UEFA Euro 2016, B/R 200: Top 30 Centre-Backs

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2016

UEFA Euro 2016, B/R 200: Top 30 Centre-Backs

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    Centre-backs are anchors of any successful club. Pillars of stability and often the extension of their manager's tactics, quality central defenders are the foundation for title-winning and/or cup-winning sides.

    There are different styles of centre-backing. Some want to play football; others are more comfortable without possession. Some love the art of big challenges, while others seem almost like attackers trapped in a defender's body.

    The variety and skill sets therein make each footballer unique, and a competition like UEFA Euro 2016 is a magnificent collection and expose of those contrasting methods of defending. Bleacher Report, therefore, is asking who of the Euro-bound central defenders is best.

    Injures have taken out the likes of Belgium captain Vincent Kompany and France's emerging trio of Raphael Varane, Kurt Zouma and Aymeric Laporte; but Europe's international tournament will house numerous world-class centre-backs in their stead.


    Criteria is weighted for a best possible score of 100.

    The first 50 points are measured by defending: this includes standing tackles, slide tackles and their aerial prowess.

    The last 50 are measured by presence: this includes how they read the game, their disciplinary record, composure and their general command of the possession.

    When added together, our overall score is made. In the event of a tie, we simply ask, using what we hope is common sense: "Who would I rather have at this competition?"

30. John O'Shea, Republic of Ireland

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    Defensive Rating: 32/50

    John O'Shea went from lifting Premier League titles with Manchester United to fending off relegation with Sunderland, but to him it looks all the same.

    Helping the Black Cats do what the Black Cats do (i.e. start off rubbish and then rescue themselves in the season's last two months), the Republic of Ireland captain was instrumental in their dash to safety.

    O'Shea played in their last three matches, earning seven points, and his years of experience were crucial.

    Presence Rating: 35/50

    The 35-year-old is able to play any role in a back four and even central defensive midfield if necessary; his brain is probably his best feature at this stage.

    An extension of his manager, Sam Allardyce, O'Shea knows the English Premier League and uses his strength and positioning to muscle attackers off the ball or head danger clear.

    That awareness and vision will be key for his county at Euro 2016.

    Overall Rating: 67/100

    O'Shea has 111 Ireland caps, and in a group with Belgium, Italy and Sweden, he will need every minute of international education he's procured to handle Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Graziano Pelle and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    In a sense, though, physical battles like those are exactly what the Irishman prefers.

29. Thomas Vermaelen, Belgium

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    Defensive Rating: 34/50

    The past three years have not been kind to Thomas Vermaelen. The one-time Arsenal captain lost his place in north London and was not helped by injures. He left for what seemed like a great opportunity with Barcelona, but injury has followed him to the Camp Nou.

    When able to play, the Belgian has almost every positive trait centre-backs require. His aerial ability for a 6'0" defender is great, and his tackling—while not perfect—is better than average.

    He just cannot getor stayon the pitch.

    Presence Rating: 35/50

    Injuries to his Achilles tendon and hamstrings have slowed his ability to react. Unable to make up as much ground as he could before becoming plagued, Vermaelen is often at the mercy of an attacker's quality.

    What hasn't left him, though, is his reading of the game. Even in small cameos, the 30-year-old shows knowledge of where his fellow defenders are meant to be and covers well.

    For his fluidity, that skill is not easily taught.

    Overall Rating: 69/100

    With fellow centre-back Kompany injured and Vermaelen able to play at full-back if needed, he might have an increased role for Belgium at Euro 2016.

    The Barca man will have to be filled, covered and shipped to France in bubble wrap, but "needs must," as they say.

28. Martin Skrtel, Slovakia

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    Defensive Rating: 35/50

    After nine seasons and 320 appearances, Martin Skrtel is a tenured member of Liverpool's central-defensive hierarchy. Slovakia's national team captain had registered five consecutive seasons of at least 33 games played in all competitions before 2015/16.

    With Skrtel beset by muscle injuries, manager Jurgen Klopp used Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure as his preferred trio.

    Despite his inability to get on the pitch as regularly he might be accustomed, Skrtel has never been confused for a mark. Fantastic in the air, with great tackling skills, his game is tailored for the EPL's physical nature, and Slovakia are second-hand beneficiaries of that tenacity.

    Presence Rating: 34/50

    For his aggressive nature, Skrtel does find trouble. His ongoing, petulant feud with Chelsea's Diego Costa is one example. Averaging almost six yellow cards per season for Liverpool, he does have a rash streak.

    One could argue that behaviour is necessary for his job description, but the 31-year-old could be wiser.

    Overall Rating: 69/100

    Skrtel has not been the best centre-back this season—in fact, Lovren probably deserves more praise considering his mostly abject 2014/15—but consistency must be appreciated.

    You know what you are going to get from the four-time Slovak Footballer of the Year, which cannot be said for most central defenders.

