Soccer defenders play a much different game than their teammates in the midfield or the attacking line.
Defenders spend more of their time in a soccer match reacting or accelerating from a stop and typically do not spend more than 30% of their time on the field at top speed. All in all, this means that the best cleats for defenders are different from the best cleats for forwards.
Defense Wins Games
The defense is a pivotal position for the success of any team. Without a strong backline, a team can not hope to win many games. How does the saying go?
You can also take it a step further with,
We’ll cover what makes defender cleats different from attacking players’ cleats and then review our picks for the best cleats for soccer defenders.
The Best Defender Cleats Are Stable and Secure
It’s excellent if defenders can help their midfield or strikers in attacking situations or even score a goal, but that’s not their primary responsibility on the field. A defender’s number one job is to make the crucial tackles or interceptions against opposing strikers trying to score on the ground or in the air.
This requires defenders to be able to accelerate quickly, match the attacker’s pace, and then cleanly make tackles. Due to the constant change in speed and direction for defenders, they must have cleats that are stable and secure.
Here’s what we mean by stable and secure cleats for defenders:
What Makes a Cleat Stable?
Stability in cleats comes from two major factors:
- The Soleplate
- The Studs
As far back as the 1970s, soccer cleats have all come with a single-piece soleplate, much like any other shoe. It wasn’t until 2018 that Nike first brought the “split” soleplate to a primary cleat silo — The Nike Mercurial Superfly.
While the cleat made advancements in both weight and bottom-of-the-foot touch, the soleplate was prone to defective issues and didn’t provide players with the same stability, as a traditional one-piece soleplate.
It’s easy to think that studs haven’t advanced much since the adidas Copa Mundials first came onto the scene, but the truth is nearly every modern cleat style features a variety of studs on the soleplate. Studs can vary in shape as well as length for different advantages on different surfaces.
Because of their all-around utility and tried and true design we have to recommend a one-piece soleplate of canonical studs for soccer defender cleats. This combination of features provides defenders with the best stability whether their feet are planted or in stride.
What Makes a Cleat Secure?
“Security” when it comes to soccer cleats is really about lock-down fit. And the essence of the lock-down fit is: that your foot and your cleat are moving in perfect unison without any slippage or repeated adjustments.
In terms of options, there’s only one real decision to make: laceless vs. laces.
Laceless vs. Laces for Cleats
When deciding whether to wear laceless or laced cleats, it comes down to player preference.
Anyone with long-term soccer experience knows someone who played with their cleats incredibly loose or maybe even untied! Still, these types of players accounted for less than 10% of the team. The truth is most players still want laces for their tighter lock-down fit.
Top Cleats would have to side with a laced pair when it comes down to deciding the absolute best soccer cleats for a defender. But that doesn’t mean a laceless pair can’t be the right choice for the right player.
The Nike Mercurial Vapor 15 Elite is made for defenders on the go. Nike’s patented flyknit upper combined with internal speed cage technology provide the Nike Mercurial Vapor 15 with a secure lockdown fit without any extra bulk. We love how the one-piece upper hugs your foot and that the design still incorporates laces for a consistent all-game fit.
The soleplate of these Nike Vapor 15 Elites incorporates a Nike Zoom Air unit. Specially designed for soccer, this air unit is three-quarter sized and designed to provide an additional layer of air suspension. The springy underfoot feel from the Zoom Air Unit feels good on the pitch, and you’ll definitely notice the responsiveness through your step. We also like Nike’s tri-star studs which provide multidirectional traction to quickly and confidently change directions at high speed.
Currently, Nike Vapor Elites are the choice of Bayern Munich’s Alfonso Davies. Given Davies’ incredible pace and creative play from the left-back position, the Vapor Elites are a perfect match for his style of game. Playmaking wingbacks will love how the latest Nike Vapor Elites complement their game.
The Mizuno Morelia Neo III represents all the stylings of a classic soccer cleat upgraded for the modern age. The Mizuno Neo III Beta uses a thin leather upper combined with a synthetic knit tongue for a one-piece barefoot fit that feels too light to be leather on your foot. We really love the way these boots feel while changing direction, and the classic toe box stitching provides a familiar structure and touch.
This Mizuno soccer cleat’s soleplate features twelve conical studs, six for the inner and outer edge of your foot. This classic stud placement provides stability whether you’re bracing for an incoming header or stepping into a tackle at speed.
