Think Different: 5-Man Defense

This article was to be included in the final installment of Think Different: An FPL Tale, but after putting the finishing touches on part five, I realized it was just too long. This is also a strategy I’ve been passionate about for a number of years and feel it can be implemented with success. As noted in the previous series an important part of this FPL game is selecting the right players ahead of the first game week. To date, I’ve yet to have a banger to start the season, but looking to get in and select players with the intention of keeping some players unchanged over the 38 week season.

This article will focus on the a little used formation in FPL, any dealing with five defenders. It’s no surprise it’s a little used formation (just 2.5% used last season), when many FPL managers spend the bulk of their budget in attacking options. Midfielders usually have the highest prices in the game and as we hear every year, “you can’t own them all.” Well over the course of the season, maybe you can but do you really want to be chopping and changing, making transfers that might not benefit you when you look back on your season.

What got me started down this road was an article I read in 2017 on Fantasy Football Scout titled, In Search Of The Best Fantasy Football Formation. The results were quite surprising and strengthened my conviction that a “big at the back” strategy could be successful. In years past. starting the season with a 5-man defense strategy, the only attention paid was over a short period of time, not one that paid dividends over the entire season. All I need to do it examine the 391 points scored by Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, they damn near outscored the rest of my defenders collectively (457 points). This year in preseason, it’s no surprise that 56.5% of FPL managers own TAA with another 21% opting for Virgil van Dijk (£6.5) and his £0.5 savings over Robertson, owned by just 10.6% of managers.

Can’t say there is any surprise in seeing double Liverpool such a popular option securing 15, 21 and 17 (53) clean sheets over the last three seasons (avg. 17) when the Reds had their attacking defenders scoring points at both ends of the pitch. By way of comparison, Manchester City posted 17, 18 and 20 (55) cleans over that same period, an average of 18 per season. Yet manager continue to look past  the Sky Blues and invest heavily in Liverpool.

At this point I turn to all the work I continue to do collecting data and crunching numbers as it relates to VAPM. You can review the details in this Reddit thread or read Think Different: An FPL Tale for details on how the key metric is calculated and what I hope it will do ahead and during the season to making decision making a bit clearer. This metric is being used in conjunction with other statistics; PPM, PPMM, PP90, xG and xA or whatever numbers you turn to in order to field your 15-man squad.

BUILDING BIG AT THE BACK

As mentioned to start the article, my 5-man defense is anchored by TAA and Robertson. Why wouldn’t you? If you want to save the £0.5, then grab van Dijk, who scored just four fewer points than Robertson last season. Where do you go from Liverpool? I turn to my VAPM chart for defenders that uses last years point totals with this season’s prices.

Based on a VAPM of 0.35, I’ve got just seven defenders to consider ahead of the season. As of this article Premier Injuries reports Ben Chilwell  is nursing an ankle/foot injury (July 17) with no return date, as me missed the final four games of the 2019/20 Premier League season. He’s also linked with a transfer move away from the KP Stadium. We’re still three weeks away from the start of the season, so he’s one to watch.

Five of these defenders are attack minded and I’ve stressed in the past that you buy defenders for their defensive points, but that opinion has slowly faded with how the game has changed and the fact that wing backs are getting forward into many attacking situation for their teams. Just look at Liverpool, Manchester United, Leicester City, Wolves, Chelsea and Everton, just to name a few. We can pick out names from each of those clubs and agree on their attacking prowess to help supplement their total points through assists, the infrequent goal and seemingly massive bonus points.

There is some concern that Dean Henderson has been recalled by his parent club, Manchester United and Aaron Ramsdale ends his loan spell with Bournemouth and returns to Sheffield United. How does this change the defensive dynamics at Brammell Lane this season? Excited to see John Egan at £5.0, even those his project falls 0.01 short of the 0.35 VAPM. Ramsdale didn’t impress me at Bournemouth, then again their defense was shit all season long, with a stronger group in front of him, the kid could return and slot in without any decrease in performance for the Blades.

Looking at this group of defenders, you quickly notice that you will spend a between £22.5  and £33 these defenders.  As I work on this 5-man defensive strategy, my bench value sits at £21.5, which means I’ve dedicated 39.4% of my remaining budget to defenders (not including GK). Based on last season’s budget numbers this is 7.4% higher than what was spent last season across FPL. This is my first draft for the upcoming 2020/2021 FPL game and here are the defenders I currently have starting.  That equates to £31 invested but all could potentially play 3000 minutes post strong attacking returns and finish the season with double digit clean sheets. Is it worth the investment? Let’s look further up the pitch before calling this defensive unit finished.

