Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 4 Preview

Hello and welcome to this season’s 4th edition of Defenders Under the Microscope, FPL Del’s regular preview of the must have defensive options ahead of the upcoming gameweek.

We’re still only half way through the International break but it feels like an eternity since we were pondering who we needed ahead of gameweek 3 and whether to carry a transfer into the break or not.

Since then we’ve seen Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.5m) re-sign for Manchester United and Spurs bolster their defensive options adding Emerson Royal (£5.0m), and Konstantinos Tsimikas (4.1m) finally see his price drop after hundreds of thousands of managers shipped him out this week.

For those of you that are new to this article, we’ll focus on the best defenders for gameweek 4 and beyond based on statistical analysis of form, fixtures, likelihood of a clean sheet and attacking returns and look at how to balance the best players for this week with ones that will serve us well for the upcoming fixtures. The article will take the following format:

  1. Gameweek 3 Review
  2. Gameweek 4 – Bookies Odds for a clean sheet
  3. Gameweek 4 – Form and Fixtures
  4. Upcoming fixtures
  5. Likelihood of attacking returns
  6. Conclusions

Gameweek 3 Review

The bookies had Manchester City and Spurs as favourites to deliver clean sheets in gameweek 3 and both duly obliged. City were completely dominant in brushing aside 10 man Arsenal 5-0 and Spurs limited Watford to only 2 efforts on target closing them out 1-0, with Sergio Reguilon (£5.2m) picking up all 3 bonus points in the process.

Manchester United were fortunate in delivering their first clean sheet seeing off Wolves 0-1 with Raphael Varane (£5.5m) in the team, and Luke Shaw (£5.5m) owners finally received some reward from their investment. Varane added an assist and all 3 bonus points to his clean sheet to be the top scoring defender in the gameweek. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.5m) also picked up 2 bonus points and Harry Maguire (5.5m) 1 to make it a clean sweep for United defenders.

Everton were the only other side to keep a clean sheet, beating a Brighton side that dominated possession. The appointment of Rafa Benitez was always likely to make Everton a more difficult side to break down, and maybe now we’ll see them start to deliver on that promise with reasonable fixtures in the next 6 gameweeks. Seamus Coleman (£5.0m) added an assist and a bonus point to his clean sheet haul.

On a personal note, it was an OK week for my defence, picking up 11 points from 3 players. The 6 from Shaw were added to with 2 for playing and 2 bonus points for Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and a disappointing 1 from Vladimir Coufal (£5.0m) as West Ham conceded 2 in drawing 2-2 at home to Palace. I benched Lewis Dunk (£5.0m) and Tsimikas who both only managed 1 point apiece, so I made the right call there.

Gameweek 4 – Bookies Odds of a clean sheet

These figures represent the % chance of a team keeping a clean sheet in Gameweek 4. Odds up to date as of 21:00 on 5th September, according to WilliamHill.com. Please only gamble if you are 18 years of age and over. Please gamble responsibly.

TeamsFixtureOdds (%)
ChelseaAston Villa (H)60
Manchester UnitedNewcastle (H)56
ArsenalNorwich (H)47
Manchester CityLeicester (A)45
SpursPalace (A)44
EvertonBurnley (H)44
WolvesWatford (A)40
LiverpoolLeeds (A)37
BrentfordBrighton (H)37
BrightonBrentford (A)36
West HamSouthampton (A)30
WatfordWolves (H)29
SouthamptonWest Ham (H)23
Crystal PalaceSpurs (A)23
BurnleyEverton (A)21
LeicesterMan City (H)15
LeedsLiverpool (H)15
NorwichArsenal (A)14
Aston VillaChelsea (A)12
NewcastleMan Utd (A)8

Gameweek 4 – Form and Fixtures

Before looking into the data, Manchester United would be my tip for most likely to keep a clean sheet this gameweek. Ronaldo being reintroduced to the Old Trafford faithful is likely to act as a boost for the players and I don’t see Newcastle causing them too many problems. Newcastle are 10th for attempts, 11th for Big Chances and 13th for attempts on target so far whilst Man Utd are 7th for expected goals conceded (xGC).

