It’s the holiday season and nearly mid-season so what better time for an arbitrary ranking of centre-backs, eh? Put your Santa hat on. Feel happier? Good, then we’ll begin.
Firstly, I have not numbered these guys 1,2,3,4,5 because that is always ridiculous – they’re in groups instead. To bring the ridiculousness back up to list levels, there are three groups who receive no rating for various reasons, and I’ll cover them first.
GROUP Kylo Ren
Cloaked in darkness, these are centre-backs who may have played some sort of meaningful gametime (over 3 games) but I have not watched them and have no opinion of them. In some cases I didn’t know they existed. And they call me an expert. In this group: Prödl (Watford); Elphick (Bournemouth); Bartley (Swansea); Ogbonna (West Ham); Muniesa (Stoke).
GROUP Nodding Sagely
A handful who I have vague opinions about but haven’t really watched this season. In this group: Clark and Okore (Aston Villa); Hangeland (Crystal Palace); Cameron (Stoke).
Norwich centre-backs. Sorry.
Anyway, on with the proper show.
Mertesacker and Koscielny (Arsenal); Vertonghen (Tottenham); Kompany (Manchester City)
The Arsenal pair have been one of the best partnerships in the league, though Koscielny has been slightly disappointing against his usual quality. Kompany may have received a boost from the shambles in his absence. Vertonghen is the better half of one of the other best partnerships in the league.
Alderweireld (Tottenham); Otamendi (Manchester City); Smalling and Blind (Manchester United); Gabriel (Arsenal)
Alderweireld and Gabriel have performed well though not quite at the level of their teammates. Otamendi has at times looked commanding but at times rather not. Smalling and Blind have largely been behind a good system, have sometimes made mistakes in it (Blind), and have looked exposed when the system has broken down.
Cahill and Terry (Chelsea); Dann (Crystal Palace); Jones (Manchester United)
None have been outstanding, and Terry has disappointed at times compared to what at least used to be his ability. Dann has looked a genuinely good defender for Palace. There is a bigger gap between this group and Group 2 than this group and Group 4.
Stones and Jagielka (Everton); Rojo (Manchester United); Fonte (Southampton); Williams (Swansea)
Almost a Group 3.5, Williams is not the defender people were raving about earlier in the season. Stones is great at some things but not others, and would surely wish Jagielka was back alongside him. Fonte, and the team, are perhaps missing Schneiderlin. Rojo has been ok.
Van Dijk (Southampton); Fernandez (Swansea); Sakho, Lovren, and Skrtel (Liverpool); Evans (West Brom)
The Liverpool centre-backs are largely hard to separate, though Sakho is towards the top of this group. Evans is clearly West Brom’s best defender, wherever he gets shifted to. Van Dijk and Fernandez are steps down from their partners, though not large ones.
Zouma (Chelsea); Kouyate (West Ham); Morgan (Leicester)
Zouma’s hype, built off a couple of good recovering tackles last season, is beginning to fade with good reason. Morgan is a genuinely good (read: mid-table-ish) centre-back, and was so last season too, so it’s nothing new. Kouyate is a good addition to West Ham’s defence.
Tomkins and Reid (West Ham); Yoshida (Southampton); Wollschied (Stoke); Distin (Bournemouth); Mbemba (Newcastle)
Tomkins and Reid are ok, though are partly in this group because I haven’t watched them much. Yoshida hasn’t had a great season with several notable mistakes, but this probably influences opinion of him a little too much. Wollschied, Distin, Mbemba could probably do a job for mid-table sides or a little above, Distin perhaps less so for age reasons.
Richards and Lescott (Aston Villa); Funes Mori (Everton); Shawcross (Stoke); Francis and Cook (Bournemouth)
Richards and Lescott are ok, Funes Mori is perhaps as bad as Tim Vickery said he was. There was a stat after Shawcross had been back in the side for a few weeks after injury saying that they hadn’t conceded while he had been there – he is not the reason. Francis (usually a right-back, at CB due to injuries) is doing well, Cook fluctuates between looking naive and looking like he has a fair bit of potential.
O’Shea (Sunderland); Delaney (Crystal Palace); Collins (West Ham); Mangala (Manchester City); McAuley (West Brom); Coloccini (Newcastle)
Mangala has, by all accounts, not had a great season. O’Shea has been ok but is clearly hampered by being old. Delaney, Collins, McAuley are all ok but not as good as teammates. Coloccini has the feeling that he *could* be far better, but is coming up shorter than usual.
Cathcart (Watford); Huth (Leicester); Demichelis (Manchester City); Olsson (West Brom)
Cathcart isn’t bad, but neither is he tremendously good. Huth is quite bad, but has enough ability and experience to get by which is a similar case to Olsson, who is just a bit worse. Demichelis looks like he’s retired already. Bit of a step down from Group 9.
Coates and Kaboul (Sunderland); Britos (Watford)
The last group. Britos isn’t quite as good as Cathcart. Coates and Kaboul have almost been actively bad this season which is why Sam Allardyce stuck 5 at the back because maybe with an extra man they’ll be able to defend as competently as 4 half-decent players would be able to.
And, because everyone likes a league table: