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Best Young Defenders of 2021

Sat 06 November 2021 | 5:30

Join us as we take a look at the top young players from Europe’s best leagues in 2021 to find out who are the best young defenders of 2021:

Previously we looked at Europe’s best leagues to find out who have been some of the best young forwards and midfielders in Europe in 2021. Well now it’s time to finally look at the

best young defenders of 2021

. Unlike midfielders and strikers, defenders (especially young defenders) don’t usually get the attention they deserve as you will find out in this article since some of these players, despite achieving so much this past year have gone under the radar.

This could be due to many things including the fact that like goalkeepers, defenders take a longer time to fully develop and mature since their job is always under scrutiny and every mistake could set them back a lot. Also because defending is not as glamorous as perhaps scoring or creating goals, it tends to not get noticed a lot by general football fans. But we are here to change that, at least a little bit, and give these outstanding young players the respect they’re due:

Best Young Defenders in the World

Since there are a lot of incredible young players that can cover a number of defensive and attacking roles, like Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, we have decided to solely choose our best young defenders in the world from those who exclusively play in the defense. let’s find out who are these players:

Nuno Tavares (Arsenal, Portugal)

We kick off our list of best young defenders of 2021 with one of

Arsenal

’s newest signings and their back-up left back, Nuno Tavares. A part of Benfica’s incredible youth academy, Tavares broke into Benfica’s first team during the 2019-20 season after impressing in their reserve team. He then enjoyed two season in Benfica as a squad player before Arsenal decided to bring him in this past summer for £8 million as a back-up left back to the incredibly talented Kieran Tierney.

As mentioned above, Arsenal fans thought that Tavares was only a back-up but the Portuguese has stunned fans and critics alike with his performances, especially in recent weeks in the absence of Tierney. Tavares’ outstanding pace and hunger to go forward as well as his ability to dribble past several defenders make a rarity among fullbacks in today’s game. However, his positioning, his tendency to not track back and his overall reading of the game could be improved upon in the future.

By appearing in more than 40 matches for Benfica as well as the 9 appearances he has already made for Arsenal, Tavares is very much on his way to getting the experience he needs to fully develop as a left-back. While there are areas he needs to work on, his ambition and the technique he has to back that up certainly makes Nuno Tavares one of the best young football defenders around Europe and one that we can’t wait to see more of in the future.

Josko Gvardiol (RB Leipzig, Croatia)

Josko Gvardiol is a name that you’ll be hearing a lot in the coming seasons as the Croatian defender has the potential to become one of the best defenders in the world but for now he is at least considered to be one of the best young defenders in the world. The 19 year old is already enjoying a starting position in a prominent Bundesliga team (

RB Leipzig

) as well as having decent Champions League and national team experience under his belt, having appeared in Croatia’s Euro 2020 campaign.

Son of a former amateur Croatian footballer, Josko Gvardiol started his youth career mainly playing in the center midfield role or as a left-back but following his impressive displays with the youth and reserve teams in Dinamo Zagreb, he was called in to the senior side and was then utilized as a center back, a position he mainly occupies right now.

Gvardiol’s great performances in UEFA Youth League and the Croatian league with

Dinamo Zagreb

got the attention of many of Europe’s elite clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United, Manchester City, Inter Milan and Ajax and he even had offers from the likes of Leeds United all of which he turned down only to sign for RB Leipzig at the start of last season for €16 million, making him the third most expensive Croatian player ever. He then spent another season at Dinamo, this time on loan before joining Leipzig at the start of this current season.

With 2 Croatian league titles as well as a cup trophy, Josko Gvardiol has already won plenty more trophies than some of the best young defenders of 2021 on our list. He was also named as the best young player in Croatia for 2021 as well as being included in the Team of the Season. with him holding a starting role at RB Leipzig and

Bundesliga

being ideal for developing young players such as him, he is bound to go far and become one of the best Croatian players ever.

Sergino Dest (Barcelona, USA)

One of the exciting new generation of American players who have taken Europe by storm is Sergino Dest. The Barcelona full back like many of his American players from his generation started his senior career in Europe rather than America and his time at the prestigious Ajax academy proved vital as he is now living his dream of playing for Barcelona. Although there are areas of his playing style that needs strengthening, Sergino Dest is certainly one of the best young football defenders.

Dest, who actually turns 21 today, is capable of playing at both flanks as a full-back on the count of him being ambidextrous. After playing for a season with Jong Ajax, Dest made his debut for Ajax’s senior team in the 2019-20 season. he impressed Ajax’s coaching staff enough to make him a regular starter for them as he went on to feature in 35 matches for

Ajax

in all competitions. As a full back, Dest’s speed and technique are his best assets as he is able to take on many defenders going forward while still be able to track back fast when defending.

Dest’s performances at Ajax were enough to garner him a lot of attention from Europe’s biggest clubs, even throughout the season, but he ultimately decided to join Barcelona for a transfer fee €21 million fee plus a further €5 million in add-ons.

