How to pick Defenders Part 1 – Clean Sheets

In this article we’ll be providing a guide on how to pick defenders for your Fantasy Premier League based on clean sheets. In Part 2 we’ll then be looking at how to pick defenders for goals & assists – which is also an important consideration for managers when building out your teams.

To start off, lets cover off the basics.

How many Defenders must be in your Fantasy Premier League team?

Each Fantasy Premier League team must consist of 5 defender in the squad. Given the available formations, you must have at least 3 defenders in your starting 11, with a maximum of all 5 defenders in your starting 11. So defenders can make up nearly half of your starting 11.

How do defenders score points?

Defenders are awarded points as follows:
Playing 0-60 minutes = 1 Points
Playing 60-90 minutes = 2 Points
Clean Sheets = 4 points
Defender Goals = 6 points
Defender Assists = 3 points
Bonus Points for best player in the match = 1-3 points
[Note: Only defenders playing 60-90 mins are eligible for the  Clean Sheet 4 points]

How can defenders lose points?

For every 2 goals conceded by a Defender = -1 Point
For each own goal by a defender =  -2 points
For each Yellow Card = -1 point
For each Red Card = – 3 points

Choosing Defenders in your Fantasy Premier League team, who are going to keep a lot of clean sheets to score those 6 points (2 for playing => 60 mins & 4 for the clean sheet), is an essential factor in amassing a sizable score over the season to win your league and heap shame onto your friends.

So how do I pick defenders who are going to keep clean sheets?

While there is no way to guarantee clean sheets, what we can do is look at some of data and statistics to choose players with the highest probability of gaining those clean sheets points. There are four tips we are going to look at in this guide:

Tip 1: Choose Defenders from teams who concede few goal.

Hopefully this sounds like a fairly obvious one to most managers. The fewer goals a team concedes, then the greater the potential for clean sheets. Not only that but the fewer goals a team concedes, then their defenders are less likely to loose points (-1 point for ever 2 goals conceded) and have a greater potential for bonus points. So there are two factors at play there
a. Choose defenders from teams who concede few goals (greater chance of clean sheets)
b. Don’t choose defenders from teams who concede many goals. (larger chance of losing points)

So lets look at some data from last season, and earlier, to see how team shave historically gone in terms of clean sheets of the number of goals conceded.

Defense Data EPL Season 2013/14
Team Goals Conceded Av Goal Conceded / Game Clean Sheets Conceded 1 goal Conceded =>2 goals
Chelsea 27 0.71 18 15 5
Manchester City 37 0.97 16 11 11
Everton 39 1.03 15 13 10
Arsenal 41 1.08 17 14 7
Manchester City 43 1.13 13 12 13
Southampton 46 1.21 15 9 14
Crystal Palace 48 1.26 12 9 17
Liverpool 50 1.32 10 12 16
Tottenham Hotspur 51 1.34 14 13 11
West Ham 51 1.34 14 9 15
Stoke City 52 1.37 9 19 10
Hull City 53 1.39 10 11 11
Swansea City 54 1.42 8 15 15
Newcastle United 59 1.55 10 12 16
WBA 59 1.55 7 14 17
Sunderland 60 1.58 11 8 19
Aston Villa 61 1.61 9 8 20

As you might expect, Chelsea conceded the fewest goals last season as, well as kept the most clean sheets. Mourinho’s preferred formation for Chelsea in the EPL is to have two screening midfielders sitting in front of the back four. This makes them very hard to breakdown, so they don’t concede many goals. As a result their starting defenders will range from £6.5-£7.0. If you search the teams at the to of this list, you’ll find regular starters for around £5.5 who have a high potential for clean sheets.

You’ll generally want to try to choose defenders from the top half of list, and look to minimise defenders from teams who consistently conceded more than 2 goals in a game over. Aston Villa for example, let in 2 or more goals in 20 of their 38 matches last season. So their defender were regularly scoring 1 point or less – which is just not a good enough return.