27. Angelo Ogbonna, Italy

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    Defensive Rating: 35/50

    Born in Italy to Nigerian parents, Angelo Ogbonna began his career in Turin. Playing at the youth and senior levels for 12 years for Torino, the centre-back moved to their local rivals, Juventus, in 2013 for £10 million, including add-ons.

    Unable to crack the Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini triumvirate, he found manager Slaven Bilic's West Ham United as suitable ground last summer and moved again for £8 million.

    A prototypical centre-back, the Italian is a no-nonsense defender. Standing 6'3", his aerial prowess is great. Not a ball-playing centre-half but capable on the ground, Ogbonna is a decent passer, but his best aspect is making tackles and clearing danger.

    Presence Rating: 34/50

    Bilic's team has many vocal and capable leaders like James Tomkins, Winston Reid and Mark Noble, but Ogbonna's obvious quality and pedigree make him a leader by example.

    In his first season with West Ham, the Italy international played 28 league matches (starting 27) and logged just over 2,300 minutes.

    Still learning English football and moving to the Olympic Stadium this summer, his season at Upton Park was crucial before the Hammers' big move.

    Overall Rating: 69/100

    For Italy manager Antonio Conte, there can only be three centre-backs in his preferred position. Bonucci, Barzagli and Chellini are the Azzurri's automatic, impenetrable trio, but who their fourth-choice centre-back is remains debatable.

    Daniele Rugani is Juventus' burgeoning centre-back, but for the purpose of Euro 2016, Ogbonna's steel in the heart of Conte's defence seems more advantageous than the 21-year-old.

26. Marc Bartra, Spain

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    Defensive Rating: 36/50

    One of many La Masia products, Marc Bartra earned his Barcelona debut under Pep Guardiola. When the incoming Manchester City manager left the Camp Nou, the young centre-half was given chances, but those were few and far between.

    The 25-year-old's blend of tackling and passing should make him an ideal option for Barca's style, but he has not been afforded long runs in manager Luis Enrique's starting XI.

    Bartra's longest streak of Liga matches played last season was two.

    Presence Rating: 34/50

    As with most young defenders, Bartra can be caught out of position attempting to make offensive moves happen. That said, standing 6'0", the Spaniard can cover ground and locates danger.

    He just is not seasoned enough to do so on a consistent basis.

    Overall Rating: 70/100

    With Guardiola at City and Barcelona sure to strengthen defensively, maybe Bartra could follow his former manager to the Etihad Stadium, but the same issues of depth might follow him.

    Finding a place where he can play weekly is his mission.

    Bartra's talent could go to waste if forced behind Enrique's preferred partnership for the next three years. In any event, his first task in getting a move or proving himself is helping Spain retain their European title.

25. Mehmet Topal, Turkey

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    Defensive Rating: 35/50

    Fenerbahce's Mehmet Topal is one of the Turkish Super Lig's more underrated players. The preferred defensive midfielder played 33 of 34 games for Turkey's second-place club.

    Playing for his national side, however, Topal is used as a centre-back for manager Fatih Terim's side. In his last three international friendlies, the Fenerbahce man has been preparing for Euro 2016 at centre-back.

    Presence Rating: 35/50

    A natural midfielder, Topal tends to play the ball more than his man. That is not always a recipe for solid defending, but the Turk makes it work.

    An occasional captain of his club and experienced hand—with 358 senior matches at club level (at Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Valencia) plus 58 Turkey caps—the 30-year-old is a seasoned veteran who knows how to interpret the game.

    Overall Rating: 70/100

    Why Terim did not select Omer Toprak in his squad is a mystery; the Bayer Leverkusen man is undoubtedly Turkey's best centre-half. With 23 appearances for the national side, his omission creates unnecessary squad gaps.

    That said, Topal is a capable centre-back and might allow the Turks to play a more attacking brand of football.

24. Antonio Rudiger, Germany

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    Defensive Rating: 37/50

    Like a diesel engine, Antonio Rudiger took time warming up to Serie A.

    Loaned to AS Roma from VfB Stuttgart, the 23-year-old did not enjoy a great first half to 2015/16, but the German centre-half has been manager Luciano Spalletti's best defender. The removal of Rudi Garcia seemed to be Rudiger's turning point.

    Roma have used their buying option to sign the Germany international on a permanent basis.

    A physical presence with pace and an eye for big tackles, he only requires more polishing, something Italian football has a way of doing with centre-backs.

    Presence Rating: 33/50

    For whatever natural ability, Rudiger still requires time to develop. Twenty-three-year-old centre-backs usually are not the most aware, which leads to rash challenges as a result of not reading the game as well as their veteran counterparts.

    The young German is not the first centre-back, but with age on his side (and the right coaching) he should transform into a powerhouse.

    Overall Rating: 70/100

    Germany are loaded at centre-back, which you will soon discover, so there might not be enough places for the Roma man. That said, there are multiple places Joachim Low could play Rudiger, not just centre-back.

