One of the most important things to do when setting up a Fantasy Premier League team is to look for the bargains. These are the budget players that not only help make room for more expensive assets, but are also good enough to slot into the first 11 and provide a steady stream of points. With the emergence of more wing-backs and high-scoring expensive defenders over the past couple of years in Fantasy Premier League, it feels some of the cheaper options are being overlooked. However, this is not the case for either of Cedric Soares and James Tomkins who are owned by 16.5% and 11.2% of fantasy managers at the time of writing. They are the second and third most popular defensive options priced at 4.5m, only beaten by Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels who is likely to be displaced by new signing Diego Rico. Let’s look at the factors that have contributed to their popularity and provide a verdict as to which might be the better option.
James Tomkins (£4.5m, Crystal Palace)
Many will have been drawn to James Tomkins on the basis of Crystal Palace’s kind run of fixtures at the beginning of the season. The fixture difficulty ratings assigned by the official fantasy game appear to be a little random but seem fairly reasonable here – Fulham (A), Liverpool (H), Watford (A), Southampton (H) and Huddersfield (H) all face off with Palace in the first 5 games. Fulham are newly promoted so may take a while to find their feet, while Watford, Southampton and Huddersfield had less than inspiring campaigns last time out. Watford carried a much greater goal threat than the Saints or the Terriers, but were unable to score against Palace at Vicarage Road late last season. Huddersfield comfortably beat Palace early last season but after Roy Hodgson came in to steady the ship, giving Tomkins more playing time and bringing in Mamadou Sakho to join him at centre-back, Palace were a lot sounder defensively for the reverse fixture – Tomkins scored in a 2-0 victory. The game against Liverpool doesn’t inspire much hope for a clean sheet but that’s where a fantasy manager’s bench comes in handy. On paper, Tomkins looks a solid early pick based on fixtures.
It is important to note that Palace’s defensive potential shouldn’t be chalked simply down to ease of fixtures, but also how impressive the partnership of Sakho and Tomkins is. Palace were undefeated when the pair played together last season, with only 8 goals conceded in 12 games. The two are fit to start the season together this time around, so will expect to continue their great form. Tomkins also provides some goal threat from the back – he bagged 3 last season and in the final 8 games he had 4 big chances and 9 shots inside the box, more than any other defender.
So what’s the catch? There doesn’t appear to be a great case against Tomkins as a stand-alone pick. However, a reason managers may want to avoid Tomkins as their 4.5m bargain is due to the value of his fellow Crystal Palace backline. Left back Patrick van Aanholt is more expensive at 5.5m but has provided at least 5 goals in each of the last 3 seasons despite missing plenty of minutes. On the right side of defence, an interesting option has emerged in Aaron Wan-Bissaka – at only 4m, he could be the bargain every fantasy manager looks out for at the beginning of the season. Mamadou Sakho has been overlooked by most fantasy managers, but ranked 4th for bonus points of all defenders last season despite only playing around 1600 minutes. At 5.0m, Sakho must also be considered. Even Jeffrey Schlupp is being trialled at left-wing this pre-season, so has some OOP potential at 4.5m. Not to say that Tomkins is a lesser option due to the fantasy potential of his defensive colleagues, but if managers like van Aanholt as a more premium option or Wan Bissaka as a cheap punt, doubling up defensively on a mid-table side may be risky.
Cedric Soares (£4.5m, Southampton)
Southampton and Cedric don’t have a bad looking start to the season themselves. They don’t face off against any of last season’s top 6 in their first 5 fixtures, with games against Burnley (H), Everton (A), Leicester (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Brighton (H). None of these are easy games by any stretch, but all have the potential to be tight. Southampton were pretty poor defensively last season, and though Mark Hughes’ appointment in mid-March didn’t instantly sort out their defensive issues, they did show some improvement. They picked up a clean sheet against a dangerous Leicester side, won 1-0 in a relegation 6-pointer against Swansea and frustrated Manchester City until the 94th minute in the final game of the season. Hughes has had limited time to implement his tactics on this Southampton side, but with a full pre-season to work out his best formation and favourite personnel, it is reasonable to expect Southampton will be much better organised in this campaign. Hughes did not have the tightest team on earth when managing Stoke, so defensively Southampton are a little unpredictable this time around.
Cedric may have more potential in an attacking sense. Hughes quickly implemented a 3-4-2-1 formation after his arrival, meaning Cedric and Ryan Bertrand were pushed up as wing-backs. This immediately improved Cedric as a fantasy asset as he grabbed 2 assists away to Arsenal in April and followed it up with another in May as Southampton hosted Everton. The Portuguese right-back had not provided an attacking return all season, but provided 3 in the short period after Hughes was appointed as manager – if he can even come close to replicating those kind of returns over an entire campaign, he’ll more than justify his already cheap price tag. Cedric also provided 28 successful crosses last season, more than any other defender in the league. What’s not to like?
The biggest red flag surrounding Cedric is his lack of pre-season. As part of Portugal’s World Cup squad, he has been given extra time off and has not yet played any minutes in Southampton’s pre-season schedule. At the time of writing, Southampton are preparing to face off against Celta Vigo in a friendly game. Cedric will likely get some minutes under his belt, but it is worth keeping an eye on whether he looks up to speed with the league season looming. If he doesn’t play, it is hard to say he’s nailed on for the season opener against Burnley.
When putting together this piece, I found it very difficult to provide too many arguments against either Tomkins or Cedric as fantasy options. Both look great on paper on value alone. However, Tomkins is definitely my favourite of the two. With great fixtures, goal threat and a solid defensive partnership with Sakho, 4.5m is a great price for the Englishman.
Written by FPL Forum (@FPLForum)