Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dousing the Fire, Fanning the Flames Gameweek 3

Three weeks into the new season and everything is pretty much back where we expect it. Man City and their rejuvenated cross-town rivals are flying high, Arsenal fans are panicking about their perceived lack of striking options and I've decided to re-vamp the projection model a bit. Chelsea's seven goals conceded and Leicester's flirtation with the big boys, however, show that there`' still room in this league for variance (however fleeting) and it's in that spirit that I've made the latest changes.

I hope the tables are fairly self explanatory, but as a quick background, the focus has been to (a) keep our search for potential flags as wide as possible and then narrow them down with narrative and (b) acknowledge that this entire process is fraught with uncertainty. On the former point, you'll see that I've included four different "projection" metrics to reflect the different identifiers we have for a player's success. For goals, we're now looking at a player's touches in the box, total shots, shots inside the box and shots on target separately to better illustrate why a player may be over or underachieving. For assists, we have the number of chances created by a player and the number of passes they complete in the opponents final third. Those metrics will stabilise at different rates and will need tweaking as more research is done to see if, for example, players from top teams need less shots to score, but for now they give a decent set of warning flags or prompts for potential investment.

On the issue of uncertainty, I was influenced by a recent discussion in baseball where two pundits (presumably new to the stats world) were arguing that a given player was better than the other because he was worth 6.1 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement) versus the other's 5.9. That metric is extremely complex and even its creators would be quick to note the level of uncertainty regarding some of the inputs that go into it, so to argue superiority based on a rounding difference is likely misjudged. I realised I was guilty of that too with my wildly imprecise (and vastly inferior to fWAR) metrics so I've opted for the more visual-based approach to give a more approximate judgement rather than focusing too much on decimals.



Despite being limited to just a cameo role in the opener, Alexis Sanchez has already jumped to the top of the xG table alongside teammate Giroud, with particularly strong indicators with his touches in the penalty box and shots inside the box. The price is obviously high and Sanchez faces competition from the likes of David Silva and Eden Hazard in that elite midfielder category but right now, no-one is doing more for his team and it's just a matter of time before the points start to follow the underlying stats. Troy Deeney is someone I was largely unfamiliar with coming into the season but he's shown plenty of promise in the opening month and deserves attention in that third forward role (though you might want to wait until after this week's trip to the Etihad). Only Giroud has more shots than the Watford man and his eight SiB put him 5th among his peers. The downside is you're not going to get a price rise from Deeney with Premier League debutant Caullum Wilson and old faithful Jermaine Defoe making some waves in the budget market, so while the numbers say Deeney is a nice pickup, at this early stage he might be more obscure than you need to go. It's a similar story with Diafra Sakho, who at 6.5m has performed well but may be too cute of a pick right now.

The next group of names don't need much introduction with Memphis Depay, Aaron Ramsey, Harry Kane and Juan Mata all having plenty of pedigree and promise. All are very ownable, though I wouldn't let this "underachievement" sway you one way or another. If you were high on these players before the year then the data suggests there's no reason to panic but if you preferred the likes of Mesut Ozil or Giroud coming into the year then feel free to ride those players a bit longer.

The last player to highlight is Christian Eriksen, not because he's particularly undervalued but because he illustrates the potential value of the new data table. You can see that his shots on target number is large, suggesting he should have scored more goals than he has, yet the other metrics are not so optimistic. A look at his stat line shows six shots, three in the box and four on target in two games of action. The four shots on target are a nice haul and put him tied for 5th among midfielders but taking a step back we can now see that if he averages three shots a game with just half coming in the box, he's unlikely to keep racking up healthy shots on target totals and thus his expected goals will likely fall. Players do appear to have the ability to hit the target more often than others but a 50% rate for a player who takes plenty of efforts from outside the box is likely unsustainable. I'm hoping that these new tables will help illustrate these nuanced cases a bit better than the old format.

