Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gameweek 14 Preview

I wouldn't say that I'm superstitious, but I'm definitely stitious. Gameweek 13 was unlucky for most of us with Adebayor, Kompany and Terry being the only widely held players to have really big weeks. Aguero, Van Persie and Rooney managed just an assist between them despite playing for the majority of their respective games. Just like their real life teams, you need to quickly shake off a down week and not get too bogged down with the odd blank from our stars. Of those three, I am most concerned about Rooney, purely because of the way he is being deployed, though I thought he was excellent in the first half against Newcastle and will bounce back soon. I would however fully condone holding someone else while we wait for that to happen, particularly given the somewhat tricky trip to Villa Park this week.

The form of City's defense is starting to become somewhat of a concern with Lescott's own goal making it 6 straight without a clean sheet. They aren't surrendering any more shots than earlier in the year (aside from the 7 they gave up this week) though looking around at the other teams in the league, I wouldn't suggest this is a particularly reliable stat to rely on (Everton have conceded the 3rd least shots this year). I'm certainly not ready to give up on them yet and this week's fixture looks too good to pass on. 

Carling/Euro Cup Clues
All the big teams played in midweek in the Carling Cup and we can probably draw some inferences from their team selections:
  • Fabio, Rafael and Smalling all played for Man Utd, which should make a clear path for Phil Jones to return this week. It is looking increasingly safe to suggest Jones has his hands firmly on that right back slot for the long haul. Valencia also played in this one which should be music to the ears of Young and Nani owners.
  • Dzeko, Nari and A Johnson all started for Man City and played the full 90 minutes against Arsenal. That would have been great news for Aguero, except he came on after just half an hour, so may also face the bench this week. If I had to guess I'd say Aguero gets a game alongside Silva and Balotelli but I have long since given up trying to predict the way Mancini's mind works.
  • Koscielny and Djorou both played for Arsenal which brings into question who will start this week at right. Either way I'm not sure you want a piece of that defense, other than the lively looking Santos.
  • Liverpool played a pretty strong side at Chelsea so I'm not reading too much into their team selection. That said, the resting of Adam alongside Suarez tells me he is very much considered to be an essential part of that side. 
  • Chelsea also played some first teamers and with Luiz, Bosingwa and Alex all starting, we can't get much of a jump on what AVB will do this week. Torres playing up top for 90 minutes however, suggests that Drogba and Sturridge might get another game together up front this week.
  • Defoe started for Spurs in their Euro second-team, though that might be an indication of a lack of other options so I wouldn't take that as a guarantee that Van der Vaart will play this week. In fact, the signs seem to suggest the Dutchman will sit again this week. Hopefully he will tweet in time for us to make transfers accordingly.
Captain Picks
With Van der Vaart possibly sidelined and the out-of-form Man Utd facing a tricky trip to Villa we are once again left with a choice between the Man City lottery, the great Robin Van Persie and a couple of other familiar names.

There really isn't too much to say this week given the unpredictability of Mancini's first team choices. Given the way Wigan have defended this year, I am leaning towards Van Persie as the main man this week, as he is almost sure to start (though is probably due a week off at some point) and is in as good form as anyone in the league. Van Persie has spanked weaker sides like Norwich, West Brom, Stoke, Sunderland and Bolton already this year and so another big game against Wigan looks like a decent bet.

When in doubt with City, I usually lean towards Silva who seems to be rotated less and can escape 2 pointers thanks to his ability to contribute points in every category. With Aguero and Dzeko both getting substantial minutes midweek, I would probably go that way again this week. 

A lot of people are getting excited about Hernandez again, but I must admit I'm not sure I'm totally there just yet. His underlying shot stats aren't impressive and United have failed to score more than a single goal in 6 straight gameweeks, limiting Hernandez's chances for a big haul. I would rate him ahead of Rooney in the short term based on price alone but I'm not willing to elevate him into that elite group for the medium-long term until I see United return to top form and Hernandez share in the spoils.

Spurs have a great looking fixture and no one is better placed to exploit it right now than Adebayor; perhaps the second best form player after Van Persie. What excites me as much as the goals he's scored are the assists (6) and bonus points (13) which differentiate Adebayor from being just another one tricky pony (aka Darren Bent). Based on current and prior year data, Spurs have a great set of upcoming fixtures and with Defoe out of favour and Van der Vaart struggling to stay healthy, Adebayor looks the best way to exploit those games. At just 8.9m he represents a significant discount over the elite forwards and I would personally put him ahead of Hernandez (at least in terms of value if not pure production). He can be streaky (as can Spurs) but if you're tiring of City's revolving door or Rooney's deep deployment, I would make Ade my number one target.

I normally shy away from captaining defenders but with the way he's been playing of late and given the fixture, Micah Richards at least deserves a mention here. With too many goals conceded of late, you wonder if Mancini might go a bit more defensive this week, putting an emphasis on keeping Norwich out this week. Richards brings a bonus of having good attacking credentials and makes a nice option for anyone not holding many of the big names mentioned above. 

Please post any comments or questions below or at @plfantasy and I'll try and get as many as possible answered before this week's deadline.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lineup Lessons: Gameweek 13

Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos, Song, Ramsey, Arteta, Walcott, van Persie, Arshavin.
Subs: Fabianski, Diaby, Koscielny, Frimpong, Gervinho, Chamakh, Benayoun.

Djorou over Koscielny made sense at right back given his impressive physical capability, though I'm still not personally convinced this unit can be relied upon given their lofty price tags. Gervinho impressed off the bench and I was surprised to see him there in the first place. I had hoped he might push on to become a useful asset but without guaranteed minutes he joins a long list of overpriced forwards. Diaby returned from injury but didn't look particularly sharp and I wouldn't expect him to get back in the first team next week. That situation is worth monitoring for Ramsey owners.

Aston Villa
Given, Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, N'Zogbia, Delph, Herd, Bent, Agbonlahor, Heskey
Subs: Guzan, Jenas, Albrighton, Delfouneso, Clark, Cuellar, Bannan.

Not too much note in terms of the starting lineup, which is one of the more reliable in the league. Back-to-back zeros must be a concern for Agbonlahor and Bent owners, and I'd maintain that while this pair have played well, their underlying stats are not great and I'm not sure if it isn't time to move on, particularly from the pricey Bent. On the plus side, the Villains were able to log they 4th clean sheet of the year and have done a good job at keeping out the weaker sides. Warnock and Hutton remain borderline squad men.

