The rise of five-at-the-back formations

Almost every season, there is a period when the prospect of a back 5 being the optimum formation for FPL is whispered about, however every season we ultimately succumb to the stigma attached with starting with this particular formation.

Whether it is the prospect of having our clean sheets cruelly wiped out at the death (I’m looking at you Callum Hudson-Odoi), or the perceived lack of excitement in lining up with 5 defenders, we are often reluctant to play a back 5.

While it may not seem the most glamorous strategy, ultimately, our enjoyment at playing this game comes from scoring points. If you’d ask those lining up with the likes of John Stones, Ruben Dias, Vladimir Coufal, James Justin, or Matt Targett to name but a few of the Gameweek 19 standout point scorers, I doubt they’d have found it boring that their defenders did the bulk of their scoring. 

Evidence to support a 5 back formation

Not only did Stones finish the gameweek with the most points out of any player, 11 other defenders accumulated 10 or more points, whilst 13 midfielders and only 2 forwards managed the same feat.

Of the midfielders, 5 cost more than the most expensive defender in the game. This is by no means an anomalous occurrence either.

In the 7 gameweeks preceding this one, a defender topped the point scoring charts on 6 of those occasions showing us that defenders have been outperforming their attacking counterparts over a prolonged period.

With multiple defenders now getting attacking returns on a regular basis, the additional avenue of points potential lends itself even better to playing a back 5. To emphasise this point, of defenders priced at £5.5M or under at the start of the season, 9 have scored over 70 points this season.

In comparison, a combined figure among midfielders and forwards at the same price point is 3. This Stark difference is further evidence, if it were needed, that defenders are representing incredible value this season.

Not only does playing with a back 5 allow you to fit 3 or even 4 premium assets going forward, it would mean that you don’t have to compensate by selecting mid priced assets whose point scoring may be sporadic.   

Gameweek 19 saw 12 clean sheets out of 16 fixtures, which followed 5 teams out of 10 failing to score in Gameweek 18. The impending fixtures, dictate that this trend is likely to continue.

Which teams, defenders and fixtures should we be targeting?

By this point, most FPL managers have 2 defenders from Manchester City with some even considering the triple up. Their fixture at West Brom seems as likely to yield a clean sheet as any. Those who recently brought in the likes of Cresswell and Coufal of West Ham will be confident of their men providing them with a clean sheet when they face Crystal Palace.

In a similar vein, Stuart Dallas and his fellow Leeds United defenders face a Newcastle side who have scored just once in their last 6 outings. This is before we take into account those defenders with attacking potential such as Justin and Robertson. Despite not having the best fixtures for the prospect of a clean sheet, their tendency to go forward as much as they do means that they can return in any fixture.

Looking further ahead, persisting with a back 5 seems the way to go over the next few gameweeks. Owners of Chelsea defenders will have been frustrated by their recent exploits, however, underlying statistics coupled with their upcoming fixtures suggest that they are likely to have an upturn in form.

Chelsea’s minutes per xGC (expected goals conceded) of 96 is bettered only by Manchester City, so whilst they have been relatively leaky of late, they can consider themselves a tad unlucky. With Wolves, Burnley, Sheffield United and Newcastle in their next 5, Lampard’s men, despite their recent problems, are likely to see a few 0s in the goals conceded column in that time. There is still plenty of value to be had for those who still have Ben Chilwell and Reece James.

Chelsea are one of a number of teams who have favourable fixtures coming up from a defensive point of view. Burnley and Leicester are among a few teams who have a combination of form and fixtures coming up as both have kept 3 clean sheets in their last 6 matches.     

Finally, with 4 deadlines in the space of the next 11 days, there will inevitably be some rotation taking place. Generally speaking, defenders (especially centre backs) are far less prone to being rested than midfielders and forwards, so whilst the odd player may miss out, they are considerably more likely to play than players in other positions.

In my eyes, the above is sufficient evidence that starting with a back 5 is the best strategy for the foreseeable future, despite the obvious risk that comes with relying on clean sheets for the majority of your points.

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