The world of defenders can often feel a lonely one. The most prestigious individual awards are geared towards attackers and forwards mostly. Franz Beckenbauer and Fabio Cannavaro remain the only true defenders to win the Ballon d’Or.
Matthias Sammer is also there, but he was converted into a sweeper from a midfielder. No defender has won it since 2006, and nobody puts 100+ blocks in a season over 40+ goals. However, no team would be able to properly compete without a stout backline.
The tighter your defence, the better your fortunes of avoiding a loss. There are several great defenders in the world currently, and here are the best of the lot. (In no particular order)
The top 10 defenders in world football
|Jersey No.||Name||Club/Country||Age||Clean Sheets % (2021-22)||Red Cards|
|4||Virgil van Dijk||Liverpool/Netherlands||31||62%||3|
|2||David Alaba||Real Madrid/Austria||30||28%||2|
|3||Ruben Dias||Man City/Portugal||24||38%||3|
|23||Fikayo Tomori||AC Milan/England||24||52%||1|
|22||Antonio Rudiger||Real Madrid/Germany||29||41%||4|
|32||Josko Gvardiol||RB Leipzig/Croatia||20||28%||0|
|14||Aymeric Laporte||Manchester City/Spain||28||55%||3|
Virgil van Dijk
The Liverpool centre-back has been one of the best defenders in the Premier League in recent years. Van Dijk is extremely quick across the ground with his long legs and reading of the game.
On the other side of the field is Darwin Nunez, who could be a massive source of goals for the Reds
His tall frame means he wins 4.02 aerial duels per 90, putting him in the 92nd percentile of defenders. Van Dijk’s attacking prowess is also refined, with almost 75 passes attempted per 90, completing 91% of them. Liverpool’s strong form at the back has helped Van Dijk’s cause and he has won the Premier League Player of the Year in 2019.
Another ball-playing centre-back with 4.30 progressive carries per 90. Marquinhos has been an ever-present with PSG since 2013. He completes 93% of his passes, with more than 73 attempts per 90.
Marquinhos has also benefitted from the players ahead of him being excellent in their roles themselves. He will definitely be one of the more important players for Brazil at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
The Austrian stalwart was one of the most important components for Real Madrid in 2021-22. Alaba was a fixture in the side as Los Blancos won the league and UEFA Champions League double.
One of Alaba’s main assets is his ability to play across multiple positions. Initially a left-back, he has played as CB, DM, RB and even as central midfielder. Now, he has found his place in the middle of the Real Madrid defence. He ensured Madrid didn’t miss the departure of legend Sergio Ramos, no mean feat.
The only man to enter the conversation for the best defender in the league when Van Dijk was scooping up awards like hardware. Manchester City had always been a thrilling goal machine but their defenders had an error or two in them.
Ruben Dias came in, immediately became the leader of the defence and shored it up. Now a PL winner, he has added much-needed grit and strength to a silky Manchester City team.
The left-footed central defender is arguably the most coveted position in world football today. Having a left-footed ball-playing CB is worth his weight in gold. For Inter, they have arguably the best in class in that particular category.
Alessandro Bastoni came through the famed Atalanta academy, then honing his craft under the genius of Gian Piero Gasperini. Inter moved quickly to secure his services and have since won a Serie A title. Much more trophies are incoming for the talented Italian.
One of the greatest success stories for Spurs under Antonio Conte. Romero has earned a name for being a very physical defender who anticipates danger very well. He applied 15.47 pressures, with 3.66 tackles and 2.44 blocks per 90.
Romero has been a standout force as Spurs sealed Champions League qualification. Moreover, he was central to Argentina winning the Copa America 2021. There were some question marks over whether Romero would succeed, but he has answered emphatically.
A true defender’s defender, who is all about keeping opponents at bay. Tomori is not your average forward-driving centre-back. He loves keeping things tight and will fight for every loose ball.
Why Chelsea selling Fikayo Tomori was the wrong move
Since moving to AC Milan, Tomori has developed into one of the finest young defenders in Europe. In 2021-22, Tomori applied 13.09 pressures, made 2.41 tackles, and had 2.18 blocks (all per 90). That placed him in the top 92nd, 88th, and 87th percentile respectively. All of it culminated in AC Milan’s first Serie A title in 11 years.
It is truly ridiculous how good Laporte is offensively. He recorded a 99th percentile in passes attempted (88.71), pass completion (94.6%), progressive passes (6.02), and progressive carries (10.99).
Laporte has been a constant source of threat for opponents due to his deep passing range, and ability to switch play. Manchester City are inherently a much better team when Laporte is firing on all cylinders.
RB Leipzig are known for developing talent and Gvardiol is their crown jewel in defence. The Croatian defender has made a solid start to his career in Germany, combining attack with defensive acumen.
Gvardiol made 5.31 progressive passes and 5.45 progressive carries per 90. Furthermore, he recorded 3.29 interceptions and completed 0.89 dribbles per 90. Clearly, he is comfortable on the ball and Leipzig have placed their faith in the rising star.
Get a detailed scout report of Josko Gvardiol right here
The newly minted signing for Real Madrid was one of Chelsea’s best players in 2021-22. Rudiger’s superb commitment and full-on diving into clearing dangerous attacks have been a hallmark of his game.
Moreover, he is a very able shooter from distance for a defender. Rudiger’s no-nonsense approach to the game has earned him plenty of plaudits. Thomas Tuchel has turned the fortunes of the German international around and he will be looking to replicate that form in Madrid.
*This article is sponsored by Xebia, a pioneering Software Engineering and IT consultancy company, started in Netherlands. Xebia in Netherlands proudly supports the Dutch national football team.