#5 Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa
#4 Eric Abidal
Eric Abidal has had a very successful career with Barcelona; he was part of the famous Pep Guardiola side that won everything in their path. One of his most memorable nights came when he and the Barcelona team ripped Real Madrid to shreds.
It was the very first meeting between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in La Liga. Real Madrid travelled to the Camp Nou looking to reduce the lead the Catalans had over them, but all they got was a hammering.
It wasn’t Ronaldo’s first ever encounter with the Catalans, but he was kept very quiet by the defence. Barcelona dominated all of the possession as Madrid struggled to get even a hold of the ball.
Ronaldo’s rival Leo Messi had an incredible game while the Portuguese himself was not given the space or the time to work any sort of angle in attack – thanks in no small part to Abidal.
The Frenchman knew how dangerous Ronaldo can be on the wing; if he gets past, you can’t catch him. Which is why he did his best to ensure that Ronaldo didn’t get past.
That night the back four kept the attackers of Real Madrid very very quiet. It was a night Ronaldo would want to forget.
#3 Alessandro Nesta
Alessandro Nesta is one of the greatest AC Milan defenders and in fact one of the greatest ever defenders in the game. He and Maldini formed an almost impenetrable partnership in Italy.
Sir Alex Ferguson did not usually lose too often but against Milan, his Manchester United team were completely outplayed and outclassed. Despite boasting the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs in attack, United hardly threatened a very impressive AC Milan team.
Nesta that day did not have Maldini alongside him, but the other defenders gave him enough support to marshall that defence. Rooney and Ronaldo were very used to swapping positions, but none of that really worked against a very organised Milan defence.
Manchester United were blown away by the Milan side in the first half with Clarence Seedorf scoring twice to put them 2-0 ahead. United had more possession in the second half but Ronaldo couldn’t even muster up a meaningful shot on goal.
Milan were supremely composed in defence and it was all down to Nesta’s reading of the game and co-ordination with his defensive partners.
#2. Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole and Cristiano Ronaldo met several times in the Premier League during the latter’s Manchester United days, and their battles kept going back and forth.
When Cole was at Arsenal, Ronaldo was a teenager who played with no fear. In one of their early matches Cole had no answer to his stepovers and tricks, getting bamboozled many times. Ronaldo was an unknown quantity at that point of time which made it more difficult for defenders to get a read on him.
But Cole got him back during his time with Chelsea, and even when England met Portugal. He learnt how to neutralise Ronaldo’s tricks by sticking as close to him as possible and essentially marking him out of the game.
Cristiano Ronaldo has stated on the record that Cole is one of the toughest opponents he has faced. He said this about the Englishman to Coach Magazine, “Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe. He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”
#1. Diego Godin
Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone have become a force to be reckoned with, in both Spain and Europe.
The only team to have won the La Liga title this decade apart from Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Rojeblancos have had a very good record against their city rivals under Simeone.
One player, in particular, has earned high praise from pundits around the world for his excellence in defence.
Diego Godin has been the rock at the centre of that Atletico Madrid back line, and has helped the team earn the reputation of being the toughest team to beat in Europe.
Real Madrid found out several times against their neighbours how hard it is to get the better of them.
Apart from the UEFA Champions League finals, Madrid in recent seasons have not liked playing Atletico – especially at the Vincente Calderon.
One of Ronaldo’s worst ever games came against Atletico in 2015 when Los Blancos were hammered 4-0 away from home. Ronaldo had a shocker of a match, having been completely marked out of the game by the Atletico defence.
Madrid had just four shots on goal, with only one on target. That is an incredible number that shows how effective Atletico were and how ineffective Real Madrid’s forwards were on the day.
Ronaldo did get his revenge this season by scoring a hat-trick against Atletico, but that particular game was a defensive masterclass from Godin and co.