Football Features

Premier League’s best centre-backs in 2023/24 so far

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:15, 14 November 2023

“No doubt offence sells the tickets, but defence wins championships,” as famed basketball coach Dave Thorson once said.

No adage is more true when it comes to Premier League football or any league for that matter. Every successful team possessed a central defender par excellence and England’s top division is currently littered with some.

More Premier League player rankings:

So who are the Premier League’s best right now?

To come up with a list, we fed various statistical categories into Twenty3’s discovery tool and weighted them. This produces the Squawka Score you’ll see expressed as a percentage in each player entry.

William Saliba

  • Team: Arsenal
  • Minutes played: 1,080
  • Squawka Score: 58%

The beauty of football is that it’s not played on paper. That being said, William Saliba’s absence during the business end of last season proved to be pivotal as Arsenal relinquished their long-held top spot to eventual champions Manchester City, subsequently enhancing the Frenchman’s status though it’s one truly earned and he’s shown his difference-making qualities already on several occasions this season. Saliba is excellent in duels and possesses the speed required to play close to the halfway line thus making the pitch smaller and ensuring Mikel Arteta’s side holds a territorial advantage.

“I think Saliba has the complete skill set,” former Gunners centre-back Martin Keown recently told TNT Sports. “I think he’s right now one of the best defenders in Europe. He has everything you need. His pace is phenomenal. His power. He reads the situation really well. We love having him at Arsenal because he’s physical and has everything you need.”

Micky van de Ven

  • Team: Tottenham
  • Minutes played: 944
  • Squawka Score: 58%

Tottenham have been fantastic under Ange Postecoglou and while most of the plaudits have been focused on the attack, the defence should get its praise too. At the heart of the back line has been summer arrival Micky van de Ven, who is already staking a claim to be signing of the season. The Dutchman is crucial to Postecoglou’s high line, using his pace to keep up with any attackers that do manage to break through. Van de Ven is also a great passer of the ball with 94.59% accuracy, so Tottenham will miss him through injury.

Marc Guéhi

  • Team: Crystal Palace
  • Minutes played: 989
  • Squawka Score: 59%

For some, Marc Guéhi is among the best defenders outside the Big Six. Still only 23, it feels as though Guéhi has been around for some time, such is the experience and class he can exude on his day for Crystal Palace. His performances and general reliability at the back has seen Guéhi start to become a regular for Gareth Southgate in England squads, though he has still been limited to seven appearances. For Palace, he’s almost undroppable at the back, and only three players in the Premier League have made more headed clearances than Guéhi’s 30. There’s a reason he is always on the wish list for England’s top clubs.

Ezri Konsa

  • Team: Aston Villa
  • Minutes played: 990
  • Squawka Score: 59%

It’s fair to say Unai Emery turned Aston Villa around with the Birmingham-based club now among those chasing a place in next season’s revamped Champions League tournament. This renewed sense of optimism has coincided with astute transfer business; no pre-season acquisition caught the eye more than Pau Torres, and good as he’s been the Spaniard is not quite Villa’s best. That distinction goes to long-serving former Charlton Athletic academy graduate Ezri Konsa who is still awaiting a first England cap. An ever-present this season, not missing a single minute of Premier League action, the Londoner excels when it comes to playing the ball out further highlighting Villa’s transformation under the Europa League’s most decorated coach.

Joël Matip

  • Team: Liverpool
  • Minutes played: 623
  • Squawka Score: 59%

For a while it felt as though Joël Matip was becoming something of a meme defender at Liverpool, but over the years he has shown just how important he is. He’s not the number one defender, but Matip’s experience and defensive strengths pair well with whoever is alongside him. The Cameroonian’s defensive works often helps start Liverpool attacks, and he has made 33 clearances alongside his 87.75% pass accuracy.

Manuel Akanji

  • Team: Man City
  • Minutes played: 809
  • Squawka Score: 63%

“[Johan] Cruyff told us that the players with the best ball-handling skills should be the defenders, as they need to bring you out of trouble and set up the forwards with their play,” Guardiola once said. So it comes as no surprise he’s drawn towards someone like Manuel Akanji a ball-playing centre-back of repute. The former Borussia Dortmund star even deputised for John Stones by taking up his now accustomed defence-cum-midfield role.

