Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 34 Preview

Welcome back to Defenders Under the Microscope, your weekly roundup of the best advice and guidance for your FPL backline ahead of gameweek 34, brought to you by @FPL_Connect and me, @fpl_del.

We had a week off last week, given the fixture carnage and there being less than 20 hours between gameweek 32 ending and the deadline for gameweek 33. We’re back this gameweek and we’re ready to push on for the final stretch and help you nail some defensive hauls.

Gameweek 33 appears to have been a tough one for a lot of Managers. Unless you’re a Chris Wood owner (fair play to the 2.2% of you!!!) there have been no real standout performances, with Leicester still to play Palace as this is written.

Most teams that have done well have been bailed out by having a solid backline with Chelsea, Man United, Leeds, Everton and Burnley all keeping clean sheets. So it’s as important as ever that we pay due diligence to which defenders represent us.

Ahead of gameweek 34, we’ll discuss all our usual key metrics for selecting which defenders to play, which to bench and who you should be looking to bring in for this week and beyond. We’ll delve into who the Bookies think are most likely to keep a clean sheet, update you on the home vs away debate as well as looking at current defensive form vs the attacks of each team’s opponents this gameweek. With only 5 gameweeks left we’ll also look at the final run of fixtures.

The format will be 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

These figures represent the % chance of a team keeping a clean sheet in gameweek 34. Odds up to date as of 16:00 on 26th April 2021, according to William Hill. Please only gamble if you are 18 years of age and over. Please gamble responsibly.

TeamFixtureOdds (%)
Spursvs Sheffield United57
Chelseavs Fulham54
Man Cityvs Crystal Palace54
Wolvesvs West Brom38
Arsenalvs Newcastle38
Evertonvs Aston Villa37
West Hamvs Burnley36
Brightonvs Leeds33
West Bromvs Wolves31
Leicestervs Southampton30
Liverpoolvs Man United29
Man Utdvs Liverpool29
Burnleyvs West Ham26
Fulhamvs Chelsea25
Southamptonvs Leicester25
Leedsvs Brighton25
Aston Villavs Everton23
Newcastlevs Arsenal20
Crystal Palacevs Man City13
Sheffield Unitedvs Spurs13

Home vs Away

Below is a breakdown of the last 4 seasons (obviously this season is a slightly smaller data set right now) with how many home clean sheets and away clean sheets as a percentage.

SeasonHome Clean SheetsPercentage (%)Away Clean SheetsPercentage (%)
2017/18136/3803690/38024
2018/19119/3803188/38023
2019/20121/3803286/38023
2020/21100/3283199/32830

As you can see from the above, home clean sheets for this season are now roughly in line with the previous 2 seasons. Away clean sheets are still considerably up on the previous 3 seasons and are statistically almost as likely as home clean sheets this year. This is attributed to the lack of fans in the stadium, so it will be interesting to see if this returns to normal next season.

Based on the above, I do not think we need to allow an away fixture to worry us when considering if we think a team are likely to keep a clean sheet or not. Obviously, it should be looked at fixture by fixture, but this knowledge potentially gives us an edge over less informed Managers who think more conventionally.

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 25th 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 25th April 2021).

Fixtures have been erratic recently. Palace had only played twice at time of writing vs a number of teams who have played 5 times. The majority of teams have played 4 times in the last 5 game weeks. This makes the job of interpreting statistics a little more difficult.

For me, Manchester City and Chelsea are still the most reliable defences. City’s xGC is just over 0.5 per game at the moment and Chelsea’s is 0.79, which are the best in the League. City have kept 1 clean sheet in their last 3 whilst Chelsea have kept 2 in their last 5.

The difficulty with these 2 teams is their rotation policy due to involvement in other competitions. Azpilicueta and Dias are the most nailed in each side, but even they have been rested recently as City try and secure the Champions League, whilst Chelsea have the FA Cup as well as the Champions League to focus on.

Both have very favourable fixtures this week. Chelsea play Fulham who’s revival looks to have died in recent weeks, and their xG per game is in the bottom 3. City play Palace who boast an xG of less than a goal a game before last night’s fixture. This gameweek, however, is sandwiched between the Champions League Semi-Final 1st and 2nd legs, so if you have defenders from these teams you better make sure you have adequate bench cover.

Leicester are in the Top 5 for xGC per game at present and have an attractive fixture against Southampton this weekend. Southampton are firmly in the bottom half for xG per game at the moment and are comfortable in mid-table. Leicester are driving to secure a top 4 spot, and Castagne, Evans and Fofana all represent good options this gameweek.

Everton defenders are back on my radar having kept 2 clean sheets in their last 4. They have conceded only 3 big chances in their last 4 games including fixtures vs Arsenal and Spurs. They face a Villa side who have scored 7 in their last 5 but are still missing the creativity of Grealish and also have mid-table security.

