Centre-backs are the pillars on which successful sides are built and the Premier League is home to some elite defenders right now.
From domineering defensive lynchpins, to cool customers confident in playing from the back, there’s a whole host of centre-backs starring for their sides in England’s top division.
Arsenal’s William Saliba underlined his reputation as one of the most promising central defenders in Europe with a shutdown performance on Manchester City forward Erling Haaland at the weekend, but where does the 22-year-old rank among the Premier League’s best?
We’ve attempted to rank the 10 best centre-backs in the Premier League right now.
Ranking the 10 best centre-backs in the Premier League:
10. Lewis Dunk – Brighton
Roberto De Zerbi is in no doubt over the quality of Lewis Dunk, a defender the Italian coach inherited at Brighton but who has become a fulcrum of his successful side. Dunk has taken his game to new heights under the Brighton boss, leading the Premier League for passes in 2022/23 and again topping the charts across the opening weeks of the campaign.
“For me, it’s difficult to see how he has never played for a big team in the Premier League because if you ask me what I think about him, I would say he is one of the best defenders in the Premier League,” De Zerbi said on Dunk in February.
Lewis Dunk’s game by numbers vs. Liverpool:
86% pass accuracy
4 long balls completed
3/3 ground duels won
2/3 aerial duels won
1/1 dribble completed
A Captain’s performance. pic.twitter.com/R4oC1dwwEQ
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) October 8, 2023
Dunk might be 31, but he has shown it’s never too late for an old dog to learn new tricks. The Brighton captain combines battle-hardened defensive nous with a confidence to play, traits which have earned an England recall. A starting place at Euro 2024 is not beyond Dunk on current form.
9. Sven Botman – Newcastle
Newcastle’s Saudi-backed regime has not quite been the spending extravaganza most predicted, but the club’s business has been considered and successful. Among the best business has been the arrival of Sven Botman from Lille, an addition which has transformed the team into one of the best defensive units in the division.
Newcastle conceded a league-low 33 goals last season to secure Champions League qualification, with Botman brilliant during that run. Just four players across Europe’s top five leagues posted a higher percentage for dribblers tackled (78.6%).
🎙 “SVEN BOTMAN GLANCES HOME A THIRD!”
Newcastle are RUNNING RIOT at Bramall lane ⚽⚽⚽ pic.twitter.com/MDu8LL1SXM
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) September 24, 2023
The Dutchman is on the brink of the Netherlands set-up, though competition for a centre-back place is fierce with Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Stefan de Vrij, Jurrien Timber, Nathan Ake and Micky van de Ven competing for position.
8. Ibrahima Konate – Liverpool
Ibrahima Konate has proven to be solid business for Liverpool since the Reds triggered his release clause of £36 million at RB Leipzig in May 2021.
Konate has been a commanding presence at centre-back with Liverpool often a better team when the Frenchman is partnering Virgil van Dijk. His pace and power is a match for any Premier League forward and Konate has established himself as a regular for France, who he helped reach the 2022 World Cup final in Qatar.
7. Lisandro Martinez – Manchester United
Erik ten Hag made a move to sign Lisandro Martinez during his first summer at Manchester United, with the Dutchman keen to reunite with a defender who won Ajax’s Player of the Season award in the club’s title-winning campaign the previous year.
Martinez overcame an inauspicious start and vocal doubters to win over the Manchester United fans, during a first season in which his full-blooded commitment and expansive passing from deep was well appreciated at Old Trafford.
In the winter he became a world champion with Argentina and has been the most consistent centre-back option available to Ten Hag, with Raphael Varane short of the form and fitness which saw him win four Champions League crowns at Real Madrid.
6. Josko Gvardiol – Manchester City
Manchester City broke the bank to sign European football’s most coveted centre-back this summer, landing the highly-rated Josko Gvardiol in a deal worth £77m.
Gvardiol appears the perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s defensive structure, with the bull-like defender bringing power and poise to the Blues’ backline. Last season he ranked among the Bundesliga’s top players for pass completion percentage (7th), touches (8th), successful take-on percentage (1st) and progressive carrying distance (7th).
Still just 21, the sky is the limit for the Croatian centre-back.
5. Cristian Romero – Tottenham
Cristian Romero was named as one of Tottenham’s vice-captains this summer, a nod to his increasing importance to the north Londoners. Romero received plaudits for his performances during an encouraging debut season at Spurs, one that included World Cup success with Argentina in Qatar.
The 25-year-old has elevated his game once again in a strong start to the season under new manager Ange Postecoglou, with the occasional rashness of last season replaced with more mature defensive performances. Such has been his recent form, Romero was labelled the world’s best defender by international teammate Lionel Messi last month.
Maybe Messi was right 👀
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 8, 2023
4. Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool
Virgil van Dijk has held a largely unchallenged place at the top of this list for much of his time with Liverpool, but the Dutch defender now has formidable competition.
Van Dijk remains an elite centre-back and a crucial part of Jurgen Klopp’s plans, having been named captain at Anfield following Jordan Henderson’s exit during the summer. The 32-year-old is a dominant presence in the air and composed on the ground, though perhaps lacks the aura of past seasons.
Still, there are few better around.
3. William Saliba – Arsenal
William Saliba’s masterclass against Manchester City provided a reminder of what a top talent Arsenal possess. The centre-back has been largely flawless since breaking into the Gunners team last season, with the club’s title challenge crumbling in his absence during the run-in.
Saliba moves through the gears effortlessly to frustrate opposition forwards and has not been dribbled past in eight Premier League games this season, committing just two fouls in that time.
Rolls-Roye might be an overused phrase when describing centre-backs, but Saliba is certainly that.
100% of duels won
97% pass completion
0 fouls committed
0 times dribbled past
William Saliba was something else against Man City 🔥 pic.twitter.com/sAwPFENftK
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 9, 2023
2. John Stones – Manchester City
Saliba seems on course to become the Premier League’s best, but the Frenchman must produce consistency over a longer period – and win honours – before he can claim that title.
John Stones has been consistent class for several seasons at Manchester City and produced arguably the best football of his career during the club’s treble-winning 2022/23 campaign. A footballer of elegance and intelligence, his roving role from centre-back into midfield was a tactical tweak which helped enable the Citizens to claim historic success.
From classy CB to midfield maestro 😉
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) June 18, 2023
Stones is the defender Gareth Southgate must build around if England are to challenge for major tournament success.
1. Ruben Dias – Manchester City
Ruben Dias tops our rankings of the Premier League’s best centre-backs right now, with the Portugal international having been a transformative signing for Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side have won three consecutive Premier League titles, two domestic cups and the Champions League in the three seasons since Dias arrived from Benfica.
Excellent in possession and aggressive in duels, the 26-year-old completed the second highest number of passes in the Premier League (1921) and Champions League (907) last season, bettered only by teammate Rodri.
A rock-like presence, Dias speaks well, commands respect, and is the leader of the City side even without the armband.
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