    Die Mannschaft's boss could find that potential useful—primarily at right-back.

23. Samuel Umtiti, France

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    Defensive Rating: 37/50

    Thanks to the peculiar and seemingly never-ending absences of Raphael Varane (hamstring), Kurt Zouma (knee), Aymeric Laporte (leg/ankle), Jeremy Mathieu (calf) and Mamadou Sakho*, reserve Samuel Umtiti made Didier Deschamps' 23-man Euro 2016 squad.

    The Olympique Lyonnais centre-back played 38 times for last season's Ligue 1 runners-up, and that was good enough to get past the Loic Perrins of the world in France's provisional squad. After Mathieu's injury, he was called up.

    Presence Rating: 34/50

    A young, vibrant centre-back—with the requisite natural abilities—Umtiti is still coming into his own as a defender. Not yet 23, the Frenchman has some distance to go before reaching world-class centre-back status, but the components for a great player are in him.

    Learning alongside Laurent Koscielny, Adil Rami and Eliaquim Mangala this summer should (in general) be a great experience for Umtiti, whose next hurdle is learning the ropes of becoming a leader.

    Overall Rating: 71/100

    In his first major international tournament, discovering whether the 22-year-old's lack of France caps translates to meaningful play during Euro 2016 should be interesting.

    Umtiti is strong, aggressive and (like most international centre-backs) can mark and then tackle. Those traits should be useful enough for Deschamps' group.

    *Mamadou Sakho was suspended 30 days by UEFA (which has since run out) for doping allegations, as noted by Sky Sports. The Frenchman would have likely featured at Euro 2016, but as his case still requires adjudication and/or clarification, Sakho was not selected.

22. Ricardo Carvalho, Portugal

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    Defensive Rating: 34/50

    When Ricardo Carvalho left Chelsea for Real Madrid in 2010, it was assumed he would be with manager Jose Mourinho for maybe three seasons and then retire.

    That has not happened. The Portugal international has played another six years since leaving Stamford Bridge—three at Madrid and three at AS Monaco.

    Possibly retiring this summer, it would be curious timing. Playing 33 games in Ligue 1 and 2,902 minutes (or 88 minutes per game), the 38-year-old looks to have another season left in him—maybe not at that usage rate, but something akin to it.

    Presence Rating: 38/50

    Never confused for an athletic customer, Carvalho has used his guile and nearly 20 years of professional football to frustrate attackers. An expert reader of the game, the Monaco man is a tactical mastermind.

    His physical attributes tend to get in the way—as the year is 2016—but the legs are fast enough to do what the brain requests.

    Overall Rating: 72/100

    Portugal have two better centre-back options than Carvalho. Pepe and Jose Fonte should be the starting partnership, but Carvalho's seasoned mind seems to be a crucial asset.

    If Euro 2016 is the Portuguese defender's last competition (either at club or international level), he will go down as one of his country's best centre-backs—and one of Europe's most serially underrated.

21. Ashley Williams, Wales

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    Defensive Rating: 34/50

    From English football's fourth tier to a Premier League captain, Ashley Williams' rise is a fantastic story.

    Williams played with Stockport County in 2008, and League One's Swansea City bought the centre-half for £400,000, then a club record. Three-hundred-and-fifty-two appearances and a couple promotions later, the English-born Welshman is one of his league's most underrated defenders.

    Quick, strong and possessing a great tackle, Williams was honoured in the Football League's Team of the Decade in 2015. While the Swans did not have the best season, their first-choice centre-back played well.

    Presence Rating: 38/50

    More than his actual defending, the 31-year-old's leadership qualities are what set him apart. Having a vocal, combative personality, Williams commands his defence as any demanding, general-like centre-back should.

    Barking orders, setting defensive lines and controlling shape, the Swansea and Wales captain has a confident demeanour.

    Overall Rating: 72/100

    It is not clear how far the Welsh can go at Euro 2016. Williams, Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale make some kind of foundation on which to build, but is that enough to get past the group stages?

    If yes, then the only way for Wales to progress is having Williams solidify his defence, allowing the team's attacking options the freedom to find scoring opportunities.

20. John Stones, England

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    On 2015/16's merit, John Stones might not be in the top 50, but cooler heads should prevail when accessing Everton's season. Roberto Martinez has been sacked. The club are in a state of transition, and he might have killed their young centre-back's confidence in the summer.

    Stones gave Everton a transfer request after a summer-long courtship by then-defending champions Chelsea. The Toffees rejected his wishes, and complied with supporters' ire, the 22-year-old has been forcing his play.

    England's best ball-playing centre-back, Stones has bags of natural talent but not always the tactical discipline to exercise those skills in his club's best interest.

    Presence Rating: 34/50

    Possessing the technical quality of a midfielder, were Stones playing further forward, his positional sense would not be such an issue. As a centre-back, though, one cannot take incredible risks.

