The Hard Tackle takes a look at some of the best performing centre-backs from the recently concluded edition of the Premier League.
The 2018-19 Premier League edition came to an end earlier this month, with Manchester City successfully retaining their crown under intense pressure from challengers Liverpool. In a season that was packed with brilliant individual performances, we at The Hard Tackle taking a look at the top five best players in a series of articles covering each position from goalkeepers to strikers.
In this edition, we will be going through the best centre-backs over the course of the 2018-19 campaign. Defenders don’t always get the recognition that players at the opposite end of the field get, but it is no secret that any successful team needs a rock-solid defence, that provide the platform, the cornerstone for the attack-minded players to work their magic.
As part of our End of Season Award series, here are five most noteworthy performers at the heart of their defence from the recently concluded campaign.
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Virgil van Dijk [Liverpool]
There is no doubting the huge impact that Virgil van Dijk has made since arriving at Liverpool back in January 2018. Signed for a mammoth fee of £75 million from Southampton, the Dutchman, in his eighteen-month spell at Anfield, has more than repaid the transfer fee with a series of mature, composed and rock-solid performances.
The towering defender did not miss a single Premier League game in the 2018-19 season, playing a huge hand in Liverpool’s push for the title, which went down to the wire. In his 38 league games, van Dijk also chipped in with four vital goals, while setting up two more as well.
The fact that Jurgen Klopp’s team let in just 22 goals this term has a lot to do with how reliable van Dijk was at the back. The 27-year-old dominated the aerial battles, commanded his area with great expertise while cutting out attacks with key interceptions and effecting important clearances throughout. But, it was his leadership that stood out the most this season.
Van Dijk effected 38 tackles and 40 interceptions in the Premier League this term, while also making 199 clearances. The former Southampton man won almost 75% of the aerial challenges he went into. Add to that, his brilliant range of distribution – van Dijk enjoyed an excellent pass accuracy of 89.7% – the 27-year-old shone with complete displays in all aspects.
Having helped Liverpool reach the UEFA Champions League final in back to back seasons, van Dijk once again worked his magic and was easily one of the best players for Liverpool and in the Premier League and was rightly rewarded by being named the PFA Player of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Year. Will he also go on to sweep our end of season awards?
Aymeric Laporte [Manchester City]
Having joined Manchester City midway through the 2017-18 campaign, Laporte came into his own in his first full season with Cityzens, playing a vital role in their successful retention of the Premier League title. The 24-year-old featured on 35 occasions in the English top-flight this past season, contributing with three goals and three assists in the process.
The former Athletic Bilbao man has been one of the constants in Pep Guardiola’s side, with his defensive partners often alternating between the likes of John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi; he has done the job at left-back as well when required by his manager, delivering solid displays on a consistent basis.
Laporte impressed with his defensive nous and ability to sense danger, while his strong tackling nature was also on display when needed. The 24-year-old completed 78% of his 54 attempted tackles this term, while making 39 interceptions and 95 clearances.
His passing from the back – which is an extremely key element for a centre-back in any Pep Guardiola team – was a treat. Laporte, on an average, played 85.6 passes per game, with a mind-blowing accuracy of 92.5%. Fair to say that the 24-year-old warrants a place among the best defenders of the season based on his all-round displays.
Willy Boly [Wolves]
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Wolverhampton Wanderers had a fairytale 2018-19 campaign. Promoted from the EFL Championship, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men were the success story of the season as they finished seventh in the Premier League and earned a place in the UEFA Europa League next season.
While the likes of Ruben Neves, Raul Jimenez grabbed the limelight, one player who was an ever-present for the Midlands’ outfit and led them admirably throughout the course of the season was Willy Boly. The 28-year-old Frenchman forged a formidable defensive partnership with captain Conor Coady and Ryan Bennett, helping Wolves to seventh place in the Premier League.
Boly missed just two league games in the 2018-19 term bagging four goals in the process, including one against champions Manchester City early in the season and once in the 3-1 win over Tottenham as well. A robust tackler, the Frenchman completed 80% of his 107 attempted tackles, while also making 72 interceptions and 172 clearances.
The 28-year-old did see a red card once this term for a horror challenge on Bernardo Silva, but apart from that one moment, kept his discipline, getting booked just twice. Wolves let in just 46 goals in the league – fewer than Arsenal and Manchester United, and least by any team apart from the top four. And without a doubt, Boly was pivotal in ensuring that, making him a worthy addition to this list.
Michael Keane [Everton]
Everton’s first season under Marco Silva was bit of a mixed bag, but a good run of results towards the end of the season helped them finish eighth in the Premier League. The Toffees ended the campaign with the best defensive record outside of the top four, along with Wolves, having conceded 46 times and Michael Keane had a huge hand in that.
The former Manchester United defender proved his worth in his second season with the Merseyside outfit, as featured 33 times in the league, scoring one and assisting two more. Keane helped the Toffees secure important wins against the likes of Chelsea, West Ham United and Manchester United towards the business end of the season, leading them to clean sheets in each of the games.
The England international was a force to be reckoned with in the air, winning 192 aerial duels this term – the second-most by a defender in the Premier League while he also showed improvement in his ball-playing abilities and passing. Keane also effected 43 interceptions and 182 clearances over the course of the campaign while winning 41 of his 54 tackle attempts.
Everton secured 14 clean sheets in the Premier League – the fourth best tally behind Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. Thirteen of them came with Keane on the field leading to him earning a place in the list for our end of season awards.
Harry Maguire [Leicester City]
And the last name on our list is a player who, in the past couple of seasons, has established himself as one of the most sought-after defenders in the Premier League and a mainstay in the England national team – Leicester City’s Harry Maguire.
The 26-year-old enjoyed a spectacular debut campaign with the Foxes having signed him in 2017 and followed it up with a series of excellent displays in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, where England made it to the semi-finals. Maguire carried on from where he left off last summer, impressing once again with his defensive nous and ability to play out from the back.
Maguire ended the 2018-19 season with 31 appearances in the Premier League, netting three goals as the Foxes finished ninth in the standings. The Englishman’s distribution was reliable as ever as he averaged 56.4 passes per game with an accuracy of 85.6%, while he also enjoyed an 85% take-on success rate (17 dribbles completed out of 20).
The 26-year-old ended the season with 36 interceptions and 152 clearances as the Foxes shipped in 48 goals, while he was a daunting presence in the air too, winning 118 of his 152 attempted aerial battles. It is very easy to see why Manchester United are set to rekindle their interest in Maguire once again in the current transfer window.
Who do you think was the best centre-back in the 2018-19 Premier League? Let us know in the poll below.
**All stats taken from WhoScored.com