Football Features

Ranked: The best centre-back partnerships in international football

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 9:45, 5 June 2019

Centre-back partnerships are one hell of a thing, especially at international level.

Watching two defenders pair up and become a great duo for clubs is nice, sometimes the pair can even develop a genuine love for the club they play for. But for many footballers nothing can beat playing for your country, there’s just an inherent passion to it, so when a duo forms, players that regularly meet up every few months to be the bedrock of a side, that’s special.

We’ve had a look around international football and come up with a list of the 10 best centre-back partnerships right now. Obviously inherent quality and success will play a factor, but form and health are key here.

10. Davinson Sánchez and Yerry Mina

Colombia, 36 combined caps

Potentially one of the best partnerships in the world, Sánchez and Mina are two young stud centre-backs with enormous potential. Sure, neither have really actualised that just yet, but their skill-sets are all-encompassing. Sánchez is a future world-star and whilst Mina isn’t as rounded, he absolutely dominates in the air and does so with the kind of consistency that will make him a terror to attack.

9. Jonathan Tah and Niklas Sule

Germany, 23 combined caps

Germany has finally moved on from the Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels partnership that was too handsome to ever function long-term after such early success with their World Cup win. In Tah and Sule they have a partnership that is physically imposing, athletically awesome and technically crisp. It’s BEEFCAKE CENTRAL at the back for Die Mannschaft. Seriously, these are two very big lads and this could be a very special partnership.

8. Marquinhos and Thiago Silva

Brazil, 112 combined caps

Brazil are known for their flamboyant attacking play but more often than not their teams this century have been built on a very solid defence and in Marquinhos and Thiago Silva they have a partnership straight out of the club game to provide just that. Miranda is an incredible third-choice here, alternating with Silva as the experienced veteran who holds it together whilst Marquinhos is the roaming, roving stopper. A formidable unit!

7. Pepe and Ruben Dias

Portugal, 114 combined caps

Pepe is one of those centre-backs who has been so good for so long that he just doesn’t get the appreciation he deserves. The most solid presence for Portugal when they won Euro 2016, the centre-back was arguably the most important player in that side. Jose Fonte was his partner then but now Dias has emerged as a quality young defender to go alongside the wily veteran. This pair make a formidable roadblock for anyone who would want to get at Portugal’s goal and deny them Nations League glory.

6. Salif Sané and Kalidou Koulibaly

Senegal, 61xx combined caps

Koulibaly is so good you could honestly pair him with almost anyone and he’d make this list, but Sané is a centre-back with great skill in his own right. The 28-year-old had a poor season for Schalke right now but alongside Koulibaly he becomes a stable presence meanwhile the Napoli man is part astrodynamics engineer calculating vectors and flight paths whilst also being part wrecking ball, swinging in to obliterate opponents.

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5. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen

Belgium, 202 combined caps

This is one of the rare instances of a defensive partnership spanning both club and country. Alderweireld and Vertonghen are so good for Spurs and Belgium because their skill-sets are wonderfully complimentary, and what’s more they’ve been playing together for so long that a genuine understanding has developed. Alderweireld is the tall, composed reader of the game whereas Vertonghen is a more athletic type with recovery pace. Both are exemplary on the ball, too. Age is the only thing against them but as they showed in the Champions League this season, even that can be overcome.

4. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini

Italy, 188 combined caps

They’re back! After missing the World Cup, Italy are making their way back onto the international scene and they’re doing so defence-first. Bonucci and Chiellini are stalwarts together for Juventus and bring that same obscene chemistry to the Azzurri. They’re physically imposing and their ability to play on the limits of the law is bettered by just one pair. They’re old, sure, but use that experience to their advantage and know all the tricks of the trade to batter and bruise opposing forwards.

3. Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti

France, 87 combined caps

These two won the World Cup whilst playing superbly. They’d be number one on this list but they’ve actually been pretty terrible since they won that showpiece final in Moscow. Varane began the season abysmally and perked up to around average by season’s end, whilst Umtiti has been dogged by injury and lost his place in the Barcelona starting XI. Still, they are World Champions and their magnificent quality individually and also as a pair means they have to be ranked highly. They have every angle covered. There is nothing they cannot do.

2. José Giménez and Diego Godín

Uruguay, 175 combined caps

This partnership is sublime. It has the joy of a veteran-youngster pair like Portugal’s, but unlike that duo this one is relentless and dominant for club and country. Atlético Madrid’s Giménez and Godín (at least they were before Godín left Madrid last month) are a perfect pair. They can shut down any attacks with their expertise at underhanded tactics and the dark arts; but they’re also fabulous defenders.

Giménez is 24 now but still plays with all the pluck and furious courage of a teenager; and this would be a problem but Godín is the world’s best uncle and is constantly on the lookout to cover for young Josema and ensure that no one ever doubts his quality – and Giménez provides the relentless pace and energy that the 33-year-old Godín couldn’t possibly provide. This partnership is so well-balanced.

1. Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk

Netherlands, 41 combined caps

Another case of a veteran and a youngster, except here the veteran is one of the three best centre-backs on the planet right now and the youngster plays like he’s 25 despite being 19. De Ligt belies his age with mature displays that no teenager should be turning in, leading Ajax all the way to the Champions League semi-finals in 2017/18. And alongside him is the handsome, great-smelling Van Dijk.

Van Dijk is a defender so commanding and regal he instantly made Liverpool’s defence good enough that they made two consecutive Champions League finals, winning one, whilst also racking up an obscene 97 points in the Premier League. There’s rumours the Reds could be pursuing De Ligt this summer and the prospect of uniting this duo for club and country is delightful; but with Barcelona and Juventus keen on getting De Ligt we may have to keep tuning in to Netherlands matches to watch this duo in action.