    Some portion of blame can be given to his youth and Martinez's overly aggressive attacking structure, so for the young defender to improve, he will need time and a manager willing to protect him.

    Overall Rating: 73/100

    England are short of world-class centre-back talent, but they have several great options. If Roy Hodgson thinks the Three Lions' structure can get the best from the young defender, then Stones is a no-brainer.

    Getting out of Merseyside for a couple of months, surrounded by his country's best players, could be the best thing for Stones moving forward.

19. Adil Rami, France

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    Raphael Varane's injury woes opened the door for Adil Rami. The Sevilla centre-back just missed Didier Deschamps' final cut, but he's back on board Les Bleus' ship.

    Injuries and suspensions kept him from an entire season for the three-time defending UEFA Europa League champions, but he managed to register an impressive 46 appearances last year.

    The Frenchman is a tall, powerful, rangy centre-half with great tackling and aerial ability. Once a coveted defender, the 30-year-old's time with AC Milan was porous, but he found a home in Seville.

    Presence Rating: 35/50

    Rami is developing his voice for Unai Emery's side.

    Playing in his third side in three seasons, much of the vocal work a commanding centre-back requires was done for him to start. As 2015/16 progressed, though, he came out of his shell and looked something like a leader.

    If Rami's Sevilla career continues, he will become the domineering voice of their back four. That capability marks the difference between a better-than-great defender and a world-class one.

    Overall Rating: 74/100

    Rami could play a crucial role in France's Euro 2016 production.

    The French have few weaknesses, and for them to impress on home soil, their defence must maximise their potential and keep goals out.

    There are options ahead of Rami, but—as seen with his call-up—one never knows when they will be needed to start.

18. Eliaquim Mangala, France

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    Defensive Rating: 41/50

    Eliaquim Mangala has all the world's talent but not always the direction to control himself.

    Take the raw elements of defending: Can Mangala tackle? Yes. Is Mangala physical? Yes. Does Mangala use his the natural attributes to cover ground and clear danger from crosses? Yes.

    In that sense, the Manchester City man is the ideal centre-half, but the game is not played entirely with physical attributes.

    Presence Rating: 34/50

    Mangala's struggle could be explained by his club's desire to play open, expansive football and the injury woes of Kompany, leaving the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Martin Demichelis as his centre-back partners. But that wouldn't eliminate any blame from the Frenchman's account.

    His rashness can be frustrating to watch at times.

    The 25-year-old is still comparatively young, but with Pep Guardiola's possession-oriented style headed for the Etihad Stadium, Mangala (at City, anyway) could be on the proverbial ropes.

    Overall Rating: 75/100

    Mangala appears to be one great summer of development and coaching away from turning into one of football's best centre-backs. He must be taken to Euro 2016—if only because of Zouma's knee and Varane's hamstring.

    We are all waiting for the France international to put things together. He should have time on his side—but our collective patience is waning.

17. Kamil Glik, Poland

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    One of Serie A's hidden gems—maybe because he shares the same city with Juventus' trio of defenders—Torino's Kamil Glik is a more-than-competent centre-back.

    The 28-year-old is Poland's stabilising force. A great tackler and standing 6'3", Glik is a towering footballer, relative to the size of most attackers, whose aerial ability is normally sound. Able to cover ground, his ability to collect possession and find midfielders is an advantageous quality.

    Torino is not a footballing powerhouse, but the Poland international certainly has the talent to aim bigger.

    Presence Rating: 37/50

    In double-digit figures for yellow cards this season, Glik has not been Serie A's most disciplined defender, but when playing for a club that is invariably under siege, the Pole is forced to take chances.

    He makes up for aggressive defending with leadership. Playing 248 senior matches and earning 39 Poland caps, Glik is a proficient orchestrator when given the requisite talent.

    Overall Rating: 76/100

    Torino's captain was eligible for Germany's national side but chose to represent Poland, where he was born. In a group with the Germans, Glik's manner with his defence could make his country dark horses.

    An in-form Poland defence and their attacking pieces can certainly damage opponents; a leaky defence, though, and there is nothing to be done. A majority of that responsibility falls on Glik.

16. Jose Fonte, Portugal

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    Defensive Rating: 38/50

    Two years ago, Liverpool were in the market for a Southampton centre-back, and they spent £20 million on Dejan Lovren. Considering the past 24 months, that was the wrong choice.

    Jose Fonte would have been the defender they wanted—hindsight is 20/20 and all that type of thing.

    The 32-year-old came from Portugal's third division and then England's third division and is now one of the Premier League's best centre-backs. A great aerial defender, tackler and passer, the Portuguese carried Saints from the depths of the Football League to an almost annual mid-table EPL position.

    Presence Rating: 39/50

    Not blessed with the most pace, Southampton's captain reads the game well, and his anticipation is the largest factor in his defending.