Robinson, Lowe, Hanley, Dann, Givet, Rochina, Nzonzi, Pedersen, Hoilett, Formica, Yakubu
Subs: Bunn, Petrovic, Blackman, Goodwillie, Vukcevic, Roberts, Henley.

Granted, they have some injuries, but this is a pretty miserable team. Hoilett remains a borderline asset but elsewhere there is very little else to like. Perhaps Samba will finally move to a better team and develop some value at 5.4m.

Jaaskelainen, Wheater, Cahill, Knight, Robinson, M Davies, Muamba, Reo-Coker, Eagles, Klasnic, K Davies
Subs: Bogdan, Steinsson, Sanli, Petrov, Pratley, Kakuta, O'Halloran.

It pains me to say it, but this Bolton side may be in the same boat as their Lancashire rivals. Eagles and Klasnic have had their good days but their production is so unpredictable that it makes it hard to play them sporadically. It's hard to judge the team too harshly based on a game in which they played for long periods with 10-men but it's hard to see much value here. Like Samba, G Cahill's value may only be rescued by a move away from the Reebok.

Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Meireles, Romeu, Mata, Sturridge, Drogba
Subs: Turnbull, Lampard, Torres, Mikel, Malouda, Bosingwa, Kalou.

Now even Lampard isn't safe! Villas-Boas may well be the least fantasy-friendly manager in the league (Mancini runs him close though) and despite the big win it's hard to find anyone to love in this expensive Chelsea side. Mata is one of the few players to be locked into this lineup and his big performance (and set piece duties) underline his potential. I'd love to recommend Sturridge but you have to accept you're going to get a 1 pointers from him, while the back line either looks too pricey (Terry, Cole) or too inconsistent (everyone else). My advice remains to monitor Sturridge, own Mata is you're tired of the Nani / Young / Van der Vaart group and keep away from the defense until someone emerges as a reliable starter (for a reasonable price).

Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines, Coleman, Fellaini, Osman, Bilyaletdinov, Cahill, Saha.
Subs: Mucha, Stracqualursi, Gueye, Barkley, Vellios, Mustafi, McAleny.

The side looks settled but the goals seem to come from different sources every week. Everton have 5 players who've netted more than once this year yet Drenthe and Rodwell didn't play while Vellios started on the bench as usual. Only Baines and Jagielka were in the starting lineup, though my feelings on that pair do not need repeating. This team don't score many but yet don't keep clean sheets (this was just the 2nd all year) making it tough to find much value.

Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Etuhu, Murphy, Dempsey, Ruiz, Dembele, Zamora.
Subs: Etheridge, Johnson, Kasami, Gecov, Hughes, Frei, Briggs.

In the weekly Fulham defense rotation, it was Hughes who missed out this week. I'd still suggest that Baird is the pick here with Senderos only suitable for those desperate for sub-4.5m pickup. There are options here who are guaranteed minutes and a defensive display at Arsenal isn't the best game to judge them in. Dempsey and co will have better days ahead.

Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Henderson, Lucas, Adam, Downing, Suarez, Kuyt
Subs: Doni, Carroll, Maxi, Coates, Spearing, Carragher, Kelly.

As expected, Downing came back in for Maxi, and we might in the situation where Maxi will become the 'away' specialist. Liverpool played their part in an entertaining game, though I still struggle to see where consistent fantasy points are coming from in this side. Though his assist was clearly lucky, Adam remains my pick of the Liverpool side along with the slightly frustrating Suarez. I say frustrating because the underling stats suggest he should be scoring more, but watching him I don't really get the impression he is suddenly going to explode for a great scoring run. I'm sure more goals will come but he isn't in the top class right now and I struggle to rank him ahead of Adebayor.

Man City
Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Toure Yaya, Barry, Milner, Silva, Nasri, Aguero
Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Dzeko, Johnson, Toure, De Jong, Balotelli.

This is probably Mancini's first choice starting lineup, with perhaps Nasri the most likely to miss out regularly. The problem this week was not guessing Mancini's lineup but their lack of production. Lescott's own goal made it 6 straight games without a clean sheet, and you wonder if Mancini will react to that and move to a more defensive approach, perhaps recalling De Jong in the middle. I am not worried about Richards and Kompany just yet but we are getting to a position where owning a City defender is no longer a no brainer (I still think it is, but we're getting closer). I thought Aguero was extremely quiet and he is not in must-own territory. I still hold him in a separate elite category with Rooney and Van Persie though.

Man Utd
De Gea, Fabio Da Silva, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Giggs, Young, Rooney, Hernandez
Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Smalling, Park, Valencia, Macheda, Gibson.

P Jones was an unexpected drop here, though for his owners it might be a sign that he is the first choice right back for the foreseeable future and this was merely a one week rest. The fact that Fabio, rather than Smalling, got the start might be a another plus for Jones. Rooney and Hernandez started the game really well but then Rooney started dropping deeper and United lost their edge until Newcastle equalised and then somehow held on. I maintain that Rooney will be a top fantasy asset at some point but this team looks disjointed at the moment and seems unable to sustain high level play for an extended period of time. Hernandez got the lucky goal but I'm not ready to put him in that elite category just yet and I see him more alongside Adebayor than Van Persie. Nani was almost non-existent in this game and while Young started well, he too faded as the game went on. I'm not out on either player just yet but a fully fit Van der Vaart and Silva look better than this pair for now, with Mata emerging as a threat too.

Krul, Simpson, S Taylor, Coloccini, R Taylor, Obertan, Cabaye, Guthrie, Gutierrez, Ben Arfa, Ba
Subs: Elliot, Santon, Lovenkrands, Perch, Gosling, Shola Ameobi, Sammy Ameobi.

This is a very settled lineup and it continues to provide good value for fantasy owners. Ba is a legit option up top and with the top midfielders starting to struggle a bit, there's a good argument to making him you're third striker and sacrificing some expense in midfield to make it happen. After Chelsea next week, Newcastle have four good fixtures so plan to hold onto Simpson, Taylor and co for the foreseeable future.

Ruddy, Martin, Barnett, De Laet, Tierney, Pilkington, Johnson, Crofts, Surman, Morison, Jackson.
Subs: Rudd, Holt, Hoolahan, Fox, Bennett, Wilbraham, Naughton.

