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.
Winning the Champions League is the pinnacle for every European club side.
For those who have the honour of winning the trophy, the next goal is, obviously, to win it again.
But not everyone can be like the great Real Madrid side of the 1950s, who won the first five European Cup competitions, as it was known previously.
Some sides have to wait years, even decades, to follow up on European triumph.
But which side has had the longest wait between successes?
Some of the biggest teams around have had to wait huge lengths to get their hands on the coveted trophy once more.
Amongst those are AC Milan who suffered for two decades following their win in 1969. It wasn’t until 1989 – a full 20 years later that they would win again thanks to a wonderful side includes Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.
Liverpool had to wait a year longer – 21 to be precise. A club of huge European pedigree, they waited from 1984, to 2005 – when the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ brought them their fifth success following an incredible game that saw them come from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties.
German giants Bayern Munich are another side waiting more than 20 years – 26 in their case. They lifted the trophy in 1976, but not again until 2001.
Now we get into the team that waited more than 30 years – and it’s two of the biggest names in Europe.
Firstly, Manchester United.
They famously lifted their first European Cup at Wembley in 1968, beating Benfica with the likes of Bobby Charlton and George best pulling the strings.
Fast forward 31 years, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were victorious in 1999 – part of their famous treble-winning year. Injury time goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer snatching an improbable win from under the noses of Bayern Munich.
As mentioned already, Real Madrid won the first five European Cups, from 1956 to 1960.
But from 1966 to 1998, they waited 32 years between victories. A single goal from Pedrag Mijatovic was enough for a 1-0 over Juventus, and their seventh crown.
However, none of these compare to Inter Milan.
They had won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965, and again reached the final in 1972 – however another win in the competition eluded them until 2010 – an incredible 45 years after the last triumph.
Jose Mourinho led the side to a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, with both goals scored by Diego Milito. Like Manchester United, this was part of a famous treble for Inter – the first Italian side to complete the feat.
Octo Finissimo Automatic A Third World Record for Bulgari
Bulgari is once again the spotlight, proudly presenting its third successive world record.
The Octo Finissimo Automatic is the slimmest ultra-thin self-winding watch on the market to date.
After introducing its Tourbillon in 2014 and the Minute Repeater in 2016, the Maison unveils its new creation featuring a total thickness of just 5.15mm, while its self-winding movement is just 2.23mm thick for a 40mm diameter.
The iconic Octo is once again pushing the boundaries of watchmaking feasibility.
Hello there, Denzil Pinto is here with everything you need to know in the world of sport…
There’s some good news for Real Madrid as star man Cristiano Ronaldo returned to training. The Portuguese man limped off with an ankle sprain in last week’s El Clasico and although he will miss tonight’s La Liga match against Celta Vigo, the club is hopeful the forward will be fit for the Champions League final. Read the story here.
Pakistan recovered from a slow start in their Test match against Ireland on day two in Malahide. Follow the live scores here.
Kolkata Knight Riders boosted their IPL play-off hopes with a 31-run victory over Kings XI Punjab in a high-scoring encounter on Saturday afternoon.
Sunil Narine (75 off 36), Andre Russell (31 off 14 and 3-41) and Dinesh Karthik (50) impressed as Kings XI Punjab fell short of their 246-run chase.
Read more here.
SOCIAL MEDIA ROUND-UP
WHAT’S ON TODAY:
FOOTBALL: La Liga, Real Madrid v Celta Vigo 22:45
RUGBY: Champions Cup, Leinster v Racing 92, 19:45