Few teams have ever won major trophies without the presence of a solid defensive line, with commanding centre-backs the cornerstone of any great backline.
Gone are the days when simply putting your foot through the ball and heading away dangerous crosses would suffice, modern defenders now required to boast a more complete skillset, building attacks from the back as well as preventing them.
The opening weeks of the new Premier League season have seen several central defenders make a huge impression, from summer signings to players with a point to prove.
We’ve decided to look at some of the league’s central defenders in peak fitness and form at present, here are five of the best in-form centre-backs in the Premier League right now:
6. Jannick Vestergaard
There are few avid watchers of the Premier League – even of a Southampton persuasion – that would have predicted the renaissance Jannick Vestergaard would enjoy over the opening weeks of the season, the towering Denmark international playing the best football of his Premier League career in an exciting Saints side.
Vestergaard has spent two seasons on the South Coast without pulling up any trees and had struggled to command an automatic place last season, the summer signing of Mohammed Salisu predicted only to push the 28-year-old further down the pecking order.
The Dane has rubbished those suggestions to become an integral part of the club’s rise under Ralph Hasenhuttl in the early weeks of the season, producing a number of commanding displays in partnership with Jan Bednarek at centre-back.
Vestergaard has been a domineering presence in the air and his threat in both boxes has been evident with two goals for the season already, his return to the fold coinciding with an unbeaten run for Southampton.
Southampton have won five and drawn one of the six fixtures Vestergaard has started so far this season, keeping four clean sheets in that time – the most in the Premier League this season alongside Aston Villa and Wolves.
Arsenal looked to address their long-standing issues at centre-back this summer with the signing of Gabriel from Lille, with the early indications that the north London side have acquired a player with both huge talent and potential.
The Brazilian enjoyed an excellent debut against Fulham – scoring his first goal for the club – and has proven a commanding presence over the opening weeks of the season, his imperious displays seeing the youngster named as the Gunners’ Player of the Month for September.
Gabriel is strong, aggressive and pro-active in his defending, whilst he retains a composure both in and out of possession and has provided an instant upgrade at the heart of the Arsenal backline.
Last season saw the 22-year-old make more completed passes into the opposition half than any other player in Ligue 1, his ability to play out from the back a vital asset to Mikel Arteta’s style of play.
Gabriel’s performance in the recent win at Manchester United was magnificent as he nullified the threat of the home side’s attacking options and whilst his struggles against Aston Villa last weekend proved he is far from the finished article, the early signs are encouraging for Arsenal’s emerging defensive lynchpin.
4. Wesley Fofana
Wesley Fofana’s career at Leicester may only be in its infancy but the youngster has already made a huge impression, his superb start to life at the King Power Stadium having even surprised the manager who signed him.
Brendan Rodgers described the teenager as an ‘absolutely colossal’ following the weekend win over Wolves, whilst former Foxes favourite Gary Lineker was gushing with praise for the 19-year-old following his latest display.
Fofana is an excellent reader of the game and combines speed with athleticism, whilst his confidence in possession is remarkable for a player with just 24 senior appearances in league action.
Leicester’s savvy recruitment team were in no doubt that the centre-back was worth an eye-catching £30m fee despite his inexperience, and it appears the Foxes have unearthed another gem to add to their growing collection of exciting young talent.
Wesley Fofana has made more clearances (18) than any other Leicester City player so far this season and they have only conceded two Premier League goals with him on the pitch.
At 19 years old, he's only going to get better. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/c4tmzVmwjW
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 8, 2020
Leicester have now kept four clean sheets in seven fixtures in all competitions with Fofana in the side and now sit top of the Premier League heading into the international break, their summer signing in the right place to continue his development despite already acquiring admiring glances from elsewhere.
3. Ruben Dias
Manchester City were amongst several of the division’s leading sides seeking defensive reinforcements this summer and opted to splash the cash once more, breaking their transfer record to sign Ruben Dias from Benfica.
The Portugal international had come through the academy ranks at the Lisbon side to establish himself as one of the best young defenders outside of Europe’s major leagues, helping Benfica to the league title during the 2018/19 campaign and winning the Nations League at international level.
Dias has instantly improved City’s backline and has forged a promising partnership with the impressive Aymeric Laporte, with Pep Guardiola’s side unbeaten in the four games they have featured alongside one another – conceding just two goals.
The 23-year-old is a natural leader and has been praised by his City teammates for his impact since arriving in English football, his adaptation having appeared almost seamless thus far.
No centre-back in the division can better his 93.2% pass success rate so far this season, Dias arrival allowing City to play a settled centre-back partnership as they bid for defensive consistency this season.
2. Thiago Silva
Chelsea’s defensive issues had been well-documented under Frank Lampard with the west London side having conceded more goals than any side in the Premier League’s top half last season, the Blues’ boss turning to an experienced figure in a bid to solve his side’s showings.
Thiago Silva has long been regarded as one of the world’s best centre-backs but is approaching the twilight of a hugely successful career, the Brazil international viewed as a gamble given he turned 36-years-old in the early weeks of the season.
After a rocky start in the comical 3-3 draw at West Brom, Silva has however shown that class remains permanent and has made a huge difference to the Chelsea backline so far this season, his leadership and authoritative presence helping the Blues improve their defensive record following a worrying opening period.
The veterans calm and composed defending has seen him bring the best out of defensive partner Kurt Zouma, the Frenchman enjoying arguably the best period of his Chelsea career with the duo having conceded just one goal in their past five fixtures together.
Silva’s stellar showings have been backed up by his remarkable statistics, keeping three clean sheets in three league fixtures throughout October, in addition to averaging 6.3 accurate long balls and 4.3 clearances per game.
His ability to confidently play out from the back has also added another layer of assuredness to a new-look Chelsea defence, with only Manchester City’s Ruben Dias bettering his pass completion rate amongst all Premier League defenders so far this season.
1. Aymeric Laporte
Manchester City’s title challenge collapsed last season following a long-term injury sustained by Aymeric Laporte, the Frenchman’s prolonged absence proving costly as Pep Guardiola’s side relinquished their crown.
Laporte is fast, strong in the air and his cultured left foot brings balance to the City backline – a trait not lost on his manager – with Guardiola having described the 26-year-old as the ‘best left-sided defender in the world’ last season.
The centre-back is an efficient and elegant defender and conducts his work amid minimal fuss, the clearest signs of his influence often when he is absent from the side rather than performing with understated class and composure.
His defensive strengths are matched by a willingness to step into midfield in possession, breaking lines either when carrying the ball or with incisive passes into City’s midfield contingent.
City’s inconsistent defensive options have seen Laporte fail to perhaps gain the plaudits his talent deserves, but with summer signing Dias looking like a more than dependable centre-back partner, the Etihad outfit perhaps, at long last, have a duo to rely upon.