Who is the best centre-back in the Premier League? Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk vs Man City's Aymeric Laporte

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Who is the best centre-back in each of Europe’s top five leagues?

Well, to answer, we’re going to break down two of the best from each of the divisions to gain measure of just who is the standout star.

In this edition, we look at the Premier League and it’s Liverpool’s inspirational Virgil van Dijk versus Manchester City’s impressive Aymeric Laporte.

STATISTICS [2018/19 Premier League]

VAN DIJK

Minutes – 2305

Tackles – 23

Interceptions – 27

Clearances – 133

Pass success – 90.2%

Aerials won – 110

LAPORTE

Minutes – 2337

Tackles – 30

Interceptions – 30

Clearances – 69

Pass success – 92.2%

Aerials won – 58

PHYSICAL TRAITS

At 6ft 4 in Van Dijk is man-mountain, a colossus in the air and neigh on impossible to dribble around. He takes full advantage of his large frame and is one of the best in the air. Laporte is a towering defender in his own right and accomplished in aerial duels. Despite his imposing physique though, the Frenchman has a reputation for going about his business quietly and gracefully while the Dutchman makes the more eye-catching interventions.

Van Dijk’s also a powerful runner and his long strides carry his hefty physique at pace, facilitating numerous recoveries. His City counterpart is also quick on foot and in thought, making more nonchalant interceptions than crunching tackles while his passing can launch attacks or even slice right through defences.

POSITIONING

You can have all the tools but to be one of the best centre-backs in the world takes a level of sophistication. Van Dijk blends brawn with brains as it’s his reading of the game that keeps him a step – or two – ahead of opposing forwards and his alertness to potentially dangerous situations is second to none.

Laporte is no slouch in that department either. He may only be 24 but he’s gained a wealth of experience when operating in a high defensive line at Athletic Bilbao and that’s held him in good stead at Manchester City. He’s always available for a pass and isn’t afraid to step up and play an attacker offside. His ability to cover for a marauding left-back is vital when Benjamin Mendy is in full flight.

MENTALITY

For all his attributes as a defender, it’s Van Dijk’s leadership that seems to have almost singlehandedly solidified Liverpool’s defence. Liverpool conceded 1.2 goals per game last season prior to his arrival compared to just 0.6 per game now. His mental strength really shines through when the team is behind as he pushes them forward with his distribution and occasional adventurous runs.

Unlike Van Dijk, Laporte is not the most vocal of defenders and doesn’t instantly strike you as a natural leader. Instead, he’s at his best when he’s flying under the radar – evidence that he’s doing his job right. He has nerves of steel, is never hurried in possession and coolly plays out from the back. However, an underlying aggression comes to the fore when a forward threatens to break away or when he’s attacking a set-piece.

VERDICT

Van Dijk was made the world’s most expensive defender when he was signed for £75 million and he’s already proved to be worth every penny just a year on. He is the complete modern centre-back and at 27, is in his prime. If Liverpool do win silverware this season, his recruitment will be credited with transforming an exciting team into a title-winning one.

Meanwhile, Laporte boasts remarkable consistency, so much so that he’s started in all but one of City’s league games this season. He’s a defender of the Rolls-Royce variety, elegantly going about his business, racking up several passes and picking forwards’ pockets before they even know he’s around.

Both defenders are among the best in the world but the Dutchman has the edge for his sheer influence on Liverpool and superiority in the air.

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