One oddity spotted in this data is Stoke City. Stoke only conceded 1 goal on 19 occasions last season, so with a little more concentration, they could well turn those into clean sheets. Upon further analysis, Stoke City actually had the 4th best defensive record when playing at home. In 19 matches they only conceded 17 goals (an average of conceding only 0.89 goals per game). Stoke City defenders used in a rotation when they play at home, could be a way to maximise points.

Another consideration that this table does not take into account is a change of manager mid-season, such as the case with Crystal Palace. Under Tony Pulis, Crystal Palace are very difficult for teams to score against, in part due to their Australia captain Mile Jedinak who made the most tackles and interceptions in the EPL last season. From Pulis’ 26 games, Palace managed 10 clean sheets and conceded an average of 1.04 goals per game (on track for the fourth lowest avg goal / game in the league).

Crystal Palace Defense 2013/14
Team Matches Goals Conceded Av Goals Conceded / Game Clean Sheets Conceded 1 Conceded =>2
Crystal Palace [Total] 38 48 1.26 12 9 17
Under Holloway 8 17 2.12 0 1 10
Under Pulis 26 27 1.04 10 7 9
Under Keith Millen [Caretaker] 4 4 1 2 0 2

So there are some bargain Crystal Palace defender such as Joel Ward (£5.0) and Adrian Mariappa (£4.5) with a high clean sheet potential.


Sometimes teams do just have a bad season at the back. Consistency is often key, so lets just have a quick look at which 5 teams who on average have conceded the fewest goals over the past 5 seasons.

Defensive Data Past 4 Seasons
Team Goals Conceded 13/14 Goals Conceded 12/13 Goals Conceded 11/12 Goals Conceded 10/11 Average goals conceded past 4 seasons
Manchester City 37 34 29 33 33.25
Chelsea 27 39 46 33 36.25
Manchester United 43 43 33 37 39
Everton 39 40 40 45 41
Arsenal 41 37 49 43 42.5


Tip 2: Choose Defenders who will start matches.

In order for a defender to be eligible to receive the 4 clean sheet points, then must have played  60 minutes or more of the match. First half substitutions are not common, so in order to maximise your clean sheet potential you should pick players who are going to start most matches. This can be tricky with the bigger clubs who tend to rotate players in their squad to keep the fresh during periods where the have a congested fixture list due to cup & european competitions. The better the squad, the more likely there will be a rotation system in place. This fact is most evident in the fact that, although Chelsea kept the most clean sheets last season (with 18), non of their defenders played in all 18 clean sheet matches. Lets have a look at which defender scored the most points for clean sheets last season.

Clean Sheets 2013/14
Player Team Clean Sheets Total Score
Koscielny ARS 17 155
Mertesacker ARS 16 157
Cahill CHE 16 147
Terry CHE 16 172
Ivanovic CHE 16 159
Sagna ARS 15 133
Coleman EVE 15 180
Zabaleta MCI 15 146
Fonte SOU 15 149
Shaw SOU 14 123
Azpilicueta CHE 13 109
Baines EVE 13 169
Distin EVE 13 117
Evra MUN 13 142
Dawson TOT 13 106
Demel WHU 13 112
Ward CRY 12 123
Delaney CRY 12 117
Demichelis MCI 12 118
Lovren SOU 12 124
Olsson NOR 11 97
Tomkins WHU 11 87
Gibbs ARS 10 89
Jagielka EVE 10 104
Davies HUL 10 115
Bassong NOR 10 83
Clyne SOU 10 100
O'Shea SUN 10 101
Brown SUN 10 75
Vertonghen TOT 10 91

The Arsenal center back paring of Laurent Koscielny (£6.0m) & world cup winner Per Mertesacker (£6.0m) led the league in clean sheets due to their consistent starts.
Caution should be shown with regard to summer defensive transfers, as last season’s regulars could find them selves on the bench.
For example the arrival of Brazilian left back Filipe Luis from Athletico Madrid means Azpilicueta may well find his game time cut at Chelsea.
Luke Shaw’s arrival at Manchester United means Evra may be on the move.
Sagna’s arrival at Manchester City means that Zabaleta may also spend a few matches peeling oranges on the sidelines.