MIDFIELD: MILD OR MAD?

Is it crazy to play the FPL season with three starting midfielders? How about two? Okay, two does seem a bit crazy, but there is some give and take at this position, depending on how deep you build your bench with value. Two schools of thought, go cheap with non-playing defenders to start the season and pick up the premium midfielders, while the other is to field a playable bench for two reasons. The first is to cover for injury, if it should arise. The second, look to add a value to your overall team value. Early season thinking tends to have my investing all £100 to start the season, looking to gain value £0.1 or £0.2 each week while the season is young to increase my budget.

Looking over the midfield options, VAPM tells me I’ve got 11 players to consider. Already owning two Liverpool defenders, I would need to face that question; Salah or Mane? To start the season, I might look to avoid it (even though they host Leeds United in GW1) and go with two players who ended last season with strong numbers and are both play makers for their respective teams; Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes. KDB posted his best season in the Premier League on the back of 23 assists and a massive 35 bonus points. He also finished as the top midfielder based on VAPM with 2000 minutes. Fernandes was picked up late and featured in 14 games but posted attacking returns in 11 of 14 games. Unsustainable? Maybe, but Manchester United have so many attacking options around Fernandes that he could push KDB this season as the assist leader, recording eight over that 14 game span. These two midfielder maestros will anchor the heart of my team.

To build around them, I need to consider my forward option, do I start two forwards? If so, how much do I spend to allow me to round out that third or possibly fourth midfielder. For the sake of argument, I plan for two forwards, neither of them will be a premium option (Kane or Vardy), but with all the reclassifying players, there are some really good options up front. So we are still short players on defense and midfield, but looks delve into the forward line, as we’ve currently spent £36.5 on four players.

FEASTING ON FORWARDS

While not a fan of the reclassifying players, it should work to our advantage this season with some better options to spearhead out attack. It won’t be unheard of to spend £13 on two viable starters; Chris Wood (£6.5) and Michail Antonio (£6.5). Both players finished above 0.35 VAPM and are projected to meet or exceed that value this season. Again, I need to asterisk Antonio, as he didn’t play 2000 minutes, featuring in 24 games but extrapolating his numbers if he stays healthy, he could reach 150-170 points this season.

Limiting your forward options based on price, rather than performance would allow you to budget more in the midfield to keep pace with other FPL managers running with 4-5 midfielders, because starting just three midfielders, I will be at a disadvantage on those weeks that a large group of midfielders post attacking returns. Yet, it’s my belief I can make up some of those points cheaper with the defensive unit I am building, while maintaining flexibility with my 15-man squad.

While I’ve not looked over the newly released schedules, I am inclined to start Antonio but shuffle Wood out and go with Anthony Martial. I think OGS has this club primed to challenge this season, as witnessed by their scoring prowess last year with the addition of Fernandes. Martial sets me back £9.0 but I am willing to invest, as he posted a 0.50 VAPM last season as a midfielder and is projected  to finish at 0.47 this season (note: no, I did not account for his total points based on his reclassification to forward). If you aren’t partial to United, then Danny Ings (£8.5) is another great option or you can go with the Mexican, Raul Jimenez, if he remains at Wolves. All this value while avoiding the double digit price tag.

FILL IN THE BLANKS

I’ve now spent £52 on six players, which could be seen as too much, but this is my core team, which still allows me some great options to round out my squad. Looking at the goalkeeper position, I’ve decided to go budget this season and bring in Mat Ryan and David Button, which sets me back a combined £9.5, which is the cheapest you can spend. I’ve gone Ryan because usually good for save points and bonus points over the season and with some luck, Brighton might get to 10 clean sheets (finished on 9 last season). Button ends up being my non-playing backup, but on the off chance Ryan is injured, there is no need to waste a transfer initially on a replacement.

To this point I’ve spend £61.5 with the addition of these goalkeepers. Since this team is built around the 5-man defense I will focus most of the remaining budget to get the strongest options. The list to draw from isn’t long. I’ve decided to add two more wing backs to my starting defense, Matt Doherty and Ben Chillwell. As I mentioned earlier, not sure where Chilwell ends up, but he should have another strong season at either Leicester City of Chelsea, if his transfer goes through. Doherty featured in all but two games last season, can score and assist, as he also picked up 15 bonus points last year. The last defended I’ve decided on is John Egan (£5.0), he appears better value than Enda Stevens, who’s £0.5 more expensive but outplayed Chris Basham, based on VAPM by a wide margin (0.34 vs 0.25).

