Defence vs Attack –  A Pre-season Analysis

Last updated on August 2nd, 2023

Which Goalkeepers and Defenders should we be considering for clean sheet potential in the first 7 gameweeks?

Written by Keiran Trotter (@fpl_del)

FDR Loathing

I, like many of our community, have long since disregarded the Fixture Difficulty Rating as any sort of guidance from an FPL points perspective. Primarily for me, it is useless data, in the sense that it provides an estimation of how difficult a fixture is and therefore from it we can make a more informed judgement on which team is more likely to win the game. That’s great, but how many points does my player get if his team wins? Exactly. Zero.

Now I know some of you will argue teams that win are more likely to have players that score positively, and whilst that is very generally true, it is much more nuanced than that, for example, it’s pretty pointless owning a goalkeeper who plays for a team that wins 5-3 every week. Give me the goalkeeper from the team who parks the bus away from home any day!

When you couple this with the fact that FDR struggles to keep pace with changes in form and individual player selection issues, for me personally, it’s kind of pointless.

So it got me thinking, what would be more useful than FDR as we consider our squads ahead of the first gameweek?

Home vs Away, Defence vs Attack, Security vs Potency

Far more important to me than FDR is the matchup of the two teams’ relative strengths in defence vs attack. Again, it is easy, especially in pre-season, to look at data from last year and generalise which teams are particularly strong by looking at goals scored and conceded. My preference is to look at the two other key factors and consider firstly, how they perform at home vs away in isolation to their overall perceived strength. Secondly, I prioritise how many clean sheets they kept (Security) above how many goals they conceded and how many times they failed to score (Potency) over how many goals they actually scored.

The fundamentals of a solid FPL defence are finding the players that can keep you clean sheets and since conceding 1 goal scores a defender 0 points and conceding 0 goals scores a defender 4 points, it’s vital we maximise those 4 pointers and they don’t always come from the perceived best defences.

Looking at last season, this is probably best illustrated by a couple of teams. Firstly Arsenal, who you would say had a very good season last season conceding the joint third-fewest goals. In actuality, Arsenal only kept 4 Clean Sheets at home and were significantly worse defensively at home than Wolves. Conversely, Arsenal were terrific defensively away from home keeping 4 more clean sheets than anyone else.

Looking at Everton, they conceded 27 goals at home and 30 away from home so you could surmise that they were roughly as bad, defensively, home or away. However, they kept 7 clean sheets at home putting them on par with Manchester City and 2 away from home putting only 1 non-relegated team (Wolves) below them.

Now obviously as teams concede more goals, negative points do start to have an impact, so we cannot ignore the total number of goals conceded altogether, but the difference in impact to your goalkeeper or defenders points between conceding the first goal compared to any subsequent goals is much greater.

The Analysis

Looking at each team’s defensive and attacking performances at home and away last year, with a focus on clean sheets and blanks I assigned each team a Security rating (a reflection of their ability to keep a clean sheet) and a Potency rating (their ability to destroy clean sheets). The ratings were between 1 and 10 and relative to each other, i.e. most teams have a lower Security rating and Potency rating away from home when it is generally regarded as more difficult to perform. With the three promoted teams, I used their performance from last season but had to factor in the increased difficulty of the Premier League.

Once I had the Security and Potency ratings for each team, home and away, I calculated the fixture rating for each team in the fixture for the first 7 gameweeks of the season. I figure by gameweek 7 we’ll have a much more reliable data set to work with and people will be starting to consider using their Wildcards.

Fixture rating for Home Team = Home Team Security – Away Team Potency

Fixture rating for Away Team = Away Team Security – Home Team Potency

This gave each fixture a rating from -10 to 10 for both teams in the fixture.

The aim is to have defenders from teams with the highest ratings over the first 7 gameweeks, giving you the best chance, based on last season’s data, of obtaining the most amount of clean sheets. Of course, you do still need to factor in a few things:

  1. It’s a new season, teams have new players, managers and opposition so their performances are always going to differ from last year
  2. Potential attacking contributions are always a factor in choosing which specific defenders to choose
  3. Price will also affect which defenders you choose
  4. There is the ability to attack specific fixtures so someone who has 4 better fixtures and 3 tougher fixtures is still useful as they can be benched for the tougher fixtures


The following are teams I think you should be targeting a defender from in the first 7 gameweeks:

Manchester United had the best home defence last season with 11 clean sheets conceding only 11 goals. They have 4 home matches in the first 7 gameweeks against Wolves, Forest, Brighton and Palace. Those 4 teams failed to score away from home 9, 6, 7 and 10 times respectively last season.

