Centre-backs in the Premier League have to be physical and brilliant in all aspects of the game. The modern centre-back needs to be able to play out from the back and have a good range of passing, but that should be the cherry on top of a well-built defensive cake.
Heading is essential to the defensive game as Premier League teams love to send crosses into the box.
Below, we rank the top five centre-backs in the Premier League based on their aerial battles won during the 2021-22 season. These defenders have won headers in defense and offense, helping their teams achieve their respective goals.
#5 Pontus Jansson - Centre-back - Brentford - 103 duels won
Pontus Jansson made 37 appearances for Brentford in the Premier League last season in their debut campaign. He also managed to score three goals and provide two assists.
Brentford finished 13th in the Premier League and conceded fewer goals than Manchester United and Leicester (56). Jansson was a crucial part of that success.
The 31-year-old Swedish international will be hoping to build on a stellar debut campaign in the coming season. Thomas Frank and Brentford have created a good environment at the club, and the fans and players feel connected to each other.
#4 Joel Matip - Centre-back - Liverpool - 109 duels won
The 30-year-old centre-back made 31 appearances for the club, the most in his six seasons, and scored three goals and provided three assists. Matip was a force to be reckoned with in Liverpool's backline.
Liverpool conceded the joint lowest goals in the league with Manchester City (26), but fell short of winning the title and the Champions League. Liverpool have good depth at centre-back and Matip's main partner in crime is next up on the list.
#3 Virgil van Dijk - Centre-back - Liverpool - 117 duels won
Virgil van Dijk is a colossus of a defender. The Dutchman made 34 appearances for Liverpool last season, scoring three goals and providing four assists.
Van Dijk was effortless at the back for much of the season, although he did have some poor moments, especially in the Champions League final. Van Dijk was a constant, whether it be alongside Ibrahim Konaté or Matip.
After missing almost the entirety of the 2020-21 season due to injury, no one expected him to have such a stellar season. Van Dijk is an intelligent defender and usually positions himself in the perfect position to win the ball.
Now, heading into his 10th season in the Premier League, Van Dijk will hope to maintain the levels he has set for himself.
#2 Ethan Pinnock - Centre-back - Brentford - 143 duels won
Ethan Pinnock was another key cog in Brentford's stellar first season in the league. The Jamaican international made 32 appearances for the club, scoring one goal and providing one assist. The aerial dominance that Brentford possessed meant that they were a real danger from set pieces.
When Chelsea traveled away to Brentford earlier in the season, the Blues had to hold on to dear life as Brentford ambushed Edouard Mendy in goal. Mendy had a brilliant performance on the day, and Chelsea held on, but Brentford took their revenge later in the season.
Thomas Frank relies on the basics from his defenders, and they deliver them brilliantly.
#1 James Tarkowski - Centre-back - Burnley - 153 duels won
James Tarkowski has been a staple for Burnley during their six seasons in the Premier League, but they were relegated to the Championship last season. As a result, Tarkowski, who made 35 appearances for the team and scored one goal, was not retained after his contract expired.
Tarkowski is now searching for a new club, and Everton and Frank Lampard seem to be interested.
Considering Everton had the fifth worst defence in the Premier League last season and the number of injuries they had, 29-year-old Tarkowski would be a brilliant acquisition.
The most aerially dominant centre-back in the Premier League and a traditional English defender, he has the leadership to guide Everton up the table. Regardless of who Tarkowski signs for, the club will get a solid defender.