Mark Sutherns explains why he’s sticking to his guns amid the Liverpool defensive firesale.
I remain defiant when it comes to Liverpool’s full-backs. An avalanche of goals is flushing funds from Fantasy Premier League defences and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and Andy Robertson (£7.0m) are rapidly being classified as disposable. But I’m not having it.
I’m not denying the logic. Liverpool have kept just four clean sheets in 13 matches since the restart and the injury to Alisson (£6.0m), a crucial component in Jurgen Klopp’s defensive jigsaw, nudges a hapless Adrian (£4.5m) into the firing line.
That worrying scenario provides a sub-plot to a season that, so far, has seen 144 goals scored, a rate of 3.79 goals per game. That’s a ridiculous figure: the record for a Premier League season was set in 1992/93 when we witnessed a rate of 2.65 goals per game.
So FPL managers are reassessing their team structure and flooding to the major benefactors of the goal rush, notably Spurs’ Harry Kane (£10.6m) and Son Heung-min (£9.1m).
Expensive defenders are being sacrificed and, should Alexander-Arnold and Robertson fail to return in Saturday’s Merseyside derby, the evacuation will only gather pace.
But the recent explosion from the Spurs pair isn’t enough to convince me to give up on my two defensive investments. I may well move funds from Lucas Digne (£6.1m) and Reece James (£5.1m) and replace them with £4.5m options, but I’m remaining steadfast on the Liverpool full-backs.
At this stage, FPL managers normally start to seek out trends and patterns vital to drive our decisions – our transfers, our early-season Wildcards.
But we’ve never experienced a start to the season like this. We’re in the midst of something extreme that, to my mind, makes it impossible to find the comforting foothold of reliable data and form.
So with just this small and extraordinary sample of matches as my reference, I’m refusing to write off a player who, prior to Gameweek 1, was the first name on almost every FPL teamsheet.
At the time of writing, over almost 240,000 managers have sold Alexander-Arnold heading into Saturday’s deadline.
Admittedly, his performances have contributed to that trend. He has been short of his best by some margin and has been strangely peripheral to Liverpool’s play. However, Alexander-Arnold’s numbers remain impressive: only West Ham’s Ryan Fredericks (£4.4m) and Aaron Cresswell (£4.9m) have created more chances among players in his Fantasy position, and with seven efforts on goal, no defender has bettered his direct threat. If you are brave enough to use data given the bizarre four Gameweeks we’ve had, there’s little in the numbers to drive you to sell.
Alexander-Arnold is a player that has provided 28 assists and five goals in his previous two campaigns, with his points tally improving from 185 points to 210. Since the start of the 2019/20 campaign, only Kevin De Bruyne (£11.6m) and Jack Grealish (£7.1m) have created more chances and on Boxing Day last year, the right-back coupled that creativity with an eye for goal to haul of 24-points, a record for a defender in the history of FPL.
Is this really an asset we can reject on the basis of four bizarre Gameweeks?
On Liverpool’s opposite flank, Robertson appears to be reaching new levels as an attacking outlet. He’s overshadowed Alexander-Arnold since the restart, creating more chances (22 vs 20) and more big chances (six versus three), while he’s surely passed the eye test.
The Scot is pouring forward on the left flank, overlapping Mane time and time again. He already has a first goal to his name and there should be more to come.
Liverpool will be backed to be second only to Manchester City for goals scored again this season and, collectively, their full-backs have provided 34% of the assists since the start of the 2018/19 season.
So while the chances of clean sheets in the short-term may be diminished by Adrian’s tenure, Klopp’s side will have to score more goals to win matches and that will surely benefit their primary source of creativity.
And I’m not giving up on defensive returns, either.
We have to expect Klopp to react to the Villa Park mauling. He will surely focus on shutting down the gaps that were exploited in that defeat. The return of Jordan Henderson (£5.4m) and Sadio Mane (£11.9m) – both vital to Liverpool’s pressing game that denies opponents the time to exploit a high line – must also be factored in.
That aforementioned record of four clean sheets from 13 outings includes eight matches when the title was almost in the bag. But Liverpool cannot show any complacency now. Pep Guardiola will demand that his City side match Liverpool’s own relentless consistency, so Klopp will know that he has to quickly find a solution to their defensive frailties.
The fixture list convinces me that I can give him time.
Liverpool face just a Gameweek 8 trip to the Etihad and a home clash with Spurs in Gameweek 13 as major tests before the deadline for the first Wildcard.
So for this FPL manager, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson remain at the status they held before the madness ensued: unique assets who can present outstanding value.
They are investments worthy of that extra five million, particularly when I can compensate for that spend by investigating mid-price assets in attacking areas. We’ve already seen that Grealish, James Rodriguez (£7.6m), Dominic Calvert Lewin (£7.6m) and Michail Antonio (£6.3m) are options that offer the potential of returns that keep pace or even better the top tier players.
It’s going to take a Jose Mourinho team to go on scoring five and six goals a game to convince me otherwise. At that point, the madness shifts to a whole new level.
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