Rio Ferdinand made headlines this week after declaring Antonio Rudiger as the best defender in the Premier League at present, the centre-back having been a key figure for Thomas Tuchel and Chelsea.
Rudiger has returned to favour after a spell on the sidelines under former manager Frank Lampard, helping Chelsea to the best defensive record across Europe’s major leagues since Tuchel’s appointment as head coach in January.
Following Ferdinand’s comments, we’ve given our view on the five best centre-backs in the Premier League right now.
5. Antonio Rudiger
Rudiger may have been lauded by Ferdinand as the division’s best defender, but comes in at fifth in our rankings of the Premier League’s best centre-backs at present.
The Germany international has been a monstrous presence in recent months for Chelsea, dominating in his one-versus-one duels and forming part of a backline that has turned Thomas Tuchel’s side into title contenders.
Rio Ferdinand believes Antonio Rüdiger has been the best defender in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel took charge of Chelsea. pic.twitter.com/31wUCxgXtV
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 21, 2021
Chelsea have kept more clean sheets (15) than they have conceded goals (14) in the Premier League since Tuchel’s arrival, though their strength is due to a combination of both individual quality and collective resistance.
Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen – who leads the league for interceptions – and Cesar Azpilicueta have all performed admirably as part of the Blues’ back three system, though Rudiger’s aggressive manner of defending deserves plaudits.
4. Aymeric Laporte
Aymeric Laporte was understood to be keen on an exit from Manchester City during the summer, having fallen out of favour last season due to the impressive form of Ruben Dias and John Stones.
With interest from La Liga failing to materialise in a deal given the financial issues surrounding Spain’s elite, Laporte has remained at the Etihad and has began the new season in impressive form in the absence of Stones.
Guardiola described Laporte has “the best left-sided centre-back for build-up play in the world” following City’s 5-0 thrashing of Norwich in August, with the 27-year-old having been a crucial figure at both ends of the pitch for the Premier League champions so far this season.
Laporte leads the Premier League for pass completion so far this season with a huge 96.7%, though ranks sixth for passes into the final third in a statistic that emphasises his ability to play forward through opposition lines.
Averaging 8.89 progressive passes per 90 minutes, it is no coincidence that City’s failure to break down Southampton last weekend came in his absence.
3. Raphael Varane
Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Manchester United dominated the headlines this summer, but the signing of Raphael Varane could arguably prove more crucial to the Red Devils’ hopes of silverware.
The France international has won it all during a career of huge success, including lifting the Champions League on four occasions with Real Madrid and the World Cup with France.
Varane has made three league appearances since swapping the Bernabeu for Old Trafford, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side having won each of the fixtures he has featured in.
Varane has averaged an impressive two tackles and 2.7 ground duels won per 90 minutes this season, figures superior to the other centre-backs featured in our top five.
The 28-year-old has provided a reassuring presence in the backline despite some unconvincing performances from Harry Maguire alongside him, with his reputation as one of the world’s best justified based on his early impact in English football.
2. Ruben Dias
Last season’s FWA Footballer of the Year and Premier League Player of the Season, the arrival of Ruben Dias was widely viewed as the catalyst behind Manchester City’s reclaiming of the title in 2020/21.
The Portugal international remains a crucial presence at the heart of Pep Guardiola’s defence, leading the Premier League for completed passes and ranking third for touches so far this season.
Dias combines the forward qualities that Guardiola demands from his defenders, alongside the defensive attributes of an elite centre-back.
He has recovered from an indifferent Euro 2020 campaign to reestablish himself as the main man in the champion’s backline, with only Jack Grealish ranking ahead of the 24-year-old for progressive carries this season – his 57 incredibly level with Wolves’ winger Adama Traore.
1. Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk’s absence last season was the major talking point behind Liverpool’s disappointing defence of the title, the impact of the centre-back at Anfield having been well-documented since his arrival three-and-a-half years ago.
Having returned from the anterior cruciate ligament injury that saw him miss almost the entirety of last season, Van Dijk has slotted seamlessly back into the side as Liverpool have made an unbeaten start to the season.
The Netherlands international has averaged more aerial duels won and clearances than any other defender on this list, whilst his average of 0.7 interceptions per 90 is level with Dias and Rudiger and more than both Laporte and Varane.
100 league games with Liverpool for @VirgilvDijk.
Their record is ridiculous with him in the side 🧱 pic.twitter.com/Tbq5cPIUCT
— B/R Football (@brfootball) September 18, 2021
Van Dijk has returned in fine form, though there is a sense his best is still to come as he continues to get back up to the speed of Premier League football.
Credit must also go to Joel Matip who has enjoyed an excellent start alongside him after making his own return from injury, but the presence of Van Dijk at centre-back has a transformative impact on Jurgen Klopp’s side.