Riyad Mahrez is one of the rare cases where despite heading the "douse the fire" table, he still represents an excellent investment. The only reason for the perceived negativity is that he can't continue to be this good for the remainder of the season, but at his price range he doesn't need to deliver anywhere near his current returns to offer excellent value. Whether or not teams will figure Leicester out is another question for another post but for now, enjoy the ride and the incredible price rises coming his way. The same is true to a lesser degree of Everton's promising duo of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley who have started very nicely, although a look down the road on the fixture list makes this pair more of a "hold" than a "buy" proposition.

The defenders here don't really need comment as they are obviously not going to sustain their goal scoring pace for the year, though it's worth noting that both Vicent Kompany and Russell Martin have posted quite healthy xG rates and can probably be relied upon to deliver some offensive value, making them both potential ownable.


Santi Cazorla is no stranger to underperforming his underlying stats, having notched just a single non-penalty goal last season on an incredible 27 shots on target. This year it's the turn of his assist totals to suffer with nothing to show for his 12 created chances which are second among all midfielders. Despite this solid performance and rejuvenated performance last year, it's hard to see a scenario in which the Spaniard outperforms both Ozil and Ramsey with any consistency, both of whom are available for the same price. An interesting name to keep in the back of your mind is old favourite Gylfi Sigurdsson who has nothing to show for the season to date but has already racked up solid numbers, appearing in both fan the flames tables. Andre Ayew's hot start along with the emergence of Jefferson Montero will likely overshadow the Icelander's return to form but he might be there to capitalise if some of the hot new things start to stutter.


Marc Albrighton has the dubious combination of double digit gameweek and recognisable name on a promoted team that can often lead to widescale overreaction. His numbers are okay, perhaps even encouraging given his 5.1m price tag but he remains a promising bargain bin option rather than a potentially undervalued diamond. Yaya Toure plays at the other end of the spectrum and remains one of the league's better players but continues to confound the model, which generally finds him to be in a constant state of overachievement. This year it's his assist total which looks inflated, although the discount is probably a bit less than suggested as we can safely assume that Man City players (read: Sergio Aguero) convert created chances at a higher clip than the league average. The Ivorian is a tough man to project but with his recent price rise, the numbers would suggest he's tough to get overly excited about.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

New season, new plan, familiar analysis

He we are. I'm back either much sooner or much later than planned but nevertheless ready to get back into the proverbial muddy waters of fantasy football projection and analysis. The reasons are two fold. First, despite the fact that the blog can sometimes be a chore, I miss the way it keeps me involved in the game, especially being over here in Canada (as Jermaine Defoe will attest, MLS just doesn't fill the void). Second, if the blog has ever contributed any value to anyone I think it's in the earlier stages of the season when we collectively overreact to very little and make wholesale changes to fix teams that aren't broken.

I'm not sure if anyone is even still reading at this stage, but if you are, the plan for the year is to try and have less of a plan. The pressure to crank out updated rankings and stats every week plus additional content for this and other sites can be too much for one person, so the plan is to stay as up to date as I can but focus on delivering the important pieces of info at important times, even if that means skipping a week now and then.

First up will be a familiar "fanning the flames" style piece, simply based on how players have scored to date versus what we'd expect based on their underlying stats. The longer term team and player projections will arrive a few weeks later once we have a bit more data for this year and I've had a chance to re-examine the projection model and better incorporate the key statistical drivers that lead to goals.

So to anyone reading this, thanks for giving the blog another go and I hope I can start rewarding that faith very soon.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Adopt a Team: Chelsea and West Brom review

In hindsight perhaps this wasn't perhaps the best game to review these two teams in. We knew Chelsea were good and that West Brom were somewhere between solid and inconsistent though ultimately lacking a great depth in quality. Both these hypotheses proved accurate this weekend as Chelsea not only won the game but did so with almost embarrassing ease. 74% possession, 21 totals shots and eight shots inside the box (versus 24%, 5, 1 for West Brom) go some way to illustrating Chelsea's dominance but while they do capture the result, they don't quite show the ease as which that result was obtained.

