Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.
English football has always been blessed with immensely talented center halves, especially since the inception of the Premier League. Over the years, the likes of Tony Adams, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry have flown the flag for English defenders. Continental players have also made their mark in this important position.
Defensive roles have evolved massively, helped by the influx of foreign players and managers alike. Defenders are expected to play out from the back. To do this, a mixture of solid passing and the ability to bring the ball out is required. This is a role which even the traditional English centre-half has taken onboard. John Stones, for example, was signed by Pep Guardiola for this reason.
The position has started getting its due credit in recent years. Virgil van Dijk was perhaps unfortunate to only finish second to Lionel Messi in the 2019 Ballon d’Or vote. The Dutchman and Manchester City’s Ruben Dias have both won the ‘Premier League Player of the Season’ award in the last few years. They were only the third and fourth defenders to receive the accolade.
Of course, a few players are unfortunate to miss out on this list. Conor Coady, who isn’t the most technically gifted player in the Premier League, has continued to manage the Wolverhampton defense like a real captain. Arsenal’s Brazilian defender Gabriel Magalhaes is another who just misses out. Forming a solid partnership with Ben White, Gabriel has improved from a solid but unspectacular first season.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the five centre-backs who are in contention to be a part of the Premier League Team of the Season.
#5 Cristian Romero
Tottenham Hotspur v Brighton & Hove Albion: The Emirates FA Cup Fourth
It is perhaps a bit of a left-field decision to include Cristian Romero in the top five here. However, the Argentine has been an important part of Tottenham Hotspur’s fight for Champions League football next season. Some players struggle after moving to the Premier League, especially from leagues like Serie A. But the on-loan man from Atalanta has taken to English football like a duck to water.
Romero’s aerial battles and duels percentage wins are up there with the best in Europe. He has brought calmness to what was sometimes an erratic defensive line, and seems to be bringing the best out of Eric Dier in this position. Spurs need to make this move a permanent one, and then they may finally be able to replace Toby Alderweireld.
#4 Marc Guehi
Crystal Palace v Newcastle United – Premier League
The fact that Crystal Palace paid £21 million to Chelsea for a man without a Premier League appearance made everyone take notice. It seemed like a large sum for an untested talent. But Patrick Vieira deserves to be commended for taking a chance on the young Englishman.
Guehi has been an almost ever present for the Eagles, and in many of those matches, captaining the side shows how important he is. He has helped the south London side to Premier League safety and an FA Cup semi-final in his first season.
The Ivory Coast-born youngster also earned his first cap for the Three Lions against Switzerland in a friendly match. He is very difficult to beat in one-on-one situations and his speed allows him to recover very well. Chelsea may well look to regret letting Guehi go, especially if they lose the likes of Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen this summer.
#3 Aymeric Laporte
Manchester City v Norwich City – Premier League
This was a close one, choosing Aymeric Laporte over Ruben Dias. But the Spaniard just edges it. Dias has had a few injury problems this season and so just misses out. Laporte has been a constant in Pep Guardiola’s side, and whether playing alongside the Portuguese or John Stones has performed incredibly well.
Strong in the air, quick in the recovery and fierce in the duel, Laporte ticks all the boxes for a top quality central defender. His elegance on the ball is a highlight of his play. The former Athletic Bilbao man is a threat in both boxes, contributing three goals in this season’s Premier League campaign.
#2 Antonio Rudiger
Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea – Premier League
The enigmatic German, signed by Antonio Conte in 2017, was in and out of the team through a succession of different managers. He lost his place entirely under Frank Lampard and was desperate for a way out of the club. Thankfully for Rudiger, it was Lampard who was sent packing.
In came Thomas Tuchel and the former Roma player has been a bedrock in the Chelsea defense. Pairing with Thiago Silva, Rudiger has evolved into a solid, aggressive but comfortable central defender.
The 29-year-old is an important figure in the Chelsea squad. He is great at attacking the ball in the air, he rarely ever loses an aerial duel, whilst his reading of situations means his goalkeeper Edouardo Mendy is rarely troubled.
Rudiger is an important figure, alongside Thiago Silva, who has helped contribute to Chelsea holding third position in the Premier League. Chelsea will miss the German when he inevitably leaves on a free-transfer this summer, with Real Madrid looking like his favored move.
#1 Virgil van Dijk
Villarreal v Liverpool Semi Final Leg Two – UEFA Champions League
Who else? Many assumed that Liverpool’s number four wouldn’t return to his best after an eight-month injury lay-off. But Virgil van Dijk has proven all doubters wrong. The 30-year-old has helped propel the Reds to the cusp of an unprecedented quadruple. They have already won the League Cup and are into the finals of the FA Cup and Champions League, whilst only a point behind Manchester City in the Premier League.
Unsurprisingly, Van Dijk’s stats have been brilliant, winning 113 aerial battles this season, as well as 140 duels. In the Premier League alone, he has helped Liverpool to 21 clean sheets in only 32 games. Whether playing aloneside Joel Matip or Ibrahimi Konate, Van Dijk has marshaled Jurgen Klopp’s high defensive line almost faultlessly. An obvious threat in the opposition box too means that Van Dijk was the obvious choice for the number one spot.