Football is, or at least should be, all about entertainment and frankly there is nothing better than watching a game with an obscene number of goals flying in at either end.
Unfortunately, not all games can be 5-4 thrillers as there always seems to be hardened central defenders knocking about, waiting to spoil all the fun. In fairness to the bruisers at the back, though, their roles are essential, as if there’s anything Jose Mourinho has taught us down the years, it’s that title wins and trophy hauls are built upon a solid defensive spine.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to rank the best central defensive partnerships in the Premier League for the upcoming season. Here’s what we came up with.
Please don’t take our selections to personally…
20. Sunderland – John O’Shea and Sebastian Coates
Unfortunately someone’s got to come last and despite this pair helping Sunderland to a second consecutive great escape, we’ve decided that they just aren’t that convincing. The veteran Irishman always looks like an accident waiting to happen these days and Coates’ record of 22 Premier League appearances in four years shows he hasn’t exactly made himself undroppable under his various managers.
19. Newcastle – Chancel Mbemba and Fabricio Coloccini
The Magpies porous defence conceded a whopping 63 goals in 2014-15, the second highest number in the division, behind relegated QPR. Fabricio Coloccini has been a fans favourite down the years at Newcastle, but the 33-year-old’s partnership with Mike Williamson would have given many fans sleepless nights last season. The Toon Army will be hoping the arrival of Chancel Mbemba from Anderlecht can offer Tim Krul more protection next term.
18. Norwich – Russell Martin and Sebastian Bassong
The Canaries had the fifth best defensive record in the Championship last season, conceding 48 goals in the regular season, before surrendering two more during their victorious Play-off run. Club captain Martin was an ever-present for the side and will likely play in the middle following Andre Wisdom’s arrival.
His partner will likely be Bassong, who regained his place under Alex Neil. The duo performed capably last season, but Norwich fans will be concerned that these two were in the side when they were relegated in 2013-14.
17. Watford – Gabriel Angella and Sebastian Prodl
This is a tough one, considering the Hornets have also acquired Uruguay international Miguel Britos from Napoli during the summer. Craig Cathcart and Prodl have been regularly paired during pre-season under Quique Sanchez Flores, but it would be a surprise to see the colossal Italian Angella ignored at the start of the campaign, such has been his form in his two years at the club.
Both he and Prodl will have to gain an understanding quickly for Watford to be successful next season.
16. Bournemouth – Steve Cook and Tommy Elphick
The Cherries’ free-scoring attack garnered the majority of plaudits for their unlikely Championship title win last season, after they top-scored with 98 goals. However, Eddie Howe’s side were also water-tight at the back, too, with club captain Tommy Elphick and Steve Cook proving to be the scourge of visiting attackers all season. The arrival of Premier League veteran Sylvain Distin may threaten the duo’s partnership next term, but we expect last season’s stalwarts to retain their places at the start of the campaign.
15. Leicester – Wes Morgan and Robert Huth
With nine games of the season remaining, Leicester looked destined for an immediate return to the Championship as they were rooted to the bottom of the league. However, Nigel Pearson’s men went on a miraculous run of seven wins in their final nine games to stay up with these two forming a solid partnership just in time. The Foxes conceded just seven goals in their final nine fixtures, compared to 48 in their previous 29.
14. Aston Villa – Jores Okore and Micah Richards
On paper, this defensive duo is an absolutely frightening prospect for an opposing forward next season, given the sheer size of the pair. If Tim Sherwood can get Richards to return to the form he displayed his early Manchester City days, he may have found one of the bargains of the summer, with the England international moving on a free transfer from the Citizens.
Okore, meanwhile, showed promise last season after suffering a bad injury in his first campaign with the club, making 10 defensive actions per game in the league.
13. West Brom – James Chester and Jonas Olsson
The Baggies are one of the most thrifty clubs in the Premier League, which means it’s always a surprise to see them spend anything north of £5 million. But that’s exactly what they’ve done this summer, signing recently-relegated James Chester for £8m from Hull City, making him their second-most expensive transfer ever, behind Brown Ideye.
Although the fee may seem steep, Chester hasn’t committed a single defensive error in his last 46 games and he could form a solid pairing with long-serving defender Jonas Olsson.
12. Crystal Palace – Scott Dann and Damien Delaney
Once regarded as one of the most promising defenders in England during his spell with Birmingham City, Dann’s stock fell drastically during an ill-fated stint with Blackburn. However, he’s rediscovered his mojo in South London, winning more headers than any other player in the Eagles squad with 106. Alongside him is 34-year-old Ireland international Delaney who has enjoyed a renaissance in his twilight years during Palace’s two seasons in the top flight.
