Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gameweek 7 Preview

Clean Sheet Rankings
 I am hesitant to try and over-engineer these rankings but it has always been my view when I read other fantasy sites that I'd prefer to have as much info as possible and then use my own judgement to decide what is best to rely on. Therefore, given that we are now 6 weeks in, I am going to include the rankings to reflect both the hybrid stats (based on last year's results and this years) as well as the rankings if you purely use this season's data. I have also included below some trends that need factoring into your decisions this week.

Hybrid rankings (based on 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons)
  1. Birmingham (0.51) +
  2. Tottenham (0.53)
  3. Liverpool (0.56) -
  4. Stoke (0.62)
  5. Man City (0.66) +
  6. West Ham (0.76)
  7. West Brom (0.78)
  8. Chelsea (0.79)
  9. Everton (0.91) +
  10. Wolves (1.11)
  11. Wigan (1.13)
  12. Man United (1.20) +
  13. Sunderland (1.31)
  14. Fulham (1.63) +
  15. Blackburn (1.67) +
  16. Aston Villa (2.00)
  17. Newcastle (2.13)
  18. Bolton (2.16)
  19. Arsenal (3.17)
  20. Blackpool (3.68)
2010/11 rankings only
  1. Birmingham (0.00) +
  2. Chelsea (0.00)
  3. Man City (0.16) +
  4. Everton (0.32) +
  5. Wolves (0.36)
  6. Tottenham (0.48)
  7. Fulham (0.72)
  8. West Brom (0.80)
  9. Liverpool (1.08) -
  10. Blackburn (1.28)
  11. Stoke (1.28)
  12. West Ham (1.44)
  13. Newcastle (1.60)
  14. Sunderland (1.68)
  15. Aston Villa (2.16)
  16. Man United (2.24) +
  17. Wigan (2.34)
  18. Bolton (2.40)
  19. Blackpool (2.40)
  20. Arsenal (2.87)
+ indicates the trends below show favor for the defensive side, - suggests the opposite

Scoring Trends
  • Wigan have conceded 9 goals to forwards this year making Doyle and Fletcher intriguing starts this week.
  • Birmingham have conceded just one goal to a midfielder this year, while Everton's goals (4) have all come from middle men. This suggests that either Birmingham are an even better defensive play, or Everton forwards are due a goal this week (I lean towards the former).
  • Meanwhile Birmingham have been fairly reliant on the set piece goals this year (43%) while Everton have conceded just a single goal to a training ground play. As with the Wigan fixture last week, this one could be a decent 0-0 bet this week.
  • Blackburn have only conceded to midfielders this season while Stoke's midfield are yet to score. This would suggest that the above stats undervalue Blackburn this week but they remain a risky pick.
  • United haven't conceded to an opposition striker this year and Bent is pretty much Sunderland's only offensive weapon. This goes with my gut that United are a better play than they look though Bent showed last week and last season against United that he can score against anyone. That said, if you hold the likes of Vidic you really need to play him every week anyway.
  • West Brom have conceded 5 forward goals this season while Davies and Elmander account for all Bolton's goals this year. If Bolton score, chances are it comes from this pair once again.
  • West Ham are yet to score from open play this year though Fulham have surrendered two set piece goals. Fulham are an okay road bet for the clean sheet in what should be a tight game.
  • Newcastle have played well this year but have been somewhat reliant on their set pieces for goals (44%). City are yet to concede from a set piece so bump them in the rankings accordingly.
  • Liverpool are conceding lots of goals (78%) to forwards which account for 56% of Blackpool's goals. I wouldn't be blown away to see Blackpool sneak a goal at Anfield though Liverpool remain a solid play.
  • Arsenal have already given up 5 goals to forwards but just 1 to midfielders. Hot tip: some guy called Didier Drogba might be a useful play again this week. Which brings me to . . .
Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Florent Malouda
  3. Fernando Torres
  4. Carlos Tevez
  5. Steven Gerrard
  6. Nicolas Anelka
  7. Dimitar Berbatov
  8. James Milner
  9. Nani
  10. Rafael Van der Vaat
Some good captain options this week with Chelsea and Liverpool looking like particularly good pools of talent. Considering Arsenal's shaky defense and penchant for letting forwards score, I cannot look beyond Drogba but anyone looking to play Liverpool players against Blackpool will be totally justified. Arsenal have only shipped 3 in 3 on the road but Chelsea have been simply incredible and after last week's defeat, a rested Drogba and co might be looking for blood. Look elsewhere for your armband choice at your peril.

I have snuck Van der Vaat in there mainly to emphasis how well I think he had played since joining Spurs. He has drawn two fantasy blanks in 3 games so I would understand if people call this pick crazy but he has basically been Spurs' best player since he arrived and he is getting better and better. Midweek was a mixed bag as he missed a pen (and likely his duties if Pavlyuchenko is on the field) but he did manage another goal and was widely applauded for his performance until his red card (which actually serves fantasy managers well as it will give him a week off from European action). I think he is a buy target and I am considering moving Bale (who also scored in midweek) to make room. Not sure on that one yet though.

Thanks for reading and please post your comments or questions below or @plfantasy. I also urge you to take a glance at yesterday's post where I discuss my new stat 'schedule adjusted points per million spent (aPPMS). I will also be following in the footsteps of other fantasy sites by picking a team of the week each week, following the standard rules, though for ease the budget I use will be my own team's bank balance. I will post this before the action starts on Saturday so why not dream up your own team for week 7 and we can compare thoughts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Schedule Adjusted Points per Million Spent (aPPMS)

A long distance flight with no TV screens and only a laptop and Excel sounds pretty boring, but for fantasy nerds like me, it provided some time to have a think about better ways to process data to create meaningful statistics (like I said: nerd). The product of the flight - aside from the consumption of a pile of junk food - is a new statistic I plan to refer to over the coming weeks and months: Schedule Adjusted Points per Millions Spent (aPPMS).

Previous readers, or those with some common sense, will no doubt be able to see that Points per Million Spent (PPMS) is simply Points per Game (PPG), divided by the cost of that player. The idea is to try and assess 'value' rather than just points to avoid suggesting that an 9m player who scores 4.5 PPG (0.500 PPMS) is better than a 5.0m player who scores 4 PPG (0.800 PPMS).

For reference, and as a benchmark, assuming most people have budget players on their bench (say, 20m worth) you would need to generate a PPMS of 0.658 in order to generate the 53 points per week needed to hit the 2,000 mark for the season. Any player who can hit this rate is therefore helping you achieve that goal.

Room for improvement
There are a couple of problems with PPMS (that I can see, I'm sure any observant readers will spot plenty more):
  1. A player's value is a moving target and so it is hard to know whether to use their cost at the start of the season, their cost when they scored each individual point, or their price today. Historical cost is clearly not that useful as, taking an extreme example, if a player was averaging 5 points a game as a 6.0m player his PPMS is a very useful 0.833. However, if the subsequent transfers have pushed his value to 9.0m his PPMS is now just 0.556, good but not at a 'must buy' level.
  2. The second issue, especially at the start of the season, is that PPMS fails to account for who points were scored against. For example, after week 2 we might have been ready to crown Ashley Cole the winner of the A.Cole v G.Johnson battle but it seems hasty given that Cole had faced West Brom and Wigan (two sides that may go down) while Johnson had faced Arsenal and City (two sides that may challenge for the title).
To answer the first point; I use the value of the player today as this is what we are hoping to buy at. It means that I will underestimate player's PPMS over a season if their price rises but to be honest we don't really care how good a player was in GW1-9 if we didn't own him. We want to know if he is still good value now and needs to be purchased.

