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Ranking the 5 Best Defensive Partnerships In Europe

The following defensive partnerships are based on current club form and collaborative performances over the past three seasons. Also taken into account is the overall strength of the leagues these defensive unions compete in, as well as any domestic and European achievements of their clubs have accumulated.

Statistics played a role in the ranking order. But the ultimate decision regarding the arrangement came down to viewing the partnerships at work together over the past few seasons and assessing their: leadership, cohesion, physical presence, tactical awareness and overall skills as footballers.

Here are the 5 best defensive partnerships in Europe, from number 5 to number 1:

5) Gary Cahill and John Terry (Chelsea)

This Premier League pairing is the only centre-back combination from England on the list and they are primarily in the top five based on their current form.

Cahill and Terry are a relatively “young” partnership. When Chelsea was winning its first Champions League and Europa League titles, injuries and suspensions led to the club’s various managers having to shuffle their centre-backing pairings. The two English defenders rarely started alongside each other as the club’s bosses had a wealth of defensive options to choose from; Branislav Ivanovic was first-choice (when available) as well as David Luiz.

It was Cahill who started and played every minute during Chelsea’s Champions League and Europa League finals in back-to-back seasons. Terry eliminated himself from the 2011-12 Champions League final when he was sent off for violent conduct after driving his knee into Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez during the semi-final match at the Camp Nou. And the following season, the defender spent a significant time on the sidelines due to injury.

Terry is back fit now and, perhaps bolstered by the return of manager Jose Mourinho, is playing some of his best football since the time he was partnered with Ricardo Carvalho under the Portuguese boss.

He and Cahill bring a wealth of leadership and knowledge to Chelsea’s back four. Both players are tall (Terry – 6’2″ and Cahill – 6’4″), physical and vocal presences on the pitch.

Chelsea defend as a unit, meaning their strikers and midfielders share in the club’s defensive duties. But it is the steadiness and command coming from Gary Cahill and John Terry that has the Blues pointed to as Premier League favorites, as well as England’s best chance of achieving Champions League success this season.

4) Dante and Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)

This defensive pairing doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Perhaps because Bayern Munich is such a dominant attacking force and because the perception outside of Germany is that the Bundesliga doesn’t provide many strong challengers to the Bavarian club.

Under the leadership of Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola, the Bundesliga giants have commanded possession of the ball, are blessed with an abundance of offensive firepower and have overrun the competition in Germany.

But it can’t be overlooked that at the start of the 2012-13 campaign, the arrival of Dante from Borussia Monchengladbach proved to be the missing piece in the center of the German club’s defense. The Brazilian centre-back paired with Boateng and the two became crucial to Bayern Munich’s quadruple success of that season.

While some fans may argue that the Bundesliga does not provide the week-in and week-out competition of other European leagues. Dante and Boateng’s performances in Europe have mirrored their domestic form. The pairing have a Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup titles; to go alongside their successive Bundesliga titles. They kept a staggering 21 clean sheets in 34 league matches during the 2012-13 season.

The only knock against the two defenders would be Boateng’s questionable temper and Dante’s periodic injuries. They were also part of the Bayern Munich side which was thoroughly beaten by a rampant Real Madrid during last season’s Champions League semi-final.

The Germans were knocked out of the competition after Madrid put four goals past the hosts during the second leg of their European tie; the La Liga club would advance to the finals after beating the Bundesliga side 5-0 on aggregate.

With that said, Bayern will once again be the German champions and will be strong contenders to reach the Champions League final in Berlin. The club’s future successes will depend greatly on the health and form of their pair of central defenders.

3) Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund)

While this pairing doesn’t have the big-budget firepower in front of them that other major European clubs possess, there is no doubting that Borussia Dortmund’s centre-backs are one of Europe’s top defending units.

Hummels has constantly been the subject of transfer speculation over the past few years. In spite of the fact that the 25-year-old has professed his desire to remain in Germany, it hasn’t stopped the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United from weighing up bids for the German international.

As recently as this weekend, the British tabloid The Sun speculated that it would take a bid of £47 million to pry the Dortmund captain away from the Bundesliga club.

