EPL Fantasy Defenders Analysis

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We analyse the EPL Fantasy defenders you should be targeting for this coming Premier League season!

Don’t forget to check out the various EPL Fantasy competitions available to you to compete for this coming season! Whatever you’re looking for, we’ve got it covered.

Also, don’t forget to check out who we’ve touted as the EPL Fantasy Midfielders to target this season in our 2-part analysis: EPL Fantasy Midfielders Part I, EPL Fantasy Midfielders Part II.

Don’t forget our two-part forward analysis either: Part I of our Forwards Analysis and Part II of our Forwards Analysis

FInally, we reveal the Goalkeepers with the best set of fixtures to open the season in our EPL Fantasy Goalkeepers analysis

The simplistic scoring system utilised in the Official Premier League Fantasy competition in recent seasons has rendered your selection of defenders largely redundant. Selecting players from elite teams who will regularly record clean sheets is a necessity, with your mid-priced defenders taking the form of set-piece specialising central defenders like Per Mertesacker, or attacking wing-backs like Sascha Reither.

In 2013/2014 however, the reformed scoring system meant that selections are no longer as simple. Whilst this presents some difficulty, it also means that there are bargains galore and you have the potential to differentiate yourself from the pack by virtue of some pre-season research.

The dynamic price system utilized in the Official Premier League Fantasy competition is fairly subtle, meaning that you won’t be able to afford the best defenders in the competition for a substantial portion of the season. With expensive attacking players like van Persie, Hazard and Mata almost compulsory selections, finding value in defense is a necessity in order to free up as much of your budget as possible.

Our general theory when selecting defenders is that clean sheets are king. You may look for attacking fullbacks, but try and ensure they’re from teams which will provide a regular source of points from defensive performance, with their attacking output just a bonus. For example, if you had the choice of selecting Cardiff’s Steven Caulker for £5 or Fulham’s Sascha Reither for the same price, all signs point to choosing the Cottager, as not only are Fulham more likely to keep more clean sheets than their Welsh counterparts, but Caulker isn’t going to produce more goals or assists than Reither.

Before the season gets underway on August 17, we’ll examine options across all positions, from all teams and within two key price brackets; Elite and Value. Avoiding players destined to perform poorly is just as significant selecting the best players available, so we will also highlight the players we believe to be either over-priced or destined for a fall in production over the coming season.

The following advice if made with the Official Premier League Fantasy game in mind. Whilst it can be used to a certain extent within other competitions, feel free to ask us in the comment section below or in our forums whether particular players have increased or decreased value when selected in one of the other fantasy competitions we’ve analyzed for the upcoming season!

 

EPL Fantasy – ‘Elite’ Defenders (£7.5 million – £5.5 million)                             

Must Have’

Consider

Avoid

Jan Vertonghen David Luiz Jonny Evans
Branislav Ivanovic Leighton Baines Cesar Azpilicueta
Per Mertesacker Jose Enrique Rio Ferdinand
Joleon Lescott Bacary Sagna Ryan Shawcross

 

Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz (CHE – £6.5 million) and Cesar Azpilicueta (CHE – £6 million)

Very few transfers in the current window have raised as many fantasy-relevant questions as Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea. It has been hinted that Branislav Ivanovic will abandon his post in central-defence and move out onto one of the flanks. With Ashley Cole unlikely to make his way onto the substitutes bench, that leaves Cesar Azpilicueta the likely man to be omitted. He will still receive significant game time throughout the season however with John Terry unlikely to feature as regularly as in Mourinho’s last tenure.

In the grand scheme of things, Ivanovic’s ability to play across the entire back line renders him incredibly versatile and therefore valuable. Doubt over David Luiz’s future has been rife all summer, and even though it is hard to disagree with Gary Neville’s assertion that he plays like a 10-year old is controlling him on a Playstation game, his centrality under Rafa Benitez requires us to evaluate him. Mourinho has always been a fan of strong yet and playmaking defensive midfielders like Makelele and Xabi Alonso. Luiz doesn’t fit the mould, especially when Essien, Ramires and van Ginkel are present in a stacked squad and Mourinho holds a preference to play the Brazilian in defence.

To add extra incentive, Chelsea play twice in the opening Gameweek, however don’t appear in Gameweek 3, so look to compliment Ivanovic (or any other Chelsea player) with Norwich defenders who face Southampton during Chelsea’s rest period.