Some unlikely scorers for Norwich this week, which failed to shed any light on which of these midfielders we should be targeting. Johnson has been the biggest goal threat to date though it's Pilkington who has the goals. I will talk more about Morison in this week's focus on budget forwards, but while Norwich are equipping themselves in the league well, it's tough to see too much consistent production here, making most of their players 2nd or 3rd sub types.

Cerny, Young, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Hill, Wright-Phillips, Derry, Faurlin, Traore, Mackie, Helguson.
Subs: Putnins, Orr, Hall, Bothroyd, Buzsaky, Smith, Puncheon.

QPR conceded 2 goals in the first 6 GWs and then 17 in the last 7. They're clearly missing Barton (and yes even Taarabt) who gave them a couple of players who could put their foot on the ball and get a better grip of the game. Aside from the uber-cheap Gabbidon, their defense is probably overpriced. Young's goal was nice and Traore's advanced deployment is generally an asset but both are priced based on their former employers and don't deliver value here. Helguson seems to have a decent grip on that lone striker role though you wouldn't be too surprised to see Bothroyd get minutes too.

Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson, Pennant, Whelan, Delap, Etherington, Walters, Crouch
Subs: Begovic, Higginbotham, Jones, Fuller, Whitehead, Upson, Jerome.

I totally missed the Begovic benching last week so apologies for that, and thanks to the readers who steered me in the right direction. Pulis announced that he still have faith in Begovic but that Sorensen is the man between the sticks for now. Begovic is obviously a sell but I would personally abandon this pairing for now as you wouldn't be shocked to see him win back that jersey at some point. Elsewhere this is a settled side though it's hard to be excited by too much outside of Walters.

Westwood, O'Shea, Bardsley, Turner, Brown, Cattermole, Larsson, Colback, Sessegnon, Richardson, Bendtner
Subs: Carson, Gardner, Vaughan, Ji, Meyler, McClean, Elmohamady

Another settled side but another whose suspect form is really hurting their players' fantasy production. Sessegnon and Bendtner have their fans (and some stats to backup the love) but both have fallen off the map in November. Larsson's 7 shots on target suggest his goalscoring exploits may be limited in the future. I still favor the cheap Sessegnon to lead his team in points come season end.

Vorm, Rangel, Williams, Monk, Taylor, Sinclair, Britton, Allen, Gower, Dyer, Graham
Subs: Tremmel, Dobbie, Routledge, Lita, Moore, Richards, Moras.

This is a really good defensive unit and given their pricing there's a strong argument to owning Vorm and another defender (I like Taylor). This lineup is extremely reliable and while the outfielders no not really warrant starting every week, they make nice 2nd subs and can be relied upon for appearance points and the off 5-6 pointer. This is one of the more valuable teams around to monitor.

Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Parker, Sandro, Bale, Adebayor, Defoe
Subs: Cudicini, Gallas, Bassong, Livermore, Kane, Pienaar, Fredericks.

A couple of enforced changes here with Defoe and Sandro slotting in for Van der Vaart and Modric, though neither are likely to hold down a place going forward. Adebayor is starting to make noise and is one of a couple of players challenging the 'two elite forwards plus one scrub' strategy. I don't put him in the same category as Van Persie, Aguero or Rooney (at least in the long term) just yet but at 2.0-3.0m less, you have to at least consider how you can use that cash elsewhere. Alternatively, with the top flight midfielders struggling of late, some will no doubt consider three elite forwards. The problem there is finding the cheap midfielders to supplement your front three, and thus Adebayor becomes tough to fit into your side. Spurs have good fixtures on the horizon and have quickly become a hot fantasy team, but they'll need to be more ruthless if they are to provide defensive value to accompany their significant firepower going forward.

West Brom
Foster, Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Shorey, Brunt, Mulumbu, Morrison, Thomas, Gera, Long
Subs: Fulop, Tchoyi, Dorrans, Odemwingie, Jones, Cox, Scharner.

There are a lot of uninspiring team this year! Brunt seems to be a shadow of his former self and this team really seems to miss Odemwingie's speed. The Nigerian did make the bench this week though and with Gera getting injured he might be thrown straight into action next week. The back line is settled and well priced but they just don't seem to be very good at the moment which negates all other factors.

Al Habsi, Gohouri, Caldwell, Stam, Figueroa, McCarthy, Moses, Gomez, Jones, Diame, Sammon
Subs: Pollitt, Crusat, Watson, Di Santo, McArthur, Rodallega, Lopez.

He scored some points! Moses finally rewarded his loyal owner (ie me) with an assist this week: watch out David Silva. The team selection continues to baffle me as Watson, Di Santo and Rodallega are all (at least on paper) some of Wigan's best players. To be honest I don't see enough of their games to suggest Martinez is wrong, and a good win this week suggests his team selection may be right but from a fantasy perspective, the likes of Sammon, Jones and Gomez just don't have the talent or opportunities to be relevant. Pass

Hennessey, Zubar, Berra, Johnson, Elokobi, Jarvis, Henry, Milijas, Ward, Edwards, Fletcher
Subs: De Vries, Craddock, Ebanks-Blake, Hammill, Doherty, Guedioura, Forde.

O'Hara and Hunt were suspended for this one and they will presumably slip back into the side next week. I'm not sure what happened to Doyle, but he had suggested in the week that he was fearful of being dropped. If Fletcher is given guaranteed minutes, his goalscoring record is very good and he would become a useful mid-range forward. This team has talent but like so many other sides this year, they don't seem to be doing much with it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gameweek 13 Preview

For the first time this year, I have included data based purely on the current season as 12 games appears to be a relatively useful sample size. I apply a small adjustment to try and account for the strength of schedule already faced (ie. have you played, and been destroyed by, City yet?) but I'm not sure that is tough enough to make the data really reliable. Hence, I am still leaning on the hybrid (current and prior year) data but it's useful to start factoring in the pure current year rankings at this stage.

Without running through each difference individually, I just want to highlight the difference a season can make. City rank 14th in this week's rankings but would be number one based purely on their 6 road games this year (in which they've scored an astonishing 23 goals despite travelling to Old Trafford, Craven Cottage and White Hart Lane). Given the way the team has changed in personnel (hello, Mr Aguero) and also tactical deployment (hello, attacking play), City might be one team where you would allow your eye to wander to those right hand columns.

