So, we’ve reached the second international break of the new season and you will all be sick of international-themed content before long (Glen Johnson, AMIRITE?!), so I thought I’d rank every centre-back partnership in the Premier League and put ’em in order.
Now, I’ve tried to keep the teams they’re within out of it. Think “How would these guys do if they were put into a solid defensive set-up, and how would they do if they were put into a crappy one”.
I’m also not assessing them strictly on how good their *partnership* is (how well they work together). Again, I’m trying to isolate them from surrounding factors – “would I rather have these two players at my disposal, or these two”.
Finally, this isn’t definitive, and will change as I *ahem* watch them more.
20 – Middlesbrough – Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson
This is one of those ones where if I was being paid for this I’d have made sure to, *ahem*, actually watch and pay attention to these guys.
19 – Burnley – Michael Keane and Ben Mee
It’s a hard thing to watch these two as they’re surrounded so often by a further 28 players, and the Burnley system is built on the premise of making players who aren’t good enough into something that is. They’re young though, so they have that going for them.
18 – Sunderland – Papy Djilobodji and Lamine Koné
Again, were I being paid for this I’d have made sure that enough game film had passed in front of my eyes to feel qualified to talk about these guys as Sunderland players. However, before the move (or should it be a temporary detour) to Chelsea, Djilobodji was starter on a decent Nantes team; and Wearside would have filled with enough tears to form a new river if Koné had left this summer.
You shouldn’t buy by reputation, but you sure as hell can rank among the lower rungs of the ladder by it.
17 – Hull – Curtis Davies and Jake Livermore
Though Michael Dawson would be Hull’s preferred partner for Davies, he’s been injured and Livermore hasn’t done too badly. Like Burnley, Hull’s set-up is one which acknowledges their overall lack of talent, but Davies might be one of the few in the squad genuinely unfortunate to be a part of this Hull calamity.
On his own, he drags the two up to 17th.
16 – Swansea – Federico Fernandez and Jordi Amat
First, many moons ago, Swansea failed to adequately replace Chico Flores; then, more recently, they failed to adequately replace Ashley Williams. They’re competent, and aren’t a pair who are likely to fall further in a future rankings (also, y’know, the whole ‘watching them’ thing. I’ve watched everyone else though).
15 – West Ham – James Collins and Winston Reid
In reality, Ogbonna would probably feature in here instead of Collins, but their injuries at full-back have meant that he’s been filling in there instead. Barring Swansea who I’m less familiar with, 15th to 12th is pretty close and it’s Collins who’s dragging West Ham down in these rankings.
Ogbonna is a better player, more aware, sure of himself, and just a generally better defender, while Reid is probably a lower mid-table standard. Don’t worry too much, Hammers.
14 – Bournemouth – Simon Francis and Steve Cook
Steve Cook is like Bournemouth’s David Luiz (bear with me). Flashes of genuinely good defending are interspersed with moments of complete absences of attention, and the package is peppered with competent on-ball abilities. If he were 5 years younger you’d have managers sniffing around him, but as it is he’s 25 and this is probably all you’re gonna get.
Simon Francis is a bit more consistent, though that doesn’t mean he’ll never make an error, and at a slightly lower level. But together, you wouldn’t be too unhappy with them at a club who realistically will always have the prospect of the relegation zone uncomfortably close behind their shoulder.
13 – Watford – Some combination of Craig Cathcart, Miguel Britos, and Younes Kaboul
With both Cathcart and Britos injured, Watford have fielded Kaboul and Prödl a centre-back for the past couple of weeks. Neither are truly horrific, neither are that much better than where Watford would be aiming to be, and Kaboul is probably better than being exposed at Sunderland gave him credit for.
Cathcart is quietly the pick of the bunch, and Britos isn’t bad either. As a recently promoted side, you’re in a reasonably good place with these 3 as/among your starting centre-back corps.
12 – West Brom – Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans
This is basically all Jonny Evans. If you’re building a team and you’re not one of the top 4-6, you’d willingly put up with almost anyone to have Jonny Evans as a starting centre-back. I don’t even know who Gareth McAuley is. (This is not wholly true).
11 – Stoke – Ryan Shawcross and Bruno Martins Indi
Goalimpact tweeted today that it’s odd that Stoke are doing so badly because none of their players are that bad, and this is true. Shawcross is probably as good as his average reputation is – when other English centre-backs do badly it suddenly fluctuates to incorrectly high levels.
He spends most of his time backing off, which is fairly easy to do and avoids looking silly a lot, but he’s competent. Martins Indi I have not watched a lot of, but his reputation precedes him, even if (like Shawcross) hype is occasionally undeserved.
