Defenders Under the Microscope – FPL Gameweek 31 Wildcard Special

In this article, ahead of FPL Gameweek 31 we take you through the defenders that you should be considering in your wildcard teams, with only 8 gameweeks left.

Happy Easter and welcome to another edition of Defenders Under the Microscope, your weekly dose of the best defensive options from @FPL_Connect, by me @fpl_del. I am currently ranked 1.1k in the world, and will be looking to push into the top 1k in GW31.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the eventful return of FPL this last weekend and haven’t succumbed to a chocolate coma just yet, especially given it’s a very important week for some of us.

That’s right, it’s finally here, like the releasing of COVID-19 restrictions it felt like it would never arrive but we’ve made it through to gameweek 31 and at last it’s Wildcard time at Trotter Towers!!!

In honour of those of you who are with me, this week is a special Wildcard edition of Defenders Under the Microscope.

We’ll still cover all the usual talking points, Bookies odds, Home vs Away, Current Form and Fixtures as well as Future Fixtures and Attacking Potential. However, this week I am going to do it with a select group of players ‘Under the Microscope’ who are on my Wildcard shortlist. For those of you that aren’t Wildcarding, the players in question should still provide a valuable guide to who you want at the back this gameweek and those upcoming.

Before we all get too excited though, I should just say that this weekend I learned the lesson that Wildcards don’t guarantee success. I am currently locked in a titanic Mini League battle with a friend of mine. After gameweek 16 when the second Wildcard became available his OR was 208,052 to my 1,379. As the gameweek 30 deadline passed he was sat at 3,379 to my 1,822. It’s been tough holding on to the Wildcard whilst watching my lead disintegrate.

I’ve held my nerve to keep my Wildcard for gameweek 31 and he played his before last gameweek’s deadline. Thanks to Chelsea’s horror show and continued fine form of Raphinha and Jessie Lingard I managed to outscore him this weekend 68 to 57.

So, it just shows that Wildcards are no guarantee of rank rise. I’m here to make sure you stand the best chance, at least with your defensive options anyway.

Bookies Odds

Before we get to the individual options, here is a look at the teams most likely to keep a clean sheet next gameweek, according to William Hill. Odds accurate as of 15:00 on 5th April 2021. You must be 18 or over to gamble, please gamble responsibly.

Teams(Fixture) Odds %
Chelsea(Crystal Palace) 56
Man City(Leeds) 52
Arsenal(Sheffield Utd) 51
Liverpool(Aston Villa) 43
Burnley(Newcastle) 42
Fulham(Wolves) 40
Brighton(Everton) 38
Southampton(West Brom) 36
Wolves(Fulham) 35
Leicester(West Ham) 33
Everton(Brighton) 31
Man Utd(Spurs) 31
Newcastle(Burnley) 30
West Ham(Leicester) 29
West Brom(Southampton) 28
Spurs(Man Utd) 27
Sheffield Utd(Arsenal) 18
Crystal Palace(Chelsea) 17
Aston Villa(Liverpool) 13
Leeds(Man City) 8

Home vs Away

A quick update on the situation before we get into player specific detail. So far, this gameweek has proven a tough one for defences, with 31 goals across 8 games. We’ve only seen 2 clean sheets (Man City and Liverpool) and both of these coming on the road, further enforcing our inference that home fixtures do not make clean sheets more likely this season.

In fact, there has now been almost as many away clean sheets (91) as home ones (93) in the 297 Premier League games so far this season. Chances of a clean sheet are up, on the whole, at 31%. In the previous 3 seasons to this, 30% of home teams kept a clean sheet and 23% of away teams so whilst home clean sheets are only up slightly, away clean sheets are up dramatically. We’ll keep assessing this each week to see if there is a dramatic change.

For now, safe to say, if you think a team is likely to keep a clean sheet, don’t let the fact that they are on the road put you off.

The shortlist

Firstly, I should really set out my criteria for my Wildcard back 5. I don’t traditionally like using transfers on defenders. I think there is usually much more upside on ensuring you have the best attacking options for each gameweek. So given that, I want to make sure my final 5 are all playing, with solid fixture runs until the end of the season.

