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The Fantasy Formula : Value Defenders

The first ever edition of Bitter and Blue’s fantasy series introduces itself and takes a look at undervalued defenders to fill out your roster.

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

Welcome to the first ever edition of the Bitter and Blue Fantasy Formula! We’re definitely not attached to that name (bit generic isn’t it?) for the series so feel free to reach out with any better ideas. Anyway, with fantasy Premier League becoming more popular every season, we’ve decided to dip our toes in the precarious waters of giving advice on how you should manage your fake team. I have proclaimed myself the arbiter for this endeavor despite questionable qualifications so hopefully you are not lead astray by anything written here.

So what can you expect from this series?

The goal is for this to be a weekly to bi-weekly post that explores a different, interesting topic in the world of fantasy Premier League. It won’t focus exclusively on Manchester City players but instead intends to explore all aspects of the league that could help you succeed. The structure will change each week but could vary anywhere from buy/sell on specific players/teams to the best way to spread your budget throughout your roster.

If you have any curiosities you’d like covered in this column, please let us know! This is supposed to be designed to address real fantasy dilemmas and strategies so your input would factor in towards achieving that goal.

Now onto business. For the first edition of the Fantasy Formula, we are covering value defenders!

Regardless of your strategy, you’re likely going to be looking to fill out the back half of your roster with affordable options. Since the high salary players are primarily attackers, these inexpensive slots are often allocated to the defense and maximizing this portion of your budget could be the difference between your team being a contender. The four players listed below likely won’t singlehandedly win your league or even your week, but they have a decent chance at helping by outperforming their salary.

I am an advocate that the largest value in the defender category is in players who can get you assists so it should be no surprise that the recommendations here all have one thing in common. They’re all fullbacks!

Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City) - £ 5.6

This is still a Manchester City site after all so couldn’t help but start the inaugural edition with a Blue, and it’s not hard to see why Zinchenko is a good option. Even if you build in a slight downgrade with the potential side effects of Aymeric Laporte’s injury, the Ukrainian left back should validate his salary despite being the most expensive player on this list. In fact, he’s one of a few City players you can actually trust because he’ll start on a week-to-week basis, which isn’t the case for many positions under Pep Guardiola.

According to UnderStat, he leads Premier League defenders in expected goal chains (xGChain) and buildups (xGBuildup) in the most productive attack in European football. Zinchenko also has posted an elite 1.75 key passes per 90 minutes so far this season yet has not recorded an assist yet. Moreover, his expected assists per key passes is well below his career average, leaving room for positive regression. With City’s collection of attackers, it’s only a matter of time before those key passes become goals and Zinchenko’s £5.6 value starts to climb towards the best at the position.

Emerson (Chelsea) - £ 5.5

Keep an eye on the Italian fullback’s health after going off with a possibility muscle injury against Finland, but if healthy, Emerson is one of the better defense options on the market. He’s completely displaced Marcos Alonso on the left side of the backline and is now an integral member of Frank Lampard’s rejuvenated attack. Chelsea are a top five offense in terms of chance creation on both at Stamford Bridge and on the road, making Emerson relatively matchup-proof.

This graphic illustrates how influential Emerson has been in every metric with the exception of goals and assists. Luckily, the expected goal data predicts a lucrative future where the statistics that generate points in fantasy are on the horizon. He ranks in the top six among Premier League defenders in both key passes and expected assists but perhaps the more alluring statistic of his is shots, where Emerson has racked up 6 already (2nd in league)! You want to invest in chances created in fantasy and the Italian certainly is one of the few fullbacks consistently involved on both ends of those opportunities.

Chelsea faces two tough opponents in the near future with a trip to Wolverhampton followed by Liverpool at home. Starting Emerson is in play even in the challenging matchups but the bold of you may consider waiting to pick him up for a few weeks in hope of a buy-low scenario as Chelsea go into a tasty stretch that reads Brighton, Southampton, Newcastle, Burnley, Watford, and Palace.

Arthur Masuaku (West Ham United) - £ 4.5

This is where we go off the beaten path a bit as we approach the basement of defender pricing. Masuaku has started three of four matches for a West Ham side that has strengthened its attack greatly this summer. We haven’t seen the full force of that improvement yet so some of these players continue to be undervalued as a result. Manuel Pellegrini’s team have underperformed their expected goal so far while new addition Sébastien Haller has impressed early on and his size will be a welcoming target for Masuaku’s crosses.

West Ham United v Norwich City - Premier League Photo by Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images

The Congolese national is second among all Premier League defenders in expected assists and is one of West Ham’s move involved outfield players in buildup generation based on advanced metrics. The schedule also lines up perfectly for Masuaku in the next three weeks with fixtures against two of the worst defenses in the league, Aston Villa and Bournemouth. Both of these matches are on the road for West Ham, which actually works in Masuaku’s favor. West Ham favor the left side on the attack more on the road (44% compared to 39%) and Villa/Bournemouth are both surprisingly more defensively inept at home.

Fire Masuaku up with confidence for both of these matchups. The left back’s value does get knocked because West Ham are atrocious on the defensive side of the ball in their own right so don’t expect too many points from clean sheets from him. You can’t have it all when you’re shopping in this price range unfortunately, just hope you don’t get docked 2 points if West Ham concede two or more goals.

Ahmed El Mohamady (Aston Villa) - £ 4.5

Remember what we said about West Ham being terrible on defense? Well, Aston Villa play the Hammers this weekend and El Mohamady is prepared to trade barbs with Masuaku on that side of pitch in what should be an free flowing match. The Egyptian has only started two of Villa’s four matches so there is risk in choosing him but it could pay off if Dean Smith gives him the go at right back.

Villa short term schedule lines up well for an attack in dire need of a spark as well. In their next five matches, three of them are against teams in the top eight in conceding expected goals with West Ham (1st), Norwich City (3rd) , and Brighton (8th). Pair that with the fact that El Mohamady is currently producing a ludicrous 2.49 key passes per 90 minutes and it’s easy to see why his stock could soon be on the rise. Albeit a small sample size, that statistic would put the right back in the top ten in the Premier League among all outfield players!

Crewe Alexandra v Aston Villa - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

He’s also increased his expected assists per key pass to a recorded high, yet possibly sustainable rate. El Mohamady compiled 2 goals and 8 assists for Villa last season and you don’t need to squint your eyes too much to envision him coming close to those figures again. As it stands, there are zeros in the counting stat categories so far this season and that has capped his value to wear it currently resides. But as Wesley settles in as striker, so will Villa’s attack and El Mohamady will be a beneficiary of that. Buy now, ride the matchups, and look to make a profit on the Egyptian.

That wraps the inaugural edition of Bitter and Blue’s Fantasy Formula! Hopefully you got something out of this and have a leg up on the competition. Don’t be surprised to see these players’ values rise by up to £0.5 over the next month. The fact that all the recommendations here are fullbacks shouldn’t deter you from selecting central defenders by the way. Their path to points is just more strenuous and the worthwhile ones are often more expensive but have lower ceilings than their fullback counterparts. Maybe that evaluation can be a future post for the Fantasy Formula! Once again, please get in touch in any way you can to discuss what was covered here and any future topics you’d be interested in exploring. Good luck!