Top 10 All Time Premier League Defenders

Published on 14 July 2023 at 13:00

From Mancunian legends like Rio Ferdinand and Vincent Kompany, to London-based greats like Tony Adams and John Terry, these 10 players truly mastered the art of defending. Find out now who makes our definitive list of the top 10 defenders in Premier League history!


10) Sol Campbell

Hailed as a saint in one half of North London, and worse than a sinner in the other half, Sol Campbell free transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Arsenal is nothing short of iconic, and that's before we even start to look at his Arsenal career. 


In his initial 5 year spell at the Gunners, Campbell scooped two league titles and two FA Cups, and was part of the legendary 'Invincibles' team of the 2003-04 campaign which managed to go the entire Premier League season unbeaten.


Later achieving FA Cup heroics with Portsmouth, Campbell has thrice been named in the PFA Team of the Year, and has since been lauded in retirement for his pace and physicality that match and surpass even the top centre backs around today. 



9) John Stones

When Manchester City signed the Barnsley-born defender back in 2016 for a mammoth fee, expectations were high. But few would've guessed just how immense and crucial John Stones would come to be in Pep Guardiola's pursuit of total domestic dominance. 


With a passing style and vision range to rival even the most composed of Spanish midfielders, Stones has been a cornerstone of Manchester City's success and ability to so easily dominate opponents. 


You could argue that Stones is the best defender in the world today, as his trophy cabinet surely warrants such a claim: 5 Premier League trophies, every other team honour available, and of course the continental treble achieved in 2023. 



8) Rio Ferdinand

Once the most expensive defender in world football, Rio Ferdinand's Manchester United career got off to a shaky start. But a quick recovery eventually cemented Ferdinand as the one of the elite defenders of his generation.


Like another renowned Man Utd defender, Ferdinand's drive and ferocity simply pushed the side to another level above everyone else. 


A skilled all round defender, you'll struggle to find another defender of Ferdinand's era who was as composed and skilled on and off the ball. 



7) Ashley Cole

The sole full back on this list, Ashley Cole was simply revolutionary in whatever role he played on the football pitch. 


An integral member of the 'Invincibles', it's at Chelsea where he cemented his place in Premier League (and English football) history, winning an additional Premier League trophy, 1 League Cup, 1 Champions League and the most FA Cup victories out of any player in the competition's history.


As proficient going forward as he was defending, he adapted to changes in the game in lightning quick time, and there's no doubt in our mind that he remains one of the best full backs in all of football history. 



6) Tony Adams

The prototypical Premier League defender, and a man who for many people is still a benchmark for skill and success when it comes to defending. 


The introduction of Arsene Wenger and his philosophy transformed Arsenal in the 1990s, but it arguably transformed Adams the most: soon becoming a versatile centre back whose darting runs and moments of leadership would soon become iconic. 


A natural leader, Adams may have just missed out on being called an 'Invincible' but if there was ever an Arsenal player who deserved such a label, it was Tony Adams.



5) Virgil Van Dijk

Prior to his high-profile injury at the hands of Jordan Pickford, what we were seeing from Virgil Van Dijk between 2018 and 2020 was unlike anything we had ever seen from a Premier League defender.


Van Dijk could seemingly do it all: score goals from set pieces, match even the most prolific strikers for pace and physicality, deliver incisive passes that parted entire teams, he was the crown jewel in the Liverpool side that often ran riot in all competitions under Jurgen Klopp.


Coming 2nd in the 2019 Ballon D'or behind Lionel Messi, Van Dijk's Premier League legacy is only hindered by his most recent periods of form as well as his earlier time at Southampton: but on his day, there's barely a handful of defenders worldwide who can eclipse the Dutchman's efforts.



4) Ricardo Carvalho

Where you talk about Virgil Van Dijk's astronomical peak performances in 2019, just know that it was a different dominant CB who was setting these high standards back in the early 2000s.


Arguably one of the most underrated footballers of the 21st century, Carvalho spend six years at Chelsea and helped transform them into a true footballing superpower in the 2000s: an intelligent leader who truly flourished with whoever was alongside him in the heart of the defence.


And of course, he was a part of Jose Mourinho's legendary Chelsea 2004/05 side, which conceded the fewest goals in a single Premier League campaign: a record that will quite simply never again come close to being broken. 



3) Nemanja Vidic 

One of only four players to win the Premier League Player of the Season award on two different occasions (and the only defender to do so), Nemanja Vidic is one of the greatest players in Man Utd's illustrious history.


A complete rock who could be relied upon no matter the opponent and no matter the competition, Vidic was instrumental in Man Utd's titantic tussles against Chelsea, Arsenal and Barcelona in the late 2000s, winning back-to-back-to-back Premier League titles in the process.


Even when the Red Devils began to show clear signs of a decline in the later years of Ferguson's reign, Vidic remained as imperious as ever, helping catapult them to their 13th (and most recent) Premier League title.



2) Vincent Kompany

Manchester City's Premier League triumph in 2012 and the subsequent run of success they went on in the 2010s is the stuff of footballing legend, and Vincent Kompany was at the very heart of it all.  


Even after a career blighted by injuries, the resurgence of Manchester City with Kompany as their own fantastic captain was like nothing we had ever seen in the Premier League. 


The big Belgian's ultimately title-winning goal vs Leicester City in 2019: an outrageous shot from outside the box to beat Kasper Schmeichel, capped off a Hall-of-Fame career for Kompany, which saw him write his name in City folklore as a key part of four different title winning campaigns.




1) John Terry

Whilst he may be a controversial figure both on and off the pitch, but we can all agree that John Terry is a legendary defender and undoubtedly the best to ply their skills on these shores.


Like the aforementioned Carvalho, Terry was called upon by Mourinho to be his reliable, commanding figure within the impenetrable defence, which he succeeded in to enviable results: a 5 time Premier League winner and back-to-back European Champion with the Blues, Terry was a constant figure in some of the most exhilarating, formidable sides the Premier League has ever seen.


Called upon time and time again to deliver the goods for Chelsea (sans that night in Munich), Terry exhibited every on-pitch quality that you can ask for in a defender, and was quite simply irreplaceable on his day. 


Image Credit: Fars Media Corporation




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