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Bundesliga Preview: The league’s top center-backs

Germany has quite the set of physical freaks in defense.

FC Bayern München Team Presentation Photo by Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Welcome back to the Bundesliga Preview for 2023/24, where we will be going position by position and ranking the top players that the league has to offer! Last time we covered the league’s best goalkeepers, now we move on to the center-backs.

Note: While at the time of writing, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Benjamin Pavard are both technically Bundesliga players, they are both involved in imminent transfers to elsewhere and as such will not be included in the list.

20. Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Elvedi may not be in his best years but even then he is still a quality center-back with the ability to lead the Gladbach defensive line with confidence.

19. Robin Koch (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Koch is Frankfurt’s latest addition in defense and the German is gifted on the ball, likely to be a crucial part of Frankfurt’s campaign this year.

18. Odilon Kossounou (Bayer Leverkusen)
The hybrid right back and center-back has been massive for Leverkusen whenever he’s been called upon, with great performances both out wide and through the middle for his team.

17. Diogo Leite (Union Berlin)
The base of Union’s play in the defensive third, Leite has been crucial to Union’s success going forward but has also been their rock in defense, preventing several goals by himself over the course of last season.

16. Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen)
The once highly-touted prospect is now a great league-level center-back, even if he never did hit the dizzying heights originally suggested for him when he was a younger player. Tah is still a top level player.

15. Ko Itakura (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Itakura was chased by Napoli as their replacement for Min-jae Kim, which should say enough about his qualities. The former Manchester City reserve player is of course gifted on the ball but his real quality lies in his ground game, with an amazing tackling technique.

14. Castello Lukeba (RB Leipzig)
Leipzig’s big new addition in defense is a highly rated youngster in Lukeba, who was Olympique Lyon’s best center-back last season. Lukeba’s defensive qualities are apparent to anyone who’s seen him go one-versus-one against a wide man cutting in, as he simply does not lose those duels.

13. Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen)
Tah’s younger partner in defense, Tapsoba is marked for big things and for good reason as the Burkinabè defender has been so strong physically and off the ball for Leverkusen over the last couple of years, and of course has attracted massive interest from Premier League clubs.

12. Niklas Süle (Borussia Dortmund)
The Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich alumnus is enjoying some of his better football after a shaky start to life in Dortmund, but still needs to give some consistent performances before he moves higher up the list.

11. Philipp Lienhart (SC Freiburg)
Lienhart has been Freiburg’s most consistent defender for the last few seasons, forming the base for multiple other center-backs to flourish in freer roles behind Lienhart. The Austrian center-back is one of the most lowkey players around in the league.

10. Danilho Doekhi (Union Berlin)
The epitome of Union’s low percentage performances, Doekhi is a set of freak statistics that simply do not line up. Doekhi’s danger from set pieces is unrivalled and he matches it with the ability to pick apart quick attacking play with surprising accuracy.

9. Piero Hincapié (Bayer Leverkusen)
Hincapié is one of the best young center-backs in Europe, with the pace and ability on the ball to play at left back too. The perfect Xabi Alonso defender, Hincapié’s technique in the tackle is top level, and is paired with a great positional sense, smoothness on the ball and of course explosivity in the sprints.

8. Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
Hummels is one of the best center-backs of his generation, and is one of the best center-backs in Germany even at this stage of his career where he is well beyond his best years.

7. Mohamed Šimakan (RB Leipzig)
The pacey center-back with the ability to play right back is one of the best young center-backs around, and Šimakan in particular is an impressive specimen with his mixture of speed and strength as well as surprisingly good ability on the ball.

6. Matthias Ginter (SC Freiburg)
Ginter, while a little inconsistent at times, continues to be a top center-back with some unbelievable performances in the last few years. In his first season at Freiburg, Ginter was consistently fantastic, becoming the center of build up in the defensive third and found himself in the goals and assists from deep and from set pieces. The total package.

5. Willi Orbán (RB Leipzig)
Orbán has been one of the best center-backs in the league ever since Leipzig’s ascent into the top flight of German football, and just never seems to have a bad season. Expecting yet another top year of defending.

4. Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich)
Upamecano at his best is simply one of the best center-backs in the world, but it is his lack of consistency which knocks him down a few pegs. Upamecano’s positional awareness may not be the best but he makes up for it with a great tackling game and, I have to say it: the best passing range of any center-back in Europe. There is no defender better in the world at progressing the ball than Upamecano.

3. Nico Schlotterbeck (Borussia Dortmund)
Schlotterbeck has become a much more refined product already after exploding onto the scene with Freiburg. While he may be best used in a back three, Schlotterbeck has used his physical and technical qualities very well in Dortmund’s back four too. A world class center-back with years to come.

2. Min-jae Kim (Bayern Munich)
Bayern’s latest superstar addition in defense is South Korea’s Min-jae Kim. The former Napoli man was instrumental in Napoli winning the Scudetto after a thirty year drought, and will be revolutionary for Bayern’s defense. Kim’s positional awareness and ability to command a defense is unparalleled in the world, as he very rarely puts a tackle or interception in but rather uses his positioning and communication to win the ball back.

1. Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich)

Liverpool FC v Bayern München - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by S. Mellar/FC Bayern via Getty Images

Of course it was going to be De Ligt at the top spot. The Dutch international is my favourite defender of this generation and to watch him play in Bayern colours has felt like nothing short of an honour. De Ligt’s ground game is one of the best in Europe, and his passing range and overall ability on the ball is rare to find in any player across the decades of football history. He is perhaps the only defender in modern football who can decide games all by himself both in defending his own goal as well as scoring at the other end, which he has done for Bayern time and time again in the last year.

What do you think of our picks? Is there any order you would’ve changed? Do you think Kim will surpass De Ligt for the top spot over the course of the season? Let us know in the discussion below.

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