Liverpool’s BEST ever Defenders: From Hansen, Carragher & Hyypia to Van Dijk

sami hyypia

Having covered the best goalkeepers to play for Liverpool, it’s now time to study the talented defenders that have also protected their goalie with last ditch sliding tackles.

And it’s safe to say the club have been blessed in this department over the years.

Every LFC manager has had the hard task of having to scour the transfer market and pluck out a defender that has all the physical qualities of doing the job properly.

Height, speed, strength, agility, skill, passing ability and good leadership qualities are the main hallmarks they are looking for.

The names on this list certainly have those features.

Ron Yeats – Era: 1960s and early 70s

A colossal part of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool machine, at 6ft’2 and 14 and a half stone, Yeats was a beast at the back.

He signed for the club in 61 and was soon promoted to captain which he would do so through to 1970.

416 times he led the club, with only Steven Gerrard with 473 above him.

The highpoint of his Reds career was lifting the club’s first FA Cup in 1965 and explaining to Queen Elizabeth II upon receiving the trophy how tired he was.

Yeats left in 71 having also won two league titles and made 454 appearances for the club.

Tommy Smith – Era: 1960s to late 1970s

Local hero Smith, played 638 matches for Liverpool between 1962-1978, with a career showing strength and longevity.

He began working on the club’s ground staff but quickly impressed boss Shankly and quickly took his place in defence alongside Yeats.

Shanks once famously said: “Tommy Smith wasn’t born, he was quarried.”

A rock at the back, he was one of the most consistent and influential defenders Liverpool have ever had.

For Shankly and Bob Paisley, Smith won trophies galore with four league titles, two FA Cups, one European Cup and one European Super Cup, to cement his legacy.

Phil Thompson – Era: 1970s and 1980s

A local lad from Kirky who would go on to make 477 appearances for the club he supported as a boy.

He joined the club in 1971 before making his debut in 72 against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

His career began as a midfielder before moving to the heart of central defence.

Thompson, now a prominent Sky Sports pundit, enjoyed unprecedented glory at Anfield in winning seven league titles, one FA Cup, two league cups, two UEFA cups, one European Super Cup and six Charity Shield’s.

And of course, let’s not forget the two European Cups in 78 and 81, to which he captained the team to glory against Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes.

He left in 1983 a Reds legend.

Phil Neal – Era: 1970s to 80s

A marauding full-back, Neal became Paisley’s first signing in 1974 when he joined from Northampton Town.

He is one of the best, if not the best Liverpool have ever had in this position of the pitch.

Neal’s level of consistency was also impressive, as he made 417 consecutive appearances from 1976 to September 1983, a Reds record.

After a brief injury he then made another 127 straight matches!

He won the league title on eight occasions, with four league cups and four European Cups to complete an impressive set of riches.

In 1985 he left having made 650 appearances for the club and left a huge void in the right side of defence.

Alan Hansen – Era: 1970s to 1990s

The young Scotsman was an immediate hit in 1977 upon joining the club from Partick Thistle.

He showed such potential, and air of confidence that would make him a Liverpool great.

Hansen partnered Thompson in defence in the final stages of the Liverpudlian’s career.

This was the all-conquering Reds team of the 70s and 80s, so it’s no surprise that Hansen won the lot.

Eight league titles, three European Cups, three league cups, two FA Cup’s, and one European Super Cup.

He retired in 1991 after niggling knee issues required him to take injections, but he was an undisputed Anfield legend and made a whopping 620 appearances for the club.

Hansen then went onto becoming a regular BBC pundit on Match of the Day alongside long-time defensive partner Mark Lawrensen and host Gary Lineker.

Mark Lawrensen – Era: 1980s

Signed in 1981 from Brighton and Hove Albion by Bob Paisley, the Irishman would play a huge part in the glory years of Liverpool Football Club.

He would become Thompson’s replacement and slot alongside Hansen in one of the most formidable partnerships of the decade.

The Irishman was solid in the tackle, and versatile, and would often fill in at left-back to help his team.

Lawrensen would go on to make a very respectable 356 appearances for the club, before departing in 1988, having won five league titles, one FA Cup, three league cups and one European Cup.

Jamie Carragher – Era: late 90s, 2000s and 2010s

More the modern-day legend and recently retired within the last decade, the now Sky Sports presenter was a Reds legend.

Interestingly, he grew up as an Everton fan but it was Liverpool’s academy that scouted and recruited the scouser.

