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.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Model behaviour

As we enter another drab international week, it presents a well-overdue chance to dig a little deeper into this year's model and look at some of the results which don't necessarily align with what the majority of people appear to be thinking.

I don't want to get too bogged down in the merits of any particular assumption in the model, though obviously as we look back and see where the model missed reality, tweaks can and are made. I do however want to illustrate how individual forecast numbers are made up and why that leads to the situation, for example, where Alexis Sanchez has so-so forecast numbers despite leading all midfielders in points to date (by a distance).

Regressing conversion rates
The first and most obvious point to note is that Sanchez has a particularly high goals per shot on target ratio (50%) which based on history is unlikely to be sustained. The model uses a regressed conversion rate based on a combination of a player's history (where applicable) combined with the average conversion rate for a player with his particular "shot profile" which consists of his position, volume and type of shots. Players like Fabregas (25%), Di Maria (30%) and Hazard (33%) have rates we would expect from their position.

Next up, we have to remember that player forecasts should always be considered in the context of their respective teams. So, while Hazard's 19% share of his team's shots inside the box is a great number, it isn't superior enough to Di Maria's (16%) to cover for the fact that in Gameweek 13 Man Utd are forecast to have a far greater number of SiB (9.4) than Chelsea (6.5). In short, you need to consider the size of the whole pie, not just the size of a given player's slice.

Let's look at the numbers for Gameweek 13 in a bit more detail:

Fabregas's goal threat is a standout number here as with 2% of Chelsea's SiB, he isn't likely to rack up a big goal total and that should immediately set off some kind of alarm as you're going to need absolute dominance in one category if you are basically performing at a league average in another. Sanchez and Di Maria have a fairly similar profile individually but we can see that with United forecast to have a much better day against Hull than Arsenal will at West Brom, Di Maria winds up with a superior points forecast. That's really the story of the next eight weeks or so, as Arsenal have the highest forecast SiB just once (GW18), which is not coincidentally the game in which the model likes Sanchez the most:

This post isn't necessarily a knock on Fabregas or Sanchez's prospects, nor a campaign for Di Maria, just a friendly reminder that the model is at least based in logic and if a ranking looks odd, there will be a reason behind it. Now, of course, whether those reasons are correct is up for debate but it's worth pausing whenever a player is presented as "must own" or undroppable.

Overlooked
Okay, you say, I don't need a lesson, I need some names to look at. First up, let's plot ownership with total forecast points for the next eight gameweeks and see who the masses might be sleeping on:


This chart is a little cluttered to derive masses of information from, but I believe it does a good enough job at illustrating that, on the whole, ownership numbers are based in reality. There's no one who is owned by thousands of managers who doesn't deserve at least a large part or their attention, and we don't see anyone with potentially explosive numbers who is currently being completely ignored. As is always the case then, it's on the fringes where we find value. I don't want to get into deep dives on scores of players right now, but a couple of interesting names to highlight are:

Aguero
A lot of people own him but it probably should be more. He is, quite simply, the best player in the league by a distance right now and his fantasy potential is superior to everyone by some distance. Indeed, without getting into specifics, we can probably expect some regression from the majority of those players forecast around the 4.5 point per game mark, yet Aguero pushes closer to 5.0 without any signs of slowing down. Best case scenario from a fantasy perspective is that City get knocked out of Europe and we finally get that dominant Aguero season we've waited for, where he can be slotted into a side and captained freely without fear of rotation from the likes of Dzeko or Jovetic.

Fabregas
With this chart and the aforementioned note about Fabregas' lack of goal threat, I am a bit spooked about his long term prospects, especially in light of the fact that the former Arsenal man hasn't missed a game yet this season and now has a slight hamstring issue, which could lead to some rotation in the coming weeks. Of course he remains very ownable and the assist potential is sky high but with his ownership rate creeping over 50%, contrarians like your humble blogger will be getting itchy trigger fingers.

