Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 37 Preview

Hello and welcome to the last edition of Defenders Under the Microscope this season. Here, we preview Gameweek 37 and Gameweek 38 of Fantasy Premier League.

The fixture schedule has been hectic of late. With the turnaround between gameweek 37 and 38 a short one, we’ll endeavour to include some guidance for gameweek 38 within this weeks article as well as our usual guide to the key factors to consider when selecting your defenders this gameweek.

Before that, I wanted to say what a pleasure it has been creating content and interacting with you all this season. A big thank you to the guys at FPL Connect for giving me the opportunity to bring this content to you and to those of you that have fed back and interacted with it.

I’m looking forward to a, hopefully, successful final couple of gameweeks. This will be followed by a couple of weeks off not thinking about FPL and then onto picking my Fantasy Euro 2020 (21?) side. I’m a glutton for punishment! I’ll also hopefully be back with some more content when the game refreshes ahead of the 2021/22 Season, and I’ll be tweeting about the Euros in the meantime, so questions are always welcome.

The last couple of gameweeks have been tough for a lot of managers (both FPL and real life). The crazy fixture schedule and the volume of teams with commitments over and above the Premier League has led to inevitable rotation of key assets. This has made predicting line-ups difficult and taking advantage of multiple / blank gameweeks hazardous.

To make our final defensive calls, we’ll take one final look this week at who the bookies think are most likely to keep a clean sheet, which teams have the best form and fixtures as well as which defenders are doing as much damage in the oppositions half as they are in their own. The article will follow our usual template:

  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 23:00 on 16th May 2021, according to William Hill. Please only gamble if you are 18 years of age and over. Please gamble responsibly.

TeamFixtureOdds (%)
Man UnitedFulham (H)50
LiverpoolBurnley (A)49
Man CityBrighton (A)49
ArsenalCrystal Palace (A)47
ChelseaLeicester (H)45
EvertonWolves (H)43
NewcastleSheff Utd (H)43
SpursAston Villa (H)41
West HamWest Brom (A)40
WolvesEverton (A)25
LeedsSouthampton (A)25
SouthamptonLeeds (H)23
LeicesterChelse (A)22
Sheff UtdNewcastle (A)18
BrightonMan City (H)17
West BromWest Ham (H)17
Crystal PalaceArsenal (H)15
Aston VillaSpurs (A)15
FulhamMan Utd (A)13
BurnleyLiverpool (H)9

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 Sheets%Away Clean Sheets%
2017/18136/3803690/38024
2018/19119/3803188/38023
2019/20121/3803286/38023
2020/21106/36029108/36030

For the first time since commencing these articles, away clean sheets have now overtaken home clean sheets this season. Home clean sheets are down 2-3% on the previous 2 years whereas away clean sheets are up 6-7% on the 3 previous seasons. Chelsea and Manchester City are the kings at home with 10 and 9 clean sheets respectively. City and Everton both have 9 away clean sheets whilst Villa, Chelsea and Burnley have 8.

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.

It is also worth noting that as of this week, a reduced number of fans will be allowed to enter the stadium, and this will be home fans only. Therefore, we may begin to see a switch back to the home advantage we have seen in previous seasons.

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 17th 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 17th May 2021).

Chelsea continue to be to most miserly defence based on their recent form. With 3 clean sheets in their last 5 games and only 2 goals and 3 big chances conceded they still look rock solid. They will be determined for revenge this week after defeat in Saturday’s FA Cup Final to Leicester, who may well have had a couple of days to celebrate.

With Liverpool breathing down their neck’s for 4th place, they cannot afford to let anything else slip. The only question is – who will play? Ben Chillwell and Kurt Zouma were both benched for the Cup Final so would be my choice to start on Wednesday. Azpilicueta, Reece James, and Thiago Silva all started both the Cup Final and last Wednesday’s defeat to Arsenal so could be rested.

Arsenal are fully rested after their blank in gameweek 36 and have kept 2 clean sheets in their last 3 prior to that. They face Palace who managed to put 3 past Villa yesterday but have struggled for attacking threat recently and sit 11th for xG. Kieran Tierney (£5.2m) was back for the 1-0 win over Chelsea and Gabriel (£4.9m) has now made 3 starts in a row. Rob Holding (£4.3) is also an option having started 6 of their last 7 games.

Manchester United are also fresh off a blank week, having played 3 times in the previous gameweek. They will have had 5 days rest before Tuesday nights game against Fulham so they should be back to a first choice defence, minus the injured Maguire. Expect Shaw, Wan-Bissaka and Lindelof all to start against a Fulham side who have only 4 goals in their last 8 games and are going down with a whimper.

Liverpool are still in with a shout of Champions League qualification after Alisson’s last gasp winner on Sunday (courtesy of another assist from Trent!). They face a Burnley side who looked abject in their 4-0 thumping by Leeds on Saturday. The underlying stats don’t back this as a natural clean sheet selection (Liverpool are 16th for xGC and Burnley 7th for xG recently) so I’d be putting all of my faith in Trent with the added attacking threat he poses.

