Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Selecting defenders within the same team

We talked about this earlier in the season, but with a couple more games in the bag, I've updated the viz which attempts to help you choose your defenders. The "All Players" tab should in theory help you do this coming with a blank slate, but the raison d'etre for the viz is to help you choose between players in the same side, once you've decided that, for example, you want a City defender.

The viz can be found linked from the main menu, and here and should be opened separately to best read this piece. A few notes as of GW5 below.

I'm not sure how much value there is with this defense right now, but if you are planning to play the fixtures and take a chance with one of Emery's men, this would suggest it should be Mustafi rather than the 10% owner Bellerin who you should target.

Cook is the man here for now, though if a clear winner emerges from the developing Daniels vs Rico battle then one of those players could topple him based on either a lower price tag (Daniels, 4.4m) or Rico potentially taking set pieces.

However you present the stats, it seems that Alonso can justify his lofty price tag, though I think it's worth noting Rudiger here, who has offered a genuine attacking threat and comes at a discount that will probably reach 1.0m soon. Luiz is a surprise here as he has offered very little at the attacking end, despite his prior reputation.

Crystal Palace 
Coming into the season I had serious doubts about Van Aanholt's ability to justify what I thought was a 1.0m premium over his teammates, but actually turned out to be a 1.5m premium, after the emergence of Wan-Bissaka. In a previous post we estimated that every 1.0m spent needs to earn somewhere around 26 points, and so with a 2.5-3.0 point advantage after 5 gameweeks, we'd project Van Aanholt to end up a little short of that, but not a million miles away. However, if we feel that Wan-Bissaka is going to keep his job then the gap becomes 1.5m and then you're looking at needing something like 35-40 points to justify the added cost, and I just don't think Van Aaanholt is there unless (a) he starts become a legitimate goal threat from direct free kicks or penalties, or (b) you think his playing time is significantly more locked down than Wan-Bissaka.

Keane is an interesting name here as he accumulated those projected attacking points in just three games. He's due to return as soon as this week after his head injury which could make him an interesting name to look at for the GW7-9 run which sees Everton face FUL (H), LEI (A) and CRY (H). Despite the lack of clean sheets and 9 goals conceded, Everton's underlying defensive numbers are actually reasonably good, which could suggest a few defensive returns in the future too.

I know Maguire got his goal but Chilwell continues to offer more attacking potential based on the underlying stats for less money and significantly less ownership. Pereira has received some recent buzz too, but he's only created one extra chance than Chilwell while Chilwell has also offered more of a goal threat than the Portuguese fullback.

17% of managers continue to hold out with van Dijk but even though Robertson's price has risen by 0.2m, I would still encourage people to make that move. Van Dijk has just two attempts on goal through five games, which is admittedly more than Robertson's one, but then of course the Scotsman blows his Dutch colleague out of the water with 10 created chances to 0. At this stage I think one can make an argument that Alexander-Arnold or even Gomez represent better value than Van Dijk, unless you feel that the return of Matip will overly complicate their playing time.

Man City
Similarly, there is really very little reason to stick with Walker over Mendy at this stage, unless we learn that the recent knee issue is a cause for concern. Even then, if you were worried about Mendy, I think Walker to Laporte makes a lot of sense as the Frenchman (rested over the summer) starts to make one of those centre back spots his own in Pep's side.

Man Utd
The worry here is that by the time United get their defense sorted, Shaw will face rotation with Young, Valencia and Dalot. Mourinho has already been discussing the need for multiple full backs and while Shaw has been solid, he's obviously far from rotation proof in this side. At 5.1m he's cheap enough to have benched every now and then though, so he's still probably the pick here.

I don't know if this will be useful information to act on, but prima facie it is remarkable to me that Davies is ahead of Tripper here. The chances created given a slight nod to the England man (7 to 6) but Davies has more total shots and SiB to give him the overall edge, not even counting that these came in fewer minutes. Alas, those words "fewer minutes" are probably the death of Davies' fantasy value as he is already being heavily rotated with Rose, where as we assume Trippier will only be rested as needed, with the less reliable Aurier stepping in. If Davies offered a discount of 0.5m or more, those benchings might be worth absorbing, but for 0.2m I don't think we can justify the risk as things stand.