Also, for the same reason, I very rarely play more than 3 at the back and so I want to ensure my final 5 have the right blend of fixtures. What I mean by that is that I want at least 3 defenders for each of the next 8 gameweeks that have what I consider to be favourable fixtures (i.e. matches against teams with weaker attacking stats).

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 4th April 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 4th April 2021).
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 4th April 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 4th April 2021).

Clearly from the above recent defensive stats, we need need to be considering defenders from Chelsea, Liverpool, West Ham, Man Utd, Leicester, Brighton and Man City. Crystal Palace are a little bit of an outlier, given they have only played 4 games in the last 5 weeks, however they have kept 3 clean sheets against Fulham, West Brom and Man Utd so we perhaps shouldn’t discount them just yet.

Chelsea and Manchester City have been the stand out defences this Season. Despite Chelsea shipping 5 versus West Brom, I think that was largely down to losing Thiago Silva early. Their xGC and volume of clean sheets still make them my first choice for defenders at the minute. Man City’s defensive numbers have fallen off as of late, however I still think they are strong favourites for a clean sheet given a favourable fixture.

Liverpool appear to have gotten over their mid season blip and are now much more assured defensively. With 3 clean sheets in their last 5, their defenders are now good options again. West Ham continue to surprise everyone this year though their stats are somewhat distorted in the above by only having played 4 games. Conceding 2 at Wolves on Monday night highlights their defensive frailties.

Brighton seem to always come out favourably when looking at underlying stats. I think they are a great example of where the team is much greater than the sum of its parts. The fact remains that they do not have the individual talent to convert good team play into results. This is born out by them conceding 6 goals from only 8 big chances in their last 5 games. I think there are better options available at the moment.

Man Utd have conceded 1 goal in their last 5 games, way over performing their xGC of 5.64. They have good attacking threat from their backline and plenty to play for to ensure a spot in the top 4. Likewise, Leicester have it all to play for and no European distractions. Both present solid options for spots in your backline from gameweek 31 to 38.

After looking at the fixtures for all teams, I also chose to include Arsenal for consideration given their fixtures from gameweek 31 to 38. In the below, Green signifies where I want a defender from that team playing in my team that week, Amber where I am ok with a defender from that team playing for me, and Red where I want to avoid their defenders ending up in my 11 that week. This was based on analysis of the attacking threat of the opposition.

Based on their remaining 8 fixtures I am happy to exclude Crystal Palace defenders and won’t be prioritising Brighton ones.

So, the defenders I am considering are as follows:

Kieran Tierney (£5.3m)

The only Arsenal defender I am interested in. In great form at the minute though worryingly picked up a knock last weekend which could see him out for the next few weeks. With only 1 goal and 3 assists to his name, and only 1 assist in his last 6, I would have expected more from him this season. Arsenal’s defensive record concerns me with only 8 clean sheets from 30 this Season, but I expect him to finish the season strong (if fit).

Cesar Azpilicueta (£5.9m)

Tuchel’s rock since taking over. He’s played every Premier League minute and seems rotation proof. He’s even filled in at right back when they switched to a back 4. Good to see him adding to his game making the top 10 for recent xA and would be great to see him convert on those numbers. I still consider Chelsea the best defensive option currently.

Marcos Alonso (£5.7m)

The ultimate FPL frustration. When he is on the pitch he is clearly the best attacking defender available this year. He could have had a hat-trick last Saturday alone. He’s only started 6/10 of Tuchel’s games and with their continued involvement in the Champions League his rotation isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Antonio Rudiger (£4.7m)

Up until recently he was almost as nailed as Azpilicueta. He was rested in gameweek 27 but then inexplicably left out last Saturday. We now know he’s had a bust up with Kepa, which does not bode well. He also offers very little attacking threat. He might be worth the risk on a GW31 wildcard given his price tag.

