Spanish football has long been admired for its attacking flamboyance, both in its national team, which won the Wold Cup (2010) and European Championships (2012), and in the Primera Division of La Liga which has showcased some of the very best players in the world.
The strikers often make the headlines, but the winning teams all have talent and steel in defence, the stalwarts who keep things tight at the back, make their mark on their attacking opponents, and don’t mind venturing up the field to make mayhem at the other end.
Today we take a look at five of the players bossing the back in the most successful rearguards. With the tightest defence in La Liga, Real Madrid have conceded just 19 goals, but there are plenty of other defensive units which can build an impenetrable wall, and some big characters at the heart of the defence.
Gerard Pique – Barcelona
At 6ft 4in Gerard Pique has been a mountain at the back for Barcelona since his arrival in 2008. The Catalonian came through the youth ranks at the Camp Nou before heading to Manchester United as a young hopeful. It didn’t work out at Old Trafford but it certainly has back in Barca, where Pique has made 336 appearances, and he has been dominant again this term.
Pique is a tough customer, leading the club’s card count with 11 league yellows to his name this season and 16 in total; but with 91 per cent pass completion he’s a class act.
With hopes of the football returning before too long, the very latest La Liga 2020 predictions back the Blaugrana to make it three league titles on the run and, while Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and a fit again Luis Suarez are ready to score the goals, it will be Pique and co keeping the door firmly shut at the other end.
Sergio Ramos – Real Madrid
Ramos is undeniably one of Real Madrid’s best players of all time. We picked out the top five here at SBOTOP, and while the Real skipper sits happily in that company, there’s an even stronger argument to say he’s the best defender the Santiago Bernabeu has ever seen.
This season he is leading the tightest defence in the league alongside the French resistance of Raphael Varane, while also taking the battle to the other end of the pitch where his seven goals make him the third top scorer for Real, in all competitions.
And a pass completion at 91 per cent means he can pick a pass like the best.
Renan Augusto Lodi Dos Santos – Atletico Madrid
Los Rojiblancos have conceded 21 goals this season and have had arguably the best defence in Europe for three years; and head coach Diego Simeone can spot a top defender. While Uruguayan legend Diego Godin has departed, left back Renan Lodi has had a superb first season at the Wanda Metropolitano. The 21- year old Brazilian was in the Atleti side which frustrated Liverpool in the recent Champions League clash as Los Rojiblancos headed through to the quarter finals.
With four Brazil caps already to his name, he looks a great acquisition for Atleti, having penned a six year deal at the start of this season.
Inigo Martinez – Athletic Bilbao
With just 23 goals conceded by Los Leones, only the two Madrid clubs can better Athletic Bilbao’s back four and Spain international Inigo Martinez has been a rock in central defence, starting 31 games.
Martinez arrived at the Basque club in 2018 as a record 32M Euro signing, to replace Aymeric Laporte as he headed to Manchester City. The cultured left footer was himself a Sky Blues target, before moving to Bilbao from Basque rivals Real Sociedad, something he said he’d never do a couple of seasons earlier!
Marc Cucurella – Getafe
Getafe have been making the La Liga 2020 news headlines with a sustained attack on the Champions League places, level on points with fourth placed Real Sociedad, and they have a bright spark at left wingback. 21 year old Marc Cucurella was loaned to Getafe by Barcelona at the start of the season and he has made an impression as an attacking full back.
Getafe is a strong unit, pressing high in its opponents’ half and defending like tigers, conceding the most fouls and yellow cards in the league, but in Cucurella they have a player with real quality on the ball and great positional sense. Head coach Jose Bordelas has a real gem in the midst of his team of tough guys.