Jose Enrique (LIV – £6 million)

Brendan Rodgers seems adamant on the signing on a left-back to rival Jose Enrique for his position. Whilst that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll lose his starting position, it essentially implies that the manager doesn’t have the  faith in his wing-back that you’d like to see as a prospective fantasy owner. Liverpool had an incredibly solid year in defense last year which resulted in 12 clean sheets to compound Jose Enrique’s score otherwise comprised of 2 goals and 6 assists. Whilst that represents a significant increase from his 2011/2012 output, we’re treating it as more of an exception than a rule and so whilst his price seems appealing, he is unlikely to exceed expectations this season. A member of our ‘consider’ group because of a favorable schedule to begin the year

Jonny Evans (MUT – £5.5 million) and Rio Ferdinand (MUT – £5.5 million)

In a similar situation to Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, David Moyes’ arrival at Old Trafford means that there remain uncertainties regarding the composition of United’s first choice XI. Many believe that one spot in central defense remains available to either Jonny Evans or Rio Ferdinand and whilst we feel Evans is the more probable to start in August, neither are likely to hold a stranglehold on their position. Should Ferdinand get the start, he;s unlikely to compound his score with significant bonus point hauls or attacking production (1 goal and 2 assists across the past 5 seasons). Our hopes are higher for Evans who has combined for 4 goals and 5 assists since the start of 2011/2012, however uncertainty surrounding his minutes and fixtures against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the opening month have us doubting his reliability. Evans may emerge as a bargain-priced cornerstone of one of the EPL’s most resolute defenses, but to open the season, he’s not on our radar.

Jan Vertonghen (TOT – £7 million) and Per Mertesacker (ARS – £5.5 million)

If you’re looking at which of these players will serve you best in 2013/2014, you’re going to be clutching at straws to separate the trio. Vertonghen was arguably the best fantasy defender last seasons and when incorporating the new bonus point system, finds himself just shy of Robin van Persie in total points. Tottenham aren’t going to regress defensively and whilst his 5 goals may be hard to replicate, there is great scope to improve on his 3 assists. With the Belgian under an injury cloud heading into the season thanks to an ankle ligament strain, you’ll have to keep posted on his status, however if he is fit come August 17, you’d be foolish not to consider him at the very least.

When talking about Arsenal, predictions are incredibly difficult. Whilst we believe the Gunners could be in for some form of silverware this coming season, it isn’t going to be the Premier League and so it’s largely fantasy irrelevant. Wenger largely resolved his goal-keeping woes last season and with his side poised to be adequate in defense again, we’re expecting the big German to build on his score from last season. At least 4 goals, at least 12 clean sheets and an increase in points overall by approximately 5%.

Joleon Lescott (MCI – £5.5 million)

Joleon Lescott doesn’t necessarily fit cleanly into the ‘must-have category, but if he is heir-apparent to the central-defender role vacated by Nastasic’s pre-season injury, he is arguably the most desirable fantasy defender on the market. A proven performer, the former Everton man wouldn’t just slide into a unit which has secured either 17 or 18 clean sheets the last 3 seasons, but is a proven aerial threat at set pieces and faces an incredibly favorable draw to begin the season. Aside from Manchester United in Gameweek 5, the next biggest goal-threat they face is Stoke, followed by Newcastle and then relegation favorites Aston Villa. If Paulo Zabaletta gets the nod, he replaces Lescott in this countdown, whilst an equally likely scenario sees City splurge in the transfer market for a seriously world-class option.

Leighton Baines (EVE – £7.5 million)

Leighton Baines has been the premier fantasy defender in two of the past 3 seasons. Over that time, Everton have never recorded more than 11 clean sheets meaning that his production is largely dependent on his own attacking prowess. Whilst Baines may lose some set-piece responsibilities in the wake of Kone’s signing, his 14 goals and 20 assists in the past 3 years merit his presence in our ‘must-have’ category. With Martinez expected to implement his 3-4-3 formation, Baines should find himself in midfield and see a rise in his production, yet again, this season.

If transferred to Manchester United will mean his move into the midfield in unlikely to eventuate, however his score will still probably increase given Moyes’ proven record at implementing incredibly efficient defensive structures.

