Early Gaffr Gambits 2021/22 – New Defenders

I’ve had a look at the new forwards and midfielders coming into the Championship from relegated and promoted clubs, so now onto defenders. You’ll be glad to know there will be plenty of choice in defence when it comes to picking your GAFFR team…

The Relegated Ones

Starting with the highest placed Premier League side from last season, Fulham’s xGA last season was far lower than the other two relegated teams. They will shuffle their defensive pack once again this season, but they have so far kept hold of left full-backs Joe Bryan and Antonee Robinson. Joe Bryan is more attacking and had a good understanding with Aleksandar Mitrovic in Fulham’s promotion season (1 goal, 7 assists), assisting 6 of Mitrovic’s goals from crosses into the box, so will be a strong option should Mitrovic stay or be replaced with a similar profile centre forward. Bryan has only scored 2 league goals in three seasons at Fulham, but scored 5 for Bristol City in the 2017/18 Championship. 

Antonee Robinson’s attacking stats are not as impressive as Joe Bryan’s, but was the preferred left back choice of Scott Parker in the Premier League, perhaps due to defensive qualities. Playing in a more attacking team may boost Robinson’s stats though. Kenny Tete is the first choice right back, though we are yet to see what returns he is capable of at second tier level.

The centre-backs could be Tosin Adarabioyo and Michael Hector, which would be a solid centre-back partnership at Championship level. Michael Hector improved the defence as part of Fulham’s resurgent second half of 2019/20 before being replaced by loanee Joachim Anderson in the Premier League. Fulham kept 9 clean sheets in Hector’s 20 appearances, compared with 7 in the previous 26 games in which Alfie Mawson or Tim Ream played in the same position. Adarabioyo would be the man to attack most set pieces, having scored 3 goals in 33 Championship games for Blackburn before moving to South West London.

West Bromwich Albion have gone from having the worst xGA in the Premier League to recruiting the manager from the team with the best xGA in the Championship last season. They have very interesting wing back options in Valerian Ismael’s 3-4-3 formation as the new manager’s wing backs played very high and had a combined 8 assists over the season for Barnsley. Darnell Furlong might be on the right, who amassed 2 goals and 1 assist when playing in a back 4 in the Championship two seasons ago, and even managed 1 goal and 3 assists in the Premier League. On the opposite flank it might be Conor Townsend, who has only 3 attacking returns (all assists) in his 54 starts for West Brom. Furlong has 3 goals and 4 assists in the same amount of starts for WBA. This might mean Furlong comes in at a slightly higher price.

Ismael’s centre backs from last season had a similar height and heading ability to Semi Ajayi and Kyle Bartley, with Ajayi having a better goal record and Bartley having more assists. These two will both go forward for set pieces, as did Ismael’s two tallest centre-backs last season. Barnsley made full use of crosses and set pieces. Michal Helik scored 5 and flicked on 1 and Mads Andersen scored 1 and flicked on 5, including 3 for Helik. Dara O’Shea may be the third centre-back, whose experience as a right back in the Championship would make him suited to playing on the right of a back three.

Sheffield United are expected to dramatically improve defensively under Slavisa Jokanovic. Enda Stevens has the technical qualities to play out of position as a left centre-mid in a 4-3-3. Stevens’ preferred position is at left back, but Jack Robinson may become the first choice left back in a back 4 if Stevens is either sold or deployed in midfield. Enda Stevens was the pick of the Blades’ defenders in 2018/19 having contributed 4 goals and 6 assists. Robinson’s Championship numbers are not as good, but consistent. He got 2 goals and 2 assists over each of his last two full seasons in the Championship.

FPL managers will remember George Bladock’s 2 goals and 3 assists in his first Premier League season, but Jokanovic’s preferred system may restrict his high positioning and overlapping runs. Last season was difficult for Baldock to build form but his quality in possession shown by him continually outperforming his expected attacking numbers allows plenty of potential for returns. The current second choice right back Jayden Bogle is a wildcard in this team as there is potential for him to play as a right winger due to the dearth of wingers in the United squad. His main talents are going forward with pace. Even at right back, Bogle managed an eye-catching 15 assists for Derby over two seasons in the second tier.

The standout Sheff Utd centre-back is Chris Basham, though his 4 goals and 2 assists when Sheffield United were promoted came in a different system when he was given license to roam forward. This skews the numbers, which showed in the Premier League when he stopped going forward as freely. However, if he stays at the club, the 32 year-old will make the defence solid and be a good asset for clean sheets at the right price, as well as improve other defensive options from Jokanovic’s team in Gaffr.

The Promoted Ones

It’s likely to be slim pickings in defence from the three promoted clubs, Hull, Peterborough and Blackpool. None of these defences put up defensive numbers that look like they could translate to many clean sheets in the Championship, but you might be interested by the best defenders for attacking returns.

Hull’s Callum Elder had a combined xG+xA of 0.26 per 90 minutes in League One. He almost matched this with 1 goal and 10 assists. Whereas Elder gets into crossing positions, Blackpool play a wing back formation which allows Luke Garbutt to get into shooting positions from left wing back. Garbutt had 5 goals and 3 assists and was also part of the best defence in League One, but Neil Critchley will need to prioritise buying reinforcements elsewhere in his team to compete at a higher level.

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