In prior years, many fantasy players' defensive strategy has been to pick 4 players from the big four and watch the points role in, with very little need for tinkering. Three factors have conspired to reduce the effectiveness of this strategy:
- the big four's defenses have not been excellent this year with Liverpool and to a lesser extent Arsenal looking vulnerable at the back
- injuries and rotation have lessened the number of every week starters who are guaranteed to suit up for their respective sides. Arsenal look settled with Clichy, Gallas, Vermaelen and Sagna but each of the other big four sides have seen some form of rotation due to injury of to rest players.
- several middle tier sides have emerged with improved defenses, most notably City, who are yet to concede this season and Stoke, whose home form is again stellar.
Defensive points are the consistent lifeblood of any fantasy team as no striker can match the consistency of a 8 game clean sheet run, or the 25 total clean sheets kept by United last year. It is becoming increasingly necessary to play the schedule, picking in-form defensive teams with weak opponents, rather than just plugging in the likes of Carragher or Terry and waiting for the massive points haul to come in.
Right place, right time
Everton have struggled a bit so far this season with a devastating home 6-1 loss to Arsenal followed by defeat at Burnley in week 3 (after a bye in week 2). However, the defense is showing signs of turning round and the arrivals of Distin and Heitinga should speed up this process. Their upcoming six games are simply mouth watering with three of their opponents having failed to score a goal this season at the location Everton face them (Fulham at Craven Cottage, Portsmouth at Fratton Park and Stoke on the road). The other three at home to Blackburn, home to Wolves and away to Bolton look like they could bear defensive fruit as well.
The slight sticking point is who will play in the coming weeks, a situation that will be muddied further with the return of Phil Jagielka. Two players stand out here as both look relatively assured of a first team place and offer good value for different reasons:
One of my favourite strategies when picking defenders is to simply pick the cheapest player available in a defensive unit, as you are generally benefiting from a team's success rather than an individual. On this basis Distin (4.9m) is a steal and will surely be due for a price rise once Everton's clean sheets start to come. The new arrival from Portsmouth is all but guaranteed a starting spot until Jagielka returns, and even then might be able to keep his place. Although not really an attacking threat, for 4.9m he could offer top 6 value for a bottom 6 price.
Baines' penalty at the weekend could make him one of two defenders in charge of spot kicks, with Graham Alexander of Burnley being the other. Baines had a great season last year, leading the league in PPMS and would surpass 150 points this year even if he only featured in 30 games and scored at the same rate. Baines' 7 assists last year are also appealing though his lack of bonus points are a bit disappointing. Everton's slow start has caused Baines' value to fall to 6.3m and now could be a good time to bring him in. He looks like a perfect replacement for those moving Insua on or anyone who has lost faith in Liverpool or Arsenal's defense.
Based on the ease of fixtures I would recommend considering both of these players and would certainly get a least one in before next week's home game against Blackburn.