I was shocked to see Arsenal so far down on this list but the hard data is what it is and Fulham have been pretty good on the road this year (3 clean sheets and just 6 goals conceded). Of course, the three quality teams they have faced have had plenty of success (Man City 2, Spurs 3, Newcastle 2) but this isn't the cake walk some may imagine. On the flip side, Arsenal have really turned a corner in the last few weeks and they've failed to net twice just once in the last 8 gameweeks. Would this put me off starting or captaining Van Persie? Nope. Which brings us to this week's captain picks.

Captain Picks
I could save myself a lot of wear and tear on my keyboard by simply copying and pasting the fact that Van Persie is awesome and is probably your captain pick until further notice. 10 goals in the last 5 gameweeks is Ronaldo-esque and I don't think we've seen this kind of fantasy domination since Rooney in 09/10, or maybe since the Portuguese maestro departed for the Bernabeu. As we noted above, Arsenal's fixture isn't perhaps as easy as one might think, but it's going to take a very brave man to own but yet not captain Van Persie this week (or any other when he's in this kind of form).

Based on the fixture alone, Rooney might be the pick this week. Newcastle are a much improved side from last year, but as the table shows, their improved defense is not enough to quash the strength of United's home scoring prowess. However, United (and Rooney) have slowed down of late though it isn't clear which one's form is affecting the success of the other (probably a bit of both). They've won three in a row following the disastrous derby but none of the performances have inspired too much confidence  Rooney is at least back to playing up top, but would you really captain him based on the below:

There are plenty of ways to talk yourself into Rooney this week, unfortunately not too many of them are based on fact. Throw in a (decreasing) chance of Rooney not being fit and the decision quickly turns into an easy one.

What you make of the City options this week really depends on how much stock you put in current year compared to prior year. Prior year data suggests City will slow down and struggle a bit at Anfield, while the current year data suggests Dalglish's men will be cast aside like every other team City have faced this year. In truth it's probably somewhere in the middle. City won't average almost 4 GPG away from home this year, but equally they don't look likely to return to last season's conservative side who often settled for clean sheets and the odd goal on the road. Aguero played just 8 minutes in midweek and will surely get a start here for Mancini's men. For all Van Persie's heroics of late, the Argentine has been as good for most the year and his goals at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane suggest he isn't going to be phased by a trip to Anfield. Silva did feature in midweek but he was given the week off last week so you'd like to think he'll back in the side here. I love Silva this year, and have been on the record before the season as listing him as my number one player to own, but his (and City's upside) is surely limited this week

Chelsea look great this based on current and prior year data but who would you back to even start, never mind have success? Lampard is enjoying a very good (and surprisingly unheralded) fantasy season and the 5% of managers who own him should at least consider Lampard for the armband this week. Ultimately though, Lampard has dropped 5 games with 2 or less points and Chelsea just don't look very good right now. I thought they had turned the corner after the big wins against Swansea and Bolton but until they settle on how, and who, they want to play, this team appears doomed to inconsistency this year: not good for your captain option.

Sorry there isn't more to say on the captain picks but in essence it comes down to the logical pick (Van Persie) or a risky (but justifiable) option from Manchester. You can't go wrong with any of the above picks but for me it's too hard to resist Van Persie at the moment.

As always, post your thoughts or comments below or @plfantasy and I'll try to address as many as I can before the weekly deadline (you've probably got a better chance on Twitter). 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Playing Your Card Right Part II: Assembling a Squad

As we approach the time of the year when managers are increasingly interested in playing their wildcard, it's time to start thinking about some of the key principles and themes to bear in mind when making those all important transfers.

In Part I we looked at the importance of looking forward and not dwelling on the past successes of players to date. We now turn our attention to the importance of building a squad, rather than a team, and how this can make the difference between average and bad or great and good weeks.

By my count, only six players managed to play every game last year, four of which were goalkeepers (Baines and Skrtel were the other two). As the chart below shows, the majority of 'keepers played a lot of minutes but the other positions (particularly midfielders and forwards) were less predictable. Just 29% of forwards played in 26 games or more and only 49% even managed to appear in half of their teams' games.

So what does this mean? Well, in short, that no matter how well we avoid injuries and suspensions, our players (the stars and the scrubs) are going to miss time and thus it's important to have players ready to step in when those unexpected absences occur.

If we (somewhat optimistically) suggest that we are able to select 10 players who each play 28 games, that would still leave 100 games worth of appearances available in your side. Granted, you will be able to avoid a number of those with your weekly transfers but even optimistically you're still looking at 50+ appearances required from auto subs off your bench so having a terrible bench could cost you 100 points, and that's assuming everyone else only scores appearance points. In reality, you could be looking at hole of closer to 150 points, just because you chose to save the extra 0.5m and grab Shane Ferguson and Robbie Blake.

How much to spend
Though we're emphasizing the importance of a deep squad, it's important to not get carried away and invest too much on players who will only play in an emergency. My preferred strategy is to try and grab one player who you consider to be rotatable every week and then a couple of players who come with a low price tag but are as locked into their team's lineup as possible. With the relative abundance of cheap defenders this year, there is no reason you couldn't grab three budget defenders with the intention or rotating them, along with a budget forward to go along with your probably elite pairing from the talented group available. That should leave you with enough cash to grab 5 good midfielders and thus you should be able to field a decent XI every week, even when the rotations, injuries and suspensions start mounting up over Christmas.

Defenders from Newcastle, Swansea, Sunderland and QPR all give promising returns in that 4.5m range, while injuries or a change in form could yet give players like Evans, P Robinson or Ward value this year. I therefore see no reason to be holding ~5.0m players on the bench every week. On the flip side, while players like N Taylor and Simpson are appealing, I wouldn't be too worried about spending ~4.5m if you prefer players in that price range, or their fixtures gel better with your premium players (that said, that pair are my favorite players from their respective teams' defense).

In midfield, the budget options are much thinner, and for that reason I would lean towards holding 5 useful options, preferring to save money in defense and up front instead. Looking at FFS's top 20 midfielders based on their ICT index, we see just a couple of sub-6.0m options with good underlying stats: O'Hara, Eagles, Faurlin and Moses. Moses has been brutal this year earning zero (!) points other than those awarded for showing up (and a couple of lousy clean sheet points) while Faurlin has just a single big game to his name. While I advise against relying on the past too much, it's also important to remember that players aren't robots and such a lack of production will be tough to overcome as players lose confidence. I'm not ready to totally give up on Moses but we need to see at least some production before he can considered ownable again. The likes of Eagles and O'Hara give us a couple of budget options who've started the season well but there really aren't too many others to shout about. With that in mind, I would be minded to try and stretch to a ~6.5m budget for your 5th midfielder, bringing the likes of Walters, Ramsey, Larsson and Cabaye into your price range.