Ryan Shawcross (STK – £5.5 million)

Ryan Shawcross is possibly the greatest figure we could use to exemplify the most important fantasy lesson there is; emotions generally don’t lead to informed selections. SInce that infamous Aaron Ramsey tackle, no one has really like Ryan Shawcross except Stoke fans and Manchester United’s faithful for that short period in which they were interested in the centre-back. In the seasons following, Shawcross hasn’t really done much to remedy the public’s distain for his often brutish persona. This season though, we’re giving you a bit of statistical backing to avoid selecting the player who unfortunately is reminiscent of Sid from Toy Story.

Shawcross played 3320 minutes in 2012/2013 (2nd most) and still managed to score just 123 points (11th amongst defenders). His score was comprised of 12 clean sheets and just the 1 goal, making him heavily reliant of team performance. Not only does it seem unlikely that Stoke will replicate their defensive heroics of last season (7th best defense), but their early draw is incredibly unfavorable. Add that to the likelihood of indiscretion on the field and countless bookings and the Stoke enforcer seemingly has nowhere to go but down.

 

EPL Fantasy – ‘Value’ Defenders (£5 million – £4 million)                                  

Must Have’

Consider

Avoid

Sascha Riether Davide Santon Matthew Lowton
Michael Turner Kolo Toure Mark Hudson
Fernando Amorebieta Ashley Williams Antolin Alcaraz
Seamus Coleman Javier Garrido Steven Caulker

 

Antolin Alcaraz (EVE – £4.5 million)

Despite being a fan of Antolin Alcaraz in recent seasons, the competition he faces in Everton’s squad under Martinez is too stiff for him to be a viable selection. The perfect squad-filler whilst at Wigan, his raids down the wing are set to suffer a set-back when considering he’ll be in a 3-4-3 formation, competing with Coleman and Baines for minutes. In the best case scenario, Martinez plays Coleman and Baines on the right and left of midfield respectively, but even then, why select Alcaraz when two Everton defenders are guaranteed time in the midfield and one of them in Baines played every minute of Everton’s 2012/2013 campaign? With Everton lacking European competition to create excessive fatigue, Alcaraz may be a name you recognize and associate with fantasy acceptability, but won’t provide you with the performances you desire this coming season.

Seamus Coleman (EVE – £5 million)

Coleman on the other hand is in our ‘target’ column because he will inherit a central role in Martinez’s Everton. New manager means new opportunities and a delightful performance against Blackburn in a pre-season friendly showed great signs. With no less than 5 assists last season to his name, the signing of a new central striker, the apparent improvement of Jelavic and the arrival of a coach renowned for attacking mentality and pragmatic transformation of wing-backs into attacking weapons (Coleman is expected to play right-midfield), the stage is set for a spectacular season.

Sascha Riether (FUL – £5 million) and Fernando Amorebieta (FUL – £4.5 million)

Down in London, this Everton star’s counterpart in Reither comes off a career-defining season. Under Martin Jol, Fulham abandoned their draw-prone defensive identity however along the way to becoming the 9th most potent attack in the Premier League, became the equal 5th most vulnerable defense. Such deficiencies will undoubtedly be remedied this offseason, brilliant news for anyone pursuing an under-priced defender. Reither’s 6 assists last season matched it with the best attacking full-backs in the league and with his 7 clean sheets poised to increase to what we predict to be 10-11, expect his second year at the cottage to be more prolific than his first.

The other beneficiary is Reither’s newly arrived, marginally cheaper yet guaranteed first XI teammate Amorebieta. The former Bilbao defender is set to partner Brede Hangeland at the heart of Fulham’s typically astute back four and form possibly the tallest defensive duo in the Premier League. Whilst not providing a threat on the attacking front historically, Jol may seek to implement him in set-pieces, even though Hangeland is probably more adept in that role. At a cut-price of £4.5 million, you’re not expecting much more than opponent-based cover and whilst Fulham’s initial draw isn’t overly flash, once we reach the depths of the season and your premium players no longer have the favourable match-ups you initially selected them for, the Cottagers should be hitting an easier streak.

