FPL Gameweek 27 Statistical Preview – The Case For The Defence

Gameweek 27 Fixtures

Saturday 10th February

Tottenham vs Arsenal (12:30)

Everton vs Crystal Palace (15:00)

Stoke vs Brighton (15:00)

Swansea vs Burnley (15:00)

West Ham vs Watford (15:00)

Man City vs Leicester (17:30)

Sunday 11th February

Huddersfield vs Bournemouth (12:00)

Newcastle vs Man Utd (14:15)

Southampton vs Liverpool (16:30)

Monday 12th February

Chelsea vs West Brom (20:00)

The Portents

The Gameweek 27 matches are the reverse fixtures of those contested in Gameweek 12, a round of games in which seven clean sheets were recorded and three teams (Bournemouth, Chelsea and Manchester United) hit four goals against this weekend’s opposition.

For FPL managers looking for omens ahead of Saturday morning’s deadline, their eyes will be drawn to some familiar assets.

Eden Hazard (£10.7m) was the gameweek’s highest scorer, finding the net twice and collecting an assist in Chelsea’s 4-0 rout of West Brom at the Hawthorns – this despite only playing 70 minutes of the match. Hazard’s 18-point haul that afternoon was his highest of the season to date and, though Chelsea come into this rematch on the back of thumpings from Bournemouth and Watford, Hazard’s recent returns have remained undiminished: the Belgian has four goals and seven bonus points in his last five Premier League games.

Marcos Alonso (£7.4m), whose absence at Vicarage Road on Monday was his first from Chelsea’s starting line-up in the league in 2017-18, was also on the scoresheet in that fixture. If the Spanish wing-back is deemed ‘rested’ enough to return to the Blues’ side this weekend, hopes will also be high for a clean sheet; the Baggies have not scored against Chelsea in their last three league meetings and have won only once on the road this season. Only Brighton (6) have scored fewer goals on their travels this campaign than Alan Pardew’s side (7).

A net total of over 215,000 FPL managers brought Callum Wilson (£5.9m) into their teams last weekend, only for the Bournemouth forward to blank in his club’s 2-1 win over Stoke. Any FPL bosses with the patience of the average 606 caller who are looking to ditch Wilson would be wise to hold fire. Not only do the Cherries have an enticing run of fixtures over the coming months (see below), but Sunday lunchtime’s opposition – a woefully out-of-sorts Huddersfield – were on the receiving end of a Wilson hat-trick back in November.

The preposterously brilliant Mohamed Salah (£10.4m), who sailed past the 200-point mark with his brace against Tottenham last weekend, also recorded a season-high score of 16 points in Gameweek 12. The Egyptian now has 11 double-digit hauls in 2017-18, yet continues to be overlooked for armband duties – the last time Salah was most captained by FPL’s leading 10,000 managers was back in December.

Away from the ‘Dream Team’, Gameweek 12 was also the last time Richarlison (£6.2m) found the back of the net for Watford. The Brazilian’s ownership (just over 10%) is now at its lowest since Gameweek 9, following a run of 14 league games without a goal.

The North London derby in Gameweek 12 was the last match in which Tottenham failed to score in the league. Much though has been made of Harry Kane (£12.8m)’s impressive track record (six goals from six starts) against Arsenal going into Saturday’s meeting at Wembley. Kane’s 22nd of the season at Anfield last weekend was his 100th in the Premier League and his tenth in eight league games.

Defence – Premium vs Budget

Gameweek 26 may have represented something of a shift in the way we set up our defences. The holy trinity of Marcos Alonso, Nicolas Otamendi (£6.5m) and Phil Jones (£5.7m) – the most commonly selected defensive trio amongst active FPL managers – were either AWOL or shipping late goals in GW26 and are suddenly not quite the lynchpins we took for granted for so long. Though Alonso and Jones are expected to return to fitness ahead of the weekend, the looming return of the Champions League, progression in the domestic cups and transfer window acquisitions pose a real threat to the pitch-time of this hitherto dependable threesome.

Otamendi has not missed a league game since – you guessed it – Gameweek 12 and is surely due a rest with City’s impending run of season-defining fixtures now upon us.

With the return to fitness of John Stones (£5.4m) and the purchase of Aymeric Laporte (£5.5m), City can now call on four centre-halfs – Vincent Kompany (£5.8m) being the other – as they continue to fight on four fronts. With the league as good as won, it may be that Guardiola opts to rotate the Argentine – who is unquestionably Pep’s centre-back of choice – in the EPL over the coming weeks.

