We’ve reached the 10 game mark in the 2018/19 Premier League season, a time where you’d say it’s fair to start judging teams, players and their chances of success this term.
The top of the league table is starting to take shape, as is the bottom, and the players you’d expect to step forward and push their teams in the right direction are starting to come to the fore.
Interestingly, it’s shaping up as a season where there is quite an emphasis on defences and defenders in general.
Both Manchester City and Liverpool, the league’s top two teams as it stands, have made tweaks at the back this season and are starting to reap the rewards.
We’ve seen both teams more cautious in their approach to matches at times. The 0-0 draw between the pair at Anfield was a perfect example of this. It wasn’t the open, end-to-end encounter that many expected after the thrilling battles between the two sides last season.
Of course, the basis for a good defensive record is a solid centre-back partnership.
Some managers feel they have the strength in depth to rotate the players they use at centre-half at times, but there are certain defenders that the manager trusts more than others.
We’ve been having a good think about the Premier League’s very best centre-back partnerships and have come up with our own top 10 below.
We should mention that, because we’re focusing on partnerships here, we’re not including Wolves, who have played a back three all season.
10. Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Arsenal)
Arsenal still looks shaky at the back under the management of Unai Emery, but that’s not always because of the centre-backs.
Mustafi continues to frustrate a lot of fans with poor decisions, but we think this partnership just about deserves a place in the top 10.
Sokratis hasn’t done a lot wrong since his arrival from Dortmund. In recent weeks, Rob Holding has partnered Mustafi, with Sokratis injured, but we expect this to be the first-choice pairing for much of this season.
The Gunners have looked very good going forward this season but they definitely need to address their habit of conceding needless goals at the back. Out of the six league games where Mustafi and Sokratis have started together, Arsenal have managed to keep just one clean sheet. That was in a 2-0 win against Everton, where Sokratis came off injured in the first half.
Leicester’s usual partnership of Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire ran them close for 10th spot here.
9. Michael Keane and Kurt Zouma (Everton)
This has emerged as Marco Silva’s preferred pairing in recent weeks, although £27m summer signing Yerry Mina is now waiting in the wings after his return to fitness.
These are two players that haven’t quite lived up to the excitement about their potential that came earlier in their careers.
Keane arrived from Burnley for £30m at the start of last season but has struggled to produce the form that saw him emerge as one of England’s most promising young centre-backs at Burnley.
Zouma is on a season-long loan from Chelsea. Early in his career, he was hailed as the Blues’ long-term successor to John Terry by Jose Mourinho, who was in charge at Stamford Bridge at the time.
The early signs were good, but a serious injury halted his progress and loan moves to former club Saint Etienne and Stoke City followed.
His promising form for Everton earned him a recall to the France squad in October, though. This is definitely an important season for the 23-year-old.
8. James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace)
Yes, we know Palace haven’t won a league match since mid-September and we know they’ve been pretty hopeless in front of goal, but that doesn’t always mean they’re hopeless at the back, too.
Managers will tell you that playing Crystal Palace is never easy. Roy Hodgson’s side are always tough to break down.
Tomkins and Sakho have been his preferred pairing this season, starting nine of Palace’s 10 Premier League matches together.
They’ve come out of those nine games with three clean sheets, which is the 9th best record in the league and have conceded 11 goals.
Sakho’s form earned him a recall to Didier Deschamps France squad last month and although he can sometimes be a bit of a liability with the ball at his feet, he’s never easy for strikers to play against.
7. Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele (Watford)
This is one that you probably wouldn’t have expected to make this list at the start of the season, but Watford have been good at the back so far this term and a lot of that is down to this partnership
Cathcart has had a tough few years with injury but has always looked good for Watford when fit. He’s started every game for the Hornets this season and is in excellent form.
Kabasele has always looked a talent and is highly-rated by Belgium manager Roberto Martinez.
The 27-year-old looks to have taken that next step under the guidance of Javi Gracia. His discipline can be an issue, the former Genk man has already received two red cards this season. His latest suspension has given Adrian Mariappa a chance to impress alongside Cathcart, but we expect this to be the first choice pairing going forward.
6. Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk (Brighton)
Without a doubt one of the most impressive centre-back partnerships in the league as it stands and unlucky not to make our top five.