It is the second point that I am trying to combat with aPPMS (that and of course the aforementioned boredom of being on a plane). The basic - perhaps overly so - solution is create a 'factor' for both defensive and offensive players based on the teams they have faced and how many goals that team concede/score. This can then be compared against the average to show if a team's schedule has been easier or harder than other teams in the league. The final wrinkle is to make sure that we apply this factor the right number.

For forwards and goalkeepers this isn't an issue as all their points come at one end of the field (save for the odd goalie assist which I will ignore here). However, midfielders, and particularly defenders, have the chance to earn points both offensively and defensively and so care needs to be taken to not overly inflate/deflate points scored to date. For example, Hangeland managed 7 points against United in GW2 but this should not be included in our adjustment as the fact that United have a strong attacking unit - and are hard to keep a clean sheet against- had no impact on Hangeland's points haul for the week, which were mainly earned due to his goal. Conversely, Kolo Toure's clean sheet against Spurs in GW1 deserves extra credit due to the tough fixture in which it was earned (at Tot). Hence, defensive points for midfielders and assists/goals for defenders will not be inflated/deflated based on the offensive/defensive ranking of the opposition (but will be added back after the calculation to make sure they are counted once only).

At this point in the season, the data is not totally reliable as a big score in one game will skew the results one way or another but either way the results are worth highlighting by way of example

  1. Odenwingie (1.417 - 1.320)
  2. Salcido (1.145 - 1.200)
  3. Elmander (1.128 - 1.042)
  4. Ebanks-Blake (1.089 - 0.950)
  5. Carson (1.083 - 0.772)
  6. Carroll (1.081 - 1.111)
  7. Gilks (1.020 - 0.833)
  8. Hart (0.997 - 1.032)
  9. Barton (0.901 - 0.926)
  10. Nani (0.899 - 0.915)
Scott Carson illustrates how big a difference we can get between aPPMS and regular PPMS due to the fact that he has managed 19 points (8th among GK) while facing @Che, @Liv and @Ars already. This would indicate that his current scores are below what he is capable of and is therefore a 'buy low' prospect. Meanwhile, Nani's presence on this list shows just how outstanding his start to the season has been given his relatively high price compared with these other budget options (who will always deliver better value).

Given that the difference between aPPMS and PPMSmay indicate that a player should be a transfer target or put on the block:

Buy low prospects (aPPMS higher than PPMS, difference in parenthesis)
  1. Carson (0.311)
  2. Gilks (0.187)
  3. Ebanks Blake (0.139)
  4. Cahill (0.114)
  5. Pienaar (0.103)
  6. Arteta (0.100)
  7. Rodallega (0.098)
  8. Odenwingie (0.097)
  9. Elmander (0.086)
  10. Tevez (0.076)
I think we can safely say that Everton players are currently undervalued and have played much harder games than are yet to come. In fact, the next three games remain tricky but after that they look good right though GW22. The three noted midfielders will also deserve some consideration at that point. This also suggests that Tevez might have more to come which, along with Drogba's tough fixtures (see below), might cause a bolder blogger to suggest that a switch between the two might be a legitimate option.

Sell high prospects (PPMS higher than aPPMS, difference in parenthesis)
  1. Kalou (0.198)
  2. Malouda (0.188)
  3. Friedel (0.186)
  4. Foster (0.169)
  5. Drogba (0.161)
  6. Young (0.155)
  7. Essien (0.154)
  8. Bale (0.152)
  9. Cech (0.131)
  10. Ferguson (0.131)
Note that I am not suggesting you sell Drogba or Malouda especially if you're sat on a big profit since the start of the game, more that his value has probably been inflated thanks to easy fixtures to start the season (a point observed by Alex Ferguson). But, if you want to make up ground and could use cash elsewhere the Drogba > Tevez move suddenly at least deserves a pause for thought.

I will continue to reference aPPMS throughout the season as well as using the difference between PPMS and aPPMS to suggest buy/sell prospects.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on aPPMS and its usefulness, as well as any potential problems or improvements you can foresee.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    Ramble On: Gameweek 6

    It's that time again to take a ramble around the league and pick out the key fantasy news, trends and stats from the weekend's action.

    It was an unpredictable week from both a fantasy and real world perspective and my - along with many others' - teams suffered accordingly. Six teams managed clean sheets (ranked 2nd, 7th, 11th, 12th, 14th, and 15th) though few (sane) managers will have started City players against the mighty Chelsea or indeed West Ham defenders for, well, any reason. That made defensive points aside from Birmingham somewhat sporadic as seen by Pure Juice's poor showing this week. My prediction spreadsheet also whiffed on several games only getting 9 teams' score correct within 1 goals and two teams being more than 2 goals wrong, though to be fair these were both in the wacky game at the Emirates (West Brom predicted to score 0, Arsenal predicted to score 4).

    Let's run round the key news for the weekend and assess the fantasy impact:

    This defense is not to be trusted. I picked Koscielny this week as a sleeper pick and he and the Arsenal defense let me down badly. They were shambolic from start to finish and the wide players from West Brom were given the freedom of London to play dangerous balls into the box and generally cause havoc. Arsenal were wasteful going forward and aside from Nasri you struggle to see where consistent goals are coming from in this team without Van Persie and Fabregas. I have mentioned Nasri as an interesting prospect before, but to be honest I felt he lacked the consistency to be a regular fantasy contributor. Of all the players I currently track, Nasri is third among midfielders in Points per Million Spent (though he has only played 3 games), trailing only the budget options of Adam and Barton. What excites me the most is the 4 bonus points he has earned in just 3 games, which should allow him to have success even when the goals do not flow. The fact he appears to be on penalty duties in Fabregas and Van Persie's absence also sweetens the deal. The key phrase though is 'in Fabregas' absence' as when the Spanish playmaker returns Nasri will be forced to play wider and will surely have bonus points and penalty duties stripped from him. He remains a good option but I don't see the goals and bonus points flowing when Fabregas returns.

    Well they were due an off game and I'm not sweating them losing to a team who I think will make the top four when the season shakes out. Chelsea had substantially more possession (57%) and more shots (18 to 10) than City and I think we just have to say well done to City in this one. Expect Drogba and Malouda to be back among my top captain picks next week as they face they shaky Arsenal.

    Man City
    As with Chelsea this result really doesn't tell me anything I didn't know. The defense is very solid at home and once settled (Boateng came on in this one so I expect he'll be fully fit soon) will make a great every-week start option. They still struggle offensively and while Tevez is a good option, it is hard to justify picking him ahead of Drogba and Berbatov and almost impossible to pick him as well as that pair. I thought Milner might develop into a fantasy stud but he was stuck on the left wing in this game and Mancini's defensive tactics are killing his fantasy value. At 9.1m he is too expensive to have quiet games and comparing his production with Malouda suggests he is overpriced.