However, having looked into the data it is easy to see why the bookies favour Chelsea. My non-data driven opinion would be that I think Villa stand a decent chance of scoring against Chelsea with the attacking quality they have, but, looking into the data we see that Villa are 18th for attempts, 12th for attempts on target and 18th for Big Chances.

Match that up against a Chelsea side that have conceded one goal in 3 games, it’s easier to understand the bookies prediction.

Chelsea do sit 11th for xGC so far though this season at 3.8, suggesting they are conceding opportunities that should have resulted in more than just the 1 goal against them so far this season. That given, if you have a Chelsea defender in your squad you should have no concerns about playing them this gameweek. With Reece James (£5.6m) suspended, Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.0m) is guaranteed (99.9%) to start, as is Antonio Rudiger (£5.5m). I will be very keen to see if Marco Alonso (£5.7m) continues to be Tuchel’s preferred choice at left back.

Arsenal are third in the list with the bookies this week, which is surprising considering they have the conceded the 2nd most goals in their first 3 games. Only Norwich, who they play, have conceded more. Norwich have been more creative than their 1 goal would suggest so far with an expected goal (xG) of 2.9 vs their actual tally of 1. They sit well above Arsenal for Big Chances this season (4 vs 1) and I fancy them to get a goal at least against Arsenal.

Leicester sit 19th for attempts, 15th for attempts on target and 16th for Big Chances so far. This week, they are up against a Manchester City defence with the best xGC in the League. I think City are a great option for a clean sheet this week and would certainly be ahead of Arsenal in my list of most likely clean sheets. Joao Cancelo (£6.0m) and Ruben Dias (£6.0m) seem to be their most nailed defenders so far this season.

Spurs made it 3 clean sheets out of 3 last time out against Watford and face a Palace side this week who are 20th for attempts and attempts on target and 13th for Big Chances. However the data, and the ‘eye test’ for that matter, would suggest that Spurs have been fortunate to not concede yet. Sitting 12th for xGC at 3.9 it would appear they have profited from wasteful opposition. I do think they are still a good option for a clean sheet this week though.

Everton are ranked 3rd for xGC at present and got their first clean sheet last time out against Brighton. They face Burnley this gameweek who are ranked 13th for attempts, 16th for attempts on target but 9th for Big Chances. They are underperforming vs their xG at present so I think Everton are another good option for a clean sheet this week. Coleman is the pick of their backline for me as he’s nailed to start and only £5.0m.

Liverpool are currently ranked 4th for xGC and have only conceded 1 goal in 3 so far. They travel to Leeds this gameweek and our thougts naturally return to the memory of the cavalier Leeds of last season. The stats don’t quite back that up yet this season with Leeds sat relatively mid-table for the key metrics discussed previously. I’m not sure I back Liverpool for another clean sheet this week but Leeds have conceded 8 in 3 games so I think this is a fixture we want Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and, fit again, Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) in for.

Brentford and Brighton are 2nd and 6th for xGC respectively this season. With Brighton travelling away I think this is a game where a point probably suits both teams and I can see it being a relatively low scoring affair. I think both sides will be cautious and it could easily finish 0-0, so if you have their defenders I think they are a viable option this gameweek.

Upcoming Fixtures

The following table shows all 20 Premier League teams with their next 5 fixtures. The teams are sorted by predicted amount of clean sheets (largest to smallest). Data courtesy of Fantasy Football Hub.

It’s pleasing that, as the fixtures currently stand, our options for clean sheets this week look to be good options in the short to medium term too. Everton, Brighton, Man Utd and Liverpool are all in the Top 9 of teams likely to keep the most clean sheets over the next 5 gameweeks.

We have discussed Arsenal earlier and, personally, I want to see a dramatic improvement in overall team performance before I am tempted to bring one of their defenders into my squad. Likewise, Norwich and Watford defenders hold no interest to me at the moment, despite their positive fixture outlook.