11. West Ham – Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid
It looked a certainty that Reid would be plying his trade elsewhere this season, with his contract due to expire. However, the New Zealand international decided to prolong his stay in East London for a further six years, much to the delight of everyone connected to the club. He will be joined at the back by Italy international Angelo Ogbonna, who has two Serie A titles to his name from his spell with Juventus.
10. Swansea – Ashley Williams and Federico Fernandez
Williams’ importance to the Swans cannot be underestimated as he has played an integral role in their progression down the years. Having only missed seven games since Swansea were promoted in 2011, his presence at the back is assured and his 14 defensive actions per game were comfortably the highest at the club last term. He will slot in alongside Argentina international Fernandez, who had a quietly effective debut season in England last time out, featuring in 28 games and winning 57% of his aerial duels.
9. Everton – Phil Jagielka and John Stones
Everton endured a disappointing campaign last year after suffering a disastrous start in the league. The return of Stones at the halfway point made a huge difference to Roberto Martinez’s side, as his partnership with club captain Jagielka resulted in a much improved defensive record.
In the first 20 games of last season, the Toffees conceded 33 goals, in the remaining 18 fixtures they let in just under half that amount with 17. It’s not hard to see why the young defender is so highly rated.
8. Liverpool – Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho
Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel for much of Brendan Rodgers rein has been in defence; however, last season they actually had a better defensive record than the year before when they were agonisingly close to winning the title, conceding 48 goals compared to 52.
Skrtel has been the club’s most consistent defenders for a while now and he made more defensive actions per game than any of his teammates with 13. Sakho, on the other hand, may give the impression he is a nervous wreck when in possession, but he actually completed 90% of his passes last season, on par with Skrtel.
7. Southampton – Jose Fonte and Steven Caulker
The Saints had the second-best defensive record in 2014-15, letting in just 33 goals. Much of that solidity was based around the ever-present skipper Jose Fonte, who has strangely gone largely under the radar during Southampton’s resurgence over the last few years. Missing out on last season’s loan star Toby Alderweireled was a big blow, as was Florin Gardos’ serious injury and Ronald Koeman will be hoping Steven Caulker can regain his form, following two successive relegations with Cardiff and QPR.
6. Stoke City – Ryan Shawcross and Phillip Wollscheid
Much has been made of Stoke’s more enterprising brand of football under Mark Hughes; however the defensive solidity has also remained, with Shawcross continuing to be one of the most consistent defenders in the league.
The Potters’ captain may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but no one can argue that he is not effective, particularly in the air where he won 72% of his duels. Wollscheid, meanwhile, made a promising start to his Stoke career last season and his performances persuaded Hughes to swiftly turn his loan move into a permanent one in May.
5. Tottenham – Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen
Yes, we know, Spurs’ defensive record last season was the lowest in the top flight and seriously hampered their attempts to break into the top four. However, after years of persisting with a number of questionable defenders recently, the club bit the bullet to sign Alderweireld this summer. The Belgian was outstanding last season while at Southampton and will be looking forward to lining up alongside compatriot Vertonghen, with whom he won two Eredivise titles while at Ajax.
4. Manchester United – Daley Blind and Chris Smalling
Louis van Gaal dropped a bit of a curveball this week when he claimed Blind would start the season as first-choice centre-back. The versatile Dutchman impressed in midfield during his debut season and his composure on the ball, allied with the balance he offers the side as a left-footer is probably why Van Gaal has picked him in defence next season. Unless United sign anyone else, he will partner Smalling, who enjoyed his best season at Old Trafford, chipping in with four goals.
3. Manchester City – Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala
Kompany will be desperate to prove his abilities are not on the wane, following an injury-hit, inconsistent spell in the side last season. The Belgian has been the foundation upon which much of City’s recent success has been built and at 29 he should still be able to offer a few years more service. Mangala, meanwhile, became the most expensive defender in Premier League history following his move from Porto last summer and should deliver on his vast potential next season, after enduring a difficult debut campaign.
2. Arsenal – Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker
Mertesacker and Koscielny were two of the top-seven rated centre-backs in the division according to the Squawka Performance Score last season and much of the Gunners’ excellent end-of-term form was down to their form. The pair complement each other extremely well, with the big German unsurprisingly winning 70% of his headers last term and the composed Frenchman completing 89% of his passes last season.
1. Chelsea – Gary Cahill and John Terry
Cahill and Terry are in many ways archetypal Jose Mourinho defenders, offering a reassuring presence at the back that David Luiz simply could not. Terry enjoyed arguably his best season for the Blues last term featuring in every single league game, while Cahill played 36 times and kept outstanding youngster Kurt Zouma at bay. They will be crucial to the Blues’ title defence next season.