    Torres owners will rejoice as the Spaniard notched two assists but the nature of the them does not inspire confidence that El Nino is back yet. The first was a bizarre incident  - and I think a referee error - and was a lucky assist for Torres to win. For the second he did brilliantly to beat his man but the ball into the middle was poor and only found Gerrard after a deflection. His chalkboard shows how little he was involved and he only managed 2 shots all game, which is noticeably worse than the last time he faced (and dominated) Sunderland. I have said before that I think Torres is one of the 5 best players in the league but he is not in that form right now and despite Liverpool's favorable upcoming fixtures and Chelsea's tough run, I cannot condone picking him over Drogba right now.

    Gerrard should have been sent off for a deliberate elbow to the face of Wellbeck (there's no way that someone like Cattermole or Joey Barton stays on the field after that challenge) but he did manage a goal, which he took very well. 2 bonus points all year emphasise his fall from grace and despite the last 2 games I think he is grossly overpriced right now and only has value for Fabregas owners looking for an expensive stop-gap.

    Unfortunately it seems that Konchesky will miss the game with Blackpool this week which is a real blow for fantasy owners. However, the injury is said to not be that bad and he could return for the Merseyside derby in GW8. I think he is good enough long term value to warrant holding through his time on the sidelines.

    Man Utd
    Another surprise was Bolton holding United at the Reebok and I think the game highlighted that Johnny Evans is really not a top four centre back and United need Ferdinand back now. I think when that happens they will become the second best defensive unit after Chelsea making O'Shea (5.6m) and Ferdinand (6.5m) outstanding value. Rooney was quiet again and he is not a fantasy option right now. His head is elsewhere and his confidence is at an all time low. He is inexplicably the 6th most held fantasy forward which should give you some comfort that there are plenty of owners out there who are too slow to react to ever threaten the top of mini leagues around the world.

    After his explosive start, Scholes has now contributed just a single assist in the last 4 games and when his age and the busy schedule catch up to him, rotation risk will make this situation worse. If you were lucky enough to benefit from his good form then well done to you but for me going forward, until Valencia can recover his fitness and form, only Nani is a viable fantasy midfield option in United's team.

    Bent reminded us that he is still fantasy relevant but I am still concerned that he has been overly reliable on penalties this year (3 of his 5 goals have been from the spot). He would be on my radar but at the moment I feel that both Drogba and Berbatov are pretty much must own players so unless you are ready to drop 30m on your strikeforce it is hard to fit Bent in right now. Also note that their fixtures are very tough over the next few weeks before you jump on his bandwagon this week.

    A wonderful ball from Onohua and an assist for El Mohamady for the penalty will interest some but the defense is still too unreliable (one clean sheet) to generate sufficient (and consistent) fantasy returns. El Mohamady has generated plenty of buzz over at Fantasy Football Scout but if you are picking a defensive player for their offensive promise, you really need to play them every week or you will find yourself frustrated all year as you play him the wrong weeks (just ask Graham Alexander owners from last season). I am unwilling to play a Sunderland defender in most, or all, weeks so I am therefore holding off here for now.

    This was a hugely disappointing result for me as Stoke have been simply terrible on the road over the past 12 months and the numbers suggested Newcastle would be too much for them at St James Park. The early pressure was all Newcastle and the midfield combo of Barton, Nolan and Ben Arfa looks like it should provide value throughout the season. I think all three warrant some fantasy consideration. The defense however sat deeper and deeper as Stoke went in search for the equalizer and despite numerous warnings - including two efforts hitting the woodwork - Newcastle failed to adjust and Stoke got the deserved equalizer and later the winner. They are still a promoted side so we shouldn't expect gold every week but I still like this defensive unit and think they will be top 6 in terms of value at the year end.

    Robert Huth caused havoc from set pieces all day and with his and Kenwyne Jones' aerial presence, Stoke should continue to enjoy success in this area all season long. 57% of Stoke's goals have come from set pieces and that trend should continue to give fantasy production to Etherington and Jones, who both deserve fantasy consideration. The knock on Jones is that at 6.8m he is significantly more expensive that the likes of Carroll and Odenwingie and so it makes him tricky to fit into teams who are already spending big on Drogba, Berbatov or Tevez. Stoke have a very nice set of fixtures coming up though and Jones is playing as well as any striker available for under 8m right now.

    West Brom
    Odenwingie is for real. I think he has all the tools to succeed in this league and at 5.1m he is fantasy napalm (what I can't use outdated John Mayer gags now?). He leads all players with a PPMS of 1.320 through 6 games and has contributed in every game except GW3. West Brom have some appertising games on the horizon and Odenwingie should be due for a price rise any day now. If you are holding someone like Rodallega, Jerome or Dembele, do yourself a favour and get Odenwingie in now, saving yourself some money and scoring more points in the process.

    Stat Highlights
    My favorite stat I like to talk about is Points Per Million Spent (PPMS) which tries to show a players' value considering his points scored on a per game basis and the cost it takes to purchase that player. This stat is tough to use after just a couple of games but now we're 6 weeks in I think it's time to have a quick look at the story so far. The top rated players are as below (minimum 4 games played):
    1. Odenwingie 1.320
    2. Carroll 1.111
    3. Elmander 1.042
    4. Foster 1.037
    5. Hart 1.032
    6. Ebanks-Blake 0.950
    7. Adam 0.933
    8. Barton 0.926
    9. Nani 0.915
    10. Kalou 0.907
    I think what is interesting with this list is (a) only Hart, Nani and perhaps Foster were considered to be legit every week starters before the season, (b) these players are not just delivering value but also among the league leaders in points scored, and (c) no defenders managed to crack the top 15. A couple of these boys have been boosted on many fantasy blogs but the likes of Odenwingie (3% owned), Elmander (4%), Ebanks Blake (1%) and Kalou (3%) are still being largely ignored. I understand why Kalou has been ignored as one of the first sacred rules of fantasy league (though slightly flawed) is that you need to play consistently to generate points and Kalou is never assured of a place in the Chelsea first team. However, what matters is points accrued over the season and to date you'd have been better served with Kalou than almost any other midfielder around. I think that Kalou is a viable option given Benayoun's injury but it will be frustrating and you'll have to play him every week and suffer a few 1 pointers to ensure you don't bench him on a good week (that kind of strategy is not for me and so I will steer clear).

    It's less clear why Elmander and particularly Odenwingie have been ignored. I think we as a fan base dismiss goals and good form by unkown or unrated players as unsustainable which, while possibly true over the course of a season, is not necessarily correct over a short term. Confidence is huge in football (see Rooney, Wayne), particularly for forwards, and if a player is in good form then we should try and ride the lightning and not be scared of missing the boat. Too often we need 3 or 4 goals before we give someone a chance, by which time we probably are too late.

    Remember these are not opinions but statistical facts so if you find yourself turned off by the thought of Johan Elmander leading your line (and believe me as a Bolton fan I would have been with you all last season) then you need to consider how you are picking players. Both Bolton and West Brom have good fixtures over the next 9 or 10 weeks and both players deserve consideration, no matter what their reputation.

