Fantasy Premier League 2018/19 Guide – Part 2 – How To Pick Defenders

In the second of a four-part feature, I will guide you on what to look into while picking defenders and how to structure your defense on Fantasy Premier League.

After covering goalkeeper tips and strategies in the first part, I will cover strategies on how to pick your FPL defenders this time. If you haven’t already, I recommend you to read the article on goalkeepers. The principle of rotation and FDR scores will be used again in this article. Midfielders and forwards will be covered in subsequent editions.

Price Brackets

For the purpose of this article, I will be dividing defenders into four price brackets.

  1. Heavy hitters – Defenders between £5.5m and £6.5m. Heavy hitters are usually from the top defensive teams.
  2. Mid-priced – Defenders who are £5.0m. Usually from lower top half teams.
  3. Budget picks – £4.5m defenders. Usually from bottom half teams.
  4. Bench Fodder – £4.0m defenders. Usually backups from bottom half teams.

General Tips To Consider While Picking Your Defenders

1. Clean Sheet Potential

Clean sheets are the bread and butter of defenders in FPL. Defenders earn a majority of their points through clean sheets. There are more factors to consider, but if the defender isn’t getting you clean sheets, he’s not a good pick. Clean sheet potential depends on two major factors – the team of the player and fixtures.

Burnley may have cheaper defenders, but under Sean Dyche’s management they’ve shown excellent resilience and could be great value for money. West Ham United have consistently been one of the poorest defenses in the league – despite how good their fixtures may look, it might not be a wise idea to go for their defenders (goalkeeper being an exception).

Marcos Alonso has been a staple pick in defense for two seasons

The second factor, and potentially more important one is fixtures. The easier the fixture, the better the chance of a clean sheet. With defenders, you should be planning forward to the short-to-mid term. Planning forward for around 5 games is ideal. So, for making your initial squads, you should be seeing which teams have good fixtures in the first 5 games.

Here is a table which has the Fixture Difficulty Rating (FDR) aggregates for all 20 teams for the first 5 games. The lower, the better. This can also be used for other positions to determine who has the best fixtures at the start.

Team FDR
Everton 11
Burnley 12
C. Palace 13
Man City 13
Chelsea 14
Liverpool 14
Watford 14
Bournemouth 14
Leicester 15
Southampton 15
Man Utd 16
Arsenal 16
Tottenham 16
Wolves 16
Brighton 16
Cardiff 16
Huddersfield 16
West Ham 17
Fulham 17
Newcastle 19


So, which team’s defense should I target/not target?

As you can see, this table reflects how Everton and Burnley defenders are great picks at the start. Burnley especially have a very resolute defense. Crystal Palace also have brilliant fixtures to start off, but their defensive capabilities are questionable at best. Man City are another good shout.

Burnley enjoy some of the best fixtures at the start

It’s best to stay away from Newcastle, Fulham and West Ham defenders. With two tough fixtures to start off, Arsenal are also best avoided to begin. Keep an eye on them when the fixtures become easier. Liverpool are worth considering.

2. Attacking potential

The secondary factor to consider while choosing your defenders is how they can contribute offensively, through assists or the odd goals. This is where wingbacks shine. Wingbacks often maraud further forward as their role entails, which allows them to rack up assists and even the odd goal. Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso was a fine exponent of this last season.

Despite playing 475 minutes fewer than teammate Cesar Azpilicueta, he finished only 10 points behind him – second in the overall defender rankings last season, with his 7 goals and 2 assists helping in racking up 165 points. Attacking potential can often vary on several aspects.

a) Defenders who have natural attacking tendencies

Many defenders, usually wingbacks or fullbacks, have a natural tendency to bomb forward down the flanks. These defenders are often recommended in FPL, since they can grab assist points and the bonus points that come along with it. Examples include Marcos Alonso (£6.5m), Kyle Walker (£6.5m), Benjamin Mendy (£6.0m), Ben Davies (£6.0m), Kieran Trippier (£6.0m), Hector Bellerin (£5.5m) and Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5m). 

