7 Best Back Fours in World Football

 
 
Atletico de Madrid's Jose Maria Gimenez (L) and Rodrigo Hernandez (R) and Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo during UEFA Champions League match, Round of 16, 1st leg between Atletico de Madrid...

Okay, so we have now looked at the 7 best attacking trios and the 7 best midfield trios right now, having previously done videos on the 7 greatest attacking trios, midfield trios and back fours of all time.

It appears that all that is left for us to look at is the 7 best current back fours then, and today that’s exactly what we’re going to do. To make it clear as there seemed to be some confusion last time, current or right now doesn’t literally mean we just look at the last 6 games, so a purple patch or poor patch of form isn’t necessarily that important, it just means currently together, as opposed to our all time videos.

As always, our criteria is to rank the four players out of ten in terms of their individual ability and their talents as a unit out of ten to give an overall score out of 20 which determines their ranking. We’re not simply taking the 7 defences with the fewest goals conceded this season, since there are numerous other factors such as style of play and the goalkeeper which contribute to that.

Here are our 7 best back fours in world football:

7. Hernandez, Gimenez, Godin & Arias

Kicking off our seven is Atletico Madrid, who have had one of the most formidable backlines in Europe over the last few years. Diego Simeone prides himself on his sides defensive resilience, and they have put some defensive masterclasses and displayed some remarkable rearguard action en-route to two Champions League finals and one La Liga title in the last five years.

Atletico have conceded the fewest goals in La Liga this season, which isn’t unusual, but as we explained in the intro, that has as much to do with Simeone’s approach to games and the fantastic Jan Oblak as it does with their impressive backline.

Starting at left-back, where Atletico are spoilt for choice, we could have gone with either Lucas Hernandez or Filipe Luis, but Hernandez has played more games this season, he’s constantly improving and he will undoubtedly be Simeone’s long-term choice. At centre-back, Atletico have Stefan Savic waiting in the wings, but there can be no doubts that the brilliant Jose Gimenez and the even better Diego Godin are their strongest pairing.

Lastly, at right-back, Atletico do have the very experienced and highly capable Juanfran, but it is Colombian international and summer signing Santiago Arias who has played the most games there this season. Juanfran is probably stronger defensively and Arias a little more dangerous going forwards, and neither would have altered Atletico’s ranking in this seven.

6. Robertson, Van Dijk, Gomez & Alexander-Arnold

Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford on February 24, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom.Virgil van Dijk of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford on February 24, 2019 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

It seems bizarre that we are talking about Liverpool’s defence as being among Europe’s elite, since it has been a problem area for the five-time European champions for so long. The £75 million signing of Virgil van Dijk, along with the emergence of Andy Robertson, Joe Gomez and Alexander-Arnold has seen the Reds look like having a really reliable base to build upon now though.

Liverpool have comfortably the best defensive record in the Premier League this season, despite Jurgen Klopp’s quick and attacking approach to games. Van Dijk is the linchpin of this defence, not only being the standout player but also the one who marshalls all those around him, and his arrival signalled a defensive turnaround at Anfield.

It took awhile for Jurgen Klopp to trust Andy Robertson at left-back, but he hasn’t really looked back since then. Joe Gomez looks like he could be a really classy centre-back, and he seems to have dislodged Dejan Lovren for good when fit, and lastly, Trent Alexander-Arnold still has plenty of learning to do at 20, but he is a real outlet for Liverpool on the right flank who loves to get forward and possess both a good cross and decent ability when shooting from range.

5. Bernat, Silva, Marquinhos & Alves

It can be difficult to properly assess the PSG defence, who have conceded the fewest goals of any defence in this seven this season, but then there will naturally be those who call into question the merits of Ligue 1 in comparison to Europe’s four other top five league’s.

Man-for-man though, it’s clear that PSG have a very strong defence, one so strong that we have left Thomas Meunier, Layvin Kurzawa and Presnel Kimpembe out of our ideal PSG back four. From left to right, we start with Juan Bernat. Spanish international Bernat came through the youth ranks at Valencia, and he joined PSG from Bayern Munich over the summer.

Thiago Silva is the veteran of the PSG defence at 34, but he’s still probably the best player in this back four. A formidable centre-back who has been with the club since 2012, Silva was one of PSG’s first big money signings following Qatari investment. Alongside him is compatriot Marquinhos, who is 10 years Silva’s junior, but already has 31 caps for Brazil to his name.

Thomas Meunier has played the most games for PSG at right-back this season, but then again Dani Alves has been injured for much of the current campaign. He may be 35 now, but we’ve still made it three-quarters Brazilian in our PSG back four, since Alves is still a very good footballer who hasn’t lost any of his willingness to get forward even as he approaches the end of his career.

4. Alba, Pique, Umtiti & Roberto

Samuel Umtiti of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Pablo Sarabia of Sevilla FC during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and FC Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February...Samuel Umtiti of FC Barcelona duels for the ball with Pablo Sarabia of Sevilla FC during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and FC Barcelona at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February...

It’s a little bit tricky to nail down a Barcelona back four, since Clement Lenglet has been a regular fixture due to injury to Samuel Umtiti this season, and Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto have both played at right-back at times. We’re sticking with Umtiti despite his injury and opting for Roberto over Semedo simply because we think he’s a better footballer, albeit Semedo is a more natural right-back.

At left-back, Jordi Alba is among the best players in the world in his position. Always so quick and dangerous down the left flank, Alba has improved defensively in recent years, and he is a huge player for Barca. Gerard Pique is similarly crucial to his boyhood club, now in his eleventh season since returning to the Camp Nou. Positionally excellent, good on the ball and excellent in the pass, Pique is a world class centre-back.

