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Fool’s Goal: The Clean Sheet Crapshoot

Sometimes we’re so knee-deep in Fantasy Premier League, we forget a fundamental reality: the players actually have to play the games.

Sport is one of the most unpredictable forms of entertainment, based on the chaotic nature of physics, environmental factors and split-second decision making. No matter how hard a player trains, he can’t control the decisions of his opponent or the wind in the air. This allows for plenty of human error and complete nonsense. Saying FPL managers get irritated at the random nature of the game is an understatement, but that can also provide some solace when it reminds us of how little control we really have. No matter how much research you do, the players still need to kick the ball around for ninety minutes and see what happens.

The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world. It’s always interesting and constantly surprises us. That’s why we love it, but it’s why we want to rip our hair out and quit the game when the ball bounces off a defender, off the post, off the keeper and in.

That’s why I’m done with clean sheets.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t consider clean sheet potential when making strategic decisions. Obviously, clean sheets should influence your research and thought process, especially when you’re considering a transfer. The problem is, while all defenders and goalkeepers have clean sheet potential every gameweek, they all have the potential to let us down no matter how strong their defense. At least for this season, the numbers regarding clean sheets seem too thin to support a strategy that heavily revolves around them. Even the best goalkeeper in the world won’t stop the best shot of the season, and nobody knows who, when, or where that will happen. That brings me to the player that first got me thinking about how clean sheets are more of a risk than a security. No, it wasn’t Laporte, but we’ll get to him. It was Holebas.

I know you wouldn’t bring him into your team for clean sheets, but I’m still learning and at the time was looking for clean sheets from all of my defenders. But still, it got me thinking. When he totalled one point
from gameweek 5 to 8 (that’s 0, 1, 1, -1), it planted an idea in my mind that hasn’t gone away: clean sheets suck.

Actually, at the time, I was enjoying life with Ederson. He returned 26 points from gameweek 5 to gameweek 8, as opposed to Holebas’ single point in the same timespan. My opinion of clean sheets was still teetering on the fence.. then, I got Laporte in gameweek 13. How can you go wrong with a City defender who plays 90 minutes every game when Ederson is keeping clean
sheets without even trying? Well, you can!

From gameweek 14 to gameweek 20, Laporte and Ederson combined for an epic total of 26 points. As I mentioned above, Ederson achieved that on his own in four games earlier in the season. So, how do you rely on this inconsistency?

I decided to start looking at some basic stats to see how reliable a clean sheet really is, even from the best teams in the league. Doing so ultimately convinced me that, when it comes to my own defenders and keepers, I’m going to focus primarily on potential offensive returns and saves.

Here are some of the numbers I was looking at; my research, and my brain, are very basic, but I think the numbers highlight some key ideas that we can all consider when strategizing for the rest of the season.First, I just wanted to know how many clean sheets each team actually had after 26 gameweeks and in what percentage of those games they achieved clean sheets. When I consider a defensive player, I weigh the overall quality of the team pretty heavily in my decision. In my opinion, combined with my bitterness towards clean sheets, Liverpool seems to be the only legitimate team here that can offer any consistency.. the fact that only one team has over a 50% clean sheet percentage is surprising to me, and it highlights yet another reason why Liverpool are doing so well. Some consider Manchester City to be the best team on the planet yet they’ve only kept 12 clean sheets out of 27 Premier League games.

After 26 gameweeks, only four teams have kept 10 or more clean sheets. Worst of all, the five teams tied for 6th place for clean sheets only have a total of seven each.Here are the top four teams ranked by number of clean sheets and the lower-table teams that still managed to score against them. Betting on these teams keeping clean sheets is unreliable when they can’t do it against some of the worst teams in the league; even the lowest-ranked teams have
top-quality players who can burst through and destroy your clean sheet with a moment of genius.

