European Football Awards: Picking the Top 20 Defenders from 2010-11 Season
With the European season finished, people will recall how Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scored 53 goals for the season, but what about the defenders?
Will Tidey has asked me to pick the top 20 defenders this season, and whilst it's subjective, I've decided to use three simple guidelines.
1) I've only picked defenders from the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A. Why? I've watched the large majority all four aforementioned leagues, so I can make a balanced judgement on a defenders' competency.
2) To ensure fairness and balance amongst the four leagues, I've included a quota of five players per league.
3) I've decided not to include players who spent the majority of the season injured.
Without further ado, here is my list of the top 20 defenders in Europe this season.
20. Philipp Wollscheid
When you think of young centre backs in the Bundesliga; Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Simon Kjær, Benedikt Höwedes and Kyriakos Papadopoulos come to mind. Now add Philipp Wollscheid.
Philipp who? Wollscheid’s rise has been swift considering he was playing in the German fifth division five seasons ago.
Breaking into the Nuremberg first team half way through the season, Wollscheid’s performances have been one to marvel at.
Solid in defence, confident in distributing the ball and his calmness is reminiscent of Rio Ferdinand.
The 22-year-old’s emergence at the heart of Nuremberg’s defence has come at the expense of Swedish journeyman Per Nilsson.
Whilst Nilsson contemplates about life after Nuremberg, Wollscheid will either become a Nuremberg stalwart or sold off to clubs in desperate need of tall, strong, technically adept, and calm centre backs—do I hear Arsenal?
19. Christian Fuchs
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Christian Fuchs has made the most of his loan at Mainz from Bochum; if only Julian Faubert was as strong willed to make the most of his loan singing at Real Madrid.
Faubert became a laughing stock at Real Madrid, and the question to Juande Ramos was why not just promotes someone from the youth team as opposed to signing another player from loan, who, instead of trying his heart out to prove himself, missed training and slept during games.
Fuchs has been all heart at Mainz, not only with his work ethic, but he’s provided incisive runs from left back and given the Mainz management really no option but to sign him.
It was a shrewd piece of dealing from manager Thomas Tuchel, who’ll be hoping for the same whole hearted efforts from his marauding left back.
18. Paolo Cannavaro
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Whilst his brother Fabio enjoys the company of Sheiks in Dubai, Paolo Cannavaro continues to grind out season after season of consistent defending, yet to no avail of an Italian cap.
Then when you think about the centre backs ahead of him: Giorgio Chiellini, Alessandro Gamberini, Leonardo Bonucci, and with Andrea Ranocchia and Michele Camporese as potential long term successors, one begins to feel that Cannavaro will have to be contempt with just being a Napoli player.
17. Nacho Monreal
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Don’t confuse him with Nacho Novo, but Nacho Monreal has become a more than a reliable player for Osasuna.
He’ll look to make Joan Capdevila-esq impact for Osasuna and maybe even Spain, assuming he is able to secure a regular starting position.
16. Cristián Zapata
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Has commanded the Udinese defence to great effect, which is a must given the unconventional 3-5-2 formation incorporated by manager Francesco Guidolin.
15. Christian Maggio
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When you watch Walter Mazzarri’s Napoli, one of the first things you notice is his formation seems a bit unusual.
It’s a 3-4-2-1, and whilst it’s not as radical as Marcelo Bielsa’s 3-3-1-3, the crux of Mazzarri’s formation is the wing play from the wing backs—defensive and offensive.
Christian Maggio has thrived in this formation, making constant forays into opposing half whilst also providing suitable defensive cover.
14. Federico Balzaretti
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As Palermo leaks goal left, right and centre, Federico Balzaretti’s attacking efficiency and all-round energy has seen him transition into the best left back in the Serie A.
He’s played so well, that he’s been called up to the Italian national team–Paolo Cannavaro would be eating his heart out.
Though when you think about it, are there are any other decent left backs in the Serie A?
13. Branislav Ivanović
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Branislav Ivanović has been the most solid defender at Chelsea, and offers versatility in being able to be shifted around the back four.
It will be interesting to see if the new manager will persist with playing Ivanović as a right back, presuming John Terry’s long term partner is David Luiz.
12. Leighton Baines
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It was a bit strange to see Leighton Baines miss out on the left back spot to Ashley Cole in the PFA team of the year.
Most people tend to rate full back on their goals and assists as the barometer of how competent they are as a full back.
So using that school of thought, Cole is a better full back than Baines… you’d think that, wouldn’t you? Cole constantly is racing down that left flank whereas Baines just saunters down the flanks. So let’s compare their attacking efficiency.
Cole didn’t score and only provided three assists in 48 games, whereas Baines scored seven goals and provided 12 assists in 46 games.
Though remember, a full back’s priority is to defend, so when you look at it defensively, both players haven’t put a foot wrong, so they cancel each other out.
