For most defenders clean sheets provide the most consistent and reliable source of Fantasy Premier League points after appearance points. These are won as a defensive unit so for the clean sheet points the players’ team tends to matter more than who the player is (as long as they regularly clock at least 60 minutes per game).
Players from the back line are rarely captained and their returns are sometimes overlooked, but forwards and midfielders will need to generate higher returns to keep a team competitive if the defence behind them is poorly owned and failing to keep up with the popular sides. The effect of not owning a defender from a popular team can be particularly pronounced in the early season, as some discovered last season when Manchester City started very well.
Using the FPL’s “team selected by” data for the most popular fit and available goalkeeper and five defenders from each team (i.e. excluding flagged players), I have charted the ownership percentage totals for each team.
There are caveats of course. This doesn’t capture players who are flagged but may yet play in Gameweek 1. It does capture some cheap selections that may not play (for example, more managers have selected Swansea City’s 4.0m keeper Kristoffer Nordfeldt than likely starter Lukasz Fabianski, who is 5.0m). Some FPL managers may also be doubling up on a defence.
Nevertheless, it serves as a useful rough guide and it is clear the Manchester United defence is particularly popular. There are some obvious reasons for this, from the Red Devils’ global appeal through to perceptions about the defensive abilities of teams managed by Jose Mourinho.
Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are also popular picks, but not too many FPL managers are likely to own and field a defender from all five teams. If they do, they’re surely leaving themselves short of cash for purchases in midfield and upfront that could potentially deliver even bigger points.
Still, it could still be a nail-biting opening weekend for managers without a Manchester United defender or goalkeeper as they wait to see if Mourinho’s men keep out Bournemouth. And those managers rotating cheap defenders to access clean sheets will be hoping they have picked the right ones for the job.