In the Premier League, and English football in general, we’re accustomed to seeing sides line up in 4-at-the-back systems – classically in a 4-4-fucking-2. Last season, we saw a bit of a shift away from this with many sides going for 3-at-the-back systems, Chelsea being at the forefront of this movement.
3-0 down away at Arsenal, Conte decided to go back to a more familiar 3-at-the back system, initially starting the game with a 4-1-4-1. They decided to stick with that formation from then on – keeping 5 consecutive clean sheets and winning their next 13 games.
Other sides also dabbled with it, including several of the top sides in the league – Arsenal and Spurs were the ones to really adopt it more consistently, with the likes of Everton, Man City and Liverpool trying it out on occasion. In total, 17 of the 20 sides in the league lined up with a 3-at-the-back system at some point last season.
With the rise of these formations, it meant something particularly interesting for FPL managers – wing backs were being used more frequently. Wing backs have to provide the width for these sides and are often seen ridiculously high up the pitch, with Marcos Alonso being the poster boy for this as he racked up 6 goals and 5 assists last season. He’s even the poster boy for the Bench Boost Twitter account, he was that damn good.
Now, this season, we have several top sides who are still using 3-at-the-back systems, meaning that there are plenty of wing back options to choose from. The question is, should we go all-in on these wing backs (and flying full backs), even sacrificing similarly priced midfielders to do so? Moving away from midfield options in favour of premium forwards has been discussed, but what about defenders? Will this actually see FPL managers move away from 3 at the back, going for 4 defenders?
Here’s a look at the top wing back prospects in the league and how they fare compared to similarly priced midfielders, as well as some mock-ups for sides that may go for a big defensive line full of flying full backs.
Assessing the Wing Back Options
As mentioned, it’s actually a few of the top sides in the league that are deploying wing backs at the moment, with Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea largely sticking to their newfound systems from last season.
From Chelsea, we’ve got three options really – Marcos Alonso, Victor Moses and Davide Zappacosta.
Marcos Alonso was an obscene FPL asset last season, with him scoring 177 points, claiming 6 goals, 5 assists and 15 clean sheets. We regularly saw him flying down the left wing, often cropping up in the box for far post headers. He also, out of the blue, managed to become one of the best direct free kick takers in the league, already scoring once this season against Spurs – a match where he grabbed 2 goals and 16 points, showing his massive attacking potential.
He also had the most shots of any defender last year, and has already had the most shots of any defender this year with 11 in 5 games.
(Shout out to FFFix‘s custom stats builder, lovely stuff)
The only problem with Alonso is his price. While thankfully listed as a defender, he was initially priced at 7.0m, actually rising to 7.1 after his brace against Spurs. If you can scrap together the funds, he’s absolutely worth having.
Over on the other side of the pitch, we’ve got Victor Moses. He was classified as a midfielder last year, meaning that while he played as a defender for Chelsea, he wasn’t quite racking up the points at the same rate as Alonso with just 105.
He actually had more shots in the box than Alonso last season, and comfortably more than any other defender, including the big bastards that chuck themselves at headers from set pieces.
Now, Moses isn’t quite as highly recommended as his Spanish teammate. He’s 6.5m and doesn’t quite pose quite the same attacking potential, especially considering Alonso’s newfound set piece taking abilities. Also, here’s a heatmap of the two from Chelsea’s win against Leicester – Alonso is on the bottom:
Moses is also a potential rotation risk, considering the arrival of Davide Zappacosta from Torino. Now, we don’t have FPL statistics to look at for last season, though we know that he’s a crossing machine. He claimed 5 assists in Serie A last season, and made far more key passes and created more chances than both Alonso and his rival Moses:
Zappacosta has also been priced at 6.0m – if he gets into the team ahead of Moses, he should be on everybody’s shopping list.
Verdict: Get Alonso if you can, keep an eye on Zappacosta – absolutely get him in if he starts consistently.
Chelsea’s main title challengers last season were Spurs, who also often played with a 3-4-2-1 system with Rose and Walker absolutely flying down the flanks.
They have quite a few wing back options this season, including Ben Davies, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose, and new signing Serge Aurier.
Let’s start out with Ben Davies – the joint-second highest scoring defender in FPL so far this season with 32 points.
Stats-wise, he has been phenomenal.