Carra made his debut in 1997 and never looked back.

He made a whopping 737 appearances for Liverpool and won everything bar the Premier League.

The full list of honours being four league cups, two FA Cups, one UEFA Cup, and the famous 2005 Champions League triumph, and one Super Cup.

The 2001 treble was also another highlight.

He is definitely one of the all-time Anfield greats, and often assisted Gerrard in captaining the club and was a worthy vice-captain on so many occasions.

Sami Hyypia – Era: Late 90s to 2000s

This will remain one of the best bargain buys the club has ever done.

There is some backstory to this.

A football camera man had worked across Europe, but knocked on the door of Liverpool Chief Executive Peter Robinson and recommended ‘Big Sami’.

Boss Gérard Houllier scouted the Finnish international and he was soon signed from Dutch team Willem II for £2.5 million in 1999.

He was an immense success. A good passer of the ball, strong in the air, fantastic heading ability, and deadly at set pieces, contributing with some vital goals.

Hyypia formed a strong partnership with Carragher at the heart of the Reds defence in a modern-day Hansen-Lawrensen type combination.

Manager Rafa Benitez was also a fan and supported the club in giving Hyypia regular one year rolling contract extensions.

As with Carragher, he won the 2001 treble and the Champions League in a successful trophy laden Anfield career and made 464 appearances.

John Arne Riise – Era: 2000s

This was a quality signing from Houllier in 2001 shortly after the treble winning season, as the Norwegian arrived from AS Monaco.

And one that saw Riise make an instant impact.

He became one of the best left-backs to play for the club, with a famous rocket of a left foot that made him dangerous on the edge of the penalty area, and especially at free-kicks.

Before departing in 2008, he made 348 appearances, scoring 31 goals and won one league cup, one FA Cup, two European Super Cups and of course the Champions League.

Daniel Agger – Era: 2000s to 2010s

This was a top-drawer Benitez signing, coming from Danish side Brondby in 2006.

He was solid in the air and had an intimidating presence about him.

The Dane played a crucial part in helping Liverpool remain solid at the back for years, particularly in crunch Champions League.

He also contributed some quality long range strikes and bullet headers as well.

Agger left in 2014 after playing 232 games and establishing himself as a Kop legend.

Martin Skrtel – Era: Late 2000s to 2010s

The Slovakian was signed by Benitez in 2008 and was another modern-day legendary centre back.

He was the club’s most expensive defender at the time and a rock at the back.

Alongside Carragher, Hyypia and Agger, they formed the strength in depth Liverpool needed in defence.

He made 320 appearances, and was another popular figure amongst supporters.

Virgil van Dijk – 2010s to the present day

Signed for 75 million in 2018 by boss Jurgen Klopp, van Dijk is now one of the best defenders in the world.

I was initially apprehensive to include an active player, but he is that good, that he will surely go down as one of the best the club has ever had.

His positional awareness is second to none, he is an intimidating presence, but has a soft smile when he scores a vital goal for his team.

It’s a delight to watch him play, and when he is absent, the team often looks a shadow of it’s best without one of their talisman players.

How the rest of his Anfield career unfolds will be interesting to see.

Best of the rest

With so many good defenders having played for the club, it’s only right to quickly sum up a few more names that were also very good.

Alan Kennedy was an unbelievable left-back from 1978 to 1985 he wore the red of Liverpool.

He will be remembered for scoring the winning goal against Real Madrid in the 1981 European Cup final, and he scored the winning penalty in the 1984 final against Roma.

Another top defender was Stephane Henchoz, signed from Blackburn Rovers in 1999.

Alongside Carra and Hyypia, he famously helped Liverpool to the 2001 treble and won the 2003 league cup.

The Swiss left in 2004 having made 205 appearances.

And finally, Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson, two active players.

Trent has supplied superb crosses and free-kicks, Robertson similar from corner kicks.

Yes, I included van Dijk, but it would only be fair to judge them once their playing careers are over.

However, they are undoubtedly club legends having won the Premier League and the Champions League in recent years, and continue to deliver at a high level.

James Spencer

My name is James and I have supported Liverpool since I was 6 years old. My favourite players growing up were Steven Gerrard and Sami Hyypia. My most memorable match would be the UEFA Cup Final win over Deportivo Alaves that finished 5-4 to Liverpool! I am studying journalism in Manchester although I am a Liverpool fan through and through.

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