Koulibaly, Skriniar or Tomori: Who Is the Top Serie A Defender?

Throughout the past decades, Italian football has always been associated with great defenders. From Gaetano Scirea to Giorgio Chiellini, all the way through the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Giuseppe Bergomi and Fabio Cannavaro.

Even though the Italian national team is struggling to find capable center backs who can take the torch for years to come, Serie A remains the home of some of the greatest defenders in the game today.

In this installment, we’ll crown the Cult of Calcio’s best Serie A defender for the 2021/22 campaign. First, we’ll outline the five candidates by alphabetic order while explaining their respective claims before finally picking the most deserving winner in hour humble opinion.

Gleison Bremer (Torino)

While the other candidates on the list were already established names before the campaign’s kickoff, Gleison Bremer cemented his spot among the elite on the back of a stunning campaign.

The Brazilian defender joined Torino back in 2018, but this term, he proved to be one of the most improved players in Serie A, and a real monster at the back.

This season, the 25-year-old managed to nullify the threats of some of the finest strikers in Calcio. During the first Derby della Mole, he completely marked Moise Kean out of the match, forcing Massimiliano Allegri to take the Italian off at halftime.

In the return fixture, Juventus had acquired the services of Dusan Vlahovic, but not even the Serbian bomber managed to make the difference against the solid Brazilian who was arguably the man of the match.

Matthijs De Ligt (Juventus)

After spending his first two seasons in Turin learning the ropes, Matthijs de Ligt has finally become the bona fide star of the Bianconeri’s backline and the de facto leader of the club’s next generation.

While Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were dealing with recurring physical issues, the Old Lady resorted to the young center back to defend the club’s cause.

Despite committing some blunders along the way, the Dutchman proved to be one of the most consistent players in a troublesome campaign at Juventus. Every match, the 22-year-old contributes with a string of vital interceptions at the back and his age suggests that the best is yet to come.

Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)

At the age 30 and with the experience of eight Serie A campaigns under his belt, one would think that Kalidou Koulibaly had reached his peak a long time ago and might struggle to maintain his current level for years to come.

Yet, the Senegalese defender continues to grow from strength to strength and still has sufficient energy in the tank for an entire backline. The former Genk center back is simply a beast that no Serie A striker wishes to cross paths with.

Moreover, Koulibaly’s attacking contribution is surprisingly growing as well. This season, he found the back of the net on three occasions in Serie A, while also providing a couple of assists for his teammates.

Milan Skriniar (Inter)

Despite missing out on the Scudetto title, Inter arguably possess the best defensive unit in the league. Simone Inzaghi’s roster includes the likes of Alessandro Bastoni and Stefan de Vrij. Nonetheless, it’s Milan Skriniar who is a cut above the rest.

The former Sampdoria man is an absolute warrior at the back, and his contributions are extremely vital for the team’s cause. Dribbling past the Slovakian defender is an extremely tough task even for the finest forwards in Serie A, while winning air duels is another specialty of his.

Therefore, it’s no coincidence to hear that several top European sides are eying a move for the 27-year-old this summer.

Fikayo Tomori (Milan)

Unlike the rest of the candidates on the list, Fikayo Tomori offered no direct contribution in his team’s goals. But this made little difference, as the England international’s main objective is first and foremost preventing goals on the other end of the pitch. And judging by Milan’s defensive stats this season, he made a brilliant job at it.

Moreover, the former Chelsea man had to cope without the reassuring presence of the vastly experienced Simon Kjaer. Instead, the 24-year-old had to act as the consensus leader at the back and help the young Pierre Kalulu in adjusting to a new central role, but this unusual duo somehow blossomed into one of the best defensive partnerships in Serie A.

Not bad for a young player who was deemed as unworthy of a major role at the Stamford Bridge.

The Verdict

After listing five great candidates, picking one winner is an incredibly tough task. However, a choice must be made, and there has to be someone who proved to be slightly more deserving than the rest of the formidable pack.

While de Ligt is slowly but surely cementing his spot among the best defenders in the world, some of his lesser performances suggest that he still has a lot to learn in order to reach elite level. As for Bremer, featuring for a midtable side can only take you so far, but his impeccable campaign should surely earn him a switch towards a significantly bigger club.

Even though it was another solid season for Skriniar, Inter’s backline proved to be a mere shade of the impregnable wall architected by Antonio Conte last season. And while Tomori proved to be a true Rossoneri warrior at the back, he falls just short behind the Napoli stalwart.

While the Partenopei had always enjoyed a brilliant attacking force, it was the newly-found defensive solidity under Luciano Spalletti that lifted the team’s status into legitimate title contenders. But of course, none of it would have been possible if it wasn’t for the unmatched prowess of Koulibaly.

With all due respect for Amir Rrahmani, the Senegalese lacked top class partners at the back, but it didn’t stop him from putting one solid shift after another and turning himself into a mobile fortress.

For all these reasons, the man who goes by the simple nickname of ‘K2’ is arguably the best defender in Serie A this season.