Spurs are statistically your best chance for a clean sheet this weekend and if you are looking for a one week punt they are a good option. Their recent stats don’t back that up as they are sat in the bottom 5 for xGC per game, but they play Sheffield United who currently carry the least threat going forward of any team in the League.

Whilst they have been good options recently – and likely to be beyond this gameweek – Liverpool and Manchester United face each other this weekend, so my preference is to bench their defenders if you have them this gameweek (perhaps with the exception of TAA and Shaw). If your City and Chelsea assets get rotated, Liverpool have kept 3 clean sheets in their last 4 Premier League games vs United, so I would have their defenders ahead of United’s on your bench purely on that basis.

Upcoming Fixtures

We are well and truly into the home stretch now with only 5 gameweeks left. We really should now start to factor in what teams have left to play for, as well as the perceived strength of their opponents, when looking at who has the best fixtures.

There are also potential double fixtures upcoming in gameweek 35 and blanks in gameweek 36 that we need to factor into our strategy. Here is the latest fixture forecast from @BenCrellin, which he believes has a 70% chance of happening.

Based on the above, and factoring in what we have previously discussed around gameweek 34, I favour defenders from the following teams for the run in:

1. Liverpool. Once this weekend is out of the way against United, Liverpool have the best run in. All 4 teams they play are in the bottom half for attacking threat and will have nothing to play for (I expect West Brom to be relegated by gameweek 36). Meanwhile, Liverpool will be desperate and able to concentrate on securing a spot in the top 4. Trent and Robbo provide great attacking options, whilst the hopefully fit again Phillips and Kabak provide good budget options.

2. Everton. One of only 4 teams who still have 6 games to play. The only team they face likely to have anything to play for in their run are West Ham and they likely face them in a double gameweek. I wouldn’t fancy them facing City on what will surely be presentation day, but up until then I like their fixtures. I like both full backs at Everton (Coleman and Digne) and Keane is a solid threat from set pieces.

3. Man United. Beyond the Liverpool fixture only Leicester really concerns me and that game likely comes in a double gameweek. You’ll need cover for them in gameweek 36 if they blank (see Liverpool and Everton). I expect United to finish strongly vs Fulham and Wolves. Shaw and Wan Bissaka are great options as is Lindelof if you are on a smaller budget.

4. Man City. If you have good cover and can cope with unexpected rotation, City have attractive fixtures left. I would be confident of clean sheets against Palace, Newcastle, Brighton and Everton from their remaining 5 games but realistically, you have to chose Dias and risk having a £6.1m defender on your bench if he’s rested for the Champions League.

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 25th 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 25th April 2021).

There are 3 players that appear in here that ordinarily would be very attractive to me. Cancelo, Alonso and Zouma. Unfortunately, they just cannot be relied on for minutes at the moment given City and Chelsea’s commitments elsewhere. Based on that, I don’t feel I can recommend them.

Whilst appearing to be very threatening Ezri Konsa, hasn’t registered since gameweek 9 and barring Palace in gameweek 36, I am not a fan of Villa’s fixtures and their lack of anything to play for.

Three players that do make at least one of these lists that I am very interested in are: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thomas Castagne, and Lucas Digne.

Trent has been a revelation in the last 8 weeks and continues to be a huge threat going forward. He could easily have had a goal and an assist vs Newcastle last Saturday, and Liverpool’s fixtures should provide him plenty more options post Man United this gameweek.

Thomas Castagne added a goal last night to his assist threat and is now firmly first choice. Even when Pereira is fit, he switches to the left flank. I think he’s a great option for the next 2 weeks, however a possible blank in 36 and Spurs and Chelsea to finish isn’t ideal.

Lucas Digne is always a threat given his dead ball expertise and playing in a side with someone like Dominic Calvert-Lewin. With 6 games left, I’d like to think Digne will add to his assist tally over the coming weeks and should pick up some clean sheets too.

Of the rest, Joel Veltman continues to stand out. Brighton are solid at the back if not hugely exciting going forward. The fact that Veltman appears in both these lists highlights he’s a crucial part of Brighton’s attacking play. I don’t love Brighton’s fixtures, with a tough finish against West Ham, Man City and Arsenal, but he doesn’t break the bank and could be a good differential.

Conclusions

It’s all about contingency for me from now on in. Whilst you want the solidity and security of Chelsea and Man City defenders, you have to have the contingency of options to back those defenders in the event of them being rotated.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is the perfect foil for me. He has great fixtures, poses attacking threat and has plenty still to play for.

I think if you can compliment Trent with options from Everton, Leicester or Man United you will have the ability to navigate through the rest of the season with consistently great options to field as your back line.

With premium players like Fernandes failing to light it up at the minute, it’s the perfect opportunity to spend a little more on your defence and put a solid basis in place for a great run in.

I wish you all the best for this gameweek and beyond. May your full backs raid, your centre backs strike and your defence hold firm. Let’s all cross our fingers that Pep and Tommy T are on our side in the coming weeks!

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