So, how do the clean sheet statistics compare to some of the top players in the league, and how often they get at least 6 points (same for a keeper or defender who gets a clean sheet)?Defensive players have one chance at a clean sheet, while forwards and midfielders (as well as forward-thinking defenders) have as many chances as they can create. When comparing defensive players against offensive players, it seems the best midfielders in FPL would have better odds of scoring 6 points or more than the best defenders in FPL. Even if a defender is on the best team in the league, they can still concede at any moment and give up their primary source of points.

The league is shifting to a more forward-thinking mindset and I think it’s smart for FPL managers to try the same, pushing the defensive players to expand their roles into the offensive side of the field. It’s awesome to watch, and it’s great for FPL.

Going forward, I’ll be focused on fielding three offensive-minded defenders each week who like to forget they’re supposed to play defense. Players like Doherty and Robertson are showing that FPL defenders can do more than play for clean sheets, so I’m going to try the same in FPL.

What do you think about clean sheets this season?

Are you done with them too, or are you still confident in the points they’ll bring you?

How much do you focus on a defender’s attacking potential?

Written by Chris Kish
Twitter: @MoonriseWriting
My Team: https://fantasy.premierleague.com/a/entry/962241/history

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37 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Jones Kusi
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    5 days, 9 hours ago

    Hi everyone. Have a great day.

    1. Waynoo
      • 5 Years
      5 days, 8 hours ago

      you too

  2. Pep Pig
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 2 Years
    5 days, 8 hours ago

    That's an interesting read Chris. It is one of the reasons I held Alonso for as long as I did. (Though no longer own him). Wing backs have been really exciting this season more than ever. Robertson set the mark and Doherty has surprised everyone. More recently,the last several games at least, Kolasinac joined the party. (Lets forget how last week ended) It's easier to forgive a CS going belly up if you have players like these who love to bomb forward

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 17 hours ago

      Hey Pep Pig thanks a lot. I missed the boat for Doherty but he is fun to watch. I've been dying to get class match back and finally did last week and we all know how that ended. I actually also have etheridge so that was a really brutal 2 minutes for my team.

      1. Chris Kish
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        4 days, 17 hours ago

        Kolasinac**

  3. Jᴀʀᴠish
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 4 Years
    5 days, 8 hours ago

    I've always tended to go uber-cheap in defence for the "crap-shoot" reason, however there seems to be more defenders (wing backs) more consistently delivering attacking returns this season (Robertson, Doherty, Mendy) so seem good value with the bonus that they will keep some clean sheets too over the season.

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      It's true, a lot of the defenders who do offer attacking returns are pricey.

  4. Phrilly
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 4 Years
    5 days, 8 hours ago

    Really good stuff Chris, great analysis, really clear point well illustrated.
    I'd be interested to see a "value" column though in the analysis comparing defenders to other high scorers. Given defenders are half the price of key attackers would they be better value per pound spent?

    1. joeydelucchi
      • 2 Years
      5 days, 8 hours ago

      this is exactly what i was thinking, chris's point is valid, but when comparing a 6m/7m mid who blanks 2-3 games and then gets over 6pts ..(so 1 in 4) then a prem defender like rob or taa or even wan bissaka for example is a better option. so its not that simple to definitely say that its better to have forwards than defenders because no one is expected to keep clean sheets....I believe the key is to find a front 7 that at least 1 in 2 games get over 6pts and 3 defenders with the same chance either through cs or attacking returns

    2. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      Thanks so much for the feedback. Yes that would be interesting, it's a good point to consider. This was just a simple way to consider the returns of different positions. It's true that a defender who can offer attacking returns is fantastic value when you consider their potential for clean sheets, vs a forward who gets nothing extra.

  5. General_Zod
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 1 Year
    5 days, 8 hours ago

    Good stuff, Chris.
    Clean sheet potential should be left to keepers imo closely followed by save points.

    Defenders are so more attacking nowadays that a cleanie should be the icing on the cake (bonuses the cherry).

    Cheers.

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      Thanks General Zod. To an extent I agree but I'm still more interested in the save returns a keeper can offer. In that approach you can save a little money with a keeper who you know will get a lot of shots.

