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Ruben Dias 4th, Ramos 2nd… the 5 best central defenders over the last 5 years

Being a central defender is one of the toughest jobs in football. They are expected to stay alert at all times, dispossess their opponents with every challenge, and gain aerial headbutts at will. Also, as they usually operate in the penalty area, the slightest foul can result in a penalty.

Performing in such high-stakes situations is not everyone’s cup of tea. Only the best of them can endure and thrive as a centre-back and deliver decisive performances week after week.

Below are the five centre-backs who have distinguished themselves over the years by helping their teams win priceless trophies.

Without further ado, check out the top five centre-backs of the past decade:

#5 David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid)

David Alaba is by far the most versatile player on our list today. During his career, he has evolved as a left-back and a centre-back, as well as in several midfield positions, proving to be an asset in all the aforementioned roles.

Originally a left-back, Alaba has been playing regularly as a centre-back since the 2019-20 campaign. His ability to play at the back helped Bayern Munich immensely that season, allowing them to switch from attack to defense in the blink of an eye.

The Germans won the treble at the end of the season, and Alaba, who played 42 games in all competitions, was one of their key players. The following season, the Bavarians won another Bundesliga title but failed to defend their Champions League and DFB-Pokal titles.

Last summer, Alaba joined Real Madrid as a free agent and naturally filled the void left by Sergio Ramos. His presence brought some serenity at the back and helped the Whites achieve the Champions League-La Liga double.

Alaba, who was once a makeshift centre-back, was arguably the club’s best defender, with three goals and four assists in 46 appearances in all competitions.

#4 Ruben Dias (Benfica/Manchester City)

Southampton v Manchester City - Premier League

A Benfica academy graduate, Portuguese defender Ruben Dias made his senior debut in the 2017-18 season.

The imposing centre-back has easily established himself in the Primeira Liga, scoring three goals in 24 appearances in his debut season. He continued his good run in the 2018-19 campaign, playing outstanding football all season to help his team win the Portuguese league title.

Another impressive season later, Dias joined Manchester City for a whopping €68m. The Premier League’s intimidating forwards failed to scare the Portugal international, who produced several winning performances en route to City’s Premier League triumph that season.

Thanks to this exceptional campaign, he earned the title of “best player of the season”.

Dias enjoyed another successful campaign in the 2021-22 season, scoring twice and providing four assists in 29 league games for City. He helped the Citizens successfully defend their Premier League crown.

Dias has appeared in 90 appearances in all competitions for City so far, registering three goals and five assists. He won two league titles and a League Cup with Pep Guardiola’s team.

#3 Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain/Chelsea)

Chelsea v Watford - Premier League

Thiago Silva left AC Milan to join Paris Saint-Germain in 2012 for a fee of 42 million euros. The Brazilian central defender quickly adapted to the pace of the French Premier League and established himself as one of its key players.

He was an absolute leader at the back for the Parisians, making vital interceptions without breaking a sweat and bringing order to the backline that his predecessors could not.

Between 2012 and 2020, Silva played 315 games in all competitions for PSG, registering 17 goals and six assists. His leadership and defensive acumen helped the Parisians emerge as the undisputed king of French football.

During his time at PSG, Silva won 25 trophies, including seven Ligue 1 titles, five Coupes de France and six Coupes de la Ligue.

The 37-year-old centre-back joined Chelsea as a free agent in the summer of 2020 and immediately made a winning impact. Silva established himself as one of Chelsea’s best defenders, helping them win the Champions League at the end of the season.

The following campaign, the Brazil international won the Club World Cup with the Blues, playing both games in the competition.

Silva has featured in 82 games for Chelsea so far, scoring five times and providing two assists.

#2 Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid/Paris Saint-Germain)

Real Madrid v Atalanta - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg Two

Ramos’ greatest contribution in a Real Madrid shirt will forever be his header equalizer against Atletico Madrid in the 2013-14 Champions League final. Los Blancos eventually won the game by a 4-1 margin at the end of extra time. That doesn’t mean the Spaniard hasn’t had other magical moments for the Whites over the last few years though.

He was one of the first names on Real Madrid’s scoresheet during the 2016-17 campaign, registering 10 goals and two assists in 44 games in all competitions.

His connection with Toni Kroos was divine that season, with the duo combining several match goals en route to Los Blancos’ La Liga-Champions League double.

Ramos again proved to be a pivot the following season, his discipline helping the Whites win the Champions League yet again, marking their third straight victory.

The 2019-20 season saw Ramos emerge as the best penalty taker in the world. He scored 13 goals in 44 games that season, most of them coming from penalties.

The 36-year-old has struggled to keep fit since the 2020-21 season. The veteran centre-back played just 21 games in the 2020-21 season for Madrid before joining PSG last summer and playing just 13 games for PSG.

He did, however, manage to win the Ligue 1 title in his first season in the French capital.

#1 Virgil van Dijk (Southampton/Liverpool)

Villarreal v Liverpool Semi Final Leg Two - UEFA Champions League

Liverpool ace Virgil van Dijk has easily been the best defender in the world for the past five years. The Dutch international was an intimidating centre-back at Southampton, but he turned into one of the best in the world at Liverpool.

Van Dijk joined Southampton from Celtic in 2015 and has consistently established himself as one of their most important players. The Dutchman didn’t win a trophy during his time with the Saints, but the run to the 2016-17 League Cup final (3-2 loss to Manchester United) is fondly remembered.

After scoring seven goals in 80 appearances for Southampton, Van Dijk joined Liverpool in January 2018. His addition brought strength to Jurgen Klopp’s men and propelled them to their first Champions League final in a decade. But the Reds were eventually beaten 3-1 by Real Madrid in the top clash.

The following season, Van Dijk’s Liverpool contested another Champions League final, which they won in deserved fashion at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur.

The 2019-20 Premier League season saw the best of Van Dijk. The imposing centre-back played all 38 league games that year, scoring five goals. With him in charge of the back line, Liverpool finished the campaign with the best defensive record in the league (33 conceded), deservedly winning their first league title in three decades.

The 31-year-old missed most of the 2020-21 campaign due to a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament but returned to world-class form in the 2021-22 season, helping Liverpool to a double EFL-FA Cup.

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