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Best La Liga center-backs of 2021

Mon 24 January 2022 | 8:30

Who were the best La Liga center-backs in 2021? How did each of these defenders fare throughout the previous season and the first half of the current campaign? Read on as we delve deeper into the careers of the top La Liga center-backs in 2021 and see how they have performed in the new season.

Having a solid center-back is just as important as having a prolific striker. If your team can’t defend properly, you will always concede silly goals, no matter how many goals your team actually scores. A center-back is always one of the main pillars of any team. A team can always play without fullbacks, but it can never function properly without a main defender or two at the back, covering the goalkeeper from the opposition forwards.

The Spanish premier league, or La Liga as all of us know it by, is undoubtedly one of the best leagues in world football, even with the several big names who have departed the league in recent years. Even though the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Lionel Messi and Neymar do not play in La Liga anymore, the Spanish top-flight is still regarded as a top league in Europe and its teams are serious title contenders in any and every tournament.

That is why the best performers in the league always get serious attention from other top teams in the continent. But who were the best performers of the year that passed? Who were the

best La Liga center-backs in 2021

? Surely you too are eager to find out more about these top-performing footballers and their careers throughout the years. So follow us below as we provide all the details you might need to know about best La Liga center-backs of 2021 and get to see how they have fared so far in the current campaign.

Top La Liga center-backs in 2021

From Real Madrid’s Eder Militao and Nacho Fernandez, to Sevilla’s rising star Jules Kounde, Real Sociedad’s Aritz Elustondo and Atletico Madrid’s title-winning defender Stefan Savic, there are some incredible talents on the list of greatest La Liga center-backs in the world in 2021. So without further ado, here is everything you need to know about these footballers and their respective careers in the Spanish top-flight so far.

Ronald Araujo

  • Team: Barcelona

  • Market value: €35M

Barcelona

might not be in a good place right now after not making it onto the Champions League Round of 16 for the first time since Messi’s arrival at the club in 2004. They might not even be a title contender in La Liga for the moment. But that does not mean it has anything to do with Ronald Araujo, who has put in everything he has got for his side since joining the Blaugrana from their reserves side in 2020.

Araujo initially joined Barcelona’s reserves side from Boston River for €4.7 million in the summer of 2018 and went on to rise up the ranks to finally make it onto the big stage. The Uruguay international has been improving his game week-in week-out, which is why his current market value is estimated to be around €35 million. He managed to earn a place amongst the regular starters at Barcelona during his very first season and went on to make a total of 33 appearances throughout the 2020-21 campaign.

Even though Barcelona did not get to achieve their goals in the league, they still managed to win the Copa del Rey partly thanks to Ronald Araujo’s brilliance at the back alongside Gerard Pique. The Uruguayan further proved to be one of the

best La Liga center-backs of 2021

with his top performance in the first half of the current season.

He has already appeared in more than 20 games so far and has proven himself as a reliable defender at the back. Of course the Uruguayan has suffered a couple of injuries since the beginning of the 2021-22 season and we will have to wait and see if these injuries are going to become persistent in the near future. While Araujo is certainly not on the level of his predecessors such as Carles Puyol for the time being, he was definitely one of the best La Liga center-backs in football in 2021.

Victor Ruiz

  • Team: Real Betis

  • Market value: €2M

Next on the list of

best La Liga center-backs of 2021

is Real Betis’ Victor Ruiz, who joined the La Liga side from

Besiktas

on a free transfer deal in the summer of 2020 and has been an integral part of the Spanish club ever since. Ruiz spent years in La Liga playing for clubs such as Valencia, Espanyol and Villarreal throughout his career and only joined Besiktas in 2019. He returned to Spain after only a year abroad and has been one of the best performers in the league with his defensive prowess.

Real Betis finished in a Europa League spot last season and are now surprisingly one of the main title contenders alongside Real Madrid and

Sevilla

. While Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are not completely out of the picture and can still make a comeback in the coming months, Real Betis really do have a chance of at least finishing in a Champions League spot for the next season. Manuel Pellegrini’s brilliance as the club’s manager has certainly paid off and the club have turned into a formidable side in the Spanish premier division.

Of course Victor Ruiz has played a vital part in Pellegrini’s success in the past couple of seasons, as it was his incredible form as one of the best La Liga center-backs in football in 2021 that helped Betis finish sixth in the league last season. The 32-year-old Spaniard made a total of 31 appearances in the previous campaign and even managed to bag a couple of goals in the process. The current season has been even better for the defender as he has been a part of the club’s journey towards success in the league.

Will Los Verdiblancos manage to keep their position amongst the top-3? Can Victor Ruiz, as one of the greatest La Liga center-backs in the world in 2021, prove his worth once again by seeing the season out with phenomenal stats? Only time will tell.