Going into GW6, he has:
- The most attempted assists of any defender (13)
- The second highest number of crosses of any defender (32)
- The joint-most corners taken of all defenders (13)
- The third highest number of penalty area actions of all defenders (32)
He didn’t play in GW5 in Spurs’ 0-0 draw against Swansea, where hundreds of thousands of managers brought him into the side – myself included. This was apparently due to a slight knock, and we’ll see him back next week.
His main opposition for this position is Danny Rose, who is seemingly quite some way off from returning to the side from his injury suffered last season.
While important to Spurs and the way the play, Rose didn’t really provide too much in terms of FPL returns last season, bringing through 84 points with a respectable tally of 2 goals and 3 assists, making only 18 appearances due to injury.
The worry with Rose is that Davies has been so damn good. He could find it difficult to get back into the team, especially after his comments in preseason, complaining about wages and saying that he’d like to play up north at some point.
He’s also priced at 6.4m (dropping from 6.5) and is a bit of a card magnet, being booked 22 times in the last 3 seasons.
On the other side of the pitch, we’ve got newbie Serge Aurier. He’s actually very similar to Zappacosta – a great option that isn’t 100% certain to play as of yet.
He started in Spurs’ 3-1 win against Dortmund in the Champions League, but Pochettino was known for rotating is full backs/wing backs last season, with Trippier/Davies rotating heavily with Rose and Walker. Could we see this again, with Aurier playing in Europe and Trippier in the league due to the former having vastly more European experience?
If Aurier does start consistently in the league for Spurs, he’s a damn good option. In and out of the PSG side last season due to rotation with Meunier*, as well as his penchant for being a bit of a bollocks, Aurier managed 3 assists in the league. We’ve seen far more from him in the past, with 6 goals and 6 assists in the last season for Toulouse before making the big move to PSG. Definitely one to keep an eye on.
The other option from Spurs would be Kieran Trippier. He was touted by everybody – myself included – as a potential FPL superstar after Kyle Walker left Spurs for Man City – realising Rose’s apparent dream.
Trippier grabbed 5 assists in the Premier League last season in just 12 matches, with him having one hell of a cross on him. He also grabbed an assist in Spurs’ 3-0 win against Everton last week, setting up Kane for his first of the season.
Looking at him and Davies in that match, it’s generally Davies (bottom) that operates higher up the pitch.
Verdict: Get Ben Davies in if you haven’t already. Monitor Aurier, potentially pick up him once he becomes first choice.
Wenger played a back 3 for the first time in his time at Arsenal last season, looking to steady their defence towards the end of the season. They’ve stuck with it this season, starting with it in every game so far, though they switched to a 4-at-the-back system in their wins against Leicester and Koln.
They have two main options this season, Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac.
Arsenal picked up Sead Kolasinac from Schalke on a free transfer in the summer, with him being highly regarded coming into the season. He made the Bundesliga Team of the Season last year, claiming 3 goals and 5 assists while often playing as a left wing back.
He’s gotten off to an excellent start at Arsenal this season, already scoring 2 goals and creating 2 more, though his goals have come in other competitions. Bear in mind that he was on the bench for the game against Liverpool, and has started as a centre back several times, with that being down to Arsenal’s first choice centre backs being unavailable.
His size makes him an aerial threat – more width as opposed to height, with his nickname being the Bosnian Tank – and he can hug the touchline and put in a lovely cross, as shown by his assist in the Bournemouth game.
Arsenal have some lovely fixtures coming up, so Kolasinac offers a superb option.
Hector Bellerin is a slightly cheaper alternate, priced at 5.9m after a slight fall. Bellerin was true FPL gold a few seasons back, picking up 172 points in the 15/16 season, but has stalled a bit in his own personal development. He’s finally nailed down the RWB role for Arsenal after Wenger preferred Chamberlain there for a while, with him being a consistent fixture in Arsenal’s team.
If we compared both Kolasinac and Bellerin, it’s generally the Bosnian that has provided more so far:
Bellerin pales in comparison when it comes to shots, baseline BPS and crosses per game – the latter is staggering since Kolasinac played as a centre back for a few of these games.
Verdict: Both Kolasinac and Bellerin are great options, though I’d prefer Kolasinac.
Now… this is a slightly odd one, seeing as City started out the season in a 3-5-2 system, but have seemingly switched back to a 4-3-3. That being said, they’re managed by Pep bloody Guardiola. His sides full backs will play like wing backs regardless, so it’s worth looking at them.