    Manager Ronald Koeman has given Fonte the keys to St. Mary's Stadium, and the centre-back has blossomed into a fantastic leader—especially after Lovren left for Anfield.

    Overall Rating: 77/100

    Portugal are an interesting defensive team. There are certainly mainstays in their back four, but Fonte (despite his Premier League form) does not always seem like an automatic selection.

    Only given 10 senior caps for Portugal (his first full international appearances coming two years ago), Euro 2016 could be Fonte's first and only major international competition, and one he should start above the likes of Bruno Alves and possibly Ricardo Carvalho.

15. Shkodran Mustafi, Germany

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    Defensive Rating: 40/50

    Starting his senior career with Everton and then moving to Serie A's Sampdoria, Shkodran Mustafi has found a home at Valencia.

    The Spanish outfit have gone through three managers and general commotion this season, but their German centre-half was the face of consistency.

    Two seasons into his Valencia tenure, he already has 80 appearances—living mostly on his ever-improving aerial prowess, aggression and tackling.

    Presence Rating: 38/50

    A few brainless plays are the right of any central defender, and Mustafi is no different. A straight red card versus Barcelona during a 7-0 drubbing was his lowlight of the season, but by and large, the 24-year-old has been a mature presence.

    Thirteen yellow cards in 2015/16 could improve. However, when one is forced to attempt hundreds of tackles due to their club being under threat, that is an undesirable but understandable consequence.

    Overall Rating: 78/100

    A member of Germany's 2014 FIFA World Cup squad, Mustafi earned his place in the final 23-man squad due to Marco Reus' unfortunate injury.

    That should not be the case heading into Euro 2016.

    The past 10 months haven't shown any slip-ups from the preferred partnership of Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng, but Mustafi could yet receive some opportunities.

14. Benedikt Howedes, Germany

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    Defensive Rating: 39/50

    Approaching 300 Schalke 04 appearances, Benedikt Howedes has transformed into arguably the best defender in the Bundesliga outside of known powers Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

    Injuries have been the story of Howedes' season. From ankles to hands to hamstrings, the German defender missed major portions of 2015/16. Joel Matip and Roman Neustadter took over as Schalke's primary central-defensive partnership, but their captain was a huge miss.

    Missing out on the UEFA Champions League, maybe if Howedes were available—whether playing centre-back, left-back or right-back (of which he is capable)—Schalke would have made Germany's top four.

    Presence Rating: 40/50

    Captain of his professional side since 2011/12, the 28-year-old has received the trust of his club for seasons. It shows with his on-pitch demeanour.

    Having a leadership role from age 23, Howedes' defensive prowess is matched more by his ability to control his club's defensive line and assist his fellow defenders.

    Overall Rating: 79/100

    There are only a few spots for centre-backs on Germany's roster, but Howedes' versatility makes him a great option. At left-back, though, he was one of three German players to play every minute of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

    The primary question is whether the defender can remain fit for the month-long tournament. It seems a risk worthy of taking for a player of Howedes' calibre.

13. Gary Cahill, England

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    Defensive Rating: 41/50

    John Terry might never play for Chelsea again. That should mean the man taking his role as captain is Gary Cahill. It would appear a drop in quality, as Terry is probably the best centre-back England have (albeit retired from the international arena).

    The Blues endured a torrid season, and while Cahill was not the worst performer, he was not a ray of light either. Without injuries, it seemed Terry and Kurt Zouma were Jose Mourinho's preferred partnership, but the misfortune of others was Cahill's chance to play.

    Standing 6'4", the Englishman is a fantastic anticipator for his large frame. Getting low and blocking shots is his calling card.

    Presence Rating: 40/50

    Learning from possibly the Premier League's best game-reader in Terry, Cahill's tactical awareness has improved by leaps and bounds since his arrival at Stamford Bridge in January 2012.

    He does tend to back off attackers—giving them space when understanding he is outmatched for pace—but Cahill defends without copious or unnecessary fouls, which is directly attributable to his Terry education.

    Overall Rating: 81/100

    England's vice-captain did not enjoy the greatest World Cup in 2014, but two years later, without the presence of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, Cahill's role in the Three Lions' setup has grown exponentially.

    Wearing Chelsea's armband thrice this season, his progression as a leader is coming along. The 30-year-old will need to tap into that experience before and during his trip to France.

12. Jan Vertonghen, Belgium

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    Defensive Rating: 42/50 

    Tottenham Hotspur's central-defensive partnership was the beginning of all things great in north London last season, and Jan Vertonghen's role was instrumental.

    A two-time Dutch champion with Ajax, the Belgian centre-back has a title-winning pedigree and brought it to Spurs' 2015/16 Premier League charge. Despite falling short to Leicester City, Vertonghen's effort was vital, even if somewhat overshadowed.