The underlying data absolutely loves Matt Doherty, whose 8 total shots trail only Alonso, 7 SiB lead all defenders and who places a solid 9th in created chances too. The question here is how often you are going to play your Wolves defender. If he is just an enabler, recruited to warm the bench and deliver 2 points when you have an unexpected rotation issue, then Bennett - at 4.1m - is still worth a thought. However, I think this does a disservice to Wolves, whose 25 SiB conceded are tied for third, behind just Liverpool and City. I don't think we're ready to say Wolves defenders are every week starters, but if you think they might rotate into half your games, then the additional goal and assist threat becomes much more valuable and Doherty becomes an outstanding pickup. After back to back clean sheets, I am amazed his price is holding firm at 4.4m.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Selling Salah

Given his exploits last season, and a pretty healthy start to this one, it's hard to believe the thought of selling Salah is even worth exploring. But, international weeks give us time to think through less obvious solutions so let's make a case for it. But first, a few opening notes:
  1. This is a short term measure. Despite Mane's hot start and promising form from the likes of Hazard, I still believe Salah is the best fantasy option for the season. His underlying numbers are excellent, his team looks as good as ever and his playing time is assured (other than the odd rest of course).
  2. This move make more sense if you haven't yet wildcarded, but plan to do so in the next 4-6 weeks, potentially before GW9 during the international break. If you have already played that chip then using three or four transfers in 4 gameweeks to rotate one player (along with a corresponding move) might be tricky (although if you have wildcarded the rest of your team is presumably settled?)
  3. This move arguably makes more sense if you haven't enjoyed the best start of the season and want to shake things up a bit, although I personally try and avoid such thinking at this early stage of the season too much.
The player
We don't need to dwell here, suffice to say that Salah has shown that he is anything but a one season wonder. He leads all midfielders in total shots (19), shots inside the box (12), shots on target (7) and created chances (13). Those totals would place him among the top 2 or 3 forwards too (the majority of which offer very little by way of assist potential). He played at the World Cup, but Egypt of course suffered an early exit so he's also relatively rested (though did face a trip to Egypt over the international break).

The opponents
From GW5-GW8 Liverpool will face Spurs away, Southampton at home, Chelsea away and Man City at home. There's not much argument to be made that this is a tough run. Spurs haven't looked amazing in a couple of their games this year and their 34 SiB conceded is somewhat mediocre, but they've still conceded just 4 in 4, with City and Chelsea both slightly ahead with 3 in 4 (Southampton have also only conceded 4 in 4, though underlying data suggests they have perhaps been a touch fortuitous and aren't a great defense).

In these fixtures last season Liverpool lost 4-1 at Tottenham, beat Southampton 3-0, lost 1-0 at Chelsea and then recorded that memorable 4-3 win over Man City. How to interpet Salah's output during this period is hard to measure. On the one hand, he notched 4 goals and an assist (although one was that fortuitous lob over Ederson after the Brazilian misplayed a pass) - an impressive haul in just 4 games - the kind that earned him his 13.0m price tag. However, Salah's xG was just 1.36 and his xA was 0.35, suggesting he was somewhat fortunate to rack up the points he did. One can note that he exceeded his xG total all season, but 32 goals vs 24 xG is a 33% premium, not the 300% premium we observed in these four games. Admittedly, looking at single game xG isn't really the way it was intended to be used, but I do think it highlights that there remains some question about Salah's output versus these opponents last season.

The alternatives
One of the reasons you can justify Salah's 13.0m price tag is by captaining him most weeks. A 7 point haul for 13.0m doesn't sound great but when you're consistently doubling that to mid-double digit returns, the purchase starts to make much more sense. With that in mind then, whether or not you sell Salah for this short period is in part dependant on who you will give the armband to. It's possible that in three of these fixtures you would likely consider someone else for the captaincy, and thus not having Salah becomes more palatable, and missing out of another captain-worthy option becomes more painful.

A quick reminder of the elite options' fixtures over the next four gameweeks:

  • Kane, Eriksen: LIV, @BHA, @HUD, CAR
  • Hazard: CAR, @WHU, LIV, @SOU
  • Aguero, Sterling et al: FUL, @CAR, BHA, @LIV
  • Lukaku: @WAT, WOL, @WHU, NEW

From this list, I would suggest that all these options are going to offer at least 3 opportunities for captaincy, with the worst game probably being City's trip to Anfield.

Of course, the forwards listed here would require a double transfer to access, but when dealing with such large amounts of cash, I think you'd only make the move if there were specifically two players you really wanted. Who that second player would be is a major question - and possibly subject of its own blog article - but to get an idea of the range of options moving Salah would open up:

  • Salah to Sterling/Hazard frees up 2.0-2.3m which could allow you switch a 2-point bench player like Neves or Kante into a Pedro, Walcott or Richarlison. You could also move a budget defender and jump on the Alonso bandwagon (or any of the other elite defenders)
  • Salah to Eriksen frees up 3.6m which is enough to convert Vardy into Kane or Zaha into Aguero. 
  • Salah to Aguero frees up just 1.7m, although even that can be enough to move up a level among defenders, from either Maguire to Alonso or from Bournemouth to Tottenham.
One final thing we have to consider here is the risk of rotation as we move into the European schedule and bumps and bruises start to take their toll (this might be especially true in a season following a World Cup). The relevant big teams play the below fixtures in all competitions between now and October 20th (the start of GW9, after the international break, and when Liverpool face Huddersfield i.e. the date you probably want Salah back in your side.