Of these, I would recommend Walker, Mendy and Bellerin. Alonso can be a good pick if Chelsea show defensive resoluteness. However, bear in mind that Maurizio Sarri’s 4 at the back formation may not afford him the luxury of bombing forward like Antonio Conte’s 3 at the back did. Trippier/Davies are tricky picks with Mauricio Pochettino’s fullback rotation shenanigans. Van Aanholt could be a quality pick, but his teammates at Palace are much cheaper.

Marcos Alonso - FPL sensation last year, best avoided this year

Marcos Alonso – FPL sensation last year

b) Defenders who take set-pieces

These are rarer, but often have the highest potential. Defenders who take set-pieces are Fantasy gold. Simply put. Penalty taking defenders are arguably the best thing since sliced bread. Defenders who take free-kicks are also handy to have, as defenders get a mammoth 6 points for each goal they score. Lastly, even corner taking defenders are handy, since they can also get some handy assists.

As of now, there is only one penalty-taking defender – Leighton Baines of Everton, but with Lucas Digne’s signing, he might not be a long-term starter. Keep an eye out if any emerge. Free-kick taking defenders include Alonso, Ashley Young (£6.0m), David Luiz (£5.5m), Trent Alexander-Arnold (£5.0m), Aaron Cresswell (£5.5m) and Jose Holebas (£4.5m). If Luiz nails down a starting spot under Sarri, he could be worth considering. Young could also be one to consider once he takes his spot back in the lineup. Alexandre-Arnold could be an excellent bargain if he can wrest the right-back spot from Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne. Holebas is also one to look at.

c) Defenders who are good at scoring goals from set-pieces

Often, defenders who have great heading ability at set-pieces do also score the odd goal more than others. Examples include Nicolas Otamendi (4 goals last season, £6.5m), Chris Smalling (4 goals last season, £6.0m), Shkodran Mustafi (3 goals last season, £5.5m), Jamaal Lascelles (3 goals last season, £5.0m). However, none of these defenders are recommended for the start. Otamendi has a cheaper, more attacking alternative in Mendy. Smalling is yet to nail his spot. Mustafi and Lascelles don’t have the easiest fixture to start.

3. Always pick the cheapest starting defender from a team, except exceptional players

The defense is a position different to midfield and attack. One defender may be a better footballer than other, yet, the main source of their points will be the clean sheets. Clean sheets are shared among the team, so, it makes little sense to pick a more expensive defender than a cheaper starting one from the same team. For example, Mendy is priced at £6.0m, whereas his teammate Otamendi is priced at £6.5m. It makes little sense to pick Mendy over Otamendi considering both will get the same clean sheet points.

Similarly, Andy Robertson is priced at £6.0m, while fellow Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren is priced at £5.0m. Once Lovren is back from his World Cup break, he makes for a much better value pick than Robertson.

The extra premium can only be justified if the other defender offers something exceptionally better than his teammate. An example is Alonso. He is priced at £6.5m, as opposed to the Chelsea center-backs at £5.5-6.0m. But in Alonso’s case, the extra attacking input makes the premium justifiable – although the center-backs have their own merits.

4. Avoid yellow card happy defenders like the plague

Many defenders have a tendency to pick up yellow cards more frequently than others. Yellow cards are quite poor from a Fantasy perspective, since each yellow card not only results in -1 points, it also means the defender will rarely ever pick up any bonus, even if they keep a clean sheet.

Furthermore, the defender risks suspension if they accumulate too many yellow cards. Picking up 5 yellow cards before 31 December is a one game ban. Picking up 10 throughout the season is a 2 game ban. For your reference, here are the defenders who picked up 8 or more yellow cards last season.

Player Team Yellow Cards
Lee Peltier Cardiff City 11 (46 games)
Romain Saiss Wolves 11 (46 games)
Nicolas Otamendi Man City 9
Pablo Zabaleta West Ham 9
Simon Francis Bournemouth 8
Shane Duffy Brighton 8
James Tomkins Crystal Palace 8

If you’ve got any of these defenders in your team, I recommend getting rid immediately. Pick a teammate of theirs.

