Football Features

The top defenders at Euro 2020: ‘Best centre-back in the world now’

By Ben Green

Best defenders Euro 2020 ranked

Published: 17:57, 9 June 2021 | Updated: 13:59, 29 June 2021

The continent’s best converge on Euro 2020 after a script-deviating season, in which there was only one successful title defence across Europe’s top five leagues.

The likes of PSG, Real Madrid and Juventus were all usurped this season in their respective leagues, while silverware-starved Sporting CP, Rangers and Brondby all ended protracted waits for title glory.

Amid the nail-biting unpredictability, though, there were constants; players who performed with merit and consistency across the campaign, and will thus enter Euro 2020 in fine fettle.

And some may argue it was the year of the defender: Jose Fonte’s age-defying heroics for Lille; Sebastian Coates’ heart-on-sleeve exploits for Sporting; Cesar Azpilicueta’s gritty Champions League final showing.

So, who are the best defenders entering Euro 2020? We’ve split the position into two sub-categories: centre-backs and full-backs, ranking a top five for each.

A quick note to readers before we get started that all figures from qualifying exclude play-offs and Nations League fixtures.

Feel free to let us know what we got wrong or submit your own top 10 on Twitter.


5. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid/France)

  • FanTeam price: 6.5M
  • Qualifying record: 6 goals conceded, 4 clean sheets, 9 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Portugal (22), Hungary (8), Germany (30)

It only feels like yesterday when a fresh-faced Raphael Varane earned his first international cap. Now he’s heading into Euro 2020 as the most experienced French defender, while only five teammates have earned more caps than his 74 for Les Bleus: Hugo Lloris (124), Olivier Giroud (107), Karim Benzema (82), Antoine Griezmann (90) and Paul Pogba (79).

The 28-year-old was an ever-present during France’s 2018 World Cup win, has lifted the European Cup four times with Real Madrid, and has even occasionally captained the national side, underpinning the faith Didier Deschamps has in him to organise and lead the backline.

At his best, Varane, who elegantly combines technique with physicality to great effect, is a striker’s nightmare. He will need to be that guy if France harbour any hopes of winning a group that features reigning European champions Portugal, as well as 2014 World Cup winners Germany.

4. Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan/Slovakia)

  • FanTeam price: 4.5M
  • Qualifying record: 11 goals conceded, 2 clean sheets, 8 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Spain (31), Sweden (23), Poland (18)

Destined to be Inter Milan’s ‘New Wall’, the natural heir to Walter Samuel, Milan Skriniar has only just lived up to that moniker, going somewhat off track before correcting himself in the season just gone. He underwent a resurgence under Antonio Conte’s leadership, which shouldn’t be a shock, considering the former Juventus and Chelsea tactician is all in when it comes to forging strong rearguards.

With his tail now back up, the Slovakia international, who is entering his peak years, will be a tough proposition for any forward at the forthcoming championship. All eyes will undoubtedly be on their opening June 14 fixture when he’ll be lining up against Europe’s most deadly marksman Robert Lewandowski.

3. Harry Maguire (Man Utd/England)

  • FanTeam price: 6.5M
  • Qualifying record: 6 goals conceded, 5 clean sheets, 8 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Croatia (17), Scotland (16), Czech Republic (13)

It’s touch and go as to whether Harry Maguire is on the field when England get their Euro 2020 campaign underway. The 28-year-old Manchester United captain sustained a bad ankle injury in their 3-1 win at Aston Villa at the backend of the 2020/21 season, which forced him to miss the Europa League final and could rule him out of England’s opening fixtures.

Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate nevertheless selected the centre-back and you can understand why. For all the scrutiny that comes with being the world’s most expensive defender, Maguire is a presence in the air, both offensively and defensively. It’s also worth acknowledging his leadership attributes in an area of the pitch where question marks remain regarding the 2018 World Cup semi-finalists.

2. Aymeric Laporte (Man City/Spain)

  • FanTeam price: 6M
  • Qualifying record: N/A
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Sweden (23), Poland (18), Slovakia (13)

You could see what a big miss Aymeric Laporte was during the 2019/20 season when Manchester City lost grip on their Premier League crown. He was arguably the league’s most influential centre-back alongside Virgil van Dijk. But, despite his performances, France national team boss Deschamps never felt inclined to give the 27-year-old a cap (instead he got three unused substitute ‘appearances’). Their loss could very well become Spain’s gain.

Eligible to represent both countries, the Agen-born defender is now focused entirely on helping La Roja win a third European Championship in this new chapter as they go into an international tournament without both Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos for the first time since Euro 2004.