Wolves are an interesting proposition. They have conceded a single goal in each of their 3 games so far, having played 3 good sides in Leicester, Spurs and Man Utd. Their next 5 fixtures are all against teams in the bottom half of the table based on attempts, attempts on target and big chances created. A wolves defender would be a great addition to your squad if you are looking to compliment the existing options you have. Max Kilman (£4.5m), Conor Coady (£4.5m), Romain Saiss (£5.0m) and Fernando Marcal (£4.5m) have all played all 3 games so far, whilst Nelson Semedo (£4.9m) could be a great option at both ends of the pitch.

Likelihood of Attacking Returns

The data set is still relatively small but here are the top 10 defenders ranked by expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) from the first 3 gameweeks. Stats provided by Fantasy Football Hub.

Top 10 Defenders by expected goals (xG)
Top 10 Defenders by expected assists (xA)

Imediately, Romain Saiss becomes the standout of the possible options for Wolves defenders. If we are considering bringing in a Wolves defender the added goal threat he brings makes him worth the extra money in my opinion. He got 3 goals last season and with the Wolves fixture swing, now could be a great time to get him on board.

Shane Duffy (£4.2m) retained his place in Brighton’s team despite the return of Joel Veltman (£4.5m) in gameweek 3. That may change now with the addition of Marc Cucurella (£5.0m) on deadline day, but for the time being, Duffy is that rare breed of playing, goal scoring, budget defender, in a team who are well organised and capable of shutting teams out.

Alexander-Arnold’s appearance in both lists backs up our assertion that we should be playing him, even when we don’t think Liverpool are the best bet for a clean sheet. His stats certainly back his premium price tag and he is currently the 12th highest scoring player in total ahead of more expensive assets such as Ings, Vardy, Pogba and Jota. If on a wildcard this week, take out TAA at your own peril!

Reece James will be a great option when he returns from suspension, possibly just in time for Chelsea’s fixture swing. Hopefully he’ll have dropped in price by then, but if you have him and can afford to hold him, I’d be tempted to based on these stats.

Joao Cancelo is the Manchester City defensive asset for me at the moment. Ruben Dias has more guaranteed playing time in the long term, however Cancelo has played every minute for City so far. As mentioned earlier I think City have a good chance of a clean sheet this week but with Chelsea and Liverpool on the horizon, he’s a bit of a short term option for the next 2 games.

Luke shaw collected his first 6 point haul of the season in gameweek 3 and his owners will be hoping he can turn his impressive xA stats into attacking returns. With the addition of Ronaldo, United now have a genuine number 9 with aerial ability, so hopefully we can see him on the end of a Luke Shaw delivery or two. Newcastle at home is a great fixture and I for one am hoping he can kickstart his season this gameweek.

Conclusions

I will most likely be playing a back 3 this week. I will 100% be fielding Alexander-Arnold, Shaw and Lewis Dunk though I actually wish I had Duffy instead of Dunk, as the latter doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as threatening this season. If I play a 4th defender it will be Vladimir Coufal and he’ll play instead of Adam Armstrong (£6.0m) for me in a 4-4-2. Tino Livramento (£4.1m) will be on my bench this week having replaced Tsimikas in my squad.

Given the choice, I would quite like the option to play Joao Cancelo this week, but it would have to be at the expense of Alexander-Arnold who I think is the better longer term option. Romain Saiss, or if pushed for budget, Conor Coady would also nicely compliment my current defensive options.

I’ve mentioned a couple of weeks previous to this that I thought Japhet Tanganga (£4.5m) at Spurs was a good option, however with the signing of Emerson his position is now under threat. I would be more inclined to opt for Eric Dier (£4.5m) from Spurs defensive options. This is a good example of how quickly things can change in FPL and at such an early stage in the season we will likely see more good options emerge still.

So in summary, I think Luke Shaw is the best defensive option this week closely followed by Chelsea defenders if you have them. Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold both offer a reasonable chance of a clean sheet and plenty of threat going forward so would complete the ideal line-up for me. If you have Brighton, Everton and Spurs options to back these up then your defence is in perfect shape.

Thanks for reading. I wish you all the best ahead of gameweek 4. 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!

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