Otamendi’s propensity for yellows takes away from him

5. Give bonus points a consideration

As with yellow cards, there are some defenders who have a tendency to pick up bonus points more frequently than others. Defenders usually earn bonus points through their clearances, blocks, and interceptions (CBI). For reference, you can sort defenders by Bonus on the FPL site and see how many bonus points each defender earned last season.

It may seem like a minute difference but it’s one worth considering if you’re confused between two defenders of the same price playing for the same team.

6. Avoid bench fodder defenders

I call the £4.0m defenders bench fodder. That is because, as of now, none of them are likely to start for their team, hence, they will be glued to your benches. I recommend avoiding them and picking £4.5m defenders instead. The same applies for midfielders and forwards too.

The extra £0.5m might be tempting but you should ideally not have players who will not start regularly for their teams in your team. You can always save money elsewhere, or wait for injuries to give rise to a £4.0m starting defender. You never know when an unexpected injury or suspension could happen, and hence it’s always safer to have 15 options in your squad rather than 13 or 14, since you can never predict when you need a defender from your bench when a starter has been unexpectedly benched by his manager or has picked up a knock pre-match.

For now, the only exceptions are Aaron Wan-Bissaka of Crystal Palace and Lee Peltier of Cardiff City (both £4.0m), both of whom are expected to start the first few Gameweeks. Both are good short-term picks, but don’t be surprised to see them dropped soon.

7. Avoid 2 defenders from the same team

As mentioned in the goalkeeper article, avoid picking two defenders from the same team barring exceptionally good fixtures for a brilliant defensive team. This is because you want to split your risk at the back and not put all your eggs in the same basket.

Player Recommendations –

Heavy hitters –

1) Benjamin Mendy (£6.0m) – Back from injury, the Man City left-back is my number 1 recommendation for defender picks. A relentless threat down the left flank, Mendy is known for his pin-point crossing. Man City have agreeable starting fixtures, and they conceded the fewest goals last season. Mendy, at £6.0m, also comes£0.5m cheaper than teammates Kyle Walker and Otamendi.

2) Seamus Coleman (£5.5m) – Another long-term injury returnee, Coleman is also a brilliant pick for the start – with a rejuvenated Everton having made a splash in the transfer window, with a new manager in Marco Silva. Everton have the easiest fixtures at the start, so owning a Toffees defender makes for prudent sense. Coleman might be a bit dearer than his Everton teammates, but his spot is nailed-on, and his attacking threat observed in the past few seasons justifies the extra outlay.

3) Andy Robertson (£6.0m) – with Lovren’s return date not yet certain, Robertson could be a more attacking way into the Liverpool side. The Reds were extremely resolute at the Anfield last season, and home clean sheets could be a regular occurence. Despite limited game time, Robertson amassed 5 assists and a goal last season – and will be looking to improve on those numbers.

4) Hector Bellerin (£5.5m) – The installation of Unai Emery as manager could see some rejuvenated Arsenal assets. After their first two tricky fixtures, Arsenal have straightforward fixtures – and Bellerin certainly seems like the pick of their lot, priced evenly with their starting center-backs. The right-back has built himself a reputation of being a marauder down the right flank – he scored 2 and assisted 4 last season.

Be Wary Of –

1) Marcos Alonso (£6.5m) – Alonso may have been an FPL sensation for long, but wait and see how his role in Maurizio Sarri’s system fares. His key strength was bombing down the left flank in Conte’s 3 at the back formation as a wing-back, but here, he will play as a conventional full-back in a 4-at the back. Wait and watch.

2) Kieran Trippier & Ben Davies (£6.0m) – Mauricio Pochettino is notorious for rotating his fullbacks. With Spurs in all competitions and having two other quality fullbacks – Serge Aurier and Danny Rose, owning either of these 2 can be a cause of concern.

Recommended 2-way rotation pairs (sorted by 10 weeks FDR) –

Two-way rotation pairs are often better than a £5.5m and a £4.0m for the same principle as discussed in the goalkeeper article. Here are some recommendations.

