After the severe dip in weeks 5-12, we have seen a general trend towards an increase in clean sheets and the last 5 weeks have given us at least 25% of teams keeping the opposition out with a peak of 35% in week 15. However, goals per game are also up from the start of the year at around 1.44 from 1.20. This suggests that the when teams are conceding they are conceding heavily, a stat that has probably been adversely affected by the 9-1 drubbing of Wigan by Spurs and the high score draws seen in the past couple of weeks.
So how does this compare to last year? As the below graph shows, clean sheets are well down on last year and while we've seen the lows from last year, we haven't yet seen the equivalent highs.
The lack of the big weeks for clean sheets is largely attributable to the inconsistency of the premium defenses this year. Consider:
- Man United haven't kept back-to-back clean sheets all year
- In the 425 minutes Michael Essien has missed for Chelsea, they have conceded 6 goals which equates to 1.27 GPG. At that rate they would have the 8th best defense in the league behind teams such as Stoke and Spurs. Essien is currently injured and his next game for Chelsea could be as far away as gameweek 25 due to the African Nations.
- All of the 'big four' sides have failed to keep a clean sheet in the same week all season and in 11 of 18 weeks either one or none them have have done so.
- Last season Liverpool conceded 27 goals; they have already given up 25 this year.
- The top 6 fantasy goalkeepers include 'keepers from Stoke, Birmingham, Blackburn and Burnley.
With top line strikers scoring well and an abundance of mid level midfielders to pick from, my strategy for the coming weeks is to go for 5 defenders from good teams and play 3 of them based on matchup. Depending on how the cash works out, this may involve not holding any top rate defenders like Ashley Cole but rather cheaper options from top teams (Ivanovic, Song) or those exceeding expectations (Carr, Faye). This way you are less invested in a particular player and you should have the necessary fluidity to alter your team regularly to keep on top of double gameweeks and matchups.
I like Stoke (Collins, Shawcross, Sorensen) and Arsenal (Traore/Silvestre) most in the short term due to the double gameweek in week 20. Ivanovic remains a great option with Chelsea and De Laet should continue to get minutes for United for another week or two. Of the less obvious teams, Spurs have really solid fixtures and I like Dawson or Corluka most there. Fulham's fixtures are up and down but they are superb at home and fit nicely in a rotation scheme with Hughes being the best value option. Birmingham have been excellent this season but the injury to Johnson could be huge so watch this space before investing there. Finally, while local rivals Villa have also been immense, the fixtures get very dicey for the next 8 weeks and I might consider selling high if you're sitting on a profit.
Say for example, you picked up Traore, Ivanovic, Hughes, Collins and Dawson costing a mere 24.1m. You could play a back three for the next 8 weeks and your average opponents GPG would be 1.13 and you'd get three players with double gameweeks in week 20. Only in week 34 would you have to play a defender against a red light opponent (1.7+ GPG) and obviously by then your team would have changed anyway.
Its worth playing around with whose fixtures fit well together if you want to employ the rotation strategy but the certainty of them playing is even more important. It is therefore advisable to not get too many players like Traore who are not the normal first choice player for their club. The five I have suggested above are therefore risky as Traore, Dawson and even Ivanovic could all potentially be benched when other teammates return. Steadier players like Warnock, Corluka or Hangeland might be the way to go if you want to play it safe.
I feel that how we deal with our defensive woes might make or break our seasons and I think its vital you have a plan rather than just blindly sticking with big name players. Let me know what you think, and how you plan to obtain maximum points from you defense in the coming weeks. As always, post your thoughts below or @plfantasy and thanks for reading.