We pick out the best £4.0m and £4.5m defenders as we continue to analyse the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) price list.
This group of budget assets is a bit of a harder sell in 2022/23, with a ‘big at the back’ strategy proving popular thanks to the attacking threat and clean potential boasted by many of the £6.0m+ options.
But, for those managers opting for perhaps a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 in Gameweek 1, it’s worth looking at which cut-price players could deliver the goods.
With unlimited transfers allowed during the World Cup downtime and a Wildcard to use before then, we’re focusing mostly on Gameweeks 1-8 for these articles.
- READ MORE: The best budget FPL goalkeepers for 2022/23
- READ MORE: The best mid-price and premium FPL goalkeepers for 2022/23
- READ MORE: The best mid-price FPL defenders for 2022/23
- READ MORE: The best premium FPL defenders for 2022/23
Opta stats on the players featured in these articles are available in our Premium Members Area, where you can now get a full year’s subscription for just £2.49 a month.
There’s nothing quite like a £4.0m bandwagon to set the Fantasy community’s pulses racing and every year, it seems, one crawls out of the woodwork in pre-season.
That man this time could be Neco Williams (£4.0m), who has swapped Liverpool bench duty for a possible first-team spot with newly promoted Nottingham Forest.
Steve Cooper seems to be sticking with a wing-back system in pre-season so far, which will hand more attacking license to Williams, while the Forest boss quietly oversaw a big improvement in his side’s defensive displays when taking over last season: only 28 goals were conceded in the 38 Championship games with Cooper at the helm.
Wales international Williams himself was on loan in the English second tier last season with Fulham, registering a decent two goals and two assists in just 14 appearances after joining in January. There were some encouraging underlying stats posted by the £4.0m defender, too.
There remains a little bit of caution about Williams at present, with Giulian Biancone (£4.5m) impressing at right wing-back in the early pre-season friendlies. Williams can play on either side, handily, but Bayern Munich’s Omar Richards (£4.5m) has arrived to further cloud proceedings.
By the time Forest’s good run of fixtures starts in Gameweek 6, we should at least have an answer to the concern above.
TAKEHIRO TOMIYASU/BEN WHITE
A poor run of 10 matches without an Arsenal clean sheet at the end of last season has helped keep the starting prices of Ben White (£4.5m) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (£4.5m) down but despite that drought, only four clubs kept more shut-outs than the Gunners (13) in 2021/22.
Keeping together the first-choice defence was the key to Arsenal’s purple patch: Tomiyasu, White and Gabriel Magalhaes (£5.0m) started every fixture from Gameweeks 4-18 and helped the north Londoners record eight clean sheets in 15 matches. It was no coincidence that Arsenal’s defensive numbers worsened when Tomiyasu’s fitness issues began in January.
It was clean sheets or little else for White and Tomiyasu, however, who registered only one attacking return between them and posed relatively little threat for goals or assists.
Above: £4.5m-and-under defenders sorted by minutes per expected goal involvement (xGI) in 2021/22
Vague-sounding injuries to White and Tomiyasu will also have to be monitored in the remaining pre-season games. William Saliba (£4.5m) and the corner-taking Cedric Soares (£4.5m) are the similarly priced deputies who will be poised to fill in for White and Tomiyasu should fitness still be a concern come Gameweek 1.
The schedule is very decent indeed should all be well on the injury front, with Arsenal top of our Season Ticker for fixture difficulty in the first eight Gameweeks.
Only four clubs kept fewer clean sheets than Manchester United (eight) last season; anyone watching Harry Maguire (£5.0m) and co. floundering at the back for the Red Devils under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick won’t be too surprised by that.
Defensive concerns remain even during a positive start to pre-season under Erik ten Hag but the capture of Lisandro Martinez from Ajax was an acknowledgment that things need to improve.
Where does Diogo Dalot (£4.5m) fit in, you might ask?
While work continues on solidifying the defence, there are most positive signs that United’s full-backs could be more threatening than they were in 2021/22.
Dalot has been ten Hag’s preferred option at right-back so far, and while it certainly can’t be ruled out that United will add to their squad depth in this position, he has impressed and struck up a good relationship with Jadon Sancho (£7.5m) down the right flank. Ten Hag seems to be encouraging ‘underlapping runs’ from his full-backs, with Dalot rattling the woodwork against Liverpool before supplying the cross that Anthony Martial (£7.0m) eventually converted in the win over Melbourne.
It’s still very early days with a new-look United but Dalot is certainly one for the watchlist in the budget pool.
Last season was a bit of a lean one for Lewis Dunk (£4.5m), who scored just one goal after delivering 11 attacking returns in the previous two campaigns combined.
The early-season presence of Shane Duffy (£4.5m) might have been a contributing factor, with the giant Irishman instead the primary target for most set plays in his run in the side from Gameweeks 1-15. Thereafter, with Duffy out of the starting XI, Dunk’s rate of chances improved considerably towards where it was in the preceding two seasons:
|Mins per chance (GW1-15 of 2021/22)||Mins per chance (GW16-38 of 2021/22)||Mins per chance (2020/21)||Mins per chance (2019/20)|
Duffy is expected to be a bench-warmer at best in the upcoming campaign, so might we see more chances for Dunk at dead-ball situations once again?
From a defensive perspective, Brighton were one of the better clubs in the division last year.
Only six teams could better the Seagulls for clean sheets (11) and fewest big chances conceded (58), while they were sixth for expected goals conceded (xGC, 50.74), too.
Even if Marc Cucurella (£5.0m) does depart for pastures new, Albion have proven in the past with their savvy recruitment and system-first mindset that they have more about them than one star player – note their impressive statistics despite the loss of Ben White last summer.