They weren’t quite so good away from home keeping only 6 Clean Sheets and travel to Spurs and Arsenal who only blanked twice each at home last season but you could bench your United Defender for these games before they then travel to Burnley.

Brighton were also one of the top home defences last season keeping 9 clean sheets and conceding 21 goals. They also start with 4 home games in the first 7 against Luton, West Ham, Newcastle and Bournemouth. We don’t quite know what to expect from Luton but West Ham and Bournemouth blanked 9 times away from home last season as did Newcastle, which is surprising given how good a season they had.

Like United, they are considerably leakier away from home but they do go away to Wolves in gameweek 2 who blanked 6 times at home last season. We may need to bench Brighton defenders in gameweeks 5 and 7 when they go away to Manchester United and Aston Villa who both only blanked twice at home last season.

Manchester City are a model of consistency home and away keeping 7 Clean Sheets at home and 6 away last season. The following list is their first 7 fixtures with the amount of blanks their opposition registered relative to the game being home or away. 

  • Burnley Away (n/a)
  • Newcastle Home (9)
  • Sheffield United Away (n/a)
  • Fulham Home (5)
  • West Ham Away (4)
  • Forest Away (6)
  • Wolves Away (6)

There is a solid argument for me to play a City defender in all of those fixtures. The only issue being, which one, especially given the UEFA Super Cup Final sits between gameweek 1 and 2 so may see some rotation.

Arsenal had an excellent away defence last season keeping 10 clean sheets. If that form continues, away fixtures against Everton, Palace and Bournemouth who failed to score 5, 7 and 8 times respectively last season make Arsenal defenders a great option in gameweeks 2, 5 and 7. Their home ties vs Fulham and Forest are also not bad options.

There are arguments for choosing defenders from Liverpool and Newcastle who were very good defensively at home last season. However, Liverpool have 3 tough away trips to Chelsea, Newcastle and Spurs in their first 7 games and with Trent Alexander Arnold being their only defender I’d consider, I think the budget can be used more widely elsewhere initially. If Liverpool look more secure and Trent continues to play more advanced we can look to bring him in on the first Wildcard. 

Newcastle’s start is even tougher with Man City and Brighton away and Newcastle and Villa at home in their first 4 games. 

Aston Villa were vastly improved under Unai Emery in the second half of last season and have added experienced International Pau Torres to their defence. They kept 7 clean sheets at 

So from the above, I think with a City, Arsenal, Brighton and Man Utd defender in our 6 defensive (5 defenders plus 1 goalkeeper) slots we have the makings of a very strong defence. Conscious of budget, and most people prefer to only play 3 defenders, I think we need to look at some lower-budget, great value options for our final 2 slots.

Aston Villa were vastly improved after Unai Emery took over from Steven Gerrard and ended with 7 home clean sheets and 5 away clean sheets. They face Everton at home in gameweek 2, Burnley away in gameweek 3 and Palace at home in gameweek 5. With Tyrone Mings, Pau Torres and Matty Cash all £4.5m, they provide great value backup to our other defenders.

Brentford were also defensively consistent, keeping exactly the same amount of home and away clean sheets as Villa. They have home games vs Palace, Bournemouth and Everton in gameweeks 3, 4 and 6 and Rico Henry and Ethan Pinnock are also priced at £4.5m.

If you want to go even more budget than that and opt for a £4.0m defender, please check out my previous article here:

Who are the best picks from the newly promoted teams? – Premier Fantasy Tools

So your back-line could look like this:

I hope this has helped you solidify your early gameweek defences and if you liked this article please follow me on Twitter @fpl_del and on Threads @fpl_del

If you would like the data behind this analysis, please DM me your email address and I will be happy to share it with you.

Mark De Carvalho
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