Defenders Under the Microscope – Gameweek 24 Preview

In this weekly series, we focus on the teams most likely to keep a clean sheet in the upcoming gameweek according to form, fixtures, bookies odds and underlying statistics. We also explore the defenders with the most promising attacking stats.

This should help you with those dreaded benching headaches, and also with potential transfers in and out of your Fantasy Premier League squads.

In this article, I will be attempting to predict the best defenders to buy and play, or alternatively sell and bench, for Gameweek 24. Each article will follow the approximately the same format each week:

  1. Bookies Odds
  2. Home vs. Away
  3. Current Form and Fixtures
  4. Attacking Potential

Bookies Odds

These bookies odds have been taken from William Hill. Please only consider gambling if over the age of 18, and please gamble responsibly. At time of publication odds for the fixtures on 17th February were not available.

These odds reflect the bookies predicted likelihood of keeping a clean sheet.

TeamBookies Odds
Chelsea57%
Manchester United51%
Manchester City49% + 2nd fixture
West Ham United43%
Everton42% + 2nd fixture
Crystal Palace41%
Southampton38%
Arsenal34%
Burnley31% + 2nd fixture
Liverpool30%
Aston Villa29%
Wolverhampton Wanders29%
Brighton27%
Sheffield United23%
Leicester City21%
Fulham20% + 2nd fixture
Leeds United18%
West Bromwich Albion12%
Tottenham Hotspur11%
Newcastle United10%

Home Vs Away

In the 3 seasons preceding this year, only 7 Teams (out of a possible 60) had better away defensive records than home defensive records.

Manchester City (twice in 17/18 and 18/19), West Brom in 17/18, Newcastle and Cardiff in 18/19, and Southampton and West Ham in 19/20.

Therefore, it is easy to understand why we always look at which teams are playing at home as one of the first indicators as to who might provide us with a clean sheet.

It was believed that the return of football with the absence of fans would lead to an evening up of the contest, with effectively every game being played at a significantly more neutral venue.

The evidence so far in 2020/21 is certainly starting to back that up with the Premier League currently on course for more away wins than in any other season in history.

This is also supported by defensive stats.

With all teams now having played at least half of their games, currently 11 out of 20 have better away defences than home defences!

Of the 9 that have better home defensive form, 6 of the 9 are within 10% of each other (i.e. goals conceded at home is no less than 45%, goals conceded away is no more that 55%).

The remaining 3 teams are Southampton (Home 13 in 11, Away 24 in 11) who conceded 9 at Manchester United; Burnley (Home 13 in 11, Away 16 in 11) who conceded 5 at Manchester City; and Leeds (16 in 10 Home and 22 in 11 Away) who conceded 6 at Manchester United.

If we look at clean sheets specifically:

In 2017/18, there were 136/380 home clean sheets vs. 94/380 away.

In 2018/19, there were 119/380 home clean sheets vs. 88/380 away.

In 2019/20, there were 123/380 home clean sheets vs 84/380.

So far in 2020/21, there have been 68/215 home clean sheets vs. 66/215 away.

As a percentage, home clean sheets are down 3% this season on the average of the last 3 seasons, and away clean sheets are up 6%.

Manchester City are the Kings at home with 8 from 11, and Aston Villa the Kings away with 6 from 11.

Southampton are 37% more likely to keep a clean sheet at home, Fulham 23% more likely and Manchester United 15% more likely.

Burnley are 27% more likely to keep a clean sheet away from home, Everton are 17% and West Ham 15%.

My conclusion is that I no longer believe we can give automatic credence to a home fixture being a predictor of a clean sheet, simply because it is a home fixture. It’s more nuanced and needs to be looked at team by team, fixture by fixture.

Current Form and Fixtures

Presented below are the defensive stats for every team in the premier league across the last 5 gameweeks, ordered by best xGC to worst xGC (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com prior to the Leeds vs. Crystal Palace game).

The first thing to consider this week is that there are 12 Fixtures. Manchester City, Everton, Fulham and Burnley all play twice.

  • Manchester City vs. Spurs (H) & Everton (A)
  • Everton vs. Fulham (H) & Man City (H)
  • Burnley vs. Palace (A) & Fulham (H)
  • Fulham vs. Everton (A) & Burnley (A)

Manchetser City top the defensive form stats by a considerable margin having kept 5 Clean Sheets in their last 6. The additional fixture will make it relatively easy for those that already own Manchester City defensive assets to decide who to play at the back this week.

Even ignoring the possibility of ‘Pep Roulette’, the minority that don’t own City defensive assets will be scrambling to get them in.

Everton have a relatively attractive first fixture (home to Fulham), however they haven’t kept a Clean Sheet in 5. They are ranked 10th in xGC (despite playing only four fixtures since GW19). They are performing closely to the underlying stats (xGC 6.44, actual GC 7).

