Defenders are the key moving components of every Fantasy Premier League team. Conservative long-held ideas of wasting transfers when it comes to moving defenders in and out of the team.
These ideas were thrown into the bin with the emergence of the likes of, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, Cancelo and Reece James, and Chilwell amongst others.
Previously there, was one Leighton Baines, accompanied by a certain John Terry and maybe Coleman. Now, with the change of styles in play and tactics in real-world football there became serious competition when it came to selecting the best defenders not only in terms of defensive abilities but also attacking outputs.
The campaign of 2023/24 will hold an interesting juncture when it comes to considering defenders and their styles of play in the modern system.
Liverpool are still struggling defensively and with a third bid rejected by Southampton for Romeo Lavia. They will likely head into the new season with Mac Allister as their defensive midfielder and Robertson playing more conservatively joining the center-backs.
Cancelo is no longer a part of Pep Guardiola’s plan and Arsenal never had an attacking defender as the players being mentioned here in comparison.
What do the statistics indicate?
Season last, the fall of defenders became a much more problematic riddle to be solved. Let alone, Fantasy managers even Manchester City had a hard time keeping clean sheets.
Chelsea and Liverpool’s struggles were all obviously in much display. A short overview of statistics clears the picture further. The campaign of 2022/23 had only 22 defenders cross the 100-point threshold mark in the Fantasy Premier League.
The numbers were 33, and 37 in the previous two campaigns respectively previously.
Only three defenders crossed 150 fantasy points. Goals from full-backs or wingbacks had a considerable downturn also.
There were only 49 goals scored along with 125 assists. The assists numbers were 157 followed by 153 in the two campaigns before the previous.
Goal-scoring center-backs had a largely dismal time out mostly last time. 55 goals were scored along with 49 assists, the season of 2021/22 had 92 goals and 65 assists and in the 2020/21 season, there were 84 goals accompanied by 29 assists from center-backs.
Low ownership therefore of the likes of Alexander-Arnold and Chilwell perhaps this season is an indication and reflection of how things were last season.
Defenders outside of the obvious
Estupinan and Gabriel are the fan favorites as they say. At this point with a few days to go for the curtain raiser between Burnley VS Manchester City, there is no point in discussing names that every manager engaged is aware about. Frankly, a small Google search and the names of the popular players will appear like a grocery list.
This article will rather try to bring forward names of the players that should be made more of a case for inclusion in drafts. The defenders who work best in combination with their popular colleagues in the game and a case against going for what seem to be the most necessary and obvious picks based on mass narratives.
Joachim Andersen £4.5m/Gabriel £5.0m
Crystal Palace has upheld its reputation as a solid hard to breakdown side in particular in the last nine games against Roy Hodgson. They had a big chance faced per game of 1.33, the lowest amongst the sides expected and considered in and around them, like Brentford and Everton, and West Ham. Whilst minutes per expected goals conceded data was also the best at 74.5 based on similar comparisons.
Arsenal with their opening fixture against Nottingham Forest and their scintillating display last season followed by their winning the Community Shield a few days back, they are an attractive side to invest in.As is evident with the huge ownership of all of their main assets from a Fantasy standpoint.
Beyond game week 3, Arsenal’s fixtures dwindle considerably when considered defensively. The Gunners face Manchester United at home in game week 4, followed by Spurs at home in game week 6, and Manchester City at home in game week 8. If Arsenal do lose their clean sheet in all of these three matches. It would not be an anomaly.
Joachim Andersen, playing at the heart of the defense for Palace with some though very limited goal threat will face Wolves at home in game week 4, followed by Fulham at home in game week 6 and Nottingham Forest at home in game week 8.
The Eagles defender, therefore, provides an excellent rotation pair option with the Arsenal man. Andersen is the most nailed defender at Palace and there is little to no risk of rotation.
Estupinan £5.0m/ Sven Botman £4.5m
Estupinan is the most popular defender of the game sitting in a ridiculous number of squads at over 50% ownership. Brighton faces Luton Town, West Ham, and Wolves in their first three fixtures.
A great opening schedule to the season for the seagulls, of course, but it is posted that when the fixtures take a much tougher turn many managers will be looking to move the Columbian on. Between game week 4 and game week 8, Brighton will play against Newcastle United at home and Manchester United, away, and Liverpool at home.
