‘Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles’ is Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous old adage. And there’s certainly something in that when you look at the sides with the best defensive records against Europe’s five major leagues in 2023-24.
Many of the usual suspects feature in the best defences this season, but there are some impressively well-organised backlines that are punching well above their weight to sit alongside some of Europe’s elite clubs.
We’ve taken a closer look at the 10 teams across Europe’s big five leagues – Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga – that have conceded the fewest goals in 2023-24 so far.
Note: Torino have also conceded 19 goals but missed out on this list due to an inferior goals-against-per-90 ratio.
=9. Lens – 20 goals
While Lens haven’t been the most prolific of sides this year, they do boast one of the best defensive records in Europe.
Franck Haise’s side have kept nine clean sheets in their last 13 league outings which is hugely impressive. If they maintain their current rate of conceding just 0.95 goals per game, they will only concede 34 goals this season.
=9. Torino – 20 goals
Turin’s second team have a classic Italian defence, less likely to let the opposition through than a brick wall.
Despite their mid-table position, Torino have only let in 20 goals from 23 matches this season. That’s some record.
=7. Brest – 18 goals
Another one of European football’s surprise packages this season, Brest are mounting what looks like a genuinely viable challenge for Champions League football next season.
They currently sit third in the Ligue 1 table, ahead of the likes of Monaco, Lille and Marseille, boasting an excellent defensive record of 18 goals conceded from 21 outings.
=7. PSG – 18 goals
PSG’s lavishly-assembled attack inevitably get all the attention, but their defence isn’t too shabby either.
The Ligue 1 champions endured a slow start to the season, but they’re back at the top of the table having conceded just 18 goals in 21 Ligue 1 matches. They’re slowly but surely clicking into gear under Luis Enrique, increasingly scoring for fun, and keeping things sturdy at the back.
6. Lille – 17 goals
Paulo Fonseca’s men boast a better defensive record than the French champions.
Les Dogues don’t quite boast the quality that their title-winning side from a couple of years back did but they look capable of challenging for the top four, while Leny Yoro and Alexsandro Ribeiro have formed a solid central defensive partnership.
=4. Juventus – 15 goals
Juventus don’t have European football this season and have shown themselves masters of grinding out narrow victories by hook or by crook. The Entertainers they aren’t, but true to form Max Allegri has them well-organised and difficult to breach.
That combination sees them looking Inter’s most viable challengers this season – and their defenders have been pretty handy at chipping in with goals at the other end, too.
5 – #Juventus have scored at least one goal with five different defenders in #SerieA this term (Bremer, Cambiaso, Danilo, Gatti and Rugani), no team in the big-5 European Leagues 2023-24 has so many scorers amongst the defenders. Force.#JuventusCagliari pic.twitter.com/7F3wVshDL0
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) November 11, 2023
=4. Real Madrid – 15 goals
Los Blancos have been dealt several injury headaches this season, with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois plus key defenders Eder Militao and David Alaba suffering ACL injuries.
Carlo Ancelotti is blessed with some world-class options and real depth, but it’s still immensely impressive that they’ve registered comfortably the best defensive record in La Liga without some of their most important players.
=2. Bayer Leverkusen – 14 goals
Bundesliga table-toppers Bayer Leverkusen have been a joy to watch under Xabi Alonso this season. They remain unbeaten in all competitions and have only dropped eight points all season.
In Victor Boniface, they boast one of 2023-24’s breakout stars, Florian Wirtz is one of the finest young talents in Europe, and Alex Grimaldo and Jeremie Frimpong have been exceptional as wingbacks, chipping in with a combined 29 goal contributions (14 goals, 15 assists).
And on top of all that, they’re defensively sturdy too. Alonso is evidently a coach who puts a lot of thought into how to nullify the opposition. We wouldn’t expect any less, given how tactically astute he was as a player:
🇪🇸 Xabi Alonso shows you how Lionel Messi would operate in a false nine role and how hard it was to defend against the Argentinian. pic.twitter.com/ka8WD9zEbX
— The Coaches' Voice (@CoachesVoice) May 27, 2019
=2. Nice – 14 goals
Nice’s outrageously good defensive record tailed off a little bit over the Christmas period, but they’d have broken all kinds of records had they maintained their early-season form; by late November, Francesco Farioli’s men had only conceded four goals, but that tally is up to a still-more-than-respectable 14 now.
“The first thing for the defence is the state of mind, the desire to go the extra mile, to win a challenge,” Farioli explained when asked what their secret is.
“We concede very few goals but when we do let one in, we know how to get back into the game. Today, I don’t know how many shots were turned away by our midfielders. Everyone’s doing their bit. The rest is work, organisation and attitude.”
It might well be about the collective effort, but France international Jean-Clair Todibo is looking particularly impressive.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s involvement has resulted in the defender getting linked with a move to Manchester United. Watch this space.
1. Inter – 12 goals
Serie A table-toppers Inter have only conceded 12 goals in 23 games, keeping 14 clean sheets in the process.
They’ve been similarly strong at the other end, too, with Lautaro Martinez in the form of his life and one of the most prolific goalscorers in European football.
The Nerazzurri boast the best goal difference across Europe’s major leagues, having also registered the third-best attacking return. Front-to-back excellence.