Aston Villa’s defensive issues have contributed to their terrible Premier League season, but the club has not always had such a poor back line.
Villa Park has been home to some of the Premier League’s best ever centre-back partnerships, although it might feel like a long time ago that the club had a resilient defence.
Here are five of Villa’s best ever centre-back partnerships in the Premier League era.
Paul McGrath and Shaun Teale
Paul McGrath is without a doubt one of Villa’s all-time greats and his partnership with Shaun Teale was perhaps the club’s best ever defensive pairing in the Premier League era.
McGrath and Teale were both hard as nails and, while McGrath suffered from well-publicised issues away from the pitch, his problems rarely seemed to affect his play on the football field.
Teale was the supporting partner in their pairing, with McGrath – known as God to the Villa fans – settling in well after a difficult start following his £425,000 transfer from Manchester United.
McGrath was key as Villa finished second in the first ever year of the Premier League and he won the club’s Player of the Year award four seasons in a row.
Villa won two League Cup finals during McGrath’s time at the club and while Teale was also ruggedly brilliant, it is certain McGrath will always be remembered as a Villa great – and rightly so.
Olof Mellberg and Alpay
Olof Mellberg was already a cult hero at Villa Park but his fist-pumping exploits in the 5-1 win against hated rivals Birmingham City helped to endear him further to the Villa fans.
Mellberg – known as King Olof or The Viking – made over 200 appearances for the club with a series of partners, but his first great pairing was alongside Turkey international defender Alpay.
Like Teale and McGrath, these were two of the toughest defenders in the country and any striker who played against them knew they had been in a battle.
Mellberg and Alpay’s pairing was cut short by an injury to the Turk, although he recovered in time to help his country to a third place finish at the 2002 World Cup, with Alpay deservedly named in the team of the tournament.
Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu
Gareth Southgate is one of Villa’s modern greats, the defender making 242 appearances for the club between 1995 and 2001.
The England international, briefly Villa’s record signing, typically played alongside Ugo Ehiogu, although sometimes the pair were accompanied by youngster Gareth Barry in a back three.
Southgate and Ehiogu later resumed their fine centre-back partnership at Middlesbrough, helping the Teesside club to record a series of safe mid-table finishes in the top flight.
Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg
Martin Laursen’s time at Villa Park was heavily disrupted by injury, but when he was fit he formed an unbeatable partnership at the back alongside his fellow Scandinavian Mellberg.
The pair of cult heroes helped Villa to a sixth place finish in the Premier League in the 2007-08 season and both men left the club on good terms.
Mellberg’s departure was particularly memorable, the bearded Swede – declared the country’s finest ever defender by compatriot Zlatan Ibrahimovic – buying thousands of replica shirts for Villa supporters at his final farewell match for the club.
Paul McGrath and Steve Staunton
McGrath played with many different defenders after the departure of Teale, but his partnership with fellow Republic of Ireland international Steve Staunton was perhaps his most reliable pairing.
Staunton played 350 times for Villa across two spells at the club and while he often played as a left-back, he was at his best as a centre-back with McGrath at his side.
McGrath and Staunton helped Villa to their League Cup win over Manchester United in 1994, but an injury-affected Staunton was only on the bench when Villa won the competition again two years later, beating Leeds United at Wembley.
Staunton’s longevity means he has a place in the top 20 of Villa’s record appearance-makers.