Having already assessed the cheapest goalkeepers on offer, we continue our position-by-position analysis of Fantasy Premier League assets with a look at budget defenders.
It remains to be seen what FPL do regarding free transfers ahead of the restart: will we have to make do with our usual allocation, be handed another Wildcard or given unlimited changes ahead of the first deadline?
Whatever happens, many of us may be making wholesale alterations to our squads ahead of the opening Double Gameweek, especially as any outstanding chips (Free Hit, second Wildcard etc) will still be valid.
Budget assets will have their part to play as usual, even if their primary function is to free up cash to spend on the heavy hitters elsewhere.
Defenders costing less than £5.0m come under the spotlight here, then.
There are over 150 of these assets to choose from, almost a quarter of the FPL player database.
Many of them aren’t even worthy of a passing mention: there are those who have barely played a minute, those who are currently injured and those who are out on loan.
With that in mind, we’ll attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff and concentrate only on the stoppers worth considering.
Jack O’Connell and John Egan
- Prices: O’Connell (£4.7m), Egan (£4.6m)
- Ownerships: O’Connell (3.5%), Egan (2.4%)
- Next three fixtures: avl + new | mun | TOT
- Potential next four fixtures: bur | WOL | CHE | lei
Perhaps more of a Double Gameweek pick than anything longer term, Sheffield United’s defenders start with two appealing fixtures when the Premier League resumes in June.
Strugglers Aston Villa and shot-shy Newcastle United form the Bladesmen’s double-header and many of us will be tempted by more than one of their assets when we get back underway.
With the Blades’ goalkeeper and wing-backs costing more than £5.0m, and the out-of-position John Lundstram (£4.9m) perhaps now a rotation risk, we instead look to Chris Wilder’s centre-halves for value-for-money picks.
Jack O’Connell (£4.7m) and John Egan (£4.6m) form part of Sheffield United’s regular back three along with Chris Basham (£4.6m) and all of those stoppers have started every game that they have been available for this season.
The overlapping O’Connell has played every single minute, while defensive rock Egan’s only substitution and absence was enforced by injury.
The pair have only two attacking returns between them in 2019/20 but rank in the top ten among FPL defenders for big chances created and shots in the box respectively.
It’s important to acknowledge their limitations: they don’t offer quite the same presence in the final third as Enda Stevens (£5.2m) and George Baldock (£5.1m), nor do they provide the sustained goal threat of the much-heralded Lundstram.
But they do give us (we hope) security of starts and a cheaper route into a Sheffield United backline that has conceded fewer goals than all top-flight teams bar Liverpool this season.
A word on Lundstram before we move on.
Still owned by 39.1% of FPL bosses, the out-of-position defender had seemingly lost his place in the engine room to new signing Sander Berge (£4.8m) in the spring, only to return to the starting XI in Gameweek 29 and deliver a double-digit haul.
His race might not be run yet, then, and the FPL fairytale may still have a happy ending before his inevitable reclassification in 2020/21.
Jamaal Lascelles and Federico Fernandez
- Prices: Lascelles (£4.3m), Fernandez (£4.6m)
- Ownerships: Lascelles (4.5%), Fernandez (3.0%)
- Next three fixtures: SHU | AVL | bou
- Potential next four fixtures: WHU | mci | wat | TOT
Looking solely at fixture difficulty over the next four Gameweeks (if West Ham are indeed the opposition in the last of those games), then Newcastle United are up there with Wolverhampton Wanderers as having the best run in the division.
Three of the Magpies’ next four matches are at St James Park and Steve Bruce’s side have a good defensive record on their own patch, having conceded the joint-lowest number of goals in home matches in 2019/20.
Whether the lack of crowds will negate home advantage and whether Bruce’s recent change to a more attacking 4-2-3-1 will mean a loss of stability at the back are relevant questions.
But Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Sheffield United are all in the bottom seven for goals scored in 2020 and clean sheets could be in the offing regardless of venue.
With question marks over the right-back position and Danny Rose (£5.3m) extortionately priced on the opposite flank, we turn to the Magpies’ two centre-halves.
Club captain Jamaal Lascelles (£4.3m) has been nailed when fit, while Federico Fernandez (£4.6m) has started every league match from Gameweek 10 onwards.
Fernandez warrants being that bit more expensive, having delivered more bonus points than all bar three FPL defenders this season.
He also has four attacking returns to his name in 2019/20.
Bruce does have four other fit centre-halves now at his disposal, which may be a slight worry, but Fernandez and Lascelles were in charge of the positions before coronavirus halted play.
Those who love their rotating budget defenders may be interested to learn that Newcastle and West Ham’s games dovetail to give an anticipated run of SHU, AVL, bou, WHU, BUR, nor, WAT, bha, AVL.
Watford’s matches also intertwine well with Newcastle’s until the very final day.