Clyne
It's not a flashy move, but as we noted, the value is in the fringes and so ditching Clyne who is (a) widely owned and (b) 0.7m more expensive than Alderweireld who finds himself buried in the 1% ownership group despite offering just a touch less forecast value than his teammates, makes a lot of sense.

Tadic
Despite Southampton's incredible success, Tadic doesn't seem to have quite earned the same attention as some of his teammates - particularly Pelle - which leaves him as one of the best handful of midfielders in terms of forecasted points yet with an ownership number more in line with his defensively minded teammates than the league's elite midfielders. At 7.9m he isn't cheap enough to be considered an absolute lock in anyone's team but then the players he's comparable to here are generally coming in at least a million more than the young Serb.

Baines
Baines' ownership number is still something of a surprise as while 25% is high, it isn't particularly high for the oft-fancied Baines yet this is the first time I recall that he might actually deserve such a high number. Everton's shaky defensive form will probably keep me away but you cannot underestimate just how much better he is than every other defender when it comes to attacking threat (and remember that the model doesn't really give extra attention to penalty takers).

For the rest of the international break I hope to do a stock check on each position and have a look at forecasting the next third of the season. I imagine many of you will be entertaining the idea of using the wildcard this week (as I have), as it's a logical idea to try and split the season into three roughly equal slices.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adopt a Team: Newcastle and Liverpool review

Right off the bat, let's all dispose of our shock that this game didn't finish 4-3. Okay, those games happened almost 20 years but I really felt that Stan Collymore and Tino Asprilla would have a big impact on this game. In reality this game was along way from a classic, with two sides lacking something, quite what that is is hard to say. The optimist will say confidence while others will argue quality. I might argue Suarez and Cabaye.

Liverpool
The gap between Liverpool's dominance in possession (65%) and shot production (two SiB) is about as stark as I recall seeing and probably performs a reasonable summary for Liverpool's woes. I'm not going to make this 500 words on Balotelli's ineptitude as, simply, he just isn't a bad player. He is however not playing particularly well on a zero to Suarez scale and the system he's being used in does not seem to be working well for either party right now. The Italian seems to want to drop off the front, much like United found with Rooney playing up front in van Persie's absence and it leaves an enormous hole which doesn't have to be occupied by anyone other than a relaxed Coloccini (does Coloccini come in any states other than relaxed?).

If you look at the average position chart for the game we see Sterling about 15 yards ahead of all his teammates with Balotelli's average being the edge of the centre circle. It seems somewhat interesting to note that Balotelli's desire to get involved in the play and run back may be the issue rather than his supposed "laziness". Oh why can't you be more like Dimitar Berbatov, Mario?

That's not to say that Balotelli is poised for an explosion in production based on his underlying stats. Consider that Balotelli had one touch inside the penalty box in 94 minutes, recall that Suarez averaged 10 a game last season, and then weep.

I read that there were other players than Balotelli involved in this one, though in all honesty they don't deserve a great deal more praise than their much maligned teammate. There is of course talent here and I was once again impressed by some of the 'supporting' players on show with Henderson reminding me that he's matured into a very solid players these days, while Joe Allen had a reasonable game which I personally haven't seen too much of in a Liverpool shirt. Yet, from a fantasy perspective there is literally not a single Liverpool player here that I would single out for positive attention. Indeed, Johnson starting the game actually took value away from a prospective pickup as Manquillo sat out for the second time in three weeks. I noted in the preview that I was amazed he was becoming an every starter and it looks like perhaps that confirmation ceremony did indeed come a couple of weeks (or seasons) too early.

Where to go from here? Sterling still boasts tremendous numbers and ranks as one of the better midfielders for the coming weeks, despite his not unreasonable 8.5m tag, though his 44% ownership is something a turn off for those not already invested. At this point of the season, differentiation shouldn't be a huge factor, with maximising points and price increases both more important, yet it still makes one pause when you see that the majority of your league mates are already on board. That's probably an issue of taste though. When Sturridge returns, perhaps as soon as GW12 it will give us a chance to re-evaluate this team but until then I wouldn't be in a rush to buy into anyone, especially as they have to face Chelsea this week.

