Editor’s Note: LastWordOnSports football writers Tommy Farr and Mike Kovacs are on a 10-part series that seeks to create the perfect Premier League team. The process is not as simple as choosing the most talented players. We have determined a step-by-step selection process for choosing our line-up that, with your help, will hopefully result in the perfect team. Once we have filled out our team, we will stack them up against the best from around Europe’s top leagues. As we add articles along the way we will continuously update our project’s homepage. Please take the time to vote as often as you like – it will help us make informed decisions.
Having already discussed potential formations, managers and goalkeepers (we will reveal the full results in time), we must continue filling our roster. We will continue at the back by looking at 8 potential defenders we feel are head and shoulders above the rest and will give us the best shot at taking down the Spanish, Italian and German giants. You will then have the opportunity to select four defenders who you feel need to be on our roster – 2 centre backs, a right back and left back.
In a team full of mega-money superstar buys and attacking talent, it is perhaps surprising to some that Argentine full-back Pablo Zabaleta is one of the key components at Manchester City. Tenacious in the tackle, versatile to play on either side of the defence and as dependable as they come, Zabaleta is truly one of the Premier League’s unsung heroes.
29-year-old Londoner, Johnson had a number of big money moves as a youngster once he had established himself as a promising right back coming through the ranks at West Ham United. His first move to Chelsea perhaps came a little too soon for him and he moved on again to the South Coast and Portsmouth where he won an FA Cup winners medal to go with a brace of Premier League titles and League Cup medal from his days at Chelsea. Capped 49 times by England, Johnson is now settled in the Liverpool starting eleven following a £17m move in 2009. Improving upon the defensive side of his game has seen Johnson become a better all-round player, as his attacking abilities have always been well-received.
Another Londoner and another English right back who at just 22-years-of-age has already amassed 178 career appearances since breaking into the Crystal Palace team at the tender age of 17. During his time at Palace, he collected 3 successive Young Player of the Year awards before winning the full Player of the Year award in his final season in South London before his move to Southampton and the Premier League, as well as being named in the PFA team of the year. Currently part of a mean Saints defence which has conceded just 4 goals in 8 matches so far, Clyne is being touted as a future England International, with quotes of 10/1 about him making the plane bound for Rio showing the regard in which this talented youngster is held.
Another young English full back starting weekly in the Premier League and impressing along the way. Much like Glen Johnson at the same age, the defensive side of his game needs more improvement, with his pace currently helping him to recover any ground lost due to positional inconsistencies, whilst going forward he is a constant threat on the overlap. Signed by Tottenham from Sheffield United in a joint deal with another full back in Kyle Naughton, Walker is justifying his selection with impressive displays in the Premier League as well as European competition, whilst his 9 England caps show the obvious regard that Roy Hodgson has in his young charge.
Ashley Cole is never going to be loved by the nation but the respect that he commands on the pitch from supporters, the media and his peers is without question. Cole has been a mainstay of the England team and recently joined the select few to have reached a century of international caps. He has never let his country down and has been one of a small selection of genuinely world-class players to wear the Three Lions. Even now with Cole approaching his 33rd birthday he is still one of the very best left backs in world football and his collection of medals is testament to that with 3 Premier League medals, 7 FA Cups, a League Cup, a Europa League and a Champions League winners medal adorning his trophy cabinet from his time with both Arsenal and Chelsea. A truly fantastic haul.
One man who has had to patiently wait for his chance at international level is Leighton Baines. With the world-class Cole ahead of him, Baines has gone about his work with the utmost professionalism and no lack of quality. Having worked his way up through the divisions with Wigan Athletic, Baines has established himself as one of the best left backs in the country and possibly the best attacking football around at present thanks to his impressive tally of assists and dead-ball goals. Forming an excellent, almost telepathic, partnership on Everton’s left flank with Steven Pienaar, Baines is always on hand to whip in a delivery with his wand of a left foot, whilst his dead-ball delivery is up there with the best around.
With the longevity of Cole’s career and Leighton Baines also nearing his 29th birthday, the next man up on England’s left side of defence would appear to be another off the ever-impressive left back conveyor belt of Arsenal’s. Kieran Gibbs is currently keeping Nacho Monreal out of the starting lineup with his displays and has been an ever-present in the Premier League to this point. Another pacy individual, he has established himself as Arsene Wenger’s preferred option and has also made his first steps onto the international landscape with a ouple of caps to his name. If he can help Arsenal return some silverware to their recently barren trophy cabinet, he will be forcing his way further up the left back food chain.