    Time to divest
    Here are some widely held players who are delivering terrible value for money right now and should be sold until they can prove they have recovered (or kept for one more game based on the matchup in Torres and Gerrard's case):
    1. Ryan Shawcross (0.272) - 14% owned
    2. Aaron Lennon (0.375) - 3% owned
    3. Fernando Torres (0.377) - 7% owned
    4. Richard Dunne (0.377) - 7% owned
    5. Patrice Evra (0.383) - 15% owned
    6. Glen Johnson (0.383) - 5% owned
    7. Frank Lampard (0.388) - 10% owned
    8. Charles N'Zogbia (0.395) - 6% owned
    9. Steven Gerrard (0.420) - 14% owned
    10. Wayne Rooney (0.441) - 18% owned
    Now to be clear I am not saying that all these players will have bad seasons and not bounce back. In fact I would still take the over on Rooney hitting 15 league goals this season or Lampard having a great run of form. However, I think it is safer and smarter to get out now and save yourself 2, 5 or who knows how many bad games and then jump back in when these players look to be back in form. This seems preferable to me than holding a guy through weeks of bad form just to avoid missing out on his one 'bounce back' game. To me this is a classic mistake of fantasy where the lost points from players you dropped hurt a lot more than the ones you lose every week sticking with lemon in a bad patch of form.

    You can argue that some of these players are worth keeping and indeed it would seem crazy to spend a transfer on transferring out Torres when he plays Blackpool at home, but he has not shown that he will necessarily punish the Seasiders so while your heart suggests this is a slam dunk pick, the stats suggest otherwise. I think all of the above non-Liverpool players should be sold now and Torres and Gerrard should be moved on after this week.

    As a final note, I have been working on an adjusted Points Per Million Spent (aPPMS) which builds in the fact that a players success at this early juncture might be influenced by the teams he has played more than his own ability. I therefore build in a schedule ratio to adjust for this factor. I will post a seperate article on this later in the week and explain how the new stat changes the best players so far this season (essentially the same group of players but a few exceptions do crop up and their order and individual value does change quite considerably).

    Well this one certainly lived up to the rambling title and I look forward to hearing your thoughts below or @plfantasy on the issues discussed above. As I say I'll be back shortly with the (rambling) explanation on aPPMS which was written on a Red-Bull-fueled-red-eye flight (I promise it will be edited though!).

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    Gameweek 6 Preview

    Clean Sheet Rankings
    I'm changing things a little but this week as along with the standard statistical predictions for goals conceded, I have also worked in some of the goal trends that I noted earlier in the week in order to generate my weekly rankings. I have looked for concrete trends based on statistical fact so these are not 'hunches' but more tweaked facts to incorporate the wider trends.
    1. Newcastle v Sto 0.34
    2. Birmingham v Wig 0.44
    3. Liverpool v Sun 0.43*
    4. Arsenal v WBA 0.50
    5. Aston Villa @Wol 0.79*
    6. Man Utd @Bol 0.93*
    7. Fulham v Eve 0.71
    8. Blackpool v Bla 0.77
    9. Wolves v Ast 0.91
    10. Chelsea @MnC 1.36
    11. Man City v Che 1.47
    12. Everton @Ful 1.48
    13. Tottenham @WH 1.57
    14. Wigan @Bir 1.93*
    15. West Ham v Tot 1.67
    16. Stoke @New 1.81
    17. Blackburn @Bll 1.82
    18. Bolton v MnU 2.04
    19. Sunderland @Liv 2.79
    20. West Brom @Ars 4.17
    *denotes a team whose ranking has been altered based on specific trend analysis noted below. I have capped these movements to 3 positions to avoid basing the rankings on ‘gut’ rather than statistical analysis.

    Trend analysis
    • Stoke are conceding 75% of their goals to midfielders with Newcastle’s midfield accounting for 50% of their goals this season. Nolan, Barton and Ben Arfa need to be upgraded accordingly.
    • Stoke have scored 40% of their goals from defense but Newcastle have yet to concede to a defender, thus boosting their clean sheet credentials even further. They are a very good value play this week.
    • Sunderland are highly susceptible to set pieces (60% of all goals conceded) so Liverpool defenders get an offensive boost here.
    • Liverpool have conceded 71% of their goals to forwards and forwards account for 80% of all Sunderland goals. Darren Bent looks like a useful play despite the fixture being tricky on paper.
    • Wigan are yet to concede from a set piece and Birmingham struggle from open play (just 43% of their goals). This one looks like a good 0-0 bet as both sides lack the quality to break down the opposition without using set pieces.
    • Arsenal have surprisingly scored 21% of their goals from set pieces while West Brom have given up 4 such goals already this year. Someone like Koscielny therefore becomes a nice pickup this week as a potential clean sheet/goal double threat.
    • Blackpool have given up 75% of their goals to midfielders meaning someone like Gamst Pedersen becomes a spot starter if you are desperate.
    • Almost half (44%) of the goals conceded by Villa have been from set pieces, something Wolves are not particularly known for (17% of their goals). I am therefore upgrading the Villains ahead of their purely historical ranking.
    • I have upgraded United given that they are yet to concede to a forward this season while Bolton have been reliant on their forward partnership of Davies and Elmander (no other Bolton player has scored this season).

    Captain Rankings
    1. Didier Drogba – Despite the tricky fixture I can’t recommend taking the armband away from Drogba unless there in another top line player with a top line fixture (a fit Fabregas would have tested my resolve this week). Must have, must captain.
    2. Dimitar Berbatov – Turning into a real fantasy force, Berbatov is carrying United right now and he gets a good fixture to continue his form in with a trip to Bolton who have been solid but still liable to lose to the best teams.
    3. Florent Malouda – Like teammate Drogba he is undroppable right now and is just 6 points behind the Ivorian. Rotation risk and lack of set piece duties are the only knocks to prevent him holding onto second spot.
    4. Andrei Arshavin – Great fixture for a player in good form though Fabregas will be missed here. My spreadsheet suggests this one will be 3 or 4 nil so there should be points to go around all Arsenal’s weapons, not to mention the bonus points freed up by Fabregas’s absence.
    5. Fernando Torres – Still nowhere near back as a league or fantasy force but he at least showed signs against United and gets a great fixture here as Sunderland come to town. I’d back the Spaniard to get his second of the season in this one.
    6. Steve Gerrard – Two goals against United have put Stevie G back on the fantasy radar, but be careful given that they were both from set pieces. I have bumped him up the rankings here thanks to the fixture but I still feel he is overvalued over the likes of Malouda, Arshavin and a fit Fabregas.
    7. Marouane Chamakh - Someone is going to score against West Brom and Chamakh has been solid so far this season so could capitalise. I like him as a wildcard captain pick if you don't have any of the aforementioned top players.
    Matchup Picks

    Jack Wilshere - One of the few men in the world to benefit from Cesc's injury (aside from Arsenal's competitors), Wilshere should play in the favourable fixture at home to West Brom and becomes a nice option for the week. He is only a short term fix though as Fabregas is possibly back for the Chelsea game and even if not, Arsenal players will be poor plays that week.

