The center-back position is more than just a role; it's the team's defensive linchpin playing in the critical zone right before the goal. And yes, center-backs win the Ballon d'Or — witness Fabio Cannavaro for his World Cup heroics in 2006. But which center-backs have taken the stage during the 2023/24 season? Let's take a closer look.
10a. Ronald Araujo
While Ronald Araujo may not immediately come to mind as one of the world's best center-backs, he's proven his mettle for Barcelona in the past couple of seasons. No wonder the Catalan giants tagged him as one of the few players with the €1B release clause last season. Barcelona is even interested in offering him a new and improved deal to ward off the likes of Bayern Munich; Thomas Tuchel is a big admirer of the Uruguayan defender.
10b. Cristian Romero
Argentine center-back Cristian Romero is no surprise making this list. The defender helped secure the backline for Argentina's World Cup 2022 run last year. He's also been the consistent stud for Ange Postecoglou this term, boosting Spurs to the top of the Premier League.
While his competitive nature may sometimes result in a card, his aggressiveness on the pitch is highly valued.
9. William Saliba
Arsenal's hold on first place in the Premier League table dwindled last term when Saliba faced injury. The Frenchman is an indispensable linchpin in Arsenal's defense — a quick and robust force who's also excellent on the ball. Best part? He's still only 22, with an immense eagerness to learn.
8. Thiago Silva
The 39-year-old is still going strong, providing leadership and professionalism to cap off a legendary career. Brazilian Thiago Silva is one of the evergreen notes for a Chelsea team that's lost top-four status since winning the Champions League in 2021.
“At 36, 37, I was on the way to A&E after almost every game. I was in so much pain. It was hard. I don't know how Thiago Silva is doing it. It's unreal. You've got to respect his professionalism. He's had a bad game this weekend, who cares?,” said Red Devils legend and former center-back Rio Ferdinand.
7. Eder Militao
One of the best center-backs in La Liga, Eder Militao, is as quick as they come while also deft on the ball. The only issue this season is his health — the Brazilian has been recuperating from an ACL injury at the start of the season.
His return should strengthen a Madrid side that will likely go beyond the Champions League Round of 16. At 100%, Militao's presence will be vital at the decisive phase of the season.
He may have fallen down the pecking order for the world's best center-backs after his Ballon d'Or runners-up display in 2019, but Virgil van Dijk still deserves a sure spot on this list. The center-back is still a towering presence for Liverpool, known for his aerial ability and overall study of the game.
No wonder Klopp selected van Dijk as the team's captain this season, which has revived his excellence. The Dutchman has yet to be dribbled past a single time this 23/24 season so far.
5. Antonio Rudiger
German center-back Antonio Rudiger is one of the top performers in the position so far this season. There are moments when his physicality appears a little out of control, but that's just part of being a Rolly-Royce defender.
Rudiger keeps Real Madrid organized at the back and is a brick wall against the world's best forwards. Wait until his center-back partner, Eder Militao, returns to full strength.
4. John Stones
His versatility makes him a key cog in the City defense, and Guardiola will want the England international to return from injury to give Arsenal another title challenge.
While he may not be enjoying the best run of form for his international side, Marquinhos is still up there with the world's best defenders. The PSG captain has won eight league titles with PSG and a runners-up trophy in the 2019-20 Champions League.
The 29-year-old tough tackler, valued at €70m by Transfer Market, can also assist and put the ball into the back of the net. Word on the street is that a move to Saudi Arabia might be in the cards.
2. David Alaba
The ever-versatile David Alaba excels at center-back and pretty much any position Ancelotti puts him in. The Austrian takes his composure seriously at the back and can whip the ball around to Jude Bellingham for a quick golazo.
1. Ruben Dias
Guardiola's rock in the back, Ruben Dias, played an integral role in City's treble-triumph last season. Week in and week out, he's consistently stellar on the pitch, offering a mix of toughness with a knack for goal.