be a centre-back (or two) keeping the world’s best attackers at bay.

That’s not to say, however, that the role of a modern-day centre-back hasn’t changed over the years. There was a time when all that a manager expected from his centre-backs was the ability to win headers and tackles, primarily in their own half, and pop up in the opposition penalty area occasionally. Now, the best centre-backs mix that power and aggression at both ends of the pitch with ball-playing ability, playing out from the back even when under pressure and starting off attacks with increasing regularity.

With that being the case, here are the five of the best centre-backs from the Premier League so far this season.

Also read: 5 most underrated players in the Premier League this season


Honourable Mentions

Ake has stood out for Bournemouth this season
Ake has stood out for Bournemouth this season

While the central defenders mentioned later in the article have been instrumental in guiding their teams to success this season, there are also some centre-backs whose defensive displays have set them apart from the rest. Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake, for one, has been outstanding in a season that has not really gone according to plan for the Cherries. Quick over the ground and possessing a cultured left foot, he is likely to stay in the Premier League in the event that Bournemouth were to go down.

Mings' form has earned him an England debut this season
Mings' form has earned him an England debut this season

Similarly eye-catching in an otherwise underperforming team has been Tyrone Mings, the towering centre-back from Aston Villa. Mings leads the league in blocks made and also ranks highly in headed clearances and recoveries made this season. Whether or not Aston Villa beat the drop, Mings’ displays have definitely caught the eye of England manager Gareth Southgate, who handed him his first England cap this season and might even be taking him to the Euros later in the year.

Mee has been putting in consistently good performances for Burnley this season
Mee has been putting in consistently good performances for Burnley this season

Another English defender flying under the radar this season has been Ben Mee. Known for his exemplary consistency, Mee has played every minute of Burnley’s Premier League campaign this season, featuring in 11 clean sheets. He has also popped up with two assists along the way, with Burnley breaking into the top half of the table and firmly in the mix for European football next season.

#5 Jonny Evans

Evans' experience has been vital for Leicester City this season
Evans' experience has been vital for Leicester City this season

The departure of Harry Maguire to Manchester United for a world-record fee meant that the centre-back spots at Leicester City were up for grabs at the start of the season. Although the way Caglar Soyuncu has stepped up in Maguire’s absence has been admirable, Jonny Evans' calming influence at the back alongside the at-times excitable Turk has been the key to Leicester’s seamless transition into life without Maguire in the Premier League.

The veteran centre-back has started every Premier League game this season and has formed one of the league’s most formidable central defensive partnerships with Soyuncu. Not only has Evans helped Leicester keep nine clean sheets this season, but he has also done so in great style, having been booked just four times in 28 games.

And if that wasn’t enough to warrant him a place on this list, Evans has even contributed at the other end of the pitch, popping up with one goal and two assists. Once again, the former Manchester United man has proved that he is one of the most underrated operators in the league, one who deserves much more recognition for his performances than he gets.

#4 Conor Coady

Coady has been a real leader at the back for Wolves this season
Coady has been a real leader at the back for Wolves this season

Much has been made about the recent Portuguese influx in the Wolverhampton Wanderers side, with the newly-promoted side on occasion playing with a flair that is at par with Europe’s top clubs. However, one of the integral parts of Wolves’ successful return to the English top-flight has been their captain Conor Coady. A promising central midfielder during his time in Liverpool’s youth ranks, Coady has reinvented himself as a central defender and plays a vital role at the heart of Wolves’ defence.

Coady has built up a reputation for being an excellent defensive organiser, using his exceptional reading of the game to position himself and his colleagues in defence in the right place at the right time. A tough and uncompromising tackler, Coady has also shown himself to be a fine passer of the ball. If it’s not Ruben Neves or Joao Moutinho, it’s often Coady who’s spraying a 40-yard cross-field ball out to Adama Traore on the wing to begin a trademark Wolves counter-attack.

He has been an ever-present in Wolves’ campaign thus far, helping keep seven clean sheets at the time of writing without missing a single minute of Premier League action this season. His excellent form has even led to rumours of a possible England call-up ahead of the 2020 Euros.

