The news that Virgil van Dijk (£10.9m) will be out for a considerable period of time not only threatens to harm Liverpool’s title defence but it also presents a problem for legions of Sky Sports Fantasy Football managers.
Over one in five Sky bosses own the Dutchman, making him the second-most popular defender in the game.
With van Dijk’s injury frustratingly coming one week after the Overhaul, owners will be forced to dip into their transfer allocation to replace the sidelined stopper.
In this article, we run down the runners and riders as we consider who could replace the Netherlands international.
ANDREW ROBERTSON (£10.2m)
Cheaper than not only van Dijk but also Trent Alexander-Arnold (£10.6m), Andrew Robertson (£10.2m) is perhaps the obvious sideways move for those ditching the Dutchman.
Robertson has outscored both of his teammates this season and it’s not just the attacking returns (the Scot has three to van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold’s one) that has brought about that dominance.
The left-back has already accumulated eight points’ worth of passing bonus this season, only one shy of van Dijk’s tally. Alexander-Arnold, by contrast, has yet to get off the mark.
An increased role at set plays is aiding Robertson’s assist potential and the Scotland international has now taken ten more corners than his opposite full-back in 2020/21.
Robertson has almost four times as many penalty box touches as Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, and is posing more of a goal threat from open play at present.
The loss of van Dijk and Alisson (£8.0m) obviously weakens the Reds from a defensive perspective but in this season where clean sheets are relatively hard to come by across the Premier League, perhaps it’s worth paying more attention to those defenders who can do the business at the other end of the field.
RUBEN DIAS (£9.1m)
It’s still early days for Ruben Dias (£9.1m) but the initial signs are promising.
Manchester City defenders are traditionally good buys for their passing bonus in Sky and Dias duly delivered on his first start at the Etihad, with three points added to his clean sheet return thanks to City’s customary retention of the ball.
Pep Guardiola’s defence is maligned in some quarters but they kept more clean sheets than anyone else last season and were second only to Liverpool in 2018/19.
Guardiola has typically built his backline around one almost-nailed centre-half in the past – Fernandinho (£8.3m) in 2019/20, Aymeric Laporte (£10.3m) in 2018/19, Nicolas Otamendi in 2017/18 – and Dias could well be that man this season, with his manager hailing his leadership qualities after last weekend’s win over Arsenal.
A saving of £1.0m+ on the somewhat injury-prone Laporte is significant, too.
The Citizens’ fixtures get really good from Gameweek 12 in Sky onwards but a double-header against West Ham United and Sheffield United next up is far from daunting, for those who have had their hands forced by van Dijk’s injury.
GABRIEL MAGALHAES (£8.0m)
Tipping up the highest-scoring defender in Sky is uninspired in the extreme but there is justification in highlighting the credentials of Gabriel (£8.0m).
It’s the passing bonus that sets the Brazilian apart, with 11 points-worth arriving in his four appearances for the Gunners.
Mikel Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back is aiding Gabriel’s cause on that front and no Premier League defender has made more passes than the Arsenal centre-half this season, despite the fact that he missed out in Gameweek 3.
Therein lies the slight worry with Gabriel given Arteta’s plethora of options at centre-back but he has looked the pick of the bunch so far and, with Rob Holding (£6.4m) ruled out for the next three weeks or so, there should be few short-term concerns.
STUART DALLAS (£6.4M)
Stuart Dallas’ (£6.4m) performances haven’t gone unnoticed by the top 1k and he currently sits in 20.6% of those squads, despite his overall ownership being down at 3.6%.
The versatile defender has delivered bonus points in all five of his matches so far this season, with four of them owing to his tackling and the other one a tier 2 shot bonus against Sheffield United – which rather neatly encapsulates what the all-action Northern Irishman is all about.
Granted, the fixtures aren’t great: Leeds sit near the wrong end of our Season Ticker over the next half-dozen Gameweeks, with the likes of Leicester, Everton and Chelsea to come.
Injuries at centre-half and in defensive midfield also shake faith in a Leeds backline that has tightened considerably since their early-season goalfests.
But his total of 23 points is one of the best among sub-£6.5m defenders this season and the freeing up of £4.5m – should funds be required elsewhere – is something to consider.
ASTON VILLA DEFENDER
It’s not just form that Aston Villa have on their side but fixtures too, with the unbeaten Villans sitting near the top of our Season Ticker for the foreseeable future.
Emi Martinez (£6.3m) is the obvious route into this improving backline but for those without him who don’t want to waste a transfer on a goalkeeper, then their first-choice back four are all available for £7.5m or under.
Ezri Konsa (£6.1m) is the cheapest and sits just a point behind Tyrone Mings (£7.5m) but Matthew Cash (£6.5m) warrants a mention, given that he has already racked up tier 1 and tier 2 tackling bonus this season.
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