It was a big year for the premium defenders in Fantasy Premier League with eight of the top ten points-scorers overall in this category coming from just three clubs: champions Manchester City, runners-up Liverpool and third-place Chelsea.
Andrew Robertson (£6.7m) set a new record for total points scored by a defender in a single season, clocking up an incredible 213 – which made him the fifth-highest-scoring player in the game in 2018/19.
Those managers who invested heavily in defence over the course of the campaign got a healthy return of points for their outlay of cash.
It begs the question whether we should be looking to pump more of our £100m budget into our defence for Gameweek 1 in 2019/20 and entertain the idea of playing four or even five at the back more regularly.
Before we look at this year’s nominations for best defenders for our Team of the Season, let’s see how last year’s winners performed this time around.
Manchester City’s Nicolas Otamendi (£6.0m) managed to score just 70 points this season, a big drop from the 156 he accumulated in the previous campaign.
Aymeric Laporte (£6.3m) has become Pep Guardiola’s most trusted centre-half, which has forced the Argentine down the pecking order. Laporte has taken over the responsibility as the ball-playing centre half from Otamendi in the City team. Having found the net on four occasions in 2017/18, Otamendi failed to score a single goal this time around.
When the going got tough during the title run-in, Pep put his trust in club captain Vincent Kompany (£5.2m) to partner Laporte for the final four games. With John Stones (£5.2m) pushing for starts too, it looks like Otamendi’s days in a sky-blue shirt could be numbered.
Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.4m) found himself back in his more familiar right-back role this season under the management of Maurizio Sarri. He can count himself unlucky not have been nominated this time around after putting in another solid season.
For the third consecutive year, the Spaniard scored more than 150 points (158 in 2018/19). One goal, six assists and 16 clean sheets is a very impressive return but the fact that he was £1.0m more expensive than his teammate David Luiz (£5.8m) in Gameweek 1, who ended up outscoring him, explains why he wasn’t as popular as he had been previously.
Robertson followed up his Team of the Season inclusion last year with an even better campaign in 2018/19. You would think he’s a shoo-in for back-to-back awards but the competition is fierce, as we will discuss below.
Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.8m) had a sensational season and racked up 185 points, in large part down to his record-breaking tally of 13 assists.
Alexander-Arnold and Robertson joked throughout the campaign about their own competition on who would get the most assists. Together they provided 25 across 2018/19, with Alexander-Arnold winning by a margin of just one thanks to his two assists on the final day.
On top of his 13 assists, Alexander-Arnold scored one goal and picked up 16 clean sheets. He accumulated three yellow cards in the first three Gameweeks, which may have put some Fantasy managers off him, but he then went the rest of the campaign without being booked again.
The Englishman ranked third for crosses among defenders in 2018/19 with a total of 201. A large proportion of these were corners, of which he took 74 – a big number for a defender.
The 2-0 final day win over Wolves gave us a typical Alexander-Arnold performance: two assists, a clean sheet and three bonus points. In fact, looking at his final five matches of the season, he finished very strongly with six assists, four clean sheets and bonus in each of the five fixtures.
He is the ideal defender for Fantasy managers with multiple routes to points – clean sheets, goals, assists, bonus (25) and set pieces. Despite a price hike for 2019/20, he’s likely to be one of the first names in people’s teams when the game relaunches.
He averaged the same number of points per match (6.4) as Eden Hazard (£11.0m) and Sadio Mane (£10.3m) did, for a fraction of the price.
The only issue with Alexander-Arnold is his fitness. He missed nine league matches over the course of the season which makes the figures above look even more impressive. How many points would he have scored if he played in all 38 games? Let’s hope he can put his injury niggles behind him during the summer break and come back in August fitter and stronger than ever before.
Everton left-back Lucas Digne (£5.4m) had a rollercoaster of a season in FPL terms, going on a bizarre run of points-scoring from Gameweek 16 to 24 (10, 3, -1, 17, 2, 1, 12, -1, -2). That sequence included three goals, two assists, an own goal and a red card. His unpredictability as a Fantasy asset caused many to sell him, only to see Everton finish the season with eight clean sheets in their final 11 matches.
The Frenchman, who signed for the Toffees from Barcelona last summer, didn’t start his first game until Gameweek 4 against Huddersfield, in which he got his first assist of five for the season. He also got himself on the scoresheet on four occasions – Shane Duffy (£4.7m), with five goals, was the only defender who scored more.
Digne finished the season on 158 points and we could see him do even better next year now that he has settled into life in the Premier League. Like Alexander-Arnold, he’s another defender who is likely to be a popular pick for Gameweek 1 given how strongly he and Everton finished this campaign. His underlying statistics were very impressive this season, too: he ranked number one among defenders for crosses (280) and for chances created (71).
He is another full-back who took his fair share of corners, 89 in total. If he can continue posting these kinds of figures in 2019/20, he could be a ‘set and forget’ pick from the off. The big question is: what price he will be?
One of the most popular defenders this season was Wolves man Matt Doherty (£5.3m), who accumulated 144 points mainly due to his freedom to get into the opposition box.
Wolves didn’t keep many clean sheets (just nine in total) but Doherty made up for that with his attacking returns.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s side took promotion to the Premier League in their stride, ending up with a very impressive seventh-place finish. Santo’s preferred system of playing three centre-halves and two wing-backs made Doherty and Jonny (£4.3m) very attractive FPL options. Effectively, you were getting a midfielder who got four points for a clean sheet given how much time they spent in the attacking third of the pitch.
