Football News

The top 10 ‘cleanest’ tacklers in Europe right now

By Ben Green

Published: 15:20, 21 March 2022

Serie A has long upheld a reputation as Europe’s most competent defensive league, but this season’s ‘cleanest’ tackler is currently strutting his stuff in the Premier League.

Top flight Italian football has previously been described as a ‘striker’s university’, given the hard-hitting yet precise tackling nature of the division’s centre-back stars. This is a league, after all, that birthed Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro and Paolo Maldini, a trident of defensive legends who made tackling an art form.

However, you would have to cast your gaze in the direction of England to find 2021/22’s most proficient tackler in Europe’s top five leagues. Marc Guehi has proven a revelation since trading Chelsea for Crystal Palace last summer, with his defensive exploits recently earning him his first England call-up.

So far this campaign, 1,252 players have attempted 30+ tackles in Europe’s top five divisions and Guehi currently has the best true tackle success rate of those (89%). He is one of just four players with 80% or more for that particular metric, but are those other three players you would expect? Read on below for the top 10.

1. Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)

Total Tackles Attempted: 35
Successful Tackles Made: 31
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 3
Times Dribbled Past: 1

It’s a rare sight, but Palace have three players in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, with Guehi looking to emulate Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher and make his international bow for the Three Lions. The 21-year-old has flourished under the tutelage of Patrick Vieira and could prove the missing piece to England’s defensive puzzle when the winter World Cup comes around.

2. Pierre Kalulu (Milan)

Total Tackles Attempted: 42
Successful Tackles Made: 35
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 4
Times Dribbled Past: 3

Normal order resumes with a Milanese defender placing high in a ranking system for ‘clean’ tacklers. Pierre Kalulu has been a bit of a defensive Swiss Army knife for the Rossoneri this term as Stefano Pioli’s Scudetto dreamers currently sit atop Serie A, with the 21-year-old Frenchman slotting in where necessity dictates, either at centre-back or either full-back position. But, wherever he plays, he takes his defensive qualities with him. Few skip past Kalulu.

3. William Saliba (Marseille, on loan from Arsenal)

Total Tackles Attempted: 56
Successful Tackles Made: 45
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 5
Times Dribbled Past: 6

One to whet the appetite of Arsenal fans. The Achilles heel for the Gunners has long been at centre-back, one only has to cast their mind back to the volatile, mistake-laden partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz to understand the scope of past issues. Mikel Arteta seems to have brought balance with Ben White and Gabriel, but the prospect of Saliba returning in the summer and vying for a starting berth should represent a tantalising possibility.

4. Nabil Bentaleb (Angers)

Total Tackles Attempted: 35
Successful Tackles Made: 28
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 6
Times Dribbled Past: 1

The former Tottenham man comes in as the first defender and the first player from Ligue 1 in this list. He left Schalke at the end of last season following the club’s relegation from the German top flight and only just joined Angers on a free in January. Having not played for a while the midfielder has exhibited few signs of ring rustiness as he has taken to the Raymond Kopa Stadium like a duck to water, bringing somme serious steel to Gerald Baticle’s midfield.

5. Stefan de Vrij (Inter)

Total Tackles Attempted: 39
Successful Tackles Made: 31
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 4
Times Dribbled Past: 4

You would have been deeply concerned if at least one of Stefan de Vrij, Milan Skriniar or Alessandro Bastoni didn’t make this list, but fear not, the former has alleviated fears that there’s been some sort of glitch in the footballing matrix. The hard-nosed Dutch defender is poetry in motion when it comes to defending, making the basics look brilliant and the difficult look easy. When it comes to tackling though, he is arguably the gold standard — across his career, and not just this season — and the stats appear to back him up among Europe’s elite.

6. Fikayo Tomori (Milan)

Total Tackles Attempted: 67
Successful Tackles Made: 53
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 8
Times Dribbled Past: 6

Where to next? The San Siro, of course. The third player on this list who performs at that iconic venue with distinction. Tomori has acclimatised to Italian football seamlessly since trading Chelsea for Milan. Despite his heroics at the heart of the Rossoneri‘s backline, which has culminated in the club currently leading the charge in Serie A, Southgate has somehow managed to overlook him once again. Someone get Gareth a BT Sport subscription.

England World Cup Squad Defender Odds (via Sky Bet)

  • Harry Maguire 1/20
  • John Stones 1/20
  • Ben Chilwell 1/16
  • Luke Shaw 1/12
  • Kyle Walker 1/8
  • Ben White 1/3
  • Trent Alexander-Arnold 1/3
  • Reece James 8/13
  • Ben Godfrey 1/1
  • Tyrone Mings 5/4
  • Kieran Trippier 7/4
  • Fikayo Tomori 2/1
*You have to be 18+ to gamble. All odds within this article are accurate at the time of writing (15:00, 21/03/2022). BeGambleAware.

7. Kostas Stafylidis (Bochum on loan from Hoffenheim)

Total Tackles Attempted: 38
Successful Tackles Made: 30
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 4
Times Dribbled Past: 4

Fans of English football may remember Stafylidis’ spell for Fulham in the 2014/15 Championship season, or perhaps the five Premier League appearances he made on loan for Stoke in 2017/18. Me neither. Having fallen significantly out of the limelight over the last few years, the Greek stalwart has found a stable home at Bochum (on loan from Hoffenheim it must be said) and rediscovered a bit of form.

8. Tyrick Mitchell (Crystal Palace)

Total Tackles Attempted: 116
Successful Tackles Made: 90
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 9
Times Dribbled Past: 17

Often dubbed Aaron Wan-Bissaka 2.0, Selhurst Park has produced another full-back phenom of exceptional tackling quality. The 22-year-old is a tackling obsessor, adopting a none-shall-pass approach that makes him nigh-on impossible to bypass. His progress has been such that Southgate has handed him an England call-up this month, after Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James pulled out.

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9. Birger Meling (Rennes)

Total Tackles Attempted: 56
Successful Tackles Made: 43
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 6
Times Dribbled Past: 7

Rennes are absolutely flying in Ligue 1 this season, currently sitting third in the table and on a five-game winning run that has seen them score four or more goals in all but one of those games. However, defensively Meling is doing his bit to keep the club competition at both ends of the pitch, and that certainly seems to be working as they have the fourth-best defensive record in the division.

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10. Juan Bernat (PSG)

Total Tackles Attempted: 30
Successful Tackles Made: 23
Fouls From Attempted Tackles: 2
Times Dribbled Past: 5

For all their attacking quality, PSG actually have a number of very solid defensive options, as you’d probably expect from a club with pockets deeper than the Pacific. Juan Bernat may not always be at the forefront of Mauricio Pochettino’s thinking, but when utilised he rarely puts a foot wrong, defensively.