Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 27 Preview

Welcome to the latest edition of Defender Under the Microscope, where we deep dive into the best defensive options for the upcoming FPL Gameweek 27.

It’s always difficult to start thinking about the next gameweek when for a lot of managers we still have around 50% of our players left to play in the current gameweek. However, that’s FPL this year and we are very definitely right in the middle of FPL 2020/21’s ‘Crazy Season’.

With the last of this gameweeks games not kicking off until 20:15 on Thursday, by the time that finishes you’ll have just over 36 hours until the next deadline. Don’t panic though, FPL Connect are here to guide you through your defensive strategy for next week and beyond.

The article broken down as follows:

  1. Bookies Odds
  2. Home vs. Away
  3. Current Form and Gameweek Fixture
  4. Upcoming Fixtures
  5. Attacking Potential
  6. Conclusions

Bookies Odds

Bookies Odds taken from William Hill as of 21:30 on 01/03/21. Please only consider gambling if you are over 18. Please gamble responsibly.

These odds reflect the bookies predicted chance of each team keeping a clean sheet. At time of posting, the odds for the second fixture of the gameweek (Southampton vs. Manchester City) were not available.

TeamsOdds
Liverpool(vs. Fulham) 54%
Tottenham(vs. Crystal Palace) 50%
Chelsea(vs. Everton) 48%
Arsenal(vs. Burnley) 45%
Manchester City(vs. Man United) 42%
Southampton(vs. Sheffield United) 38%
Aston Villa(vs. Wolves) 36%
Leicester City(vs. Brighton) 33%
West Brom(vs. Newcastle) 33%
Brighton(vs. Leicester City) 32%
Newcastle(vs. West Brom) 31%
West Ham(vs. Leeds) 31%
Wolves(vs. Aston Villa) 29%
Sheffield United(vs. Southampton) 26%
Leeds United(vs. West Ham) 22%
Burnley(vs. Arsenal) 20%
Everton(vs. Chelsea) 17%
Crystal Palace(vs. Tottenham) 17%
Manchester United(vs. Manchester City) 15%
Fulham(vs. Liverpool) 11%

Home vs Away

We covered the Home vs. Away debate extensively in the gameweek 24 column, with the conclusion that home fixtures are no longer a viable indicator of a team’s likelihood to keep a clean sheet.

The current standings (as of 22:30 on 01/03/21) are that there have been 81 home clean sheets in 258 matches and 76 away clean sheets in 258 matches. Home clean sheets are down 2% on the 3 season average prior to this season and away clean sheets are up 6%.

The last 6 gameweeks show that clean sheets all round are currently on the increase in comparison to earlier in the season.

The average for the last 6 gameweeks is 38% at home (24/64). This is 3% higher than the previous 3 season average and 5% higher than the average for home clean sheets this season. Away teams have had clean sheets in 31% of their recent fixtures (20/64). This is up 8% on the previous 3 season average and 2% on the overall average this season.

The natural variance is around 7% between home and away clean sheets. Whilst we are not likely to get back there over the course of this season, over the last 6 gameweeks we are now back at this level. We will follow the data for a further week before deciding if we are back to some sort of normality, albeit with clean sheets more likely all round.

Current Form and Gameweek Fixture

Presented below are the defensive stats for every team in the premier league across the last 5 gameweeks, ordered by best xGC to worst xGC (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com after all games completed on 28th February 2021).

Presented below are the attacking stats for every team in the premier league across the last 5 gameweeks, ordered by best xG to worst xG (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com after all games completed on 28th February 2021).

Manchester City have slipped a little to 3rd in xGC table this week. This, however, is mainly due to having played 6 games recently compared to most teams 5. Their xGC per game is still the best in the league as is their xCS per game.

They also play Manchester United and Southampton this week as one of only 2 teams (Southampton being the other) to play 2 games in gameweek 27. Cancelo was rested vs West Ham last Saturday so you would say he is more likely to play both. City defenders are still definitely a ‘hold and play’ for gameweek 27.

Chelsea have hit the top of the recent xGC table this week (although actually 2nd on xGC per game) but now have 3 clean sheets in their last 5 after holding Manchester United to a goalless draw on Sunday. They play an Everton team currently overachieving their xG with 8 goals in their last 5, but with an in form Richarlison and Dominic Calvert Lewin back from injury they may cause more problems.

Thomas Tuchel is becoming as much of a headache as Pep, benching my proclaimed ‘Triple Threat’ Marcos Alonso for the United game on Sunday. He will likely be back for Liverpool on Thursday, but we just can’t trust which of their full backs play on a consistent basis.

Many will have brought in Tottenham defenders for gameweek 26 and will have been rewarded with their 2nd clean sheet in their last 4 games. There is definitely an air of change about Spurs currently as they look to increase both their attacking threat and tighten up at the back.

If Sunday’s performance vs Burnley was anything to go by, their home tie against Palace is another good opportunity for a shut-out. Palace were unable to find the net for the 17th time in the last 22 games without Wilfried Zaha on Saturday. Spurs’ defence is in a state of flux, but Sergio Reguillon is a sure-fire bet to start, if fit.