    An aggressive ball-winner, strong in challenge but also capable of playing on the ground, the Belgian was easily in the EPL's top-five centre-back discussion this season.

    Presence Rating: 39/50 

    His only possible stain is mentality. A capricious individual with a mean streak, he can often be found fighting or causing general mischief.

    An argument says Vertonghen must play on that edge to be effective, and when corralling himself, he is a better defender. That must be accepted after the past 10 months.

    Overall Rating: 81/100 

    If Kompany was healthy, Vertonghen might not have started at centre-back at Euro 2016. Capable of playing at full-back, it seem possible manager Marc Wilmots would have deployed him wide.

    After the Belgium captain's chronic muscle injures, though, the 29-year-old could play in his preferred position, but that remains to be seen.

11. Chris Smalling, England

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    Defensive Rating: 43/50

    Sir Alex Ferguson was hardly wrong, and while he did not get the best from Chris Smalling, the Scotsman certainly saw what he could become.

    One of the Premier League's more physical defenders, Manchester United's first-choice centre-back is steeped in the English game and has the defining traits thereof. Tough in the air and solid with challenges, Smalling—who at one point was doubted—is England's best native centre-back (certainly eligible for selection).

    Presence Rating: 39/50

    Smalling is still developing his leadership and command of reading plays. For every three great decisions, there is one mistake. The former Fulham man is a grappler. Grabbing a handful of jersey is a centre-back's trick, but it also shows—somewhere in their psyche—insecurity and doubt.

    For the United defender to take the next step, he will need a classroom—playing next to Daley Blind on a weekly basis is not the professor he would want or needs. Cahill can be Smalling's controller at Euro 2016, pointing out danger and marshaling the young talent.

    That partnership should prove solid enough for the Three Lions to function elsewhere.

    Overall Rating: 82/100

    The 26-year-old centre-back has improved every year at Old Trafford, and Euro 2016 should be his first major showcase on an international level.

    A great month of work with his national side, and Smalling's confidence will skyrocket.

10. Toby Alderweireld, Belgium

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    Defensive Rating: 42/50

    Not based on reputation or past success, Toby Alderweireld was the Premier League's best centre-back. Perhaps aiming to prove a point after last summer's slight transfer debacle with Southampton, the Belgium international played possibly his best professional season to date.

    With Vertonghen alongside him, manager Mauricio Pochettino handed Alderweireld Tottenham's defensive responsibility. They conceded the fewest goals in the EPL and had the best goal difference.

    The primary reason behind Spurs' stingy manner was the 27-year-old's £11.5 million addition.

    Presence Rating: 41/50

    It is difficult to judge Alderweireld's leadership capabilities, considering he has played with four different clubs over the last four seasons, but the Belgian centre-back seems a leader by example.

    Scoring goals and making timely tackles are the behaviours of an intelligent centre-back who knows where to be and how to play the position.

    Overall Rating: 83/100

    Kompany's injury heightens Alderweireld's importance to Belgium. Eden Hazard takes the captaincy, but the Spurs defender takes on the mantle of defensive leadership.

    Playing expert seasons with Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Saints and Tottenham, he can take take his growing reputation further on the international stage.

9. Laurent Koscielny, France

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    Defensive Rating: 43/50

    Manager Arsene Wenger's attacking style is not "defender-friendly." Arsenal (unlike the days of George Graham, Tony Adams and Steve Bould) pride themselves on football's silk, not the steel.

    This puts centre-backs like Laurent Koscielny in awkward positions. They must be ball-playing centre-backs but also have the pace, timing and tactical nous to snuff out dangerous situations.

    Koscielny's aggression, tackling and aerial prowess are superb, making him the best centre-back purchase—considering Sol Campbell was a free transfer—Wenger has made in his 20-year tenure.

    Presence Rating: 43/50

    Injuries, though, have set back the Frenchman's leadership presence.

    Either the Gunners' best defender or their best injured defender—without much space in between—Koscielny is not the consistent force he probably should be.

    That is made up by his game-reading abilities when fit. Add having to play with Per Mertesacker and/or Gabriel Paulista (the former slow, the latter inconsistent) as his partners, and Koscielny's game must be pinpoint—and, for the most part, it is.

    Overall Rating: 86/100

    France are loaded, but no attacking talent can flourish without a solid defence structure.

    Koscielny's partnership with Varane was the foundation for everything Deschamps' side were planning at Euro 2016. Their styles seemed to be a fortuitous situation, but injury struck the Real Madrid man.

    Arsenal's first-choice centre-back must now take Mangala, Rami or Umtiti and quickly build a rapport, lest Les Bleus' lofty ambitions fall flat.

8. Leonardo Bonucci, Italy

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    Defensive Rating: 45/50

    Real Madrid are well known for their "BBC" trio of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo; Juventus have the defensive counterpunch of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini.

    Bonucci, the youngest member of Juve's centre-back trio, is their best ball-playing member. His passing range and vision are exceptional.

