Legendary former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once said ‘attack wins you games, defence wins you titles’ – but is it true?
While having the meanest backline in the league doesn’t guarantee success, it certainly offers you a platform to build upon, with three of the last four Premier League seasons seeing the team who conceded the fewest goals crowned champions.
With that in mind, it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to see teams desperately aiming to bolster their defensive arsenal this summer, with a whole host of centre-backs either having completed or being on the verge of completing big-money moves.
90min has taken a look at every Premier League club’s centre-back pairing and ranked them all the way down to the best of them all…
Sorry Newcastle fans.
In fairness, four Premier League teams conceded more than the Magpies last season – two of whom were relegated by the way – but Steve Bruce’s style of play should lend itself to his team conceding about three goals a season.
Despite playing three at the back, Newcastle’s defence has a tendency to look a shambles at times and so they take our dreaded bottom spot.
Norwich seem to be one of those sides who are too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League, so it’ll come as no surprise to learn a lot of their players are very much the same.
Grant Hanley can look brilliant in England’s second tier at times but he’s been found wanting whenever he’s taken the step up, while Ben Gibson didn’t do too badly in his only real taste of top flight football with Middlesbrough but he was definitely helped by Aitor Karanka’s pragmatic approach.
This one could be another long season for the Canaries.
Watford’s promotion last season was built on their solid backline, with even 15th-place Blackburn Rovers outscoring them.
William Troost-Ekong was a rock at the back for the Hornets while Francisco Sierralta took his time to settle in England before cementing his place in the starting XI.
Neither have played a single minute in the Premier League and so it remains to be seen how they’ll perform, but Troost-Ekong’s leadership will be key if they’re to avoid the drop.
Proof that you can throw as much money at a defence as you like but it doesn’t guarantee you a rigid backline.
Sean Dyche has got the ability to make any defender look brilliant and it seems Everton are finding that out the hard way with Michael Keane.
The former Clarets centre-back has looked a shadow of the player Everton thought they’d signed back in 2017 and his partner Yerry Mina is about as erratic a defender as you’re likely to see.
Any day now we’re expecting Ben White to be added to Arsenal’s defensive options, but for now they’re stuck with Rob Holding and Gabriel – and we really do mean ‘stuck with’.
Holding seems to have forged a career off the back of Arsene Wenger once claiming everyone would think he was brilliant if he’d cost £55m, while Gabriel has all the attributes needed to be a decent centre-back but he just looks a little lost at times.
If the Gunners are going to compete for a place in Europe next season they badly need to strengthen their defence.
Who would’ve thought that the two north London clubs would be so far down on this list?
Again, new signings are expected to be announced shortly and by the looks of things Nuno Espirito Santo will be desperate for them.
Joe Rodon looks like he could develop into a decent centre-back with some more experience under his belt, but Davinson Sanchez is, erm, well he’s just a bit of a loose cannon really.
The sale of Toby Alderweireld seems a bit baffling when you look at what Tottenham are left with and Nuno must be confident they’ll get a few deals over the line before the start of the season.
Just because a player is English and plays in the Premier League doesn’t mean they’re automatically brilliant.
Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster have come in for a lot of praise in recent seasons – in particular the former who has even been capped by England – though it’s hard to muster a case for them being much more than competent.
We’re not saying they’re bad defenders by any means but the hype is a bit much.
Conor Coady definitely looks at his most comfortable when playing in the centre of a back three where he can organise his defence, while Willy Boly can look a great defender at times.
Max Kilman’s ability on the ball is impressive but as for his all-round game as a defender he’s got plenty to work on.
David Moyes’ mooted pursuit of Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma probably tells you the Scotsman isn’t all together content with his centre-back options.
Craig Dawson looked to be an inspired signing early on last season but a couple of rocky games towards the end of the campaign proved Moyes is right to look for reinforcements.
Angelo Ogbonna was superb for the Hammers throughout the 2020/21 season but Moyes is clearly considering his options with the Italian entering the twilight of his career.
If you’re looking for a classy defender who can ping 50-yard diagonals about the pitch then Jannik Vestergaard is your man.
The Dane took time to settle in England and looked a calamity at times early on in his Southampton career, but he’s beginning to look much more settled in the Saints backline.
