Having assessed the worth of various budget defenders that caught the eye upon the launch of the 2018/19 Fantasy Premier League game last week, we now turn our attention to the stoppers higher up the price list.
As well as analysing the premium defenders who have a starting price of £6.0m+, we will also run the rule over the numerous mid-priced options (£5.0m/£5.5m) available at the back.
The £6.0m/£6.5m Premium Options
Five defenders will set you back £6.5m at the start of the 2018/19 season: Cesar Azplicueta, Marcos Alonso, Nicolas Otamendi, Kyle Walker and Antonio Valencia.
Azpilicueta and Alonso were the two highest-scoring defenders in FPL last season with a combined 340 points between them. Chelsea’s clean sheet total of 16 was, despite being admirable, only the fourth-best tally in the league and their two Spanish assets only topped the defensive rankings through contributions elsewhere on the pitch.
Alonso scored more goals (seven) and had more shots than any other Premier League defender last year, while no stopper bettered Azpilicueta’s haul of 25 bonus points. Azpilicueta also chipped in with six assists, his joint-best effort in a single season, despite featuring almost exclusively at centre-back.
Uncertainty over Antonio Conte’s future as Chelsea manager, though, means Fantasy managers would be understandably reticent about splashing the cash on either of these two premium assets at this early stage. The same would apply to Victor Moses and Antonio Rudiger (both £6.0m).
Otamendi’s four goals and underlying passing statistics contributed to his 21 bonus points and third-highest score overall, though whether the Argentinean centre-back will get as many as the 33 starts he managed last season is open to debate. A Manchester City defender (or goalkeeper) looks near-essential for Gameweeks 2-7, with home fixtures against Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United, Fulham and Brighton & Hove Albion punctuated by trips to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City.
Walker is another City option in the £6.5m bracket for those hugely appealing matches. Although the former Tottenham Hotspur full-back has scored only two league goals in six years, he has recorded six assists in each of the last two seasons: no defender has created more goals in that time.
There may be better value elsewhere in the City backline, though. Pre-season might give us an indication as to which of the £5.5m-rated centre-back options – John Stones, Vincent Kompany and Aymeric Laporte – is favoured by Pep Guardiola, while Benjamin Mendy (£6.0m) has returned to fitness after a serious knee injury curtailed his debut Premier League season last September. The French full-back supplied five assists for Monaco in 2016/17 and could be a huge threat this year from the wing-back position if Guardiola reverts to the 3-5-2 formation he started with last season.
No defender registered more clean sheets last season than Antonio Valencia, who also found the back of the net on three occasions. The long-serving right-back has for several years now been a relatively rotation risk-free route into the Manchester United backline: Valencia missed only seven matches last season, four of which enforced through a hamstring injury.
Chris Smalling and Ashley Young (and indeed goalkeeper David de Gea) are ways into the United defence at £6.0m. Smalling started all but four of United’s matches last season from Gameweek 7 onwards, missing three fixtures over Christmas and being rested for the final-day match with Watford with the FA Cup final in mind. No defender scored more on the Bonus Points System than Smalling during his unbroken run of matches in the United team between Gameweeks 23 and 37.
Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot (all £5.5m), Marcos Rojo and Victor Lindelof (both £5.0m) would, perhaps, best be avoided until Jose Mourinho’s first-choice central defensive partnership becomes known.
Of the 14 defenders who have a starting price of £6.0m, half of them play for Spurs. Jan Vertonghen will likely be the safest route into the Tottenham backline, with the Belgian centre-half having started more matches (36) and kept more clean sheets (16) than any of his fellow Spurs defenders. Rotation in the full-back department is a constant worry with Mauricio Pochettino, so Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies (both of whom racked up seven assists last season) look expensive gambles at £6.0m given that they can’t be assured of starts.
Spurs’ start next season looks like one of the trickiest: the Lilywhites play five of their first seven fixtures on the road, with one of their “home” matches (against Fulham) contested at Wembley. Liverpool and Manchester United also await Pochettino’s side in Gameweeks 3 and 5.
Anfield was a fortress for Liverpool last season: the Reds were unbeaten on home soil and 12 of their 17 clean sheets came on their own patch. With West Ham, Brighton and Southampton visiting Merseyside in the first six Gameweeks, there will be interest in Andrew Robertson and Virgil van Dijk (both £6.0m).
Van Dijk carries a considerable goal threat but enjoyed a luckless spell in front of goal last season: Shane Duffy was the only defender who had more attempts on goal last season without scoring.
