FPL 2021/22: Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 1 Preview

A big hello and welcome to my first regular article of the season, a continuation of my Defenders Under the Microscope series which began last season.

Firstly, I hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer and enjoyed a break from FPL. As an Englishman, it’s been a great summer with a fantastic European Championships and now the excitement is building ahead what should be a fascinating Premier League season and eagerly anticipated return to FPL.

The 2021/22 FPL game officially opened on 23rd June this year whilst some of us were still in the midst of a Euro Fantasy campaign and as such we’ve already had 6 and a half weeks to consider our selections.

However, pre-season games and transfer activity have ramped up in the last week and we are now on the final countdown to the new season.

For those of you that are new to Defenders Under the Microscope, it’s a weekly preview of the upcoming gameweek completely focused on which defensive assets we should be considering for this gameweek. Who should we start, who should we have on the bench just in case and who are we going to need in the upcoming weeks.

We’ll look at who we think is likely to keep a clean sheet based on what the bookies are saying and our own analysis of this weeks fixtures. We’ll look at who are our prime candidates are for attacking returns and who has the best looking opening run of fixtures. The article will use the following template:

  1. Bookies Odds
  2. Defensive Strength and Gameweek Fixture
  3. Upcoming Fixtures
  4. Attacking Potential
  5. Conclusions

Bookies Odds

These figures represent the % chance of a team keeping a clean sheet in Gameweek 1. Odds up to date as of 15:00 on 6th August 2021, according to William Hill. Please only gamble if you are 18 years of age and over. Please gamble responsibly.

TeamFixtureOdds (%)
ChelseaCrystal Palace (H)60
LeicesterWolves (H)50
LiverpoolNorwich (A)49
Manchester CitySpurs (A)42
Manchester UnitedLeeds (H)40
BrightonBurnley (A)40
EvertonSouthampton (H)38
ArsenalBrentford (A)36
Aston VillaWatford (A)36
West HamNewcastle (A)35
BurnleyBrighton (H)31
NewcastleWest Ham (H)27
WatfordAston Villa (H)25
SouthamptonEverton (A)22
BrentfordArsenal (H)21
WolvesLeicester (A)18
SpursManchester City (H)17
LeedsManchester United (A)13
Crystal PalaceChelsea (A)12
NorwichLiverpool (H)11

Defensive Strength and Gameweek Fixture

It’s no surprise to see Chelsea top the bookies odds for a clean sheet this week. Having kept 10 of their 18 clean sheets at home last season (=1 with Manchester City – 10 of 19) their transformation under Thomas Tuchel in the second half of last season was nothing short of miraculous.

In total, Chelsea kept 11 clean sheets in 18 Premier League matches under Tuchel and that form tailed off towards the end of the season as they focused on the FA Cup and Champions League Finals.

They face Palace who failed to score in 8 of their 19 away games last season (=15th) and 14 of their 38 games in total (= 16th with Southampton). They are under new management in the guise of Patrick Viera and have seen a huge overhaul in terms of personnel since the Frenchman took charge.

Ben Chilwell (£6.0) led the way for Chelsea defenders with 139 points last season and could have had much more given the rotation he suffered under Tuchel. Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.0m) was almost ever present under Tuchel picking up most of his 113 points in the second half of the season. Similarly Antonio Rudiger (£5.5m) was favoured by Tuchel collecting 93 points. Reece James (£5.5m) suffered similar rotation to Chilwell in the second half of the season and finished with 112 points.

For me, Leicester are a surprise to feature second in the bookies odds with a reported 50/50 chance of a clean sheet. They play a Wolves side who failed to score in 9 of their 19 away games last season (19th, ahead of only Sheffield United) and 13 of their 38 games in total (=14th), but Leicester have big problems at the back.

With Jonny Evans (£5.5m), James Justin (£5.0m) and Wesley Fofana (£4.5m) all out injured and Timothy Castagne (£5.5m) still a doubt after injuring an eye at the Euros, I’m not confident of a clean sheet.