10 – Leicester – Robert Huth and Wes Morgan
Yeah, you try and win a Premier League title with a 10th in the league ranked starting centre-back duo. Huth is ‘uncompromising’ (read: dirty and likely to trip and elbow you off the ball, both at the same time), but has the ghosts of a formerly good player. He can be clumsy nowadays, his footwork can let him down, and he’s slow.
Morgan is probably the better of the two . He isn’t perfect, but he gets more stick for his body type than is deserved – I’d wager he’s faster and fitter than Huth. His awareness and decision-making isn’t always top notch, but he could easily feature in any mid-table side.
9 – Crystal Palace – Scott Dann and James Tomkins
It seems bizarre that West Ham let Tomkins go in the summer. Apparently he was told he’d have a reduced role under Bilic (presumably the idea being Ogbonna playing primarily alongside Reid), and he wasn’t satisfied with that so was allowed to go.
West Ham’s loss is Palace’s gain, and they already ahd a surprisingly decent centre-back in Scott Dann. Mid-table is probably the upper ceiling for these guys, but then that’s where Palace are aiming.
8 – Everton – Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams
A little bit of breathing space between 9th and 8th. While Jagielka may not be, or ever have been, the right standard to be an England national team starter he still has the defensive intelligence that got him into that team.
Williams has it too, though maybe lacks a little awareness at times, and is better on the ball than he’s probably assumed to be given his build. Wills and Jags aren’t an ideal situation for a club given their ages, but for the present they’re pretty good hands to have on deck.
7 – Southampton – Virgil van Dijk and Jose Fonte
Fonte’s reputation was probably slightly inflated by being in a good team for several years in a row, but he does have genuine quality which makes it surprising that he was ever in League 1.
Van Dijk’s reputation fluctuates too, depending on the type of week he’s had. For the moment, he’s probably right where he deserves to be, but if Southampton drops or he has a good year or two then he may merit a step up in future.
6 – Liverpool – Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip, but what the hell’s going on with Mamadou Sakho?
Look, does anyone know who the ideal starting two centre-backs are amongst this bunch? Lovren and Matip are current starters, but Klavan was at the beginning of the season (I’m assuming Matip wasn’t fit). If Sakho hadn’t seemingly been edged out by Klopp, he’d be certain to take one of the starting places though.
In the end, it probably doesn’t matter too much for their rank. Sakho could be a top four centre-back but Lovren would struggle to be and I haven’t quite seen enough of Matip to comment, but he hasn’t been noticably superb. I dunno. Liverpool’s centre-back situation looked like it was solved and then they freezed out Sakho, who knows.
5 – Chelsea – John Terry and Gary Cahill/David Luiz, or maybe a back 3
For ease, I’m going to work on the assumption that Terry, when fit, would be a starter alongside Cahill or David Luiz. Terry is older and not quite as with it as in his peak, but still has remnants of the world class defender he was.
Cahill is largely good but having a bad time currently, and David Luiz is largely good but prone to having a bad time. I’d rather have one of them than, say, Lovren, though and that’s how this whole thing works.
4 – Manchester United – Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling
Into the top 4. Both are awkward centre-backs who do genuinely seem to have great games and then have terrible moments. Bailly is a little rash and clumsy in tackles in the kind of Spanish-league style that Otamendi can be prone to as well.
Smalling can be a top 4 centre-back but has slight awareness problems at times and rarely looks comfortable. I get a continual feeling with him, which I can’t confirm due to watching on TV, that communication can be an issue with him too.
3 – Tottenham – Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen
As a partnership and within Tottenham’s system, they are fantastic. But this is a case of a system and partnership getting the absolute best out of two players.Put them in another team, where they’re more threatened, and I’m less sure about them.
The top 3 is pretty close, and you could make arguments for the top 5 being pretty close too, so, y’know, don’t take anything too seriously.
2 – Arsenal – Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi
Can’t have Arsenal winning the league now, can we? Seriously though, Koscielny is up there with Kompany for the best centre-backs in the league in the mini-generation just a little younger than Rio Ferdinand and John Terry. His positioning is good, his awareness is good (though I think he’s dipped in the past year or so), and he’s seemed to have added a good passing game as another string to his bow.
Mustafi I dunno much about, and he may be a placeholder while Mertesacker is out. But like with Curtis Davies and Jonny Evans, you (or, I, at least) would be happy to put up with most centre-backs in order to have Koscielny in my squad.
1 – Manchester City – Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones
To be honest, I don’t know if these two deserve it. It’s certainly a hollow victory, not so much best of the best, but best of a mediocre top bunch. None of the top couplings of centre-backs jump out at you as ones to jump at, no-one who you’d obviously pick first in the playground when you’re team captain.
Otamendi is susceptible to rashness and a little laziness, but could be very good if he nailed that out of his game; and we all know the Stones conundrum. City are first, but I feel like the top step of the podium should be left empty.