The role of a centre-back has arguably never been more important with modern defenders now required to deliver much more than simply defending their own penalty area, the ever-changing demands of top level football requiring an almost complete skill set.
Attacking players may often take most of the headlines but the need for a solid backline is pivotal, a great defence often proving the difference between a good team and a great one.
At the heart of any leading defence must be a commanding presence, a player with the class, composure and authority to repel even the most dangerous of opposition forwards.
We’ve decided to look at some of the finest central defenders in the game at present, here are our rankings of the five best centre-backs in European football right now:
5. Aymeric Laporte
Manchester City’s defence may have been more than questionable on occasion this season, but the club’s reign as Premier League champions was effectively ended during a spell in which Laporte was sidelined through injury.
The Frenchman has been a model of consistency since moving to the Etihad from Athletic Bilbao and has established himself as one of the best defenders in English football, a player equally capable of throwing his body on the line as he is stepping forward comfortably when in possession.
Aymeric Laporte has 10 Clean Sheets in 14 PL Games This Season.
• 92% Passing Accuracy
• 25 Clearances
• 10 Headed Clearances
• 19 Interceptions
In those few games he deserves to be in PFA TOTY ahead of Many CBs. pic.twitter.com/FXUyW5eDHv
— KDB™ (@BelgianKing17) July 21, 2020
Laporte’s elegant style is perfectly suited to Pep Guardiola’s methods as a manager, whilst his cultured left-foot brings perfect balance to a backline for which he remains the defensive rock.
The 26-year-old’s form and fitness will be pivotal to City’s hopes of securing a maiden Champions League title this season, a classy customer who forms the backbone of one of Europe’s most impressive sides.
4. Kalidou Koulibaly
The name of Kalidou Koulibaly has been one linked with the continent’s giants for several seasons now, with the Senegalese star having shone as the imposing leader of the Napoli side.
He remains a highly sought after talent despite a difficult season including much off-field turmoil in Naples, the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United amongst the clubs credited with an interest.
The 29-year-old is dominant both in the air and on the ground, a hulking presence with pace to match even the quickest forwards and a calming composure when on the ball.
Named in the Serie A Team of the Season for four consecutive years and as the division’s best defender last term, Koulibaly ranks amongst the best passers in Italy’s top-flight having completed 91.1% of his passes so far this season.
This summer may prove his last opportunity to sign for a club capable of competing for the Champions League, though Napoli are likely to demand a huge fee for their most prized possession.
3. Sergio Ramos
One of the best defenders in world football and of his generation, Ramos’ remarkable consistency as the highest level has seen the Real Madrid captain become one of the most decorated players of the modern era.
The centre-back captained Los Blancos to the Spanish league title this season to add yet more silverware to his burgeoning collection, his list of accolades including four Champions League titles alongside the World Cup and two European Championships with the national side.
Sergio Ramos since becoming Real Madrid captain in 2015/16:
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All he does is win. pic.twitter.com/jm5uReMfUl
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 20, 2020
Ramos’ intense will-to-win and ferocious competitive edge make him the perfect leader of a backline, whilst his ever-increasing goal record makes him a unique proposition – the defender having unusually taken on set-piece responsibility at the Bernabeu to establish himself as the highest-scoring defender in La Liga history.
His famed shithousery may leave him wholly unlikeable to rival fans but there is no disputing Ramos’ place amongst the very best, an icon of arguably world football’s biggest club and a formidable defender despite his advancing years.
2. Raphael Varane
Sitting just ahead of Ramos in our rankings is defensive partner Varane, a player hailed as ‘one of the best centre-backs of all-time’ by teammate Eden Hazard following an extraordinary career of success to date.
The France international is a superstar in a brilliantly understated manner, the game seemingly coming easy to a player who registered four Champions League victories and World Cup success before his 26th birthday.
?️ Eden Hazard: “During my career, I’ve encountered some great defenders, such as John Terry and Vincent Kompany. Even though he’s still young, I think Raphaël Varane is already one of the best centre-backs in history. His partnership with Sergio Ramos is fantastic.”#UCL pic.twitter.com/sSVJ2iu0sm
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) July 21, 2020
Varane is an excellent reader of the game and possesses the physical attributes to deal with any forward threat, strong in the air and capable of explosive recovery pace to recover when dangerous situations arise.
His wealth of success has come without rarely looking as if he has stepped out of second gear, a testament to a player whose subtle style fails to detract from his status as one of the world’s best defenders.
1. Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk has been showered with plaudits and praise ever since his instant impact upon signing for Liverpool, the Dutch defender silencing the critics who questioned the world-record fee that took him to Anfield.
Liverpool’s defensive improvement since his signing has been remarkable, Van Dijk’s presence transforming a suspect rearguard into one of the best backlines in European football.
What a year it has been, we did it!! @premierleague Champions ?
— Virgil van Dijk (@VirgilvDijk) July 24, 2020
The Netherlands captain was named as the PFA Player of the Year as the Reds were crowned champions of Europe last season, later finishing as runner-up to Lionel Messi for the Ballon d’Or as he helped Jurgen Klopp’s side end a 30-year wait for a top-flight title with Premier League success.
Possessing strength and speed in addition to being a tremendous passer of the ball, the 29-year-old is the most dominant defender in world football and a pivotal part of a golden period for Liverpool at present.