1 ) Ricardo Pereira (Leicester) & Jonny Castro (Wolves) – £9.5m

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture EVE (H) WOL (H) SOT (A) WHU (A) BUR (H)  HUD (H)  SOT (H)  EVE (H) WAT (H) WHU (H)
FDR 2 2  2  3 3  2 2 2  2  2
Total 22

2) Steve Cook (Bournemouth) & James Tomkins (Crystal Palace) – £9.0m

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture CAR (H) WHU (A) EVE (H) SOT (H) HUD (A) NEW (H) CRY (H) WOL (H) SOT (H) FUL (A)
FDR 2 3 2 2 2 3 2 2 2 2
Total 22

3) James Tomkins (Crystal Palace) & Christian Kabasele (Watford) – £9.0m

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture BHA (H) BUR (A) CRY (H) SOT (H) HUD (A) FUL (A) BOU (A) WOL (H) WOL (A) HUD (H)
FDR 2 3  2  2  2  2 3 2  2  2
Total 22

4) Matthew Lowton (Burnley) & Lewis Dunk (Brighton) – £9.5m

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture SOT (A) WAT (H) FUL (A) FUL (H) WOL (A) BOU (H) CAR (A) HUD (H) NEW (A) WOL (H)
FDR 2 2  2  2  2  3 2 2  3  2
Total 22

5) Steve Cook (Bournemouth) & Lewis Dunk (Brighton) – £9.0m

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture CAR (H) WHU (A) EVE (H) FUL (H) SOT (A) BUR (A) CRY (H) WHU (H) SOT (H) WOL (H)
FDR 2 3  2  2  2  3 2 2  2  2
Total 22

3-way rotation pairs

3-way rotation pairs are used with 2 heavy hitters in a 3 at the back defence. In this, you pick 3 £4.5m defenders and play the one that has the best fixture.

1) Steve Cook (Bournemouth), James Tomkins (Crystal Palace), Christian Kabasele (Watf0rd)

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture CAR (H) BUR (A) CRY (H) SOT (H) HUD (A) FUL (A) CRY (H) WOL (H) SOT (H) HUD (H)
FDR 2 3  2  2  2  2 2 2  2  2
Total 21

2) Steve Cook (Bournemouth), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Maxime Le Marchand (Fulham)

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture CAR (H) BUR (A) CRY (H) SOT (H) HUD (A) FUL (A) CRY (H) WOL (H) SOT (H) HUD (H)
FDR 2 3  2  2  2  2 2 2  2  2
Total 21

3) James Tomkins (Crystal Palace), Jose Holebas (Watford) & Jonny Castro (Wolves)

GW 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fixture BHA (H) BUR (A) CRY (H) SOT (H) HUD (A) FUL (A) SOT (H) WOL (H) WAT (H) HUD (H)
FDR 2 3  2  2  2  2 2 2  2  2
Total 21


How To Structure Your Defence:

Now that you know what to look for while picking a defender and who to pick, let’s discuss how to structure your defense. Usually, you will be lining up with either 3 at the back or 4 at the back every week, depending upon the defensive structure you choose. I do not advise any structure where you’ll have 5 defenders playing every week. Choose the structure that suits you the most, depending on your midfield picks.

3 at the back structures

1. 2 heavy hitters and 3-way rotation

In this structure, your defense should have with 2 heavy hitters who will start every week and 3 defenders, from whom you will play the one with the best fixture each week. Pick 2 heavy hitters and a 3-way rotation. An example –

2. 1 heavy hitter and 2 2-way rotation

In this structure, your defense should have 1 heavy hitter to play every week and 2 2-way rotations with the defenders rotating appropriately. This is an effective method for saving the budget. An example –

4 at the back structures

1. 3 heavy hitters and 2-way rotation

In this structure, your defense should include 3 heavy hitters who will play every week and a 2-way rotation for the 4th defender. This is a cost saving 4 at the back structure.

2.  4 heavy hitters

In this structure, your defense should have 4 heavy hitters and any one budget defender. This is ideally best used with expensive heavy hitters who have attacking potential as well as defensive potential.

If you have any questions about defenders or your Fantasy Premier League team in general, feel free to use the comments section. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I will not be able to write midfielder or attacker guides, but can entertain your questions.

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