The first option is Benjamin Mendy. One of the most expensive defenders of all time, he’s more than making up the cost with both his wide play and his Twitter antics. In terms of FPL so far, he’s played 3 matches and has 17 points in that time, racking up 2 assists already. Last season at Monaco, he claimed 11 assists in all competitions, with him being an obscene crosser of a ball for a full back.
In those 3 games, he’s attempted 26 crosses – his 8.7 crosses per game is the second highest in the league so far. He could be an absolute force in FPL, priced at 6.5m with a current ownership of under 2% with some lovely fixtures coming up:
On the other flank, we have FPL favourite Kyle Walker. He’s racked up over 120 points in each of the last 2 seasons, grabbing a combined 9 assists and 26 clean sheets. Like Mendy, he also has 2 assists this season, both also coming in City’s last two games – 5-0 and 6-0 demolition jobs of Liverpool and Watford respectively.
Comparing the two on a per-game basis doesn’t seem fair at a quick glance, with Mendy’s bulldozing runs down the left wing being a key outlet for Pep’s team:
Walker seemingly doesn’t get as far forward as his left-sided teammate. Here are the heatmaps of the two in the Liverpool game (Walker on the bottom, Mendy on the top):
Here are the heatmaps from the Watford game, this time with Mendy on the bottom:
Walker tends to touch the ball more often, but Mendy is more threatening and operates higher up the pitch.
There’s another option in Danilo – he’s priced at 5.5m but isn’t a starter for Pep’s side, playing more of a rotation jack of all trades. A Brazilian John O’Shea, basically.
Verdict: Mendy could be FPL gold this season – get him in if you can afford him. Walker is also a great option, though seemingly a bit more reserved with a higher ownership.
Not many other sides are playing with out-and-out wing backs at the moment, though there is one name that is firmly in the middle of my rader: Aaron Cresswell.
He’s priced at just 5.0m this season, registering just 60 points last season for a poor West Ham side, though he’s performed well in the past. He has had two 120+ point season in the league, claiming 2 goals and 4 assists both times.
West Ham have kept two clean sheets in their last two games after a shocking start, with Cresswell claiming all 3 bonus points in their 0-0 thriller away at West Brom as West Ham have moved to a 3 at the back system.
In terms of stats, Cresswell has attempted more crosses than any other defender by an obscene margin – his 47 cross attempts beats 2nd place Davies, who has attempted 32 crosses. He has 9 attempted assists (2nd highest of any defender), and 39 penalty area actions (again, 2nd most of any defender). Oddly enough, he’s also taken the joint-highest number of corners of all defenders with 13.
Looking at his crosses, this shows just how far ahead he is:
With his price and ownership of just 0.7%, Cresswell could be a superb differential choice if West Ham stay solid at the back. With Andy Carroll back in the side, his enormous number of cross attempts could prove fruitful.
There aren’t too many other glaring options in the wing back or even the attacking full back positions. Antonio Valencia is fresh off the back of a 15-point haul against Everton, making him the top scoring defender in the game with United’s 4 clean sheets in 5 games, seeing Valencia rack up all 3 bonus points twice.
He’s 4th for attempted crosses with 26, and is 1st for final third passes, showing how involved he is further up the pitch. At 6.5 he’s a great option, being a nailed member of arguably the best defence in the league, with the potential for attacking returns. His team mate Luke Shaw has the potential to big a big bargain at just 4.9m, we just need to him to get back into the squad.
Charlie Daniels is another potential option that has played as a wing back on occasion, most notably against Man City where he scored arguably the goal of the season so far. He operated very high up the pitch against Brighton in GW5, though they aren’t the best side defensively.
Do Wing Backs Offer More Value than Midfielders?
Now, could we seriously go into a gameweek with 4 big defensive options?
In terms of midfield structure, it’s common for teams to go with a two top-level midfielders, one in the mid-priced range (around 7m), with one cheaper option (5.5-6.5m) and a 4.5m player on the bench. For example, a common choice at the start of the season would be:
De Bruyne/Eriksen/Alli – Salah/Mane/Mkhitaryan – Willian/Zaha/Fabregas – Ritchie/Redmond – RLC/Carroll
Note that this is without Sanchez, Hazard and Coutinho – three premium midfielders to keep an eye on as they come back from various injuries; some more severe than others.
