In the third instalment of our ‘Best of’ series, we choose the season’s best centre backs, with voters selecting the top two performers from this season.
Last week, Liverpool ’s Trent Alexander-Arnold bossed the competition, taking home more than 80% of the vote. His election alongside teammate Alisson means the 2021/22 Premier League Team of the Season is 2/2 for Reds...
Jurgen Klopp would not be surprised.
Vote for your centre back of the season below to include him in the 21/22 Best of XI.
Virgil Van Dijk
There's a theory making the rounds that some strikers simply look at Virgil van Dijk and wonder what's the point.
This season, Van Dijk has played every league minute, the only Reds player to do so alongside Alisson. He has helped his side to 14 clean sheets, recorded three goals and ranks amongst the top 10 for clearances and interceptions. And on the weekend, he set a new Premier League record of 60 home matches on a non-losing side (52 victories and eight draws).
The figure is astonishing, and representative of the transformational nature of van Dijk’s £75million from Southampton in 2018. Where other big money moves have fallen short of their price tags, the Netherlands international continues to over qualify his.
The 24-year-old Portuguese defender has been an institution in Pep Guardiola’s title-hunting Manchester City, playing every league minute available to him whilst leading the league in pass success rate (nearly 95%) and ranking second in total number of passes.
With an 83% tackle success rate from 30 tackles, Dias' tactical awareness and aplomb belie his age, as does his confidence to step out of the backline, emphasised by his near 6,000 yards of progressive carries this season and three league assists, a stat level with Phil Foden and Kevin de Bruyne.
His recent hamstring injury is a bitter hurdle for Guardiola to overcome in maintaining hold of the title.
Arguably in the form of his life, the highly thought of centre back has featured in every league minute of Chelsea ’s season and assumed a pivotal role on both sides of the pitch.
His defensive work rate and intelligence off the ball makes him a bane for opposition attacks while his average of 71 passes per match with an 89.4% success rate ranks him amongst the company of John Stones, Dias, Thiago Silva and Rodri.
The former Roma defender has been instrumental in Chelsea’s trophy-laden success over the years, and the Rüdiger-sized hole in Thomas Tuchel's back three will be an invidious one to fill if he is allowed to leave in the summer.
Ben White’s £50million price tag from Brighton assured very few predicted the 24-year-old would succeed, let alone ease in so seamlessly as a foundation for which a youthful Arsenal could defy expectations and contend for a fourth-place finish.
But everyone can be wrong sometimes.
Sat alongside Gabriel Magalhaes, White currently leads Arsenal for minutes played (2,070) and interceptions (51) while helping keep the league’s third most clean sheets (11). While he has yet to register a goal or assist, White has become integral in Mikel Arteta’s attack, stepping out from the back to make what is quickly becoming a trade-mark line breaking run.
Forever a class act, Thiago Silva might not have the pace of old, but the now 37-year-old has proven defensive brains are sometimes better than brawn.
With over 4,000 yards covered in progressive carries, Silva’s vision and confidence on the ball makes him a critical playmaking cog in the middle of Chelsea’s back three. He has played nearly every minute of the league, testament to his importance, and registered three goals.
His defensive acumen assures that Chelsea’s attack-heavy squad can thrive. With 51 blocks, 41 interceptions and 96 clearances, Silva ranks amongst the top in the division for defensive work rate, routinely coming through in clutch moments to shut down threats.
When Southampton drew with Manchester City in September, 22-year-old Mahammed Salisu had his fingerprints all over the result. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire’s woeful displays this weekend only highlight how impressive that performance truly was.
Comfortable on and off the ball, the young centre back has ensured Southampton relished their longest unbeaten streak in the Premier League since October 2016. Having played in all but one league match due to a recent hamstring injury, Salisu was the first player to make 50 interceptions this season (146 total) and ranks amongst the top 10 in headers won, tackles won and clearances.
Manager Ralph Hassenhuttle is rightly sweating over Salisu’s return date, particularly after the crushing defeat to Aston Villa on the weekend.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang named Tyrone Mings the most difficult defender he has ever faced. Ahead of Sergio Ramos, Van Dijk, Dias…
The 28-year-old centre back has been renowned for his defensive intelligence, dominance, bravery and character since assuming the role as Villa’s defensive lynchpin as the club sat 10th in the Championship in 2019.
Though this season threatened to chafe against him, the captain has bounced back, buoyed by Steven Gerrard’s arrival. Mings is one of only nine Premier League players to make more than 100 clearances this season and has started every match barring the one.
Having only missed defeat at Spurs, Marc Guehi has played the full 90 for every match started at Crystal Palace, accruing more minutes than teammate. He has also made the squad's most number of blocks and passes, coming in at seventh in the league for passes attempted. The England international also boasts two goals and over 4,000 yards in progressive carries while being one of only nine players in the league to make more than 100 clearances this season.
The statistics underline the critical dual-threat role with which manager Patrick Viera has entrusted his Chelsea loanee.
Handed the captaincy for Palace’s last two matches, the England under-21s skipper commanded in his typical silent but strong nature. A mature head beyond his years.
There is a reason that West Ham manager David Moyes r efused to bench his centre back despite the barrage of outraged calls from football fans, pundits and activists alike after shocking videos revealed the French international repeatedly abusing his two cats: Kurt Zouma really is that good.
From a purely footballing standpoint, the French international has excelled this season and played an integral role in keeping West Ham United within touching distance of next season’s Champions League.
Zouma has started all 16 of his league appearances with a goal to boast, albeit his best numbers come in defence with a clearance and aerial duel record that rank him amongst the best. His physicality and strength cut him as a fundamental pillar in West Ham’s competitive season.