Tip 3: Beware the opposition, work the fixture list.

This is where a little bit of pre-planning in July or August can pay dividends for Fantasy Premier League managers. Knowing the fixture list, you can find sequences of games where teams have a higher chance of keeping a clean sheet. For example, Manchester City were averaging a crazy 3.32 goals per game at home last season. The probability of a defender coming away from Manchester City with a clean sheet is highly unlikely, so you should play your transfers in advance in order to maximise your clean sheet potential.

At the other end of the spectrum, West Ham United only only managed 15 goals from their 19 away matches last season, at an average of 0.79 goals per match. So having West Ham visit your defenders home ground doesn’t leave them hiding for cover. (sorry Big Sam).

So lets have a look at the first 5 rounds of the EPL and see who each club is up against.

First 5 Rounds
Team Round 1 – Aug 16th Round 2 – Aug 23rd Round 3 – Aug 30th Round 4 – Sept 13th Round 5 – Sept 20th
Manchester City New (A) Liv (H) Sto (H) Ars (A) Che (H)
Liverpool Sou (H) ManC (A) Tot (A) Villa (H) WHam (A)
Chelsea Bur (A) Lei (A) Eve (A) SWA (H) ManC (A)
Arsenal Cry (H) Eve (A) Lei (A) ManC (H) Villa (A)
Everton Lei (A) Ars (H) Che (H) WBA (A) Cry (H)
Tottenham Hotspur WHam (A) QPR (H) Liv (H) Sun (A) WBA (H)
Manchester United Swa (H) Sun (A) Bur (A) QPR (H) Lei (A)
Southampton Liv (A) WBA (H) WHam (A) New (H) Swa (A)
Stoke City Villa (H) Hull (A) ManC (A) Lei (H) QPR (A)
Newcastle United ManC (H) Villa (A) Cry (H) Sou (A) Hull (H)
Crystal Palace Ars (A) WHam (H) New (A) Bur (H) Eve (A)
Swansea City ManU (A) Bur (H) WBA (H) Che (A) Sou (H)
West Ham United Tot (H) Cry (A) Sou (H) Hull (A) Liv (H)
Sunderland WBA (A) ManU (H) QPR (A) Tot (H) Bur (A)
Aston Villa Sto (A) New (H) Hull (H) Liv (A) Ars (H)
Hull City QPR (A) Sto (H) Villa (A) WHam (H) New (A)
West Bromwich Albion Sun (H) Sou (A) Swa (A) Eve (H) Tot (A)
Leicester City Eve (H) Che (A) Ars (H) Sto (A) ManU (H)
Burnley Che (H) Swa (A) ManU (H) Cry (A) Sun (H)
Queens Park Rangers Hull (H) Tot (A) Sun (H) ManU (A) Sto (H)

If you were to then overlay the average number of goals scored by the opponent last season, taking into account Home and Away ave goals per game, then your top 3 clubs for the opening run are:
1. Hull City > Stoke City & West Ham averaged less than a goal a game away last season. Newcastle and Aston Villa were only just averaging more than a goal a game at home.
2. Manchester United >  Swansea & Sunderland both were averaging 1.11 goals per game for their corresponding hame & away fixtures. They also face all three newly promoted clubs.
3. QPR > Hull & Stoke both averaged 0.95 goals per game last season. Tottenham & Manchester United could be trickier this year, but both averaged around the 1.55 mark for goals per game at home.

Having studied the fixture list, you may then want to look at using 2 or three cheap defenders in rotation in your team defending upon their opponent. Planning these rotations ahead of time means you’re not sacrificing your free transfer to make changes, but are maximizing your potential points yield.

So to summarize those three tips for optimal clean sheet probability this season:

Tip 1: Choose Defenders from teams who concede few goal.

Tip 2: Choose Defenders who will start matches.

Tip 3: Beware the opposition, work the fixture list.

In Part 2 we’ll be looking at how to How to Pick Defenders – For Goals & Assists

Best of luck in Season 2014/15.



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