The start of the 2023-24 Premier League season hasn’t been a stellar one in terms of defensive quality.
With no side managing to keep more than two clean sheets in the opening five gameweeks and no defensive players making the top 10 points scorers for the start of the FPL season, where should we invest?
The underlying numbers
Six sides have failed to keep a clean sheet this season, while just five have kept two clean sheets: Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Fulham and Chelsea.
Often there are clues in the underlying data in terms of which clubs have good clean-sheet potential, with a big enough sample size now after five games.
Arsenal have conceded the fewest big chances this season with five, but they do face Spurs, Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle in their next six games.
David Raya (£4.8m) is expected to continue in goal and could be one to invest in, while Oleksandr Zinchenko (£4.9m) leads the defensive options now that he’s fully fit.
Newcastle United have conceded just six big chances in the opening five gameweeks, despite a tough opening run of games which included Manchester City and Liverpool.
With the fixtures now turning in their favour, including Sheffield United and Burnley in the next two, a double-up on their defensive assets could be on the cards.
Nick Pope (£5.5m) leads the goalkeeper options. But his higher price tag could be tough to accommodate for those managers with two premium attackers.
Kieran Trippier (£6.5m) is the pick of the defenders, given his set-piece involvements. He has 12 key passes so far this season, but midweek European football for Newcastle could see him rotated with new signing Tino Livramento (£4.4m).
Fabian Schar (£5m) and Sven Botman (£4.5m) are viable cheaper routes into the Magpies defence. Botman has had four shots and created two big chances, while Schar has had three shots on goal.
Manchester City have also conceded just six big chances, although their players have frustrated their owners: they started the season with two clean sheets, but have conceded a goal in each game since.
Ederson (£5.6m) needs to string clean sheets together to justify his price tag given his limited routes to points. Ruben Dias (£5.5m) and Josko Gvardiol (£5.1m) are the most nailed-on picks in City’s defence but the threat of Pep Guardiola’s habit of rotation always lingers.
Fulham are a curious case: top for clean sheets (two) but having conceded the most big chances (20). Bernd Leno (£4.6m) is the top-performing goalkeeper, with 24 saves and five bonus points.
An upcoming double Gameweek 7 for Luton Town and Burnley has seen some interest in investing in these two sides.
It’s difficult to justify Luton’s Thomas Kaminski and Burnley’s James Trafford (both £4.5m) as a second goalkeeper pick right now compared to the value of Alphonse Areola (£4.1m).
Seeing Luton play with advanced wing-backs has seen Issa Kabore (£4m) become a popular defender pick. But Kabore found himself benched in Gameweek 4, and so Reece Burke (£4m) is the safer choice. He has had three shots and two key passes so far.
While the favourable schedule for Brentford continues, Rico Henry (£4.6m) is now out for the rest of the season with a knee injury — and this does limit the defensive options. Mark Flekken (£4.5m) still looks to be one of the best budget goalkeeper picks in the game right now.
Chelsea’s kind run also rolls on, but Ben Chilwell (£5.8m) dropping to the bench against Bournemouth came as a big surprise; Levi Colwill (£4.5m) still provides the value though.
When defensive form or fixtures don’t translate to obvious candidates to invest in for FPL, backing those players with attacking threats becomes an alternative solution.
Pervis Estupinan (£5.3m) missed out for Brighton in Gameweek 5 following a busy international break, but he’s still worth a spot in your team. He has a leading 12 key passes and three big chances created among defenders this season.
Team-mate Tariq Lamptey (£3.9m) marked his first start of the season with a pair of assists and is another option to consider for Brighton, but European action could mean fewer minutes.
Spurs defenders Cristian Romero (£4.8m) and Destiny Udogie (£4.7m) each have two attacking returns but might need to be bench options with Arsenal and Liverpool coming up for the north Londoners.
Aston Villa’s Matty Cash (£4.7m) has scored a brace this season and is top for shots among defenders (11). He’s another player with promising fixtures too.
Team-mate Lucas Digne (£4.6m) has also created 12 key passes but fellow left-back Alex Moreno (£5m) is fit again which could mean rotation among Villa’s full-backs.
Changes are afoot
There are some defensive selections that could be potential rotational risks in the coming weeks, and we’ve already seen this with Aaron Ramsdale (£5m) losing his place in the Arsenal goal. Centre-back Gabriel (£4.8m), though, appears to be back in favour with Mikel Arteta having started the last two.
Other goalkeepers could also see their minutes shared: Jason Steele (£4.4m) has been dividing starts with Bart Verbruggen (£4.4m) at Brighton, while Sam Johnstone (£4.5m) could see competition from Dean Henderson (£4.5m) having conceded five goals in his last two games for Crystal Palace. And at Nottingham Forest, it’s only a matter of time before Odysseas Vlachodimos (£4.5m) replaces budget favourite Matt Turner (£4m) in goal.
In defence, another inexpensive top pick is Chelsea’s Malo Gusto (£4.2m), but captain Reece James (£5.3m) is hoping to be back fit as early as Gameweek 7.
(Photos: Getty Images)