    Laurent Koscielny - Like Wilshere Koscielny benefits from a great matchup in terms of both defensive and offensive stats. Arsenal rank 4th in the clean sheet rankings and as noted above West Brom are weak at set pieces making Koscielny a double threat this week.

    Mike Williamson - Williamson has been very good value this year, being the pick of the Newcastle defense contributing bonus points, an assist and clean sheet points. Newcastle are my top clean sheet pick this week and I think Williamson is not only a good play but also a good pickup if you are dissatisfied with any of your bench/rotation defender.

    Carlos Salcido - I was a big fan of Salcido's work during the World Cup and he marked his Fulham debut with an assist and two bonus points last week. Salcido is a very attacking player and he should have plenty of chances to get forward and contribute offensively, on top of the good clean sheet chance he has this week. Fulham's fixtures are tough from GW9-16 so I think he is only a spot starter but nonetheless carries some value.

    Tim Krul - Much like Williamson above, Krul gives you cheap access to a top defensive play this week after Harper's injury. Over the next few weeks I think Krul is the best 4m 'keeper to own.

    Thanks for reading and I look forward to reading your comments below and @plfantasy.

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    Goal Trends

    We’re now 5 weeks into the new season and while it’s perhaps a touch hasty to reshape our team based on the early trends, it is never too early to look for indicators that might show where future value may lie.

    I have been tracking the way goals have been scored and who has scored them and some interesting trends have emerged that might be worth considering when deciding who to captain and which defenders to play each week. The data will be less useful for transfer decisions, but even then it can’t hurt to know a bit more about the player you are getting’s prospects over the coming weeks.

    Scoring/conceding analysis by position
    I have highlighted some of the strongest trends seen for certain positions scoring goals and for positions that tend to score against certain defences. For example, if Everton scored 5 goals and midfielders scored 4 of them, they would show up as Midfield 80% below. Equally, if Arsenal conceded 10 goals and forwards scored 5 of them, they would show up as Forward 50% in the defensive trends below.

    Scoring trends
    Everton – Midfield 100%
    West Ham – Midfield 100%
    Bolton – Forward 86%
    Wigan – Defender 50%
    Birmingham – Defender 43%

    Defensive trends
    Arsenal – Forward 100%
    Blackburn – Midfield 100%
    Chelsea – Midfield 100%
    Man City – Forward 100%
    Man Utd – Midfield 86%
    Blackpool – Midfield 75%
    Sunderland – Defenders 60%
    Fulham – Own Goals 33%

    These rankings can be used in conjunction with the clean sheet rankings to get a better idea of your players’ chance to score, given the position he plays. For example, Everton at home to Blackpool looks like a dynamite fixture for, say, Yakubu, but given that an Everton forward has yet to score this season and Blackpool are generally conceding to midfielders you might want to look elsewhere.

    Equally, we might downgrade Sunderland against a team like Birmingham or Wigan (whose defenders have accounted for 43% and 50% of their team’s goals) considering Sunderland have conceded an incredible 60% of their goals to defenders.

    Finally, the trends provide some assistance with longer term transfer decisions as you may wish to reconsider that Everton forward or that Bolton midfielder.

    One word of caution is the fact that you will notice that the better sides in the division dominate the defensive rankings. This is because you are looking at a percentage of a much lower number and so while Chelsea have conceded all their goals to midfielders, this is actually just a single goal from Scott Parker so you wouldn’t therefore upgrade your midfielders when they take the daunting trip to Stamford Bridge.

    Scoring/conceding analysis by goal method
    I have also looked at how goals were scored (crudely breaking them down into ‘open play’, ‘set piece’, ‘long range’, and ‘penalty’) with the highlights set out below:

    Scoring trends
    Aston Villa – Open Play 83%
    Tottenham – Open Play 83%
    West Ham – Set Pieces 67%
    Stoke – Set Pieces 60%
    Newcastle – Set Pieces 60%
    Sunderland – Penalties 40%

    Defensive trends
    Arsenal – Open Play 100%
    Chelsea – Set Pieces 100%
    Sunderland – Set Pieces 60%
    Man City – Penalties 50%
    Man Utd – Set Pieces 29%
    Man City and Chelsea – Open Play 0%
    Arsenal, Blackburn, Man City, Newcastle, and Wigan – Set Pieces 0%

    I think the scoring trends are less useful on an individual basis given that we pick players we rate and who are performing so even a poor score in one of these rankings does not preclude a successful fantasy season (if a team scores 60 goals with only 20% from forwards, if all those goals belonged to a single player he would still enjoy a useful 12 goal season).

    I do however like the scoring/defensive trends as another layer to build onto the clean sheet rankings. If for example you see that Arsenal have yet to concede from set pieces, then suddenly that tricky road game to Stoke or West Ham looks less daunting given those teams’ reliance on set piece attacks.

    Equally, we can also use this data to try and strip out anomalous results that may suggest where future value lies. For example, Sunderland (and hence Darren Bent) are unlikely to benefit from 2 penalties every 5 games and so his and their goal-scoring prowess must be doubted. We could also suggest that a team like Fulham are likely to have improved defensive fortunes as their 2 own goals conceded in just 5 games must surely be an aberration that will regress to the mean over the course of the season (whether or not that means less goals conceded is arguable and outside the scope of this analysis).

    Given that these numbers can be a bit abstract, I will incorporate them into the weekly rankings as well as specifically referencing them in my write up rather than producing an exhaustive list which would prove hard to use. The lesson is that just because a team concedes goals, how and to whom isn’t always clear and we should try and figure this into our analysis when selecting our teams.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Gameweek 5 Preview

    Apologies but I am in my final week of traveling and so this week's preview is going to be a condensed version. I will however respond to all comments in the previous post to answer your questions and will try and get to anything posted below before Saturday.

    Injuries seem to be dominating the fantasy landscape at the moment with Valencia and Zamora the latest long term injuries. Modric will be back quicker than expected though this could be a double edged sword as the Spurs midfield remains a crowded place.

    As this is the time of year when we all need to start making changes I have included the mid-long term ranks of all players I discuss below to indicate if they are one week options or should be transfer targets.

    Clean Sheet Rankings
    1. Chelsea
    2. Man Utd
    3. Tottenham
    4. Blackburn
    5. Aston Villa
    6. Stoke
    7. Man City
    8. Everton
    9. WBA
    10. Sunderland
    11. Arsenal
    12. Fulham
    13. Wigan
    14. West Ham
    15. Birmingham
    16. Newcastle
    17. Liverpool
    18. Bolton
    19. Wolves
    20. Blackpool
     Captain Rankings
    1. Didier Drogba
    2. Florent Malouda
    3. Frank Lampard*
    4. Ashley Cole
    5. Nicolas Anelka
    6. John Terry
    7. Dimitar Berbatov
    8. Nani
    9. Nemanja Vidic
    10. Carlos Tevez
    *Check injury status

    It's all about Chelsea this week as they welcome Blackpool to Stamford Bridge in what, on paper, could be a massacre. Based on previous results, the statistics predict somewhere in the 5 to 6-0 range, which is obviously a stretch but you would be disappointed if Chelsea didn't notch 3 goals. Drogba, Malouda, Lampard and Cole have all been rested/suspended for either last week's game or the midweek game in Europe so barring injury (which only seems to threaten Lampard) they should all feature this week. Lampard is the sole risk but I would feel comfortable captaining him so long as you have another suitable captain ready to sub-in.