The defense is complete, coming in at a hefty £31 million but feel this is a solid unit that could post some excellent numbers on the season based on their previous season(s) with some prediction at how they could potentially score this season. This also allows me the budget on defense to shift players, if needed. Some FPL managers look at the £4.5 options, but end up having to shift budget to cover a non-performing defender. Speaking of these budget defenders, let me quickly summarize my thoughts on some of those players.

THE BUDGET DEFENDER

“You get what you pay for” at the £4.5-4.0 price bracket. Like previous seasons there will be options, but some will not be known to us prior to the start of the season. The best options are at Burnley, depending on which players earn the starting position. Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor and Erik Pieters would be on my watch list if I were considering the budget option. The list doesn’t stop there, I think there could be value in Florian Lejeune (if he starts), Ciaran and Jamaal Lascelles (currently injured) at Newcastle. The final budget option is whoever takes over to Chilwell if he departs Leicester City. I liked the look of James Justin last season and he is priced at £4.5 to start this season.

MIDFIELD ROUNDABOUT

While I’ve not decided how I want to set up the remaining three midfield spots, I am currently planning on having a 3-man playable bench. It could be said by FPL managers that is a “wasteful” approach with much needed budget sitting on the bench. Maybe there is some truth to that, but we each play the game just a bit different than the next manager and this could be a wise move, anticipating injury. Here is the currently midfield five I’ve sent up. All three are starters and all three make the projected VAPM list.

The change this season was the reclassification of Matt Ritchie (again!) and John Lundstram from defender to midfielder, but both priced very nicely. Both midfielders should be great value. Harvey Barnes should see an increase in playing time this season in good Leicester midfield. He provides, speed, strength, scoring acumen and assist potential at just £7.0. There are other options at and below that price bracket, but referring to the VAPM projections, none of them meet the 0.35 value I’ve calculated.

The other option in the midfield is to shuffle around the forwards, reduce the amount spend and invest that money into the midfield. This is a possible midfield solution that seeing me double up with Manchester City, as Riyhad Mahrez should see more playing time with David Silva and Leroy Sane no longer in the picture. Ritchie would would retain his place, but drop that fifth midfielder to a £5.0, in this case, Mark Noble. While Noble isn’t projected to clsoe to 0.35 VAPM, he is instrumental for West Ham, wears the captain’s armband and is on penalties. He along with Declan Rice were top scores (105 points) using last years point totals with this season’s pricing.

These are not the only options for the midfield, shuffle the budget around and I have no doubt I could add a Salah, Mane or Aubameyang to the mix. That decision lies on how I want to start the season; with or without a playing bench.

FINISHING ON FORWARDS

Now, I don’t know the first thing about Leeds United, but Jord #FPL (@FPL_Jord) said that Patrick Bamford will frustrate an owner in front of goal. Taking that into consideration, he is my third forward option, for the fact he should start nearly every game. The caveat, if Divock Origi moves to Aston Villa, which was a rumor I read weeks ago, I might pick up the former Liverpool man, as he has a nose for goal, especially if Jack Grealish stays. Bamford wouldn’t get much playing time, unless an injury occurs, but at £6.5, it could be a single transfer to move Antonio out and pick up Wood. A Martial injury would all you a replacement of Ings, Jimenez or Richarlison.

In order to make that second midfield option with Mahrez work, Martial would be dropped in favor of Wood for just £13.0 spent up top. Still, I feel they are both strong options this season.

CONCLUSION

A determining factor to make this 5-man defense successful is to stick with this group of defenders and show patience, not to transfer them out if they club his a poorly performing patch. We saw this with Pool last year, as well as Doherty. Just when you think you can’t count on them, they return to sock you in the jaw with a nice haul. So for me, patience with this defense above any other factor will be key to making this strategy work. That and a whole lot of luck.

This 15-man squad feels right based on the defenders selected. None of them feel like I am reaching to make a double Liverpool selection work. We have seen some of these defenders perform for the last few years and know what they bring to the pitch. Can you bite the bullet and invest £31 in your defense? It’s your call, not mine. Over the course of the season, I will share my thoughts each week on this strategy;. Is it working? Can I improve? Do I need to reevaluate the starting defenders? These are just some of the questions I face. What do I do when I see I am losing ground due to midfielders I don’t own performing? It’s a risk worth taking.

FINAL NOTE

Hope you have taken something away from this 6-part series to “Think Different” when it comes to FPL. While the goal of the game remains unchanged for each of us, to finish #1 in the world,  we must each find our own enjoyment playing FPL. For me, it’s striving to be successful using a different strategy then passing what I have learned on. It’s spending time writing and producing podcast content and sharing beers with the FPL Beer Club. So find you enjoyment and good luck this season!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.