Until recently, being a defender in the Premier League wasn't the most glamorous job in the world, and even the best members of the back line were overshadowed by their more flamboyant counterparts further up the field. Modern football has seen defenders become much more technical, pacy, powerful and attack-minded, enough so to rival their midfield and striker teammates for popularity among the fans.
The trend towards attacking fullbacks and ball-playing center backs has made defenders a much more valuable commodity in fantasy terms as well, especially in the Yahoo! format where points are awarded for more than just goals, assists and clean sheets. With points given for tackles won, intercepted passes and blocked shots in addition to the attacking returns for shots on target, successful crosses and corners won, defenders can easily put up some of the biggest numbers on a weekly basis.
Ryan Bertrand, Kieran Trippier and Aaron Cresswell have been fantasy revelations this season, but it couldn't hurt to have a few more options on hand to choose from come January. In case you missed the introductory Window Shopping post, this series is not intended to act as confirmation that these players are on their way to the Premier League, or even attracting interest from English clubs (though most, if not all, are). The following players are just a few I've identified that have the potential to move if the price is right and would give us even more wonderful options in defense for our fantasy teams:
Regularly spoken of as one of the top five center backs in the world, Hummels and his Borussia Dortmund side are having a torrid time of things in the Bundesliga so far this season. While the German club are still alive in the Champions League this season, they'll need a miracle turnaround in the league or to win the Champions League trophy if they want to stay in Europe's top competition next season.
As a result of his side's struggles and the German's stellar World Cup performance, Hummels is attracting a lot of suitors and would make a huge impact in the Premier League. In addition to his stellar defensive capabilities, the 26-year-old is an aerial threat from set pieces. His all-around quality means he won't come cheap, but a team like Manchester United who are in need of a commanding leader at the back could definitely make a bid for his services next month.
As far as potential is concerned, the Portuguese left back was probably near the top of the list for young fullbacks in the last five years or so, something Florentino Perez identified in 2011 when he brought Coentrão to Real Madrid from Benfica. Marcelo has since emerged as one of the best fullbacks in world football, and is keeping his fellow 26-year-old teammate on the bench more often than not.
A player of Coentrão's quality deserves to be playing more, and given his age you have to imagine he'll be eager to find regular first-team football before the best years of his career pass him by. If he was to make the switch to the Premier League in January, he'd surely be among the leading defenders in the second half of the season for successful crosses and corners won given his affinity for attacking. His set piece delivery is also impressive, so he could rival the likes of Trippier and Leighton Baines in the right team.
One of the brightest young fullbacks in Europe, 23-year-old Brazilian is attracting a lot of interest from clubs around Europe. Currently playing his club football for Porto, the right back is also capable of filling in further up the field either as a defensive midfielder or winger. He's fast, strong, a powerful runner with the ball, and capable of shooting with both feet (though his right foot is far stronger and has seen him take some direct free kicks for Porto).
Danilo has earned playing time with the Brazil national team, and made an impact for them at the most recent Olympic games. He seems to be next in line to take over in the international setup once Dani Alves calls it a day as well. Porto have a history of selling their big-name players and investing in youth (perhaps due to the lure of Europe's bigger leagues), so they could look to cash in on their star fullback if a big club comes knocking.
Speaking of attack-minded Brazilian fullbacks, Dani Alves was one of the first to make a splash as the modern defender in football. At 31, the Barcelona right back is approaching the twilight of his career, though he's still leaps and bounds above many defenders throughout Europe's top leagues.
Alves can almost certainly still do a job for a Premier League team, and with his contract up in June, Barcelona could look to cash in on any potential value before he's allowed to leave on a free transfer in the summer. With Martin Montoya showing loads of promise as the future right back for the Spanish giants, Alves could very well be on his way out of the club in January.
While he hasn't yet established himself as a big name like the other defenders on this list, the Italian defender has seen his stock rise drastically of late. At 25, the Torino defender can be considered a late bloomer on the International scene, but was a surprise inclusion in the Italy squad that traveled to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Originally a center back, the left-footed defender has made the right back position his own for both club and country, but is versatile enough to play in any position across the back line.
Darmian has combined the best defensive qualities of a center back with the attacking capabilities of a fullback, and led all of Europe's top five leagues in tackles won in the 2012-2013 season. In addition to his attacking and defensive contributions, he's also known for his pace and stamina, which would make him an ideal addition to the Premier League. He's under contract with Torino until 2017, but given his status as a relatively minor name, a transfer bid likely wouldn't set any of the Premier League clubs back too much if they identified the Italian as a player they'd like to have.
I'll be back soon with another Window Shopping post dedicated to midfielders to rival the likes of Mile Jedinak, Stewart Downing and Eden Hazard for fantasy production. Until then, be sure to answer the poll below (Guillermo Ochoa won for Goalkeepers) and let me know your thoughts in the comments!