World Cup winner Samuel Umtiti will one day have to take over as the key man at the heart of Barca’s defence, and he’ll have tremendous experience by the time that happens. Umtiti isn’t quite as gifted on the ball as Pique, although he’s still very assured, and he has almost 300 career appearances and 30 caps to his name at the age of 25.

3. Sandro, Chiellini, Bonucci & Cancelo

The Italians have long been lauded for their excellent defences, so perhaps it is a little surprising that only one Italian back four makes our top seven, albeit one other came mightily close but we’ll get to that in the honourable mentions. Juventus are on course to comfortably win yet another Serie A title this season, and they have conceded just 15 goals in 23 games.

Juve have plenty of options at the back, particularly at centre-back, where we overlook the likes of Daniele Rugani and Andrea Barzagli. We’ll start at left-back, where there can be no debates, since Alex Sandro has established himself as one of the best full-backs in the world in recent years.

Italian duo Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are arguably the most formidable centre-back pairing in world football, with Chiellini far from the most glamorous but so astute and solid defensively, whilst Bonucci is a bit more varied in his play, but his defensive awareness and reading of the game is superb.

The biggest debate is at right-back between Mattia De Sciglio and Joao Cancelo, and you can just about take your pick between those two. We’ve gone for Cancelo, who has played slightly more minutes this season, and he gives Juve real energy, athleticism and intent down their right side.

2. Alaba, Hummels, Boateng & Kimmich

David Alaba of Bayern Muenchen celebrates after winning the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Hertha BSC at Allianz-Arena on February 23, 2019 in Muenchen, Germany.David Alaba of Bayern Muenchen celebrates after winning the Bundesliga match between FC Bayern Muenchen and Hertha BSC at Allianz-Arena on February 23, 2019 in Muenchen, Germany.

Closing in on top spot, a very good argument could be made for Bayern Munich’s back four being the best in world football. All four rank among the world’s elite in their respective positions, although you can say the same for the back four that will soon be named in first place.

David Alaba was once almost unanimously regarded as the best left-back in the world, at quite a young age in fact, but he seemed to regress as a player after Pep Guardiola left the club. He looked a lot more solid last season though, although his attacking output wasn’t superb, and we’d say he’s among the best three left-backs in the world.

German international teammates Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng have also had slightly patchier form in the last couple of years than they have been used to, but both are still top class. Hummels is a fantastic all-round centre-back, and when Boateng is right at it, he’s probably the most complete centre-half in world football.

Our last inclusion is Bayern’s absolute gem of a right-back. Joshua Kimmich is a class act, who plays with a maturity beyond his age, which could perhaps be down to the fact he’s already played in about eight different positions. He looks settled as a full-back now though, where he has nine assists this season, which is the joint most in the Bundesliga, and a 91% pass success rate.

0. Honourable Mentions

There are quite a few honourable mentions, so we’ll try to give the most time to those that came the closest to making our final seven, but before we start, I should clarify for those of you haven’t seen the previous videos, that we have only been looking at club sides, no national teams.

The three back fours that came closest to featuring were those of Premier League champions Manchester City, Premier League title hopefuls Tottenham Hotspur, and Serie A’s second placed side Napoli. Man City’s ideal back four would be made up of Kyle Walker at right-back, Benjamin Mendy at left-back, and Aymeric Laporte at centre-back partnered by either Vincent Kompany or John Stones. Guardiola’s men may be better known for their scintillating passing, pressing and attacking style, but that’s a very strong back four.

Tottenham are spoilt for choice with Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez as centre-back options, and whichever of those two you go with, sandwiched by Kieran Trippier at right-back and either Danny Rose or Ben Davies at left-back, makes for an enviable backline.

When we talk about the Napoli defence, most people’s minds will rush to Kalidou Koulibaly, and he is indeed the star of the show. However, Raul Albiol is a thoroughly capable centre-back partner, and both Faouzi Ghoulam and Elseid Hysaj in the full-back positions are very underrated and important members of Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

The other back fours which made our shortlist were Inter Milan’s, Borussia Dortmund’s and Getafe’s.

That’s it for the honourable mentions, it’s now time for your top spot…

1. Marcelo, Ramos, Varane & Carvajal

Marcelo of Real Madrid looks on from the bench prior to the La Liga match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at Ciutat de Valencia on February 24, 2019 in Valencia, Spain.Marcelo of Real Madrid looks on from the bench prior to the La Liga match between Levante UD and Real Madrid CF at Ciutat de Valencia on February 24, 2019 in Valencia, Spain.

There are six La Liga teams who have conceded fewer goals than Real Madrid this season, so no doubt there’ll be those of you who feel they have no right to top this seven. In truth, it was splitting hairs between Bayern and Real, but this Real Madrid defence has been doing it at the highest level for so long now.

Marcelo is probably the best left-back in the world. Always a joy to watch going forward with fantastic technique and boundless energy, he has made great strides in the other direction over the last four or five years.

Love him or loathe him, Sergio Ramos has been at the top for so long now, and it’s clear for all to see how important he is to Real Madrid. The 2010 World Cup winner has made the FIFPro World XI nine times, which is more than any other defender, and is bettered only by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Alongside him, Raphael Varane is the real deal. Quick, strong, alert, smart in the tackle and a fine man marker, the Frenchman can do it all, and he’s still only 25. And lastly, in at right-back, is the most underrated member of Real Madrid’s four-time Champions League winning side, Dani Carvajal. One of, if not the best right-back in world football, whilst Ramos has made the FIFPro World XI nine times, Carvajal hasn’t made it once, which seems utterly mad.

All individually outstanding footballers and often formidable on the biggest of stages, this back four might not have been at their best this season, but they’re still the best around for us in terms of current back fours.

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