Paul Williams ‘Diary of an FPL Manager’ – Squad Structure: Three or Four in Defence


Here’s FFGeek contributor Paul Williams with his bi-weekly ‘Diary of an FPL Manager’ series. This week, Paul is focusing on the current advantages and disadvantages of setting up with three or four starting players in defence. Paul is one of the Top 10 FPL Managers I follow and finished with an overall rank of 412 last season, 1,382 in 16/17 and 7,164 in 15/16.

Paul Williams ‘Diary of an FPL Manager’ – Squad Structure: Three or Four in Defence

You can read more from Paul in his ‘Diary of an FPL Manager’ series on his Facebook blog using this link.

If you’ve read any of my blog posts this season, then you’ll know that in previous years I’ve nearly always followed a 3-4-3 formation – occasionally switching to 3-5-2, but always three at the back.

The rise in prominence this season of the premium priced full-backs (particularly left-backs) left me questioning whether I needed to change with the times and start looking at four, maybe even five, playing defenders. What is more, this has been exacerbated by misfiring forwards – of which there are plenty this season.

In this post, I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of playing three or four at the back:

Three at the back (3-4-3 / 3-5-2)

As I’ve said, this is my favoured formation which has served me well in my previous finishes. It is the formation structure that I started this season with before flirting with four at the back. I don’t necessarily think it is the optimum formation to pursue, but it is the one that I feel most comfortable with and the structure that I will probably fit my squad into during the coming Gameweeks.

You are basically allowing the approximate amounts to be spent in each position:

* 9.0m – 9.5m to be spent on your GKs

* 24.5m – 25.5m to be spent on your defenders, e.g. 6.5m, 6.0m, 4.5m, 4.5m, 4.0m

* 38.0m – 39.0m to be spent on your mids, e.g. 13.0m, 9.5m, 6.5m, 5.5m, 4.5m

* 27.0m – 27.5m to be spent on your forwards, e.g. 11.0m, 9.5m, 6.5m

The difference between the pricing of your midfielders and forwards would vary depending on whether you had Salah or Kane, for instance.

This is my preferred structure because it enables you to have two top-end defenders, two expensive midfielders (three if you omit Salah) and two heavily priced forwards. Plus, if you stick to the structure, then you are unlikely to price yourself out of potential targets. For example, if you know you have, say, 6.5m – 7.0m for a mid-priced midfielder, then you can switch between them as fixtures change.

Four at the back (4-3-3 / 4-4-2)

Arguably, this is what most managers are moving towards given the form, value offered and points scoring potential of defenders, such as: Alonso, Robertson, Trippier, Mendy, Holebas, van Aanholt, Bellerin, Shaw, etc, etc.

Like the majority of managers, by Gameweek Four, I had completely messed with my pre-planned structure to accommodate: Alonso, Robertson and Mendy. Furthermore, at the time, it looked like all three were indispensable. A week later, I played my Wildcard and was a fully signed up member of the four at the back club with the above three and Luke Shaw.

However, circumstances began to change – Mendy went missing, Alonso’s attacking output started to decrease and Man United’s defence started to become about as reliable as Riyad Mahrez taking a last minute penalty. This is where, rightly or wrongly, I lost my nerve with four at the back. If I traded Mendy for Trippier, then I have no doubt I would still be setting up with four at the back. Yet, I fell back to what I felt comfortable with and started to invest further up the field.

Going forward

So what is the best solution going forward? Unquestionably, this has been an odd season so far – the most expensive attacking players have faltered and the costly, forward thinking defenders have definitely been offering better value. However, history tells us that this won’t be the case throughout the season – and there are signs that the money many managers have tied up in defenders will be needed elsewhere, e.g.

* Kane – By Gameweek Fifteen, Spurs would still only have played five ‘home’ games (including matches against Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea) – not the easiest of starts. Kane will surely pick up as the fixtures ease.

* Aubameyang – Four goals in his last fifty-seven minutes – and his phenomenal record since he joined Arsenal – point to someone nearing top form. Funds should perhaps be kept aside.

* De Bruyne – The return of De Bruyne (arguably the best player in the league) is a big thing in itself, but the effect he has on those around him is arguably even more significant. His return could, and maybe should, see an increase in output from both Aguero and Sterling.

This is without mentioning Hazard (the one premium player consistently delivering) and the Liverpool ensemble headed by Salah.


The upcoming weeks should be interesting, particularly if the big-hitters start performing. Budget, money and how you spend it, which hasn’t been a huge issue so far, will become far more important. Don’t underestimate the value of players often forgotten, ignored and taken for granted, like: Hojbjerg and Wan-Bissaka!

You can read more from Paul in his ‘Diary of an FPL Manager’ series on his Facebook blog using this link

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3 thoughts on “Paul Williams ‘Diary of an FPL Manager’ – Squad Structure: Three or Four in Defence”

  1. Hi Paul

    Good write up there. 4 at the back has provided the best value this year. The big teams are keeping it tight with at least 4 clean sheets on 9 for all of them, except Arsenal and ManU who can only be expected to improve. And on top of that plenty of attacking returns and bonus points for their defenders. So having the most players from there seems better source of points than mids and forwards below the 6.5m mark.

    On s separate note and as a Brighton fan, what do you make of the Knockaert no show last week. Do you expect him back as a regular for the coming weeks ?


    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      With regard to your question about Knockaert, I was absolutely shocked that he was dropped from the starting eleven against Newcastle. Arguably, he’s been our best player so far this season. As well as being surprised, I was annoyed as I brought him in myself.

      To be honest (and I can tell you what I’m planning to do myself), I am going to move him on the first opportunity I get. I have him as my fourth midfielder – if he was my fifth midfielder, I would maybe keep him a bit longer.

      However, if he can’t keep his place in his current form then he’s not reliable enough. Plus, Brighton have a fair bit of competition amongst the wide midfielders with: March, Knockaert, Izquierdo and Jahanbakhsh.

  2. Me too I didnt expect him to be dropped. I am now in the same situation as you. He is my 4th mid, so unless he comes back straight to the team this week, I’ll have to move him on

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