As it stands, we haven’t really seen a cheaper midfielder that has stood out from the pack. We can’t expect every cheap midfielder to become the next Charlie Adam, Dele Alli or Riyad Mahrez (not the most likely comparison the latter two will have in the careers, but fair in terms of FPL), but with the emergence of these attacking options at the back, we could forgo them all together.
Looking at the midfield options – limited at 7.0m – their numbers aren’t exactly that much better than their similarly priced full back/wing back counterparts.
Shaqiri (5.9m) and Fabregas (6.9m) both have 14 attempted assists – just one more than Ben Davies. Shaqiri hasn’t really smashed it in the Premier League as of yet, while Fabregas is likely to drop to the bench once Bakayoko nails his place in the side after missing preseason. Cresswell and Holebas both encroach the top 10 for attempted assists as well, both at 5.0m.
Looking at baseline BPS, defenders tend to perform better here due to heavy involvement. If they grab a clean sheet or a goal – likely with attacking full backs from top clubs – they’re likely to rake in the BPS, as evidenced by Valencia.
One area we expect to see midfielders perform in would be shots. They’re further up the pitch, they’re more involved, they should be getting more shots off. Looking at shots in the box, Richarlison (6.0m) and Choupo-Moting (5.6m) lead the way. They represent some decent potential in this price bracket, but they cost the same amount as the likes of Kolasinac (6.0m) and Davies (5.7m) – two players with vast attacking potential that play for far better clubs + can grab clean sheet points.
With the other players listed here, we see Ramsey – a player who represents some great potential in Arsenal’s current system, which sees him fly forward. There’s Willian, who is likely to be a rotational option once Hazard and Pedro are up and running, as well as more frustrating talents such as Redmond and Ince who haven’t really returned as of yet with 15 and 13 FPL points respectively.
Of course, we can’t disregard all cheap midfield options. The aforementioned Richarlison is a personal favourite – his name being highlighted shows that he’s in my personal team.
Pascal Groß has 32 FPL points so far, with 18 of those coming in one game. As pointed out in a previous article – ironically about midfield bargains this season – he was a very interesting option going into the season. That being said, Brighton really don’t create much, claiming just 9.6 shots per game – the 4th lowest amount in the Premier League.
Matt Ritchie is also doing very well, picking up 4 assists in the last 3 matches for Newcastle. He’s on all set pieces and should be on penalties as well.
Can we really rely on these players, though? Is a cheap midfielder for Brighton really a better option than a flying full back from a top side?
If we were to put some more of the budget into the defence, it’s worth looking at the structure of the team.
How Can We Structure These Teams?
With the vast potential represented in defence this season, how exactly can we go all out on defensive options but still have a balanced team?
Ironically enough, it may come from switching away from 3 at the back, with FPL sides now going for a 4-3-3. Here’s a mock-up of the general structure a lot of people are opting for:
You’ve got Kolasinac, Mendy and Davies all in there – three players with clean sheet and attacking potential. There are two premium(ish) midfielders in the shape of Eriksen and Mkhitaryan – the latter is the top scoring midfielder in FPL. Other options here would include Salah, Mane, Alli and David Silva.
Here’s another potential mock-up:
This opts for a big front three (Kaneless, though a point raised by Jonty of FFScout is that with Davies and Eriksen, the supply line is there as a safety net), as well as 4 outstanding wing/full back choices.
Some top managers within the community are opting for the 4-3-3. For example, here’s the latest lineup for Az of FFScout (another member of the Mendy fan club), opting for Davies, Kolasinac and Alonso in defence:
— AZ (@ffscout_az) September 15, 2017
Here’s another team from a community member – Luke Thunberg – opting for Brady as the cheap midfielder, though with a more centre-back heavy defence and three huge strikers:
🚨Updated WC squad 🚨
Loving every part of this! Lukaku hasn’t been looking great lately, despite scoring. Could be dumb but we’ll see. pic.twitter.com/aDTFZrBAIy
— Luke Thunberg (@FPLThunshot) September 19, 2017
This subject actually marries up well with another discussion that’s been had recently – the subject of going for 3 premium forwards. Above, we’ve got Kane, Jesus and Vardy – all prime options up front.
You could potentially drop the third striker option to more of an enabler, opting for a bigger third midfielder. What are you currently going with? Are you a fan of going all-in on the wing backs? Let us know below, or even on Twitter.
* = Thanks to Rafiki for pointing out that Alves wasn’t even at PSG last season.