If anything shows the value of a goalkeeper, it’s the improvement of Manchester City’s defence, to title-winning standards, after bringing in Ederson in the summer. But the Brazilian, outstanding though he was, wasn’t even the best keeper in his city.
That’s because David de Gea plays in Manchester. For all Manchester United‘s improvement this season, they wouldn’t be in second place if not for the superlative displays of their No 1. It’s an indictment of the squad that arguably their only world-class player, is their goalkeeper, but United are just happy he’s there.
The Spaniard deservedly sits atop our rankings for the best goalkeepers across Europe’s top five leagues – here’s the full top ten.
1. David de Gea, Manchester United
Every time you think de Gea can’t get better, he defies you. He’d cemented his status as the Premier League‘s best already, and he’s finally won his first Golden Glove.
2. Ederson, Manchester City
Remember how Manchester City had goalkeeping issues last season? In his first season in England, Ederson solved that problem with aplomb.
3. Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus
At this point, everything that can be said about Buffon has already been said. If this truly is his last season, winning Serie A‘s Player of the Year award is a fitting way to sign off.
4. Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona
5. Jan Oblak, Atlético Madrid
Oblak’s already burgeoning reputation grew even bigger this season, with some stunning displays in the Atlético Madrid goal.
6. Alisson, Roma
The Roma man has been the find of the season among goalkeepers. It’s no surprise that he’s being linked with a move to some of Europe’s biggest names.
7. Keylor Navas, Real Madrid
Navas hurts himself sometimes with high-profile gaffes, but there’s no telling how bad Madrid’s disappointing season could have been without his presence.
8. Samir Handanovic, Inter Milan
As always, Handanovic pulled off some stunning saves, and he’s a big part of why Inter Milan have one of the best defences in Italy this season.
9. Nick Pope, Burnley
Nick Pope himself will probably be surprised to find himself among the top 10 keepers in Europe. That’s how good he’s been since being thrust into the starting keeper role at Burnley by Tom Heaton’s injury.
10. Neto, Valencia
All that time serving as Buffon’s understudy has served the Brazilian in good stead. Valencia haven’t missed Diego Alves, which is high praise.
Jordi Alba has always been one of the world’s best full-backs. His attacking flair and eye for a pass are exactly what’s required in the modern definition of the position, and he can hold his own defensively.
But who could have predicted this good a season? Barcelona‘s attack was depleted at the beginning of the campaign; in stepped Alba to fill the void. He seemed to have a telepathic connection with Lionel Messi, a relationship that underpinned the team’s attack.
The Spaniard duly tops our full-back rankings – here’s the full top ten from Europe’s top five leagues.
1. Jordi Alba, Barcelona
Barcelona needed to replace Neymar once the playmaker bolted for PSG. Who knew that it would be their left-back to take up the mantle? Alba to Messi was the most lethal combination in Spain, and key to La Blaugrana’s success.
2. Marcelo, Real Madrid
The Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich summed Marcelo up: at fault for the Bavarians’ opener, but scored the equaliser. That’s the trade-off, and it’s one Madrid will take gladly.
3. Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich
It was Kimmich who scored that goal for Bayern, and he added another in the second leg. The young German has emerged as one of the best in his position this season.
4. Kyle Walker, Manchester City
5. David Alaba, Bayern Munich
It’s credit to Kimmich that Alaba may not even be considered Bayern Munich’s best full-back at the moment. That being said, the Austrian is still an outstanding left-back, capable of switching from defence to attack with aplomb.
6. Filipe Luis, Atlético Madrid
The 32-year-old continues to show why Diego Simeone has placed so much faith in him, as his nous and work-rate helped Atlético maintain their traditional defensive fire. His recovery from a broken fibula in just two months was remarkable.
7. Aleksandar Kolarov, Roma
Given a new lease of life after being discarded by Manchester City, Kolarov fitted in seamlessly at Roma, providing buckets of experience to the back line. He also remains a formidable attacking force.
8. Marcos Alonso, Chelsea
One of the few bright sparks in a Chelsea season where Antonio Conte’s famed defence largely regressed. Alonso’s goal threat and his tenacity make him the Blues’ second-best player this season after Eden Hazard.
9. Philipp Max, Augsburg
The Augsburg left-back has 12 league assists season – as many as Lionel Messi. It’s easily the record for most assists by a defender in the Bundesliga; it’s a number many attacking players would dream to have.
10. Antonio Barragán, Real Betis
Real Betis are the surprise package in La Liga this season, having secured a Europa League spot, and their on-loan right back is a big reason why. No one would have expected this when Middlesbrough let Barragán go in the summer.
Giorgio Chiellini’s season was rocked before it even began with the shock sale of long-time Juventus teammate Leonardo Bonucci to AC Milan. The duo had been the standout performers in what was arguably Europe’s best defence last season, and nobody would have predicted this premature end.
It only got worse, with Italy then crashing out of the World Cup qualifiers following their playoff loss to Sweden, robbing Chiellini of the chance to make amends for the Azzurri’s group stage exit in 2014.
Six months later, and the 33-year-old is again the star defender in a Juventus side that has won a seventh straight league title, standing tallest among his colleagues at the back yet again.
Here we look at the rest of our top ten centre-backs across Europe’s top five leagues.
1. Giorgio Chiellini, Juventus
There might be defenders who have had better individual seasons than the Juventus man. But that he could produce at this level at 33, having lost veteran partner Bonucci to Milan, is incredible.
2. Diego Godín, Atlético Madrid
Another defender who is keeping age at bay. Fiery as ever, and in supreme command of a miserly Atlético back line – there’s a reason he’s one of Diego Simeone’s favourite players.
3. Samuel Umtiti, Barcelona
Barcelona cannot let the Frenchman go. Admittedly it seems like the contract standoff is much ado about nothing, but he’s shown this season just how good he is at his craft. That it’s feasible to rank him above defensive partner Gerard Pique says it all.
4. Kalidou Koulibaly, Napoli
Napoli’s attack garnered all the praise this season, but Koulibaly’s presence in the defence was just as vital to their ultimately doomed Serie A title charge. In a cruel twist of fate, it was his red card, a week after scoring a late winner against Juventus, that killed off Napoli’s hopes – a sad end to a great season.
5. Gerard Pique, Barcelona
Pique had extra motivation this season. Between saying he felt inferior to Real Madrid for the first time, to the Catalan independence referendum, events unfolded to rekindle a fire in the Barcelona defender – and he responded with aplomb.
6. Milan Škriniar, Inter Milan
The young Slovak has been one of the standout players in the Serie A this season, if not in all of Europe. At just 23, he emerged as a vital cog in Inter’s miserly defence.
7. Federico Fazio, Roma
Fazio has put his Tottenham debacle behind him, earning a status as one of the top defenders in Serie A. The Argentine was a big part of Roma’s top-four push, and he’ll be crucial to Argentina’s hopes at the World Cup.
8. Stefan de Vrij, Lazio
If Inter do get De Vrij on a free transfer as expected, it will go down as one of the biggest swindles in Serie A history. The Dutchman, whose Lazio contract runs out at the end of the season, has been in superlative form.
9. Naldo, Schalke
No one thought Schalke would be the team closest to this season, after they just about avoided relegation last season. Naldo’s form has been one of the biggest reasons for the improvement.
10. Nicolas Otamendi, Manchester City
Otamendi is still prone to errors in defence, but playing in a Pep Guardiola side has hidden those weaknesses. His distribution and goal threat – not to mention, his fitness, as other City centre-backs kept getting injured -were key to his side’s title success.