Our position-by-position analysis of the Fantasy Premier League player price list begins with a look at budget defenders.
In this piece, we will scrutinise the 91 defensive assets currently available at £4.0m or £4.5m and pinpoint the players who stand out – as well as those to avoid.
With there being a glut of premium midfield options in FPL this season, budget-freeing players in defence may be in particularly high demand.
Indeed, six sub-£5.0m defenders currently have double-digit ownership at the time of writing.
£4.0m Bench Fodder – Or Better?
The 2019/20 golden goose that was John Lundstram (£5.5m) has been reclassified and handed a price rise ahead of the new campaign, leaving a £4.0m-shaped hole in FPL ahead of the new campaign.
It seems very unlikely that we’ll get a repeat of the erstwhile Fantasy defender’s out-of-position heroics from another source this season but there are always one or two names who emerge from the FPL bargain bin to establish themselves as bench fodder options or better.
Pre-season will be a good indicator of which of these assets may come to the fore and it was in Sheffield United’s friendlies last summer that it became apparent that Lundstram was going to be more than just a back-up option.
While very unlikely to match Lundstram’s achievements, Nathan Ferguson (£4.0m) could still replicate what Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.5m) did at Crystal Palace a few seasons ago.
Ferguson joined the Eagles from West Bromwich Albion this summer, having almost done so in January.
Able to play in either full-back position and at centre-half, Ferguson’s versatility could come in handy as Roy Hodgson’s side have a number of first-team defenders who are struggling to be fit for the new campaign.
Right-back is the role in which he will reportedly challenge in the medium term, however, with Joel Ward (£4.5m) at risk.
Teammate Tyrick Mitchell (£4.0m), who deputised for the injured Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5m) in two matches at the back-end of 2019/20, is also available at this price point and we’ll be eagerly awaiting news on the Dutchman’s recovery ahead of the new campaign.
While we would never wish misfortune on any player, an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) would see Neco Williams’ (£4.0m) ownership figure sky-rocket.
The back-up Liverpool right-back saw plenty of pitch-time once Liverpool’s title win was in the bag but will be reduced to playing second fiddle at the start of 2020/21, unless anything happens to Alexander-Arnold – otherwise, the occasional start in periods of congestion or late-game substitute appearance is about the best he can hope for.
Much of what we have written about Williams also applies to most of the other £4.0m assets, in that they will be reliant on injuries befalling their positional rivals in order to get game-time.
Wing-back Oskar Buur (£4.0m) and centre-half Max Kilman (£4.0m) are some way down the pecking order in their respective positions at Wolves, while Manchester United’s Teden Mengi (£4.0m) has had only six minutes of senior football (in the Europa League) in his fledgeling senior career.
Newcastle United youngster Kelland Watts (£4.0m) and Burnley’s out-of-favour Ben Gibson (£4.0m) may well depart their club on loan or permanently, meanwhile.
Bernardo (£4.0m) will play back-up to Dan Burn (£4.5m) at Brighton, while Sam Vokins (£4.0m) is another understudy left-back on the south coast, this time at Southampton.
It’s worth monitoring the cases of Jarrad Branthwaite (£4.0m) and Ben Johnson (£4.0m) over the summer.
Branthwaite impressed at centre-half in injury-hit Everton’s final four fixtures of last season but will now face increased competition from the Toffees’ fit-again Mason Holgate (£5.0m) and Yerry Mina (£5.5m).
Right-back Johnson was the beneficiary of Jeremy Ngakia’s decision to leave east London on a free in June, starting West Ham’s last three matches.
Ryan Fredericks (£4.5m) was recalled to the team in Gameweek 38+ but Johnson still kept his place, switching flanks to cover for West Ham’s two injured left-backs.
Finally, a word on Leeds United’s £4.0m-rated quartet.
Leif Davis, Oliver Casey, Barry Douglas and Pascal Struijk started just eight Championship matches between them last season, with set-piece whizz Douglas responsible for six of them.
Most are expected to be back-ups if they stick around next season although Struijk, interestingly, started Leeds’ last two Championship matches in central midfield (admittedly because of injuries and there being nothing tangible to play for) and impressed.
With Leeds still no closer to securing Ben White‘s (£4.5m) permanent signature at the time of writing, Struijk could even be in the shake-up for a start at centre-back in Gameweek 1.
Newly Promoted £4.5m Options
On the subject of Marcelo Bielsa’s side, there are four more Leeds defenders available at £4.5m.
Garnering the most attention from FPL managers at present are Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling, who are currently the third and fourth most-owned FPL defenders at the £4.5m price point.
