Three weeks into the season, Manchester United and Liverpool had both secured shutouts at each turn, spurring many fantasy players to turn to affordable defensive options such as Matteo Darmian and Joe Gomez. After all, clean sheets are the primary way to profit from defenders, particularly in the official BPL format, and plenty of big name defenders -- Leighon Baines, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry et al. -- were injured, suspended or underperforming. However, fortunes turned quickly with the Red Devils allowing three goals and the Reds a whopping six tallies over the past two fixtures.
If you find yourself again looking for back line options, it may be time to implement the tried-and-true game plan of targeting a promising performer from a recently promoted, defensive-minded team. While name recognition may be lacking, that can be used to your advantage, keeping the price down along with low ownership from competitors. In the past few seasons, we've seen nice returns from Burnley's Kieran Trippier and Leicester City's Wes Morgan (2014-15), Crystal Palace's Joel Ward (2013-14) and Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne (2012-13). Who doesn't love a shiny new toy?
Who is Craig Cathcart?
After showing promise and signing with the Manchester United school in Belfast at age 16, Cathcart never made an appearance for the senior squad as he ended up primarily bouncing around the Championship with Plymouth Argyle, Blackpool and Watford FC. While this is actually his second stint in the Premier League following the 2010-11 campaign with Blackpool, that team was fondly remembered for its flourishing offensive flair rather than any sort of defensive capability. Now 26 years old, Cathcart has earned 15 caps for Northern Ireland [which currently sits in first place in Group F of Euro 2016 qualifying] and while he has only netted nine goals in his entire career, the central defender did score thrice last season.
Why Put Any Stock in the Defense of a Newly Promoted Team?
In the past five full seasons, newly promoted teams went from averaging 1.00 goals per game allowed in the Championship the prior campaign to giving up 1.63 goals per match in the Premier League. That's not surprising -- it's an enormous step up in class! Five of those 15 teams gave up 70 or more goals over the season, with -- no shock here -- Blackpool coming in as the shoddiest defense, surrendering a whopping 78 goals (2.05/game).
Even so, there has been no shortage of solid performances, as seven of those teams gave up 55 goals (1.45/game) or fewer. Crystal Palace stands out as the most impressive of the bunch, allowing only 48 (1.26/game) in 2013-14. The formula for newly promoted teams is pretty straightforward: batten down the hatches in the back, try to keep games close and eke out a good share of hard-fought draws mixed in with the occasional victory. It would not be a surprise to see at least one of this season's trio of new teams give up somewhere in the very respectable range of 50-55 goals, delivering a decent amount of clean sheets.
Why Trust Watford's Defense Specifically?
Making its first appearance in the Premier League since 2007-08, Watford does not immediately spring to mind when pondering defensive units to mine for fantasy gold. But while the Hertfordshire residents have scored a meager three goals, they have allowed only four in the opening quintet of fixtures, leaving them seated upon a comfortable perch above the drop zone at the moment. Comparably, fellow class jumpers Norwich and Bournemouth have been more open, scoring eight and six goals, respectively, but have leaked nine each. Overall, only Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal have allowed fewer goals than Watford. Pretty good company, right?
Watford has given up two goals each at Everton and Manchester City. No shame there. Its other games -- all in the comfort of Vicarage Road -- have been clean sheets. Southampton and West Brom were nice, but not overly impressive. What really made me a believer was last weekend's game with Swansea. After Valon Behrami received a red card in the 64th minute, Watford valiantly held onto its 1-0 lead for more than half an hour while a man down against a Swans team loaded with offensive talent including Andre Ayew, Bafetimbi Gomis, Jefferson Montero, Jonjo Shelvey, Gylfi Sigurddson and Ki Sung-Yeung, allowing only one shot on target over that time in the process.
No, of course Watford will not be able to keep up its pace of three shutouts every five games, a clean sheet every home match, or an average of less than a goal conceded per game. And sure, a defensive style can wear on a team physically and psychologically. But the Hornets have just enough firepower to keep opponents honest, what with Odion Oghalo and Troy Deeney each having scored at least 20 goals last season and boasting two goals and two assists, respectively, thus far. Watford's numbers may fall back to the pack a bit, but its defensive fortitude is no mirage.
How Much of a Value is Craig Cathcart?
In official BPL fantasy, Cathcart has scored 22 points, good for a 13th place tie among defenders. He costs 4.5 units, which is tied for 83rd highest. Kind of a crazy disparity, don't you think?
In Fantrax, Cathcart has scored 46 points, 15th most. His price has risen to $6,970 which is still only 71st highest. Almost as much of a disparity as BPL.
In Togga Perfect XI, Cathcart has scored 55.25 points which ranks 15th. Price is no factor so you are generally not going to select him, but he warrants consideration when the match-up is favorable.
What do Things Look Like for Watford in the Near Future?
The fixture list over the next five weeks: at Newcastle, Crystal Palace, at Bournemouth, Arsenal, at Stoke City. Two tough home games, three manageable away tilts. Not too shabby!
So, what do you think? Are you adding Craig Cathcart to your watchlist? Are you putting him straight into your squad?