Chelsea (Premier League games are underlined)
Cardiff H, PAOK A, West Ham A, Liverpool A, Liverpool H, Vidi H, Southampton A

I'm not typically in the business of guessing lineups, but I think it's probably reasonable to say that, as a team, Chelsea has the best situation here (not necessarily in terms of strength of opponent but specifically as it pertains to rotation threat). PAOK are Chelsea's toughest Europa league opponent so Sarri may well send a full strength team to Greece, but then Chelsea still get the normal two days rest before a trip to West Ham on the following Sunday. With Liverpool to come in the league right on the heels of the Carabao Cup fixture, one suspects we'll see rotation there and then the other Europa League game is against lowly Vidi at the Bridge, where we could again expect to see some bench options. With Hazard also being eased into the season already, I'd be even more confident of Hazard's minutes here.

Man City
Fulham H, Lyon H, Cardiff A, Oxford Utd A, Brighton H, Hoffenheim A, Liverpool H

Guardiola will want to start City's Champions League strongly against Lyon, who are on paper their toughest opponent. Given the squad depth, it wouldn't be surprising to see a rotated team head to Cardiff the following weekend, which is a pretty favourable fixture to miss. I'd perhaps feel slightly more confident in Aguero getting the nod as we've sometimes seen Pep drop his "faster" players against sides who might play 11 behind the ball, in a desire to have as many technically gifted players as possible to work in tight spaces. That would arguably favour the Argentine over Sterling but either are liable to be dropped in this run. We can presume that City will want to be at full strength for the visit of Liverpool, meaning potential lost minutes either during the trip to Hoffenheim or in the previous week's visit of Brighton. One could imagine a scenario where Aguero and co start that Brighton game but are quick to be pulled off if City jump out to a lead (something to be considered when handing out the armband).

Man Utd
Watford A, Young Boys H, Wolves H, Derby H, West Ham A, Valencia H, Newcastle H

With Rashford suspended for the next two Premier League games, Lukaku immediately enjoys almost guaranteed starts against Watford and Wolves, with perhaps Rashford spelling him some minutes in the trip to Young Boys - a must win game for United given the other strong opponents in United's group. Assuming we see a rotated team in the Carabao Cup - as we did at this stage last season in the 4-1 win over Burton - that would again leave Lukaku rested to face West Ham. The only question would then we whether the Belgian would be utilized against both Valencia and Newcastle, which if not would be a huge blow as that's a promising fixture despite Newcastle's solid defensive efforts to date. Given how much he was relied on last season, the pressure on Mourinho and the apparent lack of faith in Rashford, I might say that Lukaku is best placed to play all four games over this period. 

That said, he's also on the weakest team, may therefore have less opportunities and, frankly, just isn't as good a player as the other names on this list so this is a very tough call. Sometimes we avoid making decisions for fear of looking foolish, and of all the players to sell Salah for, Lukaku probably has the biggest risk of making you feel idiotic, but don't let that alone scare you off - there is plenty of evidence to support this move.

Liverpool H, Inter A, Brighton A, Watford H, Huddersfield A, Barcelona H, Cardiff H

Other than this week's visit of Liverpool I was very interested in getting access to this Spurs side, especially with Son returning from international duty. The fixture list does complicate things a little though. Spurs have been handed a really tough Champions League group and face two of their toughest games in the coming month. After presumably playing a full strength side against both Liverpool and Inter, one could see a couple of players getting a rest at Brighton, especially those who enjoyed a busy summer and have started every game so far - including Eriksen and Kane. With the visit of Barcelona then focusing the mind, you wonder if those top assets might then again be given a reduced role in either the proceeding trip to Huddersfield or the subsequent visit of Cardiif. 

Normally I would say that Spurs players have the safest roles given the comparative lack of depth compared to the other elite side but with the emergence of Lucas Moura, the obvious fatigue of the players involved at the World Cup and the complication of their very difficult Champions League group, I am now not so sure. If Kane and co were firing on all cylinders I'd be more willing to overlook this concern but as it is, this group seems like too big of a risk to sell Salah for.

