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.

Bilbao’s Williams: ‘I suffered racist insults’ at Espanyol

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Athletic Bilbao forward Inaki Williams says that he was a victim of racial abuse from fans while playing at Espanyol in a Spanish league game on Saturday.

Williams said after the 1-1 draw that “I suffered racist insults, something that no one wants to hear and has no place here.”

Williams, who is black, played 82 minutes of the match before being substituted.

“People should come to enjoy themselves, to help their team. This is a sport about friendship,” Williams said.

More AP soccer https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

FA Cup: Chelsea survive trip to Hull, advance to 5th round (video)

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With their 2-1 victory away to EFL Championship side Hull City, Chelsea joined Leicester City, Sheffield United and Norwich City as Premier League sides to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

[ FA CUP ROUNDUP: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance ]

Frank Lampard‘s side got off to a flying start courtesy of Michy Batshuayi‘s deflected finish in the 6th minute, and the Blues were well on their way to a first half of total dominance.

Hull looked more prepared for a fight after halftime, but it mattered very little after Fikayo Tomori was gifted a free header two yards off the goal line. Ross Barkley‘s free kick was well placed at the back post and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Hull pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 78th minute, and they were more than a little fortunate in how they managed to do so. Kamil Grosicki smacked a free kick with plenty of power and got the deflection of all deflections to wrong-foot Willy Caballero and find the back of the net.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup roundup: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round (early) action…

[ MORE: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Ham were the lone Premier League side to be knocked out by a lower-division side on Saturday, as David Moyes‘ side failed to find the back of the net and were beaten 1-0 by EFL Championship leaders West Brom.

Conor Townsend scored the game’s only goal in the 9th minute, and though the Hammers controlled possession the rest of the way, they created very little in terms of scoring chances and finished the game with just three shots on target. West Brom finished the game with 10 men, but West Ham could do nothing with their 18-minute advantage following Semi Ajayi‘s second yellow card in the 72nd minute.

Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s dream season continued with a comfortable 2-0 victory away to Championship side Millwall. Both goals came inside the final half-hour, but the Blades were unquestionably the better side even before breaking the deadlock.

That came in the 62nd minute, when Muhamed Besic placed a stunning curler inside the far post for 1-0. Not long before full-time, in the 84th, Oliver Norwood drove his effort hard and low and into the corner to make it 2-0.

Burnley 1-2 Norwich City

Norwich and Burnley were largely inseparable for the majority of Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor, save for a four-minute period early in the second half in which Norwich scored twice and booked their place in the fifth round.

Grant Hanley made it 1-0 in the 53rd and Josip Drmic added to the advantage in the 57th minute. Erik Pieters pulled Burnley back to within a goal in the 73rd, but that’s as close as the Clarets would get.

FA Cup fourth-round scoreboard

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur — FULL RECAP
Newcastle United 0-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley
Coventry City 0-0 Birmingham City
Reading 1-1 Cardiff City

RB Leipzig beaten, Bundesliga title race thrown wide open

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BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig 2-0 to throw the title race wide open on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Frankfurt defender Almamy Toure scored a brilliant goal just after the break and Filip Kostic sealed the win in injury time to deal Leipzig its first defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Freiburg in October.

Borussia Monchengladbach cut the gap at the top to two points with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz, thanks largely to goals in each half from French striker Alassane Plea.

Bayern Munich has the chance to cut the gap to one point with a win at home over Schalke in the late game.

[ FA CUP: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

Borussia Dortmund is just four points off the top after its 5-1 win over Cologne on Friday.

Also Saturday, Union Berlin defeated Augsburg 2-0 at home, Hertha Berlin came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolfsburg, and Paderborn moved off the bottom with a 2-0 win at Freiburg.