Top Five Defenders of 2012

ESPNSTAR.com pays tribute to the men who shone for the sides with solid displays from the back this year.

Jordi Alba, Leonardo Bonucci, Spain, Italy

It's not easy being a defender in the modern game. Back a decade ago, a defender's task was to simply stop the opponents and clear the ball up the field, but defenders are now all-round players with the need to start the attack from the back and even bomb forward to add an extra man in attack.

In no particular order, ESPNSTAR.com brings you the five defenders who have stood out with their performances in 2012.


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Vincent Kompany (Manchester City, Belgium)

Manchester City fans will remember 2012 as a watershed year for, a confirmation of the club's status as one of the biggest in the modern era of the Premier League, as they finally ended their 44 year wait for a league title in May.

And if was one player in the team who epitomised the Citizens' success, it was captain Kompany.

The Belgian international led City's title charge from the back throughout the season and was the one consistent spark in the star-studded team which struggled with inconsistency at the beginning of the year.

Deceptively fast, an excellent reader of the game and immensely strong, Kompany's mere presence in the City backline was usually enough to scare strikers into submission. With him  in their side, it was no surprise City eventually ended last season having conceded the least amount of goals in the league, a mere 29 in 38 games.

Another aspect of Kompany's game is the attacking threat he possesses from set-pieces, often using his aerial dominance to wreak havoc in the opposition penalty box. Kompany's headed goal against arch-rivals Manchester United in the third last game of the season was possibly his greatest moment this year, as City ran out 1-0 winners that day and turned the tide of the title race in the Citizens' favour.

Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)

For all of Barcelona's attacking talent, the Blaugrana notoriously lacked depth in the defensive department, with midfielders Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets often deployed as makeshift defenders during the course of last season.

And with the unfortunate Eric Abidal ruled out since the beginning of last year with a liver tumor, Barcelona did not have a specialist left-back. In fact, previous manager Pep Guardiola had to often resort to deploying Adriano, a player who prefers to play in midfield, in that role.

It therefore made perfect sense for the Catalan giants to fork out €14 million to bring Alba, one of Valencia's outstanding performers last season, over to the Camp Nou during the summer. The 23-year-old was integral in Valencia's push for a spot in the Champions League and eventually helped Los Che finish third in the table with a series of fantastic displays on the left side of defence.

Alba's good form for Valencia earned him a deserved spot in the Spanish European Championship squad, and the attacking minded full back earned his stripes as a key coq in La Roja's march to the title.

Alba, selected in the 2012 European Championship Team of the Tournament, has since continued to flourish at Barcelona, playing in all but two of their 16 La Liga games so far this year, scoring two goals and providing five assists in the process.

Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)

Juventus finally put to bed the ghosts of their involvement in the match fixing scandal which condemned them to the lower divisions of Italian football in 2006 by winning last season's Serie A title in style; the Bianconeri went the whole season unbeaten, becoming the first team in the history of the league, in its current 38-game format, to do so.

At the heart of the Turin club's success, which also included a Coppa Italia triumph, was Bonucci, whose superb defensive displays for the club and blossoming partnership with Andrea Barzagli made him one of the first names to be included in the Juventus team-sheet.

The former Inter Milan player was also one of the standout players for Italy in the European Championship, helping his unfancied side reach the finals of the competition. Although Italy were eventually beaten 4-0 by a rampant Spain in the finals, Bonucci was one of the few players in blue to come out of the game with any credit; it would be fair to say the scoreline would have been more embarrassing for the Azzurri if not for the contributions of the 25-year-old.

Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund, Germany)

Dortmund showed the whole of German football that their surprise triumph in the 2010/2011 Bundesliga was no fluke by retaining the league title in 2012 and setting a new record for the most points won (81) in a season.

As if to further illustrate that the balance of power in Germany has shifted, Jurgen Klopp's men beat Die Roten in the final of the DFB-Pokal to add the cup to their growing trophy collection.

A particularly sore point for Bayern in Dortmund's accomplishments must have been the fact that Die Borussen could not have achieved so much without the immense contributions of Hummels, a graduate of the Bavarian giants' youth academy.

At just 24 years of age, Hummels has already displayed great leadership qualities and maturity in his play, often providing a calming influence at the back in the face of an opposition onslaught and composedly building play up from the back.

Hummels, whose style of play has often led to him being compared with German legend Franz Beckenbauer, also performed consistently well for Die Mannschaft at the European Championships this year, helping them to the semi-finals of the competition and earning much praise for his tough tackling displays.

Philip Lahm (Bayern Munich, Germany)

Bayern achieved an unwanted treble of sorts in 2012, finishing runners-up in the Bundesliga, the DFB-Pokal and the Champions League last season. But they have bounced back remarkably in this current campaign, leading the German league by a commanding nine points at the halfway stage, qualifying for the fourth round of the DFB-Pokal, and successfully navigating the group stages of the Champions League to progress into the last-16 of the competition.

But through Bayern's ups and downs this year, Lahm has constantly touched the lofty standards expected of him, leading the team by example and doing his duties as a right-back with minimum fuss.

Affectionately nicknamed the "Magic Dwarf", Lahm has played a giant role in Bayern's successes over the years, and based on the German international's recent displays for both club and country, his talent and commitment to the game still shines ever brightly.

Renowned for his dribbling, pace and rampaging runs forward, Lahm is one of the few defenders in the world who has managed to find the perfect balance in supporting his side's attack whilst simultaneously keeping the defensive shape of the team's backline.

The Germany captain's inclusion in the 2012 European Championship Team of the Tournament was as justified a choice as any, what with Lahm playing an instrumental role in Die Mannschaft's progress to the semi-finals.


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