Robertson, meanwhile, was a staple of the Liverpool defence from Gameweek 15 onwards and only Hector Bellerin had more touches in the final third from this point till the end of the season.
The Mid-Price Alternatives
Bellerin is one of five Arsenal defenders available at £5.5m although his underlying attacking statistics mightn’t be as impressive this season if new boss Unai Emery decides to ditch the wing-back system in favour of a back four.
Nacho Monreal and new boy Sokratis Papastathopoulos are among the other defensive options for Arsenal at this price and would be worthy of consideration from Gameweek 3 onwards in particular (the Gunners run of matches from this point reads: WHU, cdf, new, EVE, WAT, ful, LEI, cry).
READ MORE: Scout Report on Sokratis
Gary Cahill and Andreas Christensen (both £5.5m) could be more cost-effective, albeit slightly duller, routes into the Chelsea defence than Alonso and Azpilicueta, although the risk of rotation will see plenty Fantasy managers dodging both (neither is currently owned by more than 2.5% of FPL bosses).
There are a few gung-ho full-backs available at the £5.5m mark elsewhere. Fantasy managers will be keen to see if Everton pair Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines are revitalised under new manager Marco Silva, particularly given the Toffees’ kind start to the season: Everton play just one of last season’s top seven clubs in the first nine Gameweeks, a start that also features home matches against Southampton, Huddersfield, West Ham, Fulham and Crystal Palace.
Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5m) had a phenomenal end to 2017/18, meanwhile. All five of his league goals (and one assist) came in the last ten Gameweeks of the season and even a price hike to £5.5m may not deter investors given Palace’s favourable start: the Eagles face only one of the “big six” clubs in their first nine matches.
Mamadou Sakho (£5.0m) is a slightly cheaper route into the Palace defence. Although the former Liverpool centre-back does not carry the same goal threat as the Dutch left-back, Sakho’s returns on the Bonus Points System are noteworthy. Incredibly, only three defenders registered more bonus points than Sakho (18) last season despite the French centre-half making only 18 starts.
Harry Maguire (£5.5m) was the only defender to have more penalty box touches and efforts on goal than van Aanholt from Gameweek 29 onwards and the Leicester City centre-half is another defender whose goal threat is the chief reason for his elevated price.
The Foxes new defensive recruits, Ricardo Pereira and Jonny Evans, are available for £0.5m cheaper.
READ MORE: Scout Report on Ricardo Pereira
READ MORE: Moving Target – Jonny Evans
West Ham’s tough start (the Hammers play five of the “big six” in the first nine Gameweeks) would suggest that Aaron Creswell (£5.5m) is one to avoid initially, although his assist count of seven was not beaten by any other defender in 2017/18.
The drop in Charlie Daniels’ starting price (£4.5m) means that Nathan Ake (£5.0m) is unlikely to be the most popular defensive option for Bournemouth, despite the latter’s goal threat.
Burnley’s overall impressive defensive statistics from last season has led to a price hike for Matthew Lowton, Stephen Ward, Ben Mee and James Tarkowski (all £5.0m). That the Clarets only recorded two clean sheets in 2018, however, might stick in the throat of potential investors, despite Sean Dyche’s side having a favourable-looking first eight Gameweeks of the season.
Sean Morrison and Barry Douglas both delivered excellent attacking returns (Morrison scored on seven occasions; Douglas delivered a league-high 14 assists) for their respective clubs in the Championship last season but are a risk at £5.0m given that Cardiff and Wolves are making the step up this season. Ryan Fredericks, who starred for Fulham last season but has since moved to West Ham, is also priced up at £5.0m.
READ MORE: Our team analysis of Wolves
READ MORE: Our team analysis of Cardiff
READ MORE: Our team analysis of Fulham
Jamaal Lascelles (£5.0m) is one to avoid with Newcastle facing Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in their first five matches.
Southampton’s first five fixtures (BUR, eve, LEI, cry, BRI) are enticing, although Ryan Bertrand‘s (£5.0m) case for inclusion in our Fantasy squads is somewhat lessened by Cedric Soares being available for £0.5m cheaper.
Perhaps the most attractive proposition available at the £5.0m mark is Trent Alexander-Arnold, one of five Liverpool defenders who starts at this price. Alexander-Arnold is available for a whole million less than Andrew Robertson and Virgil van Dijk and, although Nathaniel Clyne (£5.0m) has now returned to fitness, would seem likely to begin the season as Jurgen Klopp’s first-choice right-back: “TAA” started ten of Liverpool’s last 13 league matches, despite Champions League-influenced rotation being a worry.
Alexander-Arnold is the most-owned defender in FPL at this early stage.