The best Fantasy Premier League defenders and goalkeepers

kyle walker | best fantasy premier league defenders

Defenders and goalkeepers are the backbone of your Fantasy Premier League squad. They get far too little attention compared to their importance. Hence, there are probably more newbie errors done in selecting defenders compared to midfielders and forwards. Who are the best Fantasy Premier League defenders? How can you find the top FPL goalkeepers? This article will reveal it to you.

The best Fantasy Premier League defenders are usually full-backs or wing-backs, who are given an attacking role. In a modern football they are responsible of many crosses to the penalty box. These will eventually lead to goals and assists. The ultimate defender has also set-piece duties! Centre-backs are often getting their goals from set-pieces. Their main source for points are clean sheets. You must make some compromises in your squad: do you spend a lot of money on full-backs or pick cheaper centre-backs instead. We also explain few characteristics of goalkeepers in Fantasy football.

Two types of defenders: full-backs and centre-backs

There are basically two types of defenders in the starting XI: full-backs and centre-backs. A full-back is a general description for defenders playing on the either side of the pitch. In a typical four-man defence there is one right-back, one left-back and two centre-backs.

There are also couple of variations to the standard formation. Back in the old days, a five-man back line was used, when the manager wanted to make the team even more defensive. This still happens, but in a modern football this 5-3-2/5-4-1 has been often transformed into a 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation. When a team is attacking, full-backs are pushing forward and act like wingers. In a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation they are called as wing-backs.

The difference between full-backs and wing-backs depend on their individual roles. If a team is playing a modern 4-3-3 system, full-backs might have extremely attacking roles as well. By default, they are positioned a little further back.

If you want to have a defender with maximum attacking threat, pick the player who features as a wing-back in a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation.

Differences between full-backs and centre-backs

Now we have established the ground for defensive players. There are centre-backs and more attacking full-backs/wing-backs. To make things easier in this article, we just talk about full-backs, when we mean both full-backs and wing-backs.

What is the difference between these players in fantasy football? Which ones are better?

There is no obvious answer to the latter question. If we look at the 2017/2018 season and defenders with at least 100 FPL points, there were 10 centre-backs and 9 full-backs. If we sort these players by the PPG ratio, the best ones were full-backs. Marcos Alonso (in the picture below) was the number one.

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The main difference between these players comes from their position and role on the pitch. In a modern football, full-backs are supposed to support the attacks. They are often playing one-twos with attackers or midfielders and positioned high on the pitch. Back in the old days, it was wingers in a 4-4-2 formation providing crosses to the penalty box. Nowadays it’s often a full-back.

This means that full-backs are much more likely to get assists to their name. Some of the full-backs are also given set-piece duties, such as Marcos Alonso, Leighton Baines or Aaron Cresswell.

Centre-backs don’t practically ever get assists or goals from an open play. A modern centre-back is a very good passer, but they are often giving the first pass when initiating an attack. The forward-move is then finalised by midfielders and attackers above him.

Centre-backs get goals (and sometimes assists) from set-piece situations. They are often the number one targets in corner kicks. Another source for extra FPL points are bonuses.

FPL points for full-backs and centre-backs

Previously we went through the differences between full-backs and centre-backs. Now let’s dive more into fantasy football.

You might think at this point: “OK I got it, I will just pick full-backs to my team, because they are more likely to get goals or assists.” Well thought… but this does not work in practice.

The problem comes from player prices. Fantasy Premier League, or any proper fantasy football game, is making full-backs more expensive than centre-backs. The reason is exactly the one described above.

Right now, Chelsea’s attacking full-back Marcos Alonso has a 6.8M price tag. Centre-back David Luiz, who is playing next to him, costs only 5.5M. Manchester City full-back Benjamin Mendy costs 6.4M, while centre-backs John Stones and Aymeric Laporte are both only 5.5M.

You simply cannot build a team picking the most expensive players in every position, because there is a limited budget. Hence, you must make some compromises.

There is also one other element to this: bonus points. These come usually into play in a low-scoring result like 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1. The BPS (Bonus Point System) rewards players also from successful tackles, recoveries, high pass completion etc. The most active centre-backs get often a lot of bonus points if their team keeps a clean sheet.

If we look at the bonus points at the 2017/2018 season, four out of the five best defenders were centre-backs.

There are some centre-backs, who simply get more bonus points than others year after year. You can use this page to view bonus points from the current and the previous season.

Hidden gems: set-piece takers and midfielders

There are some exceptionally good defenders in fantasy football due to special circumstances. The first group is a very small one, and it’s called set-piece takers.

We can say almost without an exception, that defenders taking set-pieces are full-backs. This is because centre-backs are positioned to the opponent’s penalty box when a team is given a free-kick or a corner-kick. There are few so talented full-backs, that they can also shoot the ball to the net from a direct free kick. There is no better example than Marcos Alonso.

