We have seen a number of top centre-backs depart from LaLiga in recent years. Atletico Madrid’s defensive stalwart Diego Godin departed in 2019 while Real Madrid lost both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane just this summer. With fellow World Cup winner Gerard Pique turning 35 in February, we are certainly at a point where the crown of LaLiga’s best central defender is up for debate with a new generation hoping to stake their claim.
All data featured in this post is via Fbref (with the exception of the Sorare rankings at the bottom). It only relates to LaLiga football in the 2021/22 season so far (the first 13 matchdays) unless stated. Only players to have completed more than 500 minutes of football in LaLiga this season feature.
LaLiga Central Defenders 2021/22
Best Ball-Playing Centre-Backs
|Pass Completion %||Long Pass Completion %||Successful Passes (per 90)||Progressive Distance (per 90)|
|Aissa Mandi||94.9 (1)||87.9 (3)||63.3||412.0|
|Eric Garcia||94.3 (2)||90.7 (1)||72.9 (1)||476.9 (2)|
|Nacho||93.2 (3)||90.6 (2)||59.3||347.5|
|Jules Kounde||93.0||81.1||70.4 (2)||465.0 (3)|
|Pau Torres||90.3||79.6||70.0 (3)||516.6 (1)|
Players who ranked amongst the top 3 centre-backs in the league for any of the above categories (and also met the 500 minute threshold) are included in the table. Long passes are passes longer than 30 yards. Progressive distance relates to the distance in yards that completed passes have travelled towards the opponents’ goal with backwards passes treated as 0.
While it has been a difficult start in many respects for Eric Garcia at Barcelona, anyone wondering why the Catalan giants were so keen to sign him and why he has been fast-tracked into the Spanish national team set-up can largely find their answers above. The 20 year old has impressed with his ball-playing capabilities and is the LaLiga centre-back with the best long pass completion percentage, as well as the most successful passes per 90. Indeed only Dani Parejo and teammate Jordi Alba have completed more passes per game on average this season of the Spanish top flight players with more than 500 minutes to their name.
Despite not being natural first choices for their clubs, Aissa Mandi and Nacho also feature with Mandi boasting the highest pass completion rate of LaLiga centre-backs. His teammate Pau Torres isn’t far behind and the Villarreal defender ranks 1st for progressive distance suggesting he attempts and completes more difficult passes. Sevilla’s Jules Kounde also performs well in this category and is undoubtedly one of the best LaLiga defenders, not just in terms of his ball-playing qualities.
LaLiga Defenders Stats – Most Defensive Actions by CB’s
|Tackles Won (per 90)||Blocks (per 90)||Interceptions (per 90)||Clearances (per 90)|
|Pedro Bigas||1.71 (1)||1.71||1.58||5.25|
|Franco Russo||1.47 (2)||1.6||2.93 (3)||4.53|
|Diego Carlos||1.45 (3)||1.27||1.64||4.36|
|Martin Valjent||0.24||2.52 (1)||1.54||5.37|
|Matt Miazga||0.82||2.46 (2)||0.82||7.38 (3)|
|Domingos Duarte||0.29||2.35 (3)||1.32||6.76|
|Djene Dakonam||1.21||0.69||3.53 (1)||4.05|
|Gabriel Paulista||0.44||1.15||3.36 (2)||6.19|
|Omar Alderete||1.25||1.44||2.02||7.79 (1)|
|Germán Sánchez||0.51||1.27||2.28||7.47 (2)|
Players who ranked amongst the top 3 centre-backs for any of the above categories (and also met the 500 minute threshold) are included in the table.
It’s a little bit more difficult to draw firm conclusions from these statistics. Sevilla’s Diego Carlos is the only player above who is playing for a team ranked higher than 10th in the current standings so many of these players have simply had a lot of defending to do due to their teams being relatively weak.
Two players did rank among the top three centre-backs in the league in two separate categories though and are perhaps worth an extra mention. Franco Russo is having a solid campaign so far for newly promoted Mallorca and his importance can be underlined by the fact that they have only lost 1 of the 8 matches in which Russo has played. All of Mallorca’s three victories so far came with Russo starting in central defence, all by 1-0 margins.