Up front there are a number of good budget options, so there's no reason to be regularly a benching a Bendtner, Sturridge or Zamora type. The 6.0m range looks useful with Klasnic, Long and Hoilett bringing excellent underlying stats to match their production, but it's even further down the price list that my attention lies. Morison, Graham, Helguson, Best, Di Santo and Dembele have all provided value at some point this year and those first three at least have the kind of underlying stats which would imply their success should continue. We will delve into the detail there in a future post, but for now, we can certainly conclude that the depth of budget front men is fairly good and so again, there is no reason to have players not playing or contributing with that third forward slot.

I am amazed that more managers aren't employing a third budget forward (Graham 3%, Morison 1% and Helguson 1%), suggesting that the majority are either playing 3 up top every week or benching too much value on a weekly basis. If you're convinced that Ba or Klasnic will continue to score with every other shot that hits the target then he will deliver better production than these budget options, but if you believe that those kind of returns are unsustainable, the cheaper players make more sense (for what it's worth that's the direction I currently lean).

This rule probably hasn't told you much that you didn't already know (14 players are better than 11!) but I hope it's put into the context the fine line you need to tread between keeping a strong team and not overpaying for bench warmers. I don't generally advocate paying for transfers but it's vital to maintain your squad and remove dead weight as soon as possible, rather than keep using transfers only on your premium spots. The injuries are starting to mount, players are reaching the 5 yellow card mark, and Mancini continues to work his infuriating magic, so if your squad's a mess, it might be time to play your wildcard now; just make sure you do it right. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Playing Your Card Right Part I: Chasing Points

It's getting to that time of year when fantasy squads start to develop too many common threads and managers begin to longingly look at that 'play wildcard' option when making transfers. With the second wildcard window looming in GW20-23, realistically the two strategies are to:
  • play your first wildcard now, re-load in GW23 and hope to survive the remainder of the year with that team, or
  • hold off until GW20, maximise your squad for the busy Christmas period (possibly taking advantage of the inevitable DGWs) and then switch out to a new team in or around GW30 for the final stretch.
There are advantages to both strategies and in all honesty, the fact you have made it this long without using your wildcard puts you ahead of many other managers (even if you have used your first wildcard, you might still pick up a few things to thing about below, so keep reading!) 

The choice of when to use your wildcard is going to greatly depend on the idiosyncrasies of your league. 
  • How far behind/ahead are you? 
  • Have all your competitors used theirs already? 
  • Are injuries/suspensions starting to rack up for your team? 
What won't change however are the kind of things you should consider when deciding when, and how, to use your wildcard. The first thing we are going to look at is the distinction between chasing points, genuine stars and those players due for a strong second half.

Chasing Points vs. Genuine Stars
I would suggest that the most common mistake when making transfers in general, but more specifically when playing the wildcard, is placing too much weight on what has happened (particularly recently) and not enough on what will happen. Of course, none of us know exactly what will happen in the future, but the data available to us can give us a good idea, at least to the point that will be better than simply ranking all available players by points scored to date.

We've touched on the principle before, but it will form an important part of this analysis so it bears repeating again. Key passes made (KP) and shots attempted (Sh) have been good indicators of assists and goals respectively and so a player who has done well in these areas but has yet to see any production should be in for a improvement in fortunes in the future (or vice versa). It is worth noting though that, generally, their production will not 'over correct' to compensate for the weeks of below average production, but normalise to expected levels from now on. For example, if we say that on average one of every 10 key passes is converted into an assist, and a player has 30 key passes with just 1 assist, we would not expect 3 of his next 10 passes to be converted (thus giving him 4 from 40) but rather that his production will regress to a normal rate of 1 from 10 rather than his current rate of 1 from 30 in the future. That is still however an increase in production from the season to date and thus could indicate that a player is currently undervalued (and therefore under owned).

I had some concerns about being overly simplistic with this metric but looking at last season we see that the vast majority of players who played at least 10 games had their key passes converted at a rate of between 0 and 15 key passes per assist (for a league average of 10.5). We can therefore use this measure (with some care) to suggest that players who are seeing their key passes converted at a substantially lower rate will be due for an increase in fortune in the future (or vice versa).

It's a similar story for shots, which enjoyed an 80% correlation to goals last season. On average a goal was scored for every 9.8 shots, so again, if a player is taking shots but not getting returns, we might forecast him to have success in the future and thus be a target for your wildcard transfers.

On the flip side, you've got those players where everything they have touched has turned to gold (or goals as the case may be) and history tells us their productivity will (likely) decline. Of course, there are exceptions every year and statistics won't necessarily average out over 38 games (Mulumbu scored 6 goals from 8 shots last season) but if you're still with me, you probably have at least an interest in playing the odds.

With that in mind, below are a sampling of the top players whose underlying stats have not yet been converted into fantasy points, and those who appear to have been overly successful so far:

xG is the expected goals based on the shots taken to date and xA is the expected assists based on the key passes made. xFP is the expected fantasy points 'missing' from a player's scoresheet based on the underlying stats. Now, to be clear, we are not saying that a player will 'recover' these points, but that Moses is playing more like a 4 point player than a 2 point player and should play at that level in the future, all things being equal.

I don't want to reproduce too many of the stats from FFS as they pay Opta for the privilege but anyone who has a subscription can see the above data for all players and the logic should stand up for most players. The one group who this probably doesn't apply to are the elite class of forwards. The elite strikers have tended to convert at a much better rate than the average player, generally knocking in a goal every three or four shots. This holds up this year with Van Persie (13 from 43), Aguero (10 from 33) and Rooney (9 from 40) but these players are less important for this kind of analysis anyway so we won't dwell here.

I will reproduce the short list later in the week to highlight widely held players who fair badly on this, and other, analysis and thus should probably be avoided when playing your wildcard. Also stay tuned for the next few themes to consider when playing your wildcard including how to build a squad rather than a team, differentiating your team and playing the fixture list.

Lineup Lessons: Gameweek 12

Szczesny, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Andre Santos, Ramsey, Arteta, Song, Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
Subs: Fabianski, Rosicky, Djourou, Arshavin, Chamakh, Benayoun, Coquelin.