Gerard Pique

  • Team: Barcelona

  • Market value: €5M

Even if Gerard Pique is not what he used to be a couple of years ago, he is still one of the best-performing defenders in not just the Spanish top-flight but the whole Europe. Piique is actually a La Masia youth academy product and grew up in the city of Barcelona. He spent a short spell at Manchester United and 

Real Zaragoza

 before returning to Barcelona to become one of their most vital members.

Pique has been an incredible center-back for the Blaugrana throughout the years and even though they have fallen hard from their ivory towers in recent seasons, Pique is still considered to be a great defender for his age. The 34-year-old has won every collective trophy there is to win as a footballer and is continuing to put 110% in every game that he plays for the Catalan giants.

Pique was unquestionably one of the

best La Liga center-backs of 2021

as he was the one who stopped Barcelona from falling even deeper throughout the last season and in the first half of the current campaign. Despite several injuries in the first half of the 2020-21 season, Pique came back stronger as he recovered from his injuries to retain his place in the starting-XI.

Sure, the Blaugrana did not get to win the league title, but they still managed to win the Spanish Cup as Pique appeared in the second leg of the semifinals and the final itself, during which they humiliated Athletic Bilbao in a 4-0 thrashing. As one of the best La Liga center-backs in 2021, Pique went on to perform at his best in the second half of the year that passed and managed to appear in almost all of the league games except on four occasions.

The 2010 World Cup winner is also an adept header of the ball, which is why he has already managed to open the scoring on two occasions in the current campaign.

Nacho Fernandez

  • Team: Real Madrid

  • Market value: €7M

Nacho Fernandez has always been flying under the radar and is perhaps one of the most underappreciated players at

Real Madrid

. Just like his compatriot and teammate Lucas Vazquez, Fernandez is perhaps one of those few players who give all they have in every match that they play in. That is why he was one of the main men at the back alongside Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane or Eder Militao during the 2020-21 season. With Ramos and Varane’s departure in the summer transfer window, Madridistas are beginning to recognize how important of a player Nacho actually is for Los Blancos.

The Spain international is a born and raised Madridista himself as he actually is a Real Madrid Castilla product. He joined the club’s senior side back in 2013 and has since been a silent yet effective part of the Spanish giants throughout the years. He proved how vital he is during last season as Sergio Ramos was sidelined for a good chunk of the season. The 30-year-old made a total of 33 appearances across all competitions and even managed to score and provide an assist in the process.

Even though Real Madrid did not get to win any major trophies in the previous season, it seems that with Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival, everything has changed for Los Blancos. Being amongst the

greatest La Liga center-backs in the world in 2021

, Nacho appeared in 14 league games in the first half of the current season and the club only lost once when he was in the starting-XI.

The second time that Real Madrid lost was exactly when Nacho was dropped from the starting-XI. So perhaps Ancelotti can rethink his decision to drop Nacho from his squad as the Spaniard is clearly one of the top players at the club, just like how he was one of the best La Liga center-backs of 2021.

Aritz Elustondo

  • Team: Real Sociedad

  • Market value: €20M

While those who play for the top clubs in La Liga such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and

Atletico Madrid

get to receive all the plaudits from both the fans and pundits, there are those who perform at their best for their club and even win major trophies for their sides without attracting a lot of attention. One such player, who actually was one of the

best La Liga center-backs in football in 2021

, is Aritz Elustondo.

The 27-year-old is has been phenomenal for his side Real Sociedad ever since first gracing the pitch as a young and aspiring defender back in 2016. The Spaniard actually began his rise onto the big stage by graduating from Real Sociedad’s youth academy, which is why he is now highly respected amongst the club’s supporters. As one of the best La Liga center-backs of 2021, Elustondo made a total of 23 league appearances for Sociedad in the 2020-21 season, but failed to add another trophy to his trophy cabinet.

Even though his performance at the back did not bear any fruits for the Spanish club just like it had a season prior, Elustondo still managed to be lauded as one of the best in the business throughout the year. He has already managed to up his game in the current season with more than 15 appearances in the league so far, during which the defender has also managed to help in the attack with three goals and an assist in the process of those appearances.

Felipe

  • Team: Atletico Madrid

  • Market value: €8M

Next on the list of best La Liga center-backs of 2021 is Felipe Augusto de Almeida shortly known as Felipe. Having spent a major part of his career in Brazil, the defender joined

FC Porto

from Corinthians for €8 million back in 2016 and managed to convince Atletico Madrid to pay a whopping €20 million to acquire his services in the summer of 2019. Felipe might not be a footballing superstar for many due to his extended period of stay in the Brazilian top-flight, but the former Porto man is certainly a world-class defender.