After a shaky start to life in LaLiga, United States international Matt Miazga is another who has stood out and appears to have had a positive effect on his team. Miazga ranks 2nd for blocks and 3rd for clearances among LaLiga centre-backs with more than 500 minutes played this season. He started Alaves’ 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid and 2-0 victory in Cadiz but has since been relegated to the bench behind Florian Lejeune and Víctor Laguardia.
Top LaLiga Central Defenders – by Sorare Ranking
|Average All Round Score (L15)||Average All Round Score (L40)||Average Total Score (L15)||Average Total Score (L40)|
|Eder Militao||26.3 (1)||24.4 (1)||63.6 (1)||60.1 (1)|
|Aritz Elustondo||20.7||18.0||61.5 (2)||55.4|
|Jules Kounde||23.4 (2)||23.9 (2)||60.4 (3)||59.2 (2)|
|Jose Maria Gimenez||21.6 (3)||20.9 (3)||55.8||55.6|
|David Alaba||19.5||16.2||59.8||58.1 (3)|
The Sorare scoring matrix takes into account a large range of different metrics in giving every player a total score out of 100 in each game they play. The all round score is more focused on smaller individual actions such as many of the areas listed above including blocks, completed passes and clearances as well other metrics such as duels won. L15 relates to the last 15 matches and L40 the last 40 that the player has been eligible for. This comes via Soraredata and includes matches in other competitions as well as LaLiga. Again the top 3 centre-backs in each field are featured in the table providing they appeared in at least 50% of their team’s games during the time period.
Looking at the Sorare rankings, we see more names that we might expect to be in the frame when considering who the best LaLiga defender is in 2021. Real Madrid’s Eder Militao makes a very strong case for himself by topping all four categories. The departures of Ramos and Varane have allowed the 23 year old Brazilian to cement himself in Carlo Ancelotti’s first XI and he hasn’t disappointed. He has the best tackling stats of the five players above while only Jules Kounde has a higher passing accuracy with Militao posting impressive numbers across the board.
Both he and his new partner David Alaba (the third highest scorer across the last 40 games, including many matches for Bayern & Austria) rank amongst the fastest LaLiga defenders too meaning Real Madrid are certainly well equipped to deal with speedy opposing forwards and also have centre-backs capable of bringing the ball out from the back.
Jules Kounde is the other centre-back who really stands out here. The Frenchman ranks 2nd in three of the four metrics and 3rd in the other and has been remarkably consistent over the period with the summer transfer saga of his proposed move to Chelsea having no major impact on his form.
Conclusion – Who are LaLiga’s best Centre Backs in 2021?
It’s hard to make any definitive judgements based on any of these stats taken in isolation. They do help to paint a picture though and highlight some of the main contenders.
In terms of market value, Sevilla’s Jules Kounde surely comes out on top with Seville believed to want €65 million for his services. At 22, Kounde has the world at his feet and a really strong all-round game which makes him look certain to become one of the standout centre-backs of the 2020’s in European football.
Kounde has thrived alongside Diego Carlos at the back for Sevilla with the two players both arriving in the summer of 2019 and forming what is surely LaLiga’s best current central defensive partnership, although it is one that has looked more vulnerable on the European stage.
Given time, Real Madrid’s David Alaba and Eder Militao could challenge for that crown. Militao’s numbers are very impressive but it’s probably premature to consider him LaLiga’s best centre-back given we are only a third of the way through his first season as a regular starter.
Alaba is a stronger contender having proven on various stages what an outstanding footballer he is, one of the few in the league currently capable of playing in pretty much any position on the pitch. Perhaps his versatility is as much a curse as it is a blessing though in terms of the overall recognition he gets.
Honourable mentions should go to Aritz Elustondo and Robin Le Normand at Real Sociedad who have an improving central defensive pairing that has helped their team climb to the summit of LaLiga. Jose Maria Gimenez hasn’t quite kicked on as we might have expected but is still also in the frame while Villarrreal’s Pau Torres is another of the best young centre-backs although still has some improving to do in certain areas of his game.
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