After my last two guest articles: Strategy on the Use of Transfers (2019) & The Inner Workings of a Fantasy Football Manager (2000), I bring the final part of my trilogy with my thoughts on the defences of teams still involved in Europe competitions.
City = Ederson (4.3): Pros – every game likely to be involved now, one of the best in the game, highest owned in the top 1k. City concede the least amount of shots of all teams. Cons – very expensive.
Chelsea = Mendy (3.0): Pros – Cheap, solid defence behind him, good goalkeeper. Cons – tough game in Champions League with A.Madrid and likely to rotated in FA cup and some possibility in the league with signs of improvement from Kepa (2.7). One mistake and he could be out of the team as Tuchel would say ‘to recover mentally and physically’.
Liverpool = Allison (3.3): Pros – One of the best, cheap, Liverpool in the next round of Champions League. New signing Kabak may improve the defence. Cons – leaky defence with best midfielder Henderson playing in defence, confidence low because of recent mistakes.
Man Utd = De Gea (2.5): Pros – one of the cheapest from the game, on his day can be one of the best in the world (those days are quite rare now). Cons – best days are probably behind him, not commanding in the box, poor at corners lacks strength, mistakes creep more regularly, not likely play in cup games which hold the best chance of clean sheet. Henderson (3.1) could pose a threat to his place. Not fancy upcoming game vs Chelsea, Man City, and Leicester in the FA cup for clean sheets.
Leicester = Schmeichel (3.2): Pros – good goalkeeper, defence good when all defenders fit, well protected by Ndidi, good fixtures ahead in the league, if I didn’t have Ederson I would likely have Schmeichel. Cons – a tough game in FA cup so could be out, squad down to bare bones because of injuries any more could seriously hurt the team, lack of away goal in Europa makes the opposition dangerous.
Arsenal = Leno (2.9): Pros – Performance wise he has done well over the season. Good on the rating system if Arsenal keep a clean sheet. Cons – After a solid January, Arsenal now conceding goals. Tough game still in Europa. Upcoming fixtures are really awful with City, Leicester and Spurs so avoid.
Spurs = Lloris (2.7): Pros – One of the best in the business. On his day I put him in my top three goalkeepers with Ederson, Alisson and Lloris (probably in that order), cheap. Spurs through to the next round and taking the Europa league seriously as it presents their best chance of reaching the Champions League after indifferent form in the league. Good fixtures in the league with Burnley, Fulham, and Palace – confidence low after conceding poor goals against City, 1 clean sheet in 9 games.
So final results: Ederson takes the gold medal 🥇 Schmeichel just nicks the silver medal 🥈and Mendy takes the bronze 🥉 sad that Alisson and Lloris just missed out but can’t ignore their recent mistakes.
Final thoughts on goalkeepers: If you’ve got Ederson already no need to change him, be happy with Schmeichel and content with Mendy. I’ve got Ederson in all my top teams so I’m going to keep him and hope that City maintain their run of clean sheets. Interestingly Ederson and Mendy have the joint highest ownership in the fiso elite mini league (I belong to and am leading) which has some great players in it.
Moving onto the back line
City = They have three of the highest scoring defenders in the game in Cancelo (5.6), Dias (4.4) and Stones (4.9), I intentionally left out Justin as he is out injured for the rest of the season. These three city players are highly owned in my mini league, I like the combo of Cancelo and Dias as Cancelo offers attacking threat and Dias is one of the manager’s favourite players playing 99% of the games. I will be hard pressed to get rid of two Man City given their high ownership, number of games and great defensive figures.
What do I love about the city defence? The whole team defends, from the front to the back. If Sterling loses the ball, he is working hard to win it back. I have seen other teams lose the ball and then go into walking mode i.e. Martial against Sheff Utd that leads to their second goal. Martial loses the ball on the left and then stands there and shouts to Matic to get the ball back. The City work rate is really high, they actually bust a gut to get the ball back. Against Sheff Utd, I’ve never seen Pep so happy after a 1-0 win, he was delighted with the performance and said it was ‘incredible’. Watching the game, I agree with Pep words ‘they were fighting like animals’ every player put in a shift, if Sheff Utd had the ball in the City half, there were 7-8 players behind the ball to defend their goal.