However, with their second fixture being against Manchester City, unless you already own Digne, I would advise avoiding Everton defenders for the double gameweek.

West Brom and Southampton sit at the foot of the xGC table. Despite their double gameweek in GW25, Southampton continue to look very poor defensively, despite the return of Vestergaard this weekend.

The continued poor form of West Brom probably tells us to play and potentially captain our Manchester United assets, as it is unlikely anyone owns a defender from the Baggies.

Importantly, despite failing to keep a clean sheet, Burnley returned to their defensive rigidity against Brighton, perhaps counting themselves unlucky to score from an xGC of 0.62.

This match may prove as a catalyst to get back to strong defensive performances, and just before their enticing double it could be everything we need to convince us to invest in their defence.

Chelsea look much more solid and organised now under Tuchel and have kept 3 Clean Sheets in 4 since he took over.

Despite conceding to Sheffield United, they have the third best xGC in the league (5.16), and have conceded the second fewest shots on target (14) and shots in the box (38) in that time.

They have a good fixture against a Newcastle side who could be without Callum Wilson due to injury. Their full backs appear in full rotation now, so if you are looking to bring a defender in, one of Rudiger or Azpilicueta would be advised.

Manchester United have the best fixture on paper against a struggling West Brom. Whilst they have kept 4 Clean Sheets in the last 5 gameweeks, they are only positioned 6th in the table for xGC (6.16).

The eye test continues to demonstrate that they have conceded far too many chances recently, even against a 9 man Southampton when comfortably in front (as shown by their 8 big chances conceded in 6 games).

West Ham are 4th in xGC over the last 5 gameweeks (5.75) and have an attractive fixture hosting Sheffield United. Sheffield United have been much better offensively of late, but still rank second bottom for xG over the past 5 gameweeks (4.55).

Attacking Potential

Presented below are the goal threat stats for the top 10 defenders in the premier league across the last 5 gameweek, ordered according to best xG (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com).

Presented below are the creativity stats for the top 10 defenders in the premier league across the last 5 gameweek, ordered according to best xA (stats taken from fantastyfootballhub.com).

In the past few weeks, Joao Cancelo has been the standout option here appearing in both top 10 for xG and xA. However, after a few quiet gameweeks since his haul, he has dropped out of the top 10 for xA and is now 10th for xG. John Stones is 4th on the xG list and had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside against Liverpool.

Both Man City options will prove potential captaincy options for the double gameweek, and despite being less nailed than Dias, they may be worth going for due to additional attacking potential.

James Tarkowski remains in the top 10 defenders for goal threat for a third consecutive week, with the 8th highest xG, and the joint highest big chances (2) across the past 5 gameweeks.

Managers may be put off by his higher price tag (than £4.4m Lotwon and £5.0 Mee), but with many managers having excess funds right now the extra money may prove worth it.

The West Ham trio of Cresswell, Coufal and Dawson all look to be posing significant attacking threat and have a good fixture if only a single gameweek. Cresswell is the defender from these 2 lists with the most bonus points over the last 5 gameweeks (6).

Luke Shaw is head and shoulders (not literally) above the rest when it comes to xA amassing 0.68 xA more than anyone else in the league over the last 5 gameweeks whilst also topping the Big Chances Created stats.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka (44 points) has managed to keep pace with John Stones (45 points) over the last 5 gameweeks as the 2 highest scoring defenders in the period, despite Stones picking up 27 of his 45 points in GW19.

Lastly, despite not doubling in GW24 and having potentially tough fixtures, the two defenders that pop up on both lists are James Justin and Serge Aurier. If you are looking for a defender that can create and score, these two defenders are potentially your best options.

Conclusions

The bookies odds favour Chelsea (57%), Manchester United (51%), and Manchester City (49% + second fixture) as the three most likely teams to get a clean sheet. West Ham are not far behind in fourth (43%).

Current form suggest that Manchester City, Brighton, Chelsea and West Ham are the teams to target for defensive transfers, or at the very least, play their players.

Fixture wise, with potentially as many as four double gameweeks before GW30, Manchester City defenders are a must, potentially even a double or triple up. In fact, there is a very good argument for captaining one of them this week.

My choice would be Cancelo due to his increased attacking threat. The threat of rotation is the only possible issue with that.

Attacking potential suggests targeting one of the West Ham boys once again, specifically Cresswell and Coufal who continue to post brilliant attacking numbers.

James Tarkowski is my choice from the rest of the defenders that have 2 fixtures. Ben Mee and Matt Lowton provide lower budget options but with less attacking threat. I consider these good options for transferring in this week given Burnley play West Brom in GW25 and are likely to have another double gameweek in GW26.

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