The “Irish Cafu” registered 110 touches in the opposition’s box over the course of the season, only bettered by Cardiff’s Sean Morrison (£4.7m) among defenders (128). Unlike Morrison, Doherty was productive with those touches, scoring four goals and providing seven assists. He was the second top points-scorer for Wolves, behind Raul Jimenez (£6.9m). Those managers who snapped Doherty up early on when he dropped to £4.4m got themselves the bargain of the season.
Doherty registered more goal attempts than any other defender (46), with the most eye-catching stat of all being that 40 of those efforts were from inside the box. He was also ranked number one among his fellow defenders for total big chances (nine).
Can he repeat his heroics in 2019/20?
With 177 points, Manchester City’s Laporte was the fourth-highest-scoring defender this season behind the Liverpool trio. He will be remembered as the Double Gameweek hero of 2018/19 with hauls of 20, 18 and 15 in City’s three Doubles.
With rotation rife as always in Pep Guardiola’s side, Laporte was a mainstay throughout the season: only Ederson (£5.7m) completed more minutes than the French defender. They were the only two City assets to get more than 3,000 minutes of game-time.
As mentioned above, Laporte has become Guardiola’s most trusted centre-half. One of the golden rules in Fantasy football is to target players who are ‘nailed’ and Laporte ticked that box in 2018/19. That seems unlikely to change next season, with the fact that he is City’s only left-footed centre-back making him much more likely to continue as a first-team regular.
He finished the season with three goals and three assists despite being often described as a defender who offers very little goal threat. Eighteen clean sheets and 16 bonus points helped him on his way to a nomination for our Team of the Season.
There has been a shift away from centre-halves in FPL in recent seasons and towards more attack-minded full-backs but Laporte’s performance this season is a reminder that they shouldn’t be totally ignored, especially when it comes to Double Gameweeks when they are usually more immune to rotation than the full-backs.
Chelsea’s Luiz enjoyed his best FPL season to date, finishing on 164 points. Marcos Alonso (£6.2m) has been the Fantasy favourite from the Chelsea defence over the last few years but the competition from Emerson (£5.2m) at left-back in the second half of the season has seen interest in the Spaniard drop off considerably. This left Luiz as the go-to defender from the Blues and he delivered consistently.
He scored three goals, all of which came in games where he also kept a clean sheet which made those Gameweeks particularly sweet for his backers.
On top of his three goals, he provided two assists and was on the pitch for all of Chelsea’s 16 clean sheets. The Brazilian stopper racked up 19 bonus points, too.
Delving into the stats, we expect to see mostly full-backs at the top of the chances created table when looking at defenders, but Luiz finds himself right up there this season: only Robertson and Digne created more big chances than Luiz (11) in 2018/19.
Luiz’s ability to play defence-splitting passes from deep makes him a very attractive FPL pick – if only there was a prolific striker up front to convert them.
Only Hazard scored more FPL points in a Chelsea shirt than the Brazilian centre-back this season. With the Belgian looking likely to move away from Stamford Bridge during the summer, could we see Luiz become the number one points-scoring Chelsea player in 2019/20?
As mentioned above, Robertson is the new record holder for points scored by a defender in a single season. Unlike Alexander-Arnold, you didn’t have to worry about rotation/injuries with the Scot as he sat out just two matches all season.
Robertson’s 213 points was bettered only by Mohamed Salah (£13.2m), Hazard, Raheem Sterling (£11.7m) and Mane.
The Scotland international has quickly become one of the best left-backs in world football. After breaking the FPL record for points, he could be one of the most expensive defenders ever in the game next season – which will make us think twice about investing in him.
Robertson (21) registered more clean sheets than any other defender in 2018/19 and finished just one shy of Alexander-Arnold in the assist stakes with 12. The Liverpool left-back also finished top of the defenders’ charts for bonus points (29).
Robertson touched the ball in the final third on 1,005 occasions, more than any other defender. He finished top among defenders for a lot of the other stats, too – big chances created (15) being one of them.
If we were to criticise him for anything it would be about the fact that he didn’t score a single goal despite having 91 touches in the penalty area, but, after scoring 213 points, there can be few grumbles.
Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk (£6.7m) is the third Liverpool defender nominated for the Team of the Season. It’s no surprise given that, between the three of them, van Dijk, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold scored a massive 606 points. Anyone for the triple-up next season?
Van Dijk contributed 208 of those points thanks to his four goals, four assists, 20 clean sheets and 22 bonus points.
The big Dutchman was an ever-present for Jurgen Klopp’s side, completing 90 minutes in all but one of the 38 matches (a 54th-minute substitution in Gameweek 6 against Southampton caused him to miss out on the clean sheet points).
Van Dijk was arguably the main reason why Liverpool kept so many clean sheets this season, with everything seeming under control defensively when he’s on the pitch. In so many games this season, the Reds’ goal was never under any severe threat.
He’s such a big threat from set pieces, too, that it’s perhaps a surprise that he didn’t score more than four goals.
The final nomination goes to the ‘Special Wan’, Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£4.6m) from Crystal Palace. We received a gift from the Fantasy gods back in July 2018 when Wan-Bissaka was priced at just £4.0m, with the Eagles’ right-back snapped up by savvy FPL managers and going on to provide amazing value right throughout the campaign.
Wan-Bissaka missed only three games all season, picked up 12 clean sheets along the way and chipped in with three assists. He did cause heartache in Gameweek 2 when he was sent off against Liverpool but he redeemed himself thereafter for those who kept the faith.
The most impressive thing about Wan-Bissaka is his ability to hoover up bonus points even when he doesn’t keep a clean sheet. He racked up 18 bonus points over the course of the season, unheard of numbers for a £4.0m priced defender. The England under-21 international topped the defender’s charts for tackles (49), which was a big factor in his collection of those bonus points.