City have two factors in their favour in keeping clean sheets: (1) they are very good at keeping the ball with the highest possession average (61%) along with the highest passing accuracy average (89%) so difficult to get the ball of them and attack them (2) their work rate and organisation allows to win the ball back and they deny teams space and time to build attacks. It won’t surprise me if at the end of the season, Pep will say this is his best team he has had during his time in Manchester. The defensive solidarity along with their work rate could help them win them the league, FA cup, league cup and the holy grail the Champions League.
Chelsea = They probably have the best solidarity after City with Azpilicueta (3.9) back in the fold after being frozen out by Lampard. I liked Lampard but I felt he was tactically naive, he always used one formation 4321 (same as 433 really), he never changed tactics according to the opposition and left Chelsea’s defender Dave out of the team. Watching them under Lampard, there was a big gap between the defence and the midfield so teams with quality could really hurt them. The best fantasy football managers (like the best real life managers Pep and Carlo Ancelotti – more on him later) I have seen are flexible in the approach to the game and quickly adapt to changes and defend (save transfers) and attack (use multiple transfers or use differentials) when they need to. Rudiger (3.8) is back as well along with Alonso (2.7). Not so good news for early favourites Chilwell (3.5) or Zouma (3.2) who still linger in my mini league probably in the lower reaches where the forgotten teams are. Still the Chelsea manager doesn’t know his best team so rotation is aplenty. I feel that too many changes in the side can be unsettling for defensive stability, communication and future clean sheet prospects. Tough games with Athletico, Liverpool and Utd coming up.
Liverpool = Before the season started it was all about the Liverpool defence and how many we could fit into our teams. Many teams had Alisson or TAA (4.3), Robertson (3.8), others had all three and even some had those combined with the most expensive defender Van Dijk (5.1). Shock horror as Liverpool defence conceded three goals at home to Leeds on the opening day. Alisson gets injured and they then concede seven goals to Villa. I felt it was game over for the defence when they lost Van Dijk and got rid of all Liverpool defensive assets for Chelsea and then Chelsea assets moved later for city ones. Now with the addition of Kabak (2.6), there could a change in fortunes, however Robinson and TAA are still on the expensive side. TAA has to be fair in recent weeks shown signs of improvement.
Man Utd = Outside City defenders, there is one that stands out and that is Harry Maguire (4.9). I talked a lot here on the blog and whatever your personal perspective is about him he is a defender that ticks a lot of boxes – plays every game and a big threat at set pieces. At the start he was overpriced at 5m I felt so I was reasonably happy to get him at 4m in early January.
I have a lot of question marks on their defensive solidarity. I saw how poor they were at the back against Everton and I wasn’t too impressed with their back line vs West Brom where the bottom side easily have scored more goals than one. Their central midfielders Fred, McTominay and Progba are slightly better in attack than in defence mode so they have any real protection in front of them so they concede quite a few chances. They don’t play the offside well with Maguire going forward and Lindelof (2.9) going back or vice versa playing attackers onside. So they are not in sync with each other unlike the city defence who have a great organiser in Dias. Sadly United lack a true leader at the back or it could be said throughout their team which is necessary to win the league.
Their full backs are good but not elite. Wan Bissaka (3.5) is good for rating points and Shaw (3.1) has both competition and an injury history against him but on the eye test he is the more attacking one and on free kicks and corners so high assist potential as shown vs Southampton and West Brom. They do leave a lot of spaces behind which teams playing with two upfront playing as inside forwards can exploit which is what Richarlison and DLC did. Nice tactics played there by Carlo. As I write this, I am watching Liverpool vs Everton and I like how Carlo has put five at the back with Digne close to Salah and Coleman covering Robertson and then later leaving two upfront for the counter (he could have left DLC on the bench and brought on another defender instead when leading but he wants to win) and Everton thoroughly deserve their win. Sorry going off track there. I could talk about United defence a bit more but it’s a mixture of good and bad (mostly bad from what I have recently seen).