      Having an attacking defender on a team that can give you at least a decent opportunity at a clean sheet,on top of attacking returns, seems to be the strongest approach.

  6. Lord Tachanka - Thor:Wagner…
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 1 Year
    5 days, 8 hours ago

    I think I would try to balance attacking threat with CS potential and cost.

    The best attacking players having a similar (within 10%) chance of scoring as the best def getting a CA is one thing. However, we are talking £8m up to £13m for those players.

    Defenders are considerably cheaper so the expectation so be more reasonable.

    Finally, I think teams and players always go on runs so I feel it’s best to get a hold a premium defender rather than picking a new budget one every month who has 3 CS in the last 4. Chances are that player will fail to keep those numbers up and you’ll lose out when the original player gets an “unexpected” CS.

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      Good points. This is interesting because it seems to be the consensus that the defenders who offer attacking returns are maybe better value than mids/forwards because on top of attacking returns they A) offer CS potential and B) are generally cheaper.

  7. Greyhead
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    5 days, 7 hours ago

    Great article! Kept my defence relatively stable this year thanks to Robbo, Doherty and W-B more based on bonus/attacking returns. Foster has also been great over the last few weeks but again on saves plus clean sheets as a bonus.

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      Hey thanks Greyhead!

      That sounds solid, well done. It really seems like it's heading that direction, that the clean sheets are kind of just a bonus.

  8. insertcomedyname
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 1 Year
    5 days, 7 hours ago

    I think that Peter Blake on his Mathematically Safe blog undertook some research that showed (and my memory is hazy, so perhaps I'm wrong) defenders score points in a way that is more predictable than attacking players. Does this suggest the opposite to the thrust of this (helpful) analysis here?

    1. RedLightning - January to M…
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • Has Moderation Rights
      • 8 Years
      5 days, 5 hours ago

      https://mathematicallysafe.wordpress.com/

      A very interesting blog, and it includes a number of articles about defenders, but I don't see any mention there of them scoring points in a more predictable way than attacking players.

      Joe has said on a number of occasions that he likes midfielders who have more than one way to score points - goals, assists and regular bonus points.
      A similar thing could be said about defenders - the best ones can get points from attacking returns and/or bonus points as well as from clean sheets, but they are not likely to be cheap.

      The important thing is how many points they get, not what they get them for.
      Clean sheets, attacking returns and bonus points all contribute towards a defender's points (as also do cards received and goals conceded), and they all count towards a defender's FPL score.
      FPL points (however they are obtained), prices, frequency of starts and fixtures are all important considerations when it comes to choosing defenders.

      But don't underestimate how useful clean sheets can be. They are the reason that Robertson and van Dijk are the two highest scoring defenders in the game and that 4 Liverpool defenders are averaging 4.9ppg or better.
      You can get fairly frequent clean sheets from Liverpool defenders who are regular starters, especially when they have favourable fixtures and aren't suffering from too many injuries, but you may have to pay a little more for them, especially for the ones who get attacking returns and/or bonus points as well.

      1. Buzzy
        • 1 Year
        5 days, 1 hour ago

        I don't think you can objectively compare the number of times a defender scores 6+ points against the number of times a top midfielder/forward scores 6+ points,
        so you lost me at that stage Chris.

        Yes Salah,Sterling,Hazard,Aguero score 6+ points more frequently but that's why they cost you 13.6,11.3,10.8 and11.5 mil etc.whereas the most expensive defender costs 6.8 mil.

        If you're looking at a comparison it would be fairer to look at
        pts per game per £mil cost.
        Using the example of top forwards from your article this compares as follows

        0.53 Salah
        0.67 Sterling
        0.40 Hazard
        0.54 Aubemeyang
        0.59 Aguero
        0.71 Pogba
        0.61 Mane
        0.74 Son
        0.48 Kane

        Using the same comparison for top defenders by total score would be

        0.87 Robertson
        0.75 Van Dijk
        0.77 Alonso
        0.79 Luiz
        0.74 Laporte
        0.74 Doherty
        0.84 Pereira
        0.70 Walker
        0.60 Azpilicueta
        0.69 PVA

        The top defenders are better value, but I wouldn't have the balls to play 5 at the back every week,
        plus I'd want 2 players minimum out of Salah/Aguero/Sterling/Auba and captain one of them each week.