Man City face Brighton this week who continue to struggle for goals with only 4 in their last 6 games. City are in full rotation mode now though with the title sewn up and the Champions League final later this month. Walker, Cancelo, Ake, and Garcia started against Newcastle so I’d expect Laporte, Zinchecko and Dias to feature vs Brighton but who knows with Pep, it could easily be Mendy and Stones who feature and, or instead of. I’d only be picking City players if you have a strong bench.

Upcoming Fixtures

The final set of fixtures for the season look like this:

I will definitely be avoiding Manchester City, Chelsea, and Manchester United defenders for the last game of the season. City play Chelsea in the Champions League final 6 days after the last game of the season and United are in the Europa League final 3 days after their last League game. Only Chelsea will likely still have anything to play for, but I think they’d expect even their rotated team to be good enough for 3 points against Villa on the last day of the season.

Arsenal have another good fixture to finish, hosting Brighton, whose attacking struggles we’ve documented above. Similarly, Liverpool also finish with an attractive fixture versus a Palace team with many players and a Manager out of contract. I can imagine too many of those Palace players going full throttle and risking injury ahead of the transfer window.

Of the rest of the fixtures to choose from, Leeds are finishing the season strongly, confounding perpetuators of ‘Bielsa Burnout’ theory. They face West Brom, playing their last game in the Premier League for at least a year and who sit 16th for xG recently. Stuart Dallas continues to be deployed in Midfield with all their first choice defence fit now. His 8 goals this season have been a revelation and he’ll surely be re-classified as a Midfielder next year. Probably your last chance to own him as a sub £6m defender.

Newcastle and Burnley may also fancy their chances of keeping clean sheet facing fellow relegation partners Fulham and Sheffield United on the last day. Their recent performances, however, don’t back this up though having conceded 11 and 9 goals respectively in their last 5 games. They are best avoided if you ask me.

Taking Gameweek 37 and Gameweek 38 together, the teams I would target defenders from are: Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds and West Ham.

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 17th 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 17th May 2021).

Finally, Sir Dallas makes an appearance in the goal threat charts! His threat has long been known, however his sheer ability to convert chances that he really shouldn’t means his xG has remained low, despite significantly overperforming it all year. With games versus Southampton and West Brom he could easily add to his tally in his final 2 games.

With Jonny Evans still an injury doubt and Lewis Dunk suspended we’re tight on options for goal threat this week outside of Dallas. Alonso and Zouma are both rotation risks and Saiss and Konsa, whilst showing good threat numbers, haven’t registered in the second half of the season and are playing in sides shipping goals with tough fixtures left.

Trent Alexander Arnold is the stand-out creative threat at this moment in time, with 5 assists in his last 9 games. He is often posing considered goal threat too combined with his set piece ability. I wouldn’t want to be without him this week or next.

Lucas Digne looks a good option on paper for this week at least (not so sure vs Man City on Coronation Day), but Everton have been consistently bad the last couple of weeks and looked totally devoid of ideas vs Sheffield United yesterday. Their season is petering out so he doesn’t hold much attraction for me anymore.

Vladimir Coufal has really upped his game recently and with 4 assists in his last 10 he is second only to Trent. West Ham face West Brom and Southampton in their last 2 games and will likely need 2 wins to secure European football next season, so I think he is a good option.

Conor Townsend deserves an honourable mention here. To be second on this list playing in a West Brom side struggling to score and going down is some achievement. However, with tough fixtures against West Ham and Leeds left I think he will struggle to add to this tally.

Conclusions

It’s been a big season for defenders. We maybe haven’t hit the peaks of point scoring that Trent and Robbo achieved the last 2 seasons with only Dallas breaking the 150 point barrier (so far), but given the volume of clean sheets this year (already 7 more than last year with 20 fixtures to go) defenders have been a key source of points for us.

In order to maintain that over the next 2 gameweeks, I think Arsenal and Liverpool defenders will be really important to us. I’m expecting a big finish to the season for Trent given his current form, Liverpool’s fixtures and his need to impress Gareth Southgate for a spot at the Euros. Kieran Tierney could prove a really good differential for the last 2 gameweeks as well with only 3.8% ownership.

Stuart Dallas is still only owned by just over 30% of us so with him complimenting Trent and Tierney you will have 3 strong defenders posing a points threat at both ends for the last 2 gameweeks. If you can back these up with a City or Chelsea asset that gets game time in the next 2 gameweeks, that is a great combination. My choice for those would be Dias and Azpilicueta who should both play at least 1 of the final 2 games and hopefully in different gameweeks.

I wish you all the best for the last 2 gameweeks. May your full backs raid, your centre backs strike, your defence hold firm, your arrows be green, and your OR be everything you hoped it would be! If not, there’s always the Euros and next season is only 3 months away!!! Enjoy your Summer, from @fpldel.

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