Going back in time (forgive me here as I intentionally go off track) I miss the old days of Vidic, Ferdinand, Terry, Campbell and co. Big strong defenders that you didn’t mess with and would be a constant threat at corners. Chelsea in Ivanovic, Terry and Cahill would each score around 5 goals a season. Defenders are not like that anymore, maybe they are too nice or better technically so no need to get physical. Now the best I can hope is Maguire to score me a couple of goals a season. I can only hope to see defenders in the future take penalties like Baines of Everton did or before him Dennis Irwin (young generation will say who is he?) of Man Utd. I seem to recall a bald headed defender scoring quite a few penalties at Chelsea not long ago. Old folk (not really, they played the game before me) tell me Baines was the best, free kicks and penalties scored sometimes in the same game giving them monster hauls. He was their first name on the fantasy football team sheets even when Everton were not involved in Europe competitions. That would rarely happen nowadays. They also remember Bale at Spurs (first time around) when he was listed at a defender by the Sun but played in midfield and scored a hat trick against Inter Milan. Fond memories that they never forget even though don’t support Spurs but that’s what fantasy football gives you joy (good times) and despair (highs and lows are part of the package but hopefully not in equal measure).
Leicester = Losing Justin (3.8) is a big blow. I have to say the second highest defender in the game has been largely ignored by me and thankfully by others in my mini league as pre-occupied with thoughts on defenders from the other top teams. Pereira is a Whoscored favourite but expensive at 4.1m, similarly with Soyuncu (3.7). Castagne (3.3) was an early season favourite with assists but injury has hindered his dream team prospects. I don’t think anyone would want Johnny Evans (3.8) in their team. Leicester have one of the best holding midfielders in the game in Ndidi as he breaks so many opposition attacks, so he is vital for their success. Another concern is that Leicester have a small squad as a result of injuries and any more might be a problem. I always feel that the long season will catch up with them and they might have a slump and they finish behind the top four of City, Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool. Or I could be wrong and they could carry on what they are currently doing and push Liverpool out of the top four.
Arsenal = They had a run of clean sheets in January which coincided with good fixtures run. However bad fixtures ahead so don’t hold any interest. I had Tierney (3.1) from them for January but unfortunately he couldn’t get fit for games and whilst I lost on points, I gained on team value as I brought him for 2.3m and sold him for 3.1m. The team value building side of the game shouldn’t be ignored.
Spurs = At the start of the season, they were of interest to many teams as they were cheap and had arguably the best set of opening good fixtures including Europa league games. One of the people I interact with and consider as one of the best players in the game (back to back top ten finishes) started with five Spurs players at the back. Myself I went for the double up of Dier (still only at 2.0) and Davies (2.4) in the starting line up. However, Spurs developed an annoying habit of conceding that one goal and once they did rarely gained rating points to make up for it. Now they don’t interest much. Dier I have seen in games is not very good. I saw him in games against Sheffield Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea where his defending was awful and lead to goals. Even Mourinho put him out of the team because of poor form and lack of confidence. However the replacement didn’t do much as Spurs conceded five to Everton in FA cup and now he is back in the team and still in poor form. Final thought on Spurs defence: They just don’t do clean sheets, not even on paper in the so called easier games.
So final results: Man City 🥇 Leicester 🥈 and Chelsea 🥉 if I have to choose individual defenders then Cancelo 🥇 Maguire 🥈and Azpilicueta 🥉(third place is up for grabs and debate) or could have easily picked Dias but I thought I’d mix it up a bit.
I honestly don’t think any teams can match City defensively or attacking wise (now De Bruyne is back) so I would jump on the Man City train just to be in the top 1k (if that is the aim) although if boarded the City train late you might find yourself in the tail end and nobody wants to be in the tail – see Snowpiercer.
The varied approach (mix of two City defenders and two others from the same team) could be a move that pays off. A balanced approach where you are not relying on one team to provide the points.
Finally, another approach is to totally back a different team away from Man City i.e. Leicester, Chelsea, Man Utd or any team they fancy (maybe bring in at least three of them and being brave to replace the city ones – differential) and then hoping City fail to keep any clean sheets whilst your chosen ones go on a run.
I have someone in my mini league brave enough to take out Ederson, Cancelo and Dias and replace them with Mendy, Rudiger and Azpilicueta not only to be differential as they are miles behind the leader (me) who has three city defenders but to raise funding for I suspect to bring in a certain KDB. That is the type of tactical thinking I like in the game but is rarely discussed. I’ve done my best here to bring up tactics as my two guest articles have shown along with numerous comments in the blog over the last two years as I believe tactical strategies and player scouting will lead to fantasy football success.