Those two players were Leeds’ first-choice full-backs for much of the season, registering eight attacking returns apiece in a side that kept 22 clean sheets and conceded on just 35 occasions.
Dallas and the equally versatile Ezgjan Alioski (£4.5m) were both deployed ‘out of position’ by Bielsa on several occasions and it’s worth keeping an eye on the Whites’ pre-season friendly line-ups to see if there are any clues ahead of Gameweek 1.
Dallas seems to find a space in Bielsa’s side no matter if his services aren’t required at left-back, having started all but one of his side’s 46 Championship matches last season.
You can read much more on Leeds’ defence, including centre-back Liam Cooper (£4.5m), in our special player-by-player guide to the newly promoted outfit.
With the £5.0m-rated Semi Ajayi the stand-out option in the West Brom defence, there is little left to cheer in the £4.5m bracket.
Uncertainty in the full-back positions and indeed alongside Ajayi at centre-half means that we wouldn’t be able to call Slaven Bilic’s first-choice defence at this early stage and all eyes will be on West Brom’s pre-season fixtures, along with any Albion movement in the transfer market.
As with West Brom, there are question marks over the competency of Fulham’s backline, as well as the personnel within it.
January signing Michael Hector (£4.5m) looks a secure starter after having had a transformative effect on the Cottagers’ defence in the second half of the season, although he didn’t particularly pose much of a goal threat after his arrival.
Neither did the ageing Tim Ream (£4.5m), starter of 44 of Fulham’s Championship matches, who was preferred over Alfie Mawson (£4.5m) as Hector’s partner this calendar year.
Scott Parker may well bring in a right-back this summer (especially if Denis Odoi departs), with Cyrus Christie (£4.5m) and Steven Sessegnon (£4.5m) his existing options in that department.
Again, we won’t retread too much over old ground and instead point you in the direction of our detailed player-by-player guide to Fulham’s defence.
Big Six Back-Ups and Potential Starters
Brandon Williams (£4.5m) has been handed a price rise by FPL after his breakthrough season in 2019/20, although he is still in budget defender territory.
Given how prone to injury Luke Shaw (£5.0m) can be, we Fantasy managers will be watching with keen interest over the coming weeks to see if the more senior left-back has recovered from the ankle problem that prematurely ended his season.
Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are the other back-up United options available at this price point but it’ll be Williams who the FPL world will be monitoring once the Red Devils’ season gets underway in Gameweek 2.
Ole Gunnar Solskaer’s troops kept clean sheets in nine of their final 14 league matches last season, while Williams made 11 starts in the whole of 2019/20.
Juan Foyth‘s one league start under Jose Mourinho saw the Argentinean hooked at half-time, so it remains to be seen if the sole £4.5m Spurs defender is anything but surplus to requirements this summer.
Across north London, there is more intrigue in the £4.5m bracket.
While two of Arsenal’s four-strong contingent at this price are currently crocked, there could potentially be a bargain to be had in the shape of William Saliba.
The highly-thought-of teenage centre-back was signed for a whopping £26m at the age of 18 and is fresh back from a loan spell at St Etienne.
Saliba is thought to be the long-term plan on the right-hand side of Arsenal’s defence and, with positional rivals Calum Chambers (£4.5m) and Shkodran Mustafi (£5.0m) sidelined, may find himself starting a Premier League game sooner than thought.
Rob Holding is also available at £4.5m, but despite starting the Gunners’ last three league matches and the FA Cup final, was way down the pecking order until injuries stacked up at centre-half and may find himself struggling for game-time yet again.
All eyes will be on Nuno Espirito Santo in this summer’s transfer market, as any inactivity from Wolves could present us with a £4.5m-rated route into an impressive backline that kept clean sheets in nine of their final 14 games.
A serious injury to Jonny (£5.5m) has temporarily paved the way for Ruben Vinagre (£4.5m) to start at left wing-back but Wolves are reportedly in negotiations for Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, which would swiftly nip the Vinagre bandwagon in the bud.
Teammate Ryan Bennett (£4.5m) was farmed out on loan by Santo in the second half of last season and may move on this summer.
Sheffield United’s one remaining sub-£5.0m defender, Jack Robinson (£4.5m), will again be reliant on left-sided centre-half Jack O’Connell (£5.0m) picking up an injury in order to be given game-time.
Leicester City’s quintet of £4.5m-rated FPL defenders are all back-ups when the first-choice options are fit but with Ricardo Pereira (£6.0m) not thought to be back until October, James Justin (£4.5m) could be given a stay of execution at right-back for a favourable run of games in the first five Gameweeks.
