Defence is a crucial part of any team’s success.
While full-backs are all the rage these days, the core of a side’s defence remains the centre-backs and, specifically, their partnership with each other. The way centre-backs perform together is just as important as the attacking chemistry.
Whether it’s a back two or a back three, the centre-back partnership is utterly essential. We’ve rounded up the very best in the Premier League right now into two tiered lists, one for two-man partnerships and another for three-man units. These partnerships and units will be taken as they currently are, or will be soon enough (so Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez’s long-term injuries will preclude Liverpool from making an appearance atop the two-man list). Disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!
James Tarkowski and Ben Mee (Burnley)
James Tarkowski and Ben Mee were a legendary duo at the back for Burnley, uncomplicated but undoubtedly effective but we’ve barely seen them this season due to the latter’s recovery from a thigh injury. Without their magnificent pair at the back, the Clarets had kept just one clean sheet all season. However, in Mee’s first game back they shut Brighton down and with their all-star duo back, Burnley will look to climb up the table again.
Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton)
With Ralph Hasenhuttl at the helm, Southampton have become a fascinating team to watch and a huge part of that is Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard. The pair are massive (Vestergaard especially so), dominating both in the air and on the ground; helping Saints to fourth with just two defeats and 12 goals conceded so far (with half those goals coming in two bizarre games against Aston Villa and Chelsea). In fact, Saints have kept four clean sheets in their last six games, the joint-most in the Premier League.
William Hill’s 2020/21 Premier League top-four odds:
- Liverpool: 1/16
- Man City: 1/16
- Chelsea: 4/7
- Spurs: 8/13
- Man Utd: 12/5
- Leicester City: 3/1
- Arsenal: 10/3
You can find out more about William Hill’s football markets here. You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds and offers within this article are accurate at the time of writing (11:30, 16/11/2020). BeGambleAware.
Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier (Tottenham)
José Mourinho has been pursuing Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier for years, and now we can finally see why. Uniting the two at the heart of his defence has seen Alderweireld extend his career at the top and Dier finally discover his true position. With just nine goals conceded so far this season, Spurs have developed a real backbone.
Thiago Silva and Kurt Zouma (Chelsea)
Thiago Silva’s debut at Chelsea was a disaster, but since then the veteran Brazilian has settled into Premier League life in part because Kurt Zouma is such a fantastic partner. The Frenchman is chronically underrated despite having everything you’d want in a centre-back. As a pair complimented by Edouard Mendy, they’ve turned Chelsea into a formidable defensive side that recently kept five straight clean sheets across all competitions. Chelsea were already great going forward but now they’re great at the back.
Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa)
Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa have taken their games to the next level this season. With the pair (rocking a thoroughly moral shirt number combination of 4 and 5) Villa opened the season with three clean sheets in four games, and they knocked seven past Liverpool in the other so you can forgive the two they let in. Overall this season Villa have kept four clean sheets and conceded just nine goals, with Mings and Konsa’s combination of technique, timing, athleticism and sheer ruggedness is a massive part of that.
Aymeric Laporte and Ruben Dias (Manchester City)
It’s been a while since you could say that Manchester City had a decent centre-back duo, but the arrival of Ruben Dias and the consistent fitness of Aymeric Laporte has given them just that. Laporte is obviously a Rolls Royce of a centre-back who fits Pep Guardiola’s style like a glove, but that style can struggle as players get too into their playing and forget to actually, you know, defend. Dias is thus the ideal partner because he’s a vocal, no-nonsense defender who just goes about his business. City’s title defence collapsed last season because of their awful defending, but if they can keep these two fit all season then you’ve got to fancy them in a tight title race.
The three-man defences:
Federico Fernandez, Jamaal Lascelles and Fabian Schar (Newcastle)
The Magpies are a far cry from the Great Entertainers that they were in the 1990s, but with this 5-3-2 shape they at least get an element of fun back in their play unleashing Allan Saint-Maximin on the break. The key to getting the best of the Frenchman is a solid defence and that’s exactly what Fernandez, Lascelles and Schar bring
Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof (Manchester United)
United aren’t often solid defensively, in fact they rarely have been this season, but when they unleash their 3-5-2, even their rickety backline suddenly becomes solid and able to withstand all manner of pressure. We saw this repeatedly last season, and even though we’ve only had it in Europe so far in 2020/21 when it’s unleashed, it’s effective.
Aaron Cresswell, Angelo Ogbonna and Fabian Balbuena (West Ham)
In a back two, West Ham have never been able to find a defensive partnership that works. So what David Moyes decided to do was just make it a back three. Adding an extra body (Aaron Cresswell) has given Ogbonna the protection he needs as he only has to cover a smaller space and can focus on clearing the ball. This has resulted in West Ham actually being a solid side at the back, conceding just 10 goals this season.
Kieran Tierney, Gabriel and Rob Holding (Arsenal)
Everyone touted Mikel Arteta as perfect for the Arsenal job due to his past with Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, but what people have forgotten is that before he set foot at the Emirates, he spent years playing for Alex McLeish and David Moyes at Rangers and Everton respectively. He knows how to set a team up defensively which is what he has done more often than not to Arsenal, taking previously unimpressive defenders (and the incredible Gabriel) and forging a solid back three that can block out almost anyone. Now if only Arsenal could create chances…
Christian Fuchs, Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana (Leicester)
Leicester had a great defence two seasons ago with Harry Maguire and Jonny Evans. Then last season they had a good defence with Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu. Continuing the trend, this season sees Evans take his place at the heart of a back three as Brendan Rodgers leans into the strength of his squad (Jamie Vardy on the break) by surrounding Evans by two players at opposite ends of the experience scale.
Christian Fuchs is a left-back and veteran of the 2016 title win. He provides experience and a wicked left-foot to pass out from the back. Whilst on the other side teenager Wesley Fofana is a defensive phenomenon who looks like he will go on to have a world-class career. With these three at the back, Leicester have ascended to the top of the Premier League with just nine goals conceded.
Max Kilman, Conor Coady and Willy Boly (Wolves)
Leicester are a great unit but when it comes to back threes in the Premier League no one can touch Wolves. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were promoted playing this system and haven’t changed it yet. It all revolves around the brilliance of Conor Coady, a player who is so reminiscent of the sweepers of yore. Not a great 1-v-1 defender but ask him to cover his team-mates and kill attacks? He’s sublime.
Either side of him the cast can change but this season we’ve got Willy Boly, the stoic and solid Ivorian defender, and Max Kilman, the young Englishman with possibly the best name in football. With Coady covering, Kilman and Boly are free to defend more aggressively, and they do. Wolves have only scored eight goals this season, yet they are solidly mid-table because their impeccable defence has conceded just nine times.
If Wolves can rediscover their attacking potency, then their rock solid defence could carry them to great heights indeed.