Phil Jagielka and the Top 10 Central Defenders in the Premier League

Matt Cheetham@@Matt_CheethamCorrespondent IAugust 1, 2011

Phil Jagielka and the Top 10 Central Defenders in the Premier League

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    In the current Premier League era, so often it is attacking players who grace the headlines, as replays of countless attacking moves pervade media footage.

    Goals have always been what supporters crave, tune in for and remember, meaning those more able to break up a move with a crunching tackle do not often secure as much adoration.

    Currently, with such rigid rules enforced around the tackle area, defenders face a far harder task competing for the limelight with the many attacking luminaries around. 

    Therefore, to shift the focus away from those attackers, and onto the players trying to prevent the goals, time to decipher the current pecking order of central defenders in the Premier League. Injury concerns aside.

=10: Brede Hangeland

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    Brede Hangeland deserves recognition among the elite after several consistent years at Craven Cottage.

    In three full seasons, the Norwegian has kept Fulham punching above their weight in the Premier League and has helped transform the Cottagers’ back four into a stubborn, resilient quartet that is rarely breached. 

    Particularly imperious last season, Hangeland steered Fulham to 14 clean sheets. Defensively, the Cottagers ended the season with the fourth most miserly defence, only bettered by Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea

    Individually, most Fulham fans would agree Hangeland has been the fulcrum in defence at since his arrival from Copenhagen. Last season he was second to Clint Dempsey in Fulham’s Player of the Season poll and was ranked the fifth best defender by the EA Sports Index. 

    Statistically, his 424 clearances beat every other player in the Premier League with the exception of Ian Evatt, who made 430 at an often besieged Blackpool. Yet, despite being called into action so often, Fulham only let in 43 goals, whilst Evatt saw 78 goals fly past him. 

    The strongest facet of Hangeland’s game is undoubtedly his aerial ability. Few win many headers against the Norwegian, who towers over most opponents. Peter Crouch is the only Premier League striker to stand taller than Hangeland’s 194-cm frame.

    Arsenal were rumoured to be interested in his services in recent years, but Hangeland has remained loyal to Fulham and seems destined to galvanise them on to future success.

=10: Gary Cahill

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    Gary Cahill first came to prominence at Aston Villa as a youngster with infectious enthusiasm for the game. For the plethora of qualities Martin O’Neill possesses as a manager, possibly one of his few gaffes may have been not recognising the potential in a young Cahill.

    Restless for first-team exposure, Cahill was loaned out to Burnley and Sheffield United. Unable to secure first -eam action on his return to Villa, with Martin Laursen, Zat Knight and Curtis Davies blocking his path, Cahill eventually secured a move away from Villa to Bolton Wanderers. For the past three and a half seasons, he has shone at the Reebok Stadium. 

    Continually bandied around tabloid gossip columns, it is surely only a matter of time before Cahill goes on to appear for a Champions League participant. In the past few years, his potential value has soared as he has become integrated into the England setup.

    Arsenal have been strongly linked this summer, although momentarily they seem keenest on Phil Jagielka. With a couple of bids rebuffed by Everton, if these approaches for Jagielka continue to prove futile, the Gunners may yet still alter their focus. 

    Standing at over six foot and blessed with an elastic spring, Cahill won an impressive 142 aerial duels, more than the majority of this list. He also cleared from danger 387 times.

    Cahill is also the second youngest defender to make this article and with defenders generally experiencing their best years from 26 to 32, he will surely continue to blossom. Touted by many to be an England regular for years to come, the future augurs well for Cahill.

9: Jamie Carragher

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    A few years ago Jamie Carragher would have been higher on this list, but the Liverpool stalwart endured a testing past season at Anfield. His form mimicked the transitional season Liverpool went through, defensively leaking more goals than had been let in since 1999.

    The eldest player in this list, Carragher’s pace was questioned in some quarters of the media in recent times. However, he began to show resurgent signs as Liverpool gathered impressive momentum towards the tail end of the season, with Kenny Dalglish once again at the helm. 

    The noticeably more porous defence on display at Liverpool last year is only so obvious due to the stubborn consistency Carragher helped install in previous years.

