Bayern, PSG and Beyond: The 5 Best Defenses in Europe
While Premier League leaders Manchester Utd put in yet another reckless defensive display on Boxing Day, their Premier League counterparts, Stoke, conceded only their 14th goal of the campaign in an utter shakedown of Liverpool.
Tony Pulis' side currently boast the best defence in the Premier League and one of the best in Europe.
The Potters kick off B/R's look at the best back lines in Europe's top five divisions...
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Stoke are this season's surprise package in terms of defensive prowess. The Potters have conceded the fewest goals in the Premier League (14) and have kept the most clean sheets (nine).
In Europe's five major leagues, only four sides have conceded fewer goals—and they are all in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Tony Pulis' side spend a great deal of time working on their defensive tactics, they are not afraid to defend deep and—perhaps most importantly—they enjoy a great deal of consistency at the back.
Centre-backs Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross have partnered each other in every league game this season (the likes of Real Madrid could only dream of such consistent defensive selection!).
What's more, Asmir Begovic is currently the English top flight's most in-form goalkeeper. He has conceded only around 5.7 percent of the 242 shots sent his way in this campaign.
Honorable mentions must also go to both St Etienne and Bordeaux, who have conceded just 14 goals in 19 Ligue 1 games.
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Malaga may not know their way around a balance sheet well enough to avoid a European ban for Financial Fair Play irregularities, but they certainly know how to defend the net.
Los Boquerones have kept nine clean sheets this season and only conceded 12 goals in 17 league matches. By comparison, Real Madrid have conceded 17 and Barcelona have let in 19.
Manuel Pellegrini's side boast Spain's best performing goalkeeper in Willy Caballero (12 conceded from 170 shots on goal in 1,530 minutes of play), and they also enjoy consistency at the back, with club captain Weligton and Martin Demechelis having been paired together in central defense in 16 of 17 league matches during this campaign.
They also benefit from experience—all three centre-backs who have played this year (Weligton, Demechelis and Oguchi Onyewu) are over 30 years old, and Demechelis alone has won eleven titles and appeared in a Champions League Final during his career.
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Not only do PSG boast Ligue 1 top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they have the tightest defense in France and the third most reliable in Europe's top five leagues.
In their six most recent league games, Carlo Ancelotti's side have conceded only two goals and scored a phenomenal 17.
In those games, Thiago Silva has been in exceptional form, while the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Maxwell, Alex and Christophe Jallet have played their part in a cohesive unit despite Ancelotti's predilection for tinkering.
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Sitting eight points clear at the top of Serie A with just two losses during Antonio Conte's reign, it seems unlikely that any side will catch Juventus in the race for the scudetto on current form.
Using its trusted 3-5-2 formation, the Old Lady has kept nine clean sheets and leaked only 11 goals. Of those 11, just six occurred away from home, giving Juventus the best home and away defensive form in Serie A.
The preferred back three trio of Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Bargagli and Leonardo Bonucci, however, will be out of action for at least three months as defensive rock Chiellini recovers from a torn calf muscle. But he will be ably replaced by the likes of Martin Caceres or Luca Marrone.
Going into the winter break with a nine-point advantage over closest rivals Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich are certainly making amends for being second best in the league, domestic cup and Champions League last season.
Die Roten have been virtually impenetrable at the back: They have conceded just seven goals in 17 league games, with Manuel Neuer keeping an incredible 11 clean sheets in the process.
Bayern's main strength appears to be their away form. They have yet to lose a game on the road and have conceded only one goal away from the Allianz Arena during a 1-1 draw with Nurnberg in November.
The back line received criticism last season from the likes of former defender Thomas Berthold for not being up to scratch, but they have been much improved in this campaign thanks to the addition of Brazilian centre-back Dante in place of Daniel van Buyten.
Where Malaga benefit from experience, the Bundesliga leaders appear to favour youth: The only outfield defender over the age of 30 is the aforementioned bit-part player van Buyten. In fact, the average age of the entire squad is just 25.8 years. Stoke's average, by contrast, is 29.1.