#3 Joe Gomez

Gomez has overcome injury problems to become an integral part of the Liverpool defence
Gomez has overcome injury problems to become an integral part of the Liverpool defence

Before the start of the season, Joe Gomez had only shown flashes of the qualities that had led Liverpool to bring him in at such a young age. The Liverpool fans have had to be patient with him since his arrival at the club, as inexperience and injuries have slowed down his progress somewhat. Gomez also took a little time to find his ideal position, having a spell at right-back before eventually switching to centre-back. And although he missed the first half of this season due to a serious injury, the former Charlton star has repaid the club’s faith in him by becoming the ideal central defensive partner to Virgil van Dijk.

Blessed with prodigious speed and physicality, Gomez is extremely adept at using his pace to snuff out danger before it develops into a major problem. However, if strength is what is required, he isn’t afraid to mix it up with opposing strikers either. Since regaining full fitness and forcing his way back into the starting lineup, Gomez has played the full 90 in 12 consecutive games, helping his side keep a clean sheet in 10 of them. Incredibly, Liverpool have only conceded four goals in games that he has started, a stat that is testament to the incredible partnership Gomez and van Dijk have forged. Not only does he look set to make the England squad for the 2020 Euros, but he is also in prime position to grab the starting centre-back berth alongside Harry Maguire, provided he can stay away from injuries.

#2 Jon Egan

Sheffield's innovative formation is built around Jon Egan, who acts as the rock at the back
Sheffield's innovative formation is built around Jon Egan, who acts as the rock at the back

Given how good Sheffield United have been this season, it's almost impossible to choose between the three centre-backs at the heart of Chris Wilder’s revolutionary tactical masterpiece. Their overlapping centre-back system has bamboozled several teams in the Premier League this season, which explains their lofty league position even though we’re well into the second half of the season.

Although Sheffield set up with three at the back in a 3-5-2 formation, it's only Jon Egan who plays the conventional centre-back role for the full 90. The Irishman is deployed at the centre of the back three and is the only one of the entire backline to maintain a fixed role. The central defenders flanking Egan, Jack O’Connell and Chris Basham, are given the license to bomb up the pitch when Sheffield have the ball, while the wing-backs George Baldock and Enda Stevens follow their centre-backs upfield to create overloads out wide. And if this wasn’t enough to send opposition defences into a panic, the forwards drop back to fill the vacant spaces in midfield, leaving defenders in two minds about whether they should follow their man or hold their position. Wilder has earned many plaudits for such an innovation, and a large part of his success is down to the defensive responsibilities shoulders by Egan at the heart of the defence.

The results are there for all to see - nine clean sheets thus far in the league, and 25 goals conceded, second only to Liverpool in the table. Saying that their success is down to effort alone would be too simplistic - there is a huge amount of tactical discipline and physically taxing hard work that goes into making their system look that simple. Until opposition teams figure out a way to counteract their unconventional setup, Sheffield United look set to stay in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

#1 Virgil Van Dijk

Van Dijk has been dominant for Liverpool this season
Van Dijk has been dominant for Liverpool this season

Although this list is in no particular order, there is no other place to put Virgil van Dijk apart from the top spot. The transfer fee of £75million raised a few eyebrows when he arrived from Southampton, but the performances that the Dutchman has put in have proved that he was actually a steal at that price. Van Dijk is the crown jewel in a stellar defence, an ever-present who has not missed a single minute of Premier League action and played his part in no less than 12 clean sheets this season. He has also contributed four goals just for good measure.

Whether it’s winning the ball in the air or tackling opponents one-on-one, Van Dijk dominates in all aspects of defending. His physically imposing frame belies his natural ability on the ball - he leads the league in most successful passes as well as most aerial duels won by any defender. What’s more, he even makes his teammates better, not just by setting an example with his own performances but also making himself heard by his teammates on the pitch. In fact, such is the difference that van Dijk has made to Liverpool’s backline since his arrival that his performances have actually thrust him into conversations for the Ballon d’Or, an accolade rarely awarded to defenders.

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Edited by Amar Anand
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