    Liverpool’s defence was ranked in the top three from 2006 to 2010 and generally recognised as one of the most cohesive units, largely thanks to the presence of Carragher. In these years, he made an appearance in the PFA Team of the Year, one of the most prestigious individual accolades in football, and was Liverpool’s Player of the Year in 2007. 

    Renowned as the utmost professional, and as committed as they come, Carragher’s best traits are his commanding personality, coupled with his exemplary positional sense

    The high esteem he still maintains in modern day football was highlighted by Fabio Capello’s eagerness to drag him out of international retirement for the 2010 World Cup. Despite England’s frailties at the tournament, few could fault any of Carragher’s displays.

    Forgetting the slow start to last season, Carragher has been one of the most dominant players in the Premier League era. Liverpool have certainly reaped the benefits of his early retirement from international football, as his performances in the past five years have been some of his finest.

    Next season, most would expect Carragher to return to his imperious best that still makes an afternoon up against the Liverpudlian defender one of the least enjoyable prospects for a striker. 

8: Phil Jagielka

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    Phil Jagielka has continually impressed since joining Everton in 2007 from Sheffield United, yet it was in 2009 when he truly announced himself. He delivered many classy displays for Everton, was instrumental in the Toffees’ run to the FA Cup final and ended the season winning Everton’s Player of the Year award.

    He also began breaking into the England squad more regularly. Yet with everything progressing so rapidly, he was suddenly halted by an innocuous challenge against Manchester City that saw him sidelined for almost a year. 

    Having just enjoyed his first full season back since the injury, Jagielka was again pivotal to Everton. Although, with so much of his success achieved partnering Joleon Lescott, some would say he has yet to strike up the right chemistry with Sylvain Distin. 

    Jagielka’s best features are his robust ability in the tackle as well as his overall command from the back, an aspect of his game appreciated by Fabio Capello in the media.

    Capello has shown continued faith in Jagielka, and has often used the Everton defender as his first replacement when one of John Terry or Rio Ferdinand are unavailable. Last season Jagielka contested 78 tackles, winning 54, an amount beaten by only the top two in this list. 

    Adored by the Everton faithful, Jagielka has topped shirt sales for a couple of years at Goodison Park. Whilst some Evertonians may be grateful for some much-needed cash that would allow David Moyes to finally bolster his squad, a departing Jagielka would create a huge void that would take considerable filling. 

    Arsenal are currently in the process of negotiating a fee with Everton, although, as of yet the clubs appear apart in valuation. One bid has been rejected, with many media outlets speculating that a second bid went in over the weekend.

    Everton’s puzzling silence and refusal to address their stance on the matter has heightened perceptions that there may be an imminent departure.

7: Michael Dawson

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    Possibly the most underrated defender on this list, Dawson is generally the one constant in an often fluid Tottenham Hotspur defence, so often deprived of Ledley King and previously Jonathan Woodgate.

    Often captaining Tottenham, with Dawson orchestrating proceedings, Spurs have only lost 11 out of the previous 53 games he has featured in.

    Carlos Tevez, used to terrorising the majority of defenders in the Premier League, last year singled out Dawson as the best English defender he has played against. The Argentinean highlighted Dawson’s strength as his most beneficial quality.

    As well as having notable strength, Dawson is also highly effective in the air and boasts impressive organisational qualities. Often having to acclimatise to a new partner, with Sebastien Bassong, William Gallas, Younes Kaboul, Vedran Corluka and Tom Huddlestone all partnering Dawson at some point, few have remained as efficient whilst having to continually strike up fresh chemistry with so many new partners. 

    In 2010, as Tottenham secured Champions League qualification and enjoyed one of the best seasons in the club’s recent history, Dawson was influential. He won the Player of the Season trophy and broke into the England fold.

    At 27, Dawson still has his best years ahead of him and should continue to flourish at Spurs. His recent ascension into the England reckoning has been long overdue and he is certain to win many more caps then the four he has acquired thus far. 

6: Ledley King

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    Were Ledley King not perennially crippled by injury, the Tottenham Hotspur defender might challenge those at the very top of this list. Yet, given his limited appearances over previous seasons, some may feel his current ranking is still a tad augmented. 

    However, when able to play, King stands out as one of the premier performers in English football. He possesses speed, strength, a calm infectious composure that permeates fellow defenders, and impressive timing in the tackle. This trait has even been highlighted by one of his great foes. 

