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Reviewing The Stats: Who Is The Best Defender In The Premier League?

When Brendan Rodgers was at the helm of Liverpool they were conceding almost as many goals as Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez were scoring – almost, but not quite as many. The statistic allowed Rodgers a little leisure to excuse Liverpool’s defensive frailties.

However, looking back at that time now, given that Liverpool still do not possess a Premier League title (in recent times), it was naive of Rodgers to think the club could win the league with such a defence.

Roberto Martinez is another manager whose philosophy centred around the assumption that if a team were good going forward, they would score more goals than they would concede. Two teams, and the worst defensive record in Premier League history later, and he somehow has now landed himself the Belgian national manager’s job.

Of course, it can go the other way with some managers putting too much emphasis on defence and not solving arising problems in attack.

But forgetting about managerial philosophy for a moment, if you were to buy a centre half, which player is your best option? The first place to turn is the PFA Team of the Year for 2015/16.

The centre halves in that team were Wes Morgan from champions Leicester City and Toby Alderweireld from runners up Tottenham. But, were those picks the right choice?

What do you want your defender to do? Win tackles, give few, if any fouls away, win aerial battles and, in the modern game at least, be able to play out from the back.

Stats courtesy of Squawka.


Wes Morgan

Leicester City conceded just 36 goals last year, one of the lowest in the league, but they did also have N’golo Kante protecting the back four so how much of this was actually down to Wes Morgan?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 01: Wes Morgan of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on May 1, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Tackles: Morgan won 34/66 of his tackles – 52%

Fouls: Of the fouls Morgan was involved in, he committed 64% of them.

Take on: Not as important as winning ball but being able to play out from the back has become increasingly important. Morgan had 10 out of 13 successful dribbles out from the back – 77%

Headed Duels: The Leicester captain won 59% of his aerial duels or 91/155.

Defensive errors: He only made two defensive errors all year that led straight to a goal.

Average defensive actions: 9

Toby Alderweireld

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 26: Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld gives a press conference at the CSKA arena on September 26, 2016 on the eve of the UEFA Champions League group E football match between CSKA Moscow and Tottenham in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Total goals conceded: 35

Tackles: 48% success rate – 32/67

Fouls: 64% committed – 9/14

Take on: 70% successful dribbles – 7/10

Headed Duels: 60% successful – 59/98

Total defensive errors: 0

Average defensive actions: 10

The pair were the best defenders last season, according to the PFA, but who else performed well?

John Stones


Considering John Stones had a £50 million price tag on his head last season (before his switch to Manchester City), how did he fair?

Total goals conceded: 55

Tackles: 54% Success rate – 36/67

Fouls: 30% Committed – 26/37

Take on: 74% successful- 23/31

Headed Duels: 64% won – 51/80

Total defensive errors: 4

Average defensive actions: 7

Whether that is worth £50 million is not up to me but, it is fair to Paul Merson didn’t think so…

Another player that came under consideration for the best defender of the year was Manchester United’s Chris Smalling (Mike Smalling for those who don’t remember the pre-Louis Van Gaal United era)

Chris Smalling

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22:  Chris Smalling of Manchester United gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on August 22, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Total goals conceded: 35

Tackles: 45% success rate- 39/87

Fouls: 77% committed – 47/61

Take on: 80% successful- 12/15

Headed Duels: 64% won- 121/190

Total defensive errors: 0

Average defensive actions: 9

One player that went slightly under the radar last season and was statistically the best defender in the Premier League last year is Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk.

Virgil Van Dijk

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Virgil van Dijk of Southampton (L) and Jamie Vardy of Leicester City (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Southampton at The King Power Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Total goals conceded: 41

Tackles: 58% success rate- 44/76

Fouls: 64% committed- 28/44

Take on: 73% successful – 16/22

Headed Duels: 73% won- 158/216

Total defensive actions: 1

Average defensive actions: 11

Of course, statistics don’t always tell the full story but, going of these, Van Dijk is one of Southampton’s most prized possessions and it comes as no surprise that they’ve snatched him up on a new contract until 2022.

Enda Coll, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.