    Elsewhere I like Man Utd alot to recover from last week's draw against a Liverpool side who struggle mightily for goals away from Anfield. While this led to a 0-0 at Birmingham, United are a different beast and even without Valencia I can see them having far too much quality for Liverpool in this one. While I am not predicting a whitewash, I would be comfortable backing the statistical prediction of 2-0.

    Thanks for reading and we'll be back to full service for the first time this season for GW6 as my travels draw to an end. Expect some especially geeky analysis coming your way soon!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Ramble On: Gameweek 4

    Not a great week for my predictions and my early season success is slipping away quicker than Rooney's shot at the United captaincy or husband of the year. The consolation on the defensive front is that only one team on Saturday managed to keep a clean sheet so the fact that teams like City (ranked 3rd) and Arsenal (4th) conceded to weaker opposition isn't too big a deal. It was however somewhat of a slap in the face that the best side of the day was Blackpool, who I had ranked 19th. Ouch. Sunday gave me much more joy with Birmingham-Liverpool drawing 0-0 giving my 2nd and 7th ranked teams their clean sheets. Of particular joy was Konchesky's clean sheet and 2 bonus points, having hyped him up and reccommended him a number of times over the past couple of weeks.

    The captain rankings were ruined almost single-handedly by Carlo Ancelotti, who:
    • decided to bench Lampard despite quotes all week that he would play;
    • started Malouda on the bench, and worse, brought him on for a worthless 1 pointer
    • started Alex on the bench and gave him 9 minutes for another worthless 1 pointer.
    Drogba did okay with an assist and a bonus point, while Cesc (ranked 3rd) managed a very useful 11 points to remind us all that he is back. Rooney was of course another shock drop and although some will be tempted by the 'he'll show everyone who's boss' theory I think his head will be too messed up to play consistently well over the next few weeks. I think Berbatov is both helped and hindered by Rooney's plight as he seems to stepping up into the lead role quite well, but, he is losing a quality teammate with who he has been linking up with nicely. While on the subject of United, here are some random thoughts from Gameweek 4.

    Man United
    Nani and Berbatov were the key fantasy men for me in this one, while I was delighted to see Vidic get on the scoresheet, not just from the view of my team, but also because I tipped his future goal success back in GW2. Nani played two great assists for the first two goals and he is a better option than Valencia right now. At 8.0m I am not convinced he will deliver great value but he is certainly playing much better than last season, even earning the 3 BP last week. He is very near the top of my watchlist.

    Berbatov also played well (though was offside too many times) and has developed into a legitimate top level forward so far this year. United's fixtures are very favorable over the coming weeks and between now and GW17 the only game you could see them not scoring in is GW12 at Man City. In short, no matter what happens to Rooney, Berbatov should remain good value and he is staying in my team for the foreseeable future.

    Man City
    City once again limited their opposition offensively and really should have kept a clean sheet in this one. Kalinic's goal was a fluke and I fully expect City to resume normal duty this week at Wigan. One slight problem is the imminent debut of Boateng who will steal minutes from someone so perhaps Toure is the best option for now though over the season I think Kolarov and Boateng's offensive force could make them better value.

    Up front this team is lacking firepower and they really need to either get Balotelli back or play Adebayor. The former option is obviously the more likely and until then I think this side might not hit the goal heights we know they are capable of. Tevez remains a good option but I think he is overpriced and will fall more in line with Bent, Berbatov and Anelka (who are all significantly cheaper) rather than the top line forwards.

    Fabregas was great in this one and might be the best midfielder around both in and out of fantasy circles. He is averaging 2.4 BP and one assist per 90 minutes and he could have added 3 or 4 more this week alone if Arsenal's finishing had been better. At 11.9m he is pricey but no other player has the potential to deliver in all 3 scoring categories as much as Fabregas right now so I would not hesitate to bring him in if you have room for a pricey mid. I would switch Lampard to Fabregas in a heart beat for the next 7 weeks.

    Arsenal have now conceded one goal in three of their games, all against so-so opposition (sorry Liverpool, you are in that category right now) and I do no rot rate their their defense as startable on an every weekly basis. They dominated huge stretches of the Bolton game but both centre backs made mistakes for the goal and Wenger's attacking style will always make this side susceptible to conceding cheap goals and not locking down the clean sheet.

    Drogba is now taking corners (which gave him an assist for Essien's goal) and most free kicks. He is the clear number one pick right now and should be held by everyone. He is also the closest thing to a must-captain player we have had since Ronaldo fled for Madrid.

    It was disappointing to see Chelsea concede a worthless goal but it looked offside to me and I don't think any less of their unit over the course of the season because of it.

    Alot of people will be jumping on Dembele this week but take note that one of his goals took a wicked deflection and the other squeezed under the wall and past an unsighted 'keeper. With Zamora out, Dembele is obviously going to start each week but I would not rate him up with Carroll, Kalinic or even Ebanks-Blake just yet.

    I was pleased to see Konchesky get both the start and the 2 bonus points and he remains a great pickup, though if you don't own him yet I'd stay away this week as Liverpool travel to Man United.

    Chaz Adam is a legitimate fantasy option and his set piece taking make him borderline starter worthy. By plugging in a 5.0m player, you should be free to splurge elsewhere all the while getting 35 starts, 6 goals and assists and a large proportion of Blackpool's bonus points (he already has 6). Blackpool's attacking ideology is highly admirable and I think Holloway will stick with it as there are many teams in this league who are terrified of losing and can be beaten if you go for the jugular. This should lead to goals over the course of the season and you would back Adam to be involved in a large proportion of them.

    You hate to take 'positives' from an injury but from a purely selfish fantasy point of view, it would have been preferable for Modric to be out for a sustained period of time, allowing Van der Vaat to be guaranteed minutes and Bale to stay in midfield. As warned, Bale was shifted to left back this week, though Assou Ekotto was back against Werder Bremen and the pair linked up well once more, so one would think Bale will retake his left mid spot on the weekend.

    In short, Bale is still close to a must own player, but while others will jump on board now, I am biding my time before I commit to using 7.5m on Van der Vaat.

    As always thanks for reading and I encourage you to post your comments and thoughts below or @plfantasy.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    Gameweek 4 Preview

    Clean Sheet Rankings (expected goals conceded in brackets)

    As we start to see trends emerge for the new season, we are able to rely more and more on the season’s data, and discard that from last season. However, given that we are only 3 weeks in, I think it is too early to suggest that St James’ Park will yield 6 goals for every visitor and City will always fail to score an away goal. I have therefore maintained my reliance on my hybrid 2009/11 league table using both this year’s and last year’s data and I will incorporate 10/11-only data when it is more reliable (right now Blackpool are expected to concede 12.56 goals this week given their opponent (Newcastle) average 6 goals at home and their average goals conceded per game on the road (3.00) is over twice the league average).