    A few years ago, Thierry Henry famously labelled King as the only defender with the ability to tackle him fairly, without resorting to fouling. King’s ability to succeed successfully in tackle, as well as fairly, is supported by his remarkable disciplinary record that has seen him fetch only eight yellow cards in 247 EPL outings. 

    Often patched up for games without any training, his presence has grown increasingly crucial for Spurs. In the 26 games he has featured in over the past two seasons, Spurs have conceded just 24 goals, compared to 63 in the 50 he has been unavailable. This is even more impressive considering he is often saved for the most crucial games. 

    Had King’s fortunes been more favourable over the past few years, he would certainly have added to the 21 caps gained at international level, possibly even making one of the centre-back berths his own.

    Despite being only 30, King’s chronic knee problems may not allow him many more years in the top flight. However, whenever Tottenham can rouse him up enough to play, they utilise him above anyone else.

    On those occasions he does figure, he continues to provide opposition strikers with one of their sternest tests of the season.

5: Thomas Vermaelen

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    The two years Thomas Vermaelen has played in the Premier League could not have been more contrasting. Last season, felled by various injuries, he scarcely featured as Arsenal had to make do with alternatives in the middle of their defence, a consequence that certainly stunted their progress.

    However, the reason why he is elevated so high on this list is due to his stellar first year, where he instantly excelled. He begun impressively, winning the Player of the Month twice in a row. He maintained his form, outplaying almost all of the league’s best defenders, and ended the season selected for the PFA Team of the Year by his peers. 

    Signed as a replacement for Kolo Toure, who was an integral part of much of the success achieved at Arsenal a few years ago, many Arsenal fans already consider Vermaelen an upgrade. He skippers his national side, and with Cesc Fabregas potentially set for Barcelona, many have earmarked the Belgian as a future leader at Arsenal. 

    Left footed, Vermaelen is strong in the air, boasting impressive organisational skills much needed to marshal Arsenal’s defence. He also has a useful knack of scoring, hitting the net seven times in his first season, including twice from outside the area. 

    As with Gary Cahill, he is just 25 and is still to enter the years where central defenders really sparkle. His presence was sorely missed by Arsenal last season and was surely a factor for them falling from third to fourth, and collecting seven points fewer than their 2010 haul.

4: John Terry

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    Internationally and domestically, John Terry has been one of the outstanding performers during recent years. He would have topped this list on several occasions throughout the past decade and remains one of the toughest defenders to beat. 

    Terry ranked fourth out of defenders on the EA Sports Index ranking, with only two central defenders (the top two on this list) rated above him. He also helped Chelsea to 15 clean sheets, the joint second highest total in the Premier League.

    Additionally, Chelsea only conceded 33 goals all season, the joint best tally in the league. Terry’s presence is sorely missed whenever he is absent, reflected in the five games he missed last season, where Chelsea only managed two victories. 

    Terry has accomplished many individual accolades in the game, captaining England, appearing in PFA XI’s, UEFA XI’s, and World XI’s. He is the only defender the win the PFA Player of the Year prize since Paul McGrath in 1993.

    Terry has also captained Chelsea to recurrent success in the past decade and will eventually go down as a legend at Stamford Bridge. Amazingly, with Jose Mourinho initially laying the foundations and with Terry anchoring proceedings, Chelsea have maintained a defence ranking in the top two of the Premier League since 2004. 

    Over the years, various off-field misdemeanours have detracted from his general consistency on the pitch. He lost the England captaincy due to off-field antics and although many have plagued his career, it has often caused him to be unnecessarily maligned when his form has been strong. 

    So decisive in the tackle, Terry was one of the few defenders to achieve a plus 70 percent success rate at both aerial and ground 50-50’s. Despite seeming defensively sound last season, Chelsea recorded nine Premier League losses, their worst total since 2003.

    Terry appeared fractionally off his game, a factor that pegs him down a tier. Yet with Andre Villas-Boas now keen to lead Chelsea into a new dawn, it would surprise few were Terry to recapture his finest form


3: Rio Ferdinand

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    Rio Ferdinand burst onto the scene in 1996 at West Ham, a product of the club’s reputable academy. Within a year of his debut, he made the England squad, becoming the youngest defender at the time to play for England. 

