Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Defenders Under the Microscope. This article from FPL Connect aims to guide you through the pick of the FPL defensive assets and what your defensive strategy should be this week and beyond. This week we’re looking ahead to FPL gameweek 28, the first gameweek in what seems like an age where each team has only one fixture.
As usual we’ll walk you through the key factors that can equate to defensive hauls. We’ll combine team defensive and attacking analysis, who the bookies think are likely to keep a clean sheet and our predictions for those all important individual attacking returns from defenders. We’ll also look ahead to upcoming fixtures to make sure your defence keeps on returning for weeks to come.
The article is broken down as follows:
- Bookies Odds
- Home vs. Away
- Current Form and Gameweek Fixture
- Upcoming Fixtures
- Attacking Potential
Bookies Odds taken from William Hill as of 22:00 on 07/03/21. Please only consider gambling if you are over 18 years of age. Please gamble responsibly.
|Manchester City||57 (vs Fulham)|
|Leicester City||54 (vs Sheffield United)|
|Liverpool||45 (vs Wolves)|
|Crystal Palace||44 (vs West Bromwich Albion)|
|Everton||42 (vs Burnley)|
|Manchester United||40 (vs West Ham United)|
|Chelsea||38 (vs Leeds)|
|Aston Villa||38 (vs Newcastle United)|
|Brighton & Hove Albion||36 (vs Southampton)|
|Southampton||33 (vs Brighton & Hove Albion)|
|Arsenal||30 (vs Tottenham Hotspur)|
|West Bromwich Albion||29 (vs Crystal Palace)|
|Tottenham Hotspur||27 (vs Arsenal)|
|Newcastle United||23 (vs Aston Villa)|
|Burnley||23 (vs Everton)|
|Wolverhampton Wanderers||20 (vs Liverpool)|
|West Ham United||18 (vs Manchester United)|
|Leeds United||18 (vs Chelsea)|
|Sheffield United||17 (vs Leicester)|
|Fulham||12 (vs Manchester City)|
Home vs Away
We identified earlier in the season that no fans in the stadium was having the effect of levelling up home advantage, in particular when looking at defences. The volume of home clean sheets was down on the 3 season average before this season and away clean sheets were dramatically up.
Recently, there had been a reversion to the norm of roughly a 7% difference between home and away clean sheets, with clean sheets in general up on the 3 season average before this year. However, that trend has been well and truly bucked in the last 8 days with no less than 8 away clean sheets.
There have now been 88 home clean sheets and 85 away clean sheets in 276 matches this season. Away clean sheets are now up 8% on the previous 3 season average and home clean sheets up 2%. Remember when none of us thought defenders were worth investing in at the start of the season? Definitely not the case anymore!
We will keep monitoring this but fair to say at the moment that there is no reason to move away from our previous inference that fixture venue is no longer a good predictor of who will keep a clean sheet.
Current Form and Gameweek Fixture
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 7th March 2021).
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 7th March 2021).
Manchester City’s (relative) defensive decline continues. They haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 3 games now and the underlying stats support their decline. Compared to when we previewed them in gameweek 25 they are now conceding nearly 2 shots more per game and their xGC per game has gone from 0.47 to 0.94.
They do, however, face a Fulham side this week that aren’t prolific at the moment with only 5 goals in their last 7, despite a relatively high volume of attempts. Whilst it is fair to say that their defenders are a good option this week, it’s probably also time you downgraded that double City defence if you still have it.
So if City are no longer our defensive bankers, then where should we be turning? Well, the answer is pretty simple. Chelsea. They’ve conceded the fewest shots (40), fewest big chances (BC; 3) and the fewest goals (2) in the last 5 gameweeks. They play the ever cavalier Leeds in gameweek 28 so a clean sheet is not a given but you cannot ignore the difference Tuchel has made. It’s still too early to gamble on their full backs but Rudiger and Azpilicueta seem fairly nailed despite the former being rested vs Everton.
Brighton also warrant our attention but seem incapable of turning solid underlying defensive numbers into clean sheets. They rank 2nd for xGC (4.18), 2nd for shots conceded (41) and joint 2nd for big chances conceded (5), but only Arsenal have kept fewer clean sheets than them (0) in the last 5 gameweeks.
In comparison, Aston Villa seem to be doing the opposite at the moment. Despite mediocre defensive numbers (9th for xGC and joint 16th for shots conceded) they’ve kept 4 clean sheets in their last 6. Facing a Newcastle side with only Palace beneath them from an xG point of view sees them well placed to continue that run.
The same could be said for Manchester United and Everton. They both have 3 clean sheets in their last 6 games despite being only 11th and 14th in the xGC table respectively. United face West Ham who aren’t setting the world on fire with their attacking numbers recently and Everton face Burnley who average a goal a game in their last 7.
It is becoming harder to ignore Scott Parker’s revolution at Fulham. With 5 clean sheets in their last 7 games and the second best xGC per game in the league we really need to start to take Fulham defenders seriously. It would be impossible to recommend them for this week, given they face City, but they’ve shut out Liverpool, Everton and West Ham in the last 7 games and being one of the only teams playing in GW29, they will be a better option then.