The man that Gibbs replaced in the Arsenal lineup was Manchester City’s Gael Clichy who is yet another off the fabled Arsenal production line. A Premier League winners medal and an FA Cup with Arsenal whetted the appetite of the 29-capped French international and his frustrations at the lack of further success led him to follow Samir Nasri north to the blue of Manchester where he has since added a second Premier League medal. Fabled for his endless stamina and bite in the tackle, 28-year-old Clichy splits time in the City lineup with Serbian Aleksandar Kolarov.
Though not the tallest of centre backs in the Premier League, Frenchman Koscielny has been an important piece of the Arsenal defence ever since his £8.45million move from Lorient and his partnership with giant German Per Mertersacker has left club captain Thomas Vermaelen biding his time on the bench. Extremely fast and able to keep pace with the fastest of strikers, his covering ability at the back is excellent. He can have a slight tendency to get caught out of position when he goes on a surge forward, but is useful in attack when he does.
Manchester City’s Belgian captain Vincent Kompany has been the defensive rock upon which their recent success has been built. As commanding a centre back as you will see in the Premier League, Kompany’s presence is sorely missed when he is not playing. One of the top centre backs in Europe, Kompany has attracted the interest of such clubs as Barcelona in the past but City will do everything they can to ensure that their captain stays put. Also captain of the current ‘golden generation’ of Belgian football, Kompany will be determined to add to his Premier League title in the coming years. The experience gained during a short spell in Germany’s Bundesliga with Hamburg prior to his move to The Etihad Stadium.
Rio is a 35-year old centre back who first arrived on scene with West Ham back in 1996. After a loan to Bournemouth and move to Leeds, he arrived at Old Trafford in 2002, playing over 300 matches for the Red Devils. Ferdinand also features for England in international competition, with 81 caps for Three Lions. His time has not been without controversy, however. In 2003, he missed a drugs test and was ordered to miss 8 months of football. He missed important matches for both United and England, leaving many sour, questioning his character. What can’t be questioned though, is what he brings to the United lineup. His experience both in the top league in England, and perhaps the world, but also his international competition would be a welcome addition to our collection of all-stars.
Let go by his boyhood club Aston Villa, it was at Bolton Wanderers that Gary Cahill started to make a name for himself as a ball-playing, goal-scoring centre half who is as committed as they come. Pacey enough to join in the attack whilst also being able to get back and cover, his progress through three full seasons at the Reebok Stadium convinced Chelsea to part with £7m for his services. One FA Cup, one Champions League an one Europa League title later, Cahill is now a firm fixture in the heart of Roy Hodgson’s England defence, whilst his impressive goals ratio from defence has also continued in the capital.
Part of the current ‘golden generation’ of Belgian football, 26-year-old Jan Vertonghen joined Tottenham from Ajax at the start of last season and has established himself as a key performer in their defence. Comfortable playing at either left back or in his preferred position in the centre of defence, Vertonghen has already collected 2 Eredivisie titles, as well as a KNVB Cup from his time at the stylish Dutch giants. As you would expect from a product of the Ajax academy, Jan is extremely comfortable in possession and enjoys joining in the attacks, as well as starting his own thanks to his powerful runs forward and hammer of a shot.
A product of the Manchester United youth academy, Shawcross had already spent time in Belgium on loan at Royal Antwerp prior to a season spent on loan in the Potteries and Stoke City. Shawcross proved to be a major factor in their promotion to the Premier League and prompted the Stoke Board to pay £1m to make the move permanent for the commanding 6’3″ centre back. He went on to impress sufficiently enough to receive the club’s Young Player Of The Year award 3 times in a row from 2008-10. Made captain prior to the 2010-11 season, Shawcross continued to grow in stature and was an integral part of Stoke’s run to the FA Cup final, where they would lose to Manchester City. This run presented Shawcross and Stoke with a Europa League spot where Valencia were their eventual conquerors in the round of 32. A tall, aerially dominant defender with a no-nonsense approach, Shawcross currently has one England cap.
6 foot tall and very fast, Phil Jagielka has established himself as a key part of the Everton team that he now captains, as well as the England team, where he has formed a good partnership with Gary Cahill. A little more versatile positionally as a youngster at Sheffield United, Jagielka is now 100% a centre back and is approaching 450 career league appearances, with roughly half of those coming in the Premier League. He has also had a taste of European competition with Everton’s run to the last 16 of the UEFA Cup in his first season at the club and getting back to that level of competition is something that Everton are striving for. Whole-hearted and as committed as they come, Jagielka is a firm favourite at Everton whilst he also continues to grow into his England role, with his 23 caps returning one goal.
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