    Since those primitive years, Ferdinand has racked up numerous honours, featuring in the PFA Team of the Year five times and also making a World XI in 2008. In terms of domestic honours, he is as decorated as they come in the modern game.

    At 32, Ferdinand remains crucial to Manchester United’s aspirations. Yet in the past two seasons, injury has blunted his ability to continually feature, managing only 32 games.

    With Ferdinand on the pitch, Manchester United were only defeated three times in those 32 games, and suffered defeat eight times in the 44 games he was unavailable. 

    Last season, Manchester United secured 15 clean sheets, the joint second highest amount in the league, with eight coming under Ferdinand’s watch. They only conceded 13 times in the 19 games he played compared to 24 times in the 19 games he missed. 

    Blessed with elegance and skill in possession, Ferdinand’s major asset that has kept him so effective is his ability to read the game. He is decisive in the tackle, and is another player with an exemplary disciplinary record, only receiving 16 yellow cards in his last 324 games. 

    As with John Terry, Rio Ferdinand will eventually be remembered as one of the elite defenders in the Premier League era. He remains a defender highly regarded in world football, helping Manchester United to three titles in the past four years.

    He also would have topped this list at several points during his career and beating Ferdinand remains one of the most strenuous tasks for a modern-day striker. 

2: Vincent Kompany

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    At the time Vincent Kompany was purchased by Manchester City, the foundations were being laid for an exciting new era at the club. The vast majority of those initial targets we tasked with propelling Manchester City up the table, so more expensive assets could latterly be attained.

    Most players brought in with Kompany have now been replaced, as City rapidly amplify their standing in world football. However Kompany has remained, and in his three years in Manchester, he has gradually become a key figure. 

    2011 was certainly Kompany’s finest year in a Manchester City shirt. The season finished as one of the most successful campaigns in the club’s history. So focal was Kompany that he became captain and went on to hoist City’s first trophy secured since 1976.

    The Belgian was voted both the Fans’ Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season, despite playing with some of the most expensive talents in football. 

    Kompany made more tackles than any central defender on this list. His tally of 80 was only surpassed, surprisingly, by Antolin Alcaraz. The Paraguayan international may well have faced far more situations requiring a tackle at Wigan.

    With a tackle success rate of 82 percent, his current ability in the tackle trumps every other player on this list. Considering the colossal sums Manchester City frequently fritter away on optimum talent, the £6 million used to procure the Belgian resembles a true bargain. 

    Kompany’s rise in the game has been recognised by most in football. He ended the season ranked second out of all defenders on the EA Sports Index.

    His peers selected him in the PFA Team of the Year this year, ahead of many more notable names, and he led Manchester City to more clean sheets than was managed by any other Premier League team last season, 18.

    As the youngest on this list, just turning 25, ominously for strikers, Kompany has the attributes, the ability and the stage at Manchester City to become the leading central defender in world football.

1: Nemanja Vidic

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    Vidic is currently the most dominant central defender in the Premier League. A beacon among defenders, the Serb is dynamic in the tackle, as authoritative as they come in the air and has recently added superb leadership qualities to his game. His partnership with Rio Ferdinand is one of the best in modern day football. 

    Vidic’s presence is crucial to United, underlined by the fact that in the past two years, in the 16 Premier League games he has not featured in, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have lost five. In the 59 games he did play in, they only lost six times.

    Vidic has accumulated several accolades during his time at Manchester United. He has made four appearances in the PFA Team of the Year and was the only defender nominated for the 2011 PFA Player of the Year Award, a category where defenders seldom attract as much interest as attackers.

    Vidic has impressively been nominated twice in the past five years, the only defender present on the shortlist in that time, barring a single appearance in 2009 from Rio Ferdinand. 

    With Manchester United crowned champions in 2011, Vidic enjoyed another stellar year. He reads the game spectacularly, making 102 interceptions in the season. Impressively, in his 3,117 minutes on the pitch, he was only dribbled past seven times, an aspect of his game that few can match.

    His tackle count is only bettered by Kompany on this list and Vidic ended the season as the No. 1-ranked defender in the EA Sports Index. 

    After signing a contract extension in 2010, fobbing off reputed interest from Barcelona, Vidic is set to prosper on English shores for the foreseeable future. At 29, he is currently in his prime and despite intense competition, ranks above any other defender in the Premier League.

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