I’m going to try and cover all bases here.
Scenario 1: You are on for a GW30/31 Wildcard
You’ve been building towards gameweek 29 for a while now so any moves you make are going to want to be based around the teams playing next gameweek. Their next 2 fixtures are laid out below:
|Arsenal||West Ham United||Liverpool|
|Aston Villa||Tottenham Hotspur||Fulham|
|Brighton & Hove Albion||Newcastle United||Manchester United|
|Fulham||Leeds United||Aston Villa|
|Leeds United||Fulham||Sheffield United|
|Newcastle United||Brighton & Hove Albion||Tottenham|
|Tottenham Hotspur||Aston Villa||Newcastle United|
|West Ham United||Arsenal||Wolves|
Leeds clearly have the best fixtures so if you are bringing defenders in ahead of a Wildcard, they are a sound choice. Tottenham look rejuvenated going forward so I would favour them over Aston Villa defenders for gameweek 28/29/30 although it is difficult to know their first choice defence at the moment.
Scenario 2: You are planning a GW29 Free Hit
You are blessed with the luxury of not having to worry about next week so you can focus any transfers you make on those defenders with fixture upside beyond the blank gameweek. Chelsea face West Brom, Palace, Brighton, West Ham and Fulham beyond the blank so provide great opportunities for defensive returns.
Southampton have friendly fixtures after gameweek 29 vs. Burnley, West Brom and Palace before blanking again in gameweek 33, and then playing Leicester and Liverpool so provide only short term upside. Wolves face West Ham in gameweek 30, then Fulham, Sheffield United, Burnley, West Brom and then Brighton so are certainly worth consideration longer term.
Scenario 3: You are all Chipped Out
If you’ve gone all in on your chips early, the current fixture setup will be providing you major headaches. Of the 8 teams that play in gameweek 29, Fulham and Tottenham then blank in gameweek 33. Of the remaining 6 teams most play at least one, if not both of Liverpool and Manchester City in their next 4/5 games so appeal is limited.
West Ham and Arsenal probably have the most appealing fixtures, so if players on the pitch is key for you, then focus on those 2 teams. My advice, however, would be to use your upcoming transfers and your bench to navigate this period rather than trying to plan too far in advance. Benching City assets in gameweek 29 and 33 whilst moving Chelsea defenders in from gameweek 30 will give you good fixture coverage.
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 7th March 2021).
Presented below are the creativity stats for the top 10 defenders in the premier league across the last 10 gameweeks, ordered according to best xA (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com after all games completed on 7th March 2021).
Luke Shaw continued his magnificent form with a goal against Manchester City on Sunday. It’s not quite enough to get him into the Top 10 for goal threat, however it is testament to his improved attacking threat. His assist numbers are second to none and are fast making him essential. Ignoring gameweek 29, United’s fixtures are as good as most and you’d expect him to continue to be a threat.
Joao Cancelo holds his place in both Top 10 lists despite being rested recently. That should mean he plays the majority of City’s upcoming games, and if you can cover him for gameweek 29 and 33 when City blank, he’s one of the most likely defender to register an attacking return behind Shaw.
Joel Veltman has also maintained his spot in both Top 10s and has fixtures right through both blank gameweeks. They aren’t the easiest fixtures, but if Brighton can turn their good defensive performances into clean sheets he’ll become an invaluable option over the next 5 weeks.
Matty Lowton surprised everyone with his first goal in 5 years back in gameweek 24. Like Shaw, its not enough to get him into the Top 10 for goal threat, but he also now sits 3rd for creativity too now. He’s created as many big chances as the other more fashionable full backs (4) and if Burnley can find some finishing he could become a good option. With games against Southampton, Newcastle and Wolves post gameweek 29 he should get more opportunities for points at both ends of the pitch.
Holding one Manchester City defender and moving a Chelsea defender in to provide cover for them seems the sensible play at the minute. Cancelo looks the best City asset to hold in order to maintain points potential at both ends of the field. Rudiger or Azpilicueta both look to be first choice for Tuchel and most certain of minutes. Meanwhile, Luke Shaw is in an invaluable asset and looks set to keep delivering.
3 from those 4 will provide you with the basis of a great defensive unit. The rest of your defence is really dependent on what your current chip status is and how you are planning to navigate the upcoming gameweeks. Aston Villa and Brighton give you good fixture coverage as well as some potential for clean sheets. Joel Veltman adds attacking threat into the mix too.
Beyond Aston Villa and Brighton, you have a multitude of options, however if you are looking to set and forget your defence in order to prioritise transfers on attacking players I think a Wolves defender is a good option from gameweek 30 onwards. Personally, I’ll be Wildcarding in gameweek 30/31 so I’m looking forward to being able to forget about blank gameweeks and really attack the last third of the season to gain some rank.
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 you avoid the wrath of Pep Roulette and Tuchel-ette!