Newcastle
It's been quite a turnaround for Newcastle, utterly miserable through the first seven weeks of the season with just four draws and three defeats to their name. Pardew managed to hold onto his job and has really turned things around, almost certainly by willing his players to play harder, run further and pay more attention to the motivational expert they have brought in, telling them to play harder and run further. The numbers tell us all we need to know about these two Jekyll and Hyde Newcastle teams:

Attacking averages
Gameweeks 1 - 7: 16 shots per game, 7 SiB, 5 SoT
Gameweeks 8 - 10: 15 shots per game, 4 SiB, 5 SoT

Defensive averages
Gameweeks 1 - 7: 11 shots per game, 8 SiB
Gameweeks 8 - 10: 15 shots per game, 8 SIB

Oh.

I sometimes wonder if judging a manager, team and entire organisation based on seven 90 minute contests (two of which came against the defending Champions and a red hot Southampton team) is such a great idea. Then I hear all the reasoned and well thought arguments by the likes of Ian Wright or Chris Kamara and I'm convinced.

Newcastle weren't amazing in this game, just as they weren't terrible in the opening few weeks of the season and they remain a team who are still arguably a bit less than the sum of their promising parts but still offer enough quality to (a) remain in this league and (b) offer fantasy intrigue.

I was most interested to see Cisse and Cabella in this one but was unfortunately limited to just 45 and 28 minutes of viewing with Cisse departing at half time, apparently still feeling the effects of a knee injury, while his teammate Cabella was relegated to the bench once again. I'm not sure Cisse was particularly spectacular here, but still managed to rack three shots with two in the box (a good haul in 45 minutes) and three touches in the opponents box. Ayoze Perez's goal is a bit of an issue as there doesn't seem to be room for both he and Cisse in this team, given Pardew's preferred shape and the presence of Sissoko in that role lurking off the front man.

A couple of goals presumably won't be enough to totally re-shape Pardew's plans, but Ayoze is not without promise of his own and brings a decent reputation with him from Tenerife. The Shields Gazette - a titan of the journalism world - reports that he snubbed advances from both Real Madrid and Barcelona to land on Tyneside, and who are we to argue with the likes of the Shield Gazaette? If the young Spaniard can land that starting job, he too could be outstanding value given that he's even cheaper than Cisse, but the unfortunate reality might be some form of ghastly job share which would see both relegated to afterthought status. Let's see how this plays out when Cisse is fully fit.

Fitness may also rob us of another option as Obertan was starting to become a viable 5th midfielder thanks to his increasing minutes, solid play and excellent price tag. He's now out for what looks like the rest of the year though with a thigh problem so it's back to the drawing board on that front. One silver lining is that his injury could open the way for the mercurial Cabella to have another crack at the starting lineup, though Pardew has a number of good alternatives with Gouffran, Ameobi and Aarons also vying for a spot (plus Cisse/Ayoze if he pushes one of his midfield spots into a more advanced role).

I'm not sure we really learned a great deal this week that we didn't know, though that's probably a conclusion we're going to say a lot in these pages as one game is rarely enough. The game confirmed that these two teams have talent in their teams and on their respective benches and - as Newcasle have started to see - their fortunes will almost surely improve to a degree based on nothing more than regression. That said, Balotelli is not going to be confused for Suarez and until Sturridge returns, Liverpool are a team who are playing at a 2011-12 level but with 2013-14 price tags.

After some internet issues at home, I'm now behind on the week's data and adopt a team review so I'm going to cancel this week's teams and instead take a quick look into the forecast numbers which I haven't really referenced to date. We'll then pickup new teams to adopt again after the international break.