While defenders hardly ever get the recognition their attacking counterparts would, there are few who catch the eye. After all, without a proper defence for a foundation a team can hardly sustain. Here are my top 10 centre-backs (CBs) in the world right now.
Before you get into the list do remember that there is a myriad of reasons – many unquantifiable – that go into determining lists like these. Most of these entries might even reflect upon my subjectivity, meaning you might agree with some of my mentions, or none at all. Either way, we’d love to hear from you!
Well then, here we go.
10 – Aymeric Laporte
Before this season, Aymeric Laporte was Man City’s best defender by a mile. Now, he can’t even make the starting XI. Oh, how the times change!
The Frenchman arrived from Athletic Bilbao in January 2018 and quickly became a formidable figure alongside Vincent Kompany in City’s defence, instrumental in their eventual back-to-back Premier League title wins. After Kompany left in 2019, Laporte was the out-and-out leader at the back, but injuries prevented him from playing, which was once again instrumental in City’s unsuccessful attempt to capture the title in 2020.
When City brought in Rúben Dias last summer, Laporte was assumed to be the obvious partner. However, John Stones managed to get himself back on track, took his opportunities, and has since established himself as an even more formidable partner to the Portuguese.
All hope’s not lost for Laporte as he’s capable of also playing left-back, which works nicely for Pep Guardiola with his current defensive system of choice in which one of the full backs stay behind and the other one drifts (usually João Cancelo) into midfield. Regardless of what position he plays, Laporte’s defensive acuity is unquestionable.
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9 – Thiago Silva
Age – 36 (22 September 1984)
Country – Brazil
Current club – Chelsea (Premier League)
Thiago Silva’s credentials were vehemently questioned when he joined Chelsea last summer. However, despite a rather disastrous debut against West Brom, he has slotted in seamlessly, defying his age and his doubters. He might not be as quick as before but with his experience and positional nous he barely breaks a sweat over 90 minutes.
Silva’s European career properly kicked into gear only after he joined AC Milan in 2009 aged 24. Since then, he has gone on to establish himself as a proper leader at the back during his time with PSG and the Brazil MNT.
Silva was brought to Chelsea by the then coach Frank Lampard, who wanted a calm, leadership figure in his defence. While Chelsea has since dismissed him, they have replaced him with Thomas Tuchel, who only recently had Silva as his captain at PSG. With Silva proving more than capable and once again under a coach that would love his skillset, it is highly unlikely Chelsea would let him leave at the end of the season.
8 – Rúben Dias
Age – 23 (14 May 1997)
Country – Portugal
Current club – Manchester City (Premier League)
Rúben Dias’ importance for Man City cannot be understated. The Portuguese international joined City from Benfica for £62m last summer right after the club suffered a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Leicester City. Since then, Dias has helped transform the City backline into a brick wall of a defence.
With just 13 goals conceded in the Premier League so far, Man City has the meanest defence by quite a mile. Dias has not only become Pep’s first-choice defender, he has also shown great leadership qualities, something that has been missing since Vincent Kompany left. He has helped revive John Stones’ career at the club, who is currently keeping Laporte out of the side. From crying out for a proper defender, City now have three of the very best. With the defence seemingly sorted, City looks set to at least go deep into all the competitions this year, if not outright win them.
At 23, it’s quite scary as a Manchester United fan myself to fathom the heights Rúben Dias could reach. Within half a season, he already looks like a bargain and a long-term solution to City’s shortcomings.
7 – Raphaël Varane
Age – 27 (25 April 1993)
Country – France
Current club – Real Madrid (LaLiga Santander)
There’s very little argument to make against the 3-time LaLiga, 4-time UEFA Champions League and 2018 World Cup winner’s inclusion in the list.
Raphaël Varane has been a stalwart in Real’s backline since Pepe’s departure in 2017. Known for his pace and quick recovery, Varane proves to be the perfect partner for Sergio Ramos, who likes to occasionally run ahead the pitch for one of his attacking adventures.
6 – Milan Škriniar
The Slovakian international is one of the most sought and highly reliable defenders out there. Having started his career as a striker, his physicality and positional sense saw him gradually move towards the back of the formation.
Škriniar’s regarded as a defender of an old-school mould who’s ready to flourish in the modern game. He’s good in the air, can clear the ball out quickly, and has a keen awareness that helps him not rely on sprints too much. He’s currently part of Antonio Conte’s formidable backline, but it won’t be surprising to see him move to greener pastures in the future.
