When Bayern Munich faced Benfica in the quarter-finals of this season’s Champions League, Pep Guardiola issued a stern warning to fans of the Bundesliga champions: they were taking on the “best back four” in Europe.
It’s certainly true that Benfica’s defense has been very stingy in 2015-16. On their way to their third consecutive Portuguese Primeira Liga title, Rui Vitoria’s side conceded just 22 goals in 34 games—an average of 0.65 goals per game.
However, in terms of league play, they didn’t have one of the top 5 defenses in Europe. In fact, they didn’t even end up with the top defense in Portugal, as Sporting Lisbon conceded one fewer goal over 34 games. And, incredibly, Sporting don’t even make this top 5! You guys, this is crazy!
Here’s the very best top flight defenses in Europe over the 2015-16 season, starting with the Greek Superleague champs…
Here are some facts: water is wet, night follows day and Olympiakos are the best team in Greece. The Piraeus giants picked up their sixth consecutive league title this season, beating second-place Panathinaikos by a jaw-dropping 30 points.
Marco Silva’s side conceded just 16 goals in their 30 game season, an average of 0.53 goals per game. A backline that included homegrown centre back pairing Dimitris Siovas and Tasos Avlonitis managed an impressive 16 clean sheets too.
On the European stage, however, the ship wasn’t quite so watertight: Olympiakos conceded 13 goals in six Champions League group stage matches, including seven against Bayern Munich over two fixtures.
Real Madrid may keep their BBC in the front, but Juve keep theirs in the back. Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chellini are typically found protecting old man Gigi Buffon in the Old Lady’s back line, proving that three is sometimes better than four.
On the way to winning their fifth-straight scudetto, Massimo Allegri’s side shipped only 20 goals in 28 games—that’s 0.53 per game. You may note that that is the same ratio as Olympiakos, but they achieved it by playing eight more games and they kept a whopping 22 clean sheets.
Their European record is much better too: they conceded only three times in the entire Champions League group stage, before going on to ship twice as many as that in their tumultuous knockout match with Bayern. Speaking of whom…
3. Bayern Munich
Some consider Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern to be a failure, thanks to his apparent inability to clear the semi-final stage of the Champions League. However, in his three years in charge, the Spaniard comfortably won the league each season and he kept things pretty tight at the back.
In 34 Bundesliga matches, Die Roten let in just 17 goals, an average of 0.5 per game. They kept 20 clean sheets and managed to concede just two goals in five rounds of the DFB Pokal.
In the Champions League, they leaked just three group stage goals—all against Arsenal. Manuel Neuer’s net rippled a few more times in the group stage, however, as they shipped nine goals in six knockout games.
2. Paris Saint-Germain
Laurent Blanc’s PSG ended up winning their fourth consecutive Ligue 1 title by a margin of 31 points. So basically, they could have not showed up to their final 10 games of the campaign and still won the darn thing.
Zlatan and his disciples scored a very impressive 102 goals in 2015-16, a feat of excellence only matched by their back line, which was only breached 19 times in 38 games—an average of 0.5 goals per game. (To put that in perspective, bottom-placed Troyes let in 83 goals, averaging 2.18 per match. To be fair, 18% of those goals were scored by PSG.)
PSG also managed 23 clean sheets, which is extremely impressive for a side that has David Luiz protecting the goal.
In Europe, their defending was exemplary: in a Champions League group featuring Real “we score for fun” Madrid, they conceded only a single goal.
So, if you were wondering why PSG rank above Bayern, they matched their league goals-per-game ratio, they kept more clean sheets and they had more discipline in the Champions League. So there you go.
1. Atletico Madrid
Before you scrolled this far down the page, you were probably aware that the words “Atletico” and “Madrid” would get a very high placing.
Diego Simeone’s side are famed for their extreme defensive solidity, despite the fact that they operate on a budget a fraction of the size of Europe’s major players.
In La Liga this season, Atleti conceded only 18 goals over 38 games, an average of 0.47 per game. They also kept an incredible 25 clean sheets—no other top flight team in Europe can compete with that kind of defensive resistance.
Furthermore, the Rojiblancos boas the defensive record in the 2015-16 Champions League. They let in only three goals in the group stage, and just four in the knockout rounds. That’s an average of 0.58 per game. PSG’s average was 0.6 (with fewer games) Bayern’s average was 0.92.
Either there’s something in the water on Athlete’s side of town or Simeone is drilling defensive discipline into his charges like no other manager in Europe.