Meanwhile, Jan Bednarek still has plenty to learn but he’s showing he’s got the ability to become a solid defender.
Heading into the top ten now and first up it’s Leeds’ centre-back pairing of Liam Cooper and Diego Llorente.
We’re not going to hide the fact that Cooper can look bang average at times, but alongside Llorente the two have struck up a partnership which seems to work very well.
The Spaniard churned out some fantastic performances last season and given how exposed Leeds’ midfield can leave their defence the two did brilliantly in the Whites’ first season back in the top flight.
Having worked his way up the football league, Ethan Pinnock richly deserves his shot in the Premier League. The former Barnsley man can look a little rash at times but he’s been producing quality displays for a number of years now.
Alongside him next season is likely to be Kristoffer Ajer. A lot of teams were trying to snap him up from Celtic but Brentford won the race, and we’ve seen nothing to suggest he won’t be a hit in England.
Obviously we’re basing this on the potential the pair have as they’ve never actually played together, but there’s a lot to be excited about for Crystal Palace fans.
Marc Guehi couldn’t have done much more during his time with Swansea, though at just 21 years of age he’s going to need some guidance in his first Premier League season – that’s where Joachim Andersen comes in.
The former Fulham loanee looks a real top defender and we’re amazed more teams weren’t trying to sign him this summer.
How they do together is pure guesswork at the moment, but don’t be surprised to see the pair flourish at Palace.
We’re going to be completely honest, how Ezri Konsa wasn’t one the Aston Villa players included in England’s Euro 2020 squad we’ll never know.
At just 23 years of age the former Brentford man is destined for bigger and better things (sorry Villa fans) and he really has the talent to play for one of England’s title-challenging sides.
Tyrone Mings is definitely prone to a mistake but alongside Konsa he looks more assured and the two have struck up a decent partnership.
Caglar Soyuncu isn’t quite the world beater that everyone seems to make him out to be and he’s not the most reliable, but the other two are top centre-backs.
Similar to Konsa, Wesley Fofana is destined for the top and with the experienced head of Jonny Evans marshalling the defence Leicester look a solid unit.
We can obviously only assess these partnerships on how well they perform for their respective clubs and that’s the reason Ben Mee and James Tarkowski are so high on our list.
Take them out of the Burnley team and they’d probably look nowhere near as effective, but in Dyche’s well-drilled set-up the pair have thrived and Mee can count himself unlucky not to have earned international recognition.
Chelsea’s success in the second half of last season was built on their mean defence.
Thomas Tuchel used a number of different defenders throughout his first half-season in charge, with Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen both performing admirably when called upon, but we think the trio who started their Champions League final victory look the strongest.
Antonio Rudiger looks as good as he ever has in a Chelsea shirt alongside the nous of Thiago Silva, while Cesar Azpilicueta has adapted seamlessly to a role on the right of a back three.
Alright alright, we know, they won the title and conceded the fewest goals in the league so why are they not top?
Admittedly, Ruben Dias looks a brilliant centre-back and only time will tell if he can consistently produce the goods, but there’s just something about John Stones that puts us on edge.
The England man is definitely looking as good as he ever has since moving to Manchester City, but there’s always a sloppy mistake in his game and we just don’t feel comfortable enough watching him to warrant putting him and Dias at top spot.
It’s no secret that the arrival of Virgil van Dijk at Anfield has transformed Liverpool’s fortunes and the Dutchman is easily one of the best centre-backs in Europe.
Joe Gomez has come on leaps and bounds alongside Van Dijk and at just 24 he’s still got plenty of time to develop – so why are they not our number one?
Well, there’s now a better pairing in the Premier League. Nothing more to it really.
The addition of a world-class centre-back in Raphael Varane alongside a very solid defender in Harry Maguire makes Manchester United’s centre-back pairing our number one.
Obviously we’re only speculating but we see no reason whatsoever why Varane will struggle in England, bringing with him a wealth of experience along with a tidy medal collection.
Maguire will unfortunately always be burdened by the £80m United paid for his services, but there’s no denying he’s a very good defender and the Red Devils could be in business with him and Varane at the heart of their defence next season.