When Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were in the middle of Manchester United’s defence, there was no way through. The Premier League has been blessed with some glorious centre-back partnerships in recent times but in the current league, there’s not many who can match the strength of the old pairings. Tottenham’s defence are a rare celebration but where have all the centre-back partnerships gone? Here’s a reminder of some of the best we’ve had.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic
The two Manchester United defenders were arguably the best centre-back pairing of the last decade. Between them, they won 11 Premier League titles with the Red Devils and both wore the armband for United on several occasions. The two worked magnificently together; they were both complete defenders but offered different skills. Ferdinand was a great ball-playing defender and his distribution was vital to United’s success going forward. Both were no-nonsense centre-backs but Vidic was the tougher of the two. The Serbian was physical but clean with his tackling and the other defender was never too far apart. In their first full season together, United won the Premier League, reached the semi-finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup and the duo were named in the PFA Team of the Year. They were in the prime between 2007 and 2009 as United beat Chelsea to the European title and they claimed three consecutive Premier League titles. They were part of a world record in the 2008-9 season as the United defensive duo, alongside Edwin Van Der Sar, recorded 1311 minutes in the league whilst keeping 28 clean sheets.
John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho
The Portuguese centre-back was bought to Stamford Bridge by Jose Mourinho in 2004 and he joined the Blues’ captain in defence in what would become a blossoming partnership. Carvalho was a shrewd defender; he was composed and intelligent. The Portuguese added balance to the defence which worked well alongside Terry’s aggressive nature. During their first season together as a pair, they conceded just 15 goals as Chelsea went on the win the Premier League title. The year later they conceded just 22 goals, and it was obvious the pair were a wonderful partnership. Carvalho moved to Real Madrid in 2010 and since then, the former England international has yet to find a better partner despite Cahill and Zouma’s quality.
Stephane Henchoz and Sami Hyypia
Liverpool’s centre-backs were linked at the hip and had a brilliant understanding of each other. They were never too far apart and they always made sure they had each other’s backs. It was a short-lived partnership which lasted for just three years but they were crucial in the club’s treble-winning season of 2000-01. Both defenders were terrific in the air and were great at defending set pieces. Hyypia wore the captain’s armband until Steven Gerrard was given the duties but he remained a leader in the side, forming another partnership alongside Jamie Carragher when Henchoz left in 2005.
Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure
The 2003-4 season saw one of the most incredible feats in Premier League history achieved as Arsenal completed the season as unbeaten title-winners. They conceded the least amount of goals and at the heart of their defence was Campbell and Toure who proved to be a formidable partnership. They played together for each of the 38 games and the duo were incredible in defence. Every tackle, header, block and interception were crucial to Arsenal’s pursuit of invincibility and whilst Theirry Henry’s goals provided all the entertainment, Toure and Campbell’s protection kept Arsenal solid throughout.
Martin Laursen and Olof Melberg
Aston Villa could do with this pair in centre-back now as they go into the 2016-17 season fighting to get out of the Championship and back into the top flight after their relegation this year. Melberg and Laursen were two great leaders and during the 2006-7 season they carried Villa to just six points off a European place. The two centre-backs were fan favourites around Villa Park due to their ability to score powerful headers as well as defend them. After a solid performance in 2007, the pair were then crucial in helping Villa go one better the season after and the club finished in sixth position.
Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross
Although the Stoke partnership wasn’t as attractive to watch as Ferdinand and Vidic, the defenders were athletic, strong and ruthless at the back. Unlike many of the other partnerships, where the two centre-backs differed in qualities, the Stoke duo were very similar and they provided a strong wall in front of their goal. Shawcross was known for his hard tackling and the Englishman was unlucky not to have received a call-up to the national team. Huth joined in 2009 and his partnership with Shawcross strengthened the Stoke side dramatically, earning them respect in the Premier League.
Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld
Tottenham were one step away from Premier League glory this season as Leicester produced a fairy tale saga to become league champions. The Belgian centre-backs were the best defensive pairing in the league and were vital in their team’s success. Alderweireld joined Tottenham last summer in a shrewd move by manager Pochettino and his transfer was one of the best signings last year. The two play together regularly on the international stage and it’s clear they transfer this into the league. The consistency of Tottenham’s side played an important role and the two centre-backs were an ever-present in the Spurs’ back four. For £12m Vertonghen was a terrific signing back in 2012 and when Alderweireld joined for £11.5m, it meant Tottenham had brought one of the best centre-back partnerships in Europe for less than £25m.