The summary
I think the case for Hazard is probably the strongest, especially if that 2.3m will then allow you to access another key target. Lukaku is tempting as a differentiator (8%) owned but my own personal front line is pretty set - Aguero, Wilson and Mitrovic - and I will probably keep them intact until I wildcard. City's fixtures make Sterling really tempting, even if his likelihood of rotation is higher than some of the other options. Again, in my personal situation I already have three City players (Ederson, Mendy and Aguero) who I'm pretty happy with so it's difficult to fit the England man in. The money saved by switching to Eriksen is pretty tempting - the 4.0m in the bank would allow me to switch the freefalling Jota into Sanchez(!) - but those fixtures are a big concern. One move I didn't discuss above is to do Salah to Mane to lessen the financial blow of the tough fixture list, though that seems like a lot of transfers to commit to the project unless you have a strong idea in how as to how to use the 3.0m saved (I'm not yet convinced that Mane will continue to offer equal output to Salah).

There's a case to be made here, for sure, but I think it only makes in specific circumstances so I wouldn't want to force the issue. Those who do make a move face four weeks of watching games from behind the couch, but isn't that what makes fantasy fun!

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Comparing like-for-like fixtures and underlying data

As noted in other recent posts, it can be hard to know what data to rely upon in the early gameweeks. We all know that shots inside the box or those on target tend to correlate well to goals, but with only a few of those events happening each week, it can be easy to overreact to unstable data. One data point I am interested in, is how well teams are doing compared to same fixtures from prior season. This data is still fraught with issues - teams might have changed personnel or have injuries or simply suffered a bad game - but we at least have a baseline to compare against which gives a little more context to what we're looking at.

The below visualization shows the Goals (G), Expected Goals (xG), Shots Inside the Box (SiB), Created Chances (CC) and Successful Passes in the Final Third (P3rd) for each team's fixtures for 2018-19 (CY) compared to the same slate of games from the 2017-18 season (PY). We'll highlight a couple of the more interesting observations below the viz:

Of the four games Chelsea have played to date, they drew a blank in three of them in the corresponding fixture last season. Their combined xG over those games was 3.0 - so there's no doubt they were a little unlucky to come up empty - but still, the difference between that streak of zeros and this season's 7 goal haul (with an xG of 4.3) help to underline the potential improvement we are seeing under Sarri. They doubled their SiB in two of those games and have come close to tripling the number of passes they have completed in the final third of the pitch. Looking at the opponents doesn't appear to completely explain this improvement either. Ignoring Huddersfield, against which Chelsea played just about as well as last season, we find Arsenal who one could argue are still finding their feet under Emery but are otherwise largely unchanged from last season, a Newcastle side that is largely unchanged and gave Man City a good game this past weekend, and a Bournemouth side who appear stronger than last season.

The pressure that Sarri's team is going to create with so much possession in the final third is surely going to be too much for some sides, and while one can argue how that translates into wins and losses, in fantasy terms it creates more chances, which typically lead to shots and points over the course of a season. Chelsea's lineup make it somewhat difficult to load up on their players, as you might do with, say, Mendy, De Bruyne and Aguero at City, but this improvement makes Hazard extremely appealing and I think justifies doubling up the Belgian and Kante, or even Pedro (though I fear too much rotation with the latter with Willian also available). If Morata could find some form and develop under this system then he too might play his way into contention before the year ends. We've already discussed how Alonso appears to justify his price tag - at least compared to his Chelsea colleagues - and nothing here seems to contradict that fact.

Liverpool have the worst differential between the goals they've scored in the four games this season versus their haul in the same fixtures last season. Of course, before you immediately start planning for how you're going to divert your 13m Salah funds, consider that the baseline they have fallen from was impossibly high - 13 goals in 4 games - and if you look at their xG they are actually much closer with 9.3 xG for this season compared with 10.4 xG for last. That said, a quick peak at the underlying data does show some drop beyond just unfortunate timing with a significant drop in both SiB and CC. I don't think this is anything close to being a cause for concern but it might be a small factor when considering whether to sell Salah for a few weeks during this tough run of games: if the heights aren't quite what they were last year then it becomes less scary to sell the Egyptian and use your funds elsewhere with a reduced fear of Liverpool massacring sides and earning huge points totals for their players. For what it's worth, I am considering moving Salah and Alexander-Arnold for 4 gameweeks, given the fixtures and the fact that neither have seen a price rise to date that will make buying them back a big issue.

Leicester's stats are interesting, though I'm not sure what they mean from a fantasy perspective. Their xG and SiB are down around 40% from the corresponding fixtures last season, and that has played itself out in the goals column, that has decreased from 6 to 4 (they did of course manager two against Wolves which is excluded from this analysis, so let's not be too harsh too quickly). Their passes completed in the final third have doubled though, which suggests increased attacking possession. I don't see enough Leicester games to conclude that this is an intentional strategic shift or whether it's due to Vardy missing a couple of games (and with him that ability to counter so well), but it's something to watch going forward as it could shift how different Leicester assets are valued in this side. For now though, I want to see a return to form when Vardy is back or else fear this side might offer little fantasy value this year.