Willy Boly and Romain Saiss
- Prices: Boly (£4.8m), Saiss (£4.6m)
- Ownerships: Boly (3.3%), Saiss (3.7%)
- Next three fixtures: whu | BOU | avl
- Potential next four fixtures: ARS | shu | EVE | bur
The impact of Willy Boly (£4.8m) on the Wolves defence has been well-documented, with Wolves keeping seven clean sheets in the 13 games he has started this season – and only one in the other 16 fixtures.
Both he and Romain Saiss (£4.6m) are cut-price alternatives to Matt Doherty (£6.3m) and while they can’t offer the same sustained attacking threat from open play as the Irishman, do offer a bit of menace from dead-ball situations.
Saiss sits in the top ten for shots in the box among defenders this season and already has four attacking returns to his name.
Boly simply hasn’t got going offensively in 2019/20, with only one recorded effort on goal, but did have an effort chalked off after VAR intervention in Gameweek 26 and scored on four occasions last season.
Wolves have six remaining fixtures against teams ranked tenth or below, with three of the bottom five up next.
- Price: £4.7m
- Ownership: 0.1%
- Next three fixtures: wat | BHA | eve
- Potential next four fixtures: CRY | ars | bou | SHU
Not a name some Fantasy managers will be overly familiar with, James Justin (£4.7m) has had to play second fiddle at Leicester City for much of this season.
Signed from Luton Town last summer, the attack-minded full-back has only been handed two league starts since making the move, the last of which came in Gameweek 29.
The budget defender could be poised for an extended run in the side, however, with the injured Ricardo Pereira (£6.3m) expected to miss the rest of the season.
We haven’t got much to go off in 2019/20 but Justin did excel and score in the Carabao Cup win over his form employers earlier in the campaign and emerged from the bench to grab an assist in the Gameweek 15 win over Watford – albeit a fortuitous one.
Able to play off either side, the versatile full-back was used down the left in the final Premier League game before the mid-March suspension and registered more final-third touches than Pereira on the opposite flank.
Four teams in the bottom half of the table await the Foxes next, although it has to be said that Nigel Pearson and Carlo Ancelotti have improved the attacking output at Watford and Everton considerably.
Leicester have the third-best defensive record in the league, having conceded just 28 goals so far.
Centre-half Caglar Soyuncu (£4.9m) is another one of the Foxes’ defenders who squeezes into the sub-£5.0m category.
- Price: £4.3m
- Ownership: 2.4%
- Next three fixtures: mci | WAT | cry
- Potential next four fixtures: SHU | whu | liv | WOL
Only Liverpool have kept more clean sheets than Burnley this season.
The Clarets’ full-backs are the cheapest route into this solid backline, with Charlie Taylor (£4.3m) and Phil Bardsley (£4.3m) having been Sean Dyche’s preferred options before COVID-19 stopped play.
Taylor has started every match he has been available for from Gameweek 12 onwards, with only a hamstring injury interrupting his run in the starting XI in December.
No attacking returns this season highlights just why Taylor is so cheap and in truth, it’s mostly clean sheets or bust for the left-back.
The budget asset has had only one shot all season and his rate of chances created is not great, either.
Only Dwight McNeil (£6.1m) has delivered more open-play crosses than Taylor in the Burnley squad, however, which is something to cling onto given how aerially dominant the Clarets are.
Watford, Palace and Sheffield United ought to present Sean Dyche’s side with a decent chance of adding to their clean sheet tally as those three sides are in the bottom six for goals scored this season.
- Price: £4.3m
- Ownership: 2.0%
- Next three fixtures: LIV | nor | LEI
- Potential next four fixtures: tot | SOU | wol | AVL
A piece of injury news over the last week has temporarily boosted Mason Holgate‘s (£4.3m) appeal as a budget FPL defender.
Yerry Mina (£5.3m) looks set to miss the start of the season with a thigh injury, although how long the Colombian will actually be sidelined for is as yet unknown.
Holgate has been the mainstay at the back as Mina and Michael Keane (£5.2m) dip in and out of the side but even he was handed a shock benching in Gameweek 26.
Not many of us would consider an Everton defender for the Merseyside derby but the Toffees do meet Norwich, Southampton, Aston Villa, Bournemouth and Sheffield United in the run-in, so Holgate could be wheeled out by Fantasy managers for those more favourable games and benched for the rest.
Ancelotti’s week-to-week tinkering will keep us on our toes when Mina returns, however.
- Price: £4.3m
- Ownership: 1.3%
- Next three fixtures: SOU | EVE | ars
- Potential next four fixtures: BHA | wat | WHU | che
With Sam Byram (£4.3m) and Jamal Lewis (£4.4m) tussling for the left-back slot and Daniel Farke finally having a full complement of centre-halves available to him after an injury-ravaged campaign, we turn to Max Aarons (£4.3m) as our curveball Norwich City pick.
