Martin Hinteregger, David Alaba, Dayot Upamecano, Mats Hummels or Marvin Friedrich - who you got? - © DFL
Martin Hinteregger, David Alaba, Dayot Upamecano, Mats Hummels or Marvin Friedrich - who you got? - © DFL
bundesliga

Who is the Bundesliga's best centre-back?

Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland generate plenty of debate at the other end of the field, but who are the best centre-backs today in the league that gave the world football-revolutionary Franz Beckenbauer?

Bayern Munich legend Beckenbauer re-interpreted the position during his 1970s heyday which took in three European Cups and a World Cup win with West Germany, the libero carrying the ball out of defence and forming a fulcrum of the attack for club and country.

Of course, the darker arts remain important in the modern game too. There is more than one way to interpret the position, as the statistical top performers from this season prove. bundesliga.com attempts to get them into some kind of order…

"Who do you think stacks up today, Konrad?" - Franz Beckenbauer (l.) was a game-changing No.5. - Allsport UK /Allsport

1) Dayot Upamecano
Age: 22
Club: RB Leipzig
Country: France (3 caps/1 goal)

Upamecano may, at the tender age of 22, still have some fine-tuning to do in terms of his decision-making, but there is no escaping the fact that his nascent talent is nearing full maturity, and Leipzig's young Frenchman already stacks up incredibly well, both with and without the ball, against his fellow Bundesliga centre-backs.

Timo Werner, now of Chelsea, is a speed merchant, but the first time he and Upamecano were paired in Leipzig training, then-coach Ralph Hasenhüttl asked with a smile "What's up Timo, are you sick?" Upamecano's league-high top speed of 22 mph is part of the reason why. Knocking the ball one side of him and meeting it on the other simply isn't an option.

When in possession, Upemecano also completes 91 percent of his passes. Borussia Mönchengladbach's Nico Elvedi edges him with a Bundesliga-best 94 percent, but the overwhelming majority of his passes are five-yarders to his defensive partners. Upamecano carries the ball out from the back - often beating the press - before linking up play in midfield.

Watch: Upamecano, Leipzig's defensive diamond

2) Mats Hummels
Age: 32
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Country: Germany (70 caps/5 goals)

Although he doesn't quite share Upemecano's youth or explosive turn of pace, Hummels remains a physical specimen two inches further clear of the six-foot mark than the young Frenchman at 6'3", and the Dortmund vice-captain uses his height and experience to devastating effect in both boxes.

Hummels has won the most aerial challenges of all Bundesliga centre-backs this season - 97, three more than league second-best Martin Hinteregger of Eintracht Frankfurt - and also scored three goals from his 16 attempts, which is quite some conversion rate for a central defender.

Where Upamecano and others might carry the ball out from their feet, Hummels is just as likely to let the Derbystar do the work for him. Hummels' anticipation and control makes him able to beat the press, but his laser-sighted distribution means he often doesn't have to.

Watch: Hummels, soccer's best quarter-back

3) David Alaba
Age: 28
Club: Bayern Munich
Country: Austria (76 caps/14 goals)

Unlike Upamecano and Hummels, Alaba came relatively late to the position. A midfielder earlier in his career - and to this day with the Austria national team - Bayern's long-time first-choice left-back has spent the last season-and-a-half tucked in beside Jerome Boateng at centre-half, with Canadian whippersnapper Alphonso Davies outside on the flank.

Although Alaba stands at 5'9", he wins his fair share of aerial duels, whilst on the ground, he is positively tenacious with 111 tackles won at an average of seven per game. His distribution, which, like Hummels, often pierces opposition defences, stands at 88 percent of passes completed, and if you need evidence of his influence from a central role, take it from the coach who put him there full-time.

"I'm very happy because David's a player who leads the back four and always gives instructions to his colleagues," says Hansi Flick. "He takes the initiative, takes charge. You can hear him talking to the players. As a coach, I want to see and hear my players do that - to coach their teammates. He's just a very intelligent player, and his development as a centre-back has been phenomenal. He ticks all the boxes as a central defender."

Throw in 10 career free-kicks too, and you have quite the player.

Watch: Alaba's Bundesliga free-kicks

4) Martin Hinteregger
Age: 28
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt
Country: Austria (47 caps/4 goals)

Where there are varying strands of silk with the aforementioned trio, it is largely reinforced steel that Hinteregger brings to the table. The Frankfurt man boasts a league-high 248 challenges won among Bundesliga defenders, while only Hummels has won more defensive headers.

Hinteregger was the top-scoring defender in any of Europe's five major leagues per UEFA coefficient last season with nine, but where Alaba might curl the ball into the opposition box - or indeed the top corner - with a set play, his Austrian international teammate invariably plundered his haul with headers from such deliveries.

"He's a slightly different type than many others - not just in the Bundesliga, but worldwide," Frankfurt coach Adi Hütter said. "The most important thing for him is always the game. Martin is a very intelligent player, strong on the ball, very fast and a strong tackler. There are very few who can play the balls between the lines like him. He has all the requirements for a modern defender and is very, very popular in Frankfurt."

Martin Hinteregger (l.) in his element, rising to score a header for Eintracht Frankfurt against Hertha Berlin. - Alex Grimm/Getty Images

5) Marvin Friedrich
Age: 25
Club: Union Berlin
Country: Germany (U20 cap)

Marvin who? It may surprise some that Union Berlin centre-back Friedrich joins such illustrious company in this list. After all, this is a player who at 25 never progressed beyond the U20s for Germany, and was previously deemed surplus to requirements at Schalke and then Augsburg, but he has arguably been the biggest statistical winner this season.

No centre-back works harder in trying to win the ball back, as his 190 tackles won and division-best 128.6 miles covered attests, but he is also the top scorer among his cohorts with four - which might have been more had another of his 16 shots on goal found their mark. The benefit for high-flying Union is plain to behold: knocking on the door for Europe, fewer goals conceded (24) than Alaba's Bayern (26 or Hummels' Dortmund (27).

"For me, Marvin is currently one of the central defenders who is performing best in the Bundesliga," said Union team manager Oliver Ruhnert. "Playing so strong, that's almost unusual that he's able to do what he is doing at the moment so well."

Marvin Friedrich doing what he has done more than any other centre-back this season: celebrate scoring a goal. - MARTIN MEISSNER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It is perhaps unfair that Upamecano's Leipzig teammate Ibrahima Konate has missed a lot of this season through injury, while Wolfsburg's Maxence Lacroix and Augsburg's Felix Uduokhai are on the rise, and Gladbach's Nico Elvedi and Matthias Ginter won't be forgotten, but for now, Friedrich completes the set.