Premier League defenders: Who’s in our Top Five? And how to choose just five?

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As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

Picking a group of five defenders is way more difficult than selecting the best goalkeepers in the league, and given the vitriol from Monday’s Top Five ‘keepers, I’m preparing for a total bombardment of my home office after I tag just five back line heroes from the entire Premier League.

Plus, how do you choose? For example, there are some commanding defensive presences who aren’t going to contribute much to the attack, while others can thrill you with crosses from the outside and dipping free kicks but are a bit less impressive when it comes to tackling.

[ MORE: All of PST’s season previews | Top 5 goalkeepers | Midfielders | Forwards ]

Consider this statistic, which will blow minds: According to advanced statistics site Squawka, the most complete defender in terms of attacking, possession and defending last season was:

Not John Terry.

Not Martin Skrtel.

Not Jose Fonte.

It was Chris Smalling.

 

And how about this? Smalling was the only player to place double-digit scores in each category, as well as the only player to sit inside the Top Five in two categories (attack and possession).

Considering all that, can we possibly keep him outside our Top Five? Of course we can. Will we? Read on.

5. Ashley Williams, Swansea City — Like Lukasz Fabianski behind him, Williams played incredibly well on an often times under-the-radar Swans unit last season. He’s not going to thrill you on offense, but he’ll organize a unit and make life hard on any striker. In Garry Monk’s formation, that’s a big responsibility and Williams met it head on.

4. Martin Skrtel, Liverpool — One of my favorite animated graphics is of the 30-year-old Slovakian eating nails for breakfast. His 7-goal season two years ago was an aberration, but he can chip in while organizing a back line.

3. John Terry, Chelsea — Terry isn’t as sound a defender or tackler as Skrtel, but he’s a better facilitator for possession and has a superior nose for the ball.

source: Getty Images

2. Phil Jagielka, Everton — He can hit a ball on the screws from time to time, but what the England veteran does best is provide a healthy dose of steel to the Toffees back line. “Jags” had 49 blocked shots and 390 interceptions to place among the league’s top defenders.

1. Jose Fonte, Southampton — Consider that Saints’ Portuguese back was commandeered a team with crazy turnover last season, as well as a brand new coach and system. The veteran only came out and steadied the entire unit while ranking amongst the Premier League leaders in touches (9th), tackles (29th) and interceptions (1st). In the last category, his 414 steals is 15 more than second-place Nemanja Matic (399) and 24 more than the nearest defender (Jagielka).

Honorable mention: Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Kieran Tripper and Danny Rose (Tottenham), Daryl Janmaat (Newcastle United), Smalling and Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Branislav Ivanovic, Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham United), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City), Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman(Everton).

Alright… let us have it.

La Liga roundup: Celta spoil Hazard’s return in Real Madrid draw

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Real Madrid’s draw against relegation-battling Celta Vigo highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 2-2 Celta Vigo 

Celta’s Santi Mina scored in 85th minute to give a depleted Celta Vigo a precious point at the Santiago Bernabeu, spoiling Eden Hazard‘s return to Real Madrid’s lineup after a notable absence.

Madrid’s eighth draw of the season moves champions Barcelona just one point behind Zinedine Zidane’s side.

Returning from ankle injury that kept his out of action for three months, Hazard returned to the pitch in fine style, leading all players on the field in chances created with three and earning a penalty that Sergio Ramos converted to put Real Madrid ahead.

Hazard – and all of his flair – left the field in the 70th minute, granting Vinicius Junior the final 20 minutes of the match.

Ramos’ sixth goal of the season builded on Toni Kroos’ left-footed strike early in the latter half of the match. Real Madrid, more or less, were cruising against Celta, who had a goal to their name following Fyodor Smolov’s early opener.

Celta, who had arrived in Madrid in 18th place and had lost their last seven at the host’s home, were destined to do the unthinkable. Denis Suarez and Mina – both utilized as substitutes – paired up for the equalizer with five minutes to go, spoiling Hazard’s return.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 2-2 Espanyol

Leganes 0-0 Real Betis 

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Osasuna

Teammates appear to stop Marega leaving after racist slurs

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LIBSON, Portugal — FC Porto striker Moussa Marega, who tried to walk off the field after being the target of racist slurs from fans, faced apparent attempts Sunday by his own teammates and opposition players to prevent him from leaving.

Marega, who is black and from Mali, was visibly angered by monkey noises targeting him after he scored Porto’s second goal in a 2-1 win at Guimarães in the Portuguese football league.

But when Marega started to walk off the field, several players from both Porto and Guimarães appeared to argue with him. Porto coach Sérgio Conceição also went on the field and spoke with Marega.

It took Marega several minutes to leave the field when he was substituted.

Marega held his thumbs down at the crowd as he went into the tunnel to the changing rooms. The crowd responded with loud jeers.

The attitude of the other players has drawn criticism on social media.

“We are indignant with what has happened. Moussa was insulted from warmups (before kickoff),” Conceição said after the match.

“We are a family. One’s nationality, color, or height does not matter. We are human beings. We deserve respect and what happened was despicable.”

Marega received a yellow card following his goal in the 61st minute when he appeared to respond to the slurs by pointing at his skin and by picking up a seat that had been thrown on the pitch.

Timothy Weah returns to action with Lille after lengthy| absence

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Timothy Weah was back in action in Lille’s 2-1 loss to Marseille on Sunday after a 183-day absence.

The American attacker played the final 10 minutes of the defeat after being inactive since Lille’s second match of the season back in August 17 in which he suffered a “very bad hamstring tear“.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Weah arrived at Lille in June on a $12 million deal from Paris Saint-Germain, placing high expectations on the 19-year-old son of Ballon d’OR winner George Weah.

Since, however, the U.S. men’s national team player has had little activity with the French side, accumulating less than 100 minutes over a three-game stretch.

Lille manager Christophe Galtier will likely ease Weah’s way into the a starting role moving forward – which is largely contingent on his performances at practice and in official play.

Lille, who’ve accumulated 40 points in 25 matches, are currently fourth in Ligue 1.

WATCH: Ashley Young opens his Inter Milan account with volley

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The first English goalscorer in Serie A this decade is 34-year-old Ashley Young.

Inter Milan’s newly-integrated wingback opened his Serie A account in proper fashion – scoring with a first-time right-footed volley strike against a strong Lazio side.

Why did Manchester United let Young walk away from Old Trafford during the winter transfer window? Surely, Young will answer that in detail when the time is right. At this moment, he’s too busy scoring goals – stellar ones, too – as we can see for ourselves above.

Young arrived at Inter in January on a reported $2-million deal for the remainder of the season, with an option to extend for another season.