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PREMIER LEAGUE POWER RANKINGS – Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season

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It is the fullbacks and wingbacks who are dominating this list, with the Chelsea players making up the bulk of it. Trent Alexander-Arnold, João Cancelo or Reece James — who has been the top defender so far this season?

 

With the final international break of 2021 well behind us, I am back this time with a list of the Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 Premier League season. With 15 league games already played, it gives us a fair sample size to analyse who are the best performing defenders in the Premier League up to this point.

It is the fullbacks and wingbacks who are dominating this list, with the Chelsea players making up the bulk of it. Trent Alexander-Arnold, João Cancelo or Reece James — who has been the top defender so far this season?

 

Please Note: Before we dive into the thick of the action, I would like to say that there are 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!

 

Here is a list of some honourable mentions who, as per my understanding and knowledge, have missed out on the Top 10 list this time round, but do have the ability to make an entry given how they perform from now on until February.

Honourable Mentions: Rúben Dias (MCI), Micheal Keane (EVE), Virgil Van Dijk (LIV), Andreas Christensen (CHE), Thiago Silva (CHE), Ben White (ARS), Ricardo Pereira (LEI), Antonio Rüdiger (CHE), Joël Matip (LIV), Aaron Cresswell (WHU) and James Tarkowski (BUR)

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 Premier League season.

 

#10 Ethan Pinnock | Brentford

Games – 15 | Goals – 1 | Assists – 1

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Ethan Pinnock
Playing as the left-sided third centre-back in Thomas Frank’s system, Ethan Pinnock has been one of the best Bees players over the past months. Although part of a back-three system, Pinnock finds himself venturing further up the pitch into the half-spaces and dictating the tempo from there.

His first league assist came against the Gunners when he set up Sergi Canós, while his only league goal came against Liverpool in a 3-3 thriller at the Brentford Community Stadium. Moreover, he has created two big chances so far along with averaging 0.5 key passes/90’.

To add to that, he has been solid at the back with 1.6 interceptions and 1.2 tackles/90’, while crucially making 3.6 clearances/90’. More impressively, Pinnock is averaging 6.3 duels won, of which 4.5 are aerial duels, further highlighting his aerial prowess.

RATING: 7/10

 

 

#9 César Azpilicueta | Chelsea

Games – 9 | Goals – 0 | Assists – 2

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - César Azpilicueta
The Chelsea captain has been in fine form throughout the first leg of the 2021/22 season. With the level of performances the 32-year-old is putting in, and with his contract running out at the end of the season, it’s fair to assume that clubs like Real Madrid & Co. would start circling around for his signature, with the Bosman rule coming into effect as early as January.

Playing as the third centre-back, or sometimes playing further wide as the right-wingback, Azpilicueta has produced consistent performances whenever called upon. With the other two centre-backs tucking in to make the final defensive line, it gives license to someone like César Azpilicueta to hug the touchline and contribute as part of a group rather than being a lone outlet.

To go along with his two assists, the 32-year has created two big chances while making 0.7 key passes/90’. He is also averaging 2.7 tackles/90’ and 2.7 clearances/90’, with the only low point being his possession lost count, which stands at 12.4 — high for any centre-back.

Moreover, the 32-year-old Spaniard has only started one out of the possible six Premier League fixtures, with Thomas Tuchel using him predominantly for the Champions League Group Stage fixtures.

RATING: 7/10

#8 Takehiro Tomiyasu | Arsenal

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Takehiro Tomiyasu
Games – 12 | Goals – 0 | Assists – 1

Takehiro Tomiyasu has been a revelation ever since joining Arsenal as a deadline-day signing for £16.8m from Serie A side Bologna. The Japan international is a technically-gifted and intelligent right-back who is positionally quite aware and more often than not carries out Mikel Arteta‘s instructions to perfection.

Tomiyasu is used much like how João Cancelo is used for Manchester City; he tucks in as part of the back-three in Arteta’s 3-2-5 build-up play while similarly venturing further up when Nuno Tavares/Kieran Tierney tucks into that back-three.

Moreover, Tomiyasu is a great 1v1 defender and is averaging 2.0 tackles/90’, 1.1 interceptions/90’ and 2.8 clearances/90’. Even in Arsenal’s recent slump, the Japanese right-back has given a good account of himself, having recently provided an intelligent assist for Gabriel Martinelli’s goal against Newcastle United.

Tomiyasu has all the ingredients to become a top right-back, and so far he looks to be on the right trajectory.

RATING: 7.25/10

#7 Shane Duffy | Brighton & Hove Albion

Games – 13 | Goals – 1 | Assists – 0

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Shane Duffy
Shane Duffy has been sensational for the Seagulls. The Brighton & Hove Albion defence has looked solid this season, but the Republic of Ireland international has been on a level above his teammates.

The 29-year-old is known for his aerial prowess, and that is justified with both his 3.8 aerial duels won (71%) and 4.8 clearances/90’. Duffy is not much of a tackler, which is evident with his 1.2 ground duels won (52%) — quite poor for a centre-back, and that has also earned him five yellow cards, meaning it has already resulted in a one-match suspension.

His only league goal this season came against Watford in a 2-0 home win. He doesn’t add much to the team’s creative play, playing 95% of his passes in his own half, recycling rather than breaking the lines or drawing the opposition press.

RATING: 7.25/10

#6 Ben Chilwell | Chelsea

Games – 6 | Goals – 3 | Assists – 1

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Ben Chilwell
I know people will jump on this one, as to how Ben Chilwell could be 6th on the list having played just 6 games. Marcus Alonso was the regular left wing-back at the start of the season, but I feel while Alonso is prepared for the immediate future and present, Thomas Tuchel has been preparing Ben Chilwell for the rest of the season. And unlike other teams, Chelsea are likely to play 60+ games. Mark my words: any silverware Chelsea win this season will be largely down to how their wingbacks perform.