    1. Aston Villa (0.28)
    2. Birmingham (0.44)
    3. Man City (0.49)
    4. Arsenal (0.50)
    5. Newcastle (0.58)
    6. Fulham (0.60)
    7. Liverpool (0.85)
    8. Wigan (0.91)
    9. Stoke (0.93)
    10. Chelsea (0.98)
    11. Man Utd (1.13)
    12. West Brom (1.20)
    13. Sunderland (1.20)
    14. Everton (1.39)
    15. Tottenham (.165)
    16. Wolves (1.78)
    17. West Ham (2.30)
    18. Blackburn (3.00)
    19. Blackpool (3.21)
    20. Bolton (3.50)
    A couple of points to note here. First, I am scared of ranking Villa first given that they shipped 6 goals to an unspectacular Newcastle side just 2 weeks ago. However, the way I calculate my rankings largely ignores this result as it happened away from Villa Park where the Villains are yet to concede this year. I might need to change my calculations a bit to account for this but I will post further on that at a later date. Second, the ranking of Wigan and Chelsea shows the incredible difference between home and road fixtures. Wigan entertain Sunderland who are abysmal away from home, which therefore offsets Wigan's suspect defense, even covering for the 10 goals conceded already this season. Chelsea on the other hand face a comparatively free-scoring West Ham side (31 goals in 20 home games) while their watertight home defense (14 goals in 21 games) does not translate to success as well on the road (18 in 20) and hence the predicted goals tally increases slightly.

    The lesson is that these rankings are only a guide and sometimes statistical anomalies can cause what appear to be odd-looking predictions. That said, in GW2 West Brom kept a clean sheet at home to Sunderland while United, Villa, and Liverpool shipped a combined 11 goals in their 3 road games, so go with the stats not the reputations.

    Captain Rankings

    1. Didier Drogba @West Ham The unstoppable force of the league to date. I foolishly dropped him to number 2 last week, but I won’t make that mistake again this week. The closest thing to Ronaldo in his prime as we have ever seen.

    2. Florent Malouda @ West Ham Turning into the player we thought he could be when he transferred from Lyon. The second name on the Chelsea and fantasy team sheet at the moment.

    3. Cesc Fabregas vs Bolton He hasn’t hit form yet but the extra week will have done him good and he should be back himself sooner rather than later.

    4. James Milner vs Blackburn Has hit the ground running at City and is taking up very promising positions at his new club. Appears to be a lock to start and should deliver excellent value for the foreseeable future.

    5. Frank Lampard @ West Ham Hasn’t reached the dizzy heights of last season’s form yet and the potential loss of penalty duty hurts his value, but I’m not ready to write him off yet. Ancelotti has said he is confident Lampard will be fit this week.

    6. Richard Dunne vs Stoke Like Lampard he hasn’t reached last season’s peaks yet and the abandonement by the bonus Gods is a concern but Villa have the best defensive rank this week and are yet to concede at Villa Park

    7. Wayne Rooney @Everton 15 points in 2 games for a man considered to be out of form is not bad going. His goal came through a penalty so his goalscoring touch cannot be considered fully back yet but would you back against him heading up to his old hunting ground? Me neither.

    8. Carlos Tevez vs Blackburn Inconsistency is the name of the game for Tevez and City’s attack as a whole but you’d back them against an average Blackburn side at Eastlands and Tevez should lead the line once more.

    Matchup Picks

    Andy Carroll vs Blackpool Carroll has taken to the EPL as well as any Championship player in recent memory and his dominant style has caught the eye of the bonus Gods too. Newcastle put six past Villa last time at home and they welcome a Blackpool side who shipped six of their own at Arsenal in GW2. The game therefore would seem to have goals in it and Carroll is a very nice filler option for the week if you need a budget striker.

    Kevin Nolan vs Newcastle As for Carroll above, Nolan has taken well to the EPL and he looks more like the Nolan of his early Allardyce-Bolton days rather than those spent wallowing under Gary Megson. He is playing just off the striker and his keen eye for goal should lead to points throughout the season. Good value at 5.7m for the season and great value as a pickup for this week.

    Bobby Zamora vs Wolves Zamora has managed a useful 14 points to date, managing to avoid the dreaded 2 pointer in any of his games. He faces a Wolves side who struggled on the road last year and still represents excellent and consistency value at 6.5m.

    On the Block

    Gary Cahill – Bolton defended very well in their first two games, only giving up a somewhat dodgy Carlton Cole penalty. However, they didn’t look good in GW3 against Birmingham and the upcoming games are simply brutal (@Ars, @Ast, MNU).

    John Terry/Ashley Cole/Thomas Vermaelen – Chelsea defenders have been golden so far this year and so it may seem crazy to dispose of Cole and Terry right now. However, @WH, @MNC, Ars, @Ast in the next 5 games is a tough run and they will struggle to deliver value at their hefty 7.0m and 7.5m price tags. I still like Alex during this run at his lower price but if your squad is pretty settled you might look elsewhere during this run of tricky games for your premium defenders.

    The same can be said for Vermaelen who faces trips to Sunderland, Chelsea and City in the next 6 weeks. Again, the cheaper Arsenal defenders give decent value but Vermaelen looks overpriced given the reduced chance at clean sheets he will have.

    Mikel Arteta / Tim Cahill – Everton have not started the season well, managing just 1 goal in 3 games (though the fixtures have been fairly tough). The games get even tougher from here though with MNU, @Ful, @Bir, Liv and @Tot to come in the next 6 games. After that Cahill and Arteta might be useful once more but for now this whole teams looks a fantasy minefield.

    Ryan Shawcross – Stoke are another team who have looked to have taken a step back from last year, but again have played decent opposition so let’s not write them off just yet. That said, a 0.136 PPMS and 0.67 PPG for Shawcross is unacceptable and at 4.9m better options are available.

    Javier Hernandez – There was quite a lot of excitement over the little Mexican in the pre-season and I agree that he looked useful in the warm up games. However, Berbatov’s form has prevented his from gaining any serious minutes and now Rooney is fit I can’t see Hernandez getting sufficient playing time to generate fantasy value. He might steal a few games from Berbatov once the Champions League starts but in the long term I see him as overpriced until further notice.

    Gareth Bale – I am not pulling another 180 degree turn on Bale yet but I am concerned by the injury to Assou Ekotto which forced Bale to left back as well as the arrival of Van der Vaat whose presence in the team makes the midfield look very crowded. Add to this the recent quote from Redknapp stating he feels that Bale’s best long term position is at left back, and you have a worried fantasy manager concerned about dropping 6.5m on a left back who won’t score defensive points. He isn’t on the block yet but we need to monitor this very closely as a move to left back will see his price collapse in days.

    As always thanks for reading and why no get in touch below or @plfantasy.

    Thursday, September 2, 2010

    Transfer Window Analysis

    There was a flurry of activity towards the end of the transfer window which should have some fantasy impact, even if we didn't see any real big names arriving from overseas or switching EPL allegiances. In some ways this is no bad thing as top rated prospects will be valued as such (see David Silva) and you cannot afford to take a punt with 9m. For a lesser known player though, that 5.0m or 6.0m investment might prove to be fruitful down the road. A note of caution though: I would rarely, if ever, pick up a player for a new club before he has at least played two or three games. Their fitness, communication skills, adaptability and role at their new club are all uncertain at this point and it is needlessly risky to waste a transfer and money on a player that might not even feature for a month.