Man Utd
This data might prove to be some relief for Man Utd fans, given that the majority of the news about their club seems to suggest the sky is falling. After struggling to generate shots in GW1 and GW2, United doubled the number of SiB against TOT and BUR that they managed last season, and saw their xG rise from 1.6 to 4.0 in those two games. Their completed passes in the final third took an almost unbelievable drop against Leicester and particularly Brighton, to the point I had to go back and check the data but based on what we've since seen against Spurs and Burnley, the outlier wasn't so much those games this season but the corresponding fixtures last season where United were able to dominate possession against weaker sides, albeit not always to great effect as United of course went on to lose that game to Brighton. I'm not exactly sure what to make of this fact. Are United more clinical, luckier, or just playing a different way? I think we need a few more games from this team to figure out what they are and which, if any, of their pricey assets might be able to contribute to our fantasy teams.

It's too early to write teams off, or even be overly "concerned" about their prospects for a long season ahead, but the early data for Brighton is not as promising as one might think given their win over Man Utd and a close loss to Liverpool. Their created chances and shots inside the box have fallen off significantly from last year, and while their xG looks not too bad, it is being propped up by the penalty they earned against United (worth 0.79 xG). Now it's not necessarily fair to just arbitrarily take that penalty away as they did indeed earn it, but just to note that without it, they'd have an xG of 1.8 over three games in which they managed 3.3 xG last year. Again, we're not close to worrying yet or taking away credit for the penalties, but of they were indeed events of luck rather than due to a repeatable skill on Brighton's behalf, this might be of note of caution to those starting to look at the likes of Pascal Gross for fantasy production based on his team's prior season performance.

It's not a spectacular improvement but Everton have improved pretty much across the board in their three fixtures to date (we're excluding the GW1 effort against Wolves in which they also notched a couple of goals, albeit perhaps a bit fortuitously). They haven't played the toughest run of games of course, but the idea behind this analysis is that is allows for like-for-like comparisons and on this basis, the team has clearly developed. With injuries and suspensions impacting Walcott and Richarlison and Tosun and Sigurdsson yet to attract much attention, it's possible that people might start to forget about Everton, but the data here suggests they have the makings of a good mid-level team that might be a source of reasonably price squad players.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Looking at early conversion rates (to justify your transfers or crush your dreams)

There seems to be an emerging narrative in the early week of the season that fantasy teams are starting to converge and a “template” has emerged for people to follow. The strong start of the elite full backs, the apparent “must own” status of pricey Salah and Aguero and a couple of budget midfield enablers (Neves and Kante) make it seem like this is the case. If we look at the prior year ownership data for GW3 though, we see a broadly similar pattern of ownership:

Overall we had 14 players with 20%+ ownership where as this season we have 17, with one clear leader over 50% and a handful more over 30%. This season I think we have a couple more budget options with the likes of Wan-Bissaka, Richarlison, Neves, Kante and to an extent Zaha and Mkhitaryan, where as last year we saw just Hernandez, Hegazi and Rooney. I wonder if the the presence of these budget options here might well be what is leading folks to conclude that teams are starting to all look the same. Differentiation is always an important consideration and so while the question as to whether or not teams are less diverse is an interesting question, but the point I wanted to dwell on here was another.

If we look back at that list of early favourites from last season and see where their ownership percentage was a few gameweeks later, we see some interesting results:

By GW10, 12 of the 14 most-owned players had either decreased in ownership or stayed approximately the same. The likes of Rooney, David Luiz, Mane, Hernandez and Alli had all seen their ownership percentage drop by over 10% with only Salah and Kane increasing their numbers significantly. By the halfway point of the season five players had lost 20 percentage points or more. On the flip side, players like David Silva, Jesus, Sane, Otamendi, Doucoure, GroƟ, Azipilicueta and Richarlison all had low ownership numbers at this point last season but by GW10 were all close to 20% owned.

So all that is a long road to get to our destination of concluding that we probably don’t know as much as we think we do, and those players who look to be essential now might be discarded in a few weeks and new options will surely emerge. I’ve noted before that I’m not super comfortable suggesting that Player X is a “good” pickup because he has good shot totals as this data is so noisy after just a couple of games. Schurrle, for example, seems to be getting some buzz given his high shot totals but a quick peak at the underlying data shows a mediocre xG, backed up by watching last week’s game – he’s clearly a promising option with a good pedigree and involvement in that team, but his mandate appeared to be to shoot on sight and thus his lofty shot totals are probably not a great data point to rely on alone. To try and tease some of these over (and under) achievers out, we can plot players’ conversion rates for this season (CY) and compare to the prior year data (PY) as well as the rate at which their teammates are converting chances (Tm). If we see some of these “hot” players with conversion rates that are well above normal then that might pour some cold water on our enthusiasm (or vice versa for players whose rates are inexplicably low).