5 – David Alaba
The Austrian international has played multiple positions throughout his career. He’s featured in the midfield in both attacking and defensive capacities for the Austria MNT, while for Bayern he has mostly played down the left-hand side. He qualifies for this list after Hansi Flick decided to move him into the left-sided centre-back role and allow Alphonso Davies to take the left-back position. Since then, Alaba has not only been formidable as a centre-back, his partnership with Davies has also helped the Canadian explode onto the scene, shoring up Bayern’s left side altogether.
With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, David Alaba looks set to leave Bayern after twelve illustrious years, with Real Madrid keen for his signature.
4 – José María Giménez
Age – 26 (20 January 1995)
Country – Uruguay
Current club – Atlético de Madrid (LaLiga Santander)
Much like Škriniar, Giménez is a player who has gradually improved year-by-year and has established himself in his club’s backline. Bought in 2013 from Uruguayan club Danubio for merely €900,000, Giménez honed his trade alongside compatriot Diego Godín, taking over the leadership of the backline after his departure in 2019.
Along with fellow defenders Stefan Savic, Mario Hermoso and Felipe, the 26-year-old is currently spearheading Diego Simeone’s title charge in LaLiga, with Atlético ten points clear off both Real Madrid and Barcelona, having conceded just 10 goals throughout the season thus far.
3 – Sergio Ramos
Age – 34 (30 March 1986)
Country – Spain
Current club – Real Madrid (LaLiga Santander)
It’s hard to talk about the best centre-backs and not include Sergio Ramos in the discussion. Sure, he might not be the most defensively astute player anymore, but if technical ability was all it took to become a great, Ravel Morrison would have won all of the Ballons d’Or.
The 34-year-old has officially held the captain’s armband since 2015, when Iker Casillas left, but has been a leading figure in the side for a lot longer. His aggression, his ‘bad boy’ persona, and a ‘never die’ attitude are his biggest strengths, something that feels even more pronounced these days when we see Real capitulating when he’s not in the side. His personality helps drive the whole squad together, a trait they have heavily relied on during their Champions League journeys.
Sergio Ramos is an imperial figure at Real Madrid. He’s not only fourth on the all-time appearances list (668), but 20th on their all-time top goal scorers’ chart (100). If you needed reminding – HE’S A DEFENDER.
There are reports that Sergio Ramos might leave at the end of the season for a new challenge. While you may find better defenders than him there’s hardly a stronger personality in the game, and there a lot of club that could use that in their sides.
2 – Virgil van Dijk
It’s been roughly three years since van Dijk’s £75 million move from Southampton to Liverpool. The transfer was scoffed at then. It is considered a bargain now.
Even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans could not have envisioned the seamless way in which Virgil van Dijk slotted into the Liverpool back line. A defence that was in disarray got streamlined in a matter of days. VVD straightway established the solid base that saw Liverpool reach the 2018 Champions League final, a feat they would improve upon a year later.
Virgil is known for his calm, unintimated demeanour on the pitch. His positional awareness renders him hardly break a sweat, and even if he’s caught off-guard, he’s surprisingly quick for a player of his build. Over the past two years, dribbling past him has become the new benchmark for attacking prowess.
His season-long injury is the reason I’ve been inclined to put him on number two. While we may not see him again this season, there’s no doubt that when he returns, he’ll pick up where he’s left off.
1 – Kalidou Koulibaly
Age – 29 (20 June 1991)
Country – Senegal
Current club – Napoli (Serie A TIM)
Koulibaly might be a late bloomer, but as his years go up, so does his stock. The Senegalese international will be a football veteran by the time this season ends, but there will be no less suitors than what he has now.
Much like Virgil van Dijk, Kalidou Koulibaly is a cool yet formidable operator. Positionally astute, surprisingly quick, and with an eye for a pass, were it not for his age, Koulibaly would easily have broken the transfer record for a defender. It’s unlikely to happen now, but credit to Napoli for managing to hold on to such a prospect for so long.
Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Gerard Piqué (FC Barcelona), Diego Carlos (Sevilla), Jules Koundé (Sevilla), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), John Stones (Manchester City), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig), Niklas Süle (Bayern Munich), Presnel Kimpembe (PSG), Jason Denayer (Olympique Lyonnais).
Do you agree with this list? Who would you rather have in your top 10?