Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 32 Preview

Welcome to another edition of Defenders Under the Microscope, brought to you by @FPL_Connect and me, @fpl_del. Here, we preview FPL Gameweek 32.

I am currently ranked 921st in the world.

At time of writing, Gameweek 31 is 80% complete and it’s been a tough one for many of the defenders who were popular this week.

With only 2 clean sheets so far (Wolves and Arsenal), Pep and Tommy T doing their thing and Palace and Leeds ruining the week for the Chelsea and City Defenders that got on the pitch, it’s been a good week for those who went against the grain, and even more so those with a back three.

Having Wildcarded before the deadline I was feeling very confident ahead of GW31. I opted to target Chelsea defenders given I have been singing their praises for weeks and they had a solid fixture vs Palace. I opted for Azpilicueta and Alonso as a differential option. With him not playing, I had Luke Shaw to come in off the bench, but he picked up a yellow card and United conceded. Nathaniel Phillips completed my defensive trio for a 5 point total haul!

As ever, we’ll talk through our key metrics to consider guiding you through who to play, who to bench and who to look at bringing in for this gameweek and those remaining. We’ll look at who the bookies think are most likely to keep a clean sheet, as well as who has the friendliest fixture this gameweek and upcoming. Lastly, we’ll look at who are the most threatening and creative defenders, most likely to add to any clean sheet points. We’ll follow the standard format: 

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

Bookies Odds

TeamsFixtureOdds (%)
SpursEverton & Southampton25 & 44
Man UnitedBurnley57
WolvesSheffield United56
LeicesterWest Brom54
ChelseaBrighton49
ArsenalFulham48
Man CityAston Villa44
West HamNewcastle40
LiverpoolLeeds34
EvertonSpurs26
NewcastleWest Ham23
Sheffield UnitedWolves23
FulhamArsenal23
BrightonChelsea20
West BromLeicester18
SouthamptonSpurs17
Aston VillaMan City15
Burnley Man United14
LeedsLiverpool14

Home vs Away

It’s been our inference since we started these articles back in gameweek 24 that a home fixture no longer provides a meaningful advantage in terms of keeping a clean sheet. The lack of fans in the stadium has seemingly led to an increase in clean sheets all around, but most significantly for the away team.

As stated earlier, we’ve only seen 2 clean sheets this gameweek so far bringing the home clean sheet total to 94 from 305 games and the away clean sheet total to 92 from 305 games. In the previous 3 seasons, the difference between the two was around 7% and we can see this season it is practically nothing.

Southampton buck the trend by being considerably better at home, keeping 6 clean sheets in 15 vs 3 in 15 away. Conversely, Burnley are better away from home, keeping 5 clean sheets on the road to their 3 at Turf Moor. Newcastle have only kept 1 clean sheet at St. James Park vs 4 on the road.

So whilst it is not an exact science, and it is still worth looking at individual teams, don’t let an away fixture put you off choosing a defender because you think it makes them less likely to keep a clean sheet.

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 11th 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 by 11th April 2021).

Chelsea continue to be the top ranked defence by xGC. Many have started to question Chelsea’s defence following successive games without a clean sheet against 2 of the bottom 3 teams based on recent xG. I’m not quite ready to join them yet, and I’m hoping it may make Chelsea options a little more differential than at present.

In those 2 games, Chelsea played with 10 men for a large percentage of the first fixture, and in the second Palace scored with their only effort. Between those fixtures they shut out Porto away from home in the UCL, and they now have another attractive fixture vs Brighton (14th for xG) this week.

I added Azpilicueta (£5.9m) and Alonso (£5.7m) to my team as part of a Wildcard last week. Whilst Alonso didn’t feature I’d factored that into my plan and I’m willing to stick by him for at least another week. Rudiger (£4.7m) looks to be back in favour again so is also a good option this week.

Despite conceding 3 against West Ham, Leicester are 2nd for xGC recently, though they have conceded 6 in their last 4. With a much more attractive fixture vs West Brom they are good candidates for your back line this week. Wesley Fofana (£5.0m) is a solid, if uninspiring pick. Pereira (£5.9m) and Castagne (£5.7m) are more exciting going forward, but as such are more expensive.

We’ve highlighted Liverpool’s return to form recently and, whilst they conceded vs Aston Villa last Saturday, Trent Alexander Arnold (£7.4m) also bagged himself a goal. They face Leeds this Saturday who’s attacking threat appears to be dwindling somewhat, despite their smash and grab 2-1 victory over Man City where, like Palace, they scored with their only shots.

Manchester United sit 4th in the xGC table and have conceded only 2 in their last 4. They face Burnley this week who are 13th for xG recently, so all the top defences look to have attractive fixtures. Wolves are also interesting this week. They’ve kept 2 clean sheets in their last 4 and face the Leagues most toothless side in Sheffield United. Sheffield United have scored only once in their last 4 with the joint fewest attempts in the league.