Mkhitaryan (20% ownership)
Clearly his G/SiB rate is higher than expected, but not so much as to scream regression. His SiB/PBT rate is right around where we'd expect, suggesting he's earning his shots at a reliable rate, and of course he still offers some value from shots outside the box given his ability. The rate at which he's creating chances coupled with a slightly lower than expected conversion rate suggests his assist potential could even be a little understated. Arsenal have a good fixture list over the next seven weeks but there aren't too many other options in this team you'd feel comfortable backing. You typically like your mid-price options to offer a bit more differentiation but 20% isn't too high and the pick just makes sense right now.

Wilson and Fraser
As I started to write this, I very much expected both Wilson and Fraser to have the kind of stats that pointed towards a nosedive in the coming weeks. I'm a fan of Wilson and Fraser has really impressed, but for a reasonable but non-explosive Bournemouth side, I just didn't imagine there would be enough there to support their points hauls. However, Wilson actually has a slightly lower G/SiB conversion rate and while he is earning shots at a slightly higher rate based on his PBT, that could at least be in part down to the way this side is playing. His assist threat looks overstated but for a 7 million forward, you don't need many assists so long as the goals keep flowing. 14% (and climbing) is a reasonable number of managers, most of whom are presumably quite active as he surely wasn't a huge GW1 play, but with many teams looking to install two mid-level forwards, there's good reason to suggest Wilson can be one of those players.

Again, Fraser appears to have some hints around the edges that he's overachieved a little, but really nothing to worry about. His set piece ability will mean that he will always have the potential to create more chances than open play numbers would suggest and with a decent stable of teammates, it's not unreasonable to think they will be converted a decent rate.

The Spanish full back is good value for his goal and is arguably as likely as anyone to lead all defenders in goals by the end of the season. His assist haul however is significantly overblown and we'd expect some serious regression there. This means that to justify that premium price tag, you need reasonable confidence that he's also going to earn defensive points. Chelsea only have the one clean sheet from the first three games, although they are second only to Liverpool in terms of shots conceded inside the box, despite two away games (albeit to somewhat weak opposition) and the visit of Arsenal. If you buy the red flag about assist potential and aren't totally convinced about Chelsea's defensive potential then I'm not sure Alonso justifies the 0.4m more than Mendy, or the 0.6m over Robertson (both of whom I would expect to notch plenty of assists and clean sheets but perhaps not the goals). That said, there is a pretty strong case for owning all three of that group and I therefore wouldn't argue against feeling the need to bring Alonso in while his price continues to rise.

The numbers here suggest we pour a bit of cold water on Zaha, although given his price and guaranteed playing time, I don't think we need to panic. However, with a G/SiB more than double last year, we'd expect him to slow down a bit and when you look down that list of teammates, you can see why. Without too much other attacking quality in the side, teams should be able to focus on Zaha and as the season goes on and the tactics become more known, it'll be a hard lift for Zaha to continue his form. Of course, Townsend is a decent player, the attacking full back pair of Wan-Bissaka and van Aanholt look promising and new arrival Meyer comes with a good reputation, so it's possible this Palace side continue to develop as the season progresses. I'd say if you own him or sign him now then the move still make sense, but with brutal fixtures starting in GW10 and continuing for the most part through GW18, time is certainly of the essence.

Richarlison and Walcott
The Everton duo have 5 goals between them and a combined ownership now approaching 40% (with a shift from the Brazilian to the English man due to the former's red card). However, Richarlison has scored 3 goals from 4 SiB and Walcott has 2 goals from his 3 SiB; both rates which look unsustainable for anyone, nevermind two players whose profile pictures weren't exactly shortlisted when defining "clinical" in the dictionary. Now, 4 SiB in two and a half games is a totally reasonable haul for Richarlison and his penalty box touches and pass numbers suggest he will continue to earn those high value shots. The numbers don't, however, speak of a "must own" player and with his absence in GW4-6 followed by trips to Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool in GW10-14, I wouldn't rule out selling him and circling back after those games are in the books.

Walcott too has some reasonable underlying data and his game isn't necessarily going to be well reflected by stats looking at total touches, but his shot totals are pretty low and he's offering little assist threat, making him a fine but not overly exciting option at 6.7m. With home games against WHU, HUD and FUL in the next 4 gameweeks, he makes sense as a short term rental, or for anyone convinced they need to switch back to Richarlison immediately post-suspension, but I don't know if this move is certain enough to justify the 500,000+ transfers we've already seen in the gameweek. Of course, there aren't too many options in the 6-8m who look totally convincing right now, so the move certainly isn't crazy either.

