In this week’s preview, we look at the best attacking defenders for FPL Gameweek 33 and beyond. We also analyse the best differential midfielders, looking at which players offer the best value and promise the best returns at this crucial stage of the season.
At the time of writing we are still in the midst of GW32, with four fixtures remaining; by the time you are reading this only Leicester vs. West Brom will be left to play. The current gameweek has almost become an afterthought given the news surrounding the breakaway Super League, the future of our game is rightly taking precedent.
Now it is more important than ever to remember why we all play and love Fantasy Premier League, it’s an escape and something that enhances our football experience. FPL is a unifying tool, it brings supporters of clubs from across the world together in a fun and competitive environment. FPL is an extension of the values and ethics that football as a sport is built on, it’s something that is powered by those that support and engage with it.
During these difficult times FPL continues to provide an escape for me personally and I’m sure many of you, hold on to it, cherish it. Ultimately, FPL is about what happens on the pitch, football in its purest form and it’s important to view upcoming matches as the competitive sporting events they are meant to be, and not let recent news distract from the enjoyment we get from watching the game.
Planning transfers and the optimism I have in finishing the FPL season strongly has really helped clear my head of negativity, it’s a good time to focus on what makes you happy.
With that said, below I discuss which defenders I believe are primed for big scores in GW33. A couple of premium options are back in our thoughts and a number of assets have favourable fixtures to target. Last week we compared three mid-priced midfielders, this week we ignore price and look the best differential players in the position.
With majority of managers having money in the bank, we are seeing premium defenders return into the transfer conversation. Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.4m) was popular among GW31 wildcarders and has seen his ownership among the top 10,000 managers increase to close to 40%. The Liverpool full back has accumulated 40 points over his last four appearances, notching three attacking returns and two clean sheets in that time.
Ahead of GW33, ‘TAA’ is the most transferred in defender and fifth most transferred in player overall. It might seem an obvious decision to move for the man touted as ‘must own’ during pre-season, it is important to take value and fixtures into account and as such there are definitely some strong contenders.
Going purely off goal threat then Trent actually scores pretty poorly, with only one shot in the box (SiTB) over his last six gameweeks. We know how good his ability from range and from set pieces is, but with an expected goals per 90 (xG) total of 0.18 a goal would still fall in the ‘unlikely’ category.
Lewis Dunk (£4.9m) has been in good form lately, averaging just under 6.5 points per game in his last four matches, and the Brighton man’s 110 points makes him the highest scoring outfield player under £5m.
As a one week punt (or for those on free hit), I believe Dunk presents the most likely route to a defensive haul this gameweek. Brighton play already relegated Sheffield United and the Seagulls still need points to avoid the drop themselves.
The data suggests a big win could be incoming. Sheffield United rank bottom for expected goals conceded (xGC) over the last six and are also the fifth worst team for xGC from set pieces in that time, an area Dunk excels in. Sheffield United are also the worst team for xG in recent weeks, while Brighton are the third best.
We like these matchups in FPL, a clearly identifiable weakness to target and an asset well equipped to take advantage. From an attacking and defensive perspective it should be a good week for Dunk.
However, with the Seagulls’ mixed fixtures and likely safety should they beat Sheffield, I would only consider Dunk to be an option for this gameweek and not a suitable pick as part of a longer term plan.
Conor Coady (£4.9m) is another player who has seen his popularity rise lately, in line with Wolves’ fixture swing. That faith has been rewarded with 13 points and back to back clean sheets. The England international has upped his attacking threat recently, reflected by his four SiTB and three big chances (BC) over the last six gameweeks.
It is worth noting that Coady’s data is somewhat skewed by Wolves’ GW27 tie with Aston Villa, and in his four appearances since he has only registered one SiTB.
Coady remains a popular target this week as managers become more awake to the fact that Wolves’ good fixtures are yielding returns, indeed a clean sheet is quite likely at home to Burnley this week. In terms of explosiveness, Coady would rank pretty lowly and for those chasing rank, like myself, I would take a shot on an asset with higher upside.
The upside conversation takes us full circle, we end up back with Trent. Above we can see per 90 statistics for selected attacking full backs over the last six gameweeks. Marcos Alonso (£5.7m) predictably leads the way but TAA is not far behind.
