Football Features

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

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 18:55, 21 May 2024 | Updated: 12:17, 24 May 2024

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

No adage is more accurate regarding 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.

So, who was the Premier League’s best in 2023/24?

To create a list, we’ve used the Twenty3 Discovery Tool to find the best centre-backs and created a ‘Squawka Score’, which is based on 30 different metrics, including ground and aerial duel win percentage, interceptions, last-man tackles, discipline, clearances, long ball accuracy, and forward pass accuracy.

Players’ per 90 output across those metrics — each given a weighting between one and five — is rated by the Discovery Tool to produce a percentage score. The weighting of each statistic highlights the most important aspect of a centre-back’s game. This is the Squawka Score.

Each player’s stats are compared to the average output of defenders across the past three seasons of big-five European league football based on an automatically calculated minutes threshold. The more they rank in the 95th percentile and above for each metric, the higher the Squawka Score.

With the 2023/24 season concluded, here are the ten best-performing centre-backs in the Premier League ranked by their Squawka Score. Only players with 1710+ minutes under their belts are considered.

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More Premier League player rankings:

Nathan Aké

  • Team: Manchester City
  • Squawka Score: 61%
  • Key stat: He won 66% of his duels in the Premier League this season, the highest rate of any City player to contest at least 100.

A stigma is attached to footballers who are comfortable operating in multiple roles. The danger is that they cannot cement a regular spot and, in turn, become somewhat of a utility player. In other words, they are seen as a jack of all trades and a master of none.

However, some managers, like Pep Guardiola, see this versatility as a virtue. If anything, he encourages his players to be as versatile as Nathan Aké, who excelled under Guardiola’s leadership.

Aké played 29 times in England’s top division, with 24 appearances as part of Man City’s starting lineup. He was primarily used as a centre-back, though he played four times on the left flank in defence. Aké’s last-man instinct and ball-carrying ability helped the champions pursue a fourth consecutive title successfully.

Rúben Dias

  • Team: Manchester City
  • Squawka Score: 66%
  • Key stat: Boasts the highest pass completion percentage (94.1%) for Man City in 2023/24.

Despite some tricky moments this season, including giving away a penalty in the 4-4 draw against Chelsea, Ruben Dias has continued to prove his class as Manchester City looks to win a record-breaking fourth consecutive Premier League title. The Portuguese CB was named in the 2023 FIFA FIFPRO Men’s World 11 in January alongside six of his teammates, and his ability to carry the ball and find a pass has been essential for City this season and last.

Virgil van Dijk

  • Team: Liverpool
  • Squawka Score: 70%
  • Key stat: Liverpool has won all 16 Premier League games in which he’s scored for them, the most matches a player has scored in for a single club in the competition while maintaining a 100% win rate.

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. The Dutchman not only rekindled his past form, but the Reds are once again in the mix for glory in the German’s final season in charge.

His header deep into extra-time secured a record-breaking 10th League Cup trophy for the Reds against Chelsea in this season’s EFL Cup final. He became just the third outfield player after John Terry and Vincent Kompany to be named the Alan Hardaker Man of the Match award in multiple EFL Cup finals.

In the Premier League, Van Dijk is once again in his old Rolls Royce and is self-resolute.

Axel Disasi

  • Team: Chelsea
  • Squawka Score: 55%
  • Key stat: He registered 16 clearances against Manchester City in February 2024.

Having continually impressed at Monaco, it wouldn’t be long before a European superclub would be purging Axel Disasi, with Chelsea ultimately winning his signature. In his debut campaign, he played in all but seven Premier League games for the Blues (including sitting out their final three fixtures) and returned with two goals.

Regarding his main responsibilities, Disasi made an average of 1.19 tackles and 0.59 interceptions for every 90 minutes he played. He also made around 3.42 clearances during the same period. Out of his 31 appearances, Disasi played alongside Silva 30 times, leading many to consider the French international as Silva’s successor.

Gabriel Magalhães

  • Team: Arsenal
  • Squawka Score: 61%
  • Key stat: He made 1.39 tackles and 2.86 clearances every 90 minutes on the pitch.

It took some time for Gabriel Magalhães to adjust to life in North London, but he has become a key player in Mikel Arteta’s team. The São Paulo native featured in almost all of Arsenal’s league matches in the 2023/24 season as they came very close to winning the championship after a twenty-year drought. The Brazilian centre-back delivered some impressive performances, notably keeping Erling Haaland, the Norwegian machine, at bay when Arsenal played against the champions earlier this year, resulting in a well-earned draw.

Jan Paul van Hecke

  • Team: Brighton
  • Squawka Score: 67%
  • Key stat: His team conceded a goal every 68 minutes when he was on the pitch.

