This season hasn’t been a classic in terms of defensive displays but amidst the calamity and chaos there have been some solid, calm and cool heads in the Premier League’s backlines.
Patrice Evra has had another fantastic season with Manchester United – there are four contenders for best defender from the league leaders this term and it’s down to the experience and professionalism of their defenders that has given them the foundation to push on a reclaim the title.
Along with Rafael who has had undoubtedly his best season to date in a Red Devils shirt, Rio Ferdinand who has been outstanding, especially in the absence of captain Nemanja Vidic for long periods, and Jonny Evans who has emerged as a world-class centre back this term.
However, United have kept 10 clean sheets – 34.4% of their 29 games played so far. Manchester City have kept 13 clean sheets, 44.8% of their games and that is in no small part down to their best defender by a long mile Pablo Zabaleta.
Like Rafael and Evra, the Argentine provides so much energy and dynamism going forward, he chips in with goals here and there and he marshals the team with his commitment and resolve.
In my estimation, City would have done better this season had they have had four Zabaleta’s in their back line, or even three. His assists and attacking play hugging the touchline and his engine to tirelessly leg it back and forth up and down the wing at the age of 28 makes him contender for best full-back.
However, he is up against arguably the best full-back this season in Everton’s Leighton Baines. Defensively, he’s solid and makes all the right decisions, is rarely found out of position and going forward he racked up 8 goals and 10 assists for club and country combined.
In terms of centre-backs, this season’s revelation has been Swansea’s Ashley Williams – it’s not surprising he’s being courted for transfer by the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and United.
In my estimation, he’s actually had to work harder as, with all due respect to Swansea, they don’t have the same strength and depth in their team that the other contenders do and, to compound any defenders troubles, they play very attacking and open football. Williams has been impeccable.
Outsiders like Chelsea’s Gary Cahill have performed well – Chelsea have kept 11 clean sheets in the league and Cahill has done an admirable job of replacing John Terry.
Blues’ veterans Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic have been characteristically sublime but neither have had a season that stands out as the pinnacle of their careers.
Elsewhere, Ryan Shawcross has been Stoke City’s best player by quite a distance – the captain has helped his side to 10 clean sheets.
At home, Stoke have matched the league leaders’ tally of conceding just 15 goals and considering the gulf in quality between the team in first place and 11th, that is some achievement and it is largely down top their skipper’s level on commitment and consistency.
Personally, I’m going to go for Ashley Williams – Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand are unlucky to miss out but the Swansea man has been superb and I can’t imagine that any of the others could have achieved the same results with Swansea that Williams has.
If it was best full-back that would be Baines all day long but if I had to pick one defender, I’d pick Williams.
image: © wonker