Grant Hanley (£4.1m) has been bench fodder for some of us this season but the idea of selecting a Canaries defender with a view to actually playing them would have been laughable for much of 2019/20.
Norwich had been showing signs of resilience before the suspension of play, however, having conceded just seven goals in as many games and kept three clean sheets in the process.
Liverpool had been impressively kept at bay for much of their Gameweek 26 clash at Carrow Road, too.
The concerns would be over a loss of momentum after a three-month break and the Canaries’ need for points eliciting a more gung-ho mindset.
But with Farke having actual centre-backs to choose from and having settled on a functional pairing of Kenny McLean (£4.8m) and Alex Tettey (£4.5m) in front of the back four, there is no surprise that Norwich’s defensive numbers have moved in the right direction.
Their remaining home fixtures (Southampton, Everton, Brighton, West Ham and Burnley) are a dream and three of those matches take place soon after the restart.
No Norwich player has created more big chances this season than Aarons, who is second among his teammates for crosses, too.
Aside from Lundstram, Diego Rico (£4.2m) and Martin Kelly (£4.1m) are two of the most popular budget defenders in FPL in terms of ownership.
Both lost their places in their respective clubs’ starting XI prior to the Premier League’s current hiatus, however, and may well be down the pecking order when we resume.
The likes of Japhet Tanganga (£4.1m) and Brandon Williams (£4.2m) are very attractively priced and will almost certainly get game-time between now and the end of 2019/20 but, at a time of the season when we’re looking for secure starters, we couldn’t be confident of either of them making the cut from week to week.
The same is true for Chelsea’s three sub-£5.0m centre-halves and Nicolas Otamendi (£4.9m) at Manchester City, while it remains to be seen if Pablo Mari‘s (£4.8m) league debut in Gameweek 29 translates into more regular starts for Arsenal.
All of these players could provide value during the run-in given the right circumstances (i.e. the enforced absence or loss of form of a first-team regular) but injury issues are thin on the ground right now, so we can’t have much conviction about any of them.
Serge Aurier (£4.9m) has been a regular starter under Jose Mourinho for much of the Spurs manager’s tenure and it’s easy to forget how exciting he looked in the early days of the current regime.
Two substitute appearances in the last three matches has dented his appeal, however, while three clean sheets in 17 games for the Lilywhites under the Special One is well below-par, too.
Onto the more secure starters, then.
Ryan Bertrand (£4.8m) and Aaron Cresswell (£4.5m) are regulars under their current managers and both have been increasingly involved at corner-kick situations of late, with Cresswell also fond of chancing his arm at direct free-kicks.
One clean sheet for the Hammers under David Moyes is a damning indictment (Cresswell averages 1.6 points per match under the Scot), however, while only four clubs have kept fewer shut-outs than the Saints in 2019/20.
West Ham’s last six matches and Southampton’s final three games are quite appealing, at least, and those two clubs could still be fighting for their lives at the season’s end.
Matt Targett (£4.4m) is another cheapo defender who has been on set-piece duties recently, having taken ten corner-kicks in the six Gameweeks before COVID-19 stopped play.
Aston Villa begin with a Double Gameweek when football resumes and he is the pick of their backline – although that isn’t saying much.
The Villans have conceded more goals than any other Premier League team this season and no side has fewer clean sheets.
We’re ignoring Lewis Dunk (£4.7m) for now, with Brighton and Hove Albion having some iffy fixtures to begin with.
Dunk is also only one caution away from a two-match ban.
The centre-back with an eye for a goal will be one to consider perhaps for the final three Gameweeks, however, if the games pan out in the original order and the Seagulls face Southampton, Newcastle and Burnley as expected.
A poor run of fixtures also prevents us from getting over-excited about the likes of Joel Ward (£4.3m) and Gary Cahill (£4.4m) at Crystal Palace, who are one of the better sides in the division defensively.
All nine of the Eagles’ clean sheets have come against sides ranked tenth or below and they meet just three of those clubs in the run-in.
Roy Hodgson’s side do play Burnley and Bournemouth in the first three Gameweeks back, however, and prevented those sides from scoring in the reverse fixtures.
Let’s end on a positive note with Watford.
The Hornets have kept a respectable five clean sheets since Nigel Pearson took charge, a total that is inferior to just three clubs over the same timeframe.
Their fixtures also dovetail fairly well with Sheffield United’s, giving the following run until the season’s end:
new + avl | bur | SOU | bur | NOR | NEW | whu | EVE | sou
To bring us back full circle, pairing and alternating Egan or O’Connell with someone like Craig Cathcart (£4.3m), who is an ever-present under Pearson, would be a way of guaranteeing a relatively favourable match on any given Gameweek.
Nominated for ‘Best in Fantasy Football – Editorial’ at the Football Content Awards 2020
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