His technical skills and intelligence are the perfect compliment to his Serbian counterpart’s determination and physical prowess. Subotic is also 25-years-old, and when European clubs have seen their offers for Hummels turned down by Dortmund officials, they quickly turn their attention to his Serbian counterpart. But much like his teammate, Subotic is not looking to make an exit from The BVB.

The pair won back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2011 and 2012; while also reaching the Champions League final during the 2012-13 campaign. Other domestic trophies include winning the DFB-Pokal and two DFL-Supercups (2013, 2014).

All of this coming from a club that has seen some of their better players jump ship to join German giants, Bayern Munich. But Hummels and Subotic won’t be following some of their former teammates to the Allianz Arena. They’ve remained steadfast and loyal to Dortmund, its supporters and their manager Jurgen Klopp.

So long as the German club has this defensive pairing in their squad, they will remain a threat domestically and in Europe.

2) Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)

They are the three-headed monster of Italian football. Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci have simply been referred to as “The Wall” in certain media circles.

Injury has cut this trio of Juventus defenders down to just two players this season. But when they were healthy and operating under the instruction of former manager Antonio Conte, these three Italians shared an understanding and ferocity that was unmatched in Serie A.

They usually lined up with Barzagli (who is currently injured) on the right, Bonucci central and Chiellini on the left; similar to the position each player occupies while featuring for the Italian national team.

All three have been at Juventus since 2011 and know each other inside and out. They move perfectly to cover openings and gaps in defense. When Juve are in possession, they expand to cover the width of the pitch; with Bonucci and Chiellini able to run into channels and cause problems for the opposition going forward.

When their opponents are on the attack, the three defenders contract and get narrow. They’re all aerially proficient and can effectively crowd out the penalty area.

What Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini were able to accomplish in Italy over the past three seasons is staggering. They’ve won the Scudetto each of the past three seasons, including a record point total of 102 last season; all the while maintaining the best defense in Serie A.

Despite the loss of Barzagli to injury, Bonucci and Chiellini have held the line in Juve’s defense; the Italian giants have only allowed four goals in their first eleven league games.

The only argument that can be made against their achievements as a defensive unit is that Juventus have not been the dominant force in Europe that they have been domestically. And perhaps, Italian football hasn’t matched the heights it once reached in past years.

With that said, these three defenders – whether used together or interchangeably – are still near the top of defensive partnerships in Europe.

1) Miranda and Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)

Miranda and Diego Godin are two of the reasons why Atletico Madrid altered the course of La Liga history by breaking the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Spanish Primera Division. Their domestic and European form currently and over the past three seasons, makes them the best defensive partnership in Europe.

Godin has long been targeted by other European clubs, with Miranda recently joining the ranks of highly coveted defenders.

You just have to watch these two South American players cover every blade of grass over the course of ninety minutes to understand why they are currently the best defensive partnership in Europe.

Their work rate is second to none. Both possess the speed, athleticism, tactical awareness and physical strength to match up against any of the world’s leading goal scoring threats.

Last season, Atletico conceded just 26 goals in 38 La Liga matches; while also giving up just three goals in six Champions League knockout fixtures. Godin and Miranda have won the UEFA Super Cup, Europa League, Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercopa and La Liga titles over the past three seasons. They also were a part of the side that finished runners-up in the Champions League last year.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jacopo

    March 29, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    No one ever talks of them because they didn’t have the glorious career they could have had, but the Berezutski’s (playing for Cska Moscow), like most of the twins, have an innate coordination (as they said, when they play each of them knows what the other one will do without even looking to each other), and that’s one of the most important things for the two central defenders. They’re also both very good defenders, and moreover one of them is right-footed and the other is left-footed (which is also good for central defenders). Had they always played together as central defenders since they were young, they would have become the best pair of central defenders in the world, and some big team in Europe would have bought them (and, of course, they would also have played together in the Russian national team). But, unfortunately, one of them always played as right defender or left defender (or did not play), because Ignashevich played in the center (and I don’t think he’s that good). It’s a pity, cause they would have become very very good.

  2. Mike

    November 17, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Godin is not Argentinean.

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