PFA Team Of The Year Contenders: Defenders8 min read
Defenders have traditionally been known as ‘hard men’ who clear the danger since the ‘90s, but in the modern era, that could be a rather simplistic definition of what they do.
Whether it is marauding down their flank and playing as a secondary winger, or delivering perfectly-weighted diagonal balls from central defence, the modern game has demanded players to evolve.
With so much debate coursing through social media’s veins over who has and has not delivered, it’s time to dissect and deliver this year’s Team of the Year: Defenders Edition.
Andrew Robertson – LB
The Liverpool full back was considered an ‘uninspiring’ transfer when he made the move from Hull City to Liverpool in 2017, but Andrew Robertson has evolved into one of the best left backs in world.
Based on current form, there are seldom left backs who can consistently produce the stellar performances he provides. The Scotland captain has contributed nine assists this season in the Premier League – three more than teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold and Watford’s José Holebas.
Not only does Robertson offer the goods going forward, he has helped fix Jürgen Klopp’s defensive frailties that had stopped the Reds from competitively challenging for the league title.
In Liverpool’s most recent game – against Tottenham – there was a moment in which the Scotsman blocked Christian Eriksen’s shot inside the area that looked destined to fly into the back of the net. If it wasn’t for Robertson’s spatial awareness, Spurs might well have caused an upset at Anfield.
At x-years-old, Robertson is entering into his prime years and, based off of current form, he is going to play a pivotal part in the run-in to the end of the season.
Virgil van Dijk – CB
The Dutch centre back might have been signed for a world-record £75 million at the time of moving from Southampton, but he has shown everyone exactly why he warrants that type of money with his performances for the Reds.
Virgil van Dijk is a breath of fresh air for Liverpool fans. After years of watching central defenders take too long on the ball and cause their own wrongdoing, they now have a player who is as comfortable in possession as he is when tasked with a one-on-one situation.
With his aerial prowess, it is little wonder that he has also provided three goals this season, punishing the lack of astute marking on him from set-pieces. Liverpool now have another dimension to their attack when they are able to bring the giant up from the back.
Players who are usually as tall as van Dijk find it difficult to get the ball under control and play eloquently from the back. That, somehow, is not the case for the Dutchman, who can confidently play 60-yard diagonal passes with ease and get Klopp’s men on the front foot in one swift motion.
It is fair to say that van Dijk has been the best defender in the Premier League this season.
Aymeric Laporte – CB
Given the praise that has been heaped upon van Dijk this season, it is hard to fathom but Aymeric Laporte has flown under the radar somewhat.
Arriving at the same time as the Dutchmen, Laporte, too, has taken to life at the elite end of the Premier League with comfort. Remarkably, the Frenchman still remains uncapped by Didier Deschamps, but that does not reflect honestly on Laporte’s performances this season.
Still a lot to live for, still a lot to enjoy. Thank you @mancity for keeping your trust in me. It is an honour to be part of this family.
The best is yet to come! 💙 #AL14 #Laporte2025 pic.twitter.com/qITxDfF2c8
— Aymeric Laporte (@Laporte) February 22, 2019
The central defender has been exemplary for Manchester City and has made the transition to England appear rudimentary. With Vincent Kompany now on the way out, Laporte has taken over leading the defensive line in the Belgian’s absence and is partnered with either Nicolas Otamendi or John Stones.
At only 24-years-old, Laporte has his best years ahead of him in a Man City side that is only going to become more dominant in this country and in Europe. The Frenchman was tasked with improving their defence and he has done just that.
Matt Doherty – RB
Wolves have done impressively well this season under Nuno Espirito Santo and have a young, attacking team that has slain the ‘top six’ on a regular basis.
Standout players such as Ruben Neves, Diogo Jota, Joao Moutinho and Raul Jimenez might first spring to mind when discussing Wolves, but Matt Doherty has been as important marauding down the right-hand side.
With the Portuguese boss deploying a three-back formation, Doherty is occupying more of a wing back role, dividing his time between dropping into the defensive line and also bombing forward to make sure he is a viable angle of attack.
Doherty has four assists to his name in his first year in England’s top-tier competition, but perhaps more impressively, the right back has taken the fourth-most amount of shots this season with 36.
Such is the Ireland international’s determination to showcase his ability in attack, Doherty does find himself loitering around the edge of the opposition’s box, hoping to come on the end of a loose ball or make himself available on the overlap.
Wolves have done remarkably well this season and Doherty will be hoping they can start to build some consistency against the ‘lesser’ teams in the division, allowing his side to potentially breakthrough into the top six.
Read Liam’s PFA Team Of The Year Contenders: Goalkeepers preview.