Who is the best centre-back in each of Europe’s top five leagues?
Well, to answer, we’re going to break down two of the best from each of the divisions to gain measure of just who is the standout star.
In this edition, we look at Serie A and it’s Napoli’s indomitable Kalidou Koulibaly versus Inter’s formidable Milan Skriniar.
STATISTICS [2018/19 Serie A]
Minutes – 1880
Tackles – 41
Interceptions – 28
Clearances – 84
Pass success – 88.3%
Aerials won – 50
Minutes – 1890
Tackles – 44
Interceptions – 18
Clearances – 76
Pass success – 92.8%
Aerials won – 38
Skriniar can be immensely proud of his imposing physique and substantial strength. But even a powerhouse like him may find himself outmuscled by the colossus that is Koulibaly.
Despite the Slovakian centre-back boasting a frame that towers at 6ft 1in and weighs 80 kilos, his Senegalese counterpart has about three inches and 10 kilos over him. Both central defenders are great competitors in the air but deceptively quick across the turf as well and regular favourites in a foot race.
Kalidou Koulibaly’s game by numbers vs. Sampdoria:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 2, 2019
72/77 passes completed
6 accurate long-range passes
4 ball recoveries
3/3 tackles won
2/2 successful take-ons
0 goal conceded
Unbelievably complete CB. 🇸🇳🙌 pic.twitter.com/DhYOhyetdP
Koulibaly almost has a sixth sense of where the ball is going be when defending his own penalty area. He’s invariably the one clearing the danger. However, his positional sense also comes to the fore when marshalling the defence, particularly in previous seasons under Maurizio Sarri when Napoli adopted an extremely high defensive line.
Skriniar’s positioning is near perfect as well, dealing with crosses efficiently and tracking forward runners. It’s also why he’s so successful in one-on-ones. Koulibaly stands tall and dares forwards to go around him before nicking it during their futile attempts. Skriniar on the other hand has a knack for positioning himself perfectly. Not too tight that he’s over committed but still within range for a tackle, which he executes with precision, making the first move.
You’d be forgiven for pegging Koulibaly as a big bruising centre half at first viewing but the more you watch him perform his craft the more you appreciate the level of intelligence and sophistication that governs his modus operandi. The Senegal international is a picture of composure and operates as his side’s deepest creative force. In recent years he’s grown in confidence as well and backs himself in one-on-one scenarios be it when defending or striding forward in possession, breaking through the lines and putting his team on the front foot.
Skriniar isn’t as influential as his counterpart but always displays total commitment to the cause. What’s most telling about the 23-year-old’s mentality is how he recovered from his disappointing start to life in Serie A. His inexperience saw him make poor decisions which cost former side Sampdoria as he gave away cheap penalties and proved to be a liability, coming under heavy criticism. Fast forward a couple of years and Skriniar, having earned a move to Inter, is now among the best centre-backs in Europe.
Milan Škriniar at 24 years-old:— Scouted Football (@ScoutedFtbl) February 11, 2019
• 97 Serie A games
• 32 Serie A clean sheets
• 23 Slovakia caps
• 7 Slovakia clean sheets
The national team stalwart and Internazionale enforcer turns 24 today. 🎂 pic.twitter.com/ovEOFeYzuA
Koulibaly is making a serious claim to be the best centre-back in the world but may need a few more trophies in his cabinet before he is recognised as such. Napoli are a competitive side but a move to a European powerhouse seems inevitable.
Skriniar has the potential to scale similar heights but needs more time to reach his peak. In terms of value, there’s not much to separate the two with age being on the Solvakian’s side.
There’s little doubt that Koulibaly is the more complete defender at the moment though and a far more influential figure, capable of marshalling a defence with authority and leading a team by example.
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