Big at the back is an in vogue concept within the FPL community this year and many managers, myself included, have invested heavily in defenders to start the season. With popular picks TAA, VVD, Laporte, Zinchenko, Digne and Coleman all returning points on the opening weekend it’s a tactic that saw some impressive scores racked up and will have left the majority feeling vindicated in their decision. However there were a couple of slightly worrying statistics to emerge from last weekend which will be worth monitoring for those of us employing 5 at the back.
For most managers a big at the back strategy relies heavily upon defenders from last season’s runaway top 2, Man City and Liverpool, with double ups or even triple ups commonplace. Despite the Liverpool defender’s famed ability to provide attacking returns their defensive prowess was equally important last season with clean sheets contributing to 60% of van Dijk and Robertson’s non appearance FPL points last season and 50% of Alexander-Arnold’s.
Liverpool’s defence looked out of sorts on Friday night and Norwich created a number of chances before Pukki registered their consolation goal in the second half. Understat recorded Norwich’s expected goals as 0.84 and that figure would have been even higher but for a questionable offside decision against Hernandez when in a promising position. This total is the 9th highest by an away team at Anfield since the beginning of the 17/18 season with only Spurs (twice), Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Wolves, Everton and Leicester having bettered Norwich’s xG away at Liverpool in this period. The Canaries were incredibly high scoring last season in the Championship, netting 93 times on the way to the title, and it’s possible Liverpool were slightly caught out by their gung ho approach but the injury to Alisson coupled with some worrying pre season defensive displays could be a sign Liverpool’s defence won’t perform in quite the same way as it did last year.
Man City were dominant in their game away at West Ham on Saturday with an impressive 10 different players getting some form of FPL return. However their defence, like Liverpool’s, showed possible signs of not reaching the heights of previous seasons. West Ham’s 1.2 expected goals was the 19th highest by a team against City in the 115 Premier League games that Guardiola has overseen. Fernandinho’s absence from the team after his international exertions over the summer could well have been a contributing factor and City will be hopeful his eventual replacement, Rodri, can settle in quickly after a couple of nervy moments at the weekend.
After only one gameweek it is impossible to draw any conclusions and the numbers put up by the defences of Liverpool and Man City could easily be anomalies or explained away by early season rustiness. However they are certainly a cause for concern in my eyes and I will be monitoring their defensive performances closely over the next few gameweeks. Especially those of City where rotation fears and fewer attacking returns make a steady flow of clean sheets a necessity.