With "silly season" well and fully under way, it comes time for teams to observe the rosters of other teams to see which players suit their needs. From there, it boils down to money—can they offer enough to the other team to make them sell, and enough to the player to make him sign?
But of course, there's also the fact that they've still got a roster full of players to evaluate. Without evaluating what you already have, there's no way you can know what you really need. Manchester City is no different.
After a season of offensive futility, the club have confirmed the signing of Sevilla winger Jesus Navas and have been linked to top strikers like Edinson Cavani and—more recently—Milan phenom Stephan El Shaarawy. This adds to the midfield reinforcements already signed in the form of Brazilian product Fernandinho.
Making less news is the defensive side of things, where there does seem to be a good bit of stability. Gael Clichy recently signed a new deal, Pablo Zabaleta had an unbelievable season and Matija Nastasic was one of the signings of the season in the Premier League.
This leaves the fourth man in the defense, club captain Vincent Kompany. After a fantastic season in City's title run, he had somewhat of a disappointing year, battling through injury and poor form as City slumped to a distant second-place finish.
However, this should not detract from the fact that the Belgian is still one of the best central defenders in the Premier League. Is he the best? That is what this article will reveal as it studies some of the top stoppers in England's top flight.
It should be noted that this will take into consideration not just the players' performances over this past season, but their entire body of work. This includes players who only have one season of Premier League experience.
David Luiz clearly not defending.
As with any list of this kind, there's always going to be some names that get left out of the running. Some of these names here include:
Chelsea's men: David Luiz—known to some as "Sideshow Bob"—has emerged as a top player, but is far too reckless as a defender and could play more in central midfield as time passes. John Terry had always been solid, but age might be catching up to the Blues' captain.
Gary Cahill would be next in line to be a mainstay in the middle, and has shown some qualities deserving of a spot, but misses out. Branislav Ivanovic enjoyed a great season of his own and just misses as well, partially due to playing half his games at right-back.
Arsenal hero: Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny formed an indomitable duo protecting Wojciech Szczesny for the Gunners' run-in. The latter basically unseated club captain Thomas Vermaelen as Arsenal beat Bayern Munich on the road in the Champions League and clinched a top-four spot domestically.
However, his overall inconsistency and battles with injuries means he falls just short of consideration for this list. Vermaelen would have easily made the list last year, but his drop-off was quite unforeseen. Mertesacker, on the other hand, you'll see in a bit.
Kompany's young partner: As mentioned earlier, young Serbian Matija Nastastic proved to be Roberto Mancini's last great signing. Thrust into the forefront as he made his debut at the Santiago Bernabeu, his consistency beyond his years saw him become first-choice at the Etihad.
Still, though, there may not be enough on his CV to justify a spot in the elite category. He's not far away and could feature in a list like this by next season's end.
Others: Daniel Agger and Sylvain Distin were among the brightest performers on Merseyside as both teams were well-placed in the top half of the table. Distin misses out in favor of his partner, as will be discussed shortly. Agger and his tattoos come up a bit short as well thanks to his side's inconsistency.
Swansea duo Chico Flores and Ashley Williams also performed excellently over the course of the season. The former battled injury in his first season of English play and has room to grow, while Williams—who "could have killed" Robin van Persie—made a few too many costly errors.
Phil Jagielka holds off a flying Demba Ba.
Distin's main partner kicks off this list as promised. Phil Jagielka has been a mainstay for Everton over the last several years, and proved his worth to the club by being one of the most consistent performers for his team and in the league.
Not only have his performances made him one of the best at his position in the Premier League, they've put him firmly in Roy Hodgson's plans. The 30-year-old is up to 18 total caps, having featured in the squad's two recent friendlies and several qualifiers in recent months.
He is a consistent, hard-working force in the middle for the Toffees, though his somewhat low passing rate—below 80% this year—may leave something to be desired. This could prove true in a Roberto Martinez-led system that is fairly free-flowing.
Jagielka is also a great reader of the game, being among the leaders in blocks and interceptions amongst Premier League defenders. On top of this, his veteran status and leadership qualities among other traits saw him become Everton's new captain after Phil Neville's retirement.
Left-back Leighton Baines told the Liverpool Echo his feelings on his compatriot's promotion and how he earned his spot on this list:
He is one of the more dominant characters in the squad. He is very experienced now and someone that everybody can look to. It will be great for him. He is quite vocal, as vocal as Phil was really, and he does lead by example as well.
Jags had an amazing season…if there is a better centre-half around at the moment I would like to see him, because he is phenomenal at times—nobody beats him. He wins every tackle, the blocks he makes—he is brilliant for us. And it just underlines his importance now that he is going to take the armband on as well.
Big words coming from a player of Baines' caliber.
Per Mertesacker faces off against Arouna Kone.
Mertesacker's spell in England has been an interesting one. His first spell of games after his transfer from Werder Bremen was a rough one, as he failed to adjust to the pace of the Premier League. In reality, he's still rather slow, not surprising when you consider his build.