Koscileny got a start at right back here in Sagna and Jenkinson's absence, though you have to expect he will drop out of the side when either recognised right back returns. Aside from that it's as expected with Van Persie underlying his claims of being the top fantasy option around. There is value to be had in this side with Ramsey, Arteta, Walcott and possibly Gervinho looking they need to be in at least included in the player pool.

Robinson, Salgado, Hanley, Dann, Givet, Rochina, Nzonzi, Dunn, Pedersen, Hoilett, Yakubu.
Subs: Formica, Petrovic, Blackman, Roberts, Goodwillie, Henley, Bunn.

The goals are a promising sign but it's still hard to know when and where the production is going to come from for this team and thus it's all but impossible to include anyone in your team. Yakubu is possibly worth thinking about as a poor man's Darren Bent but his production is going to be up and down as he gets rested and contributes little outside of goals. A lot of people have been high on Formica in the last couple of weeks but he continues to be rotated and deployed in varying positions. Until we see more consistency in both areas he remains out of the player pool.

Jaaskelainen, Riley, Wheater, Cahill, Robinson, Eagles, Reo-Coker, Muamba, M Davies, K Davies, Klasnic
Subs: Bogdan, Tuncay, Petrov, Knight, Pratley, Ngog, Kakuta.

Riley got another start this week, though he remains a squad player when everyone is fit, so I wouldn't get cute and try and save 0.5m there (not that you really want a Bolton defender anyway). Petrov's continuing decline confirms that he is unownable at the moment and Eagles is the only midfield option to consider here. Klasnic's penalty duties were a surprise here and, for me, they push him over the edge and make him an ownable player going forward. On the flip side, K Davies continues to struggle and will no longer be bailed out with set pieces. He is very close to dropping out of the player pool.

Cech, Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Mikel, Lampard, Mata, Drogba, Malouda
Subs: Turnbull, Romeu, Torres, Meireles, Bosingwa, Sturridge, Anelka

I don't know what to make of this defense anymore. I thought they had settled on Bosingwa, then in came Ivanovic. I thought they had settled on Luiz and then Alex slotted in. Now Luiz is back (though that could have been an enforced move). The same confusion exists up top with Drogba, Torres, Sturridge and Malouda rotating apparently at random for two spots alongside the (apparently) safe Mata. We find ourselves in a situation where only Mata, Lampard, and, I suppose, Ramires are fantasy options in this side, and all of them look overpriced given the alternatives available in their price brackets. I'm not willing to wait for Villas-Boas' side to 'come good' and will wait for them to prove they are an elite offensive/defensive force before investing anywhere in this team.

Howard, Hibbert, Heitinga, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman, Fellaini, Osman, Drenthe, Cahill, Saha
Subs: Mucha, Bilyaletdinov, Stracqualursi, Gueye, Barkley, Vellios, Mustafi.

It would be unfair to not mention Baines' goal here after all the criticism I have thrown at his price tag (not his ability). I would however add that this week's game was one of the best chances at a clean sheet you're going to get and Everton once again came up empty. Therefore, despite the goals, I'm not willing to include either Baines or Jagielka in the player pool. The highest ranked midfielder in Fantasy Football Scout's ICT index is Fellaini, who is 58th. Man City have 6 (six!) players ranked higher than Fellaini, and newly promoted QPR and Swansea each have 4.

Schwarzer, Hughes, Hangeland, Baird, Senderos, Dempsey, Murphy, Etuhu, Duff, Zamora, Dembele
Subs: Etheridge, Johnson, Kasami, Ruiz, Gecov, Briggs, Kacaniklic.

I want to like this defense but there are just too many changes every week to rely on anyone but Hangeland, who looks well overpriced at 6.2m compared to the likes of Richards, Jose Enrique or P Jones. Somewhat to my surprise, Baird looks like him is locked into a starting spot at the moment, though whether he will hold off Hughes once Riise returns still concerns me a bit. Given how the fixtures gel with Swansea, I think the best strategy here is to grab Schwarzer in a rotation strategy and save yourself a big headache. Offensively, Murphy has great underlying stats but only solid production while Dempsey (who has looked good) remains just a touch too pricey for my taste. The front line looks much too crowded to justify investment.

Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Kuyt, Lucas, Adam, Maxi, Bellamy, Suarez
Subs: Doni, Carroll, Henderson, Downing, Spearing, Carragher, Kelly.

I seem to have cursed Downing by suggesting he was possibly the only Liverpool midfielder locked into the starting lineup, and Maxi's goal won't help his cause in that area. As I alluded to earlier in the week though, I like Adam here now Gerrard is gone for a few weeks and it's these consistent 5 pointers which help him to be a useful starter in most weeks. He lacks the upside of a A Young / Van der Vaart / Nani but if you can't quite afford that group or are looking to capitalise on Liverpool's good fixture list, Adam is the best option. Suarez has now gone 5 games without scoring and, more worryingly, has just 16 points to his name over that time. He does however lead the league in attempts and his 20 shots on target are behind just Van Persie (26) and Rooney (23). Based on statistical history his goalscoring record should improve if he continues to shoot at such a rate, though it's impossible to claim he is in the same fantasy class as that pair (or the City duo of Dzeko and Aguero) at the moment. Defensively, many will be tempted to pile on G Johnson after his goal this week; please don't be one of them.

Man City
Hart, Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Nasri, De Jong, Toure Yaya, Milner, Balotelli, Aguero.
Subs: Pantilimon, Dzeko, Kolarov, Johnson, Barry, Silva, Toure.

I said this week that I've given up trying to guess what Mancini will do, and once again he shocked me, choosing to bench Silva who has been in irrepressible form and who played the least time on international duty of all the big names. I thought Nasri was pretty quiet throughout with Yaya, Milner and Balotelli all catching the eye above the former Arsenal man. Many will argue the prospects of Milner and Balotelli, and on other teams I would agree, but I still find it hard to waste a spot on this potent City team on a player who will not feature every week (though perhaps Milner is starting to play his way into being an every week starter). I rate Richards as the best defender to own in the league in terms of points (Jose Enrique in terms of value) and his goal and assist was a nice bonus this week to cover for the late blown clean sheet.

Man Utd
De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Nani, Park, Carrick, Giggs, Rooney, Hernandez
Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Berbatov, Young, Fabio Da Silva, Fletcher, Valencia.