    Though surrounded by two of football's best individual defenders in general, Bonucci's defensive game fits in either a three-, four- or five-man formation. His technical excellence can sometimes overshadow his defensive prowess.

    Presence Rating: 43/50

    One of Italy's tallest defenders, at 6'3", Bonucci is also tasked to deal with aerial threats.

    Chiellini and Barzagli seem the vocal leaders of Juventus and the Italian national side, but Bonucci is not too far behind his team-mates. Like most great centre-backs, the 29-year-old sees the proverbial picture and locates danger.

    Overall Rating: 88/100

    Italy manager Antonio Conte is well versed with Bonucci (having managed him in Turin) and figures to play the Juventus defender and his two club team-mates in the starting XI.

    We spoke earlier about great defensive partnerships; Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci are a great triumvirate—and they wouldn't work nearly as well without the latter's specialised skill set.

7. Gerard Pique, Spain

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    Defensive Rating: 45/50

    Some would claim Gerard Pique's game is a simplistic one. Barcelona and Spain's footballing styles are based on possession. Centre-backs are meant to build play, keep possession and be wary of counter-attacks.

    When teams are as dominant at retaining possession as Barca and Spain are, though, their centre-backs tend to be labelled as "overrated."

    In Pique's case, that might be an exaggeration.

    As the only defender of any height on Barcelona, the 6'4", 29-year-old has the responsibility of clearing most crosses. Considering the likes of Jordi Alba and Dani Alves are not always full-backs—rather auxiliary wingers to break down packed defences—Pique's job is more intricate than just waiting around for trouble.

    Presence Rating: 45/50

    Not the most athletic defender, the Spaniard (and also Catalan) positions his tall frame expertly.

    Unable to use overt pace or acceleration, Pique reads the game and uses his wealth of experience advantageously. Nearing 500 matches—for club and country—the Spain international is tested and proven at all levels.

    Overall Rating: 90/100

    After eight seasons with Barcelona and 12 major trophies, as well as a World Cup and a European Championship with Spain, Pique is a decorated member of manager Vicente del Bosque's Spanish side.

    As Spain look for their third Euro in three tries, Pique's playing to his world-class potential is crucial—if not mandatory.

6. Sergio Ramos, Spain

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    Defensive Rating: 47/50

    Sergio Ramos' defensive capabilities are a frequent source of debate, but by most accounts he is the Spanish national side's best centre-back.

    Ramos does receive the perception boost playing for Real Madrid offers, but it is not terribly unrealistic.

    An aggressive, aerially competent defender, his style is weighted to counteract Spanish football's technical game. Excellent on the ball and (more importantly) equally capable in challenges, the 30-year-old has all the tools great centre-backs require.

    Presence Rating: 43/50

    For his many enviable defensive characteristics, Ramos is known to be rash—mostly to his club's detriment.

    In his overeagerness to win possession, untimely tackles lead to cautions. The centre-back (at Real Madrid) has been sent off 16 times in La Liga, the most of all time. Not to be ignored, he also has 119 yellow cards for Madrid in the Spanish top flight.

    That said, when Ramos gets his job right (and appearing in over 520 professional matches, one would have to admit he usually does), most attackers struggle getting past him.

    Overall Rating: 90/100

    Ramos must play well for Spain to play well.

    The two-time defending champions' centre-back capability for shutting down most offensive players (who is also a set-piece threat) appears to be an invaluable asset, but he must arrive with his head attached.

5. Pepe, Portugal

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    Defensive Rating: 48/50

    Real Madrid have three great centre-back options, and Pepe is often looked at as the odd man out—not this season.

    Taking just the 2015/16 season into account, he might be top three in Europe. Under Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane, the Brazilian-born Portugal international has been magnificent. But taking a more realistic snapshot, the top three is approaching the nosebleed section.

    Pepe is an exceptional tackler with aerial prowess and aggression to match any centre-forward. Real Madrid might have considered the Portuguese their first-choice centre-back this year.

    Presence Rating: 45/50

    Aggression makes Pepe the excellent footballer he is—it is also the thing that can unravel him. The 33-year-old's confidence to make tackles and leap for headers is rooted in his desire to win, but that line sometimes becomes blurred.

    A calm Pepe is an all-conquering Pepe. It has been that way since the beginning.

    Overall Rating: 93/100

    His country's best player not named Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe's mission at Euro 2016 is to replicate the form he showed all year with Real Madrid.

    The flashy forward will take all the plaudits, but if Portugal are to mount anything special in France, their first-choice centre-back must lead the way, even if from the back.

4. Andrea Barzagli, Italy

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    Defensive Rating: 46/50

    From Juventus' trio of world-class centre-backs, Andrea Barzagli is the eldest but has the shortest tenure. This combination of factors made him an underrated component during Conte's reign, and now Massimiliano Allegri's, but he is no less important.