Speaking of mid-level midfielders, I am surprised Maddison's ownership numbers are so low given the chatter around the Leicester man, although not at all surprising based on his underlying data. A single SiB and two CC don't suggest a breakout in the near future, even if he has impressed to the eyeball test in that role off of Vardy and more recently Iheanacho.

Mane and Salah
One current line of thinking is that Mane can provide sufficient Liverpool cover to free you of the need to own Salah, giving you over 3 million to spend elsewhere in your team without losing too much ground. Through three gameweeks that strategy has obviously proven wise with Mane not only matching but actually surpassing Salah in both goals and fantasy points. This data suggests the next set of gameweeks might not go the same way though. While Mane has been significantly more clinical than last season - converting his SiB at double last year's rate - Salah has actually been less clinical than we might expect, although I think it's reasonable to expect some regression from last season's lofty heights. The fact that Mane is second only to Salah in total shots sounds promising but when you realise that Salah has literally doubled Mane's total efforts and out shot him 11 to 8 inside the box, it starts to suggest there really does remain a gap here, and it's probably not a question as to whether Salah starts to outscore his teammate, but by how much, and more importantly, whether than gap justifies 3 million pounds. I think there's a pretty strong case to be made for owning both Mane and Salah, especially given Firmino not looking quite as sharp as last season, but given the 60% combined ownership numbers for Robertson, Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold, that means you could have 28 million or so invested in a single team that is about to face TOT, CHE and MCI in the next five gameweeks. I could definitely see a scenario where I own both these players in the future but right now that looks tough to justify and given Salah's threat, that Mane ownership number starts to look a bit big to me.

Despite Mendy having 6 totals shots (compared to Alonso's 7), I don't think it's controversial to suggest that the Chelsea man would be strong favourite to finish the season with more goals. Assist wise, both players have benefited from unsustainably high conversion rates of the created chances, though Mendy's case is not as extreme as Alonso who has literally more assists than created chances. I think it's fair to conclude that Mendy offers just about the best assist threat among defenders though, given his advanced role in the best team and so while the lack of reliable goal production is a concern, I do think the assists will continue to come, and I'd expect City to have the best defense again, which together with a lack of too many options at his position in the City squad, conspire to make Mendy justifiable at any price up to probably close to 7.0m.

Not much to add on Aguero here, other than to note that while he already leads the league in goals, he's just doing what he does. Nothing suggests he's overachieving or outperforming his stats by a material amount, and the only thing likely to slow him down is rotation (which could come as soon as this week) or injury.

All this data should be taken with a pinch of salt given the small sample, and that applies even more to Trippier who missed a game, but I just want to note here that while the England man can probably fairly be put in that elite fullback group with Mendy and Alonso when it comes to assist potential (5 CC already in just 166 minutes of action), I don't think his goal threat is that much higher, if at all, just because of his free kick ability. He's managed just two totals shots in his two games, and only four touches in the penalty area, compared to double digit efforts from Alonso and Mendy. The free kicks are certainly a nice bonus, but with Eriksen, Alli and even players like Lamela and Dier in the side, I don't know if that's quite the gold mine that memories of Russia might suggest for the England fullback.

I think most managers buying Pereyra are savvy enough to know that his current pace is obviously going to slow down, the question just being by how much. WIth that in mind then, I think this data is actually quite positive. A 38% G/SiB is high, but not laughably so and it's fair to argue he's been good value for at least one or two goals based on the underlying data. His 8 shots have all come inside the box giving him the exact shot profile as the significanlt pricier duo of Alli and Mane. At 6.2m he's just about cheap enough to bench every second or third week, although the upcoming fixtures of TOT, MUN and at ARS look perhaps too daunting to justify pulling the trigger now. If you haven't already jumped in, then it might now be worth waiting out that run of games given the presumed slow down in price rise after the early gameweek rush.

I imagine a lot of teams had Arnautovic in them at some point during the preseason given his reasonable price tag, ability and success last year in a more advanced role, and he opened the season with a solid but not sky-high ownership number that surprisingly hasn't changed too much. I guess his injury status is weighing against his back-to-back goalscoring games, offering a bit of time for prospective buyers to consider their options. He's earning chances at a higher rate than last year, though that could partly be role-related, but nothing else is really a cause for concern here and once the injury situation is cleared up I would definitely have the Austrian shortlist The only significant arguments against the West Ham man are the overall uncertainty around his team - the Hammers have managed just 16 SiB in three games, the 4th lowest mark in the league - and the decent array of mid-price forwards that have emerged (Wilson, Mitrovic, Zaha, Tosun) as competition.

