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Middlesbrough look to snap goal drought


Case for the defence

This season has been a nightmare defensively, with little in the way of value. But with the game's star performers from the first half of season now coming at a premium price, it's going to be essential to save cash in the defence.

The problem is being exacerbated by the continued good form of mid-priced players such as Clint Dempsey of Fulham and Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon. Their consistency means they will soon start to approach the £9 million price mark, so while it is good if you own them they will soon be out of reach to others.

Michel Vorm continues to lead the way among goalkeepers with 111 points at a price of £5.7 million. He's dropped in price by £0.3 million since last week and since the midway point of the season he's ranked only 17th and 15th in the weekly rankings. That's led to a 1% drop in ownership, but where is that money being reinvested?

A key transfer target could be Manchester United keeper Anders Lindegaard. With David de Gea seemingly displaced the Dane has taken over as number one, but with the price of a back-up player. Even better for those weighing up their options, Lindegaard has dropped in price by £0.1 million to £4.4 million. There is obviously the risk that Sir Alex Ferguson will decide to bring De Gea back into the fold, but for now Lindegaard is a steal.

Lindegaard's stats stack up too. He's played eight Premier League games, kept six clean sheets and conceded only four goals. However, Manchester United now enter their most difficult spell of the season after the upcoming home game with Stoke. In the four gameweeks which follow they travel to Chelsea, Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur while Liverpool will also make the trip to Old Trafford.

Despite those fixtures, his price makes it a gamble worth taking for a player with a title challenger. His ownership is already up 1.1% to 10.3%.

United's have defensive problems, with Nemanja Vidic out for the rest of the season and Phil Jones on the sidelines for a few weeks. Add into the mix Rio Ferdinand's sketchy fitness record and it points to a lot of first team football for Jonny Evans. As he's not seen as a regular first team player, Evans is owned by a surprisingly low 0.6% of managers and only Rafael, at £5.9million, is cheaper. Rafael is certainly one to keep an eye on too now he is fit again.

Evans has started seven of the last nine matches, picking up three clean sheets. If you want a United defender on the cheap he has to be the option at the moment.

The other value goalkeeper is Sunderland's Simon Mignolet. When the new transfer prices were built, Kieren Westwood was the first choice keeper with Mignolet expected to be out for an extended period with a facial injury. However, Mignolet returned ahead of schedule on New Year's Eve and has kept two clean sheets in four gameweeks.

But Mignolet has not quite gone under the radar and is already in 10.9% of teams, up 0.3%. Sunderland's next six fixtures feature home games against Norwich, Arsenal and Liverpool and trips to Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United. So it's a mixed bag for Martin O'Neill's rejuvenated side.

Another to monitor is Thomas Sorensen, should you own him, after he put in a horror show in Stoke's home loss to West Brom last weekend. When Asmir Begovic put in a poor performance earlier in the season he was banished from the team, so there is every chance that fate will befall Sorensen too for the trip to Old Trafford.

Sorensen is priced at £5.5 million and owned by just 1.4% of managers, with Begovic in 0.7% of teams at £5.1 million. After Stoke play Man United they have home games against Sunderland, Swansea and Norwich with an away game against Fulham in there too. Perhaps there could be alternative value with a keeper barely owned by any managers.

Sunderland's Phil Bardsley was a popular signing last season, scoring three goals. He has not managed to get on the scoresheet this season but perhaps, with a price of £5.6 million, and ownership of 0.3%, he could come good in the upcoming weeks.

But the pick of the defenders right now is Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark. Priced at £5.2 million, and in 0.7% of teams, Clark is that fantasy commodity managers dream of - a player classifield as a defender who is actually playing in midfield. That means they still pick up full clean sheet points while having a greater chance of scoring goals - goals which will be worth eight points.

Clark got an assist against Wolves in the last gameweek, his second of the season, and is now on a run of six consecutive games in the starting line-up. He scored against Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup too.

Injury update

Those managers with Ramires in their squad may want to consider a quick sale after the midfielder suffered a knee injury in the FA Cup which will rule him out of action for around a month.

Ramires was one of the popular picks for the second half of the season and he is in 9.3% of teams which makes him the 14th most popular selection. He has already dropped 1.2% in ownership since the weekend.

Priced at £6.6 million, he was a value addition which makes replacing him difficult. Stephane Sessegnon is too popular to be effective against your rivals so how about going for Man United's in-form winger, Antonio Valencia? Priced at £6.5 million, he's currently in 12% of teams - that's up 3% from 10 days ago. Only Clint Dempsey is currently more popular in the transfer market.

Nani is rumoured to be facing an extended period on the sidelines himself, which will make Valencia a crucial player over the coming weeks. Nani is currently the game's least popular player in the market, down 4.1% in ownership to 37.3%.


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