Duffy and Dunk have played together for a number of years but seem to be playing the best football of their careers at present.
Republic of Ireland defender Duffy has been an ever-present for the Seagulls in the league so far and is one of Chris Hughton’s most reliable performers.
Dunk, 26, was called up to Gareth Southgate’s most recent England squad and he may be set for more opportunities with the Three Lions if his good form continues.
Brighton are currently on a roll of three consecutive clean sheets in the Premier League.
Consistent, reliable and resilient. Everything you want from your two centre-backs.
5. Steve Cook and Nathan Ake (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth have had a terrific start to the season and this defensive pairing has given them a solid base to build from.
Both Cook and Ake have started every single league game for the Cherries so far this season and both have been in excellent form.
Eddie Howe’s side have kept four clean sheets from their opening ten matches, which is the fourth most out of any other side in the league.
With Cook and Ake at centre-back, Bournemouth have conceded just 12 goals this season, which is the league’s joint sixth-best record along with Watford.
Netherlands centre-back Ake has been particularly impressive. He always looked like a big talent at Chelsea. At just 23, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him get a big move in the years to come.
4. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen (Spurs)
Two centre-back’s that have established themselves as two of the Premier League’s best and two of Europe’s best in recent years.
Last season was a difficult one for Alderweireld. He didn’t play as much football as he’d have liked and he was expected to move on in the summer transfer window.
No move was forthcoming, though, and he’s now back at the heart of the Spurs backline alongside his fellow countryman Vertonghen.
Spurs have conceded just eight goals from their opening 10 league matches.
Vertonghen is currently sidelined with an injury, giving Davinson Sanchez a chance to step forward.
3. Antonio Rudiger and David Luiz (Chelsea)
Lots were unsure which Chelsea centre-backs would emerge as Maurizio Sarri’s first-choice pairing this season.
The likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen impressed as part of a back three under Antonio Conte last season.
But Sarri has put his faith in Rudiger and Luiz and they’ve certainly not let him down.
Both players have started every league game for Chelsea and the Blues have leaked just seven goals from their opening 10 matches this term.
The pair seem to be the ideal centre-back duo for Sarri. Both are physical and positionally intelligent but are also very good with the ball at their feet.
Chelsea have emerged from their opening 10 matches with five clean sheets, which is the third most out of any other team in the Premier League.
2. Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
The defence has been a real problem area for Liverpool in recent years so it’s no surprise a lot has been made of their much-improved record at the back this season.
Van Dijk is well on his way to justifying that £75m fee that the Reds splashed on him in January. It’s his presence at the back that has been the main factor in the Reds’ excellent defensive form this season.
Dejan Lovren finished last season as Van Dijk’s centre-back partner, but his injury issues at the start of this campaign gave Joe Gomez a chance to step forward and he really has taken his opportunity.
The former Charlton man played most of his football at right-back for the Reds last season, but Jurgen Klopp has always said that he sees him as a centre-back going forward.
Some would argue that Gomez has been even more impressive than Van Dijk this season. His awareness, distribution from the back and recovery speed are perhaps his most impressive attributes and the 21-year-old looks set to go on and become a top player for both club and country.
Lovren has played several games at centre-back since his return from injury but Gomez and Van Dijk have started six of the Reds’ 10 league matches together, conceding just three goals between them.
1. John Stones and Aymeric Laporte (Manchester City)
If we’d have said to you before the start of this season that a Manchester City centre-back pairing would top this list come the end of October, you probably wouldn’t have been too surprised.
But if we’d have said that pairing would be Stones and Laporte, your reaction may have been slightly different.
Pep Guardiola has clearly chosen this as the time to give his two youngest centre-back’s more responsibility. This is clearly going to be City’s preferred pairing of the future.
We have still seen the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Vincent Kompany get their fair share of opportunities this season, but Stones and Laporte are definitely emerging as Pep’s go-to partnership.
Stones seems to be developing his game all the time. He’s been used at right-back and in midfield at times this season and is in excellent form.
Laporte is the only City outfield player to have started every match in the league and in Europe so far this term.
Guardiola’s side have the best defensive record in the Premier League having only conceded three goals all season and their defensive improvements will make it very, very difficult for anyone to take the title away from them.
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