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.
We’ll start with Ligue 1 and it’s Paris Saint-Germain’s elegant Brazilian Marquinhos versus Montpellier’s ageless wonder Vitorino Hilton.
STATISTICS [2018/19 Ligue 1]
Minutes – 1883
Tackles – 16
Interceptions – 31
Clearances – 105
Pass success – 81.8%
Aerials won – 45
Minutes – 1620
Tackles – 41
Interceptions – 22
Clearances – 44
Pass success – 92%
Aerials won – 35
Being at least six feet tall is seemingly a prerequisite for a top notch centre-back but tell that to Hilton. Of course, his height or lack thereof is not the most alarming thing about him. At the ripe old age of 41, he is the oldest player in Ligue 1, even older than PSG’s summer recruit Gianluigi Buffon. It’s understandable then if he’s a little slow out the blocks. He does possess a decent leap and is strong but no standout traits to really write home about.
Marquinhos on the other hand is more aligned with what you’d associate an elite modern day centre-back with. While he isn’t particularly tall, he does meet the six-foot cutoff. The Brazilian has a rather wiry frame but boasts a good turn of pace.
Vitorino Hilton, 15 ans pour le meilleur et pour le pire 🙌— Ligue 1 Conforama (@Ligue1Conforama) February 7, 2019
Le doyen de la @Ligue1Conforama (41 ans, 439 matchs) fête aujourd'hui le 15e anniversaire de ses débuts dans notre championnat 🎂
Retour sur le parcours du Brésilien, qui a vraiment tout connu ➡https://t.co/mkWw8eaKHW pic.twitter.com/rEyrkOGov1
When exposed to a one-on-one scenario – which is a rarity – Hilton is adept at standing his ground, containing the attacker and waiting for help to arrive. However, he’s usually the deepest lying defender, flanked by a younger and more mobile centre-back on either side. Montpellier head coach Michel Der Zakarian has done well to develop a system with three at the back that has brought the best out of Hilton and held the team in good stead over the last few years.
The greatest testament to Marquinhos’ positional sense is the success with which he has filled the void in midfield for PSG this season. Thomas Tuchel has total faith in the Brazilian’s tactical intelligence, trusting him to play a crucial role in the middle of the park where his technical ability has been put to the test as well. Marquinhos has still played the majority of games – just about – this season at centre-back where he is most comfortable. His awareness of space around him is unparalleled and he is excellent at shuttling out wide and covering for a marauding full-back – a frequent occurrence in Tuchel’s set-up.
It takes strength, discipline and commitment to enjoy a professional career that spans over 23 years and Hilton has had all in abundance. Montpellier’s relative success in recent years has been built on strong values like hard work, team spirit and self sacrifice. Hilton has been the embodiment of those principles. The very fact that he’s defied his age and continued to compete at the highest level is testament to his character.
There was a moment during PSG’s 2-1 group stage win over Liverpool that was memorable. It wasn’t a stunning goal, red card or penalty – it was a goal-kick. Coming under intense pressure from the Reds, Marquinhos conspired with Thiago Silva to deny Mohamed Salah a way through and let the ball run out of play. A passionate chest-bump between the duo followed. Marquinhos, like his compatriot, is a fierce competitor and simply loves defending.
Marquinhos’ game by numbers vs. Man Utd:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 12, 2019
100% take-ons completed
56/62 passes completed
4 accurate long balls
Best player on the pitch. 🇧🇷👊 pic.twitter.com/VISpZ12JN2
Hilton is older than some of the Icon players on FIFA 19 Ultimate Team but he’s still going strong. He’s an old-school centre-back who boasts strong fundamentals and does the basics well. The aging defender is under no illusions; he’s fully aware of his limitations and operates well within them. However, his effectiveness is largely dependent on the set-up around him. A shift to a back four could easily leave him exposed.
Marquinhos on the other hand is the more complete centre-back and though he’s been around for so long, is only 24 with time to improve. There are no glaring weaknesses in his game and while Hilton affords little flexibility, Marquinhos is nothing if not versatile.
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