Ideologies of Premier League fans may include intricate passing play with the ball on the turf, but the presence of domineering defenders who relish aerial battles can be just as influential to securing results.
We’ve decided to look at some of the Premier League’s best when it comes to battles in the air, with a look at the defenders who lead the division for aerial duel win percentage so far this season.
Here are the five Premier League centre-backs to win the most aerial duels:
Willy Boly – 73%
Wolves remain one of the toughest Premier League defences to break down and currently lead the division for clean sheets alongside Aston Villa and Southampton, their three-man backline marshalled by the impressive Conor Coady and Willy Boly.
The latter has been amongst the most successful centre-backs in the league this season for aerial duels won, winning 73% of the 33 duels he has contested so far this season.
Boly – who made his debut for the Ivory Coast during the international break after changing his allegiance from France – has started all eight of Wolves’ Premier League fixtures so far this season, the towering defender having often been a model of consistency for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side in recent seasons.
James Tarkowski – 77%
No side in the Premier League have averaged more aerial duels won per game than Burnley so far this season, the Clarets the division’s best in the air despite a difficult start to the season.
Their dominance in the air has been fronted by centre-back James Tarkowski, who won more headers than any defender in the league last season and has won 77% of his 35 duels in the current campaign.
Tarkowski is approaching the final 18 months of his contract at Burnley and has made it clear he is keen to leave the club in search of European football, the likes of Leicester and West Ham having previously been linked with the twice-capped England international.
Sean Dyche will hope he can keep hold of the influential defender’s services until the end of the season at least, however, Burnley mired in the bottom three having failed to win any of their opening seven league fixtures.
Jan Bednarek – 79%
Southampton have enjoyed a superb start to the season and currently sit in the Champions League places ahead of the league’s return this weekend, having compiled a six-game unbeaten run since opening the season with back-to-back defeats.
No side in the division can better the club’s four clean sheets, with a centre-back partnership of Jan Bednarek and a resurgent Jannick Vestergaard having provided a solid foundation on which to build.
The former has impressed with his ability in the air this season and has won 79% of the aerial duels he has contested, only two defenders boasting a better record than the Poland international.
The 24-year-old has grown in stature since signing for the Saints three years ago and is now one of the first names on the team sheet for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s ambitious side.
Kurt Zouma – 85%
Kurt Zouma’s renaissance has been one of the stories of Chelsea’s season so far, having emerged from peripheral figure to become a key part of the west London side’s defensive improvement.
The Frenchman has impressed in partnership with summer signing Thiago Silva and has been a dominant force in the air, winning 85% of his aerial duels – a figure bettered by just one Premier League defender.
Zouma’s athleticism and leap have perfectly complimented his experienced defensive partner, his threat in both boxes evidenced by three goals for the 26-year-old already this season.
It’s been a remarkable rise to prominence for a player who looked like he could be on his way out of Stamford Bridge during the summer, Chelsea having kept five clean sheets in their past six fixtures with Zouma at the heart of their success.
Harry Maguire – 87%
Harry Maguire is the Premier League’s leading defender for aerial duels won so far this season, with the Manchester United captain a dominant force in the air despite an indifferent start to the campaign.
Only James Tarkowski and Virgil van Dijk won more headers than Maguire amongst all centre-backs last season and the 27-year-old has started the new campaign in similar fashion, winning 33 of his 38 aerial duels over the opening weeks of the campaign.
Following a difficult start both on and off the field, the England international will hope to rediscover his best form following the return from the international break, where he delivered an impressive performance in the Three Lions win over Iceland on Wednesday night.
United will need more displays of similar ilk as they bid for consistency in the coming weeks, the Red Devils having won just three of their opening seven league fixtures.
* Stats courtesy of Whoscored.