Everton left-back Leighton Baines was known for years from his set-piece duties. Baines was a rare example of a defender shooting his team’s penalty kicks. Defenders giving set-pieces are usually quite well-known.

Defenders playing on midfield are sometimes overlooked, especially if we’re talking about smaller teams. There are also some extreme cases of defenders playing as attackers. Fulham’s exceptionally talented Ryan Sessegnon was rated as a left-back last season in some fantasy games despite the fact he was their left-sided forward in a 4-3-3 formation.

A full-back playing as a winger was more common when teams were using 4-4-2 -formations. Nowadays it’s quite rare you’d see a defender as one of the attacking midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 system or as one of the forwards in 4-3-3. But if you find such players, they are obviously excellent choices.

We also mentioned the difference between wing-backs and full-backs in the first chapter. As a rule of thumb, you’d prefer wing-backs over full-backs. It’s more likely that wing-backs are positioned higher on the pitch. But if you really want to know the difference between a full-back and a wing-back, you need to watch how they perform in a match. Some full-backs are given more defensive roles than others.

The clean sheet bonus: all defenders get it

Let’s talk about the clean sheet bonus next. This is the main source for fantasy points for any defender. The CS bonus is 4 points in the Fantasy Premier League, meaning it’s as valuable as a goal for an attacker.

The important thing here is that either all defenders get it or nobody will. The clean sheet is won or lost for the entire team. And now we can get to the point: a cheap centre-back gets often as many fantasy points as his expensive full-back teammate.

Let’s say you pick 4x full-backs with 6,5M each making it a 26M purchase total. Had you chosen cheaper centre-backs, the price tag was only 4x 5,5M = 22M.

This will give extra 4 million to your bank. It could help you improve one 9M midfielder to 13M priced Mohamed Salah. Or you could improve two 7M midfielders from Fulham to two 9M midfielders from Arsenal.

So here is the question: which option brings you more total points? Maybe you’d be better off missing some Marcos Alonso goals here and there, if you instead get a goal from Mohamed Salah in almost every match.

Goalkeepers in fantasy football

Finally, let’s look at goalkeepers as well. This position is the simplest one in football, because there aren’t really any different roles available.

Goalies get points from three sources: clean sheet bonuses, blocked shots and bonus points. There is a clear correlation between the last two. A goalkeeper gets bonus points in practice only if he kept a clean sheet and blocked many shots a well.

In modern football, there are not that many shots on target per match. This also depends on the way a shot or save is counted. In Fantasy Premier League goalkeepers get very rarely more than one point from blocked shots. Often the number is zero. A typical way in fantasy football is to give one extra point to a goalkeeper from every three blocked shots.

There is one exceptional case: a saved penalty shot. A goalkeeper gets 5 bonus points if he manages to block that. But it’s quite irrelevant statistic, because a) penalty shots happen rarely and randomly and b) the odds are averagely only around 20-25% for the goalie to save it.

The best Fantasy Premier League goalkeepers

So, how do you select goalkeepers in fantasy football? Who is the best goalkeeper?

The answer: David De Gea (in the picture below). This was the case last season, when he got 153 total points. If we look at the PPG (Points Per Game) number, De Gea was still the number one. Many would be shocked, that Loris Karius was the second best with 4,62 PPG.

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It’s no surprise that the best goalkeepers are usually the ones playing in top clubs. As explained above, the main source for points are clean sheets. Blocked shots and bonus points can never cover the clean sheet bonuses. At 2018/2019 the best goalkeepers will be very likely Alisson and Ederson.

But fantasy football is not that easy. You simply cannot pick the best players to each position, because you run out of budget. Hence, you need to find value from cheaper choices as well. It’s very common to do either one of these two:

Option a) choose a goalkeeper like Ederson or Alisson and keep him selected in every single match. Pick as cheap a backup-goalie as possible, who you never even intend to use.

Option b) Pick two medium-priced goalkeepers for rotation. Pick them from clubs, who have home and away matches on different gameweeks. This way you have always one goalkeeper with a home match.

The best goalkeepers in the medium-price range come simply from low-scoring teams. Even if the team would finish close to the relegation zone, their goalkeeper might be great in fantasy football. It’s all about the clean sheets.

Last year Brighton’s Matthew Ryan was number 7 and Huddersfield’s Jonas Lössl number 8 in goalkeeper rankings. They didn’t get clean sheets as often as Ederson, but still often enough.

If you pick Alisson and the cheapest 4.0M goalkeeper you have to spend 9.6M. But if you pick Ryan and Lössl you’d spend only 9.0M. This 0.6M would help you improve some centre-back to a full-back for example.

There are also some tactical moves to consider when picking defenders and goalkeepers. Read more of that from our FPL tactical guide.

Image by Brad Tutterow (Kyle Walker) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons