The Wormburner: Big At the Back, Sieve at the Back

November 8, 2019 — by Rob Kirby



The Wormburner: Big At the Back, Sieve at the Back

November 8, 2019 — by Rob Kirby

Trolls live under bridges and in Premier League defenses. Lots of trolls under many bridges (Premier League defenses)—seemingly most of them. No team is immune, not even the main players floated in various Big at the Back strategies early season.

Liverpool Celebrity Slump

When it comes to clean sheets, even the celebrity Liverpool defenders have disappointed, the number of clean sheets equal to that of Arsenal and Southampton (2) and just one better than Norwich (1). People haven’t been flocking to Arsenal, Southampton or Norwich for clean sheets…or they shouldn’t have been. Dejan Lovren could be available for pickup in a player pool near you, but do you want him for one week, starting this week? For the top of the table clash against the Pep Guardiola Terror Squad? With Joel Matip expected back after the international break, nabbing Lovren would essentially equate to picking him up specifically for the game against Manchester City, the defending champions that have many excellent attackers who will be highly, highly motivated. Lose this match and maybe they say goodbye to the title. A defensive masterclass from either side is not out of the question, and Liverpool at Anfield is a solid proposition, but there will probably be goals in this head to head, as there have been in past editions.

Sheffield United Surge

Manchester City and Sheffield United lead the league with 5 clean sheets apiece for the season. Back when Sheffield United stuffed Arsenal, it just seemed like the Gunners just blew it, but it wasn’t a fluke. Sheffield United may only have scored only 12, but they have conceded only 8. They have surrendered more than one goal only twice, and to respectable attacks (Leicester and Chelsea). They lost to Liverpool but kept them to one goal score line, something few others can boast. They beat Arsenal, they have surrendered one fewer goal than Manchester City. It could be a bubble, but it’s also a continuation of the defensive solidity from the Championship, so it may not burst as expected. Perhaps just deflate reasonably. As stated a few weeks back, “one of Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell, George Baldock, John Egan or Chris Basham could offer solidity and success to any weak spots in your back line. And don’t forget ‘keeper Dean Henderson.” (What, type it all out again?)

For those willing to not think of Sheffield United simply as a promoted side destined to scrape the bottom of the barrel now that they’re at the top table, there is hope and promise beyond just blind faith. While Sheffield United have shown a solid defense thus far, three stern tests await. The fixtures are not tempting. As a caveat, the perception may be largely based on the names rather than the current 2019/2020 incarnations. Spurs and Manchester United have been in tailspin modes. One would expect both to correct these trajectories soon and sharply. It’s just a question of when. Either could rise up to full frightening force in any matchweek. They’re overdue, really.

Old Faithfuls Will Return to Glory…One Day 

So, Tottenham. The only team not named Norwich City to have only one clean sheet in the Premier League this season. They come up against the surprise package of the season this weekend in the Blades. Trigger high excitement and the overly loud sound effect for a narrative klaxon alert. If you have predictive powers and can get inside the head of Mauricio Pochettino, you might be able to get a one-week pickup of Ben Davies, with Danny Rose having played in the Champions League midweek against Red Star Belgrade. There are never any guarantees in pickups based on presumed rotation, though.

And yet picking up one of the Blades defenders still tempts, even if one has to ride out a couple bad fixtures. A promoted side, in the top six. Where Spurs and Manchester United are not. Elite teams with premier defenders who used to score like ultra-elite defenders but have been soberingly fallible of late. If it pertains to Liverpool and Manchester City, most certainly for Manchester United and Tottenham as well. Chelsea haven’t kept things watertight as much as free-scoring. And at this point most don’t expect any more than the industry minimum of clean sheets with Arsenal.

Leicester and Sheffield United have good defenses. Both have conceded the league’s lowest with 8 goals each, with Leicester on 4 clean sheets and Sheffield, 5. Snap up any available at the former, while perhaps waiting a couple weeks is best with the latter. The Foxes host Arsenal next, but they have positive fixtures thereafter with players not named Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. For the defensive Blades of Sheffield, you may want to wait out the tricky fixtures right up next (Spurs away, MUFC home, Wolves away). Or not… Spurs away isn’t what it was. Nor Manchester United at home. Wolves can have trouble with teams that don’t go all-out attack, so maybe they’re not such bad fixtures after all?

South Coast Streaks & Fixtures Without Form

Three clean sheets in a row at Bournemouth? One could get used to consistency like this, but it sure seems like a trap. However, if this defensive solidity is genuinely a going concern, Nathan Aké and Diego Rico just became a lot more interesting. Attacking points aren’t out of the question, and Steve Cook probably deserves a mention as well.

Brighton have 4 clean sheets for the season. They also have away trips to Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates in three of the next four. The other match is Leicester at home… The club would be passing a serious litmus test if its defense can stand up to that opposition. Seems like rough waters and “wait and see” from this vantage.

Newcastle have good fixtures and a defense that still has the fingerprints of Rafael Benitez all over it. Bruce is not tanking the team as popular opinion had assumed to be truth to be held self-evident. The problem is that it seems that the back line is in total flux, with Florian Lejeune and Fabian Schär returning from injury, but not quite yet. Uncertainty is a killer.

Most times, you hear “rotation” and picture it as alternating, the polite taking of turns. It need not be strictly binary—but more or less it ends up adhering to a pattern of sorts that we as humans that seek meaning in pattern recognition learn to get a feel for. Every other game, such and such happens. Or one in three. Or one in never.

Southampton and Watford have good fixtures, but are those defenses you can put unconditional trust in? Darryl Janmaat could get an assist, but will the -1 for every 2 goals conceded undermine any attacking gains? In the available player pool of your neighborhood Real Fantasy Football league, Southampton probably has the full complement of starting defenders to choose from. But will you?

Random Rotation Notes

Manchester City has a defense you can trust in, but not a cemented lineup that you can predict (this is not news, in fact it seems sort of ridiculous to even take the time to point it out). Pep Guardiola has an interpretation of the concept akin to “if anyone understands the principles, then magic will cease to exist.” He a little dramatic, interpreted from an ancient Knights Templar era, with the trappings of zealotry and possibly a dangerous mix of sadism and self-harm/self-sabotage.

Éderson looks to be out of contention against Liverpool, but going for Claudio Bravo for one week only, and that week is away to Liverpool…how bad is the keeper you’d be dropping? Because Bravo may triumph at Anfield, but also very possibly maybe not?

In other news, Just when you thought Joao Cancelo and Benjamin Mendy were slated to start (they had been rested midweek), it was Kyle Walker and Angelino instead! And Kyle Walker scored a goal and assist, making an unclear situation that much more unclear. Pep is the ultimate in inscrutability and it would be hilarious if one weren’t making decisions based on guesswork and possibly losing in a head-to-head as a result.

Random note, final thought: Joe Gomez. Youth was supposed to be the way. Did the muttonchops kill it, or are muttonchops still the future?

Watch this space, fantasy sports fans.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football ( It did not get its annual copy of the Premier League script. Please give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience if you manage to track one down.