Great teams are built on strong defences and despite what you might hear about defenders ‘not being as good as they once were’, there’s still some fairly impressive centre-backs in the modern game.
A commanding central defender can be the difference when the stakes are at their highest, a player who organises and leads those around them, contains opposition threats, and contributes to build-up play from the back.
This season several centre-backs have had campaigns to remember and we’ve attempted to rank the very best in the game right now.
Here are our rankings of the best centre-backs in world football right now.
5. Ronald Araujo – Barcelona
Barcelona are on the verge of being crowned Spanish champions for the first time since 2018/19, with the success of Xavi’s side built on a formidable defensive record.
The Catalans are closing in on numerous defensive records, having conceded just 11 goals from their 33 league fixtures so far this season. For context, the fewest goals ever conceded in a 38-game LaLiga season is 18 (Deportivo, 1993/94 and Atlético, 2015/16).
Several stars have contributed to that record, but the performances of Ronald Araujo have emphasised his increasing importance to the side.
VAMOS +3 @fcbarcelona
💪🏾🔵🔴🦍#colosenses3_23 #todosjuntos #forçabarça pic.twitter.com/YImXypzvut
— Ronald Araujo (@RonaldAraujo_4) May 2, 2023
The Uruguayan has taken his game to a new level during the current campaign and has shutdown some of the sport’s biggest names this season, including fine performances up against the likes of Vinicius Junior and Marcus Rashford. The 24-year-old is emerging as captaincy material at the Camp Nou.
4. Eder Militao – Real Madrid
Real Madrid might have disappointed in La Liga this season, but Los Blancos added the Copa del Rey to their bulging trophy cabinet earlier this month and are competing for successive European titles.
Eder Militao has been a cornerstone of their best performances this season with the Brazilian having evolved into an elite option in central defence. Despite the high-profile summer arrival of Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea, it has been Militao who has shone brightest at the heart of the backline.
Alongside the ever excellent David Alaba, the 25-year-old has began to fulfil the potential first seen when signed from Porto in 2019 with a string of strong defensive performances. He leads La Liga for blocks (59) this season, while no player has a higher percentage of dribblers tackled (80%) in Spain’s top division.
🇧🇷 Éder Militão 💪@edermilitao || #UCL pic.twitter.com/jJpyYks1Hm
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) February 20, 2023
Real Madrid miss his purpose in possession – both in terms of carries and progressive passing – when he is absent from the side, while the defender has also offered a goal threat this season with seven goals scored in all competitions.
3. Kim Min-jae – Napoli
Kim Min-jae arrived at Napoli last summer with big boots to fill, signed from Fenerbahce as a replacement for the Chelsea-bound Kalidou Koulibaly.
Koulibaly had been a rock at the heart of the Napoli defence for several seasons, in which he was named in the divisional Team of the Year on four occasions and as Serie A’s Best Defender in 2018/19.
In just one season Min-jae has succeeded where Koulibaly couldn’t, having been the defensive pillar on which the club’s Scudetto success was built. The South Korean has dominated duels to emerge as one of Europe’s most coveted defenders, as Napoli were crowned champions for the first time in 33 years.
South Korean defender Kim Min-jae was playing in the Chinese league for Beijing Guoan until 2021.
He signed for Fenerbahçe for €3m before joining Napoli this season for just €18m.
Now, he’s led Napoli’s defence to their first Scudetto in 33 years 👏 pic.twitter.com/d03WPOWRzi
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 5, 2023
The 26-year-old is nicknamed ‘The Monster’ and has been just that in the air this season, winning more aerial duels than any other defender in the division (91). Min-jae also tops the division for touches (2986), progressive carrying distance, passes into the final third (186), percentage of dribblers tackled (85.2%) and ranks fourth in Serie A for clearances (120).
It’s been a meteoric rise for Min-jae, who in less than two seasons has gone from Chinese Super League unknown to one of Europe’s most in-demand defenders. A number of the continent’s superpowers are reportedly considering summer approaches for the Korean centre-back.
2. John Stones – Manchester City
John Stones might not always get his flowers outside of Manchester City circles, but those who have spent time around the Etihad this season will know all too well just how appreciated he is.
Stones’ name is the one which most often echoes around the arena, with the City supporters regularly in voice to pay tribute to the ‘Barnsley Beckenbauer’.
The defender’s cult status has grown following an outstanding season for Pep Guardiola’s side, one which has seen Stones’ adapt, evolve and thrive in the intricacies of his manager’s system.
Sensational defending from Stones! ⛔️ pic.twitter.com/TE71ba2Txo
— Manchester City (@ManCity) January 6, 2023
The 28-year-old has spent time centrally, at right-back and in midfield, often undertaking all three roles within the same game as Guardiola looks for fluidity and overloads. Calm, composed, multi-functional and intelligent, Stones – who leads the Premier League for pass completion (94%) this season – has been the perfect player to execute Guardiola’s demands.
1. Ruben Dias – Manchester City
Ruben Dias’ return has arguably been the difference for Manchester City this season, whose form has reached a new level since the defender’s recovery from a hamstring issue.
City have lost just once with Dias in the side this season and are unbeaten since the Portugal international returned to action in January. The 25-year-old provides the steel to compliment City’s silk in attacking areas and an elite mentality when it comes to the big stage.
Positionally excellent and authoritative in the air, Dias combines old-school centre-back traits with an ability to bring the ball from the back with confidence. Rarely ruffled and willing to throw his body on the line when required, Dias’ determination has been a driving force in City’s charge towards a potential treble.
Dias never gives up 😏#UCL pic.twitter.com/bmvW1Dk6mU
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) April 22, 2023
City are not the same side when he is absent, perhaps the greatest testament to his impact on Pep Guardiola’s team. A natural leader, he is a captain without the armband. All great sides need those.
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