Dante (Bayern Munich and Brazil) 29 games, 1 goal ***
After a fine season last year at Gladbach Dante arrived in Munich to join Holger Badstuber and Jerome Boateng in a centre-back rotation. By Christmas he had proved he was not only indispensible but arguably the best defender in Europe. His clumsy “tackle” in the Champions League final was far from illustrative of his true quality as he is normally a composed and assured figure who neatly blends physicality with anticipation and ball skills. Now set to form a seemingly world class defensive partnership with Thiago Silva he should be a focal part of Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup.
Thiago Silva (PSG and Brazil) 22 games, 0 goals **
Although it took him some time to settle in Paris, by the end of the season Thiago was back to the spectacular form he displayed during his spell at Milan. That was enough to see many regard him as the best central defender in the world for his combination of great technique alongside pace and strength. Now committed to stay at PSG the millions lavished on the Brazilian international could well turn out to be the best money their Qatari backers ever spend.
Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus and Italy) 24 games, 1 goal **
Has there been a better defender in world football over the last five years than Chiellini? Despite his occasional absences this season through injury the Juventus stopper has been at his imperious best in an exceptional defence along with Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. Outstanding in the air and a fantastic tackler Chiellini is more than maintaining the rich tradition of Italian hard men that dates back to Pietro Vierchowod and Claudio Gentile.
Andrea Barzagli (Juventus and Italy) 34 games, 1 goal **
Rarely a player who garners too many plaudits Barzagli followed up on his hugely impressive 2011-2 with another excellent season at Juve. With excellent concentration levels and a love of defending he provides a fantastic base for the team and was instrumental in making the old lady’s backline so impregnable. Certainly the time is well overdue for the Italian international to start getting the wider credit he deserves.
Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid and Uruguay) 35 games, 1 goal **
The rugged and uncompromising Godin has been a central figure for Atletico Madrid this season. Rumours floated last summer suggested that Liverpool eyed the Uruguayan as a potential replacement for Daniel Agger if he was to join Manchester City, and given how Godin has played in the last 12 months they might be wishing they had been able to move the Dane from Merseyside. Although he won’t win too many awards for his technical abilities there are few defenders who are more apt at the simple art of frustrating the opposition.
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund and Germany) 28 games, 1 goal *
After two seasons in which Hummels was near flawless this year marked something of a decline. Still a commanding presence at the back there were errors against both Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid which almost ended Dortmund’s stunning Champions League run. Where the BVB defender excels is with the ball at his feet and he remains something of a throwback in the way that he gallops forward to join attacks when the mood suits him. That ability is what has elevated him above his peers in the past but he needs to refocus on the defensive basics to return to the top table.
Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham and Belgium) 34 games, 4 goals *
An excellent first season in England saw the Belgian defender elected by his peers to the PFA team of the season. Initially used as a left-back in the absence of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, by the end of the season Vertonghen had been restored to his preferred central berth. His quality on the ball and willingness to surge forward have been key in the consistency shown by Spurs this season and his partnership with Michael Dawson is among the most dependable in the league.
Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid and Spain) 26 games, 4 goals*
Far from a vintage season for Real Madrid but Sergio Ramos continued to excel in La Liga. While the prodigiously talented Raphael Varane naturally attracted huge attention for what was a marvelous breakthrough season, Ramos held the defence together during a challenging autumn for Los Merengues. With a top class partner alongside him there is little reason why Ramos cannot carry Madrid even further next year.
Gonzalo Rodriguez (Fiorentina and Argentina) 35 games, 6 goals *
It’s easier to pick out the players who didn’t perform superbly for Fiorentina this season than those who did. Vincenzo Montella did such an impressive job in motivating the Viola that they were minutes away from reaching the Champions League only to be overtaken in the dying moments by Milan. In a fine back three with Facundo Roncaglia and the rehabilitated Stefan Savic the Argentine Rodriguez displayed his ability from set pieces as well as typically committed defending.
Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United and England) 28 games, 1 goal *
Overshadowed in recent years by the performances of defensive partners Nemanja Vidic and Jonny Evans, Ferdinand reestablished himself as United’s premier centre-back during 2012-3. Much of the focus around the defender this season centred on his international recall and eventual retirement but that he was in such demand was an indication of the quality of his performances. Only Ryan Giggs has been at Old Trafford longer now than Ferdinand and he remains the focal point of a first rate defence.
Hugo Campagnaro (Napoli and Argentina) 28 games, 1 goal *
Napoli haven’t enjoyed a season as successful in the league as this since the days of Diego Maradona. Campagnaro may not be blessed with the creative gifts of his illustrious compatriot but he is deservedly winning a legion of admirers in Naples. Dogged, determined and unwavering in his commitment to win every header and tackle the Argentine has been a true rock at the heart of a resolute defence.
Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille and Cameroon) 38 games, 0 goals *
Not many pundits expected to Marseille to push PSG for quite so long as they did in the race for the French title. That they did owed a debt to both the Parisians failure to add up to the sum of their parts but also the defensive excellence of Nkoulou. Voted by his peers into the Ligue 1 team of the season the Cameroonian international was consistently excellent domestically and shone on a regular basis at the Stade Velodrome.
Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal and France) 25 games, 2 goals *
The incredible run of form that Arsenal enjoyed in the last 10 matches of the season indicated that when they play at their best they can show the consistency of title winners. Critical to that success was the fact that they conceded only five goals in those 10 fixtures and the man they had to thank was Koscielny. His solidity made him an essential figure in the closing stages and his goal against Newcastle in the final match of the season clinched that invaluable Champions League place.
Ezequiel Garay (Benfica and Argentina) 27 games, 1 goal *
Ultimately the season ended in disappointment for Garay and his Benfica side. Pipped at the post by Porto in the Superliga and agonizingly defeated in the closing moments of the Europa League by Chelsea what had looked such a promising year turned into a vast let down. Despite that the Argentina star had another fine year and looks well established at the heart of the defence in Alejandro Sabella’s squad for next year’s World Cup.
Toby Alderweireld (Ajax and Belgium)
Mehdi Benatia (Udinese and Morocco)
Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich and Germany)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus and Italy)
Paolo Cannavaro (Napoli and Italy)
Aurelien Chedjou (Lille and Cameroon)
Chico (Swansea and Spain)
Alberto de la Bella (Real Sociedad and Spain)
Jonny Evans (Manchester United and Northern Ireland)
Benedikt Hoewedes (Schalke and Germany)
Timm Klose (Nurnberg and Germany)
Marquinhos (Roma and Brazil)
Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad and Spain)
Matija Nastasic (Manchester City and Serbia)
Nicolas Otamendi (Porto and Argentina)
Gerard Piqué (Barcelona and Spain)
Andrea Ranocchia (Inter and Italy)
Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund and Serbia)
Raphael Varane (Real Madrid and France)
Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen and Germany)