These Mizuno cleats are a modern classic style that’s an ideal cleat for center backs. It’s no wonder they’re the choice of Spanish National team legend Sergio Ramos. Ramos has over 650 matches as a defender and over 100 career goals, making him a generational talent at center back. Ramos is now making his mark in Ligue 1 as a center back for PSG.
The Phantom GT2 is one of Nike’s most experimental cleat styles. Often these cleats release with a laundry list of patented technology from Nike, and the GT2 is no different. Here’s just a short list of the technology that Nike has incorporated into these soccer boots:
- All Conditions Control Texture
- Flyknit Construction Upper
- Split Canonical Studs
Given their experimental nature, we think the Nike Phantom GT2 are great cleats for defenders that are willing to take risks and try new skills. In our tests, they fit and feel much like a Nike Vapor, but have a little bit more weight and structure. Some players want their cleats to feel like protective heavy armor, and some want their cleats to feel like nothing at all; we consider the Nike Phantom GT2 cleats a happy middle-ground between those two ideals.
Phantom GT2s are the choice of Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool’s star center-back. Known for his physical strength and aerial scoring ability Virgil is one of the most dynamic center backs in the premier league. He’s also the only defender to ever win the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year award and played every single minute of Liverpool’s Premier League title campaign.
PUMA was the first manufacturer with a leather cleat to rival the adidas Copa Mundial. Fast forward to today and PUMA has revolutionized the lightweight cleat market. Many cleats promise to feel like “nothing at all” on your feet, but the PUMA Ultra 1.4 soccer cleats deliver.
Their speed cage technology provides lockdown support in a webbed pattern made from carbon yarn to cut down on weight without sacrificing security. While we’re big fans of Nike’s Flyknit technology, there isn’t another soccer cleat we’ve worn that feels like PUMA Ultras. If you thrive on that “barefoot” type feeling in cleats, the PUMA Ultras are made for you. The soleplate focuses entirely on forward directional spikes in the forefoot which isn’t ideal for defenders that find themselves frequently changing direction.
PUMA Ultras are the cleat of choice for Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly, and these one-of-a-kind cleats complement Koulibaly’s aggressive turn-around style well. Koulibaly is one of the few defenders who has been used as a defensive midfielder, and it’s because his game is as much offense as defense.
Originally made for the World Cup and still world-class, the adidas Copa Mundial Soccer cleat is a top-of-the-line cleat for players of all ages. “The classic that never quits”
Originally meant for any position, the cleat has morphed into a classic defender cleat. Its solid kangaroo leather upper combined with a molded canonical stud soleplate provides the comfort and stability that soccer defenders need.
For us at Top Cleats, Copas represents an all-around cleat that’s ready to go. Any conditions, any level from pick-up games, to rec league, to even the pros. They’re even perfect as a pair of backup soccer cleats because they’ll last forever.
Copas has one major shortcoming in comparison to every other cleat on this list: they’re heavy. It’s what makes them durable, and long-lasting, but it’s also noticeable as modern cleats continue to get lighter.
The adidas Predator soccer cleats changed the game when they were released in 1994. The modern adidas Predator cleats aim to do the same. We love that adidas pulled the ribbed stitching design of the original predator cleats and applied the concept to adidas 3D skin technology. You do feel the difference when the ball makes contact with your foot.
The adidas Predator Edge is the only laceless cleat that made our list, and while it’s not a make-or-break feature, we can’t say that it’s ideal for the majority of defenders. One defender who has taken seamlessly to the Predator Edge is David Alaba. The defender, considered one of the best of his generation, has over 250 matches for Bayern Munich in his career, and now plays for Real Madrid.
The Best Soccer Cleats for a Defender: Choice & Preference
While the “best pair of soccer cleats” is subjective, the best pair of soccer cleats for you isn’t. It’s essential to think about what you look for in a pair of soccer cleats. If you need a lightweight, barefoot-like cleat the adidas Predator Edge or PUMA Ultra might be the perfect fit for you.
If you need cleats with a sturdy structure and dependable stability the adidas Copa Mundial or Mizuno Morelia Neo cleats are likely going to feel better for your game.
No matter what your preference, there’s a perfect soccer cleat out there for you. Don’t be afraid to try a few styles to figure out which style suits your skills and playstyle the best.