If you can do without them for gameweek 33, Spurs defenders have a double gameweek this week. Everton are ranked 17th for xG recently and Southampton 4th. Those combined figures present you with statistically your best chance of a clean sheet this week, though Reguilon feels like the only player assured of his place at the minute and he comes with a premium price-tag that looks a little unjustified at present.

Upcoming Fixtures

Below is a snapshot of my fixture tracker where Green fixtures indicate games where I want defenders from that team in my starting 11, Amber where I am ok with their defenders being in my team, if I have no better option, and Red where I want to avoid defenders from those teams representing me.

As you can see from the above, Wolves are about to embark on a nice run of fixtures. Their next 4 opponents rank 20th, 13th, 19th and 14th for xG recently so I consider their assets great options for the short to medium term. Similarly, Leicester’s next 4 opponents rank 19th, 18th, 4th and 10th recently for xG so I consider their assets good options for the short term as well.

We discussed specific Leicester options above. Wolves provide less fashionable options with the ever reliable Conor Coady good value at £4.8m. Romain Saiss (£4.9m) was popular earlier in the season having bagged 3 goals, but the latest of those was gameweek 17. Nelson Semedo (£5.2m) plays more advanced in the wing back role, but has only managed 2 assists so, on the surface, provides no real upside for the extra money.

Aside from gameweek 34, when they take on Manchester United, Liverpool have 6 good looking fixtures on the horizon. Those 6 games feature opponents currently ranked 12th, 10th, 4th, 19th, 13th and 18th for xG recently so their assets represent great long term ‘set and forget’ options. The previously discussed TAA is the pick of their assets, whilst Nathaniel Phillips provides an excellent budget option at £4.1m. He joined my Wildcard squad last week for £4.0m.

Arsenal also have a nice run, and with Kieran Tierney and David Luiz long term injury doubts there is some good value in their defenders. Rob Holding (£4.2m) has played their last 2 games and Callum Chambers (£4.5m) 4 of their last 5 registering and assist in that time. Arsenal have only kept one clean sheet in their last 5, so keep that in mind when looking at their assets.

In conclusion, if you are targeting purely fixtures, Wolves, Leicester, Liverpool and Arsenal are the teams to buy defenders from.

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 11th 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 11th April 2021).

I said it last week and I’ll say it again this week: Marcos Alonso is clearly the best offensive defender in FPL this year.

Another week without any minutes and yet he’s still in the top 5 for goal and assist threat. If Tuchel ever puts him on the pitch again, his owners (me included) will be rubbing their hands together. I’m remaining patient, but we’ll see this time next week.

Flying into the top 5 goal threat list, like one of his bullet headers, is Kurt Zouma (£5.3m). Another defender who was popular earlier in the season, his goal on Saturday was his 5th of the season, but his first since gameweek 11. If he can avoid the dreaded Tuchel rotation, his xG per game of 0.36 is even better than Alonso’s.

We’ve already covered Trent earlier in the article, and the stats above along with his goal last weekend has rewarded those that maintained / renewed their faith in him. I will have to downgrade a midfielder to get him if this form continues, but not yet.

I also feel like I should address the elephant in the room. Where is Stuart Dallas? Well the answer is marauding through defences and achieving god like FPL status. The Leeds ‘defender’ added another 2 goals to his already impressive tally on Saturday (that’s 7 goals and 3 assists for the season now). The truth is, he’s a stat beater. He scores way more than he statistically should and I’m gutted I dropped him on my wildcard. He may well be coming back very soon!

Aaron Cresswell and Luke Shaw continue to post impressive numbers, however we’ll need to wait on news of Cresswell’s injury on Sunday before making a decision about him. They both have good fixtures (aside from the odd tough game) and have been very consistent this season. Vladimir Coufal (£4.6m) might prove a good replacement for Cresswell if he’s out. He’s finally starting to deliver on his promise with 2 assists in his last 2 games.

Indeed, Coufal might just be the pick of the bunch, as he appears in the top 10 for xA over the last 10 GWs (1.61), and has an impressive 11 key passes and 3 big chances created over that period. The switch to the back 5 will massively boost his attacking appeal. There are very few defenders at £4.6m or less that are guaranteed to play all but every minute, in a team with a lot to play for, with great fixtures, and solid underlying statistics. This week, the Hammers face Newcastle, and Coufal could be a great transfer in.

Conclusions

This week appears to be a very good one for defenders, on paper. The top 5 defences statistically of late all play teams from the bottom 8 worst ranked attacking teams recently, so it’s somewhat of a perfect storm.

If you have defenders from Chelsea, Liverpool, Man United, Leicester and Wolves, they are going to be in your team this week. If you don’t have them, you are going to want to consider getting them in as they all have at least short to medium term fixture upside. In the case of Trent and Philips, it’s long term all the way to the end of the season with Liverpool.

Is anyone brave enough to bet against Dallas ruining the party again this weekend? Given he’s now scored more Premier League goals than Richarlison, Firmino, Werner, Martial, KDB, Foden, Grealish, Mount and Bale do we really care if he gets any clean sheet points? He’s the 6th midfielder Trent and Robbo were last season.

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