The Premier League: Top 10 Defenders Today
Newcastle United 5-1 Sunderland, Arsenal 2-3 West Brom, Wigan 0-6 Chelsea. 248 goals in 100 games.
That's a lot of goals and lopsided matches already this season in the Premier League.
However, last season saw 1,023 goals scored in 380 top-flight games, or 2.69 goals per game. Does this prove that defending is better this season than last? The balls have not changed, the goalposts have not moved, the law books have not been re-written and there has been little transfer activity of note at most clubs.
Have teams switching to the a la mode 4-2-3-1 formation become more compact and more resolute? Is this system clogging up the centre of the pitch? If it is, it could explain why wingers such as Florent Malouda and Gareth Bale are having notable seasons.
In fact, exactly half of the teams in Europe's Premier League have kept three or more clean sheets in their 10 fixtures to date.
But who has excelled for his team, either as a marauding full-back or as a commanding presence at the heart of the defence?
In the following video slideshow, I choose the 10 best defenders currently playing in the Premier League, as chosen according to the following criteria: their Actim Index score, their team's fortunes, the influence they exert on the pitch.
Let the debate commence!
10: Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
The first defender on this list is an important part of holders Chelsea's defence.
Branislav Ivanovic joined Chelsea in 2008 from Spartak Moscow for a fee approaching £10 million ($15 million). Despite failing to start to a game under Avram Grant and then Luis Felipe Scolari for eight months, he scored two decisive Champions League goals against Liverpool in his club's 7-5 quarterfinal aggregate victory.
Despite playing well whenever he was called upon last season, the press still highlighted the Serbian as a transfer target for many top clubs, including Real Madrid.
This season, he has featured strongly in a defence which has conceded only three goals and is rated by Actim as the seventh-best defender in the league and 31st best player overall.
9: Gonzalo Jara (West Bromwich Albion)
A contentious choice perhaps given the criticism justifiably directed towards Gonzalo Jara by the press following his ugly lunge on Blackpool's Luke Varney last night, which earned the Chilean full-back a red card last night.
Nevertheless, Jara has been one of the key players for his club as it rides the crest of a wave in sixth place and only behind a much-feted Tottenham team on goal difference only.
This term, the Baggies have already conceded 17 goals and often relied on their offensive capabilities but, given the volume of attacks which their opponents have launched on their goal, Jara and his defensive colleagues have stood up to the test quite well for a newly-promoted team with very few resources.
Ranked as the 51st best player in the league this year, Jara has shown his worth and has the mentality and talent to lead the Midlands club to a top-10 finish.
8: Sylvain Distin (Everton)
Everton, notoriously slow starters in the league, have finally woken up on the back of a momentous Merseyside victory and some strong defensive performances. With England international Phil Jagielka and former Manchester City, Newcastle United and Portsmouth veteran Distin in their ranks, this is no surprise.
Having kept their opponents out successfully on four out of ten occasions, the Toffees boast one of the league most resolute units.
Distin—tall, strong and quick—is ranked this season as the league's 10th best defender and 37th best player. But, in a squad often depleted by injuries, he has been an ever-present and dependable last line of defence and he thus merits his place at No. 8.
7: Chris Samba (Blackburn Rovers)
Like Gonzalo Jara at West Brom, the importance of the performances of giant defender Chris Samba for an unfashionable team often goes unnoticed. It is for this reason that it is difficult to find a decent compilation video of the player in action.
But that it has been thought for a while that a manager of the calibre of Arsene Wenger is interested in paying Blackburn handsomely to secure the services of the 26-year-old Congolese players is testament to the player's virtues.
Powerful and intelligent on the ground and commanding in the air, Samba is primarily a formidable defender against any opponents but is also employed in the dying stages of matches in attack as a battering ram, It would be surprising if Wenger or Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, permanently shorn of captain Ledley King and compatriot Jonathan Woodgate, did not take any interest one step further in January.
Ranked this year as the 77th best player in the league, Samba—with one league goal in nine appearances—has been the only bright light in Rovers' disappointing season to date.
6: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Dubiously dubbed in this video as the best defender in the world, Vincent Kompany, Manchester City's young Belgian centre-back has shown English football fans that he is a very capable defender over the past two seasons.
The richest club in the world has been embroiled in tabloid stories of disputes among the players and between the players and management. But the team's defensive record is undeniably good: only 10 goals conceded and four clean sheets catapulted City to second momentarily.
Having made a total of 14 appearances and started every league match this year, Kompany ranks as the 44th best player in the league and continues to lead by example from the back. With the support of the experienced Kolo Toure and impressive Joe Hart, it will be difficult for any team to breach the team's defence this campaign.
5: Alex (Chelsea)
Blink and you miss it. 1:17-1:19.That is what Chelsea's Brazilian defender Alex is all about: power and skill.
Equally well known for his ability to score stunning goals from long range as he is for his no-nonsense style of defending, Alex has formed an unparalleled defensive partnership with England's John Terry.
With seven clean sheets and just three goals conceded in 10 Premier League matches, actions speak louder than words. A great footballer who imposes himself on opposition strikers, Alex is going from strength to strength in English football.
4: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
After 143 league starts and one goal in his five years in English football, French left-back Patrice Evra has become part of the furniture at Old Trafford, a player who Sir Alex Ferguson can depend on to overlap his midfield and join counter-attacks or pull back and into rank, depending on what the circumstances dictate.
Despite his regrettable decision as French team captain to lead a farcical player revolt at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, his standing at the most successful football club in modern British history remains unaffected.
Energetic and quick, Evra offers United many dimensions in both attack and defence and his contributions this season have no surprised nobody.
3: Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Still unpopular in English football and, in particular, among Arsenal fans for his greed and perceived lack of loyalty and commitment to the cause, Ashley Cole is undoubtedly a defender of the very highest quality.
In 115 league appearances in four years, Cole has scored six goals in his time at Stamford Bridge and has become virtually irreplaceable on the left side of defence, as Yuri Zhirkov has found much to his chagrin.
For his pace, skill and experience, Cole is currently considered by many managers, players and pundits as the best left-sided player in the Premier League and has reaped his just rewards with team honours in every competition except for the Champions League.
2: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
One player in a long line of assertive and dominant centre-backs winning the approval of fans at Old Trafford over the past four years, Serbia's Nemanja Vidic has been one of the Premier League's top defenders for a while now.
With 11 goals in 136 appearances to date and two goals in the league—including Saturday lunchtime's opening goal against Tottenham Hotspur—Vidic continues to impress fans and pundits and earn the respect of his teammates.
His performances, together with those of Nani and Dimitar Berbatov, have deflected attention away from negative news stories such as Wayne Rooney's tumultuous personal and professional life and FC United's qualification for the first round of the F.A. Cup.
1: John Terry (Chelsea)
Still 29 years old, England defender and Chelsea captain John Terry has been Chelsea's best and most reliable player for much of his 12-year career at the West London club.
Terry has scored 19 goals on 318 games and was twice awarded Chelsea Player of the Year. His achievements have also been rewarded with UEFA Defender of the Year four times and it is surely just a matter of time before he caps off his Chelsea career with the UEFA Champions League trophy.
He has captained the Blues to many successes in the modern era, is brave, popular among teammates and influential on the pitch. For these reasons, I consider John Terry to be the best defender currently playing Premier League football.