Dante (Bayern Munich and Brazil) 17 games, 1 goal **
An outstanding performer last season at Gladbach, Dante has improved again this year following his move to Bayern. Athletic, competent on the ball and excellent in the air, the Brazilian seemingly has the lot. Die Roten’s defensive performances this season have owed so much to the air of calm that their afro-haired centre-back exudes. What baffles is how it has taken so long for him to show this form, given that he is now 29.
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter and Italy) 17 games, 1 goal **
For a player who has improved enormously this season, Ranocchia still has the power to infuriate. As good in the air as you would expect for a player of his height he still has a habit of making untimely but crucial errors. Despite that his overall performances have been consistently excellent and he now seems to be developing into the player many hoped for when he was at Bari.
Thiago Silva (PSG and Brazil) 14 games, 0 goals **
The expectation of becoming the world’s most expensive defender might have weighed heavily on some players. Not Thiago Silva. Instead the Brazilian has settled well in Paris and is demonstrating some of the form that led him to be regarded as the best centre-back in the game. If he maintains that level of performance the Parisians should find themselves celebrating come May.
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus and Italy) 13 games, 0 goals **
Juventus have a history of doggedly determined defenders, from Claudio Gentile to Ciro Ferrara, and Giorgio Chiellini is mounting a considerable case to be at the head of the pantheon. Superb last season, he has again been to the fore, though injury has taken its toll on occasion. The Old Lady look to be untouchable in Serie A, now with a winnable tie against Celtic in the Champions League, they will be looking to make major progress in Europe.
Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay) 17 games, 1 goal *
Godin’s fine season began with the European Super Cup and he has maintained this rich vein of form ever since. The Uruguayan is physical and very strong in the air, focusing primarily on the art of defending, rather than seeking to over-elaborate. Atleti are currently enjoying their finest season since the title winning year of 1995-6 and can thank Godin for their impressive displays at the back.
Water Samuel (Inter and Argentina) 12 games, 1 goal *
The Wall remains as impenetrable as ever. Even at 34 Samuel has not lost any of his tenacity or desire to win. Aerially excellent despite his stature, he epitomises the street smarts that South American defenders are renowned for. His derby record is remarkable and he was to the fore again these season with a crucial goal in a victory over Milan.
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) 16 games, 1 goal *
Following two seasons as arguably the best defender in Europe, Hummels has not quite been at his best in the Bundesliga this season. In Europe though he has shown much of his finest form and was instrumental in Dortmund topping an extremely difficult group in some style. During their title winning campaigns Dortmund always came on strongly in the second half of the season and they will need to do so again if they are to overhaul Bayern at home.
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain) 17 games, 1 goal *
A constant theme of all Jose Mourinho teams since his days at Porto has been the solidity of his defence. This season Real Madrid have been sorely lacking in the control and certainty that is normally a given with the “Special One” in the dug out. Sergio Ramos began his conversion back into the central role he played at Sevilla last year and it continues to look his natural home. Madrid now need his team mates to emulate his exploits.
Gonzalo Rodriguez (Fiorentina and Argentina) 17 games, 5 goals *
After the relegation of Villarreal last season it was inevitable that their most prized possessions would move on. One man who certainly fell into that category was Rodriguez who had established himself as among the most commanding centre-backs in La Liga before the Yellow Submarine’s demise. Fiorentina are now benefitting from that ability, both at the back and, more surprisingly, in attack where he has so far been deadly.
Martin Demichelis (Malaga and Argentina) 16 games, 2 goals *
It is often said that a blend of youth and experience is required for any team looking to have success. At Malaga Demichelis definitely falls into the latter category. The Argentine is a player who tends to veer between excellence and awfulness, as supporters of Bayern Munich will testify, but so far this season he appears to be enjoying a purple patch and will supply vital know-how in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Miranda (Atletico Madrid and Brazil) 16 games, 2 goals *
Despite his effeminate name Miranda is not a defender that front men relish tangling with. The Brazilian stopper has been in fine form, with a well established partnership with Diego Godin proving fruitful. Physically imposing, he was very highly rated in his native Brazil and was an integral part of Muricy Ramalho’s all-conquering Sao Paulo side before joining Atleti in 2011.
Hugo Campagnaro (Napoli and Argentina) 15 games, 0 goals *
The two point deduction that Napoli have suffered in respect of match fixing may yet cost them Champions League qualification. The club currently sit fifth but have been as good as any side, bar Juventus, so far in Serie A. Among their most impressive performers has been the indomitable Campagnaro, a player of tremendous grit and spirit who will need to step up yet further following the ban on club captain Paolo Cannavaro.
Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille and Cameroon) 19 games, 0 goals *
The good news for Marseille is that Cameroon’s failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations means they will not be deprived of the services of Nkoulou this January. For while Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have never heard of the defender he is undeniably one of the finest centre-backs in Ligue 1. Atheltic, reasonable on the ball and a disciplined marker he has been a stand out performer in L’OM’s title challenge so far.
Benedikt Hoewedes (Schalke and Germany) 15 games, 0 goals *
The partnership formed between Hoewedes and Kyriakos Papadopoulos at the heart of Schalke’s defence has been among the best in Europe this season. The German has previously suffered from his versatility with managers using him to plug problem positions but this term he has benefitted from a settled role and partner. Given Holger Badstuber’s injury and the ongoing lack of form of Per Mertesacker there may be a chance for Hoewedes to establish himself in the German national team.
Ezequiel Garay (Benfica and Argentina) 12 games, 0 goals *
Since the retirement of Roberto Ayala the Argentine national team has been crying out for a centre-back who is able to anchor the side. Alejandro Sabella now seems to have a host of options to select from, but looks to have installed Garay and Napoli’s Federico Fernandez as his first choice pair. The tall Garay is certainly composed on the ball and has the pace needed to make up for any over-confidence. His move to Portugal has been a resounding success after a disappointing spell at Real Madrid.
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City and England) 20 games, 1 goal *
No team had a better defensive record in the first half of the season in England than Stoke City. Manchester United youth graduate, Shawcross, has been at the heart of their success, forming a superb partnership with Robert Huth. The Englishman embodies Stoke’s will to win and never say die attitude which has seen them develop into a test for any visiting attacker. A first full England cap against Sweden in October was well earned.
Gil (Valenciennes and Brazil) 15 games, 1 goal *
One of the surprise successes of Ligue 1 this season so far has been Valenciennes. While their recent form has been slightly underwhelming, the club began the season extremely well and have to thank their commanding, Brazilian centre-back for much of that. Tall and good in the air, he arrived from Cruzeiro 18 months ago and has proven to be a big hit in Le Championnat. Whether he or the club can maintain this form is less certain.