As mentioned, Trent’s open play goal threat is not particularly impressive, but the strength of his assist threat makes his overall likelihood of an attacking return very high. Being a set piece taker and frequent crosser does wonders for his chance creation and as a result Trent is somewhat of a bonus magnet, evidenced by four consecutive maximum scores and seven maximums for the season.
With a seemingly favourable home fixture against Newcastle this gameweek and arguably the best fixture run to end the season, it is hard to argue against making a move for Trent. Liverpool are steadily improving their defence too, ranking mid table for xGC having been close to the bottom a few weeks ago. I’m not certain we can totally count on them for clean sheets but the signs are there that they are becoming more reliable.
I will offer only one counter to going for Trent, an alternative for those looking to find a more differential route. Ricardo Pereira (£5.9m) has been in and out the team due to injury this season but has started more games than not in recent months. The Leicester man can be a potent asset when fit and now looks to be a good time take a gamble.
Should Pereira come through Leicester’s GW32 match with West Brom unscathed he then faces struggling Crystal Palace and Southampton before a likely double gameweek against Newcastle and Man Utd in GW36.
Palace are the worst side in the league for minutes per xGC over the last six gameweeks and are noticeably weaker for crosses and chances conceded down Pereira’s side. In the same week Liverpool play Newcastle, the Magpies are noticeably weaker on their right flank rather than Trent’s side and are in the midst of an attacking resurgence. Liverpool then play Man Utd in a normally tight North-West Derby, United are another side that defend Trent’s side better than the opposite.
In GW34, Leicester play Southampton, who like Palace have nothing to play for and as such have seen their performances and data nosedive. Both Palace and Southampton have conceded 16 big chances over the last six gameweeks, suggesting there is huge potential for attacking returns against both.
Leicester are also posting some excellent defensive numbers. Their 20 SiTB conceded over the last six weeks ranks third best in the league and as such they have only accumulated an xGC total of 3.16 in that time, the second best in the league.
There is a lack of attacking data for Pereira, in part due to rotation, but he has a habit of getting into threatening positions. The full back averages 5.23 touches in the box per 90 minutes over the last six, a figure only Marcos Alonso can better.
When we compare Pereira (left) and Trent (right), we can see the Leicester man receives the ball and attempts dribbles more centrally and closer to goal. Against the struggling Palace and Southampton defences Pereira is likely to be afforded time and space to take up dangerous positions. Despite the lack of expected data I suspect returns are on the way for Ricardo and for those brave enough it could be a fruitful way to fight the growing template.
Given Leicester are likely to double in GW35 it could be a shrewd strategy to pick Pereira and get four fixtures in three weeks, before switching to Trent when Leicester blank in GW36 and Liverpool play West Brom. It’s a strategy I’m likely to employ as I look to boost my chances of a decent finish to the season.
Ultimately, Trent is about as big a ‘hot’ pick as they come and fully justifies the attention he has been getting. Anyone that brings him in can be confident of returns till the end of the season and he is likely to be a good pick this week. For those shielding rank he is approaching must own given his form, but there appears to be a three gameweek window where Pereira or a Leicester asset could have the advantage and particularly this week against Palace.
It would represent substantial risk to avoid Alexander-Arnold, statistically there is no reason to pick anyone above him but one of the keys to FPL is spotting opportunity and the stars appear to align for Pereira here.
It is worth noting that rumours suggest Pereira could miss the GW32 fixture against West Brom. Unfortunately, if he does continue to miss every other game, TAA is probably the optimal choice.
Like many managers, I held Raphinha (£5.5m) on my bench with the expectation that he would miss Leeds’ GW32 game at home to Liverpool. The Brazilian did indeed sit out and his status for GW33 is still unknown at this stage, leaving managers with another decision to make.
Man City, Tottenham, Southampton and Fulham all blank this week and their assets are likely to prove useful makeweights in attacking the best fixtures of the round.
Christian Pulisic (£8.3m), James Maddison (£7.2m), Gylfi Sigurdsson (£6.8m) and Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.1m) are all among the most transferred in midfielders this week. The quartet are clearly high up in the plans of thousands of managers, but which of the four should we prioritise?
Due to a mixture of injury and rotation I have used each player’s last six matches to compare them. We can see that Pulisic carries the most goal threat, topping the charts for SiTB and big chances, the American has managed to turn this into three goals in his last two appearances.