Liverpool travel away to newly promoted Norwich and expect the return of Virgil Van Dijk (£6.5m), Joe Gomez (5.0m) and Joel Matip (£5.0m) from long term injury. They’ve also added Ibrahima Konate (5.5m) to their ranks to compete for places. Even despite their injuries they still kept 12 clean sheets last season and 7 away from home.

Losing Emiliano Buendia (£6.5m) to Aston Villa is a big blow to Norwich’s creativity after he provided 15 goals and 16 assists for them in the Championship, which makes a clean sheet look even more likely in Gameweek 1.

Manchester City travel to Spurs first up. The Citizens kept 19 clean sheets in total last season (1st) and 9 of them away from home (=1st). Spurs only failed to score 6 times last season (=2nd) with 3 of those at home (=2nd).

A lot depends on which changing room 2020/21 Golden Boot winner Harry Kane (£12.5m) sits down in come August 15th but as it looks more and more likely that will be the home one I am less inclined to support City defenders in Gameweek 1. That being said, there is a strong possibility he misses Gameweek 1 altogether, regardless of his transfer status.

Manchester United host last season’s surprise package Leeds United in a Roses Derby Gameweek 1. United kept 13 clean sheets last season (4th) but were generally more miserly away from Old Trafford where they kept 7 of those 13 clean sheets (=7th).

Leeds failed to score 10 times last season (=9th) but only 4 times on their travels (=6th). Leeds will be hoping to avoid second season syndrome but should be well rested with relatively few of their players involved internationally over the summer.

Manchester United hope to finalise the signing of Raphael Varane (£TBC) ahead of the new season and should they do so, will hope he creates a formidable pairing with Harry Maguire (£5.5m) who impressed further with England at Euro 2020.

They’ll also hope Luke Shaw (£5.5m) has had enough rest after his exploits at Euro 2020 and with Aaron Wan Bissaka (£5.5m) completing their back four I expect them to be very solid defensively and think they all present great FPL value.

Brighton have been one of the buzz teams of the pre-season given the perceived value of some of their defensive options. They start their fixtures away at Burnley who failed to score in 17 of 38 games last year (18th) with 8 of those being at home (=16th). Brighton kept 5 of their 12 clean sheets last year away from home ranking them joint 5th overall and joint 10th away from home.

Lewis Dunk (£5.0m) led their defence last year with 130 points with Joel Veltman (£4.5m) their next best with 96 points. Both represent good early FPL value this season. The only question mark will be how they cope with the loss of Ben White (£4.5m) who has departed for Arsenal.

Everton (home to Southampton), Arsenal (away at Brentford), Villa (away at Watford) and West Ham (away at Newcastle) all also represent fair chances of clean sheets in Gameweek 1. Southampton failed to score away in 9 of 19 games last season (joint second worst) and have just lost their best striker in Danny Ings (£8.0). Everton only kept 3 of 12 clean sheets at home last season (=18th) but I expect that to improve under Raphael Benitez. Lucas Digne (£5.5m) is a great Gameweek 1 option and my preference from these remaining 4 teams.

Upcoming Fixtures

The below is the full list of fixtures for the first 7 gameweeks, ranked in terms of difficulty by Fantasy Football Hub.

In Gameweek 5, Brighton play Leicester, and Manchester United and West Ham face each other, so we may want a defender from Wolves who are home to Brentford that gameweek. Conor Coady (£4.5m) is the safe bet here having amassed 106 points last season. Rayan Ait Nouri (£4.5m) could be a bold choice. He’s less certain to play but has been deployed in midfield in pre-season. Fernando Marcal (4.5m) is likely to start according to Fantasy Football Scout

Manchester City and Chelsea were last season’s standout defences with most FPL managers doubling up on them at some point throughout the season. Given this, most of their defenders have fairly premium price tags. Ruben Dias (£6.0m) and Joao Cancelo (£6.0m) as well as Chilwell and Azpilicueta are the joint 4th most expensive defenders in the game. Kyle Walker (£5.5m), John Stones (£5.5m) as well as James and Rudiger are only £0.5m cheaper.

