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With the final international break in the rearview mirror and wildcards burning a hole in pockets around the world we are now definitely in the final run-in for this FPL season. After two articles about fantastic hauls and where to find them (part one “The Captain and Ten-Nil” and part two “Captain Plannering”) this final piece in our Team Stats Trilogy shifts the focus to how you can maximise your chances of clean sheet points from defenders and goalkeepers now that we know a lot about the likelihood of defences holding firm and strike forces failing to fire.
The approach in this article takes each fixture in each remaining gameweek and sets the tendency of a team to fail to score (home or away) against their opponent’s tendency to prevent them from scoring given their season performances so far. Here’s the table for gameweek 30 as an illustration:
Let’s take the Chelsea – West Brom fixture as an example. At home, Chelsea have kept a clean sheet in a very impressive 57% of their matches while the Baggies have failed to score in 43% of their away trips. Chelsea are, then, very likely to keep a clean sheet and West Brom are unlikely to give them too much trouble. Taking the average of those two percentages feels appropriate as a thumbnail way of predicting how likely Chelsea are to keep West Brom out and that gives Chelsea a clean sheet likelihood rating of 50%, one of three 50% predictions in this gameweek, though on current numbers there are only three more ratings like that for the whole rest of the season.
At the other end, Chelsea can be surprisingly unable to break through opposition defences at Stamford Bridge (29%), but Albion’s defence on the road is one of the least likely in the Premiership to turn that to their advantage (7%) and that gives us an average of 18%, which is clearly one of the lowest here but still represents a roughly one in five chance. In fact, if you take these figures across the whole rest of the season you could expect an “average” defence to keep a clean sheet about one third of the time (31%) and, as we’ve mentioned, in this end of season sample the likelihood for any given matchup never climbs above exactly half.Embed from Getty Images
As with captaincy, it’s clearly those higher percentages that interest us most when choosing defenders for the FPL season-defining final few rounds. We’re looking for defences with strong clean sheet prospects across the board to allow us to set-and-forget their assets while focussing precious transfers on attacking assets that might get double digit returns. If there’s only a couple of rearguards with prospects like that we’ll need to mix in some others that have good runs and rely on a spot of judicious benching. At the time of writing the exact makeup of gameweeks 35-37 is still very uncertain with two extra fixtures to fit in (AVL v EVE, SOU v CRY) and the possibility of fixtures moving to accommodate the return of crowds and the FA Cup final, but if you create a table like the one above for each remaining gameweek based on the matches as currently scheduled and then collate the results into a summary table of clean sheet likelihoods, this is what you get:
Along with the half a dozen 50% likelihoods already mentioned we see that Spurs in GW32 register the highest clean sheet likelihood of all. This is because they have two fixtures in that gameweek, away at Everton (31%) and then at home to Southampton (38%) and they have been added together to give an overall gameweek clean sheet likelihood of 69%, which is to say the metric reckons Tottenham has a slightly better than two thirds chance of a clean sheet in one of those two fixtures. That double means Spurs are also the only team in the table with a pair of A* ratings of 50% or better, though they do have a blank in between them and weak fixtures at the beginning and end of the run.
In contrast, Aston Villa and Manchester City look good value for defensive returns in all but one gameweek. For Villa this is GW32 where they entertain (if that’s the right word) the league champions elect while for City themselves it’s their blank gameweek 33 because of their League Cup final commitments. This is good news for the 41.4% of FPL managers who have Emiliano Martinez in their squads and also for the sizeable numbers that have one of Targett, Mings or Konsa. Ederson very much continues to be Ederson, but owners of those directly in front of him are, as ever, much less certain of sharing in the spoils in any given City fixture, but can probably budget for winning on at least six or seven spins of the Pep roulette wheel if they select one of them.
Only three other teams offer a promising likelihood of clean sheets in at least half of their remaining matches. Chelsea look a must-buy with only GWs 33 (at West Ham) and 35 (at Man City) looking daunting and five very strong fixtures in their next seven. Liverpool have a comfortable looking schedule, but only the GW36 visit to the Hawthorns looks especially inviting and much the same could be said of Manchester United whose standout occasion is hosting Burnley in GW32.
Given that defenders regularly plying their trade at Anfield and Old Trafford tend to be very pricey in FPL terms, you might well be tempted to look for cheaper alternatives with some awkward weeks balanced out by very favourable ones, preferably in a run that facilitates a transfer out if the need arises. Step forward, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sure, the final four matches look dicey, but by then your Molineux men could be resting in the dugout having feasted on bonus point cake across gameweeks 30-33, a block that includes at least one awkward matchup for literally every other defence in the division.Embed from Getty Images
Sadly, no bargain defence is primed to take over when hard times come for Conor Coady and friends. Your best hope for at least a couple of clean sheets looks to be either Burnley or Fulham who face each other in GW 35 before Fulham host Newcastle and Burnley travel to Sheffield United in the last round. If you’ve gone with Spurs because of their great clean sheet chances in gameweeks 32 and 34 then you might reap some more benefits in 35 and 36 when they play Leeds on the pitch they grew for them before returning home to find Wolves in their own garden. We’re pretty certain nobody still paying attention will be rushing to acquire Sheffield United assets, but clean sheet prospects are also looking pretty bleak for West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace as well as the fast improving Brighton and even more fancied teams in Arsenal and Everton.
In terms of defenders, then, taking gameweek 31 as the likely start of the FPL binge on second wildcards, what might an auspicious defensive lineup look like?
- Chelsea (Azpilicueta if you can afford him, Rudiger if you can’t)
- Manchester City (just the one, for the games they will actually play)
- Aston Villa (Konsa, £4.7m, is 7% owned and hasn’t missed a minute since Boxing Day)
- Wolves (club captain Conor “Hit Man” Coady, £4.8m, is less than 5% owned)
…then one of
- Spurs (though the personnel keeps changing and the more likely starters aren’t cheap)
- Fulham (Andersen & Tosin have several good spots, but watch for the blank in GW33)
- Burnley (for use only in emergencies and in the event of a Fulham)
- Leicester (if you have money to spare and holes to fill in GWs 33 & 35)
- Liverpool (if you have even more money to spare and have a Semedo in part exchange)
- Man Utd (if you think Shaw will keep doing that or Maguire will do that again)
- West Ham (if you like planning 8 gameweeks ahead)
- Leeds (if owning Raphinha and Bamford is just too enjoyable)
And you’ll be wanting a goalkeeper or two with that defence before you go. If you’re one of the 8 zillion managers with Martinez then simply pairing him with Sanchez in case of unexpected blanks looks a pretty decent alternative to vast amounts of overthinking. However, if you simply must have Grealish AND Watkins AND Konsa then Patricio/Areola looks good for three quarters of the final eight fixtures. And obviously, if you don’t need the club slots or the cash, you can just pick up Mendy or Ederson and the non-playing 3.9er of your choice.
And if you still find yourself fielding Nick Pope? Nobody move. There has been a Burnley…