Defending in the traditional sense may increasingly seem like a lost art in the modern game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a dearth of world class centre-backs.
It’s just that nowadays central defenders must also be able to make things happen on the ball, as well as stifling opposition forwards.
But what is a ‘world class centre-back’ anyway? It’s a tough question and once again 90min has gone about answering it, with a little bit of help from you along the way.
But first, let’s agree on a workable definition for the term shall we? What does world class mean?
With that out of the way, sit back and relax as we reveal the best centre-backs on the planet right now.
All statistics are provided by StatsPerform over the period of January 1, 2021 to November 30, 2021 (inclusive of domestic and continental cup competitions).
Games played: 46
Passing accuracy: 87.8%
Clean sheets: 28
Thanks to voting from 90min readers, Antonio Rudiger comes in at number five on this list, ousting competition from Sergio Ramos, David Alaba and club teammate Thiago Silva.
The German was seen as a massive liability just over a year ago, and he was nowhere near even the long-list for W2WC in 2020.
But he’s been almost faultless since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment as Chelsea boss, defending with such personality and aggression.
His crowning glory was obviously Chelsea’s Champions League triumph, but with his contract up at the end of the season, half of Europe will be in touch regarding a transfer – and whoever lands Rudiger will be signing a world class defender.
Games played: 29
Passing accuracy: 89.4%
Clean sheets: 9
Judging 2021 in isolation, Raphael Varane has not had a standout year by his own ludicrously high standards – but there can be no denying his world-class talent.
Blessed with startling recovery pace, composure and physicality, he is a textbook example of a modern defender with many onlookers claiming that Man Utd had “won the transfer window” by bringing him in for relative peanuts during the summer.
Still just 28, there is plenty of time for Varane to add to his bulging trophy cabinet for club and country over the coming years.
Games played: 50
Passing accuracy: 93.3%
Clean sheets: 20
When we were compiling our shortlist for last year’s W2WC series, Ruben Dias had not performed at a world-class level for long enough to break into the top five.
12 months on and him not making the top three would have been laughable. A rare undroppable in Pep Guardiola’s super-team, Dias left his rivals in the dirt from a statistical standpoint.
His numbers aren’t the only impressive thing about the Portugal international either. Dias also scooped up a host of team and individual honours in what was a breakout year. Expect to see him topping this list before too long…
Games played: 31
Passing accuracy: 88.7%
Clean sheets: 7
At nearly 40, Giorgio Chiellini has no right to still be on our longlist, let alone breaking into the top two.
Chiellini has an obsessive desire to remain at the top level that only a handful of footballers on the world stage possess. This burning desire to win was summed up by his performances at Euro 2020.
The Juventus defender barely put a foot wrong as Italy navigated their way through the quarter-final and semi-final, before pulling out a landmark display to help his side outfox England in the final.
There is plenty of life left in this old dog yet.
Games played: 16
Passing accuracy: 90.9%
Clean sheets: 9
How different would Liverpool and the Netherlands 2021 have been if Virgil van Dijk hadn’t missed the majority of the year through injury?
Both the Reds and Van Dijk’s national side underperformed significantly in his absence, providing a reminder – as if we needed one – that he is the best centre-back in the world.
His arrival at Anfield in 2018 gave Liverpool the shot in the arm they needed to produce true greatness and he shows no signs of relinquishing his grip on the defensive throne in 2022.
Long live King Virgil.