A defensive line-up Roy Hodgson would envy: National Grid plc, Imperial Brands Group plc & Vodafone Group plc

While England has plenty of attacking talent right now, its back four looks relatively shaky. As every investor knows, success is built on a strong defence. The following three stocks have the defensive capabilities you need to keep your portfolio watertight. If only Roy Hodgson could pick them for England…

National Grid

Not every utility company is a safe pair of hands. Just look at British Gas owner Centrica, the case for its defence is full of holes in my opinion. However, National Grid (LSE: NG) is in a different class. As a natural monopoly operating in a heavily regulated industry, its profit flow is the closest thing to a born winner you will find in the FTSE 100. As a dividend machine it is sheer class, currently yielding 4.47%. That still gives you a healthy return regardless of what happens to the share price in any given year.

Yet it has also outperformed the majority of stocks on the index when it comes to share price growth. While the FTSE 100 is up 5.5% over the last five years, National Grid has delivered a winning 62% growth. Perhaps the only downside is that the market knows its value, with the stock trading at a fully priced 15.11 times earnings. Still, as every football manager knows, you have to pay for class.

Imperial Brands

If you are looking for a solid performer to support your strikers, you can hardly do better than field a tobacco stock in your team. Cigarette smoking may be in long-term decline in the West but it remains a profitable business as customers carry on smoking through thick economic times and thin. Imperial Brands (LSE: IMB) is like one of those central defenders who has the happy knack of popping up at corners and sticking one in the net. While most people see it as an income stock, its current yield of 3.79% can only be described as steady while its five-year share price growth of 70% is verging on the spectacular.

That income is set to rise, with Imperial Brands on course to increase dividends by more than 10% this year, which would lift the yield to 4.1%. It hopes to offset the decline of nicotine by building on the growth potential from e-cigarettes. This is a versatile, two-footed stock and a proven match-winner.

Vodafone Group

I remember when Vodafone (LSE: VOD) was admired for its pace and attacking skills. These days, it lumbers onto the pitch like the old warhorse it is. Nobody expects it to surge upfield and thrill the crowd with a burst of capital growth, even if its share price is still trading 42% higher than it was five years ago.

Investors now mostly admire Vodafone for its dividend consistency. If this stock was an England centre back it would be an indomitable Billy Wright or Bobby Moore. It has been yielding around 5% ever since I can remember, and it yields around 5% today. Investors will not expect much dividend progression, with cover falling to just 0.5, but it looks safe enough for now. Forecast earnings per share growth of 25% in the year to March 2017 and 19% to March 2018 suggest that Vodafone still has legs.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Centrica. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.