Though not as prized as leadership, organization or technical ability, one-on-one defending is an essential weapon in every top EPL defender’s Arsenal.
While some of the names on this list are all-around defensive anchors widely praised for their abilities, there are other players here who might not find their way onto a list of the best defenders in a much broader sense.
As always, we invite you to read, become disgusted, infuriated, repulsed and nauseous, and let us know via the comments portion of the page just how much you disagree.
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West Ham United captain Matthew Upson is the best one-on-one defender this side of relegation (we’re looking from the unfortunate side of relegation here, just FYI, so we’re all on the same page.)
Upson provides a calm, assured, levelheaded presence on the pitch. He brings that composure to one-on-one defending situations, along with an strong physical presence and wealth of experience.
photo: The power of Upson rendering the potency of Luis Sauzez obsolete.
Manchester City’s Micah Richards is a young man full of promise. Richards proves equally adept in a number of defensive positions, though this sometimes leads him to have slightly misplaced positional sensibility.
That aside, the young Briton has all the pace, power and precision required of great one-on-one defenders. Though he lacks the experience of teammates Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany, he shows an impressive, innate understanding of one-on-one defensive situations.
Richards might not always be where he’s supposed to be, but he knows how to put himself between the ball and the goal to prevent the opposition from advancing.
photo: Richards, transitioning from the lotus position to upward kicking defender.
Oh, Ryan Shawcross. Last weekend, one of our picks for worst defender in the league. Now, one of our top one-on-one defenders.
Simply put, Shawcross gets the job done. He might not always get it done in the most sportsman like manner (his challenges have been called “career threatening” for other players), but if you want a man on your team to get physical, attack the ball, and dominate the opposition, Shawcross is that man.
photo: Shawcross takes defending to the next level by slapping the ref.
Birmingham’s Liam Ridgewell lacks certain characteristics displayed by other players on this list. He is not a calm, cool and collected leader. He does not pull the backline together.
Really, he’s more of an angry, hotheaded punk. But his personality works to great effect when it comes to one-on-one defending.
Along with the tireless work of goal keeper Ben Foster, Ridgewell’s aggressive, violent, largely effective one-on-one defending has helped keep Birmingham, a team with one of the lowest goal totals in the EPL, mostly free of the relegation zone.
photo: Ridgewell tackled this guy so hard his kit disintegrated.
Norwegian central defender Brede Hangeland’s height works wonders for him in one-on-one defending situations.
He stands 1.94 meters, or approximately six feet five inches, and combines his size with agility, pace and surprisingly firm control of his distended limbs.
Known equally for his commanding physical presence and willingness to get tough in one-on-one defending situations as his impressive technical ability, Fulham’s Hangeland is equally as likely to squash the opposition is he is to simply outplay them.
photo: Hangeland crushes everything in his path, including teammates.
David Luiz has received both accolades and criticism since arriving at Stamford Bridge during the January transfer window.
While it’s ultimately too early to tell how good (or not good) Luiz will be in the EPL, he has shown amazing ability in one-on-one defending situations. The Brazilian is strong, wily and quick on his feet.
In one of his first performances with Chelsea, Luiz manhandled Manchester United, and particularly Wayne Rooney, into a demoralizing defeat. Not too shabby.
photo: Face your fear, Wayne. Do not turn away from inevitability.
Let’s see what Everton defender Phil Jagielka has going for him.
He has great positional sensibility, making him great at one-on-one defending. He always knows exactly where he needs to be at any point throughout the game, meaning he is always right between the defender and the goal.
Thankfully for the Everton faithful, Jagielka also boasts the physical power and willingness to injure himself for the cause required to prevent the opposition from finding the back of the net.
ESPN Soccer Net lists one of Jagielka’s weaknesses as his tendency to commit rash tackles. In one-on-one defending situations, however, this might not be such a bad thing. Tackle away, Phil, tackle away.
photo: Jagielka is such a progressive defender that he confounds his own keeper.
Unfortunately for Manchester City, Kolo Toure tested positive for a banned substance and currently faces steep charges from the joy killers at the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Whether he returns quickly to football or not remains to be seen, though there is no doubt about his ability as a one-on-one defender.
Toure served as City’s captain during the 2009-10 season, and his defensive organization and ability to deftly relieve the opposition of the ball in one-on-one situations immensely impacted the side’s success.
The team has struggled with a number of problems in the 2010-11 season, though previous to his suspension, Toure contributed consistently solid performances and the fierce one-on-one defending he is known for.
photo: Toure is equally adept at defending in basketball, as he showed when City played a hoops friendly against United.
Stoke City defender Robert Huth is a beast.
Among the colossal center back’s many sobriquets are The Unstoppable Force and The Berlin Wall. The giant German excels in one-on-one defensive situations, using his bulk to jostle the attacking opposition away from the ball.
His wideness goes great lengths to assisting Huth in one-on-one situations – he’s a very difficult man to go around. The Stoke City man has a keen instinct for placing himself in the most difficult spot for the opposition to get around.
photo: The Berlin Wall unexpectedly breaking into an impromptu disco dance.
Chelsea’s recent league win over Manchester United is case in point as to why the Blue’s stone-faced Serbian is one of the top one-on-one defenders in the EPL.
First, he tripped up Nani without being booked. He then looked on indifferently as the Portuguese hothead complained over the play.
Throughout the rest of the match, Ivanovic bumped into Nani time and again. Nani, flustered, did not play like his usual self.