        I think the bookies odds are a decent indicator of how likely a clean sheet is used together with the fixture ticker.
        There's some analyis much longer than my post here

        https://fplacademica.wordpress.com/2018/07/27/assessing-the-value-of-premium-defenders/

        1. RedLightning - January to M…
          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
          • Has Moderation Rights
          • 8 Years
          4 days, 22 hours ago

          Thanks, Buzzy. An excellent link.

          1. Chris Kish
            • Fantasy Football Scout Member
            4 days, 16 hours ago

            Thank you for the feedback guys. These are all interesting ideas to think about.

            Buzzy, thats an excellent point about comparing points per mil cost. Thanks for posting that, it's pretty eye opening. I also agree 5 at the back is risky, but your numbers show it could potentially pay off, depending on what you do with the rest of your money I guess.

        2. pingissimus
          4 days, 12 hours ago

          Maybe I’ve pressed the wrong buttons on my calculator but I make AWB as having an average of 0.82 points per game by million if you take his base cost of 4.1 - the price I got him at.

          (84 points in 25 games at 4.1)

          1. Buzzy
            • 1 Year
            4 days, 11 hours ago

            That looks about right Pingissimus - maybe slightly under that.
            He's done well with 14pts from baps plus 36pts from clean sheets.
            A lot of us wouldn't have got these returns though unless we played them every match from the beginning.
            If you bought him at his current price it's 0.73.

  9. pingissimus
    5 days, 6 hours ago

    Interesting read but dont Palace have 9 clean sheets in fifth place in that table? That puts them only just behind the top 4.

    I’m a regular AWB player and not bencher. I live in the hope he’ll get an attacking return soon but he’s also value for bps. His 84 points for 4.1 seems great value and Palace seem good for another 4/5 cleans before seasons end.

    Having missed the Doherty boat I’m happy to take his returns and use the cash in a fifth mid - an area where’s there’s heaps of value.

    1. pingissimus
      5 days, 6 hours ago

      Put another way AWB with 14 bps in his defensive role has the equivalent of 4/5 assists.

    2. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      Also missed the Doherty boat.

      With AWB I have him as a bench player but end up having to play him more often than expected. Its always a gamble on a clean sheet with him.

  10. Saint Steve-O (@EliteFPL)
    • 4 Years
    5 days, 5 hours ago

    Nice read... In answer to question. I simply choose defenders from having best chance of clean sheet and most likely to return attacking points. Ie look at Kolasinac. I don't know exactly, but, if you don't get a CS there's a descent chance of an assist (or OG lol), no matter the fixtures. (+ helps he plays in an attacking team and has even better chance of returns, whereas a player for a poorer team but have reputation for getting CS ie my team Burnley it's more about just play them in 'easy' fixture and hope for a CS only

  11. smitchlovesfunk
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 4 Years
    5 days, 4 hours ago

    I generally pick defenders based on attacking potential and clean sheets are a bonus.

  12. EMBOLOFAN
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    5 days, 2 hours ago

    banking on attacking returns from fullbacks at smaller clubs is much higher variance than banking on cs from relatively cheap defenders at elite clubs (gomez, lovren, taa, stones, laporte etc). bookies have very sophisticated models for likelihood of cs and if you keep track of these you'll be able to reliably and consistently make good decisions. they will generally outperform attacking defenders from lower positioned clubs. for every player like holebas (substantially overperforming vs xgi) there are a bunch of other defenders you could own (morrison, bryan, pva) who get into similar positions and have similar quality but don't happen to get the returns, mostly by chance.