One positive - at least in terms of forming a nice narrative to fit into a 500 word review - was the fact that Chelsea's dominance was only matched by the predictability of how that dominance came to be. Fabregas led the way with the created chances (5), Costa contributed his customary shot haul (4 SiB, 1 goal) and Hazard came inbetween the two with a piece of both pies (4 created chances, 3 SiB). Those numbers really support what the game looked like with Hazard really standing out as a constant threat and his involvement in central positions was encouraging as a couple of games I've seen this year have had him pushed out wide too often, struggling to get a decent haul of touches in dangerous positions.

As noted in the stats preview, Hazard's dual threat and much lower ownership number (18%) make him irresistible to this fantasy manager. The model continues to like all three players a lot though and so you should feel comfortably slotting any combination of them into your weekly lineup.

The downside to piling on the attacking options is that it would preclude you from accessing this very good defense, who look set to enjoy an improved run of defensive results if they continue to suppress shots the way they have. They didn't allow a single shot inside the box in this game and West Brom players had an incredible two touches inside the box; total. Repeat that to yourself for a second. West Brom, as a team, touched the ball inside the Chelsea box twice in 90 minutes. Three individual Chelsea defenders (Terry, Azpilicueta and Ivanovic) had more such touches at the other end.

Among those defenders it was once again Ivanovic who looked the most threatening with 11 touches inside the box, two created chances and single effort on goal. Is that threat worth 1.2m more than Azpilicueta's or 0.9m more than Terry's? Perhaps not. But you have to love his upside and given Chelsea's defensive promise and stability, he still forecasts out as probably the best defender around.

There's not too much to add about this West Brom team. Going forward there really weren't any bright spots, though their situation probably won't come any harder than this one. The model likes Berahino as a reasonable third forward and he's shown enough in other games that you wouldn't want to abandon him after one tough outing. Some unfortunate incidents off the pitch are a concern though, not from a fantasy perspective of course, but in terms of them damaging a very promising player whose story will serve as inspiration to millions if he can enjoy sustained success.

As I said, there wasn't much learned here, though perhaps that's the point, at least when it comes to Chelsea. Their success not only shows up with predictability but also comes from predictable sources and that makes fantasy ownership much easier than, say for example, some of the former great United teams who shared goals and assists between what felt like 15 different players. With 50% ownership numbers for Fabregas and Diego Costa, the decision really becomes whether or not you have the confidence in this or any other forecast model to run in the opposite direction to the stampeding masses and take Hazard and a defender or two over Fabregas and Diego Costa.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Adopt a Team: Chelsea and West Brom stats

Chelsea

So this Chelsea defense is pretty solid. They've topped -20% SiB +/- in all but three of their games and currently rank second in supressing opponent SiB with -25% overall, trailing only Arsenal. At home they've been frankly ridiculous with three games over -60% including the -100% effort against Leicester (one of only two such games in the league this year). So far this has only translated into three clean sheets but with an incredible four games allowing five SiB or less yet still conceding a single goal, we can expect some steep improvement in the future.

If we want to access this defensive unit then, who should we focus our attention on? Ivanovic comes with a much higher price tag while the cheapest option - Azpilicueta - is probably the one player who faces at least some rotation threat with Felipe Luis hanging around on the bench. Let's take a look at their respective attacking threat to date:

As expected, Ivanovic is the clear leader here, offering a very good assist threat that comes close to Oscar alongside a more modest goal threat which still eclipses his defensive colleagues by a distance. In the model, this plays out to be about 0.5 expected points per game more than his defensive teammates, which is a fairly sizeable difference. It's a similar sized gap as we see between Hazard/Fabregas and Oscar, who are separated by 1.3-1.6m or even Diego Costa and Welbeck, who are separated by a full 3.7m. These scenarios aren't necessarily directly comparable, but they do suggest that Ivanovic may well be worth the premium here, providing you have at least some disposal cash to spend without seriously hurting the rest of your squad. The model ranks him and Baines as very close but with more of Ivanovic's value set to come from clean sheets, I would probably lean towards the Chelsea man and pocket the 0.1m difference.

