The 10 best defenders at Euro 2024

  • Some of the world's best defenders will be in action at Euro 2024
  • England, France, Germany and Portugal among nations expected to do well
  • Outstanding centre-backs and flying full-backs could prove key in determining winners
Virgil van Dijk, Antonio Rudiger and Ruben Dias are among the very best in the world
Virgil van Dijk, Antonio Rudiger and Ruben Dias are among the very best in the world / Rene Nijhuis/MB Media/Alexander Hassenstein/ Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

It's not just supreme attacking talent that'll be on display at Euro 2024 this summer, there's a fair share of brilliant defenders to consider, too.

Contemporary defenders come in all shapes and sizes, with the once unglamorous roles drastically increasing in style. Youngsters are still unlikely to desire the 'next Gary Neville' tag, but some wouldn't mind being the next Trent Alexander-Arnold or Virgil van Dijk.

Europe's best convene in Germany this summer for the 17th European Championships, with the defenders involved aiming to put a stop to the upward goalscoring trend at major international tournaments.

A whopping 142 were scored at Euro 2020 at an average of 2.78 per match, while a record 172 were scored at the 2022 World Cup. The attackers have certainly won the tug of war in recent years, but Europe is blessed with a litany of high-class performers at the back.

Here are the best defenders competing at Euro 2024.

10. Jeremie Frimpong

Jeremie Frimpong
Frimpong will be flying down the Netherlands' right / Dean Mouhtaropoulos/GettyImages

Denzel Dumfries was one of the stars of Euro 2020 before the Dutch were stunned in the round of 16 by Czechia, but he is unlikely to play a prominent role for Ronald Koeman this summer.

There's a new right-wing-back in town.

Jeremie Frimpong heads into Euro 2024 having scored a career-high nine goals while flying down Bayer Leverkusen's right flank last season. 2023/24 was his second straight campaign of amassing at least 15 league goal contributions.

The flying wing-back is nothing short of electric and his evolution under Xabi Alonso means he offers greater versatility than he once did. Frimpong is a final third menace and he won't allow his opposing number to rest while he's marauding down the touchline.

9. Alejandro Grimaldo

Alex Grimaldo
Grimaldo enters Euro 2024 off the back of a superb season with Bayer Leverkusen / Fran Santiago/GettyImages

Talk about unicorn profiles, Alejandro Grimaldo functioned in a litany of roles for Bayer Leverkusen last season.

The Spaniard had previously shown competence as an up-and-down back four left-back with impressive attacking instincts before he was brought to life by Alonso.

The tenacious Grimaldo offers bite without the ball, but it's in possession where his brilliance comes to the fore. A sublime set-piece taker, Grimaldo constantly finds himself in and around the opposition's box, attempting to wreak havoc.

His 23-goal contributions last season was the highest haul by any defender over the past 30 years.

8. Federico Dimarco

Federico Dimarco
Dimarco has been the world's best left-back over the past two years / Claudio Villa/GettyImages

Grimaldo took Europe by storm with his relentless goal contributions last season, but no full-back has offered more consistency than Federico Dimarco over the past two years.

Dimarco has been an instrumental figure for Simone Inzaghi's Inter down the left flank, operating in a wing-back role.

The snappy Italian is a diligent defensive operator who can create at will from wide areas. He's ever so comfortable in possession, with his influence almost always felt in the final third. He'll have to be excellent for Italy this summer if the Azzurri are to enjoy a respectable title defence.

7. Kyle Walker

Kyle Walker
Walker continues to play a big role for the Three Lions / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Kyle Walker has been a stalwart for Gareth Southgate's England and Euro 2024 could emerge as the veteran full-back's last hurrah for the national team.

Walker may not offer quite as much with possession as he once did, but his remarkable recovery speed and stout one-v-one defensive ability mean the Manchester City man can just about mark anybody he wants with aplomb.

Some of the world's best have come unstuck against Walker.

6. Josko Gvardiol

Josko Gvardiol
Gvardiol starred at the 2022 World Cup / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

Josko Gvardiol had starred at the 2022 World Cup before he encountered a certain Lionel Messi in the semi-finals. The Croatian had been utilised in his preferred centre-back role by Zlatko Dalic, but the former RB Leipzig defender has evolved considerably since.

After a circumspect start to his Manchester City career, Gvardiol burst into life down the stretch of his debut season, with Pep Guardiola getting the most out of him at left-back.

Gvardiol's remarkable talent in possession came to the fore, and we could see the Croat perform multiple roles for Dalic this summer.

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5. William Saliba

William Saliba
Saliba isn't Didier Deschamps' preferred centre-back option / Catherine Steenkeste/GettyImages

William Saliba is a tough one to assess because he's already widely regarded as one of the continent's finest centre-backs, but the Arsenal man is unlikely to feature heavily at Euro 2024 for France.

Didier Deschamps prefers the alternatives and, although Saliba hasn't shown his best for the national team, his lack of minutes in Germany this summer will appear incredibly harsh given the form he's displayed in north London over the past two years.

Saliba combines the traditional art of defending with its more glamorous modern twist and is poised to be recognised as one of the world's best for years to come.

4. John Stones

John Stones
Stones can do it all from centre-back / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

John Stones was arguably the most valuable defender in the world a year ago, but his 2023/24 campaign was stop-start, to say the least.

The Englishman had shone in a centre-back-cum-holding midfield position for a treble-winning City side and, while there was no major drop-off last season, the novelty of his unique function had worn off.

Still, Stones drifted away from the error-prone defender into one of the sternest on the continent. His talent in possession is unmatched, too.

The former Everton starlet has barely put a foot wrong for the national team and he has a major role to play in the absence of his usual partner Harry Maguire this summer.

3. Ruben Dias

Rúben Dias
Dias endured an up-and-down season with Man City / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

2023/24 certainly wasn't Ruben Dias' finest work, but he remains one of Europe's premier defenders and he'll lead Portugal's backline in Germany.

Dias leads by example and is an impressive communicator. He's a proper field marshal whose profile is well-suited to tournament football. Some of his best work in a City shirt has arrived in the Champions League.

2. Antonio Rudiger

International FriendlyGermany v Greece
Rudiger will lead the hosts' line this summer / ANP/GettyImages

Hosts Germany head into the tournament with ever-increasing expectations and Antonio Rudiger will certainly embrace such pressure.

The former Chelsea defender has seemingly taken his game to another level since joining Real Madrid and heads into Euro 2024 having helped the Spanish club to their 15th Champions League crown.

Rudiger may be rough and rugged, but there's no defender on the planet more adept at man-marking the opponent's striker out of the game. He thrives in duels and relishes the physical battle.

1. Virgil van Dijk

Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk is back to his best / Dean Mouhtaropoulos/GettyImages

There were doubts not too long ago over Van Dijk's status as one of the world's best. The Dutchman undoubtedly endured a drop-off after recovering from a long-term knee injury, but it's fair to say he silenced a few with the campaign he put together last season.

Van Dijk differs drastically from the 'in-your-face' Rudiger, with the Liverpool star continuing to use more stand-offish techniques as a way of nullifying his opponent.

A physical specimen with a quick turn of pace and impeccable judgement, Van Dijk will lead a stout Netherlands backline in Germany this summer.

After 18 months in the wilderness, Van Dijk has regained his status as the world's best.