So in light of this, who had the bigger impact for their team? Baines; therefore, he should be in the PFA team of the year.
11. Ricardo Carvalho
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When you talk about defenders who are unnoticeably dirty, Ricardo Carvalho comes to mind.
Though he possesses great positional sense and has been a solid defender for Real Madrid—exactly what José Mourinho expected.
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ESPN commentator Tommy Smyth constantly harps on how horrible of a defender Marcelo is. Well, like Dani Alves, they’re not horrible defenders; they just choose not to defend.
When you’re in the mode to attack, attack, and attack, more often than not, you are caught out of position.
Alves can get away with it, but Marcelo gets caught out quite a bit. Nonetheless, he’s been more solid in defence this season, as you’d expect under José Mourinho.
Marcelo has to be the most offensively gifted left back in the world.
9. Christopher Samba
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If there was a picture definition for no nonsense defending, there would be a headshot of Christopher Samba.
Samba is as agricultural as they get, but he’s effective, and unlike when José Mourinho used Robert Huth as a makeshift forward, Samba can actually score goals as a make shift forward.
Samba’s performances have been so defensively stable that the tabloids are linking him with a move to Arsenal who are devoid of stable centre backs.
Talk about Samba being the complete contradiction of what Arsène Wenger sees in a modern day centre back.
8. Neven Subotić
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Did you know Neven Subotić honed his skills in the United States?
Physically imposing and has no inhibitions in going in for a forceful tackle.
He’s provided a dream combination with Mats Hummels as the best centre back pairing in Germany.
7. Marcel Schmelzer
Marcel Schmelzer is like an energizer bunny in that he just keeps running, running and running. He’s one of those defenders whose athleticism and heart compensates for his technical deficiencies.
For those who haven’t watched Schmelzer, the best description I can give is think back to when Park Ji-Sung’s first few seasons at Manchester United.
Schmelzer has been so proactive in not only making offensive forays but using his athleticism to good affect when defending.
Without doubt, has assumed the mantle of best full back in the Bundesliga from Philipp Lahm.
6. Dani Alves
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Four goals and 20 assists in 51 games tells you all you need to know about Dani Alves.
Perhaps the most efficient defender from an attacking perspective since Ronald Koeman, and yes, he happened to play for Barcelona too.
Like his compatriot Marcelo, Alves’ defending at times leaves a lot to be desired, because he doesn’t defend at all.
That being said, there are not many players that can get past him.
5. Mats Hummels
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Without a glimmer of a doubt, Mats Hummels is the best defender in Germany.
He epitomises everything you want in a world class defender, and he’s only 22 years old.
His partner Neven Subotić is more unabashed with tackling, but Hummels’ positional awareness allows him to keep such a clean Rio Ferdinand-esq discipline record—only three yellow cards in 34 games.
Hummels’ partnership with Subotić coupled with the energetic Marcel Schmelzer and the defensive minded Łukasz Piszczek, saw Borussia Dortmund just miss out on the best ever Bundesliga defensive record.
4. Thiago Silva
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The undisputed number one defender in the Serie A, Thiago Silva has aerial prowess, determination, positional awareness, speed and good distribution ability—in a nutshell, world class defender.
3. Nemanja Vidić
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Nemanja Vidić has always been a very physical defender who can intimidate opposing forwards. Well, Fernando Torres of old wasn't intimidated, though since then, Vidić has hardly dealt with forwards making him look like an ameutur.
This season, Vidić has been the cog in a defence which has shifted players in and out and continues to play at an exceptional level—except when he decides to lunge in for no apparent reason.
2. Vincent Kompany
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Hey Arsène Wenger, Vincent Kompany only cost Manchester City £6 million, so why didn't you buy him?
He's a prototyical Wenger centre back, who has been playing the exact same ways since his days at Hamburg, and perhaps even at Anderlecht.
Kompany is a mobile centre back, who looks at ease distrbiuting the ball, and at times plays flawless games for Manchester City—simply because his positioning is so good.
As Manchester City make their ascention into the upper echelons of European football, Kompany's reputation as one of the best centre backs in the world will rise as people will begin to notice him like I have.
1. Gerard Piqué
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Gerard Piqué is the most elegant centre back in the world and perhaps the most technically gifted.
Whilst the position of centre back generally requires agricultural grit, Piqué brings a certain level of sophistication. Not just his audcaiously executed pirouette against Inter Milan, but the way he carries the ball and effortlessly hits a 30-40 meter passes.
Nonetheless, he's also a more than competent defender, but because Barcelona are so dominant in possession, he doesn't get tested as much.
Before this season, there were always question marks over Piqué, simply because many felt he was bailed out time after time by Carles Puyol.
Though with Puyol not even completing half of the La Liga season, Piqué has stepped up and proven he is perhaps the best centre back in the world.
Success on the field has translated to success off the field.