While he didn’t exactly light up Nou Camp with his performances from last season, his starting spot at a team like Barcelona and his increased performance levels as the season went on, especially in 2021, speaks volumes about his attitude and potential to become one of the best in the world and is exactly the reason he is among the best young defenders of 2021. Dest was also able to win his first trophy with Blaugrana as they won the Copa del Rey last season.

Nuno Mendes (PSG, Portugal)

The 2nd Portuguese defender to appear on our list is the brilliant Nuno Mendes who has climbed the development ladders of football really fast and in addition to being one of the best young defenders of 2021, he is already playing alongside the likes of Messi, Mbappe and Neymar at a team like

PSG

. While he was originally an attacking midfielder, Nuno Mendes was moved further back to the left-back position in which he excels today.

Through a combination of chance and his own talent, Nuno Mendes got to be a starting left back in a

Sporting Lisbon

side that went on to win the league after over a decade of failure to do so. On top of that glorious league title, Mendes and co. were able to win the cup too to make the 2020-21 season a Double-winning one for Sporting fans.

Mendes himself was able to contribute heavily to Sporting’s success as most of Sporting’s attacking prowess came from the left hand side, where he operated. Although many also criticized Mendes’ defensive contributions as he was sometimes caught out of position, something that he could definitely remedy in the future.

While it was only a breakout season for Nuno Mendes, it proved to be a memorable one with him playing a big role in Sporting’s first league title in 19 years as well as their cup triumph. For his efforts, Nuno Mendes was included in Primeira Liga’s Team of the Season and was also included in Portugal’s Euro 2020 squad. he joined PSG at the start of this current season and is already making plenty of appearances alongside the likes of Messie and Mbappe, which further proves his talent and why he is considered to be one of the

best young defenders of 2021

.

Eric Garcia (Barcelona, Spain)

Eric Garcia was always headed for big things ever since he was developing his skills as a defender at Barcelona’s La Masia academy under the tutelage of the great Carles Puyol. He then made the smart and unusual choice of joining Manchester City instead of waiting his turn to play at Barcelona, since it was what his agent, Carles Puyol, advised him on, and he went on to make a name for himself at Manchester City under the eyes of Pep Guardiola.

Garcia actually transferred from Barcelona to

Manchester City

in 2017 when he was barely 17 years old but it only took him a year to break into Manchester City’s insanely talented first team. He then went on to have a breakout season in 2019-20 season. as the 2020-21 season was dragging on however, it was apparent that Eric Garcia was not interested in signing a contract extension at Manchester City and in fact wished to return to his beloved Barcelona at the end of the season when his contract with City expired, which he did so.

After taking part in both Spain’s Euro 2020 and Olympics campaign during the 2021 summer, being an influential player at both tournaments for Spain, Garcia once again joined Barcelona on a five year contract which was a coup for Barcelona as they were getting one of the

best young defenders of 2021

free of any transfer charge. It was a welcome win for Blaugrana after having so many failed signings in recent years. although Garcia is yet to make his impact at Barcelona as Barca have been having a tough time this season!

Sven Botman (Lille OSC, Netherlands)

Another underrated defender who has gone under the radar of a lot of people is

Lille

’s Sven Botman, who without a doubt was one of the best young defenders in the world in the past year as he helped Lille OSC to a shock Ligue 1 triumph over their rivals PSG, Monaco and Lyon. A towering center back, Botman was a product of Ajax’s academy but actually made his senior debut for another Dutch club, Heerenveen, when he was on loan there in the 2019-20 season before deciding to join Lille on a permanent basis at the start of the last season.

After joining Lille for a €9 million, Botman immediately was brought to the first team where he became one of the most important players for Lille, going on to start for Lille in 37 of their 38 matches in the

Ligue 1

as they led PSG for most of the campaign and eventually won the league to everyone’s shock and surprise. Botman’s specialty in defending seems to be cutting off the attacks rather than stopping attackers on 1v1s since his 3.2 clearances per game and 1.5 interceptions per game shows as much.

With the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt and even Stefan de Vrij in front of him, Botman hasn’t had the chance to play for Netherlands’ national team but with the quality that he has shown in past year, becoming one of the best young defenders of 2021, he is certain to get his chance sooner or later and has a real chance of creating a great partnership with de Ligt as well as moving to a much bigger club.

William Saliba (Marseille, France)

William Saliba has consistently been one of

the best young football defenders

in the past couple of seasons and yet he is weirdly out casted by Arsenal’s boss Mikel Arteta. The Frenchman has dominated the Ligue 1 ever since he was a teenager at Saint-Etienne when he signed for Arsenal after having a breakout season in 2018-19. He was then loaned back to Saint-Etienne for a season and has since been on two separate loan seasons at Rennes and now Marseille where he has performed outstandingly, becoming one of the best defenders in Ligue 1.

