The Premier League has boasted some excellent centre-back pairings over the years, from Tony Adams and Steve Bould to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. But what about now? What is the best central defensive partnership in the current season’s Premier League? We take a look at five of the very best below.
1. Tottenham: Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen
With Tottenham playing so well, their Belgian centre-backing duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen must be included on this list. Mauricio Pochettino has constructed a well-drilled Spurs side, one which is hard to beat, and a lot of this has to do with the two men marshalling their defence. With Spurs’ full-backs often getting forward to assist the attack, it is imperative that the two centre-backs are quick and able to win one-on-one battles. That’s what Alderweireld and Vertonghen are so good at.
They are also the perfect partnership, having been playing together for so long. It was back in the 2008/09 Ajax side that they first shared a professional football pitch, before they went on to represent Belgium’s national team together too. So when Alderweireld moved to London in 2015, it didn’t take long for him to strike up a working relationship with his former teammate.
2. Manchester City: John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi
Both John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi came in for a lot of criticism for their performances in 2016/17, however they have started the 2017/18 campaign in excellent fashion, helping Manchester City to build up their early-season lead at the top of the table.
While both players have improved their positioning, tackling and marking, they are also so important for the Sky Blues because they offer something more: the ability to pass the ball out from the back. Stones, in particular, was brought to the club because of his composure on the ball and Pep Guardiola will have been delighted to see his centre-backs starting attacking moves from the back.
3. Manchester United: Phil Jones and Eric Bailly
Eric Bailly had an excellent debut season for Manchester United in 2016/17. He hit the English ground running following his transfer from Villarreal and instantly made the Red Devils’ defence better. Given the injuries suffered in the Manchester United squad over the past year, he has played with a variety of central defensive partners already, yet the team have been the most solid when Bailly has been accompanied by Phil Jones.
They started alongside each other in the first six matches of the current season, before Bailly suffered an injury, and United conceded just two goals during that run. If they can both stay fit, then Jose Mourinho has a top-class centre-back pairing on his hands.
4. Burnley: Ben Mee and James Tarkowski
Burnley have been the surprise package of the 2017/18 Premier League season, at least across the first few months. In the first 12 matches of the campaign they conceded just nine goals, the joint-third-best record in the whole division. A lot of that is down to Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, with the latter having done an outstanding job of replacing Michael Keane, who was sold to Everton last summer.
In fact, the duo have been performing far better on both an individual and collective basis than Keane and that was on display when Burnley met and beat Everton at the start of October. Mee and Tarkowski made 31 clearances, won 13 aerial duels, made 6 tackles, 6 blocks and committed zero fouls that day. A truly impressive performance, the kind of which they are becoming known for.
5. Brighton & Hove Albion: Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk
Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk signed long-term deals with Brighton at the start of their maiden Premier League season and they have gone on to write several pieces of history with the Seagulls.
They both started alongside each other at centre-back in each of the first 12 matches of the league season, making them one of the most reliable centre-back partnerships in the country. Not only are they reliable, but they’re talented too. Across those first dozen games, Brighton made more defensive actions – blocks, interceptions and clearances – than any other team, with Duffy and Dunk combining for 244 of them. Only Burnley’s centre-back pairing of Mee and Tarkowski had more, with 255 defensive actions.
There are some other impressive centre-back pairings which deserve a quick mention as well.
One of those is Southampton’s, as a centre-back pairing of ‘Virgil van Dijk plus one’ is always going to do a good job. Southampton haven’t quite worked out who to pair him with yet, out of Maya Yoshida and Wesley Hoedt and even more disconcerting is the fact that the highly regarded Dutchman seems desperate to move on to a bigger club.
Defending champions Chelsea are another team who are strong at the back and they’re actually on course to concede fewer goals this term than they did on their way to winning the league last season. However, they don’t have one obvious centre-back pairing, as they usually play with a back three and use a combination of David Luiz, Antonio Rüdiger, Andreas Christensen and Gary Cahill.
Then there is Bournemouth and their duo of Nathan Aké and Steve Cook. They can’t claim to have the same stats as those above and the Cherries are conceding over a goal per game, yet the performances of Aké and Cook are still worth noting.
For several years the best sides on the continent...