As far as the big three go - Diego Costa, Fabrgeas and Hazard - we see three distinct profiles with the front man being close a pure goal scorer, Fabregas deriving almost all his value from assists while Hazard occupies the middle ground (his goal threat is perhaps a bit lower than Costa's depending on how you account for penalties). I can't think of too many elite fantasy players over the years who have enjoyed sustained fantasy success having success in just a single category, particularly when it comes to midfielders who are reliant on others to convert their created chances. It does happen though and Fabregas has been so dominant that he of course remain very ownable and has the underlying stats to support his torrid form. However, with his ownership eclipsing 50% there are reasons to want to look elsewhere and so I would personally lean towards Hazard as the main man to target here, slotting in one of the other pair either as defensive move to block against your rivals, or simply because they are very good and you have the cash to burn.

There isn't a great deal I'm really looking out for in this week's game from Chelsea as I'm sure we've all seen them play several times already and the team kinda is what it is (excellent). I will probably try and focus on Fabregas for evidence that his goal scoring threat might increase in the future but only a dramatic departure from the stats to date would suggest that likely.

West Brom


This isn't a particularly promising chart for West Brom fans and represents the jnconsistency I associate with this team, that I was somewhat surprised didn't show up in the weekly lineups. So we know who'll play each week but we've no idea how they'll perform: great! 'No idea' is a stretch, as we have a pretty good handle on this side's attacking threat, and it isn't good. They haven't yet eclipsed the 0% threshold in aSiB +/- with four games way down in the -50% or worse range. There's no obvious link between these games with up and down performances both at home, on the road, at the start of the season and in recent weeks. The next question then, is do we even care if this team is inconsistent? Is there anyone worth paying attention to outside of Berahino whose price tag and goal threat make him ownable no matter the opponent or his teammates' form.

Brunt and Dorrans have risen to the top of the assist charts, though offer little going forward as goal threats. I hesitate to draw comparisons between this pair and Fabregas who is obviously operating on different a plane, but the issue is the same: do you want to back a player who derives virtually all his value from a single source. That issue is doubly important for Brunt and Dorrans, whose passes are aimed at the likes of Berahino and Sessgnon to finish rather than Diego Costa and Hazard. For ~5m though, it's useful to have a player who excels in one area, even if his production is going to be hard to forecast. Rather than trying to rotate him every week then, if interested, it might be advisable to identify a run of good games and try and milk the associated value (GW14-17 would be a good example).

At the back we see the two full backs leading the way in attacking potential. As noted yesterday, Wisdom comes with the cheapest price tag and no obvious threat to replace him and so this extra attacking bonus seals the deal for me as the best option in this backline, other than Foster who remains one of, if not the, best 4.5m 'keeper.

Berahino deserves a quick mention, if only to underline the fact that this kid is for real and not the product of a series of fluky early season goals. That said, when viewed in the context of the league rather than his own underwhelming team, the situation isn't so rosy:


He's in the mix with some other good players and we shouldn't of course be comparing with the scale-breaking Aguero, but still, this makes Berahino's numbers look a little underwhelming. Sakho, Jelavic and any of the Newcastle options (if one emerges as a consistent starter) all offer comparable or superior value but are owned by considerably less managers. I'm certainly not bailing on Berahino just yet, and neither should you if you're sat on a large profit but I don't believe he's a no-brainer option in that suddently deep ~6m range.

I'll be watching Berahino closely in this one to see how he can perform against a very good defense and thus if he's an option to deploy on a weekly basis despite his team's up and down fortunes. It will also be interesting to see if any of the midfield options can distinguish themselves in the contest and make a play for 4th or 5th midfield potential status.

