Premier League sides look for various traits in defenders nowadays. In the case of centre-backs, some sides look for strong players who are good in the air, while some look for players who can play out from the back. Similarly, some sides prefer full-backs with pace and who can overlap, while some prefer taller full-backs with defensive capabilities. Defenders contribute in various ways, including—but not limited to—providing assists, scoring goals and obtaining clean sheets.
In this article, I present to you my top ten Premier League defenders for the 2021/22 season:
10. Ben Mee
The tenth-placed defender on my list is Ben Mee. Burnley often do not get the credit they deserve for being defensively solid and hard to break down. Mee is an essential part of that robust backline. Despite eventually getting relegated, Burnley found themselves in the bottom half of teams for most goals conceded last season, indicating their defensive prowess.
Mee won 68 of his 109 aerial duels and contributed to six of Burnley’s clean sheets, quite impressive considering that Burnley went down last season. Mee is also threatening from set-pieces and scored three goals last season, all of which came off his head.
9. Matty Cash
Matty Cash has been quite the find for Aston Villa. He is the first-choice right-back for his side.
Villa had a slightly topsy-turvy season and even underwent a managerial change. Cash, however, proved to be quite brilliant at right-back. He scored four league goals last season, including the dramatic last-day goal against Manchester City, and assisted on three occasions. He also contributed to ten clean sheets and will definitely be Villa’s first-choice right-back next season as well.
Although he is not the best on the defensive side of things, Cash fits nicely into the attacking style that Steven Gerrard wants to employ at Villa.
8. Conor Coady
Up next is the man in the middle of the three centre-backs at Wolves, Conor Coady. Coady is also the captain of his team and contributes heavily to Wolves’ defensive success. Wolves are known for being hard to break down; Coady is a significant reason behind it.
Coady helped his side earn eleven clean sheets in the league last season and won more than half of his aerial duels. He also scored important goals for Wolves. For a side not known for scoring many goals, any goal from a defender is a real bonus. Cody stepped up with four goals so far this season, a stat that needs some altering. Wolves will be looking up to their forwards to score goals in the coming season.
7. Trevoh Chalobah
Trevoh Chalobah stepped quite nicely into the Chelsea first XI last season. Although he is not yet a sure-shot starter for the side, he is slowly becoming a crucial component of the Chelsea back three.
Chalobah won over half of his aerial duels and maintained a tackle success rate of 68%. He also contributed to nine of sixteen Chelsea clean sheets in the league.
Chalobah is not afraid to let fly when the ball is at his feet either. He scored an incredible goal from range against Crystal Palace during the first Matchday. He scored three league goals last season, the other two being a couple of headed goals.
6. Thiago Silva
It is fair to say that the Chelsea centre-backs had a great season. Thiago Silva fits right into the middle of the three-at-the-back system employed by Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea. Thiago Silva is, of course, an experienced campaigner and knows how to position himself to give himself the best possible chance of winning tackles and duels. This particular fact is backed up by his reasonably good tackle success rate of 66% and the fact that he won nearly two-thirds of his aerial duels last season.
Silva contributed to ten clean sheets last season. He also pops up with goals every now and then. Chelsea have been potent from corners and have scored from quite a few set-pieces, three of which have come from Silva last season. The Brazilian is also a key ball progressor for the side and averaged seven progressive carries per game last term.
5. Gabriel Magalhães
Up next is the big Brazilian centre-back, Gabriel. The Arsenal man is only 24 years old and is already showing incredible signs of maturity. Gabriel is mobile, strong, and brilliant in the air — all great attributes for a centre-back. Moreover, Gabriel and his partner, Benjamin White, are pretty comfortable on the ball while playing out from the back, an essential component that Mikel Arteta looks for while picking his centre-backs.
Gabriel scored five league goals last season, a considerably high number for any centre-back in the Premier League. He also won 55 of his 94 aerial duels, a fair number to suggest that he is indeed comfortable with dealing with balls into the box. He also maintained a 60% tackle success rate, a reasonable number to have whilst playing the centre-back role.
4. Reece James
Reece James was exceptional for Chelsea last season. Although he sustained injuries throughout the season, he still managed to contribute heavily in an attacking sense. It must be noted that James plays in a slightly different system than most others on this list, which is somewhat advantageous to the Chelsea man. He is often deployed as a right-wingback, which allows him to venture forward far more than the rest on this list.
James’ role as a wingback helps him bomb forward and chip in with goals and assists. Last season, he scored on five occasions, assisted nine times and contributed to five clean sheets in the league. His defensive capabilities are no less than what he contributes going forward: he maintained an incredible 76% tackle success rate last season. He, too, like most of the top five on this list, averaged over three shot-creating actions per game, proving his worth in the attacking half.
3. João Cancelo
João Cancelo finds himself at number three on this list because his stats don’t add up as well as the other two. Regardless, he did, in a sense, have the season of his life. From slotting in at left-back to covering for Kyle Walker at right-back, Cancelo did it all last season. The funny thing is that he looks more than comfortable at left-back, although he is not naturally a left-footed player.
Cancelo provided one goal and seven assists in the league last season, while also contributing to nineteen of Man City’s clean sheets, the most of any player on this list. He had a tackle success rate of nearly 65%, proving his capability as a defender as well. Moreover, Cancelo epitomises the way Manchester City take care of the ball. He made more passes in the league last season than any other player on this list.
2. Andrew Robertson
Andrew Robertson finds himself on the left side of the Liverpool defence. The left-back loves to overlap and create an overload on the left-hand side for the Reds. The Scotsman ended last season just two short of Trent Alexander-Arnold in terms of assists in the league. He scored three goals as well, leapfrogging his colleague at right-back by one goal.
Robertson contributed to sixteen clean sheets this season, one less than TAA’s tally because the Scotland international had to miss games due to injury. Despite being not too tall, Robertson won about two-thirds of his aerial duels. He too is an effective full-back in the attacking half and averaged over three shot-creating actions per game last season. He is generally full of life and energy and is a player who has no problem doing the hard yards for his side.
1. Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold will undoubtedly be in anybody’s list of top defenders. Questions have been raised about his defensive qualities, but what he provides to his team going forward is invaluable. Trent led the line for the most number of assists in the league last season, with twelve. To add to his assists, he also scored a couple of goals.
TAA is also quite threatening from set-pieces. Despite questions raised about his defending, he contributed to seventeen clean sheets last season and won more than half of his aerial duels. However, it is the other side of the pitch that really attracts people to Trent. He topped the charts last season for the most progressive passes made as well as shot-creating actions conjured up by a defender.