Fulham’s great defensive form continued with another clean sheet against Palace, their 4th in their last 6 games. Followers of this article taking the advice from last week, will have been rewarded by a Fulham 6 pointer. However it did come with a warning that you’d probably be benching them in GW27 and 28. With a trip to Anfield on Sunday, I think you should take this weeks clean sheet, treat anything from their outstanding fixture with Spurs as a bonus and bench them until the blank GW in 29.

Brighton are another side like Fulham who have been in good defensive form of late and, due to having a fixture in GW29, will have attracted some suiters recently. Similar to Fulham assets, they have a tougher fixture this week. They play a Leicester side that have been in fantastic form this season. However, with James Justin, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes injured, there is still potential for a clean sheet in this fixture.

Upcoming Fixtures

Whilst the current double gameweek is almost all consuming, most of us have had at least half an eye on gameweek 29 for a while now. With only 4 confirmed fixtures that week, options are going to be slim.

For those that do not have their free hit, or plan on using it in another gameweek, I would advise you begin making transfers with GW29 in mind.

GW29 Fixtures

Fulham vs Leeds
Brighton vs Newcastle
West Ham vs Arsenal
Aston Villa vs Tottenham

If you are planning to bring any defenders this week, my suggestion would be someone from those 8 teams, with a preference for Aston Villa defenders who play Wolves and Newcastle over the next 2 gameweeks. There is also a slim chance they may get a double in GW28.

The return of Kevin De Bruyne is likely to see a lot of Managers hoping off the double City defence in order to get the Belgian into their midfield alongside budget star Ilkay Gundogan. Others will be offloading City defenders ahead of the blank in GW29 but that is not likely to happen until after gameweek 27 fixtures have been played.

If you are Free Hitting in gameweek 29 and are looking for some short term upside, Liverpool have 2 good fixtures in Fulham this week and Wolves next week. Leicester’s fixtures of Brighton and Sheffield United are also attractive though they face Manchester City in gameweek 30.

Attacking Potential

Presented below are the goal threat stats for the top 10 defenders in the premier league across the last 10 gameweeks, ordered according to best xG (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com after all games completed on 28th February 2021).

Presented below are the creativity stats for the top 10 defenders in the premier league across the last 10 gameweek, ordered according to best xA (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com after all games completed on 28th February 2021).

We decided to extend our data reference for this section this week. It felt a little like 5 gameweeks of data wasn’t enough when looking at defenders doing things that isn’t necessarily a natural part of their game. One big chance was skewing the data and essentially, scoring a goal got you straight into the top 10 most threatening defenders.

I’m much more comfortable that 10 gameweeks of data is providing underlying trends rather than highlighting one off performances.

In looking at the data from 10 gameweeks we now have 2 players showing up in both lists. We highlighted Joao Cancelo in the first of these articles in gameweek 24. Now fully rested and with 2 fixtures in gameweek 27 he should be the City defender we ‘hold and play’ this gameweek, despite both of their centre backs registering last Saturday.

Joel Veltman is the other who we featured in this article for gameweek 25. Sitting 5th on the xG and 10th on the xA list with a fixture in GW29, he could be a brilliant option. Be aware that Tariq Lamptey is returning from injury though!

Luke Shaw’s numbers continue to impress. He’s joint 1st for assists, 1st for Big Chances Created (BCC), 2nd for volume of crosses and 1st for cross success rate. United’s fixtures aren’t great in the next three with Manchester City, West Ham and a blank to come, but if you have him in your team, you really can’t afford not to play him. As a manager planning to Wildcard in gameweek 30, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t make my gameweek 30 team.

Shaw shares top spot for assists with the ever consistent Aaron Cresswell. He ranks 3rd for xA, 2nd for BCC and has fixtures vs Leeds, Manchester United and Arsenal in the next 3.

With Liverpool’s fixtures (Fulham, Wolves, Blank, Arsenal, Villa) if you can spare the money for Trent Alexander Arnold and can deal with his blank in gameweek 29, he is starting to show more of his form from last year now. He’s joint 2nd for BCC and has registered nearly 25% more crosses than Shaw albeit with considerable less success.

Conclusions

The volume of variables at the moment is almost mind boggling, so I am going to do my best to distil this down very simply. This week is the week to hold your Manchester City defence and try and squeeze 1 last double gameweek out of them. There is always the risk of rotation but all defensive options have been rested for at least 1 game over the last 2 gameweeks so hold, play and pray!

If you have Chelsea, Leicester and/or Liverpool defenders in your squad this week, they are a no brainer to play alongside your Manchester City asset(s).

If you’re bringing defenders in, try to prioritise Aston Villa and/or Tottenham defenders to give you the best cover over the coming gameweeks. In all honesty though, my main priority for the next 3 gameweeks is to make sure I have 7 attacking options on the pitch in gameweek 29, so I am not considering too many defensive transfers right now.

I wish you all the best for this gameweek and beyond. May your full backs raid, your centre backs strike, your defence hold firm and your City assets (and Chelsea full backs now) avoid rotation!

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