RealSport’s Premier League Centre Back of the Year
In a season which has seen a dearth of defensive talents in the central areas, who will we pick as the stars of 2017/18?
It speaks volumes that Chelsea’s title-winning defence was inspired by a converted wing-back. Cesar Azpilicueta was impeccable throughout the2016/17season, abetted by the brilliant performances of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses.
Finding a ‘traditional’ defender to extol was a tad more difficult, however. Laurent Koscielny suffered a patchwork campaign for Arsenal, whilst Eric Bailly’s promising start at Manchester United had been curtailed by injury. The less said about Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan, meanwhile, the better.
The only man who came close to usurping the Spaniard was Toby Alderweireld. The gel-haired Belgian was the star of a Spurs defence that conceded just 26 goals in 38 games, helping Hugo Lloris to a whopping 15 clean sheets. Pacy and strong, he was an unstoppable force and an immovable object in Mauricio Pochettino’s grisly backline.
If he wanted a game this season Davinson Sánchez had to be excellent. He had to be ready for his chance and had to hold on to it whenever it came.
The Colombian may have inspired Peter Bosz’s Ajax into the Europa League final, but even with a dominant year in the Eredivisie behind him, he was widely viewed as a squad player.
Instead, he has proven himself to be the best defender in England. With Alderweireld struggling repeatedly with injury, the 21-year-old has formed arguably the most solid partnership in the league alongside Jan Vertonghen. He has been a revelation in North London, surprising even his manager with the quality of his displays.
“I think Davinson is doing fantastic from the day he arrived here,” Pochettino admitted in remarks to Football.London.
“His adaptation to the team and to the Premier League was I think much better than we expected.”
Sánchez had all the natural gifts to be an accomplished Premier League defender. He was fast and muscular, with his pace and aggression proving useful in the Amsterdammers’ high-energy attacking style.
He was ambitious too, with a willingness to improve that was demonstrated whilst he was still in Colombia as a teenager. A burgeoning talent at Atlético Nacional, he refused a move to Barcelona’s reserves in favour of a shot in the first team at Ajax. The youngster’s deference and adaptability has impressed his new manager.
“I think he’s humble,” Pochettino told reporters in midweek.
“That is a massive point for every single player to learn, and to adapt yourself in the new environment. Of course, he’s a player that’s young, but he’s always trying to improve and learn.”
Sánchez might seem like a controversial choice for Centre-Back of the season. Manchester City might win the league courtesy of their swashbuckling attack, but their success has been built on the frugal defensive work of Nicolás Otamendi and John Stones.
Together, however, they have 132 appearances in the Premier League and 77 international caps. Sánchez is years younger than both and has considerably less experience, but he has been essential in a defence that has conceded just six goals more.
The Colombian hasn’t been perfect–against Juventus in the Champions League, for example, he will be disappointed at how frequently Gonzalo Higuain escaped his attention.
Nor, however, has he been guilty of the jarring mistakes or calamities that sometimes visit his rivals.He is barely out of his teens, in his first season at a far-superior level of competition.Through it all, however, he has been remarkably consistent and is a fully deserving winner. The good news for Spurs fans is that he’ll only get better
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