I'm going to leave it there for now, having only focused on those with high ownership numbers, but plan a follow up post where we look at players with low ownership numbers whose underlying data suggest some position regression in their future.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

How much extra value do premium defenders need to offer? Part II

Previously we looked at some data from last season and tried to set a rough benchmark as to how much value you need from premium defenders in order to be worth their higher price tag. If you didn't catch that piece then I'd encourage you to do so, but if not, the TL;DR is that we estimated that you should be aiming to earn somewhere around 26 points attacking points (goals, assists and bonus points) for every 1.0m extra invested over a player in the same team i.e. Alonso over Luiz or Walker over Stones. It's also worth re-empahasising that this would exclude any playing time concerns, which further complicate things somewhat.

The below graphic starts to plot the defenders from each team to quickly highlight the potential areas where the more expensive players are starting to show their value. I must note here that two gameweeks is too soon to draw any strong conclusions based on the underlying stats, but then again, we need to start making transfer decisions now so like it or not this is what we have. My own approach is to keep my prior based on what we know from last season or beyond, taking care to adjust it as new data comes in, and not tear it down based on one or two good games. After the vizualisation I will flag a few names that have caught my eye:

Chelsea were the team that inspired this piece and Alonson was the specific player. Despite Azpilicueta's 14% ownership and assist at the weekend, there is really no way to justify him in your team based on the 2nd level data (shots and created chances), although if you dig a little deeper into attacking touches and passes, the Spanish duo start to look more comparable. Rudiger has offered a decent amount of attacking threat but with Alonso stronger claim on a starting spot and a general preference for the consistent threat from attacking full backs over the sporadic returns from centre backs scoring from set pieces, I would give the nod to Alonso there without much question. Luiz makes the decision close as now you're talking about a little over a million pounds, which would play out to be something like 30 points, and we know that Luiz carries his own threat, not just from headers but from taking set pieces himself and even the odd long range thunderbolt. The expected points gap through two games is about 2 points which puts Alonso ahead of schedule in justifying the premium, and again, with the higher likelihood of holding his starting spot I think this is one area where the most expensive defender is actually worth the premium. The 26% ownership is a bit of a turn off and the fixture list is good rather than great, but if you're buying Chelsea I would agree that Alonso is the best way to do so.

Crystal Palace
After his run to end last season, I expected Van Aanholt to be a significant bandwagon pick this season. However, it looks like his price tag probably scared many off initially, and then the subsequent emergence of Wan-Bissaka as a 4.0m starter and Schlupp as a defender-playing-in-midfield option, the former Chelsea man is somewhat being ignored. Based on this early data I would say that decision looks smart, although Schlupp could well lose playing time now Meyer looks ready to slide into midfield and Wan-Bissaka will miss a game through suspension. The youngster's attacking threat make him incredible value at 4.0m but even if he fell out of favour, the likely replacement would be another 4.0m man in Kelly, and it's really hard to see Van Aanholt generating enough points to justify a 1.5m premium over either of these options.

Maguire is obviously a threat from set pieces and this is one example where that prior shouldn't be overtaken by two games of blanks from the England man in terms of shots on goal. That said, Chilwell really impressed against Man United and has already generated some decent attacking data, all while costing 0.5m less and being something of a differentiator. This is a close one and picking Chilwell might be being a touch too clever, although I can't help but feel that some of Maguire's perceived value comes from his marauding runs upfield and his place in the England team, which count for nought in fantasy football. I was also surprised to see that he wasn't even particularly a bonus magnet last season with just 10 points on 716 BPS. This one is arguable either way, and despite the advantage Chilwell shows here, you can also make the case for Pereira, who has some very nice level 3 data (touches in the final third etc).

Man City
This one looks like no-brainer given the start Mendy has enjoyed, and I don't really have any push back on that conclusion, other than to say that his price is already up to 6.2m, he's already owned by 27% of managers (and rising) and given his playing time last season, it's not hard to imagine sitting out a game or two in the near future, which would frustratingly be likely to come against an easier opponent. It's all but impossible to choose the more expensive Walker though, so if you are looking to go in a different direction to access this City defense then you're stuck playing the Pep Guessing game between Stones, Laporte and Kompany. I didn't list goalies here, but Ederson is probably the best pick after Mendy given his lack of rotation threat and the potential for the odd assist.

It's a credit to fantasy managers and an indication that generally people are getting more savvy with the fact that what appear to be the best option from a number of teams are currently the most selected player, including Arsenal (Bellerin), Brighton (Duffy), Burnley (Tarkowski), Man Utd (Shaw), Liverpool (Robertson) and Watford (Holebas).

I will add this vizualisation to the man menu and check back in a couple of gameweeks to see if anyone new is emerging.