Defenders Under the Microscope – Double Gameweek 35 Preview

Hello and welcome to this week’s edition of Defenders Under the Microscope, the weekly deep dive into the best defensive options ahead of the latest FPL gameweek, brought to you by @FPL_Connect and me, @fpldel. Here, we preview FPL Double Gameweek 35.

Well, what a weekend to choose not to be on Social Media! For the second week running a lot of the top teams seemed to really struggle. Pep and Tuchel were up to their old tricks with Azpilicueta, Alonso, Dias and Stones all rested. Those that captained Kane were disappointed and when the Man United vs Liverpool game was postponed it left a lot a lot teams not able to field 11 players.

Personally, I took a very slight red arrow (OR: 1,608 to 1,631). That was even with avoiding the Kane captain blank (I kept faith with Iheanacho for a 10 point haul) and not being a Fernandes owner (yet). So as you can imagine, I was slightly disappointed. The 5 defenders in my squad amassed a staggering 1 point between them, but please do stay tuned, as the song goes, things can only get better!

We’re looking ahead to another double gameweek, with the fixtures confirmed last Friday, gameweek 35 currently will see 8 teams have 2 fixtures. There is still a chance that may change with the Man United vs Liverpool fixture needing to be rescheduled but that is now looking more likely for gameweek 36.

As usual we’ll cover all the key factors affecting which defenders are most likely to haul. We’ll look at bookies odds of each team keeping a clean sheet, attacking and defensive form for the attractive fixtures this gameweek, the fixture outlook with only 4 weeks to go and who are our best chances for goals and assists from the back. We’ll run through in the following order:

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

Bookies Odds

These odds are correct according to http://www.williamhill.com at 16:00 on 5th May 2021. Please only gamble if you are over 18 years of age. Please gamble responsibly.

TeamFixture 1Fixture 2Odds (%)
Man UnitedAston VillaLeicester38 + 37
LeicesterNewcastleMan United50 + 24
ArsenalWest BromChelsea49 + 22
ChelseaMan CityArsenal26 + 43
Crystal PalaceSheffield UnitedSouthampton37 + 24
EvertonWest HamAston Villa28 + 29
SouthamptonLiverpoolCrystal Palace11 + 42
Aston VillaMan UnitedEverton18 + 33
LiverpoolSouthampton49
Man CityChelsea43
FulhamBurnley40
BrightonWolves38
Sheffield UnitedCrystal Palace34
WolvesBrighton33
West HamEverton33
SpursLeeds29
BurnleyFulham27
LeedsSpurs23
West BromArsenal15
NewcastleLeicester15

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 shown as a percentage.

SeasonHome Clean SheetsPercentage (%)Away Clean SheetsPercentage (%)
2017/18136/38036908/38024
2018/19119/38031288/38023
2019/20121/3803286/38023
2020/21103/33631101/33630

As you can see from the above, the chance of a home clean sheet is very similar to that of an away clean sheet this season. Home clean sheets are roughly in line with the previous 2 seasons, whereas away clean sheets continue to be dramatically up on the previous 3 seasons, already substantially surpassing them with 44 games still left to play.

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 4th May 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 4th May 2021).

I started writing these articles in gameweek 24. At the time City were in the middle of their run of what we thought was never ending clean sheets. Since then, Chelsea have taken on that mantle. Both are still very likely to keep clean sheets but with both heavily rotating, it’s impossible to guarantee minutes for any of their players. Chelsea have 2 fixtures this week but in all honesty, I cannot see any of their defenders playing both games so are best avoided.

Manchester United are another side that have two fixtures this week. On the surface, Aston Villa and Leicester look like the best best fixtures of all the sides that play twice this wee. However, Villa are 3rd for xG over the last 5 gameweeks and Leicester are 6th. That said, United are 3rd for xGC and have only conceded 3 in their last 4 games. As ever, the full backs Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw both provide attacking threat to compliment the chance of a clean sheet.

Whilst playing against United, Leicester also have a plumb fixture versus Newcastle where they would be confident of not conceding. However, that also is not backed up by the stats with Leicester conceding over a goal per game on average at the minute and only 1 clean sheet in 5. Newcastle are also surprisingly high in the xG table creating 13 big chances and netting 8 times, so a clean sheet certainly shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Arsenal continue the theme of having 2 fixtures where at least 1 that looks good on first inspection (West Brom) but where underlying stats do not bear that out. West Brom are 7th for xG over the last 5 gameweeks, also creating 13 big chances and overachieving their xG of 8.42 in scoring 11 goals. They’ve only failed to score once. Arsenal have limited their opponents to only 7 big chances in their last 5 games and kept 2 clean sheets though.

An unlikely, but statistically sound option this week are Crystal Palace defenders. Whilst they haven’t looked great at the back (conceding 9 in their last 4), they have faced Man City, Leicester, Chelsea, and Everton in those 4 games. This week they face much weaker attacking opponents in Sheffield United and Southampton, 20th and 14th for xG recently, respectively. Joel Ward looks like the best option from them having played 4 of their last 5 games.

Everton are the last side that have a double fixture week and face West Ham and Aston Villa who are 10th and 3rd for xG recently. Everton are conceding an average of a goal a game at the minute and have limited their opponents to only 7 big chances in 5 games. In a week where, at least fixture wise, there are no standout options, I think the attacking nature of their full backs Digne and Coleman make them good options.

