We’re over halfway into the Premier League season and the established elite have returned to the top of the table, following Leicester’s surprise title win last season.
No Premier League title-winning teams have had a flaky defence, so how do this year’s top six look at this stage in the season?
Branislav Ivanovic, Kurt Zouma, Gary Cahill, John Terry, Cesar Azpilicueta, Victor Moses, Marcus Alonso, David Luiz
First Choice Defence: Moses, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Alonso
Goals Conceded: 13
Since changing to three at the back with two wing backs, Chelsea’s defence has been the most miserly in the Premier League so far this season, letting in just 13 goals. Victor Moses looks reborn as a wing back, having never been given chances by previous Chelsea regimes, while Gary Cahill has shown that he can look solid without having John Terry alongside him. However, no one has performed better in the new formation than David Luiz. The flamboyant defender has settled down and isn’t as adventurous as he once was. Marcus Alonso has also impressed on the left hand side and the player who once struggled to get into Sunderland’s team has shown that he has something to offer. Kurt Zouma, Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are currently used as backups in Antonio Conte’s plans, but new defenders have been linked to the club, with Terry and Ivanovic ageing.
Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno, Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan
First Choice Defence: Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner
Goals Conceded: 23
If there’s one thing that’s stopping Liverpool from winning the league, then it’s the defence. They’ve conceded the most goals of any side in the top six and opposition attacks know that there’s always a chance of a mistake if they’re put under pressure. Out of the four regular starters, James Milner has been the most impressive and he’s not actually a defender! Playing out of position, Milner has yet to be given the run-around by the opposition and has looked composed in comparison to some of his teammates. Liverpool will win games as they’re fantastic going forward, but all title winning teams are built on a solid foundation at the back and Liverpool’s needs improvement.
Bacary Sagna, Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy, Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones
First Choice Defence: Zabaleta, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy
Goals Conceded: 22
Like Liverpool’s, City’s defence can be leaky at the back, particularly when Vincent Kompany isn’t playing. However unlike Liverpool, City have spent money on it and it hasn’t paid off. Otamendi was overpriced, while Eliaquim Mangala has been sent out on loan. Pep Guardiola is renowned from playing out from the back, but he’s failed to realise that sometimes hoofing the ball long is equally as effective, if not as pretty. The full backs aren’t of the same standard as Philipp Lahm and David Alaba at Bayern. Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk has been linked with a move to the Etihad, but his form has tailed off recently following an impressive start to the season.
Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Per Mertesacker, Gabriel, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi
First Choice Defence: Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal
Goals Conceded: 22
Accused of being weak and soft-centred in recent years, Arsenal’s defence is under constant scrutiny, particularly when it comes to their fallow months. However, the signing of Mustafi has improved the side since their opening day 4-3 loss at home to Liverpool, where they fielded Rob Holding and Gabriel as a centre back partnership. Wenger was forced into signing the German defender as a result of that and he’s formed a solid partnership with Koscielny. Depth is an issue however as Gabriel hasn’t performed as expected since arriving at the club, while Per Mertesacker, who’s been out with injury all season, has peaked and has shown that he doesn’t have the pace to keep up with the best Premier League attackers in the past.
Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Kieran Trippier, Kevin Wimmer, Ben Davies
First Choice Defence: Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose
Goals Conceded: 14
Tottenham’s defence is one of the most underrated in the league. They’ve conceded just 14 goals this season and the centre back pairing of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen is formidable. Kevin Wimmer is an able replacement, as is Eric Dier and centre back isn’t a pressing need for improvement for Spurs. They have an England international full back pairing of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose and Mauricio Pochettino frequently rotates the duo in order to keep them fresh.
Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Eric Bailly
First Choice Defence: Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Blind
Goals Conceded: 19
Following a string of injuries, Jose Mourinho stumbled across his back four by happy accident and after a difficult start, United are much improved and are under their longest unbeaten run since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson. Eric Bailly has shown that he’s got potential since arriving in the summer, but Chris Smalling has struggled to nail down a first team spot since improving under Louis Van Gaal, while he might also be classed as a liability for his desire to grapple and wrestle in the box. An improvement at right back is needed, with Antonio Valencia being a converted midfielder and Matteo Darmian not favoured by Mourinho.