    Bought from VfL Wolfsburg in the 2011 January transfer window, the then-29-year-old cost the Old Lady £225,000. After five-and-a-half seasons, over 190 appearances and 10 trophies, that was otherworldly business from the Italian giants.

    Once among Serie A's best tacklers, Barzagli is rarely outmuscled. His passing accuracy is impressive, and (despite his growing age) the 35-year-old can move about the pitch.

    Presence Rating: 47/50

    Matched with Barzagli's technical abilities is his mental acuity. The Italian defender spots dangerous situations, and he either positions people to take care of it or does the job himself.

    An experienced footballer with over 500 professional and international matches, he is one of the world's best in-game tacticians.

    Overall Rating: 93/100

    Conte plays three at the back—as he did at Juventus. For at least one more international tournament, Barzagli is in his country's top two centre-backs—and easily so.

    Playing with his club team-mates, their rapport should find Italy in great condition to advance deep into Euro 2016.

3. Mats Hummels, Germany

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    Defensive Rating: 48/50

    As the best ball-playing centre-back in Europe, Mats Hummels creates an interesting discussion: Are centre-backs with ball skills more valuable than the "old-fashioned," defend-first models?

    In the German's case, he does the former so well that mistakes can sometimes be accepted. His attacking value outweighs whatever defensive liabilities.

    The newest member of Bayern Munich, Hummels' combination of passing, vision and technical prowess are unmatched at centre-back.

    Presence Rating: 47/50

    Hummels' move from Munich to Borussia Dortmund in 2009 was an opportunity to play games, build experience and hone his craft.

    Now returning to Bayern—where he started his youth career as a six-year-old—BVB was an ideal place to grow, both mentally and as a leader.

    One criticism, however, would be his positioning. Creating from the back is magnificent when possession is retained. If lost (or just sloppy), the 27-year-old can be caught out of position, putting undue stress on his defence.

    Overall Rating: 95/100

    Germany have the best starting central-defensive partnership in Europe.

    Hummels and Jerome Boateng are splendid complements to each other. Manager Joachim Low would've loved Hummels and his new team-mate to have put one season under their collective belt at Bayern before Euro 2016, but they should be all right.

2. Giorgio Chiellini, Italy

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    Defensive Rating: 48/50

    Determining which of Juventus' three centre-backs is best is not always straight-forward. It can change from week to week, game to game; Bonucci and Barzagli are spectacular on their day, but Giorgio Chiellini is their most consistent centre-half.

    An excellent tackler and maybe Europe's best man-marker, the 31-year-old is at the ideal intersection of physical and intellectual adroitness. A former left-back, now centre-back, Chiellini has strength, height, lateral quickness and the anticipatory foresight to get in position.

    Simply put, the man is a tank.

    Presence Rating: 49/50

    Possibly better than his natural defending abilities are Chiellini's intangible qualities.

    Combined with Gianluigi Buffon (both for Juventus and Italy), the centre-back is the consummate professional. An organiser, leader of men and disciplined presence, the Italian is maybe Europe's best outfield general, certainly from those eligible to attend Euro 2016.

    Overall Rating: 97/100

    Italy should not struggle to keep goals out, but scoring them could be their downfall. Invariably headed toward 0-0 scorelines and penalty shootouts, the Azzurri must maintain a strong defensive shape, allowing counter-attacking opportunities for their attacking options.

    Chiellini's control over his back three or five is imperative for Conte's side to overcome their apparent shortcomings.

1. Jerome Boateng, Germany

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    Defensive Rating: 49/50

    To think Manchester City sold Boateng to Bayern Munich for just over £12 million because the Citizens were playing him at right-back; that was an oversight.

    Boateng might be Europe's best all-round centre-back. Fit for the modern game, the 6'4" Germany international has speed, anticipation, wonderful tackling and decent passing vision. He is a nightmare for attackers.

    Injuries, though, have muted the 27-year-old's 2015/16. Suffering a debilitating groin injury in January, Boateng missed almost three months of action. That has not assisted his preparation for the tournament.

    Presence Rating: 48/50

    An interesting note is at club level, Bayern Munich are/were so possession-oriented under Guardiola that Boateng's major concern was counter-attackers.

    Having to be locked in for 90 minutes—prepared for any kind of lightning response—was maybe his best takeaway after three seasons with the Spanish coach.

    Coming into his prime, he can get betterbut not that much.

    Overall Rating: 97/100

    Winner of four Bundesliga crowns, the Champions League and the World Cup, there are not many trophies Boateng has left to lift. The European Championship, though, evades the list.

    Die Mannschaft are stacked at centre-back, but they have nobody better (when 100 percent) than Boateng—no one does.

    ICYMI: UEFA Euro 2016, B/R 200: Top 20 Right-Backs

    *Stats and transfer fees via WhoScored.com, Transfermarkt and Soccerbase where not noted.