Team 33's Fantasy Football Host Eoin Sheahan ponders how defences have become so leaky
As we drift into December, the national dialogue focuses on how ‘the build-up to Christmas gets earlier and earlier every year’ and - the real hot potato - how ‘defenders just don’t score clean sheet fantasy points anymore’.
There are answers to these sickening problems.
Firstly, nibbling on mini-Milky Ways in the first week of December while watching Arnold Schwarzenegger kick some ass in Jingle all the Way can cure your pre-christmas joy-killing streak.
Secondly, the clean sheets haven’t disappeared. They’ve simply moved. Sort of like when we thought Nicolas Anelka and David James had gone into hiding, before realising that the existence of the Indian Super League wasn’t an elaborate hoax.
The best place to start is with ourselves. Because we, as fantasy football managers, need to take a long look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we fell into the trap of believing in the Arsenal defence again this season.
Wenger’s boys have gone three games without a clean sheet (their longest streak this season), which - lo and behold - coincides with their unbelievably predictable monsoon of injuries.
Petr Cech is the most-owned ‘keeper in the game so there has naturally been a dip in average returns between the sticks for fantasy managers of late.
It would, however, be advisable to hold onto whatever assets from the Gunners’ defence you do have, assuming said assets haven’t been struck by the not-at-all-suspicious-and-definitely-not-Wenger’s-fault bout of the seemingly contagious state of injury that has engulfed the club.
They play Sunderland, Villa, Bournemouth and Newcastle in the next six. It would be madness to avoid that fixture list, but the point stands - we’ve been getting nothing from Arsenal defensively since Halloween night. Watch out.
Man City have been a similarly irritating thorn in our side. The most-owned defender is Aleksandar Kolarov and he’s only been able to return two clean sheets in the last nine fixtures (but who cares, dat left foot doe).
The reason for City’s irregular returns at the back (Kompany’s absence) has been so well-publicised at this stage that it makes the Kardashians seem like a moderately well-known touring folk band.
Vincent Kompany is central to everything you have ever loved about Man City’s clean sheet credentials. Only once this season have City failed to shut out their opponents when he’s been on the field and they have yet to get a clean sheet without him.
A quick shout out here, too, to LVG’s ultra-rock-solid defence that never concedes a goal, home or away. Well, United have got hit twice in a row on the road since the international break and perhaps their defence is creaking. With West Ham visiting Old Trafford this weekend, though, they will probably get back to their cheeky one-nil ways.
That being said, Chris Smalling joins Kolarov and Cech in the top three of most-owned defensive players, so it’s been a shock to the season’s clean sheet system over the past fortnight.
Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce. Picture by: Richard Sellers / PA Wire/Press Association Images
So where on earth have the clean sheets gone?
Well, let me tell you the story of a magic warlock, who used to have a magic moustache but now just sprinkles magic dust over a random assortment of Premier League clubs. He chews his magic chewing gum while watching his teams magically rack up clean sheet points for fantasy bosses all around the word.
After three clean sheets in five games, Sam Allardyce has conjured up a potion of granite for this Sunderland outfit as their defensive solidity provides us with a number of excellent cheap options.
Perhaps the most remarkable sight in their 2-0 win over Stoke last week was the image of Patrick van Aanholt standing over a dead-ball while keeping a straight face. Truly heart-warming.
Sticking the ball in the net a little later helped propel him into our radars as possibly the standout option in that backline and an out-of-position gem.
With Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool in their next five, though, continued returns for this citadel of a defence looks somewhat unlikely in the short-term.
Elsewhere, we need to figure out what the hell is going on at Chelsea. They’ve kept back-to-back clean sheets, conceded just one big chance in the last four games and look uncharacteristically like a good football team.
Bournemouth, Sunderland and Watford arrive at the Bridge in the next four. Kurt Zouma might well be your man to hop on this (whisper it) slowly re-emerging bandwagon.
Finally, it’s worth trying to get involved with that Spurs defence with the excellent fixtures that they too possess.
Toby Alderweireld may have suddenly become the trendiest thing since the Tamagotchi, but cut-price options Danny Rose and Eric Dier are returning consistent minutes and the occasional smattering of attacking points, too.
Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne was the game's top scorer last week. Picture by: Jon Super / AP/Press Association Images
The big thing you need to do this week is, if you own him, to sell Alexis Sanchez. In a perverse way, his injury has finally allowed us to let go of the false hope that he carried for the last month-and-a-half. While Arsenal will undoubtedly suffer from his absence, one assist in five games from an 11.5 player was simply a big disappointment.
Mesut Ozil (9.4) is the best option to now bring in. Only Romelu Lukaku should be in his way for your captain’s armband this week.
If you already own the German, Kevin de Bruyne (10.7) and, if fit, Philippe Coutinho (8.4) look the best alternatives, with Ross Barkley (7.2) a cheaper choice.
If you’re looking to stay cool and hip, David Silva (9.9) is back in the mixer and owned by less than 5% of managers. He returned a brace of assists last time he played and that excellent start to the season he enjoyed may have been forgotten by some.
As you may be able to digest from the theme of this piece, it’s a pretty important week for the defences of Arsenal and Man United. Hector Bellerin (5.9) and Chris Smalling (6.8) remain the best non-goalkeeper options, but should either fail to return a clean sheet this week (home to Sunderland and West Ham respectively), it will be time to seriously consider alternative backlines on which to spend your big bucks.
Outside of that premium bracket, Virgil van Dijk (5.6) is the best Southampton option in defence ahead of their home tie with Aston Villa. Some might even baselessly claim he’s ‘due a goal’ at this point.
Watford will also fancy their chances of a home clean sheet when Norwich come to play. Nathan Ake (4.4) looks the cheapest route into that defence and arguably has the best attacking spark of the team’s defence (not saying much).
Lastly, Odion Ighalo (5.8) reminded everyone that there’s life outside of the Vardy - Kane - Lukaku axis last week with a double-digit haul and his owners will be licking their lips at this week’s fixture, too.