Andreas Christiensen (£4.7m)

Could be the main benefactor of the Rudiger fallout. He’s started 6 of the last 8 in Silva’s absence and came on ahead of Rudiger last Saturday. Again, offers very little at the other end of the pitch but is worth consideration on Chelsea’s defensive numbers and his price tag.

Thomas Castagne (£5.7m)

Started the Season like a train but was abruptly curtailed by injury. He’s now back fully fit but annoyingly is yet to rediscover the attacking threat that landed him a goal and 3 assists in his first 3 Premier League appearances. Leicester have a solid run of fixtures but a tough last 3 games.

Daniel Amartey (£3.9m)

Barely a bit part player for most of the season until James Justin picked up his season ending injury. Since then he’s managed 4 starts in 7 picking up a goal in the process. If he can make the full back slot his own he could be a great differential at a bargain price tag.

Trent Alexander Arnold (£7.3m)

Last year’s king is showing signs of returning to form. Liverpool have looked a different prospect of late, much more solid at the back seeing them move to 3rd in the xGC table. He tops the stats for recent big chances created (BCC) and registered his first assist in a while last Sunday. He’ll need more of that to justify the price tag. If you would like to see an article on the up-turn in TAA’s form, see this article here.

Nathaniel Phillips (£4.0m)

Cemented his place along with Kabak when Klopp finally gave up playing midfielders in defence, and Liverpool have reaped the rewards with 3 clean sheets recently. Offers very little going forward but with Liverpool’s fixtures and that price tag he is a great enabler for the rest of your team.

Ruben Dias (£6.1m)

A massive plus for City since his arrival in August and is the ‘missing piece’ in Pep’s defensive jigsaw. He’s the second top scoring defender only 3 behind Cresswell and he’s done that without relying on attacking threat (1 goal and 1 assist in 29 games). My only concern is the clean sheets have dried up a little of late and City blank in gameweek 33.

Luke Shaw (£5.3m)

A star since making the left back slot his own earlier in the season. He’s managed a goal and 5 assists alongside 9 clean sheets and has consistently been ranked in the top 3 most creative defenders over the last 7 weeks or so. United have solid fixtures so it is hard to see him not making my team.

Victor Lindelof (£4.8m)

If I was doubling up on United defenders (which isn’t the worst idea in the world given their fixtures), Lindelof would be my option over AWB. He’s £0.9m cheaper and has amassed only 3 points less in the last 6 gameweeks despite playing a game less.

Aaron Cresswell (£5.9m)

West Ham aren’t as solid defensively as I would like them to be, however Cresswell’s creative stats are impressive. He has 10 assists and 10 clean sheets this year ranking him as the No.1 defensive option in the game. West Ham’s fixtures compliment Chelsea’s nicely with easier fixtures (Everton and Brighton) in gameweek 35 and 36 when Chelsea play Man City and Arsenal – that rotation could serve your team nicely.

Vladimir Coufal (£4.6m)

5 assists, 8 clean sheets and a full £1.3m cheaper than Cresswell, Coufal is also a great option for all the same reasons as Cresswell above and may provide the funds for better players elsewhere in your squad. If West Ham stick with the back 5 they used against Wolves, Coufal at RWB could be an even better option than Cresswell at LCB.

Craig Dawson (£4.5m)

An ever present since gameweek 16 picking up 3 goals and 6 clean sheets in that time. His points per game total for the season (4.33) is only 0.2 less than Cresswell (4.53) for a whopping £1.4m saving.

Connor Coady (£4.8m)

Coady makes this list purely on the basis of his next 4 fixtures: Fulham, Sheffield Utd, Burnley and West Brom. He has picked up a goal recently, however that was only his second in 226 appearances for Wolves. Despite Wolves fixtures I think there are better options out there.

Conclusions

Hopefully the above has given you plenty to consider for this gameweek and the following 7. On Thursday, I will be publishing an article on my wildcard team, which I am hoping will take me into the top 1k.

Keep your eyes peeled for that article to find out who makes the final cut and who I’ll be playing in gameweek 31.

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