However, he doesn't really need to be particularly fleet of foot. That is left to his partner, be it Koscielny or Vermaelen. The lumbering German gets to sit back and read the game, which he does excellently to avoid fouls—he averages less than one foul every two games.
This statistic is perhaps surprising when considering his size. Yet his reserved style of play allows him to just ease his opponents off the ball without fouling. And of course, he'd be favored to win just about every aerial duel he could get thrown into.
Another surprising statistic is that his passing rate sits at 91%, on par with club pass master Mikel Arteta. Being that kind of an asset from the back is huge: able to stop an attack an promptly start a new one, or just help the team reset and try something different.
Perhaps what's holding him back from being higher up the list is that he's so reserved. By not jumping into the fray so actively as someone like Koscielny might, he garners less attention. But that demeanor is what puts him in this list.
It will be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger handles his defense, with Vermaelen perhaps out of favor and Koscielny angling for an exit. The French tactician can rest easy, though, knowing he has a mammoth figure firmly locked in place at the back.
Rio Ferdinand (R) hunts down former teammate Carlos Tevez.
Rio Ferdinand's time at Manchester United has been an interesting one. From the missed drugs test in 2003 to a series of injuries sapping his time, gaining and losing the captaincy and three Champions League final appearances, the Englishman has seen a little bit of everything in his decade or so at Old Trafford.
This milestone means he has been granted a testimonial match, which will be played in August against Spanish side Sevilla. After a season in which United dominated the league en route to its 20th English title—and Ferdinand was named to the PFA Team of the Year—it is a fitting reward, as Sir Alex Ferguson put it:
It is great that the club are granting Rio a testimonial for his services to the club. He is one of the best central defenders this club has seen. Rio has a natural ability to read the game and I said last month that I believed that this season has been the best of his Manchester United career.
Even as Ferdinand grows in age—he's now 34—he continues to prove himself as one of the best central defenders around. United's profile for the defender describes him as "armed with elegance, pace and an astute ability to read the game," a fairly accurate description.
His maturity and leadership skills are top-notch to go along with his strong physical skill set. Even as age may be catching up to him, he continues to adjust his playing style to keep him one of the best at his position in the Premier League.
Kompany and Toby Alderweireld duel with the USA's Eddie Johnson.
Had this list been compiled last year, Kompany would easily top it. But a combination of his dip in form and injuries, plus a stellar season from the man who does occupy the top spot, keeps him down at second position.
As discussed earlier, this underwhelming season does not cloud the fact that "Vinny" is still one of the top stoppers around. Since joining from Hamburg in the Mark Hughes era, the Belgian has established himself as a vital cog in City's squad.
He is powerful both on the ground and in the air, and is a good reader of the game. Plus, he possesses world-class intangibles, presenting himself as a no-nonsense commander from the back—qualities that have earned him the honor of captaining both club and country.
His importance to Manchester City is unquestionable. During his time injured in the middle of the season, City had to rely on the likes of Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott at the back. While both are reliable veteran options, they don't provide nearly the same caliber of overall quality that Kompany does.
Plus, having an experienced player that leads on and off the pitch like Kompany is an invaluable asset for a young, emerging talent like Matija Nastasic. And at age 27, he is entering his prime years, meaning he will continue to get better as City continue to chase silverware.
And yet, he misses out on the top spot in favor of one of his countrymen…
Jan Vertonghen battles Fernando Torres.
Just one year of Premier League experience, and already the best central defender in the Premier League? Yep, that's how good Jan Vertonghen is. As great of a player as he was at Ajax, he may be taking his game to yet another level.
During his time in Amsterdam, he won two consecutive Eredivisie titles, the latter of which came after being named Luis Suarez's successor as full-time captain. He also picked up the Dutch Footballer of the Year award that season, the equivalent of the PFA Player of the Year award in England.
A versatile presence at the back, Vertonghen has been primarily a centre-back in his career but is an able left-back when needed. He is fearless going forward, as evidenced by his 30 league goals over the span of his career, including four this season with Spurs.
If there is a particular performance that springs to mind in studying Vertonghen's growth as a player, it would be the 3-2 loss to Liverpool in March. The Belgian put in a sublime performance, with two goals going alongside a strong defensive performance as he popped up all over the middle of the pitch.
Take a look at this comparison between Vertonghen and Kompany from this season. Sure, Kompany featured in eight less games than his compatriot. But he still committed more than 50 percent more fouls while making half as many tackles.
Further research shows how mature a reader of the game Vertonghen is, as he blows Kompany out of the water in the interceptions stat. He made three such stops in the Liverpool match to go alongside four tackles and an 82% pass completion rate.
In the end, Vertonghen's biggest advantages over Kompany are that he is more versatile, a more consistent stopper of attacks and a key offensive threat of his own. Either way, Belgian fans should be lucky to be able to field both men in the same starting lineup.