Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strength of Schedule

Without wishing to tread on the toes on the first weekly preview post for the season, I thought it might be useful to quickly run through the strength of schedules for the new season, as these should factor into - but not wholly drive - your initial squad.

Readers from last season will know how much I love looking at a team's fixtures, and I will often state how I prefer a good fantasy player (say, Clint Dempsey) with a great fixture over a great fantasy player (say, James Milner) with a so-so fixture. This holds true to an extent though two important caveats should be noted here:
  1. Don't get too cute - I would never drop Lampard on a weekly basis for someone like Steve Pienaar as there are sound reasons why Lampard costs twice as much: he plays for a top team, takes penalties and dominates the bonus category. You may look at Lampard's fixtures and decide that over a 6 game period his production might be limited and therefore look to sell him, but dropping a star is never recommended unless there are questions over whether he might play.
  2. When it comes to picking your opening day squad, ideally you are picking the team who you think will be the best over the course of a season. This means that while the strength of the opening fixtures do matter, they should not drive your squad selection: if you like Robin van Persie to win the golden boot then buy him now and enjoy the upcoming price rise, even if you don't like his opening fixture at Liverpool.
The possible exception to this rule would be if you choose to pursue a 'three thirds' strategy, given the availability of a second wildcard for this season. This would entail focusing purely on the opening 12-13 weeks of the season and trying to maximize points in that period only. While I like this idea, the risk is that it is always hard to predict which players will play well initially and this strategy gives way to picking too many unknown entities for my taste.

Best Schedules
With the caveats in place, let's look at the best fixture lists over the opening six weeks (a somewhat reliable time-frame) and see if anything stands out that might act a tie break if you are torn between two similar players.
  1. Aston Villa (opponent's score an average of 0.98 goals per game)
  2. Chelsea (1.19)
  3. Birmingham (1.21)
  4. Man Utd (1.25)
  5. Newcastle (1.31)
  6. Tottenham (1.35)
  7. Wolves (1.36)
  8. Arsenal (1.36)
  9. Everton (1.38)
  10. Man City (1.38)
  11. Blackburn (1.38)
  12. Fulham (1.38)
  13. Wigan (1.47)
  14. Bolton (1.51)
  15. Sunderland (1.57)
  16. Stoke (1.57)
  17. Liverpool (1.60)
  18. West Ham (1.61)
  19. Blackpool (1.66)
  20. West Brom (1.94)
Before we look at the numbers, a quick word of caution over the data used. Firstly, this is based on last year's full season in the EPL, which is dangerous given that their have been managerial changes, new signings, squad rotation etc but it is a useful starting point so I've stuck with it. Second, for the promoted teams I have used their goals conceded last year in the Championship and adjusted them based on a historic rate at which teams perform in the big league compared with the minors (on average teams concede 1.56x more and score 0.68x as many goals).

So what stands out? First, Villa have a very favourable set of fixtures; over a 5th of a goal better than anyone else. Combine this with one of the best defensive teams around from last year who haven't really lost anyone in the off season and it looks like a recipe for success. I highly recommend getting at least one Villa defender in your team, and if you were bullish on them anyway, you might want to roll the dice with a second (this is risky though).

Second, Birmingham once again look like good value and I think they are undervalued based on last year's performances. True Joe Hart is gone but Ben Foster is a decent replacement and the rest of the defense is intact. I think they once again make excellent rotation options and these fixtures suggest that they are good value early on.

A potential sleeper team is Newcastle, whose defenders can be had for 4m. I'm not saying these guys will be clean sheet kings but I think they have a useful unit (who conceded 35 in 46 last season) and will be particularly strong at St James Park. I would be more than happy stashing a Newcastle defender on the bench and hoping to gain a bit of cash should they play well in the first few weeks.

Finally, of the most fancied sides, Liverpool have the toughest run and you might want to bear this in mind before investing heavily in Glen Johnson or Pepe Reina. I do like the Liverpool defense this year but I for one will be targeting them in week 6 onwards after two trips to Manchester and a home game with Arsenal are behind them.

Not long until the season now so please keep checking back for regular updates to try and help you pick your final squads.


auburn.tigers2011 said...

Nice write up Chris. I have based my starting team off their first 8 game schedule.

I was wondering if you were going to be putting out a keeper rotation article? I got a lot out of the one you did last year.

I currently have Robinson and Foster but there may be better combos out there that I havent seen. Chris or anybody, thoughts?

David said...

@auburn I have Foster/Harper. I see newcastle having a good one and they dovetail quite nicely.

Consensus around the forums has Foster/Hahnemann as the best keeper combo for the season. I haven't had the time to fully verify it yet but it looks like it checks out. I'm tipping Van Damme this season though so I didn't want to double up.

@Chris, 1: I thought you were english. 2: I hear you about Villa's easy run but I'm struggling to find value in the side at this point. I don't know if it's the steep price rise across last year's regulars or personal bias. Is it just me?

Craig B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig B said...

Hi Chris - I am curious if there is a ceiling to player prices. This is my second year at this and am surprised by the price on Lamps and Drogs. Can they realistically go any higher or is one setting themselves up for a loss if there is a dip in form with these two and probably Rooney as well?

I just read your thinking outside the box article and it occurred to me that another advantage exists for defenders and midfielders that does not for strikers. Both D and MF's can play out of position to our advantage. W/ the likes of Bale, Olsson, or Dempsey you have a superior scoring system applied to that player when they move into a more offensive role. With Strikers however, should they be shifted into a more defensive capacity it is detrimental to scoring. This fact may also be contributing to a break down in correlation as it is probably more likely to see positional shifts with D's & MF's than strikers.

TD Ocho said...

@David I've opted for Foster and Hahnemann. Their fixtures work out pretty well. Anybody got any good 4.0 defenders? I was thinking Mouyokolo but he might not be fit and I have Hahnemann.

Tom said...

Isn't Foster injured? I'm all for rotating keepers and all that but not when one of them pulls out of the England squad with a back injury 3 days before the start of the season.

I'm going Jaaskelainnen and Hahnemann.

David said...

changed my keeper this morning on the back of that news. Now it's Robinson/Harper but by tomorrow it will probably be someone new again. 14 Aug is nearly upon us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ryan said...

@TD Ocho: After Craddock, Berra and Zubar, I'm not sure who ranks 4th in the pecking order. It's either gonna be Mouyokolo, Foley or Van Damme. The chances of Mouyokolo starting regularly will increase if 1 of the aforementioned defenders gets pushed up to midfield. My gut feeling says Van Damme will get it...

Reliable $4.0 defenders seem hard to find. I'm having problems there too. Perhaps we could try a 4.0 WBA or Newcastle defender? Not sure though. The best is to ask Chris haha!