Continuing our look ahead to the season, this time we consider the options in defence.
Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelseeeeeeaaaa, Chelseeeeeaaa
In 2016/17 FPL game, the blues defenders provided the big fantasy points. They had the top 3 defender points scorers and 4 of the top 9 in FPL. Top of the tree was Gary Cahill with 178pts, with Marcus Alonso 177pts and Cesar Azpilicueta with 170pts. Only 6 players from midfield and 6 from forward positions scored more total points. Depending when you bought the Chelsea trio you would have paid around 5.5m-6m per player. From those midfield/forward players who matched or exceeded their total points, only one cost the same, 5.5m Josh King.
In Fantrax, Azpilicueta was the Chelsea defence top scorer with 284pts, Cahill was next 267pts, David Luiz 245pts and Marcus Alonso 229pts. Alonso’s performance shows you just how careful you need to be when playing differing fantasy games. Despite playing an albeit very attacking left wing back role, Alonso was viewed as a midfield player in Fantrax, and no I don’t get that either. Azpilicueta finished the highest defender points scorer in Fantrax, but his Chelsea teammates were not as effective as they were in FPL. Cahill finished 6th highest, Luiz 17th while Alonso finished 23rd
So, what to do in 2017/18? Having qualified for the Champions League, Chelsea now have additional games to endure. There were also signs late in the 2016/17 that the opposition were starting to sort the strengths and weaknesses of Conte’s system. Chelsea still produced 4 clean sheets in their final 7 games but didn’t looks as secure at times in doing so. The club have strengthened the defensive elements of their squad, adding Antonio Rudiger, who is expected to act as cover, and defensive midfield powerhouse Tiemoue Bakayoko to sit alongside Kante. They have now lost Nemanja Matic to Manchester United, and while Chelsea could miss his Premier League experience, Bakayoko is in theory an ideal replacement for the system of play.
The opening 6 fixtures Burnley (h), Spurs (a), Everton (h), Leicester City (a), Arsenal (h) and Stoke City (a) are not ideal, but neither are they too scary. Spurs at White Hart Lane were fantastic last season, but we have already seen that they have issues playing at Wembley. Arsenal are normally great in attack, but they could be minus Alexis Sanchez come the game, and the club doesn’t smack of confidence right now. Leicester look short of goals preseason, Stoke’s squad look a little stale to me, Everton have lots of new players needing to gel, and Burnley are weak away from home. I can see a few clean sheets in there before game seven, when Manchester City arrive at the bridge.
Buy: Cahill who as captain is a certain starter and always capable of a goal in FPL.
Consider: Azpilicueta who is such a consistent player in any fantasy format.
Avoid: All Chelsea players in Fantrax as they are too expensive unless you fancy the all in defence approach in week one only. Avoid Alonso in FPL if Sandro arrives.
Red Devils gaining more devil in their defending
If there is one reliable piece of footballing knowledge, it’s that given time, Jose Mourinho produces teams who defend well as a unit and keep clean sheets. Its year two for Jose, and the expectation is that the defensive returns of the side will improve.
Guessing the starting side for the early week is tricky. There is plenty of doubt on which players will take the four spots, with only two players seeming certain: Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly. Full of power and pace, Valencia should dominate games. The player though seems a little too friendly at times, missing an edge to his play. He also should be providing a greater number of assists, but too often his end product is also disappointing. While he did improve under Jose last season, 6.5m seems overpriced to me. Bailly, meanwhile, doesn’t lack for aggression. He seems the no1 defender in the lineup. At 6m he will be value in FPL if the expected clean sheets arrive.
The most common pick seems to be summer signing Victor Lindelof. His 5.5m price point in FPL saves 0.5m on Bailly, but with the saving comes a risk: We cannot be sure he will be 1st choice in the early weeks of the season, as Jose may ease him into the Premier League and United’s starting 11. Given United’s tasty looking opening fixtures, Lindelof’s uncertainty is pretty annoying. I think his performance in the Super Cup against Real Madrid will be key. Should the Swede look assured, then I expect him to line up against West Ham. Should whomever partners him in that game look more at ease, then that partner may get the nod.