Akanji, like the England international, doesn’t need a second invitation to maraud up the pitch. However, it’s not all style as there’s substance, the Swiss centre-back nevertheless carries out his defensive duties but it’s that calming presence that he brings which has drawn parallels with legendary skipper Vincent Kompany, though perhaps by design.

“I watched Vincent Kompany play a lot when he was at Manchester City, he was one of the best defenders around at the time, maybe even the best defender in the world in his prime,” he said last year.

“He was really good and I have tried to do some stuff like he did when he was here. I watch a lot of football and there’s not really one player that I really see as a role model, I look at a lot of games and I see players, things, what they do and I try to do it sometimes, but other times I think I can do it in a little bit of a better way.”

Lewis Dunk

  • Team: Brighton
  • Minutes played: 990
  • Squawka Score: 64%

Konsa might still be waiting to make his England debut but Lewis Dunk already has three international caps. Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate rewarded Brighton’s rock following a consistent string of performances. However, it’s been a challenging season to date with the Seagulls blowing hot and cold, nevertheless, the brand of football Roberto De Zerbi has installed is something they are not going to move away from anytime soon. Dunk’s role is critical. “People like Dunk, for me he is one of the top five central defenders in Europe,” the Italian said earlier this year. If anything Dunk’s progression in a Brighton jersey is something to behold. He was instructed to defend the box first and foremost under Chris Hughton’s leadership. Graham Potter emboldened him with more freedom to play with the ball and he’s brought those facets of central defence play together with De Zerbi at the helm.

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Joachim Andersen

  • Team: Crystal Palace
  • Minutes played: 1,080
  • Squawka Score: 67%

The presence of Joachim Andersen gives Crystal Palace a weapon from central defence. Last season he played 200 successful long passes, more than any Premier League centre-back, which led to Jamie Carragher at one point during Palace’s 2-0 win over Arsenal at Selhurst Park exclaiming: “He’s playing like Ronald Koeman!”

He’s once again leading the way in 2023/24 with 78, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Dane go on to successfully defend his crown. He also ranks first when it comes to final third entries (144) by a centre-back.

Two seasons ago Andersen played 253 successful long-ball passes for Palace in the league, the most of any outfield player in the Premier League and 50 more than the next-most Trent Alexander-Arnold. “I thought I was getting a bit carried away when I called Andersen Ronald Koeman in the first half, but I don’t think I was,” Carragher added.

Thiago Silva

  • Team: Chelsea
  • Minutes played: 1,080
  • Squawka Score: 70%

For many Paulo Maldini epitomises the ideal modern central defender and Thiago Silva recently disclosed how spending time with the illustrious Milan icon shaped his very own development.

“Meeting Maldini sparked something in me. I was 24 when I arrived and looking at him made me think: ‘The way I look after myself – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t miss my sleep – means I can reach Maldini’s level. Age level I mean of course, not performance level. There is only one Maldini,” he said in a Guardian interview.

Silva turned 39 in September and is showing no signs of slowing down. If anything he’s been a shining light in challenging times for Chelsea who are dangerously close to once again looking from the outside in as their fellow big-six rivals battle it out for the Premier League title.

Cristian Romero

  • Team: Tottenham
  • Minutes played: 857
  • Squawka Score: 78%

“I wouldn’t argue with Messi,” came Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou’s response after the record eight-time Ballon d’Or recipient described Cristian Romero as the world’s best defender. “Most of the boys don’t like to train against him. He’s a real competitor and I love that about him. Whether it’s training or a game, what you see is what you get with Romero,” the Australian added.

However, we are seeing the good and bad regarding Romero, who picked up a fourth red card in a Spurs jersey against Chelsea and since his Tottenham debut in August 2021, he’s given away four penalties, too. Romero’s Jekyll and Hyde nature is high risk — being aggressive and playing within the absolute limits of the game’s laws intimidates opposition forwards — may prove costly long-term.

Virgil van Dijk

  • Team: Liverpool
  • Minutes played: 838
  • Squawka Score: 79%

Form is temporary as the old saying goes. Virgil van Dijk would be the first to admit he played below his usual (lofty) standards last term. Some eyebrows were raised when Jurgen Klopp named him Liverpool’s captain heading into the season but it’s proven to be a masterstroke as the Dutchman not only rekindled his past form the Reds are once again in the mix for glory.

One blemish — a sending-off at Newcastle — aside, Van Dijk is once again his old rolls royce self and resolute. To date, of any centre-back playing at least 590 minutes this season (half of the games played), he is the sole one not to be dribbled past.