As mentioned earlier, Alonso was an ever-present for Chelsea in the league this season until Monday night’s drubbing at Vicarage Road. Concerns about his fitness are now exacerbated by the rotation risk presented by Chelsea’s swoop for Emerson Palmieri (£5.5m) in January. The Brazilian-born Italian has been blighted by an ACL injury suffered last May, but he was deemed fit enough for a place on the bench on Monday evening and presents a genuine threat to Alonso’s previously nailed-on starting spot.

Jones meanwhile had started nine consecutive Premier League games before Saturday’s meeting with Huddersfield so it was perhaps not quite the shock that he missed this sure-fire banker of a home win against the Terriers. Illness was cited as the reason for his absence, but rotation is once again a mounting danger as United look to progress in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup – surely their best chance of silverware this season with rivals City disappearing over the horizon in the Premier League.

Is it time then to ditch the premium defenders and look towards some cut-price options?

With FPL’s current top ten highest-scoring defenders all priced at £5.5m or more, it’s unsurprising that the graph above makes it abundantly clear that you get what you pay for when it comes to defences. With every increase in price bracket comes an expected boost of 0.4-0.6 points per game on average. In case anyone thinks this is stating the bleeding obvious, contrast this with the figures for goalkeepers; stoppers priced £4.1m or less, for example, average more than all but the premium ‘keepers.

Despite their hefty price tags, the premium defenders are also still offering value for money when it comes to their points-per-million tallies. Alonso and Otamendi are two of the three most cost-effective defenders in the game, both returning over 18.6 points for every million spent.

With Alonso, Otamendi and Jones no longer guaranteed starters but premium defenders still offering bang for your buck, is it perhaps best to look at other £5.5m+ defenders rather than downgrade?

Cesar Azpilicueta (£7.0m) is about as undroppable as they come – particularly given Chelsea’s issues at centre-back concerning Andreas Christensen’s fitness and Antonio Conte’s lack of trust in David Luiz. What Azpilicueta lacks in goal threat he makes up for in bonus points – no defender has more ‘BAPS’ than the Spaniard this season (16).

Antonio Valencia (£6.8m) is a Jose Mourinho favourite – if he’s fit, he plays. The Ecuadorian right-back offers more points-per-million (and indeed points-per-game) than Jones in the United backline, and faces Newcastle and Huddersfield in his next two fixtures.

Trumping them all in the points-per-million stakes is Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal (£5.7m). With the Gunners out of the FA Cup and so far fielding glorified reserve teams in the Europa League, there seems little risk of rotation for the Spanish centre-half-turned-marauding-wing-back. Monreal has four league goals already this season (he previously hadn’t found the net since 2012-13) and his prospects of further returns increase from Gameweek 29 onwards – he is perhaps one to consider after the league meeting with Manchester City on March 1st.

For the managers looking to downgrade their premium defenders and reallocate the freed-up funds to midfield and attack, Ahmed Hegazi (£4.6m), Alfie Mawson (£5.0m) and Jamaal Lascelles (£4.6m) are all offering better points-per-million returns than Phil Jones, albeit in struggling sides with inferior defensive records. What this triumvirate of budget buys do offer though is a threat from set pieces, with seven goals between them this season.

Hot Spurs Assets

Tottenham’s favourable run of fixtures after the North London derby (or including this game, depending on your view of Arsenal) will be attracting attention from FPL managers, particularly those who jettisoned Harry Kane for Sergio Aguero (£11.9m) over the last few weeks and are looking to wedge him back into their sides.

While Kane’s risk of rotation remains negligible, other Spurs assets are perhaps not quite so safe. Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Newport County on Wednesday night saw the return of Toby Alderweireld (£5.8m), Harry Winks (£4.8m), Danny Rose (£6.4m) and Serge Aurier (£5.9m) from injury. Rose and Aurier’s comebacks in particular threaten Ben Davies (£5.5m) and Kieran Trippier (£5.2m), while Alderweireld is very likely to once again become an immovable feature at the heart of the Spurs defence. A lack of match fitness means Lucas Moura (£8.0m) is unlikely to feature prominently for at least a couple of weeks, but owners of Son-Heung-min (£8.1m), Dele Alli (£8.9m) and Christian Eriksen (£9.2m) should be monitoring the ex-PSG winger’s situation.

Blank Tie Events

The first blank gameweek (discounting the Spurs/West Ham-less Gameweek 21) of the season is hurtling towards us, with the distinct possibility of seven fixtures being rearranged should the affected sides progress past the fifth round of the FA Cup and the quarter-final draw be particularly unkind. Ben Crellin continues to do sterling work on the permutations and possibilities for the blanks and doubles thundering into view.

Liverpool, Watford, Stoke and Everton are the only sides who will definitely be in action in Gameweek 31, so for FPL managers without a Free Hit chip (or indeed saving it for later in the season), now would be the time to perhaps consider loading up on assets from these four clubs.