Luke Thomas (£4.5m) may also start the season on the left if Ben Chilwell (£5.5m) fails to recover from injury or departs for pastures new – although if that latter situation occurs, Brendan Rodgers will surely dip into the transfer market.
Jonny Evans‘ (£5.5m) three-match ban also temporarily opens up a spot at centre-half but the Leicester boss may very well reinforce his options at the back with only veteran Wes Morgan (£4.5m) and the untested Filip Benkovic (£4.5m) for cover.
Vinagre is the only £4.5m defender currently owned by more FPL managers than Charlie Taylor.
The Burnley left-back is one of five Clarets players who are available at this bargain price despite the fact that only Manchester City kept more clean sheets than Sean Dyche’s (15) side last season.
Four of those options are admittedly competing for two positions and, while the tussle for the right-back slot between Matthew Lowton (£4.5m) and Phil Bardsley (£4.5m) seems set to drag on, Taylor was mostly preferred over Erik Pieters (£4.5m) at left-back when he was fully fit.
Admittedly, there isn’t a great deal of attacking threat posed by these cheaper alternatives to James Tarkowski (£5.5m) and Nick Pope (£5.5m) and Burnley do blank in Gameweek 1.
But this is a tried-and-tested backline with little risk of rotation when things are going well, so plenty of us will be revisiting the Clarets from Gameweek 2 onwards.
The Best of the Rest
Southampton are one of the sides we picked out for the right reasons in our first Frisking the Fixtures piece of 2020/21.
It could be that three of their starting back four are available for £4.5m in their Gameweek 1 clash with Crystal Palace, with new arrivals Kyle Walker-Peters and Mohammed Salisu joining Jan Bednarek at this price point.
Salisu could be competing with Bednarek for the left-sided centre-back role and, although the Pole could potentially move over to the right, perhaps the safest cheap route into the Saints backline – for now – would be Walker-Peters.
The former Spurs man impressed in the run-in after a slow start to his Saints career, although only four chances created from Gameweeks 31+ to 38+ was hardly a ringing endorsement of his FPL potential.
Jamaal Lascelles faces a race against time to be fit for the new season but, when available, the Newcastle centre-half is the most-nailed of the Magpies’ seven £4.5m FPL defenders – three of whom are right-backs.
Simply put, Lascelles starts every match when not on the sidelines.
The Magpies’ opening four matches are reasonably appealing but Steve Bruce’s recent change to a more attacking 4-2-3-1 has perhaps come at the expense of their usual solidity at the back, with only two clean sheets arriving in the post-lockdown era.
Crystal Palace are another team who have traditionally been a good bet for a clean sheet when playing the Premier League ‘also-rans’ and the Eagles have an excellent run of matches at Selhurst Park to begin the season with.
Three of their five £4.5m defenders are currently flagged in FPL, however, in the form of centre-backs Gary Cahill, Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins.
Having ended the season with a patched-up defence and eight matches without a win, it may be another makeshift backline involving Joel Ward (£4.5m) and Martin Kelly (£4.5m) that is sent out to face Southampton in Gameweek 1.
There are eight Brighton defenders available at £4.5m but Dan Burn, Tariq Lamptey and Adam Webster are the three who had established themselves alongside Lewis Dunk (£5.0m) in Albion’s first-choice backline towards the season’s end.
Where new signing Joel Veltman, who is able to play at right-back and centre-half, and Leeds target Ben White fit into all this is another question, and Graham Potter’s unpredictable rotation will be enough for many FPL managers to bypass the defence and head straight for risk-free goalkeeper Mathew Ryan (£4.5m).
Aston Villa were much improved from a defensive perspective after the restart in June, with only three clubs conceding fewer big chances.
There’ll still be some mistrust at a side that conceded more goals than all bar Norwich City last season, however, and a Blank Gameweek 1 is another black mark against them.
Kortney Hause‘s (£4.5m) set-piece threat really caught the eye when he briefly made Dean Smith’s starting XI and the assist potential of Matt Targett (£4.5m), creator of more opportunities and ‘big chances’ in 2019/20 than any other defender in this piece, has been well-documented, but there’ll realistically be few takers.
Finally, few of us will be going near West Ham United’s £4.5m-rated defenders anytime soon with the Hammers bottom of our Season Ticker from Gameweeks 1-8.
That should give us plenty of time to see if Ryan Fredericks (£4.5m) or the £4.0m-related Johnson is David Moyes’ first-choice right-back ahead of the fixture swing in Gameweek 9.