As for fixtures, Graham Potter’s troops avoid any of last season’s top five before the post-Gameweek 8 international break.
Wing-back proved to be a bit of a rotation risk area for Wolves last season.
An injury to Nelson Semedo (£5.0m) should ensure that Jonny (£4.5m) starts 2022/23 at right-back/wing-back, at least, with the latter’s versatility meaning that he may simply switch flanks when Semedo returns to fitness.
Jonny had the best rate of shots and chances created of any Wolves defender last season, even if his reduced minutes made it a relatively small sample size.
Bruno Lage – who favoured a 3-4-3/3-5-2 for the bulk of 2021/22 – has been trialling a back four in pre-season, a move that would seem to dent Jonny’s appeal on paper as we usually associate wing-backs with added goal threat. But the Express and Star’s Liam Keen reported that Jonny was “exceptionally far forward” at their Benidorm training camp, something to watch out for when the friendlies get underway on Wednesday.
Wolves had boasted one of the best-performing defences from Gameweeks 1-29, with only three teams conceding fewer goals. They massively overachieved when it came to ‘expected goals conceded’ (xGC), however, regressing to the mean in a final nine Gameweeks in which they failed to keep any clean sheets.
Still, the fixtures are one of the best in the division in the opening six Gameweeks, after which a bail-out plan may be needed.
RICO HENRY/PONTUS JANSSON/ETHAN PINNOCK
It remains to be seen if new Brentford signing Thomas Strakosha (£4.5m) is to play anything other than understudy to David Raya (£4.5m) but it’s worth stressing that most of their defenders are also available for the same price.
Pontus Jansson (£4.5m) had more ‘big chances’ than any other FPL defender last season and was joint-sixth among players in his Fantasy position for attacking returns (seven). The issue with Jansson is that he might not quite be as nailed as he was in 2021/22, thanks to Thomas Frank’s springtime change to a 4-3-3 system. Centre-half Kristoffer Ajer (£4.5m) was accommodated at right-back in that new formation but summer signing Aaron Hickey (£5.0m) is earmarked for that role now, leaving Ajer and Jansson to potentially tussle for one right-sided centre-back spot. Ajer, as it happens, is injured right now, so it’s a medium-term problem.
Jansson trumped Ethan Pinnock (£4.5m) and Rico Henry (£4.5m) for many of the key underlying attacking stats last year, although Henry did better his two teammates for minutes-per-xGI.
(averages per game)
Returning to the fixtures and Brentford don’t meet one of last season’s top four until Gameweek 12, with Manchester City, Spurs and Liverpool not faced until Gameweek 16 onwards. All five matches from Gameweeks 3-7 are against clubs who finished in the bottom half of the Premier League or came up from the Championship last season.
Newcastle’s two set-piece-taking full-backs and Nick Pope will each set Fantasy managers back £5.0m this season, so we turn to another summer recruit for a cheaper route into the Magpies’ improving defence.
Newcastle’s 2021/22 season began to really transform in Gameweek 23, when Eddie Howe had splashed the cash on some winter reinforcements.
Seven clean sheets arrived in the Magpies’ final 18 matches, a period in which they had the sixth-best record for fewest shots, goals and expected goals conceded.
Sven Botman (£4.5m) looks set to be the mainstay at centre-half this season and has earned very positive reviews in his pre-season showings so far, suggesting he will only further improve the Magpies’ fortunes at the back.
Gameweeks 3 and 5 are off-putting from a fixture perspective but pairing Botman with, say, a Brentford defender through to Gameweek 15 avoids any meeting with a side that finished in the top seven last season:
OTHER £4.5m FPL DEFENDERS
The best of the rest arguably comes from Leicester City, who only don’t feature in the sections above due to their fixture difficulty: the Foxes face Arsenal, Chelsea, Man Utd and Spurs in the opening eight Gameweeks.
They’ll be key targets for Gameweek 9 Wildcarders, however, and by that point we will have hopefully sussed out which pairing of Ricardo Pereira, James Justin and Timothy Castagne (all £4.5m) Brendan Rodgers favours.
The admittedly injury-prone Pereira features in the xGI table towards the top of this piece and, on his day, will be one of the most attack-minded £4.5m options in the game.
A cut-price Vladimir Coufal (£4.5m) is one for the Gameweek 7 shopping list after matches against Man City, Chelsea and Spurs are out of the way, while Palace’s assortment of £4.5m options are probably best avoided until Gameweek 10.
OTHER £4.0m FPL DEFENDERS
The emergence of another playing £4.0m defender relies on either transfers, a la Neco Williams, or injuries.
Nathan Patterson (£4.0m) is a possible Gameweek 1 starter at wing-back for Everton due to a Seamus Coleman (£4.5m) injury, with the onus on the young Scot to impress Frank Lampard in the remaining warm-up matches.
Leo Hjelde (£4.0m) is one of Jesse Marsch’s options at left-back in the absence of the sidelined Junior Firpo (£4.5m), meanwhile, should Leeds not dip into the transfer market.
Brandon Williams and Japhet Tanganga are the only current £4.0m defenders who made 10 or more Premier League starts in 2021/22 but game-time prospects now look extremely unlikely at Man Utd and Spurs respectively so again, we’re relying on moves elsewhere in the Premier League for those two to see any meaningful minutes.
FPL POINTS PROJECTIONS
Our algorithm-generated FPL points projections for the 2022/23 campaign have been refreshed again in the last few days.
These will be further updated as pre-season continues and more team news information becomes apparent.