The structure of Brighton under De Zerbi has put forth enough assurance that his team can score from multiple positions against any good team. Defensively, the strength of the opposition Brighton is playing against in the mentioned period, they will be likely expected to concede a few goals.
Newcastle United had a great run last season finishing in the top four of the Premier League. As the Magpies gear up for a season at the most elite level of club football in Europe, they are handed a fixture schedule of Manchester City away and Liverpool at home in their opening three games.
Newcastle enjoyed a splendid run of form defensively in the middle part of the campaign last season falling away in that regard towards the finishing half. Trippier was perhaps the Haaland of the defenders. In a season that was so dominated by Haaland, there were still captaincy conversations for a very brief period around Tripper.
Newcastle’s poor opening run of fixtures has led to many Fantasy managers looking elsewhere. It would not be a stretch perhaps to describe Botman’s pricing at 4.5m, this year as a bit of a surprise.
Last season he had 22 chances in goal being largely unlucky and failing to capitalize even once. Managers will remember Botman coming ever so close to finding the back of the opposition net time and again, racking up thirteen clean sheets and 129 points along the way.
At the same time, a wrong assumption would be made if Estupinan is considered attacking enough to be playable in every fixture depending on this prowess.
His heat map in most matches might inspire this idea but his actual output shows poor for the Brighton fullback.
Estupinan sat 12th in the xGI, (expected goal involvements) with 0.19, and non-penalty expected goals charts with 0.06, below the likes of Fabian Schar and Alex Moreno of Aston Villa and even Michael Keane of Everton.
Botman’s fixtures from game week 5 to game week 8 reads Brentford at home and Sheffield United away and Burnley at home and West Ham away. The Newcastle centre half therefore greatly rotates with Estupinan.
To add advantage, he is perhaps the best option at £4.5m being in the season keep category. Otherwise, locking into a defender transfer of Estupinan to someone else can be detrimental if there are either other fires to put or trends rising early at the start like a certain Mo Salah hitting form for managers going without him. The rotation pair of Botman and Estupinan saves the locked-in transfer going into game week 1.
A short note on Chilwell, £5.5m:
Tifo has recently published an analysis on their YouTube channel on Chelsea under Pochettino. They have highlighted many pivotal changes in the playing style. Sterling is operating too far wide and can be considered for now as a non-option for Fantasy gains at least for the time being.
It is Chilwell, operating almost as a left winger for the team is the most enticing asset from Chelsea. Pre-season has highlighted the attacking license given to him by Pochettino. He is linking up the attacking play, heavily involved in set pieces. Talking post-match in pre-season, he had mentioned his role in the team of finding spaces in the opposition half.
Liverpool’s weakness on the right side and Chilwell growing strength to strength on the left will likely lead to an interesting encounter when the two teams meet in game week one at Stamford Bridge. Any strategy of benching Chilwell against Liverpool is certainly an idea needing second thoughts. He can have a good outing against most teams with the form he is in and accompanied by his role in the team.
A case against Gabriel:
Gabriel has been sitting in most teams with two Arsenal attackers and a defender with Gabriel as the perceived optimal asset in defense from the Gunners. Despite the popular narrative of Gabriel being good with his attacking headers from set pieces, he had only three goals in the entirety of the previous campaign.
Arsenal, as discussed post-game week 3, has a tough set of fixtures from a defensive angle. Other options, at similar brackets like John Stones or Ruben Dias for City, have to be taken into consideration. City has a great run of fixtures and while their midfield options are all in uncertainty in terms of security of starts and playing positions.
Arsenal’s main assets, Odegaard and Martinelli can simply be considered as the best picks from the price point. While options of Manchester City are looming in multiple other factors an asset like Odegaard will be expected to feature the 100-minute expected match time, with the inclusion of the new injury time rules in most matches.
There are several defenders, Stones, and even Luke Shaw possessing the capability of not only matching but outdoing Gabriel. It would be hard press to find many outdoing Arsenal attackers at that price point. While Martinelli might play 70 minutes, he can still conjure up two goals, while Odegaard will play 90-plus minutes and will be involved in attacking plays throughout. The attackers simply provide more upside and there is a case for going three attackers and no defense in Arsenal assets.