As for left back it’s a guessing game. Luke Shaw is still out, and I’m not sure he will ever break through. Daily Blind has played preseason but lacks size, pace or aggression. With Marcus Rojo out, the final option is Matteo Darmian. Darmian was linked with a move back to Serie A in the summer but is now staying at Old Trafford. The fear is that the position is up for grabs and could see rotation, but Jose isn’t one for that idea with his defenders. My guess is Darmian should get first crack, and at 5.5m in FPL is a great differential. At just 5.69m in Fantrax, he may be one of those rare players who stays in your squad.
Buy: Bailly in FPL if you have the funds or Lindeflof should you believe he starts week one.
Consider: Darmian if you like to go against the crowd in FPL and if you are sure he starts in Fantrax.
Boys from Brighton
In the last couple seasons, we’ve seen great fantasy returns from sides who are weak on paper but well organized. Burnley may be the best example in recent seasons, being built around strong defensive performances in home games. Brighton built their promotion season on just the same model. Chris Hughton is a good manager and will have his side well drilled. They won’t be as easy to beat as some expect.
Two Brighton players catch my eye. In central defence, Lewis Dunk averaged 8 clearances, 2.8 interceptions, 1.5 tackles and 1.2 block per game away from home last season. With the quality of opposition he faces this season, we can expect that type of stat to be improved. At 4.5m in FPL he can fill in, but he may score better in Fantrax.
Markus Suttner, also 4.5m, offers you a little more coming forward. The left back already has a brace of assists in preseason. Having scored 3 goals in 23 league matches in the Bundesliga last season, his attacking possibilities may be to your preference.
Both will have it tough in the opening weekend when the league’s most attack minded side arrives, but they are better value than you think.
Buy: Both/either in FPL you are short of funds.
Consider: Either in Fantrax when playing at home through the season.
Eagles with wings
Palace are a side with potential, and it will be interesting to see how new manager Frank De Boer’s systems work with Palace’s players. The club has played with wing backs in preseason, and if I could pick one player whom I think would benefit from being allowed to play the position, it would be a fantasy favorite of mine Patrick Van Aanholt. PVA is all action and capable of scoring you every type of fantasy point there is. In Fantrax, he can be a huge points scorer even in games where his side are being beaten like a drum. Priced at 8.94m in Fantrax, if I’m sure he starts in game week one, then I will want him. In FPL, his 5.5m price is a little frustrating. I had hoped him cheaper, but the possibility of a wing back role may balance out that concern.
Andros Townsend got a run out as a wing back, but I would still expect him to be playing in a traditional attacking role. This leaves Jeffrey Schlupp as an alternative for the position. Schlupp is priced at 5m in FPL and a very nice 4.48m in Fantrax.
Buy: PVA in any game where you have the money and the evidence is that the player will start.
Consider: Waiting for a couple weeks and using the wildcard in FPL if the position on who starts isn’t clear.
Milner isn’t a left back, but he is one of those players who always scores well in fantasy football. The player chose to leave a powerful, title-contenders Manchester City for a guaranteed spot of regular football at a Liverpool side rebuilding after having sold Suarez and Sterling. There are better midfield players at ‘Pool, so he has found himself as a makeshift left back. In FPL last season, he scored 139 pts. Had he been classified as a defender, not only would he have had the clean sheet points, but he would also likely have run away with the bonus points a number of times.
At 6.5m he is one of the most expensive defenders in FPL, and I think the price is based on the potential shown in his 2016/17 performances. Milner will take corners and some free kicks, and he is Liverpool’s penalty taker. With the raw pace of Mane and Salah I can see the number of red penalties increasing further. I bet there will not be more than 1 midfield player for 6.5m or less that matches Milner’s 2017/18 FPL score should he stay fit for the season. He screams value to me, but be careful: Milner was injured in a preseason game, and at his price you will want to be sure he is fit for the trip to Watford.
Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac
The last two EPL titles have been won by teams that did not have European football to worry about. From the comments made by Wenger, neither will the Gunners, at least not until they get into the knockout games of the Europa League. Arsenal will play their best 11 in league each week, and that’s music to the ears of a fantasy manager.
Both wing backs come in at 6m in FPL, putting some managers off. Still, these are certain starters, and, as is the fashion right now, both will be playing as wing-back. In 2016/17, Bellerin had his worst season since breaking into the 1st team. For ¾ of the year, he made mistakes and looked to have lost his zeal. A change to the 3 central defenders with a move to a wing back role and he looked reborn. While Alonso was bombing away at the bridge, Bellerin did his best copycat impression, coming forward time and time again and finding himself as high up the pitch as any attacker. Kolasinac meanwhile has done a similar thing on the left hand side of the team and was very good in the Emirates cup.