Pulisic was a popular pick at times last season but has found it difficult to stay fully fit this campaign, Chelsea’s recent good fixtures have helped him get back into form and as such he’s worth our consideration.
The Chelsea winger appears to be first choice, starting three out of the last four and looks a good option to pick up for the end of the Blues’ good run. They play West Ham next, on paper a tough tie but the Hammers have let in ten goals in their last four matches and have been expected to concede a goal every 59 minutes over the last six gameweeks.
Chelsea aren’t the most potent attack in the league but have the pace and movement in attack to trouble any side, and given West Ham’s recent leakiness I would expect the them to find the net. If you would like an in-depth analysis of Pulisic’s underlying numbers, look no further than this article by our residential data expert.
The major issue with going for Pulisic is that he is likely a short term option. Chelsea’s fixtures turn from GW35 and their likely double that week is against Man City and Arsenal. If you have a spare transfer then he could be a strong option for the next two weeks but not one I would want for much longer.
Allan Saint-Maximin is another player who’s season has been blighted by injury, thankfully the exciting Frenchman appears to have put the worst behind him and found some form. ASM played a vital role off the bench against Burnley, delivering a goal and assist to win the match and drag his side closer to safety. He starred again in his first start in seven weeks, assisting Newcastle’s opener in their 3-2 win at home to West Ham.
ASM shoots in the box almost as frequently as Pulisic and the table above shows that he is a significant creator as well. Saint-Maximin is a well rounded player who is just as capable at assisting as he is at scoring, a potentially very strong asset for his low price.
Newcastle have been resurgent in recent weeks and are likely one good result from absolute safety, they will be motivated to continue performing and although Liverpool away is a tough fixture they certainly appear confident enough to cause problems.
Like Pulisic, ASM’s appeal for the remainder of the season is hampered by his mixed fixtures, but his performances certainly deserve monitoring and I’ve got both eyes on him for GW37 and 38 where his points potential looks excellent.
That leaves two remaining, Maddison and Sigurdsson. As you can see from the tables above the two are closely matched for open play goal threat and creativity, with Sigurdsson being slightly head.
There isn’t much to separate their respective teams either, with both mid table for xG and big chances over the last six weeks. Both clubs are still in the hunt for European football too and have favourable fixtures in the short term.
The key difference for me is Sigurdsson’s position as Everton’s penalty taker, a massive weapon in the arsenal of any FPL asset. Both the Icelander and Maddison control their sides’ set pieces but with Vardy and Tielemans ahead of him in the pecking order it is unlikely that ‘Maddo’ will get the chance to take a penalty.
Despite Maddison’s reputation as a master creator the data shows Sigurdsson to be the chief provider, with a higher expected assist (xA) total over the last six matches. The Everton man’s 2.02 chances created and 0.61 big chances created in that time also edges out his English counterpart.
Maddison arguably presents greater risk due to his recent injury and disciplinary issues and hasn’t been a regular of late. Should he feature against Palace then his prospects look excellent, with the Eagles being arguably the best defence in the league to target right now.
Sigurdsson faces Arsenal, not the easiest fixture on paper but with Everton’s form being far stronger in away games it’s very possible they can get a result. Gylfi has averaged 4.5 points per game since breaking into the side in GW12, a figure that would equate to an excellent 171 points over a season. During this run he has delivered eight returns and three double digit hauls, despite this long stretch of point scoring Sigurdsson’s top 10k ownership is still only 0.01%.
It’s what comes after the Arsenal fixture that makes Sigurdsson so appealing. Everton have an excellent run to end the season and won’t blank in GW36 (like Maddison and Pulisic do) despite also likely doubling in GW35.
With his place all but assured, strong stats and penalty duty, Sigurdsson is a superb differential pick to end the season. He has explosiveness in his game and the potential to hit double figures, with no blank and a double there is so much upside to going for Gylfi.
While the others represent good options they each have too many detractors. Sigurdsson is at a reasonable price, has the best overall fixture run of the four and is the most nailed alongside Saint-Maximin. He features in my own plans and is likely to come in for either GW33 or 34. It is rare a player so ridiculously low owned, with strong stats and fixtures is available. An opportunity I intend not to miss.
*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Scout*