It took a couple of weeks to play out but P Jones is rewarding our faith now, taking up a spot as the 2nd highest scoring defender around. If your budget can stretch to it, owning him alongside the aforementioned pair of Richards and Jose Enrique gives you access to the league's best defenses along with attacking potential and consistency: a very solid strategy. One would imagine A Young will be back next week and once he proves he is back to full fitness (and form) he might be a nice buy opportunity given the way his price has fallen. Nani has been quiet of late though Ferguson hasn't been overly quick to bench him or Young for Valencia so I'd feel fairly good owning either of these players over the next 6-8 gameweeks. Rooney was back up top, alongside Hernandez, which should give him the best chance to have success. Despite not getting among the points, he ranked as the 3rd best forward in FFS's ICT Index, posting his best total since GW7. It seems like a question of when, rather than if, Rooney returns to form and puts himself back among fantasy consideration for us all.

Krul, Simpson, S Taylor, Coloccini, R Taylor, Ben Arfa, Guthrie, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Ba, Sammy Ameobi
Subs: Elliot, Santon, Lovenkrands, Perch, Gosling, Smith, Shola Ameobi.

I was pleased to see Ben Arfa get a start as you have to feel he has the potential to be an impact player in this league. He looked busy early on and hit the woodwork in the second half, though better things should be still to come this year. Without proven starting minutes or production he isn't a genuine option just yet, but he definitely justifies our peripheral attention. I wouldn't read too much into this stingy defense surrendering three goals to City, many a good team will suffer the same fate (see United, Manchester).

Ruddy, Naughton, R Martin, Barnett, Tierney, Crofts, Johnson, Fox, Pilkington, Hoolahan, Morison
Subs: Rudd, Drury, Holt, Jackson, Surman, Bennett, Wilbraham.

This lineup has settled down and Morison has really emerged as a good option over the past few weeks. His 22 shots ranked 8th among forwards though Norwich's style and his deployment are going to limit his assists somewhat. With a number of elite 10m+ forwards this year, it's good to have the likes of Morison, Graham and Klasnic as your pool of options for your 3rd forward.

Kenny, Traore, Hill, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, L Young, Faurlin, Mackie, Barton, Wright-Phillips, Helguson
Subs: Murphy, Orr, Derry, Buzsaky, Smith, Hewitt.

Needless to say, Taarabt is finished as a fantasy asset, and serves only as a warning against believing hype and translating Championship stats into Premier League success. Helguson has been superb since securing a first team spot here and Warnock faces a tough choice as to who to start when everyone is fit. Helguson will feature in the upcoming review of budget forwards, and should find himself towards the top of that list. It's now 8 goals conceded in 3 games for QPR and if this form continues next week at Norwich, it will be time to move on (before they face MnU and Liv in GW15 and 16).

Stoke City
Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Higginbotham; Pennant, Whitehead, Delap, Etherington; Walters, Crouch
Subs: Begovic, Whelan, Jones, Fuller, Wilson, Upson, Palacios.

No Woodgate here again despite most sources suggesting he would play, and it's finally time for me to admit that he was always going to be too risky to own and move on. Shawcross' goal makes him look attractive and given the upheaval at the other positions he is probably the best pick on this back line, but note that this is not last year's unit so far in 2011/12. They've shipped 14 goals in the last 4 games after a promising start to the season and the whole defense looks overpriced on this form. Failure in this week's visit of Blackburn will surely end any hope for this unit for the foreseeable future. Going forward it's all about Walters who is living up to his billing as a midfielder deployed up front. I would temper expectations that he will continue this kind of goal scoring pace all year (3 in the last 5) but 8 goals for the year doesn't seem like a stretch, which would represent good value for the required outlay.

Westwood, O'Shea, Turner, Brown, Bardsley, Elmohamady, Colback, Cattermole, Richardson, Bendtner, Sessegnon
Subs: Carson, Gardner, Vaughan, Ji, Meyler, Noble, Egan.

While not an exciting unit, this defense has 4 clean sheets for the season and has generally excelled when facing weak attacking opposition (Swa, Sto, Bol, Ful). The back line is settled and reliable and deserves some attention if you are looking for short term options based on matchups (Wigan at home this week). I'm not all that sold on Bendtner and three back-to-back 2-pointers evidences why. He ranks 15th in FFS's ICT index behind the likes of Hoilett and Klasnic and only just ahead of Morison and Graham. I don't feel that he deserves to be played every week but at 6.4m he looks just a bit too pricey to regularly bench.

Vorm, Rangel, Williams, Monk, Taylor, Sinclair, Routledge, Gower, Britton, Dyer, Graham
Subs: Tremmel, Dobbie, Lita, Moore, Allen, Richards, Moras.

Made a good account of themselves against the Champions with 49% possession and 9 attempts on goal (vs 13 for MnU) and only lost on a mistake from Rangel who tried to play his way out of defense once too often. After a worrying spell of conceding goals (GW6-9) Swansea have conceded just two goals in the last three games, despite facing MnU and Liverpool over that period. They have some decent games coming up and this settled unit looks worthy of continued investment.

West Brom
Foster, Reid, Olsson, McAuley, Shorey, Morrison, Mulumbu, Brunt, Thomas, Gera, Long
Subs: Fulop, Dorrans, Fortune, Tchoyi, Dawson, Jones, Cox

Long marked his return to the side with a goal, and is another player to throw his name into the hat as an ownable #3 forward. Until this defense can show improvement or someone can emerge in the middle of the park, Long may be the only ownable option here. McAuley is an option if you're desperate for a 4.0m player, though you should really try and grab 0.2m and get Simpson instead.

Al Habsi, Stam, Gohouri, Caldwell, Figueroa, Moses, McCarthy, Gomez, Jones, Diame, Sammon.
Subs: Pollitt, Crusat, Watson, Maloney, McArthur, Rodallega, Lopez.

Di Santo has fallen off the face of the earth after a hot start, while Watson found himself benched after looking like a promising option himself. It's unclear where this Wigan side is going and despite their recent form, it's tough to understand the rationale behind leaving out your most talented players on a regular basis. Moses has some good underlying stats but his assist potential is always going to be limited and he hasn't shown an ability to find the back of the net. Al Habsi remains a rotatable option as his save totals can bail him out but outside of that, this team looks fairly useless.

Hennessey, Stearman, Johnson, Berra, Ward, Edwards, Henry, Milijas, Hunt, O'Hara, Doyle
Subs: De Vries, Elokobi, Craddock, Ebanks-Blake, Fletcher, Jarvis, Guedioura.