Davide Santon (NEW – £5 million)

Santon is in a similar mould to Coleman and Reither and provides a terrific alternative as a 4th defender, even a 3rd defender with a positive match-up. The Italian international is yet to realise his full potential despite a return of 1 goal and 4 assists last campaign. Leading Newcastle defenders in minutes played last season, his durability and reliability is the best of Newcastle’s back four, however you pay for it with a slightly elevated price. Definitely deserving of consideration and worth the extra £500,000 when comparing him to his Newcastle team-mates.

Michael Turner (NOR – £4.5 million) and Javier Garrido (NOR – £4.5 million)

Turner find his value in his price. Aside from fixtures against Tottenham and Everton, Norwich’s opening 6 weeks are as easy as you get in the Premier League. As the cheapest starter in the Canaries’ defense, Turner also finds himself with very little competition. Chris Hughton’s signing of Martin Olsson means that Javier Garrido has competition on the left-flank, whilst Turner has a monopoly on the right. Norwich’s favorable draw which includes fixtures against Hull, Southampton and Aston Villa in the opening month is a further incentive. As we mentioned earlier, Turner can also act as cover for Chelsea players during their Gameweek 3 bye as the Canaries take on Southampton in one of the more favorable fixtures of the weekend. With 3 goals and 7 clean sheets last season, we’re not expecting him to set the house on fire, but given his price, he’s a standout budget option.

Kolo Toure (LIV – £5 million)

Much like Javier Garrido, uncertainty over Toure is sourced from his questionable game time. With the Ivorian up against Martin Skrtel for a starting berth under Brendan Rodgers, we’ll have to wait and see whether he gets the nod. A proven player in a proven defense, if Liverpool can come close to their showing in 2012/2013, Kolo will be worth his basement-bargain price of just £5 million, a full £1 million cheaper than his 3 defensive counterparts in Jose Enrique, Johnson and Agger. Unlikely to contribute with goals or assists, Toure is the perfect match-up based starter, and given his price, you can select him as just that. Aside from playing Manchester United in early September, Liverpool’s first 6 matches are astoundingly easy and we’d be surprised if they didn’t rack up more than 3 clean sheets.

Steven Caulker (CAR – £5 million)

Caulker’s shift to Cardiff may be a decent career move if the English international is in search of minutes, and it may make the selection of Tottenham defenders more simple, particularly Michael Dawson, but it also thoroughly undermines his scoring potential. His game time will be elevated, however with fixtures against Manchester City, Tottenham, Everton and Fulham (at Craven Cottage importantly) in the opening 6 weeks of the season, fixtures against Hull and an opening weekend clash with West Ham are his lone realistic chances at clean sheets. Combine that with his moderate yet admirable return of 2 goals and 2 assists in 1575 minutes with one of the most dynamic teams in the league, and his chances of a break-out season in 2013/2014 seem slim.

Ashley Williams (SWA – £5 million)

The cheapest way to become invested in the 2012/2013 juggernaut that was Swansea City, Ashley Williams could present tremendous value, however with Swansea predicted to fall by us and the Swans having an atrocious draw to begin the season, you should wait to jump back on the bandwagon of this fantasy revelation. At £5 million, there are far better options on the market than a player whose score is completely dependent on clean sheets and faces Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal in their opening 6 matches.

Mark Hudson (CAR – £4.5 million) and Antonio Luna (ASV – £4.5 million)

Mark Hudson has serious hype around him this pre-season, however not only does he have an average draw at best, but he plays for a recently promoted team who are unlikely to replicate the defensive performance we witnessed in the Championship. Despite their 18 clean sheets, and the signing of Steven Caulker, we’re still not high on Cardiff’s defensive chances early this season with fixtures against Manchester City, Everton and Tottenham all in the opening weekends. If you had to pick one of their defenders, go for the recently signed Steven Caulker.

For all of the pessimism we’re showing towards Aston Villa, selecting new recruit Antonio Luna is a wiser investment given his attacking potential. Even then, we wouldn’t recommend selecting an Aston Villa defender, even if they do play 2 games in the opening Gameweek (against Arsenal and Chelsea). It just all seems to be going wrong for Paul Lambert and his team and the season hasn’t started yet…

The above advice if made with the Official Premier League Fantasy game in mind. Whilst it can be used to a certain extent within other competitions, feel free to ask us in the comment section below or in our forums whether particular players have increased or decreased value when selected in one of the other fantasy competitions we’ve analyzed for the upcoming season!

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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