OVER THE PAST few years, the game has moved towards a phase where defenders win games for their teams by keeping things tight at the back.
A big shift in mentality occurred in 2006 when Italian centreback Fabio Cannavaro won the coveted Ballon D’Or and was crowned the best player on the planet, although that represents the last time a defender won the accolade. Today we take a look at few such upcoming centre-backs who might just be the next big thing in world football soon.
Dan-Axel Zagadou (Borussia Dortmund) French centre-back
Dan-Axel Zagadou is another young starlet who has been one of the top defenders in the Bundesliga for the past couple of seasons. A strong passer of the ball who likes to invite pressure from the opposition attackers, Zagadou is one of the best in the German top-fl ight when it comes to aerial duels and scoring from indirect set pieces. Usually deployed by coach Lucien Favre alongside Mats Hummels, the youngster is no less in technique compared to his German World Cup winning defensive partner. During his time at Paris Saint-Germain before joining Dortmund, Zagadou was usually tested as a left-back which emphasised his lack of pace and ignored his strength and marking abilities. The latter characteristics are exactly what Dortmund capitalised on, making him one of the top defenders in the world at the young age of 20.
Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig)
A product of tactical genius Julian Nagelsmann’s set-up at RasenBall Leipzig, Dayot Upamecano has knocked on the doors of all the European giants with his powerful presence in the back four of the German club. Having impressed in Leipzig’s Champions League Round of 16 win against previous season’s fi nalists Tottenham Hotspur, Upamecano has attracted heavy interest from Arsenal who are ready to break the bank for the defender.
William Saliba (Saint-Etienne)
Saliba joined Arsenal last summer but was loaned back to his previous club as a part of the £27 million deal between the two clubs. The 19-year-old ranks as one of the best in Europe’s top fi ve leagues when it comes to tackling success rate as he averages 1.92 interceptions per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, compared to last season’s rate of 2.0 interceptions per 90 minutes. Also, the new Arsenal signing is a good distributor of the ball in dangerous situations, especially in situations of high press from the opposition strikers.
The Gunners will definitely benefit from the signing as Saliba will be a great addition to Mikel Arteta’s defensive setup, especially as the existing crop of defenders like Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have been heavily criticised this. An interesting positive point for the Gunners in this respect is that the French centre-back has also handed a transfer request to RB Leipzig, according to reliable sources.