1. Ruben Dias (Man City/Portugal)

  • FanTeam price: 6M
  • Qualifying record: 6 goals conceded, 4 clean sheets, 8 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Germany (30), France (25), Hungary (8)

The oft-spoken adage can read that a ‘defence wins championships’. It was certainly true when Portuguese centre-back Ruben Dias recently inspired Manchester City to win a third Premier League title across four seasons. He’s expected to line up alongside fellow league winner Fonte, who played an instrumental role as Lille ended PSG’s reign in Ligue 1, though you can’t rule out Pepe. The veteran still has miles left in the tank.

Through possessing a never-say-die attitude, Dias kept producing a string of relentless performances for Pep Guardiola’s side in 2020/21. Coupled with his strong leadership qualities, and with the injured Van Dijk out of the picture, Dias has been described as “the best centre back in the world now” by Jose Mourinho. And if it’s good enough for the man who has arguably overseen more iconic defensive masterclasses than any other coach in modern football history, it’s good enough for us.


5. Robin Gosens (Atalanta/Germany)

  • FanTeam price: 5.5M
  • Qualifying record: N/A
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): France (25), Portugal (22), Hungary (8)

For the third successive season Atalanta notched triple digits across all competitions, a net-busting feat that truly embodies the full-throttle approach of Gian Piero Gasperini’s Goddess, and Robin Gosens was arguably the keystone of the Italian’s high-octane approach.

With 11 goals and six assists, Gosens was the second-most productive full-back/wing-back across Europe’s top five leagues, as well as the highest scorer. The buccaneering left-back has just six caps for Germany but has started the last two international games, with the departing Joachim Low beginning to recognise his talents.

4. Jordi Alba (Barcelona/Spain)

  • FanTeam price: 6.5M
  • Qualifying record: 2 goals conceded, 1 clean sheet, 3 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Sweden (23), Poland (18), Slovakia (13)

Despite the teething issues Ronald Koeman experienced in the Barcelona dugout across his maiden campaign, Jordi Alba was once again a beacon of consistency. His expected assist (xA) rate of 9.87 was the second-highest among defenders in Europe’s top five leagues, underpinning his continued ability to attack with relish.

The all-action full-back retains his place in the national set-up and enters Euro 2020 as Spain’s second-most capped player (72), behind skipper Sergio Busquets (123), so there is a heavy burden on Barca’s defensive superstar to bring the attacking verve and an encouraging voice to galvanise the troops.

3. Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich/France)

  • FanTeam price: 6.5M
  • Qualifying record: 2 goals conceded, 0 clean sheets, 2 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Germany (30), Portugal (22), Hungary (8)

Bayern Munich love a versatile player and Lucas Hernandez personifies the mantra, capable of slotting in at centre-back or left-back, with the Frenchman switching between the positions in 2020/21 as Hansi Flick tinkered with his tactics and sought a winning formula.

It could be argued that Lucas’ brother, Theo, is the more noteworthy Hernandez at present, given his burgeoning exploits for AC Milan, but he has once again been shunned by Deschamps, who continues to put his faith in the older sibling, and with good reason, as the Bayern factotum is a stellar all-rounder.

2. Luke Shaw (Man Utd/England)

  • FanTeam price: 6.5M
  • Qualifying record: N/A
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Croatia (17), Scotland (16), Czech Republic (13)

Everyone loves a comeback story, particularly when it comes to sport, and Luke Shaw’s resurgence from a career-threatening injury, to Mourinho’s scapegoat, and now flourishing full-back is the stuff of dreams. His rise this season has been one of excitement for both Man United, and England fans.

Shaw was indispensable as the Red Devils reached the Europa League final, completely fazing out summer recruit Alex Telles, as well as creating the third-most chances (72) among defenders in 2020/21, just getting edged by serial defensive playmakers Trent Alexander-Arnold (77) and Filip Kostic (89).

1. Joao Cancelo (Man City/Portugal)

  • FanTeam price: 6.5M
  • Qualifying record: 4 goals conceded, 1 clean sheet, 4 appearances
  • Group stage opponents (with goals scored in qualifying): Germany (30), France (25), Hungary (8)

Dias was, of course, the standout defensive name for City in their title-winning campaign, but Cancelo was another Portuguese who really came to the fore at the Etihad, producing consistently superb defensive displays, while never abandoning his duties to get forward and instigate attacking moves.

The fluidity and rhythm in which Cancelo progresses up the turf and links play is utopia for a manager of Guardiola’s tactical flexibility, and that should serve Portugal well, with the versatile defender bringing experience, grit and a forward-thinking approach to the reigning European champions.