La Liga's Top 10 Center-Backs so Far This Season
This La Liga season has already been full of surprises at the macro level with many traditional powers underachieving and some recently promoted teams fighting for top spots.
If we look closely at the individual level though, we will learn that many of the best and most consistent players in Spain are not the big names we are used to praising, and most do not play for Barcelona or Real Madrid.
This list follows my ranking of the Top 10 Full-Backs in La Liga so far this season and lists the 10 best central defenders to date.
There are a couple of elite, household names, but most of these guys are relatively unknown to the casual football fan.
This does not mean that these players are or ever will be among the best in Europe. It is just an example of how unpredictable the 2012-2013 Primera Division season has been.
Honorable Mentions go to Mallorca's Geromel and Betis' Paulao who barely missed out on this list.
Note: All stats taken from WhoScored.com.
10. Gustavo Cabral
Celta Vigo have been way, way too dependent on Iago Aspas on attack, which has cost them countless points.
If not for some great defensive play, the Galicians could very well be fighting their rivals Deportivo La Coruna for the title of worst team in Spain.
Their top center-back, the on-loan Gustavo Cabral, has been fantastic at defending set pieces and does a fine job of starting attacks (most of which get lost in midfield).
The Argentinian actually has the third best passing completion percentage among center-backs (86.5 percent), and has had much fewer lost, random passes in front of goal than he did last season with Levante.
He still struggles under pressure and makes a few too many mistakes, but the 27-year-old has great instincts and will continue to play a key role in keeping Os Celestes in Spain's first division.
9. Alejandro Arribas
You wouldn't know it from their position near the bottom of the table, but Osasuna have actually had one of Spain's toughest defenses this season—they are fourth in goals allowed.
Alejandro Arribas has been the anchor for this team and doing wonders behind a rather mediocre midfield.
The young 23-year-old loves to play the ball on the ground, but is probably the worst passer on this list so that leads to too many fouls following mistakes, but he is consistently improving.
The Spaniard has learned when to just clear the ball instead of trying to get out of trouble, and now leads the entire league in clearances per game with an eye-opening 11.8 per game.
Arribas is getting better with his feet, but has been solid in the air throughout—he has been the third most efficient center-back in defending set pieces with 3.4 aerial balls won per game.
8. Mikel Gonzalez
Vadim Demidov is gone and Mikel Gonzalez has certainly made the most of his return to the starting XI.
The 27-year-old has been the best defender for Real Sociedad and has helped give the Basques a top 5 defense this season.
His partner Iñigo Martinez always gets hyped for his youth and attacking ability, but Gonzalez and his 6'2" frame are what really make La Real so stout defensively.
The Spaniard is tops on this list with two goals scored and almost never gets dispossessed.
His defensive numbers have been better than the likes of Vincent Kompany this season and while he is certainly not on that elite level, the Basque defender has really taken big strides early on.
7. Marc Valiente
Real Valladolid have been the surprise team in La Liga this season after overcoming their preseason label as relegation contenders, and instead are fighting for European qualification.
The team is full of players that have really stood out this year, and Marc Valiente has been one of the biggest reasons for their success.
The 25-year-old is one of the most balanced central defenders in the league when it comes to being sound defensively, but also providing help going forward.
He has been very disciplined and rarely commits fouls, largely because of how careful he is in timing his tackles and choosing to commit.
The Spaniard leads everyone on this list in accurate long balls per game (5.6), and is third among all center-backs.
Patrick Ebert's injury has already greatly impacted the team, but if Valiente can keep up this form, Valladolid still have a great chance of playing in Europe next season.
6. Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique's impact for Barcelona really can't be overstated. When he is on the pitch, La Blaugrana are like another team.
Since returning from injury, he has been one of the best defenders in the league and looks like the Pique from two years ago.
The Spaniard definitely has flaws in his game—he is surprisingly weak and lacks focus in the air despite his size—but he is the perfect defender to play for Barcelona.
He is very calm on the ball and uses his technical ability and great feet to get out of trouble as much as his strength.
Not surprisingly, the 25-year-old leads all defenders in pass completion percentage (91.6 percent), and that comes from his poise and discipline.
The big man rarely gets flustered and commits the third-fewest fouls amongst center-backs in the league and less than anyone else on this list (0.5).
Pique struggled early in the season, but has been a true presence since returning from injury and could finish the year as the best defender in La Liga.
5. Sergio Ramos
Real Madrid are having a very disappointing year and every player has struggled with consistency, including Sergio Ramos.
His partner Pepe is having a poor start and Ramos has had to account for the Portuguese's struggles, but he still has a better partner than most defenders in football.
Still, the Spaniard continues to mature and grow as a defender and has finally become a bit less reckless this season.
For all of Madrid's set piece struggles, Ramos has actually been the one strong player in the air. He actually leads leads the league (among center-backs) in aerial duels won per game.
The 26-year-old still has lapses and struggles with discipline—he leads all central defenders in fouls per game—but keeps his cool better than in previous years when the team is behind.
Without Ramos, Real Madrid would be in even more trouble and would not have the second-stingiest defense in La Liga (tied with Atletico Madrid).
Much like his partner Martin Demichelis, Weligton might be playing the best football of his career right now.
He may be 33-years-old, but he has looked a decade younger under Manuel Pellegrini and runs himself empty every single week.
The Brazilian averages an incredible 7.9 clearances per game and is third amongst center-backs with 3.3 interceptions per game—better than anyone else on this list.
Weligton has been almost flawless this year and simply does everything one can ask of a defender—he reads and intercepts plays, never loses focus, stops shots, is calm on the ball and is a wall in the air.
3. Emir Spahic
Compared to other center-backs in La Liga, the Bosnian has been one of the only great players in nearly every aspect of the game.
His 3.6 aerial battles won per game is second only to Ramos (3.8), and he averages the third most tackles per game (3.1)—and is best on this list.
Spahic also ranks fifth in the league with three interceptions per game, making him the only player on this list to rank top five in all three of those categories.
Unfortunately, the 32-year-old has struggled with discipline this season.
He fouls far too often and is second only to Ramos with 1.9 fouls per game and already has seven yellow cards this term (tied with his teammate Alberto Botia for the lead among center-backs).
2. Diego Godin
The best defender in Madrid this season has not been Sergio Ramos or Pepe, it has been Diego Godin.
The Uruguayan has stayed fit and is no longer the inconsistent player from last year.
Los Colchoneros have had the second best defense in La Liga this seasons and Godin is a major reason why.
He works tirelessly to prevent opposing players from even getting into position to score and has become more active in the attack without sacrificing his positioning defensively.
The 26-year-old makes Thibaut Courtois' job much easier than it would otherwise be, and really has the Belgian looking a bit better than he actually is.
Godin has the instincts, the smarts and the skills to be a top defender and has really shown it this season.
1. Martin Demichelis
When this season started, many people had already written Malaga off as, at best, a mid-table team that would struggle to deal after losing their best player to Arsenal.
Now that we are at the halfway point, we see that the loss of Santi Cazorla can be handled much more easily with the team's stellar defensive play, led by Martin Demichelis.
The 32-year-old is in some of the best form of his life and has helped turn Malaga's defense into the best back line in Spain.
Few can honestly say they saw this coming. Demichelis declined a bit last year and there are no other truly world class defensive players on the team besides maybe Monreal.
The Argentinian looks like a new man this season and has been the best defender in La Liga after four plus months of play.