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Every week, there’s one key discussion point that’s the talk of the town; this may intersect one of the other articles I write here (and I may therefore find a different angle in this one), but normally there’s something distinct dominating the conversation.
Ahead of Gameweek 1 2022/23, I think it’s fair to say that there’s much more interest in defenders than ever before.
The question becomes: should you go “big at the back” for Gameweek 1, and sport four or even five defenders in your starting lineup?
Historically, defenders were ignored by FPL managers in favour of big hitting midfielders and forwards.
But in recent years that trend has been bucked, through the likes of Marcos Alonso in his pomp at Chelsea (still in FPL at £5.5m but we’re not sure if he’ll stay), Liverpool’s OG wing back hero Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) and, nowadays, the big two in Robertson’s colleague Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and Manchester City’s new number 7 Joao Cancelo (£7.0m).
These sorts of rampaging full back are now key players in FPL because they offer multiple routes to points: both because their teams have solid defences (Man City and Liverpool conceded the fewest goals last season in the Premier League) meaning they have clean sheet potential, and because they individually offer fantastic creative numbers.
Last year, Trent Alexander Arnold had the best expected goal involvement of any defender by miles – and additionally outdid a great many midfielders and forwards in the stats as well while recording his 2 goals, 12 assists and 208 points. Cancelo also hit 200 points last season for the first time, and was actually unlucky to only score one goal – statsbomb data shows he was due four. Both are brilliant options to start the season with – and you could even consider pairing Trent with Robertson, who managed 6.2 points per game over the final ten Gameweeks last season.
If we factor in that probably Trent (57.5% owned at time of writing) and Cancelo (45%) are in many teams, a clean sheet for their sides and also any attacking returns will hurt if you’ve bet against by not including them.
There are also a few more popular picks in defence. Reece James (£6.0m) at Chelsea is in 39.5% of teams and managed the highest points per 90 (6.8) of any defender last season. Ivan Perisic (£5.5m) at Tottenham is also gathering interest, as are the likes of Matt Cash (£5.0m, 20.6% owned) and Kieran Trippier (£5.0m, 17.1%).
It won’t have escaped your notice that all of these players are, while nominally defenders, heavily involved in their team’s attacks. The age of defence-heavy teams has truly dawned in my view.
But is it worthwhile going with a back four in your FPL team? Or even a back five?
Well, my own view is that four is fine. The merits of these defenders is obvious, meaning that having 4 of them paired with a cheap 5th defender to stick on your bench sees you cover the base of having these potentially high scoring players in your team whilst maintaining flexibility; you should have enough moolah to build a strong midfield and get couple of good forwards in.
With five, I feel like it imbalances the team too much and leaves you inflexible if things don’t quite work out as you wanted. I think with five at the back the midfield in particular ends up diluted in many teams I’ve seen floating around just because you’re paying extra to throw that cash back. It doesn’t necessarily lock you into a bad side, but it could mean that you need to take hits or take a very early wildcard if a midfield or forward bandwagon gets going early and you haven’t got the team structure to accommodate whoever the “must have” player now is.
I’ll leave it up to you of course; I’m a massive fan of defenders in FPL (especially the attacking full/wing backs) and can totally understand why you might want to go all out at the back.
Each gameweek, Tom from Who Got The Assist? FPL podcast will be bringing you tips, transfer recommendations and all the advice you need to win your mini league.