Chilwell, in his six Premier League appearances, has impressed immensely with his driving runs, his deliveries and improved finishing. He has scored three goals, missing two Big Chances while providing one assist and creating 1.8 key passes/90‘. He is solid defensively too, though he has conceded one penalty this season. He averages 5.5 duels won, which is quite good, along with 2.8 clearances/90’ and 1.3 tackles/90’.

Worryingly for Chelsea, the full-back is one among the growing list of players sidelined with injuries in recent weeks, and the holes are evident for all to see.

RATING: 7.5/10

#5 Valentino Livramento | Southampton

Games – 15 | Goals – 1 | Assists – 0

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Valentino Livramento
The Chelsea youth product, Valentino Livramento, who was snapped up by Southampton for about £5.6m, has been one of the best young players so far this season. His piercing runs down the right flank and the composure he possesses for someone who is only 19 puts him in great stead to accomplish major things in the future.

Seriously, Livramento is a hugely underrated talent who isn’t spoken about enough. Playing in a Southampton side that were expected to perform badly, Livramento, along with the rest of the backline, has been superb in dishing out consistent defensive performances.

The 19-year-old has completed all the games so far this season, scoring once in a 2-2 draw against Burnley at home, while creating one big chance and playing 14 key passes. Moreover, he has helped the Saints keep 4 clean sheets with defensive contributions any U21 defender would be proud of — 1.9 interceptions/90’, 2.3 tackles/90’, 1.7 clearances/90’ and 6.4 duels won/90’, of which 5.5 are ground duels, which makes it all the more impressive.

RATING: 8/10

#4 Gabriel Magalhães | Arsenal

Games – 12 | Goals – 1 | Assists – 0

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Gabriel Magalhães
A knee injury suffered during the Olympics Games meant that Gabriel Magalhães was ruled out for the first three league games of the season. But when he came back, it was clearly evident what Arsenal were missing — an aggressive and powerful centre-back who would dominate his area and wouldn’t be afraid to push high.

Gabriel’s performances have earned him a Brazilian call-up for the first time, and with age on his side, things will only get better.

The presence of a technically-superior and calmer partner in Ben White has led to this newfound level in Gabriel’s game. The 23-year-old scored his first league goal of the season against Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. Moreover, he has helped the Gunners keep 6 clean sheets in the 12 games he has played in.

However, after keeping just 1 clean sheet and conceding 9 goals in 3 games, Gabriel will need to step up and show his leadership quality with fixtures against the likes of Southampton, West Ham United and Leeds United coming up before Arsenal’s Boxing Day trip to Carrow Road.

RATING: 8/10

#3 João Cancelo | Manchester City

Games – 15 | Goals – 0 | Assists – 3

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - João Cancelo
Arguably the best Manchester City player over the last 12 months, João Cancelo is the only City player to start every single league game this campaign, which speaks volumes of his consistency and how integral he is to Pep Guardiola and his system.

Moreover, in the absence of Oleksandr Zinchenko, Cancelo has played most of the games as a left-back for Pep’s team. He averages 104 touches per game, while completing nearly double his passes in the opposition half compared to his own half.

Similarly, his presence as part of a second shield has allowed Pep’s team to be more secure in transitions. The 27-year-old has accumulated 7 clean sheets in the league so far this season while racking up 2.2 interceptions/90’ and 2.0 tackles/90’. The Portugal international hasn’t put a foot wrong so far this season, and is already enjoying his best start to a league campaign in terms of individual performances.

RATING: 8.25/10

#2 Trent Alexander-Arnold | Liverpool

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Trent Alexander
Games – 13 | Goals – 1 | Assists – 7

The Liverpool right-back has looked lively again with a stable backline. Moreover, said stable backline has given both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson the license to venture forward and wreak havoc in the opposition’s final third.

Unlike other top teams and systems, the Liverpool system is based around the creativity coming from its flanks, the fullbacks in particular. Thus, it’s no surprise that Trent averages 96 touches per game. Along with his 8 goal contributions (1 Goal + 7 Assists), the Scouser has been racking up attacking numbers for fun; in his 13 Premier League appearances so far, Trent has 9 Big Chances Created while racking up 3.2 key passes/90’. However, his defensive work still needs some polishing, and that is why he is ranked 2nd on my list.

Although he produces 1.7 interceptions/90’, 1.2 tackles/90’ and 1.4 clearances/90’, the 23-year-old averages 21.6 in terms of possession lost, which is a concern given he wins back possession 7-8 times per game.

RATING: 8.5/10

#1 Reece James | Chelsea

Top 10 defenders so far during the 2021/22 season - Reece James
Games – 11 | Goals – 4 | Assists – 4

Reece James, quite simply, has been the best defender in the league by a country mile. And when you look at his numbers more closely, they look all the more impressive.

Let’s begin with his goal contributions: he has 8 goal contributions in 11 league appearances — two of which were off the bench. That means James has made one goal contribution every 90 minutes — staggering.

In Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-3 system, it is the wingbacks that are the most adventurous, and both Ben Chilwell and Reece James to their credit have been in scintillating form for the West Londoners.

Given the system he is playing in, James has next to nothing in terms of defensive duties, given Chelsea rarely encounter teams that are on par or superior to them technically week in week out. Thus, given their easy fixture run-in, and Romelu Lukaku yet to return, Chelsea and Reece James can hit another gear during this busy Christmas period.

RATING: 9.5/10

 

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