Who were the best defenders in FPL last season?

After looking at the best Fantasy Premier League (FPL) goalkeepers from last season, our attention now turns to defenders. Out of all of the centre-halves, full-backs and wing-backs who started at least 19 games last season, we’ll take a closer look at the underlying stats and identify which defenders should be under consideration for our Gameweek 1 team of 2022/23.

What Do The Numbers Say?

Looking at raw FPL points, a common theme emerges.

Liverpool’s first-choice back four – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip – were four of the top five scoring defenders. Only Manchester City’s second-place Joao Cancelo, who scored 201 points, stopped it being a clean sweep for the red half of Merseyside at the very top of the defender standings.

City’s Aymeric Laporte and Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger were the fifth and sixth highest scoring defenders for FPL points respectively. This perhaps suggests that defenders from the top four who get 30-something starts across a season will always find their way to the top of the points-scoring charts. Even if no attacking returns or clean sheets are forthcoming in a particular game, the appearance points keep their overall points ticking up. For example, Cancelo’s 36 starts give him 72 points before a ball is kicked. This is an excellent headstart/base for the player, as he kicks on towards an overall total of 150 to 200+ points.

The Premium Wing/Full Back

One dilemma some FPL managers may come across next season is deciding between Alexander-Arnold and Robertson. Although Robertson is likely to be £0.5m cheaper, the gulf in underlying stats in Alexander-Arnold’s favour suggests that this is not a position to skimp in.

The right-back absolutely blows his teammate away in terms of big chances created (18 v 9), chances created (90 v 55), goal attempts (51 v 18) and minutes per xGI (179.4 v 355.4), despite making only three more starts.

Another tough 50/50 for FPL managers in their backline could be trying to decide which Chelsea wing-back to get: Reece James or Ben Chilwell. We’re dealing with something of a small sample size because Chilwell started six games to James’s 22, but the former comes out on top for goal threat while James stands out for assist potential. Chilwell’s minutes per goal attempt is better (41.8 v 50.9) and he was presented with two big chances in six games while James had just three big chances in 22 starts. James, however, created chances at a faster rate (one every 39 minutes v 54 minutes) and he created nine big chances to Chilwell’s one. Unlike Alexander-Arnold and Robertson, there isn’t a great deal between the two with one’s greater goal threat cancelling out the other’s greater assist threat. This looks to be the place to save £0.5m if you need to.

Any discussion about premium wing/full-backs has to mention Cancelo. Surprisingly, seven defenders created more chances than his 39 last season, including Newcastle’s Matt Targett. And Alexander-Arnold created more than double his number of chances in four fewer starts. And even though the Portuguese had an incredible 81 goal attempts last season, which is 30 shots clear of any other defender, he scored only one goal and his goal conversion rate was a dreadful 1.2%. In Fantasy Premier League, however, such profligacy is not always an issue, as deflected/saved/rebound shots can always lead to Fantasy assists. Indeed, Cancelo was joint-second for Fantasy assists last season with four (West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen was top with seven Fantasy assists).

Budget Gems

In the cheaper bracket, Aston Villa’s Matthew Cash was – along with Wolves Conor Coady – the only defender to start 38 games. With 37 goal attempts, 28 chances created, four goals, three assists and 13 clean sheets, Cash has a number of routes to points and he could prove better value than any £5.5m midfielder or forward. Indeed, plumping for Cash as a fourth or fifth defender in your starting XI could be a shrewder move than going for a similar-priced fourth or fifth midfielder or a cheap third forward.

Applying a £4.7m cost filter to defenders last season and it is slim pickings. Coady scored four goals, but with a four-digit minutes-per-xGI (1098.7) average and just 12 goal attempts in 38 games, this feat may not repeat itself. Although, if he is priced at £4.5m again next season, is there a better first sub option for your bench than “Mr Nailed” himself?

Final Thoughts

If we add up the FPL points of the top 10 defenders, midfielders and forwards from last season and divide it by their finishing prices, then for each position we get the following values for ‘points per £1m’:

  • Defenders = 26 points per £1m
  • Midfielders = 21 points per £1m
  • Forwards = 17 points per £1m

The above averages are clear: the best performing defenders offer the best value in FPL. As many suspected, forwards offer meagre returns, and in order to get the most value out of your £100m budget, it’s worth investing heavily in your backline and perhaps playing a fourth or fifth defender over a second or third forward.

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