The Brazilian made a total of 38 appearances for Los Rojiblancos in the 2020-21 season and helped them win the league title above Real Madrid and Barcelona. While Diego Simeone’s squad were quite formidable in La Liga last year, it seems that they might have lost the magic for the time being as the Argentine manager does not seem to have a clue how to turn the tides in their favor once again. Of course Simeone is without a doubt a world-class manager and he will eventually find a way out of the rut his team have been lately.

That is exactly when he is going to need Felipe to be in his best form possible. The Brazil international was surely one of the

top La Liga center-backs in 2021

, which is why he has been a part of the starting-XI for more than 15 games in the current season. We will have to wait and see if they can get back on their feet once again to challenge for the title itself in the coming months, or if all hope is lost for the rest of the campaign.

Raul Albiol

  • Team: Villarreal

  • Market value: €2M

There was a time not so long ago when Raul Albiol used to be a tough defender for Real Madrid. He joined Los Blancos from

Valencia

for €15 million in the summer of 2009 and later moved to Napoli for €12 million in 2013. Having spent six years with the Italian side, Albiol joined

Villarreal

for €4 million in 2019 and has since been an incredible asset for the Spanish side. The 36-year-old is still an effective and solid defender at the back and does not seem to be stopping any time soon.

Albiol proved to everyone why he was one of the best La Liga center-backs of 2021 by showcasing his defensive prowess. The Spaniard made a total of 47 appearances across all competitions and helped Unai Emery and his side win the Europa League in the final against Manchester United. While they did not get to finish in a Europa League spot on the league table, winning the European tournament helped them earn a spot in the Champions League.

The former Napoli man has appeared in more than 20 games this season an even though he did not get to help Villarreal win the Super Cup against Chelsea, he is still considered to be one of the best defenders in the Spanish top-flight.

Stefan Savic

  • Team: Atletico Madrid

  • Market value: €20M

31-year-old Stefan Savic played a vital role in Atletico Madrid’s success in winning La Liga as he held off opposition strikers with precision and style. He initially joined the Rojiblancos from

Fiorentina

for €12 million and has since been an important part of the club with stellar displays every season.

Even though Diego Simeone’s side have been struggling to find their form in recent games, Savic is still considered to be one of the most solid defenders in the league and has already made more than 15 appearances in the current season. He played in a total of 33 league games last campaign and even showed his prowess in attack as he scored a goal to further help his side.

Perhaps the main reason behind Atletico Madrid’s recent dip in form is the fact that Savic had been sidelined due to muscle injury during those consecutive defeats. Perhaps with the Montenegro international’s return, Diego Simeone can once again breathe a sigh of relief by focusing more on the offensive part of his plans by leaving the defense to Savic’s brilliance.

Eder Militao

  • Team: Real Madrid

  • Market value: €60M

Eder Militao has definitely come a long way since first joining Real Madrid from FC Porto for €50 million in 2019. He earned a place amongst the most expensive center-backs in the world with his massive transfer fee and has had to put in a lot of effort to finally live up to the billing. Even though there is still a long way to go for the Brazilian in order to prove himself to Madridistas, the former Porto man has already replaced Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos as Real Madrid’s main man at the back.

Militao was one of the best La Liga center-backs of 2021 for a couple of reasons, one of which was his consistency throughout the whole year. While Ramos was injured for a good chunk of the year prior to his departure in the summer of 2021, it was Eder Militao who filled in Ramos’ shoes with some impressive displays. Of course the Brazilian defender did not get to become Real Madrid’s main defender before the start of the 2021-22 season. It was after Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival that Militao suddenly rose to the occasion with his world-class performances.

Being one of the best La Liga center-backs in 2021, the Brazil international has already made more than 25 appearances across all competitions in the current campaign and has developed a fine connection with David Alaba, Nacho and his other defensive counterparts. The 23-year-old is already worth more than €60 million and is considered to be one of the best defenders of his generation.

Jules Kounde

  • Team: Sevilla

  • Market value: €60M

While Eder Militao plays for the most decorated club in the history of Champions League, he has not attracted as much attention as Jules Kounde, who has turned so many heads towards himself throughout the years. The Frenchman joined Sevilla from Bordeaux for €25 million in the 2019 summer transfer window and has since seen his market value skyrocket in almost three years by reaching more than double the amount of his initial transfer fee to Sevilla.

The 23-year-old is one of the main reasons behind the fact that Julen Lopetegui’s side are currently chasing Real Madrid in an intense rivalry for a chance to win the league title. While Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are struggling to reach the top-3, Sevilla are close to caching up with Real Madrid as they are only a couple of points behind in the league.

Kounde was one of the most vital parts of the club’s plans in the 2020-21 season as he made a total of 34 league appearances and helped his side finish fourth by only a two-point margin. He has certainly lived up to the billing with his outstanding performances week-in week-out. The only question that remains is that will he ever join another club in the coming years?

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