Do FPL defenses keep fewer clean sheets at the start of the season?

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With many Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers considering a ‘big at the back‘approach for 2022/23, our latest article asks if fewer clean sheets are kept at the start of the season.

For this piece, we’ll be looking at the figures from Gameweeks 1-6 and after, analyzing the data to see if scoring habits fluctuate depending on the time of year.

We will pay attention to the numbers from the last 11 seasons to see if the trends are a yearly occurrence or indeed if there is little to be read into the figures.

OVERALL DEFENSIVE DATA

Firstly, let’s look at the overall defensive data over the last 11 seasons, which is as far back as our Opta records go.

Season Clean sheets
2021/22 212
2020/21 224
2019/20 207
2018/19 207
2017/18 226
2016/17 214
2015/16 215
2014/15 224
2013/14 232
2012/13 200
2011/12 206

DO DEFENCES KEEP FEWER CLEAN SHEETS AT THE START OF THE SEASON?

In the following tables, we’ll break down how many clean sheets were kept between Gameweeks 1-6 and 7-38, looking at overall records plus averages per team, per match.

GAMEWEEKS 1-6

Season Clean sheets Average per team, per match
2021/22 37 0.31
2020/21 28 0.24
2019/20 29 0.24
2018/19 31 0.26
2017/18 47 0.39
2016/17 25 0.21
2015/16 39 0.33
2014/15 35 0.29
2013/14 41 0.34
2012/13 29 0.25
2011/12 38 0.32

GAMEWEEKS 7-38

Season Clean sheets Average per team, per match
2021/22 175 0.27
2020/21 196 0.30
2019/20 178 0.28
2018/19 176 0.28
2017/18 179 0.28
2016/17 189 0.30
2015/16 176 0.28
2014/15 189 0.30
2013/14 191 0.30
2012/13 171 0.27
2011/12 168 0.26

In six of the last 11 seasons studied, Premier League defences became tighter in terms of clean sheets registered from Gameweek 7 onwards.

That does not provide nearly enough evidence to say that top-flight backlines are more attractive from a Fantasy perspective after the initial rounds of fixtures, even though it has been the case in three of the last four seasons.

There are a number of speculative reasons why fewer clean sheets may be kept in the early weeks, from defences gradually becoming more in sync as the season progresses to the early-season swagger that certain promoted teams exhibit eventually giving way to a more pragmatic approach.

However, as we have seen, the above results are a mixed bag and hardly proof that defences keep fewer shut-outs at the beginning of a campaign.

Given that a ‘big at the back‘approach is mainly focused around premium defenders from last season’s top three sides – Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea – we’ll now look at the numbers from those teams under current management.

MANCHESTER CITY UNDER GUARDIOLA
Overall clean sheets GW1-6 GW7-38
2021/22 21 5 16
2020/21 19 1 18
2019/20 17 3 14
2018/19 20 3 17
2017/18 18 4 14
2016/17 12 1 11

LIVERPOOL UNDER KLOPP
Overall clean sheets GW1-6 GW7-38
2021/22 21 4 17
2020/21 12 1 11
2019/20 15 1 14
2018/19 21 4 17
2017/18 17 2 15
2016/17 12 0 12

CHELSEA UNDER TUCHEL
Overall clean sheets GW1-6 GW7-38
2021/22 16 4 12

Last season, Man City managed an excellent five clean sheets in their opening six matches, shutting out Norwich City, Arsenal, Leicester City, Southampton and Chelsea, while Liverpool and Chelsea recorded four each.

2020/21, meanwhile, wasn’t a great advert for going ‘big at the back ‘from the off but it is worth noting that Man City only played five matches between Gameweeks 1-6 and did tighten up significantly after their 5-2 defeat against Leicester City in Gameweek 3. It was also a statistically freakish year in which matches were held behind closed doors and home advantage was almost completely negated.

Lukaku on target as Chelsea assets prosper at Arsenal 4

So there is nothing conclusive in the data to suggest that defences need time to ‘settle down’ or that Fantasy funds should be diverted further forward at the beginning of 2022/23.

While it should be stressed that trends aren’t guaranteed to continue from one season to the next, there’ll be plenty of us starting with a ‘big at the back’ approach given the multitude of gung-ho options (Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Joao Cancelo and maybe even Ivan Perisic) at our disposal – providing we are able to accommodate a couple of premiums further forward in our squad with captaincy in mind.

That suggests finding value in the midfield and forward pools will be more important than ever in the coming season.


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