City have a tough start with Spurs, Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea in their first 6 games. Chelsea’s run is even tougher beyond their opener at Palace facing Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs away from home before welcoming City. Their defenders may prove me wrong in their opening 6 games and will undoubtedly, at some point this season, represent great value, but I think there are better options over the first 6 gameweeks.

Attacking Potential

Below is a list of the top 20 defenders in FPL last season along with their goal threat and creativity stats, taken from Fantasy Football Hub.

As ever, the full back pairing of Trent Alexander Arnold (£7.5m) and Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) will prove popular given their ability to create backed up by a good chance of a clean sheets in their opening fixtures. Alexander Arnold logged 2 goals and 7 assists in 36 appearances last season and Robertson just 1 goal fewer in 38 appearances.

Liverpool are expected to improve defensively this season so we can hope for an improvement from these two on their 160+ points making the premium price a wise investment.

West Ham duo Cresswell (£5.5m) and Coufal (£5.0m) were 1st and =2nd respectively in assists last season. This combined with 11 clean sheets made them both great options. With Cresswell £0.5m more expensive and also more likely to drop into a back three I favour Coufal, especially given his improvement towards the end of last season and a good showing at the Euros.

Lucas Digne was =2nd for assists with Coufal last season. With Rafael Benitez taking over at Everton, expectations are that they will improve defensively, however, with his fairly premium price tag (£5.5m) I think there are better options.

At that price point, Luke Shaw is more attractive to me. I think United will be better defensively this season and his improvements in the second half of last season plus his showings for England in the Euros mean he edges the call between these 2 for me.

Ben Chilwell combined both goal and assist threat last season to register 9 goal involvements in total (=3rd, 3 goals, 6 assist). If he can cement his place in Chelsea’s team and we see a more settled approach to selection from Thomas Tuchel, he will certainly come into consideration for me after Chelsea’s initial stretch of tough fixtures.

With 6 points for a goal from a defender and only 3 for an assist it would be remis of me not to mention last season’s top scoring defender Lewis Dunk. With 5 goals he topped both goals and expected goals (xG) stats. Brighton have the easiest first 6 fixtures on paper and at £5.0m he is a good value option. If Brighton can turn their underlying stats into real world performance, he could be a must have for the first 6 gameweeks.

Conclusion

Before providing my suggested final 5 defenders, I need to share a little of my approach and strategy to defensive selection. Firstly, it should be noted that there more clean sheets last season than any of the previous 3 seasons.

This was particularly apparent for teams playing away from home. Away clean sheets were up 7%. This can be put down to the lack of fans in the stadiums. With fans returning, I expect numbers of clean sheets to fall, therefore I am not opting to have too many premium defensive options.

Secondly, if clean sheets are going to be harder to come by, I want my defenders to offer something going forward. I would rather attacking defenders from perceived weaker teams than defenders from more solid teams who offer no threat going forward.

Lastly, I like to focus my transfer strategy on making sure I have the best attacking options. So with that in mind, when selecting my defenders, I want to give myself the best chance of making it through to gameweek 7 or 8 without having to switch anyone out. To do that, I need all my defenders playing with good fixture coverage.

So with that in mind, this is my suggested 5 defenders to start the game with:

Trent Alexander Arnold – Liverpool – £7.5m

Luke Shaw – Manchester United – £5.5m

Vladimir Coufal – West Ham United – £5.0m

Joel Veltman – Brighton – £4.5m

Conor Coady – Wolves – £4.5m

Thanks for reading. I wish you all the best ahead of an exciting new FPL season. 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!

@fpldel

More to come

We hope you enjoyed the article and hopefully it will help your planning ahead of the 2021/22 Fantasy Premier League season. We have plenty more lined up for pre season and will be publishing advice, team reveals and more strategy guides right up until the big kickoff.

Be sure to keep your eyes on the FPL Connect twitter page for all our latest releases, this season promises to be our biggest yet.

We’ve also launched our ‘custom mini-league’ site, a huge innovation on the current mini-league format. To celebrate, we’re organising a FREE TO ENTER £1,000 cash prize league. For more information see the graphic above and follow this link for details on how to enter.

You can also join directly through this link.

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