The international break is over, roll on Saturday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Adopt a Team: Chelsea and West Brom lineups

Hopefully you've made it through the international break unscathed - unlike many players - and you're ready for the fantasy fun to start again. We start this week with a new set of team's to adopt, headlined by the all conquering Chelsea and supplemented by a hard-to-pin-down West Brom side. Let's start with the team who appear to be have been crowned as the Champions-elect, which seems like a great idea in mid-November:

Chelsea

Chelsea are generally regarded as having the deepest bench in the league, though at the back they don't have a multitude of options and are thus somewhat limited when it comes to rotation options. This, of course, is good news for fantasy managers as while Felipe Luis has shown flashes in limited time, Azpilicueta was quickly restored to the side last time out and still looks fairly entrenched at left back. Zouma meanwhile will be closely watched by the Football Manager crowd having brought a sizeable reputation from St Etienne, but remains very much a bench option with Terry and Cahill likely to start close to, if not every, game if they can avoid injury. The two centre backs and Azpilicueta come in with similar price tags with Ivanvoic comanding a million pound premium due to his attacking reputation. We'll look at whether that extra cost is justified in the next post.

In midfield Chelsea enjoy significantly more strength and depth with but we've still seen a very settled lineup so far this year. Matic, Fabregas and Hazard have all been ever present and Oscar has joined in them in all but two contests. The last midfield spot has been split between Ramires, Schurrle and Willian, with none of that trio able to really sustain a threat to the starting eleven. Based on last season that is particularly surprising in the case of Willian who I felt was a major factor in a lot of what Chelsea did well, yet they've been able to improve their attacking threat without losing out on the defensive work rate he brings thanks to equally impressive efforts by Hazard and Costa.

It can be tempting to look at a player like Matic who plays every game for the best team in the league, but as we can see in the forecast, he just doesn't offer enough going forward despite the talent of his teammates. The other three attacking options offer different packages of fantasy value and all deserve some attention in the play stats post.

Up front the story starts and ends with Diego Costa who's been a great signing so far for Mourinho's side. The model expects some regression in the coming weeks but still ranks him as the third best forward and still reasonable value at 11.0m. The issue - as with teammate Fabregas - is that everyone who's paying attention now seems to own the Spaniard (*cough* Brazilian) so those looking to do something a bit different with their side face some nervy weeks ahead if they choose to stay away from the Chelsea men.

West Brom

Despite watching a fair amount of football and paying what I consider to be close attention, I'm often surprised by at least one or two things in these team reviews and it's West Brom's lineup consistency that has really surprised this time around. In my head I consider this team to have a handful of true Premier League worthy players supplemented by a number of quasi-able bodies who tend to come in for a few games, lose "form", get replaced by another warm body, who then loses "form" and the circle continuing into perpetuity.

With the signings of Lescott, Pocognoli and Wisdom, this defense has a level of depth and stability we haven't always seen and that's been rewarded with four clean sheets in 11 games - a healthy if not spectacular rate of return. Those three are joined by the lone incumbent - Craig Dawson - to form a foursome that have played together in seven straight games save for a single absence for Wisdom. Olsson's expected return at the end of the month will cause some disruption here with either Lescott or Dawson dropping to the bench (or even Lescott sliding to the left to replace Pocognoli, though that seems unlikely). With the lowest price tag and no apparent replacement, Wisom may well be the best bet here, though the 4.5m Foster remains a great buy at a bargain price.

The midfield is where the real surprise comes for me, as the Baggies boast seven players who have all shown themselves to be capable of playing at this level in the past without really excelling to the point where you have extreme confidence in them to deliver each week. Regardless of those thoughts, Brunt, Gardner, Dorrans and when healthy Morrison have all shown the ability to sustain their place in the team with Mulumbu, Sessegnon, Yacob and Blanco forced to battle it out for the last spot in the team, along with Anichebe who was deployed as a second forward this past week. I'm not sure this stability has really led to anyone standing out of the pack as a viable fantasy option, but at least we have a foundation to project from.

Up front we have Berahino who very much has been a viable option, with the model liking him to continue modest success in the future. He probably isn't an every week starter for your team but at 6.1m he doesn't need to be and he deserves to be on the collective radar once he gets this week's near impossible trip to Chelsea out of the way.