Through this display Ivanovic proved his ability to use not only his intimidating size, but also his ability to get under the skin and into the head of the opposition, in one-on-one defensive positions. His mind game makes him one of the best defenders in the EPL.
photo: Ivanovic engages in a friendly game of leapfrog with Chicharito and Petr Cech.
Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany has a bizarrely shaped head and excellent skills as a defensive leader and one-on-one player.
Kompany plays with his heart and soul game in and game out. His contributions are immeasurable, and his willingness to go after the attacking team and chase the ball down to clear it from the area make him an invaluable asset to city.
photo: Kompany, crushing skulls.
Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna is a mercurial player. Though he is on paper a defender, he has a great propensity to make madcap dashes down the field and send crosses in to strikers and attacking midfielders.
While this alone might not qualify him as one of the league’s best one-on-one defenders, it in may ways impacts his approach as a defender.
Sagna is so completely obsessed with the idea of driving the ball and the movement of the game forward, away from Arsenal’s backline, that he plays fervent, even crazed one-on-one defense so that he can do so.
It’s weird, but it works, so what the hell.
photo: Sagna uses his full body in one-on-one defense, buttocks included.
You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again, and mostly because it’s true: Ashley Cole is one of the best, if not the best, left backs in the world.
What Cole lacks in size he makes up for with speed, precision, decision making and technical ability.
The Chelsea man’s intelligence allows him to make the best of his skills in one-on-one defending situations without allowing the opposition to exploit his weaknesses.
He also shoots people, which may not be ethically, but proves terribly effective.
photo: Sprightly Cole leaps away with the ball.
There’s not much to say about Patrice Evra that hasn’t already been said.
He’s an excellent defender. He plays a fantastic one-on-one game, reads the opposition well, links perfectly with his teammates, is French, plays for Manchester United and enjoys a freshly baked croissant with breakfast.
photo: A prostrate Evra prays for fine pastries.
Rio Ferdinand is a crucial cog in Fergie’s machine.
All drug problems and awful haircuts aside, Ferdinand provides an assured presence in central defense. His ability to read situations and put himself between the striker and the goal provides an immeasurable contribution to United’s propensity to win time and again.
Luckily for United, Ferdinand provides exemplary one-on-one defending skills. His lankiness is occasionally problematic against short, compact and quick attackers, though he is generally tight as drum at the back.
photo: Don't really wanna know what's going on here...
Arsenal’s Gallic lunatic is something of a throwback, a hardman holding down the defensive live.
Laurent Koscielny brings a very different skill set to his job as a defender than do his peers on this list. Rather than standard defensive football tactics, the Frenchman combines the tropes of international football with the gladiatorial acumen of mixed martial artists.
photo: Laurent Koscielny confound the opposition...by not defending.
Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher might not be on this list if we were measuring his overall attributes as a defender and player.
Luckily for Carragher and the Liverpool faithful, we aren’t. As a one-on-one defender, Carragher is one of the best in the EPL on account of how overwhelmingly zealous he is.
Rarely does a defender throw himself at the ball with such a blatant disregard for the self. Carragher will chase down anyball, anywhere, anytime, with not a care in the world as to who or what might be standing between him and the ball.
In one-on-one situations he is aggressive, frenzied, and frankly somewhat frightening, though does lack pace.
photo: Carragher begs the opposition to touch the ball, so that he might destroy them.
Though Blues captain John Terry is more known for his philandering than his play, it’s difficult to deny the brave Briton's ability as a one-on-one defender.
The tall, broad, fierce central defender plays an intimidating game. In some ways, Terry is something of a sanitized Vinny Jones. All the aggression and presence is there, minus the leg breaking and crotch grabbing exploits.
photo: EBJT conducts a children's choir in his spare time.
Tottenham defender William Gallas brings the pain.
What he lacks in pleasantries he more than makes up for with his freighting competitive streak, aggression, strength and dominant will power, which seemingly propels him to want to dismantle all that dare oppose him.
Though he is aging and petulant, Gallas still packs a brutal punch and is one of the top one-on-one defenders in the Premier League.
Add to that his excellent ability to read situations as they unfold and the inspiration he gives his fellow defenders with his undying commitment, and you have one hell of a defensive player.
photo: Gallas and and Rooney floating through a milky ether.
United’s defensive anchor is the EPL’s top one-on-one defender of the moment.
Nemanja Vidic provides strong, aggressive defending that helped united maintain a phenomenal unbeaten run for the first half of its 2010-11 campaign. He also has the world "man" in the middle of his first name.
Vidic displays pace, intelligence, leadership and an ability to perfectly assess and execute exactly the type of defense his side needs in any given situation.
As a one-on-one defender, the Serbian international is in a class of his own. You’re not likely to find many defenders not only able but also willing to throw Didier Drogba to the ground. On his best day, Vidic can outplay any striker in the league in an isolated battle.
photo caption: Vidic spots an earthworm on the pitch, points it out to Carlton Cole, who is clearly not interested in earthworms.
1. Leighton Baines: Phenomenal player, but not a pure defender.
2. Michael Dawson: Smart, adept and organized, but more of a defensive leader than one-on-one rock.
3. Gael Clichy: Came very close to making the cut, didn’t quite in favor of Upson, who was added in an effort to avoid bias from the West Ham United Featured Columnist.
4. Jackie Chan: A sublime master of the art of one-on-one self defense, Chan’s skills have slipped slightly has he’s approached 60, hence his exclusion from this list.
5. Fernando Torres: Torres’ ability to prevent himself from scoring again and again in one-on-one situations makes him an impressive defensive presence for Chelsea’s opposition, though he is not a pure defender.