After witnessing a slight drop-off in goals, FPL Family’s Sam wonders if now is the time to start spending more money on our Fantasy Premier League defences.
Sometimes you have Gameweeks where everything goes to plan.
Then there was Gameweek 6.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin blanked for the first time this season in Gameweek 6
My team ahead of the deadline looked to have the perfect storm of form and fixtures: Mohamed Salah (£12.4m) at home to a defensively poor Sheffield United, Bruno Fernandes (£10.5m) at home to Chelsea in a game that looked to have goals written all over it, an in-form Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.7m)… the list goes on, but come Sunday night my biggest points returns were from Bruno’s clean sheet point and Emiliano Martinez‘s (£4.8m) save points.
Harry Kane (£10.9m) and Son Heung-min (£9.5m) saved the day on Monday evening, turning a complete nightmare week into something that was passable, but it could have been so much better if I’d just not benched 19 points!
Son and Kane celebrate vs Burnley: Son’s goal was the 29th time they have combined and the ninth time this has happened this season
Sometimes on the back of a bad Gameweek, you know that you need wholesale changes – but looking at my team in the aftermath last weekend, that does not seem to be the case. My premium assets still continue to have nice fixtures and in the case of the dynamic duo (Kane and Son), continue to be in good form.
While planning for Gameweek 7, rather than firefighting with my team, it seems to me that I am planning now for a change in FPL strategy.
This season, roughly speaking, correlates to the last few seasons in terms of the number of clean sheets kept across the Premier League. However, the number of goals scored in each of the opening few Gameweeks has been up on the norm, with records broken for the number of goals plundered. As a result, investing in the defence hasn’t been a priority for many FPL managers, myself included, as we look for cheaper options or those who are more likely to achieve an attacking return.
Gameweek 6 felt different and there were just 19 goals scored in the latest round of fixtures, a significant decrease on the two previous Gameweeks (39 in Gameweek 4 and 28 in Gameweek 5).
Similarly, there were four clean sheets registered in Gameweek 4; this rose to five in Gameweek 5 and to six in Gameweek 6. This trend for increases in clean sheets and decreases in goals scored week on week suggests that potentially now is the time that we as FPL managers should be looking to invest more of our budget in our defensive units.
Which defences should we be looking at?
When you sort the Season Ticker by difficulty and by defence, Crystal Palace sit pretty at the top. Tyrick Mitchell (£4.2m) is the Eagles’ most-owned FPL asset and is also the ninth-most owned player in the game. Indeed, he is the second most-owned defender, trailing only Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.4m).
Trent Alexander-Arnold in action for Liverpool
Mitchell held his spot in both Gameweeks 5 and 6 when Patrick van Aanholt (£5.4m) was back available. Indeed, when van Aanholt entered the field in Gameweek 6, it was for Nathanial Clyne (£4.5m) rather than Mitchell, which possibly bodes well for his FPL owners as Palace embark on a run of fixtures which should see clean sheet points for their defenders.
Most FPL managers won’t be looking at any more Crystal Palace defenders if they already own Mitchell – so who else should we be paying attention to?
Ben Chilwell celebrates scoring for Chelsea
Over the last year, it has been very difficult to invest in the Chelsea defence. Mistakes from the backline as well as from the goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga (£4.8m), meant that money was better spent elsewhere.
However, the signings of Ben Chilwell (£5.8m), Thiago Silva (£5.5m) and new goalkeeper Edouard Mendy (£5.0m) have made a big difference. These three players have only started together three times for Chelsea so far in all competitions (as a result of injuries) but all three matches have resulted in clean sheets. Of the three, Chilwell for me looks the most exciting FPL option. Whilst both Mendy and Silva have the potential to return the much longed-for clean sheet points, Chilwell’s potential upside is much greater.
In the three Premier League matches he has played for Chelsea so far, he has returned in every one. With two clean aheets, two assists and a goal, as well as all three bonus points in Gameweek 4, Chilwell looks a great option.
West Ham United
At the start of the 2020/21 season, most FPL managers had a hard avoid on West Ham. The fixtures from Gameweek 2 all the way through to Gameweek 9 looked incredibly difficult and it was hard to see where West Ham would pick up any Premier League points, never mind any FPL points for their owners.
Fast forward to now and West Ham have managed to win two games against Leicester and Wolves as well as pick up two draws against Spurs and Manchester City. As a result of their strong performances in the league, FPL managers are starting to take note of the Hammers and their FPL prices are on the rise. However, it is mostly the likes of Michail Antonio (£6.3m), Thomas Soucek (£4.9m) and Jarrod Bowen (£6.3m) that appear on FPL radars as a result of their attacking underlying stats.
But the West Ham defence shouldn’t go overlooked. The Hammers have already kept two clean sheets so far this season, against Wolves and Leicester, which came at a time when many FPL managers were expecting West Ham to get turned over.
Factor in attacking returns for both Aaron Cresswell (£5.0m) and Vladimir Coufal (£4.5m) as well as a fixture shift after they play Liverpool in Gameweek 7, and the West Ham defence looks a promising opportunity for points returns and differentials too.
Cresswell and Ogbonna celebrate West Hams win over Leicester in Gameweek 4
Cresswell is West Ham’s most-owned player, aside from their understudy goalkeeper David Martin (£4.0m), and it isn’t hard to see why: from Gameweeks 3 to 5 he returned seven, 15 and five points in FPL respectively. These hauls included clean sheets, assists and bonus points to illustrate his broad appeal but at £5.0m, he may be seen as a luxury pick for many FPL managers. Enter Coufal.