There are two main concerns: First, the side haven’t looked wonderful in preseason. A number of fans have wanted Wenger out, and if Arsenal should lose Sanchez, the home crowd won’t need much to get on Wenger’s/the players case, affecting their performance. Second, the defending at times last season was poor. Whenever Koscielny is out, they look very porous. He is already missing the opening two fixtures, is aging, and is becoming susceptible to injury. Arsenal desperately need an experienced and aggressive central defender, especially should they continue with playing 3 of them. Virgil Van Dyke’s 70m valuation is over the top perhaps but he is an excellent player and still improving. He seems an obvious fit for the club, and with Liverpool having to act cautiously on any approach, the Gunners should step in.
Buy: Either or both in game week one in Fantrax and take a shot with them in FPL if a new proven central defender arrives.
Trippier was a brilliant fantasy choice at Burnley, but was just a squad player at Tottenham until very late in the season. Given a chance in the Spurs lineup, he took his shot and is clear first choice coming into this season. He is as good a value as Kyle Walker was for the same 5.5m price last season and has better end product in my opinion. Trippier has been in many preseason fantasy FPL squads I have seen, but at 9.52m will stretch your budget in Fantrax.
Daniels could become the new Leighton Baines in the fantasy world. Playing as a forward-thinking left back, he puts some great crosses into the box and can take a penalty. At 5m in FPL, he is the second most popular defensive pick with 21.3% ownership. The arrival of Jermain Defoe has taken some of the shine off him for me, as I’m expecting Defoe to pinch penalties from him. On the flip side, with Defoe’s poaching instincts, Daniels may improve on last season’s 3 assists.
Boing boing Baggies best bet
Tony Pulis sides are hard to beat, score from set pieces, and can keep a clean sheet against any opponent. They have a great run of fixtures Bournemouth (h), Burnley (a), Stoke (h), Brighton (a), West Ham (h) and Arsenal (a) and their whole season could be influenced by their results in that run.
While many of you have a spot in your heart for evergreen Gareth McAuley it’s Craig Dawson that catches my eye. McAuley is aging, and the time is right for Dawson to take the lead as the 1st choice man in defence. Both Dawson and McAuley are 5m, and while many players will have Ben Foster in goal, perhaps we can double up for their opening fixtures.
A few to keep an eye on
Kieran Gibbs, 3.71m in Fantrax and 5m in FPL, isn’t getting into the Arsenal starting 11. He may be happy to be a squad man, but it is at this stage of his career he needs to make a big decision on how ambitious he is. A move to a club like WBA or Newcastle can relaunch a flagging young player’s career. This summer, Siggy is linked with Everton and Ryan Bertrand with Man City, each having taken a step back to move forward. If Gibbs moves, he becomes a nice option.
Should Bertrand move to City, then Matt Targett becomes a real temptation at just 1.46m in Fantrax and 4.5 in FPL. He will be in both my sides should Bertrand move or Targett look assured to start the season.
Cedric has only just come back into training for Southampton, so Jeremy Pied, 1m in Fantrax and 4.5m in FPL, could fill in for a game or two.
Aaron Cresswell had a tough season in 2016/17 but is a good fantasy player. At a low 4.03 in Fantrax / 5m in FPL, I can see a return to form for him this season. Warning: As with Alonso, should West Ham field him at wing back, Fantrax will view him as a midfield player.
Cuco Martina will start as the Toffee’s right back, and for the opening weekend has a very nice 4.82m price tag in Fantrax. In FPL he is a super cheap way into the Everton defence at 4.5, but he may be one to wait for your wildcard after Everton’s incredibly hard opening.
Kurt Zouma is a talented defender, and his loan move to Stoke City is just what he needs to develop. In FPL his 5.5 price is too high, but at 5.15 in Fantrax, and being a livewire at set pieces, he will have his fans.
Many managers intend to play their first wildcard early in the season. If that is the case, then the plan should be to load up on players with the best early fixtures. The bulk of my picks suit that approach, giving you an idea of how I am intending to plan in FPL.