    Alexander Hleb - Birmingham
    Probably the most widely known in EPL circles of the players arriving late in the window, I think Hleb is a giant coup for Birmingham and might deliver great fantasy production down the line. I liked but didn't love Hleb during his time at Arsenal and he scored just 7 goals in 89 games but did contribute decent assist numbers. I think his fantasy value will be - of course - dictated by the value given to him in the game, along with his role at Birmingham. A couple of seasons ago at Arsenal Hleb was deployed behind Van Persie when Adebayor was injured and he excelled, pulling the strings in the 'hole' and generally being involved in most things Arsenal did. There is room for such a player at Birmingham but it is unclear if McLeish will favour a long term top-two of Zigic and Cameron or stick with a 4-5-1. I think Hleb has some value as a 4-4-2 winger but I would hesitate to spend more than 6.0m in such a role due to the availability of other proven entities like Bale, Adam Johnson and even Paul Scholes who are available for under 7m. If he plays in the hole I might be willing to go to the 7.5m range as there aren't too many midfielders around these days who play in the trequartista role and dominate a team's play, opening themselves up to bonus points galore. I am interested but I fear the price might be too steep based on his reputation.
    Might carry some value later but will likely be overpriced.

    Asamoah Gyan - Sunderland
    The boys on ESPN were less than complementary about this signing and while I agree that Sunderland paid a grossly inflated price (they allegedly tried to sign him a year ago for £3.5m), I don't think the signing is bad per se. I too am not a fan of big transfers that happen off the back of a successful World Cup campaign but Gyan does have some proven talent and has played well before in a top league while at Udinese. Gyan is most remembered for his goal in the World Cup against the US in extra time and for his penalty miss against Uruguay in the quarter finals, but his play throughout the tournament was solid, showing pace, power and a willingness to chase a lost cause, all of which translate well to the EPL. His club goal scoring record is decent if not great (1 in 3.5 games while at Udineses, Modena and Rennes) and I think he represents an upgrade over the sluggish Kenwyne Jones, who didn't connect with Bent as well as he should.
    Fantasy wise I am not on board unless Gyan is very cheap as new strikers rarely hit the ground running and he won't have penalty duty as he does with his country. I would guess he will be valued at around 7.0m which would make him tough to pick ahead of the likes of Zamora, Davies or Rodallega. His pace makes his a danger and he is worth monitoring but I fear he might be overvalued this year.
    Could have some spot start value if he settles in quickly and isn't overpriced.

    Paul Konchesky (5.0m) - Liverpool
    I have alluded to Konchesky's value before given his low value when compared to his teammates. His transfer to Liverpool was one of the worst kept secrets of the off season and now the deal is done, all that remains to be seen is where he fits into Hodgson's plans. Agger has already suggested that he is not fully comfortable at left back and so it would seem likely that he will switch back to CB to rotate with Skrtel alongside Carragher while Konchesky should be be fairly unopposed on the left. At 5.0m he is therefore outstanding value as Hodgson should make Liverpool a good defensive unit (despite the loss of Mascherano) and Konchesky could be one of the better value players when the season ends.
    Potential to be one of the best value defenders around if he locks down a first team job.

    Eidur Gudjohnsen - Stoke
    Long time readers will know of my admiration for Eidur, who remains one of my all time favourite Wanderers despite having left the Whites back in 2000. His intelligence on the field have allowed Gudjohsen to continue to contribute to his teams, though he has failed to cement a place at a club in the past few years and has bounced around after leaving Barcelona in 2009. He did okay last season at Spurs scoring twice in 13 appearances but never really shone the way he did at Chelsea where he formed a deadly partnership with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (54 goals in 182 games). I hate to say it but I think those memories are carrying Eidur a bit these days and with Stoke already boasting Fuller, Jones, Tuncay and Beattie I think Gudjohnsen's minutes will once again be limited.
    Has lost his way a bit since leaving Barcelona and might not get enough minutes to contribute

    Franco Di Santo (4.7m) - Wigan
    Another former Chelsea player who seems to be bouncing around these days is Franco Di Santo. He disappointed at Blackburn last season managing just one goal and I don't see him as anything more than a rotation player at Wigan. Very little fantasy value here unless Rodallega and Boselli get injured or you are desperate for a sub-5m player and don't like any of the Blackpool boys.
    I can't see enough minutes or quality teammates for Di Santo to help you this season

    Jermaine Pennant - Stoke
    How do these players keep getting hired? Pennant has floated round 8 clubs since 2002 and has caused trouble at most them without ever justifying his behaviour with performances on the field. Incredibly he played 76 games for Liverpool from 2006-08 yet I can recall almost no performances of note from this period of his career. He was widely criticised while at Zaragoza, turning up late to training and being disciplined on what seemed like a monthly basis. I am surprised that Pulis would want this kind of player in his dressing room and while some might buy into the 'tough manager getting the best out of a troubled player' I cannot even see the bangwagon as I am so far away.
    I cannot emphasize enough how little I want any part of Pennant

    Hatem Ben Arfa - Newcastle
    Ben Arfa seems to have been around for a while but is only 23, thanks to the hype he received as a 15 year old player at the legendary Clairefontaine training academy. Yet another player given the jinxed 'next Zidane' label Ben Arfa has not yet justified this attention and has been far from prolific as a left sided forward in the 4-3-3 nothcing just 16 goals in 127 games.
    If he is given a low enough price tag then I think Ben Arfa might have some value as a rotation midfielder but I would be hesitant to pay more than 6.0m for a player who has demonstrated inconsistency and a knack for squabbling with teammates and opponents throughout his career. If nothing else games with Arsenal should be interesting as Ben Arfa has publicly fought with both Diaby (while at Clairefontaine) and Squillaci (while at Lyon).
    Might be useful at the right price but is risky due to his temperament and rotation threat

    Rafael Van der Vaat - Tottenham
    I like Van der Vaat alot but this looks like the kind of signing you would make on Football Manager just because a good player is available, even if he doesn't fit your team shape or needs. Assuming Bale and Lennon are considered to be every week starters, that leaves Huddlestone, Palacios, Jenas, Modric, Kranjcar, Giovani and Bentley competing for 2 places, unless of course Redknapp moves to a 4-5-1 which seems unlikely given Defoe's size and poor fit in such a system. The sensible guess would be a combination of either Huddlestone/Palacios and Van der Vaat but I doubt Modric will not get any minutes from here on in. In short, the rotation risk surrounding Van der Vaat is huge, so much so in fact that I cannot recommend picking up the Dutch wizard despite my admiration for his talents. If he is playing every week I think he could justify a price right up in the Cahill, Valencia, Lennon range but until that is proven I will stay away.
    Tremendous upside but only with proven minutes. One to watch.

    The transfer window flattered to deceive a touch and there is limited fantasy, which to be honest is usually the case. I am skeptical of players moving teams, especially from other countries and fitting in immediately and so while some of the above players look tempting, I am only targeting Konchesky is the short term, provided he beats out Agger at left back for Liverpool.

    As you know it's the international break this week so I will be back with a few random features given the lack of weekly preview column. As always, thanks for reading and please post your comments, thoughts and questions below or @plfantasy.