The Czech Republic international made his first start for West Ham in Gameweek 4 and has played every minute for them in the Premier League since then. In that time he has returned a total of 16 points in matches against three of last year’s top six, made up of a clean sheet, two assists and two bonus points.
Coufal looks like a fantastic option after the Liverpool game in Gameweek 7. His link-up play with Antonio was superb and managers who invest in the Hammers’ new boy will be hoping for a quick return for Antonio following his hamstring strain in Gameweek 6, as the prospect of a nice run of fixtures from Gameweek 8 until Christmas looks great for an in-form £4.5m defender.
Leicester have had a difficult start to 2020/21 in terms of their injury list. Having lost key players such as Caglar Soyuncu (£5.4m), Wilfred Ndidi (£4.8m), Ricardo Pereira (£5.9m) and, at points this season, both Jamie Vardy (£10.0m) and James Maddison (£7.0m), Leicester have struggled with consistency both in terms of the personnel deployed and Premier League results.
However, with Vardy and Maddison back from injury and Wesley Fofana (£5.0m) starring at centre-half, there is now much more upside to investment in Leicester, as well as the potential for increased clean sheets with a decent run of fixtures over the next few weeks.
James Justin (£4.8m) and Timothy Castagne (£5.8m) have impressed so far, with both managing two clean sheets in their opening six games as well as returning two goals and four assists between them in that time. With Soyuncu and Pereira both still on the sidelines for many Gameweeks yet, Justin especially looks like an increasingly good FPL option.
At a whole million less than Castagne, Justin enables FPL managers the opportunity to enhance their defence without having to hugely increase the budget spent. For me, he is just as good an investment as his more expensive teammate.
Southampton definitely don’t offer the differential defensive picks that some of the other teams discussed do. However, after two very disappointing results to start the season, the Saints have found their feet.
Last year, the defeat to Leicester acted as a catalyst for change at Southampton, who went back to basics and toughened up defensively, resulting in some excellent returns for the likes of Alex McCarthy (£4.5m) and Kyle Walker-Peters (£4.5m).
The Gameweek 2 defeat to Spurs seems to have had the same effect on the Saints this season, with three clean sheets out of four games since. The improvements in the performances from the Southampton rearguard make them worthy of our investment. However, with McCarthy owned by 19% of the game and Walker-Peters 10.7%, they aren’t differential picks.
At the start of the season, I made the decision to invest in both McCarthy and Walker-Peters. After Gameweek 2, I thought that was a big mistake. However, the double-up of defensive points when they keep a clean sheet means that actually, they have become differentials in my team as a result of owning both.
Southampton play Aston Villa, Newcastle and Wolves in their next three. Both Wolves and Aston Villa have made strong starts to the season but the latter’s result against Leeds and Wolves’ unconvincing one-goal wins in both Gameweeks 5 and 6 make me think there is potential for clean sheets for Saints, especially if the defence remains as tight and focused as we saw against Everton last weekend.
Romain Saiss in action for Wolves
The loss of Jonny (£5.4m) to injury, alongside the departure of Matt Doherty (£5.8m) to Spurs, meant that for many FPL managers – myself included – the usually solid and investable Wolves defence felt risky. However, with three clean sheets in six matches, Wolves have started the season well.
Romain Saiss (£5.3m) is at the heart of this. His goal, four clean sheets and seven bonus points so far show why he has had three price rises already. The Moroccan is a prime example of a player that is worth moving some of the budget out of the attack and back into defence for. The potential for clean sheets coupled with the attacking upside of his game and the fact that he is a bonus point magnet mean that Saiss is a player that FPL managers should ignore at their peril.
However, if the budget really can’t stretch to Saiss, then Max Kilman (£4.2m) offers a potential option. Kilman has played really well in the Wolves defence, earning a lot of credit from captain Conor Coady (£5.0m) as well as a man of the match award in the game against Leeds where he kept the clean sheet, registered an assist and collected all three bonus points.
Fernando Marcal’s (£4.9m) return from injury, however, could prove to be a potential banana skin for Kilman: if Wolves bring Marcal straight back into the starting XI, it would leave Kilman and Saiss potentially competing for the same position. Saiss can of course play further forward in Leander Dendoncker’s (£4.9m) role, which would allow both Kilman and Saiss to start alongside Marcal, but we haven’t seen that tactic used in a while and Kilman does feel a little risky until we learn more about how Wolves plan to line up moving forwards.
Big at the Back?
The 2020/21 season has all been about the attacking assets. With some of the highest scoring Gameweeks in Premier League history as well as huge points returns for FPL forwards and midfielders, the defence has been an area to invest less in – both in terms of time planning and thinking as well as budget.
Suddenly, owning Alexander-Arnold feels good again on the back of a really positive performance in the Champions League on Tuesday which saw him keep a clean sheet and register an assist. He was unlucky not to register points in Gameweek 6, too.
Alongside him, it no longer feels ok to have a series of £4.5m defenders. Whilst the likes of Coufal and Mitchell look like great options if they continue to start, freeing up cash for the likes of Chilwell, Saiss and other £5.0m+ assets seems like a really good FPL strategy.
For me, a rethink of budget distribution is definitely on the cards to ensure that I have the right defensive options now that the rate of clean sheets is on the rise.
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