With William Saliba being 1.92cm tall and him having great control and technique over the ball as well as his great one-on-one defending and reading of the game, the Frenchman has the potential to become one of the best defenders of his generation. his commanding presence at the heart of defense is only getting better with experience and his great interceptions per game ratio (1.6) and clearances per game (2.8) in 2021 at Rennes and

Marseille

shows just a glimpse of what a great defender he is.

And yet with all these great attributes, Saliba has yet to make a single senior appearance for Arsenal which is quite odd. For anyone who follows the news of Arsenal, it’s apparent that there is a problem behind the scenes between Arteta and Saliba, the way

Arteta

had problems with Guendozi and Ozil too. But many Arsenal fans hope that the situation with Saliba is not that dire and the Frenchman who is genuinely one of the best young defenders of 2021 can come back to the fold and be a part of an already great defensive line up at Arsenal.

Reece James (Chelsea, England)

Reece James is not only one of the

best young defenders in the world

but he is genuinely a contender for being the best right back in the world as the Englishman seems to have it all when it comes to defending and attacking as a full back. A product of Chelsea’s own academy, Reece James was one of those players that took advantage of Chelsea’s transfer ban, dictating themselves to Frank Lampard who was Chelsea’s manager at the time and since his breakout season, Chelsea hardly looked for a better option for the right back position as James is as good as they come!

Originally a midfielder, Reece James has great command of the ball and great technique, pass delivery as well as speed and technique to actually function as a winger or a midfielder. But what makes him great is his positional understanding and great defensive mindset when he is asked to drop back and defend rather than being a gong-ho attacking fullback. These were at display in the Champions League final where James was arguably one of the most important figures at

Chelsea

that made the Blues win that match, with James completely neutralizing Manchester City’s frighteningly good left hand side.

After having only a season on loan at Wigan Athletic, Reece James has become one of the best defenders in the Premier League for Chelsea since 2019. He has taken his game to the next level after Chelsea’s current manager Tuchel has arrived since the German seems to admire James a lot. We already spoke about his impact on Chelsea’s Champions League title but since the start of this season he has also helped the Blues win the European Supercup and has also scored 4 goals in 7 matches which is rare for a defender, making him one of the best young defenders of 2021.

 

Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich, Canada)

By now most football fans are familiar with Bayern’s Alphonso Davies, as the 21 year old has taken the Bundesliga and even Europe by storm since his arrival from Whitecaps in 2018. After helping Bayern Munich immensely in their sextuplet winning season, Davies has continued his development becoming one of the best full backs in the world and one of the

best defenders of 2021

, despite the several injuries he has picked up in the past year.

Born in Ghana on November 2, 2000, Alphonso Davies moved with his family to Canada and was living in a refugee camp up until his early teens, taking care of his younger siblings since both his parents were working double shifts to provide for the family. Perhaps that instilled in him an early sense of responsibility and reliability, one that many young players struggle to learn early on their career, which has naturally helped Davies a lot on his career so far.

After a couple of great seasons at Vancouver Whitecaps which even earned him an MLS All-Star appearance, Alphonso Davies decided to join Bayern Munich in the January of 2019 with a transfer fee of 13.5 million dollars. Although he was primarily a winger at Whitecaps, Davies would later be used as a full back or a wing back at Bayern because of his speed, dribbling and crossing ability. Although Davies does lack a lot of defensive capabilities that a full back should have.

Since his arrival at

Bayern Munich

, Davies has won 3 Bundesliga titles, 2 DFB-Pokals, a Champions League, a Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup as well as performing incredibly well for Canada’s national team by scoring 10 goals in 28 matches. he is undoubtedly one of the best fullbacks in the world and an important part of Bayern’s team going forward, who has learnt a lot in the past couple of seasons despite his young age.

Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus, Netherlands)

Rounding out our list of the best young defenders of 2021, we have Juventus and Netherlands’ Matthijs de Ligt. The Dutch center back, who joined Juventus in 2019, after having a successful few seasons at Ajax where he led the club as captain to 2 European semi-finals despite his young age, has been touted to become one of the best defenders in the world for quite some time now. Naturally, that kind of praise was followed by a race between European elites to sign him but it was Juventus who was finally able to bring the Dutch center back to Turin in a £75 million deal.

Brought in to help with

Juventus

’ aging back line, Matthijs de Ligt is a defender that has all the right attributes to be a world-class player. he is good in the air as well as with his feet and also possesses a tactical intelligence that few center backs possess. He is however prone to occasional mistakes but those sort of things can always be trained out of a player. He is also a natural leader that led Ajax to the semi-finals of the Champions League when he was only 20 years old. Something that Juve’s fans really hope for him to repeat in the future.

Basically, he is the future of Juventus and as such the club has invested heavily on him as he is actually the best paid player in Serie A. his time at Juve however has not been as successful as he wanted it to be but de Ligt has been able to help Juventus win a Serie A title as well as a Copa Italia trophy. Matthijs de Ligt is without a doubt one of the best defenders of 2021 and with a good coach to guide him he can become the best of his generation.

 

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source: SportMob

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