  13. the Penman
    • 7 Years
    5 days, 31 mins ago

    My response to this article consists of the gif of Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly starting to speak several times then ultimately stopping.

  14. Woy of the Wovers
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    5 days, 10 mins ago

    While there's some elements of truth in this article it is approaching the problem using weak statistics which leads to a faulty conclusion. The idea that searching for CS points is a fruitless exercise is simply wrong. I've not even looked at the numbers but I'd be willing to bet that the majority of additional points a defender brings are through clean sheets rather than attacking returns. I'm not saying don't focus on attacking returns but buying a defender who has limited CS potential is likely to cost points. Boring points, maybe but I don't care how I get them.

    First thing to say is that defender points are always volatile. Defenders are buy-and-hold players not ones you bring in and out based on form and fixtures. That's a rule of thumb rather than a fixed law of FPL.

    The next thing to be aware of is that CS points are also volatile. As with many statistics like goals and assist, using the historic data for the statistic to predict the future statistic shows quite a low correlation. The reference to randomness in the article is really the key to understanding this but it's the distinction between cause and effect. Teams don't get clean sheets because they have recently earned clean sheet. Rather, they are doing the things that earn clean sheets which, over the course of 100+ games will get the rewards.

    My preferred predictors of CS are SoT conceded and defensive errors. There'll still be random factors at play but if the team are doing the right things, they will get the CS points. Pick the players who earn those points with sufficient regularity and you'll be bringing home more points that looking at the rarer attacking points.

    That you buy the attack minded defenders is usually the right thing to do but at the expense of the CS points - no way. We only have too look at the early season so see that if you started the season with Robertson, Mendy, Alonso you'd have left your ML rivals cursing your luck

    One final observation about marginal pricing. Upgrading a cheap defender to a top scoring defender costs about 2m. That price difference covers each ofl the midfield upgrade options from budget -> low -> mid -> premium and there are limited options where the partial upgrade in midfield compensates for the full upgrade in defence.

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 5 hours ago

      Thanks Wovers I appreciate the comments and feedback.

      I agree that it isn't fruitless to search for CS points, I've just made errors by committing to players whose primary returns were from clean sheets prior to getting them on my team, ie laporte, ederson, AWB. Thanks for sharing your preferred predictors for clean sheets, I'll keep that in mind. Always trying to learn.

  15. Ahmed Adam
    • 1 Year
    4 days, 16 hours ago

    Barnes to laca for -4?

    1. Kiwivillan
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 4 Years
      4 days, 16 hours ago

      Last 6

      Barnes 4 goals 33pts
      Laca 4 goals 34pts

  16. The Bad Seed
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 1 Year
    4 days, 11 hours ago

    you need to look at it differently.

    Wan Bissaka and Vardy for instance have almost the same number of points.

    However, WB costs half of vardy.

    yes most CS chances are below 50%, but you cant compare owning Doherty to owning sterling who gets 6+ points in most games.

    As others said, without a value column, this would be futile. As the whole game revolves around making most points from 100M.

    1. Chris Kish
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 days, 5 hours ago

      I agree with you Bad Seed, the value of a defender vs forward/mid is important to consider but hard to compare. The numbers Buzzy posted above look at the points per million cost.

  17. AK ⭐
    • 6 Years
    4 days, 2 hours ago

    Appreciate the efforts put into the article, however it does ignore a lot of things which are imperative to the game.

    Of course as many have said above, it ignores the value that FPL gives. Comparing defenders to premium assets isn't going to work because there's a set budget and a set of rules which includes having to play at least 3 defenders every week.

    Also, not sure Holebas really fits into the motion against clean sheets. Watford aren't the most defensively sound team in the league and there are better defenders at that price available if you want to go purely on clean sheets. The appeal of Holebas in the first place, is his attacking returns. It doesn't help that he's a yellow card magnet too.

    That City run was really poor and like me, many sure did suffer from that. But I think that was just a patch of City being poor than what we expect from them for a given period of time.