If one international manager besides Gareth Southgate is keeping a close eye on the Premier League’s top centre-backs, it’s probably Ronald Koeman. There are currently two members of the Netherlands team playing in England’s top division, but Jan Paul van Hecke is not among them. Van Hecke has shown significant development under Roberto De Zerbi in what turned out to be De Zerbi’s final campaign leading Brighton.

Van Hecke, who idolized Dennis Bergkamp while growing up, made fewer than 30 appearances in the Eredivisie and patiently waited to establish himself in the Seagulls’ first team. This past season was truly a breakthrough for him as the Dutchman received praise from many quarters, with De Zerbi even suggesting that he has become as important to the team as three hardened veterans.

“This Brighton cannot play without Pascal Gross in terms of personality, technologies, attitude, behaviour. Without Lewis Dunk as well, without Danny Welbeck as well, without JP van Hecke. In this moment he is another crucial player,” the Italian tactician recently said.

Cristian Romero

  • Team: Tottenham
  • Squawka Score: 67%
  • Key stat: He’s scored more Premier League goals this season than any other defender (5).

“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.

Now in the Tottenham leadership group, the Argentine seems to have calmed down slightly this season (Chelsea performance aside) and is forming an impressive defensive partnership with Spurs’ summer signing Micky van de Ven. His aggressive nature always sees him play within the absolute limits of the game’s laws at times as he intimidates opposition forwards, but his ability to bring the ball forward and his impressive passing range and accuracy has seen him become vital in Tottenham’s set up under Ange Postecoglou when he is available.

William Saliba

  • Team: Arsenal
  • Squawka Score: 59%
  • Key stat: The first outfield player to play every minute of a Premier League campaign for Arsenal.

His absence was felt last season as Arteta’s men faltered in the title race, but in the 2023/24 season, Saliba demonstrated his value as they came close to winning the championship. Although not a guaranteed starter for the French national team, he is undoubtedly Arsenal’s most important player. His ability to anticipate the game and his precise passing, both short and long, set him apart. Saliba is not one to shy away from challenges. Rumours now link him with top clubs like Bayern Munich, PSG, and Real Madrid. Losing him would be a huge blow for Arsenal.

Thiago Silva

  • Team: Chelsea
  • Squawka Score: 63%
  • Key stat: He is only the fourth different player to score a Premier League goal while aged 39 or older.

A late surge propelled Chelsea to a sixth-place finish, but it represents another disappointing campaign for a club of immense stature and seemingly deep pockets, even if there are brighter days ahead. Mauricio Pochettino will head into a second campaign without the wily Thiago Silva, who had announced that this would be his final season with the Blues.

What a campaign the veteran Brazilian centre-back enjoyed. At times, you forget he’s pushing 40, and in truth, he’s been a consistent performer and, dare I say, outside the incredible Cole Palmer, their best foot soldier. Silva had to use every fibre of his experience to navigate, on occasion, an inexperienced backline. A favourite at Stamford Bridge, he’ll be missed but never forgotten for his service.

Micky van de Ven

  • Team: Tottenham
  • Squawka Score: 60%
  • Key stat: Clocked the fastest speed by a Premier League player (37.38km/h) since data started being collected in 2020/21

There was a lot of excitement when Micky van de Ven moved from Wolfsburg to Spurs last summer. An up-and-coming Dutch central defender, his exceptional speed in the Bundesliga had caught the attention of Tottenham supporters and Premier League observers. Van de Ven was known as the fastest player in the Bundesliga, and many wondered if he would maintain that title in the English Premier League.

As it turns out, he did, but there is more to van de Ven than just his speed. He has shown significant development under Ange Postecoglou, demonstrating his ability to play on the ball and his aggressive defensive traits. With great potential, there is a strong chance that he will challenge to be the league’s best central defender rather than just the fastest.

Squawka Score metrics and weighting

Here are the metrics used and weighting given to each metric to come up with the overall Squawka Score:

  • 5: Aerial duel success, ground duel success
  • 4: Forward passing accuracy (%), long ball accuracy (%), Passes into final third success percentage (%), Percentage of sequences featured in that end in a shot, Percentage of sequences featured in that end in the final third, red cards, errors that lead to shots or goals
  • 3: Interceptions, last man tackles, ball recoveries, clearances, blocks, challenges lost, passes into final third completed, fouls, yellow cards
  • 2: Aerial duels won, passes into opposition half completed, ground duels won, blocked passes successful, interceptions, long passes completed, tackles
  • 1: Retention rate (%), non-penalty expected goals, touches in opposition box, possession turnovers, percentage of team’s passes (%)

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