Of the sides that don’t have a double fixture this week only Liverpool really interest me. They face Southampton who are 14th for xG recently and Liverpool have conceded on average, less than a goal a game over the last 4. Southampton are also 12th for xGC and have given up 13 headed opportunities in 4 games. I like the chances of a assists for Trent and Robbo as well as a clean sheet. Nat Phillips was also back in the starting line-up against Man United.

Upcoming Fixtures

Below are the two possible scenarios for the final 4 gameweeks. There is still the Man United vs Liverpool match to be confirmed, however @BenCrellin advises the first scenario has a 60% likelihood (DGW35 for Liverpool), whereas the second scenario has a 40% likelihood (DGW36 for Liverpool).

60% Likely
40% Likely

Liverpool’s final 4 fixtures were always the most attractive of the top teams anyway. Now with a double gameweek at some point between now and the end of the season, it is a great time to get their players in and gain the points that others lost out on when the Man United game was postponed in Gameweek 34. As always, Trent and Robbo are great options and with Nat Phillips back from injury he’s a great budget asset.

The postponement also enhances the attractiveness of Manchester United assets. They double this week and it is unlikely that they now blank in Gameweek 36. As with Liverpool, the attacking full backs Shaw and Wan-Bissaka provide a double threat, whilst Lindelof is a less threatening budget option.

Everton are another team I am targeting. Following their double fixture this gameweek they play Sheffield United and Wolves, 20th and 17th for xG recently. They have a tough finish at home to City on the final day but we can rotate them out for that one. Digne is the standout option with his crossing threat, whilst Coleman provides less threat at a more affordable price.

Beyond the Spurs fixture this gameweek, I think Leeds defenders become a serious option again (if they haven’t been for the last 4 weeks anyway). They face Burnley, Southampton and West Brom (9th, 14th and 7th for recent xG). Stuart Dallas is almost permanently deployed in Midfield at present and with 7 goals already to his name he’s hard to ignore.

West Ham face Brighton, West Brom and Southampton (13th, 7th and 14th for recent xG) in their last 3 games. Vladimir Coufal has picked up where Aaron Cresswell has dropped off in assists recently, and at a much cheaper price point he is now a really great option for the last 3 games of the season.

Attacking Threat

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 May 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 5th May 2021).

Jonny Evans has popped up with a couple of crucial goals over the last 2 gameweeks for Leicester. He’s converted 2 of his 3 big chances and with Leicester having 2 fixtures this week he’ll get more opportunities to improve on that. Castagne is also a good option, creating 3 big chances, gaining an assist, and scoring a goal in the last 2 gameweeks. Leicester blank in gameweek 36 and finish with Chelsea and Spurs so you’ll need cover for them.

Trent is still top of the recent creativity pile and with the fixtures Liverpool have left would be the number one choice of attacking full back for me (closely followed by Digne from Everton). Both carry great threat and have created 5 big chances recently, but Trent edges it for me on likelihood of clean sheets to compliment attacking returns.

Can we ignore Ezri Konsa’s underlying goal threat? He continues to top the defender goal threat stats but last returned in gameweek 11. Villa have 2 fixtures this gameweek and Palace next gameweek, so if we’re going to take a punt on him, now is a good time. Villa also play Spurs and Chelsea in their last 2 so again you’d probably want cover for those games.

Of the defenders only playing once this gameweek, Coufal and Lowton are the other standouts for me from the stats. Coufal has 4 assists in his last 10 games and West Ham have good fixtures until the end of the Season. He’s going to be very high on the priority list next week when there are blanks rather than double fixtures.

Lowton has matched Trent and Digne for big chances created over the last 10 weeks with only 1 return. With the form Chris Wood is now showing, Lowton becomes as terrific budget option. He’s a great option vs Fulham this gameweek and Sheffield United last game of the season, however I’d expect him to find it tougher vs Leeds and Liverpool in gameweeks 36 and 37.

Conclusions

I think clean sheets might be hard to come by this gameweek. A lot of the teams with good recent defensive form are matched up against teams who currently carry significant goal threat. I think that will dictate that I only play 3 defenders this week and maximise my attackers with double fixtures.

We will always prefer players with 2 fixtures but there really isn’t one team who stand out as having significantly better fixtures than others this gameweek. That will change if Liverpool are handed a Southampton / West Brom double this gameweek, so keep your eyes on that announcement.

With that in mind I am tempted to fill my team with defenders most likely to have an attacking return this week. Digne, Coleman, Evans and Castagne fit the bill perfectly for that. Ezri Konsa is also a good option. Luke Shaw seems to have dropped off a bit of late but he and Wan-Bissaka are still great options with having 2 opportunities to register.

Beyond that, I would want players on my bench who, whilst they may only have one fixture this week, have good fixtures going forward and pose significant attacking threat. Trent, Coufal and Dallas are the pick of those for me at the minute and Trent may well double this week anyway.

I usually end these articles wishing you the best of luck guessing who Pep and Tommy T are going to play this week, but we’re all way too wise than to still have Chelsea and City defensive assets aren’t we? Good job I carried my transfer last week 😉

All the best for gameweek 35. May your full backs raid, your centre backs strike and your defence hold firm.

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