9) Marcos Alonso
The Spanish defender came out of obscurity last season as he played a crucial role in Chelsea’s title win. After years of mediocrity at Bolton, Sunderland and Fiorentina, Alonso’s signing did attract many cynical eyes; however, he settled in seamlessly in the wing-back role under Conte’s 3-4-3 formation. In addition to his defensive contributions, Alonso scored some vital goals for Chelsea including the brace against Leicester in January. He has carried his form into this season, scoring a brace against Spurs at Wembley. Follow our football predictions here.
8) Gary Cahill
While Cahill’s early season form last year nearly got him out of the starting eleven, he came back with great strength leading Chelsea to their second league title in three years. Azpilicueta and David Luiz deservedly received accolades for their form; nevertheless, Cahill too was quintessential to Chelsea’s massive turnaround. With John Terry no longer at the club, Cahill is the only Englishman in the first team squad as he subsumes captaincy at Stamford Bridge. A red card on his first game at full time Captain was not the start Cahill had in mind; however, there is no doubt that the Englishman will once again perform on the highest level this season.
7) Cesar Azpilicueta
The fact that Azpilicueta was one of the choices to replace John Terry as Chelsea’s captain is a testament to the Spanish defender’s quality. A consistent performer, Azpilicueta has never shy away from responsibility. His brilliant reading of the game and tackling meant he blossomed playing in a back three, despite having played as full-back for majority of his career. Despite playing in the centre half position, Azpilicueta had a hand in 5 of Chelsea’s goals last season. In Cahill’s absence, Azpilicueta led Chelsea to a rampant 2-1 win over Spurs on match day 2.
6) Kyle Walker
Arguably the best full back in the premier league, Kyle Walker completed his move from Spurs to Manchester City this summer. The defender had fallen out of favour with Mauricio Pochettino, partly due to his reluctance in signing a new contract at White Hart Lane. Walker became the most expensive English defender as Pep Guardiola’s side paid a massive 50 million for the full-back. Still just 27, Walker has a few good years left in him and will be hoping to win his maiden title with City this season.
5) Leighton Baines
One of the most consistent performers in the league in recent years, the Everton defender is one of the best on his day. After finding his feet under Moyes, Baines has since become one of the most reliable defenders. He nearly completed a move to Manchester United, before deciding to stay put at Everton. Now 32, Baines has understandably lost some of his blistering pace; however, his technical ability and fine reading of the game means he is still an undisputed starter for Ronald Koeman’s side.
4) David Luiz
The Brazilian defender’s deadline day move to Chelsea last summer quickly became a laughing stock as there were several qualms about his concentration as a defender, having being mocked as a playstation defender by Manchester United legend Gary Neville. However, Luiz quickly settled in back at Chelsea, playing the Bonucci role in Conte’s 3-4-3. Luiz was offered the freedom to play as a sweeper, a role in which the defender flourished. He was one of the biggest renaissance story of last season. Now a prominent member of the team, Luiz would be hoping to continue his fine form this season.
3) Antonio Valencia
The winger turned defender has certainly established himself as the undisputed starter at Old Trafford. Brought in to replace the departed Ronaldo at United, Valencia failed to perform on a consistent basis with the pressure of the prestigious no 7 on his back. Nevertheless, the attacker’s position was changed by Van Gaal, as Valencia used his incredible strength and energy to get up and down the pitch. A senior figure at Old Trafford, Valencia would once again start most games for United this season.
2) Laurent Koscielny
Koscienly had a torrid last season both on a personal and club level, as he regularly struggled with injuries. His absence created a huge void in the defence as Arsenal conceded goals for fun when Koscielny was off the field. Arsenal’s failure to bring in a capable partner for the Frenchman has created a lack of stability in the Gunners’ backline. Mustafi had been impressive for some parts last season; nevertheless, found himself on the bench in the crunch tie against Liverpool, as Arsenal were embarrassed in a 4-0 defeat.
1) Toby Alderweireld
The Belgian defender is one of the biggest reasons behind Tottenham’s recent surge. Alderweireld embodies Pochettino’s playing style, with the Belgian defender superb on the ball and very organised in defence. His national teammate, Jan Vertonghen’s presence has only allowed Alderweireld to get better. The defender is reportedly unhappy with his earnings at the club. If he decides to move on, there will certainly be no lack of suitors for the Belgian.