5-Man Defense Feasibility

Lots of talk on how to approach this FPL season, as August 11 is coming towards fantasy managers, like Mo Salah blazing down the right flank. It’s interesting to see some early teams and the run of formations popping up. No real surprise that a 3-4-3 still seems to garner most of the attention. This, along with a 3-5-2 provides the most attacking potential from a midfield and forward perspective, while the four and five defender formations haven’t garnered much support.

Last year, my fourth in FPL, the decision was made early to run out a 5-defender set after reading an interesting article from Firetog, posted on Fantasy Football Scout titled, In Search of the Best Fantasy Football Formation. After finishing read, I could not shake the feeling that a 5-2-3 or a 5-3-2 were highly regarded, when it came to the article and logical told me to set forth in motion, the decision to make this formation a reality. Early on, it was very successful, thanks in part to a Southampton treble, that yielded nine clean sheets over the first five gameweeks. However, it wasn’t long after that, some of the success dried up and I was left up the proverbial river, without a paddle.

I was thrown a lifesaver by activating the Wild Card, early but some of the problems were too big to overcome, which required an overhaul to my squad, just five weeks into the new season, as the Premier League returned from the first international break. This was the last time I would field a starting XI featuring five defenders that season. Some would categorize this as a failure, reinforcing their opinion that “playing boring” and running out a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 made better sense, holding their Wild Card for future use and potentially rolling a Free Transfer to provide more alternatives out of the break.

Consulting Fantasy Football Fix, it was no surprise to see the 3-4-3 formation, the most widely used (45.8%) by fantasy managers in the 2017/18 season, while the all the 5-defender formations combined for just 4.6% over the same period. I continue to hold faith spending big at the back could be advantageous to start the season, especially with fatigued players, missing the early fixtures due to national commitment during the 2018 World Cup. For example, you need just look at Spurs and Man City for a combined 12 defenders who could potentially miss the start of the season. Realistically, that number is closer to 10, as Nicolás Otamendi and Benjamin Mendy should be rested and ready for pre-season duty. Midfielders between £6.5- £5.0 are a cause for much speculation on how they will score on the year.

It could be an position of debate, spend big at the back for premium defenders or maximize your attacking players, while forming a budget back line. Is one strategy better than the other? Some fantasy managers build a starting XI with balance in mind; one premium forward, two premium midfielders and a premium defender, in order to “spread the wealth” with a starting budget of £100.0.  As prices were revealed and FPL launched, Mo Salah became the highest price player, at £13, in the FPL game, while Harry Kane grabbed honors at £12.5. Starting the season, pundits expect Kane to have a well deserved rest before donning his Spurs kit. As we know, his August track record isn’t the best.

Costing £25.5 combined, can managers afford to load this players together and spreading the remaining £74.5 over the remaining 13 players? I’ve tried, to varying degrees of success, but the fantasy tools I use indicate this is not best use of my budget when it comes to potential overall score for the first five gameweeks. If we look to score 300 points over the opening five weeks, we must average 60/PPW. Sounds simple, right? Your starting XI must average just 5.45 points per week, which works out to 3.45, if all your starters put forth a 90 minute effort (2-points). Last season, my weekly average was just 56.5/PPW, no wonder I finished well outside my 10k goal, at 267k. Now where do I look in order to increase that weekly average?

Goals and assists are more of an individual effort in the game, while a clean sheets requires coordination and teamwork between the collective on defense and the goalkeeper. Sometimes talent and skill win out, just look at at how Salah terrorized defenses last season! At some point in the planning process, managers take strength of schedule (SoS) into consider, especially in the early weeks, as we don’t know how players will start the season. The World Cup gave us some indication, as does past season performance.

In 2016/17, Alexis Sanchez finished on 264 points, which was best in the FPL. The previous year, 2015/16, Riyad Mahrez posted 240 points, as Leicester City won the league. The following year was a different story, Sanchez went on to just 152 points, playing 24 games with Arsenal, before transferring to Manchester City, while missing seven games on the season. Mahrez’s output decreased by 50%, down to just 120 points, playing 36 of 38 games. Much like winning the EPL in back to back season, Salah will find it difficult this season to find himself at the top of the overall point scorer this season. His £13 price tag is a hefty one to swallow and requires massive output to justify it.

The alternative avoid the high priced premiums; Salah and Kane and spend wisely over the midfield and defenders, while putting mid-priced forwards into play. How much do you allocate to the defense? A few drafts I am built have £29.0 spent on defenders, while the midfield constitutes £41.0 and the remaining bulk, £20.0, being used spent on forwards. In the net I am still struggling to make a decision, running out Ederson and a £4.0 or going with a rotation of Lukasz Fabianski and Ben Foster (combined £9.0).

Based solely on points from last season, the top 10 defenders averaged 143 for the season, Azpilicueta topping the list with 175 points and Chris Smalling with 123 points. By contract the top 10 mid-priced midfielders (£6.5 and less) averaged 120.8 points on the season. This continues to be a hot topic in the fantasy community, as the mid-priced, midfielders can be a crap shoot to find a few to include in your squad. Last season, it was Luka Milivojevic on the back of 10 goals, on pens with 144 points, at a ending price of £5.2.

Defenders under consideration to start on defense (last 2 years stats) :

  • Cesar Azpilicueta (£6.5): 175 pts/170 pts, 3 goals, 11 assists, 32 CS, 47 BPS
  • Ben Davies (£6.0): 143 pts/90 pts, 3 goals, 10 assists, 20 CS, 19 BPS
  • Virgil van Dijk (£6.0): 78 pts/75 pts, 1 goal, 15 assists, 15 CS,  19 BPS
  • Andrew Robertson (£6.0): 111 pts/73 pts, 2 goals, 7 assist, 10 CS, 16 BPS
  • Héctor Bellerín (£5.5): 132 pts/119 pts, 3 goals, 9 assists, 22 CS, 23 BPS
  • Patrick van Aanholt (£5.5) 95 pts/98 pts, 10 goals, 2 assist, 11 CS, 16 BPS
  • Mamadou Sakho (£5.0) 81 pts/35 pts, 1 goal, 2 assists, 10 CS, 24 BPS

There are some good £4.5 options to round out your defense including, James Tompkins, Cédric Soares, Steve Cook, Zanka and Christopher Schindler, Maya Yoshida, Kiko Femenia and Phil Jagielka.

Spending big on defense still allows me  the luxury of including Salah along side two, £9.5 midfielders. Up front, I can still spend big, to the tune of £11.0, starting a £6.5 as my second forward, while a £4.5 enabler is required to fill a bench role. This would put my starting XI in a 5-3-2 formation. Fantasy Football Fix gives a projected points total of 278.8, through GW5, while Fantasy Football Scout indicates 331.03.

 

The other option would be five defenders (from above) while leaving Salah out and rolling with three £9.5 and one £7.5 midfielder, leaving just a lone £11.0 forward. This option doesn’t allow for much of a bench, but you spend big for a reason. This would place the emphasis on captaining Agüero every week, while the 5-2-3 with Salah and Agüero would make the armband selection a bit more challenging.This 5-4-1 team is projected for 266.7/PPW through GW5 on Fantasy Football Fix, while Fantasy Football Scout projects 312.23.

Competitive or unattractive, a 5-defender formation could be a viable formation to start the season. There needs to be some further analysis, comparing this formation to that of the highly used 3-4-3 to see what player combination provides a higher points total over the first five gameweeks. While that isn’t the only indicator of squad potential, there are many unanswered questions prior to the start of the season, even with all the pundit opinions, articles and projection pieces. Good luck this season!

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