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3
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1
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3
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1
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2
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Manchester CityManchester City
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Oct 7, 2009

The case for the defence

It's always been the case that forward players have been the main attraction in fantasy. Goalkeepers and defenders have generally been seen as a welcome bonus, should they offer clean sheets and, even better, goals.

But this season there has been even less value for defensive players. Take this weekend just gone when there were just two clean sheets, and one of those was for Portsmouth. Very few managers will have dared to have Pompey players in their squad considering their position in the table.

It means that only those with Chelsea defenders will have reaped a reward, though even big clubs keeping out the opposition has appeared difficult in general.

Go back a gameweek and we find clean sheets for Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal, which is far more palatable for the fantasy boss.

Even so, there are just a few clean sheets a week this season. And, if teams cannot stop the goals going in, then surely it makes sense to invest in midfielders and strikers rather than at the back?

Looking at total clean sheets so far this season, Chelsea are on top with four. But even they are down on their clean sheet average of last season, which was 58% to the current return of 50%. It is far worse for the rest of the top four: Manchester United: 63% compared to 37.5% now; Arsenal 42% compared to 29%; Liverpool 53% compared to 25%.

So with the big four proving so disappointing at the back, is it better to look at defenders from elsewhere in the Premier League, thus creating spare budget to invest on those star names who are scoring and creating goals week-in, week-out? There are plenty of strikers from the top price band who are performing well enough to warrant consideration.

In the past couple of seasons one tactic which has been tried out is 'striker cycling', whereby you have a solid team and then use most of your transfers to bring in those forward players who have an attractive fixture list. With the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Didier Drogba, Darren Bent, Fernando Torres and Jermain Defoe seemingly unable to stop scoring that may no longer be a realistic option.

Instead, it may be time to dip into a bit of 'defender cycling'. Granted, at this stage it may take a bit of creativity in the transfer market initially but in the long run the benefits are clear.

Not all of the top defenders should be ignored, of course. Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen and Chelsea's Ashley Cole have 46 and 43 points respectively, making them the fifth and six best performing players in the whole game. But there's then a sizeable gap of ten points to the next best defender, who after a goal against his former club on Monday happens to be Richard Dunne of Aston Villa.

Despite their poor start, players from the big four do take up six of the top eight scoring places for defenders. However, it is vital to take into account the value you will be getting for your money. For instance, Dunne is almost £1.8 million cheaper than Liverpool's Glen Johnson but has scored three more points in the opening rounds of games.

Back to that 'defender cycling', then. If you want to get hold of the likes of Drogba, Torres, Gerrard and Fabregas then you have to make sacrifices elsewhere.

Glancing at the next block of four fixtures, there looks to be great value in defenders from Hull City, Manchester City, Stoke City and Wigan.

Man City, though, do slot into the second level of pricing and as such do not create as much budgetary space. However, in Shay Given they have a goalkeeper who at £5.4 million is an attractive price and the fifth best goalkeeper. Take into consideration they play Fulham and Burnley at home plus Wigan and Birmingham away and there must be value there. But with their cheapest regular defender coming in at £5.5 million the value stops there.

Hull City arguably have the best set of fixtures: Fulham and Burnley away plus Portsmouth and Stoke at home. But they have been so woeful at the back it is very difficult to tip them as an option. Had Michael Turner still been at the club then maybe, but he's not.

Which brings us on to Stoke, who with three clean sheets already this season have already set their stall out. It is their home form which has set them apart, and with home games against West Ham and Wolves you cannot help but feel there is 'pointage'. They travel to Tottenham and Hull. And after that they face Portsmouth and Blackburn.

Abdoulaye Faye (£4.5 million) and Ryan Shawcross (£4.6 million) have been two of the best performing defenders so far and it's hard to look elsewhere. Either would give you a bargain price and, if replacing a defender from a top club, a couple of million to invest elsewhere.

And finally, Wigan. While they may have to go to Manchester City next they do also have home games against Burnley and Portsmouth. With two clean sheets this season they have not stood out, though, but Paul Scharner (£4.5 million), who has been playing in an advanced role, could be a value defender playing in an attacking position.

Of course, further down the line you would need to assess the fixtures again. But there seems to be an advantage in signing Given and defenders from Wigan and Stoke for the next month, and use that spare cash on the real star performers of the campaign.

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