Football Features

The best centre-backs at Euro 2024 ranked

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:45, 9 June 2024 | Updated: 17:44, 16 June 2024

There will be a lot of focus on attacking players at Euro 2024, but let’s not forget the defenders.

Sometimes successful tournaments are built on solid defences. Just look at Greece’s Euro 2004 success, in which they kept three consecutive clean sheets in the knockout stages.

At the heart of the defence are the centre-backs, and there are some big ones set to feature at Euro 2024. But the question is, who’s the best?

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 aerial and ground duel success, passing accuracy, interceptions, recoveries, clearances and tackles.

For this list, we’ve looked at players playing in Europe’s top seven leagues. We also limited our search to players with over 1,500 minutes in the league this season, to have played at least 50% of their team’s games in 2024 and with a realistic expectation to start at centre-back for their nations at Euro 2024.

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5. Ruben Dias

  • Country: Portugal

One of the best centre-backs in the Premier League, it feels like Dias didn’t get as much attention in the 2023/24 campaign. But the Portuguese was still there, at the heart of Man City’s title-winning defence. He had 10 crucial interceptions inside his own box alongside 223 passes into the final third completed, ranking fourth for both metrics in the Premier League. Of course, passing is Dias’s forte with 94.1% accuracy and 2,454 passes completed in the league, alongside 2.912 touches.

Dias has only missed three of Portugal’s 19 games since the start of the 2022 World Cup. One was at the World Cup, rested for the final group game, before also being rested in Euro 2024 qualifying against Liechtenstein and for a friendly against Slovenia.

4. Josip Sutalo

  • Country: Croatia

Josip Sutalo has battled with injuries this year, but he returned to fitness at the Ajax defence at the right time for the Euros. Ajax didn’t have a good season ultimately having to settle on the Europa League second qualifying round. But it was a decent recovery, with Sutalo eventually helping to settle the defence — he missed the 6-0 defeat to Feyenoord, which may say something. The Croatian defender won possession 84 times in the defensive third and 65 times in the middle third, the latter ranking him eighth among centre-backs in the Eredivisie.

Sutalo did miss some of Croatia’s recent games through injury, but he started all but one of their qualifying games for Euro 2024 and returned for their 2-1 pre-tournament friendly win over Portugal. He also started both of their matches at the UEFA Nations League finals, where Croatia finished runners-up to Spain. In fact, he’s missed just three games since starting the third-place play-off at the 2022 World Cup.

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3. Antonio Silva

  • Country: Portugal

Pepe is usually the man to start alongside Dias for Portugal but at 41 years old, his days at this level are numbered. Roberto Martinez will certainly have an eye on who replaces him and right now, Antonio Silva feels like he’s top of a very talented list.

A host of European giants are being linked with the 20-year-old, who already has 10 senior caps for Portugal, and for good reason. Silva finished in at least the top four among Benfica players in a number of key metrics, including clearances, aerial duels won, possessions won in the defensive third, tackles and passes completed.

Silva’s time is fast approaching and while Martinez may favour Pepe in high-stakes moments, the youngster may get more of a look-in than expected against more mobile forwards.

2. Virgil van Dijk

  • Country: Netherlands

Is anybody surprised? Among those players expected to start at centre-back for their nation at Euro 2024 this summer, Virgil van Dijk comes out a narrow second. He may not be at the peak of his powers, but Van Dijk remains one of the best centre-backs in world football. The Dutchman won an incredible 81.4% of his aerial duels in the Premier League in 2023/24, with only one centre-back winning more than his 140. Van Dijk also completed 142 clearances and won possession in the defensive third 84 times and 85 times in the middle third, the second-best among centre-backs for the latter.

Of course, there is no Netherlands defence without Van Dijk, with the Liverpool man starting at the heart of the back three. Since returning from his ACL injury in September 2021, Van Dijk has missed just four games for Netherlands, all through rest, starting in 28 of his 29 appearances in that time.

1. Nico Schlotterbeck

  • Country: Germany

It took a while for Nico Schlotterbeck to get going in 2023/24 but once he did, he was imperious. The defender was particularly impressive in the Champions League, where he and Mats Hummels formed the best partnership in the competition to guide Borussia Dortmund all the way to the final, eventually losing 2-0 to Real Madrid.

Schlotterbeck finished fourth in the Champions League for clearances (34) and possessions won in the defensive third (36), with partner Hummels one of the only players to rank above him in both metrics. In league play, meanwhile, our Squawka Score rates him at 72%, which is the highest of any defender within the metrics chosen.

Hummels was brutally left out of the Germany squad that will play at Euro 2024 as hosts, but Schlotterbeck will be flying the flag and leading the backline.

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 (%)