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It would be hard to find a football fan who did not view Virgil van Dijk as the Premier League’s best defender this time last year.
The Liverpool star led the club to Champions League glory in the 2019/20 campaign, before playing every minute of the following Premier League season as they won a first top-flight title in 30 years.
As the Reds looked to defend their crown, Van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury after colliding with Everton’s Jordan Pickford last October.
The £75million Dutchman has not made a competitive appearance since, but could return in Liverpool’s pre-season friendly against Hertha Berlin on Thursday, according to manager Jurgen Klopp.
A fit again Van Dijk will be a welcome sight and with Raphael Varane closing in on a move to Manchester United, the Premier League will soon be home to the world’s finest and most expensive centre-backs.
Here, talkSPORT look at the five best, including the soon-to-be Old Trafford stopper.
5. John Stones – Man City (Cost: £47.5million)
Stones’ turnaround at Man City has been remarkable.
In the early stages of last season, the 27-year-old was struggling to make manager Pep Guardiola’s matchday squads.
However, from November onwards, Stones formed a formidable partnership with Ruben Dias as City went on to win a third Premier League title in four years.
Stones’ form also led to a recall to the England squad in March.
His consistency, which also saw City reach a first ever Champions League final, resulted in him starting every game for the Three Lions at Euro 2020.
Stones appears to be fulfilling his potential as he enters the peak years of his career.
4. Raphael Varane – Manchester United (Cost: £43m)
Varane is moving ever closer to completing his £43m move to United.
The 28-year-old has won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League trophy during a hugely successful career so far.
And add a World Cup winners’ medal to his collection with 79 caps for France.
Varane’s packed out trophy cabinet is why he is regarded as one of the world’s best defenders.
With just one year left on his contract, Real Madrid chose to cash-in on their star defender, who reportedly had no interest in signing fresh terms amid United’s interest.
The Premier League’s best attacking players could find it hard getting past a defensive block of Varane and Harry Maguire next season.
3. Thiago Silva – Chelsea (Cost: Free transfer)
Silva has commanded around £55m in transfer fees during his career.
And Chelsea arguably pulled off one of the biggest coups of the 2020 summer transfer window by landing the veteran defender on a free transfer.
Silva had a Premier League debut to forget, though, when his loose touch led to a goal from Callum Robinson in a 3-3 draw with newly-promoted West Brom.
Instead of letting that mistake get to him, Silva went from strength to strength and helped Chelsea win the Champions League in May.
And in the Premier League, only Man City conceded fewer goals (32) than Chelsea (36) last season.
The 36-year-old’s form earned him a one-year contract extension with Chelsea and he looks set to play another pivotal role in the season ahead.
2. Harry Maguire – Manchester United (Cost: £80m)
Maguire has been one of the most scrutinised players in the Premier League since becoming the world’s most expensive defender when he joined Manchester United for £80m from Leicester in 2019.
He has been a regular starter for the Red Devils since, but suffered his first serious injury for the club towards the end of last season.
In United’s final five games of the campaign without Maguire, they won just once and suffered a Europa League final defeat to Villarreal.
It highlighted Maguire’s importance to the team, something England boss Gareth Southgate knew as he included the injured centre-half in his Euro 2020 squad.
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Maguire missed the first two games of the tournament before returning as England conceded just two goals in the five matches he played in.
The 28-year-old finally seems to be getting the recognition he deserves.
Last month, Manchester United teammate Dean Henderson put Maguire in the same category as Van Dijk.
He said: “How can you doubt Harry Maguire? Nobody can doubt him.
“He plays every single game for Manchester United, the biggest football club in the world and no matter what he gives his best.
“Unfortunately you can’t play outstanding in every game because nobody is perfect, but Harry is a top centre-half.
“I’d put him in the same category as Virgil van Dijk, and I’ll be proven right in the next couple of years, because he’s only going to get better and better.”
1. Ruben Dias – Man City (Cost: £61.2m)
Dias was relatively unknown to most English football fans when he arrived at Man City for a big fee from Benfica last summer.
But he has justified his price tag with Premier League and Carabao Cup winners’ medals in his debut season in England.
On top of that, Dias won the Premier League Player of the Season award and was named the FWA Footballer of the Year.
He was also listed in the Premier League and Champions League teams of the year.
At just 24 years old, Dias has the potential to be the Premier League’s best defender for the next decade.
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