I'm pretty much out on this team given the manager's puzzling team choices (what does Fletcher have to do to get a game) along with the upcoming fixtures. O'Hara and Hunt are both suspended for next week and I would advise their owners moving on, and reconsidering this team in the new year when the fixtures are better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reader Questions

can you please update me on the goalkeeper combo strategy? did you try one? is it working? any good combos for the next 8 gwks?
The latest charts showing the best combos of GKs (as of GW11) are updated and can be found here. I am however conscious that I haven't yet done the analysis to prove that the GK-combo strategy has been a success this year, or whether in fact you should have gone with a De Gea type option. I will try and get that analysis knocked out over the weekend, though I would suggest that it will almost certainly have been preferential to employ the strategy so far with Vorm (originally 4.0m) leading all keepers in points by some distance. Throw in good starts for Krul, Al Habsi, Schwarzer and Hennessey and you have a recipe for a successful combo. In the pre-season (and before Vorm signed for Swansea) the recommended combinations were Given/Begovic or Begovic/Moreira (who became Vorm). Given has been a bit disappointing from that group, but I would surprised if both combos weren't close to or ahead of the De Geas and Reinas of the world.
Who to put my captain this week? Aguero, Silva, Adebayor, Suarez, Mata, Drenthe or Ramsey.
The upside picks are the City boys as normal though I wouldn't be surprised if either Silva and/or Aguero were rested this week. The somewhat reliable Guardian squad sheets suggests they will play, though there is undoubtedly a risk there. Adebayor also has a great fixture and should feature depite playing for Togo this week, though again there is a small risk of rotation (Redknapp could go with VdV and Defoe up top).
hey Chris, need a replacement for Ashley Young and the budget doesn't stretch to VDV or Nani... Bale, Adam or Dempsey?

I would have said Bale two weeks ago, but with Gerrard's injury I am higher on Adam again and given Liverpool's upcoming fixtures he should be poised for some solid production. He's never going to be the kind of player to score double digit points very often, but I like his consistency more than the boom and bust nature of Bale. Spurs do have good fixtures though, so I wouldn't argue with the selection of Bale here. As for Dempsey, I mentioned last week that I feel his is being undervalued, but yet I wouldn't make now the time to pick him up. The next 7 GWs see Fulham face Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea along with tricky trips to Swansea and Sunderland. After that run I like him as a differentiator in the middle of the park but for now I'd go with the safe Adam or high ceiling Bale.

pp - What do you think about replacing VDV with Bale and replacing Aguero with Klasnic? In my view, they might not be fit.

As above, I like Bale but you have to accept that his production will be up and down and thus you have to (a) play him every week and (b) hold for a significant period or you risk missing out on the 'up' weeks. I personally hold Van der Vaart and Aguero and I don't plan to sell either. Aguero played for Argentina midweek and came through unscathed so while rotation is always a risk, he is at least fit. As for Van der Vaart, his chances of being fit were rated at 70% so you might consider moving him but I like him in the long term so I'm personally happy to wait a week, even if he sits this one out.
adamfarm - Love your posts, reading them has become a bit of an obsession this year. However, in spite of following the econometrics religiously I think it's important to temper this information with other information. For example, the math suggests Liverpool are a poor bet defensively, but they've kept clean sheets at the bridge 3 of the last 4 outings....combined with Chelsea's form of late I would suggest giving the likes of Enrique a good look this week in spite of the rankings. I know I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, and I appreciate that you often provide this type of counter-intelligence to your posts, but this seems particularly glaring to not call out.

You're absolutely right that there should be more factors to consider than the stats I provide but given my available time I struggle to cover all the bases. I shy away from past meetings between teams though, just because you can quickly get into irrelevant territory (different managers, players etc). My current rankings do factor in form by giving weight to the last 6 gameweeks, though I haven't really settled on whether this makes them any stronger or not (is there really such thing as 'form' or just random strings or results which sometimes look strange?).

The rankings won't always be right, and to be honest, you won't win the overall competition following them. To do that you need to take big risks and make big upside plays, which is not what I'm all about. I do however believe that if you make the logical play every week, you will generally get the best results. I would urge managers to use their own judgement if they like a particular fixture though, and there's a good argument to play Enrique this week based on his form and attacking potential.
PUI615 - I have a real dilemma on my hands: I have 3 possible options as a keeper defender strategy-
1.)De Gea and 4mil defender(Gabbidon or Mcauley) since I already have Simpson,Turner and Wilk.
2.) Howard, BAE
3.)Friedel, Hibbert
Which would you prefer and why. Thanks for any thoughts, need to bring in the defender next GW.

I generally go for the budget keepers so honestly I would shy away from all three of those suggestions and use the extra cash to improve your defense. The difference between Howard/Friedel and the cheaper keepers like Vorm, Al Habsi and Krul is slim (if it even exists) and that extra 1.0m could allow you to upgrade from a Assou Ekotto to someone like Jose Enrique or Phil Jones. If however you would prefer a top keeper, I would go with option one. De Gea is a bit of an exception among elite keepers of recent years in that he brings good save totals too, which could help him lead keepers in points (but not value) this year. Of the 4.0m options to accompany him I would probably go with N Taylor or Gabbidon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gameweek 12 Preview

No matter what happens in the world or how I spend my time, the preview article after an international break is like trying to recall what you ate for dinner four weeks ago. Is Aguero still good? What kind of form is Amr Zaki in this year? Did I have pasta three nights running? I recently described Bolton's home form as improving 'a few weeks back', after they hammered Stoke. That's right, I have zero concept of time without my Saturday morning sun dial.

Lucky for us, pretty much nothing happened. Suarez was charged followed the alleged racist comments, though Sepp Blatter doesn't seem to be too concerned (is there anything more worrying than the head of any body being (rightfully) scolded by Rio Ferdinand: the beacon on common sense in this whole debate. This might be the sign of the apocalypse Harold Camping was waiting for). Aguero gave us a scare but then played for Argentina. England gave their fans just enough promise to overreact to and thus be crushed next year. Oh, and Barry Bannan can't drive.

So with no major issues, we can continue as before, starting of course with this week's rankings:

Clean Sheet Rankings

Not too much to add here, though the placement of Man United this week illustrates well the importance of home fixtures. The Champions face newly promoted Swansea, a team not perceived to be all that dynamic going forward, yet find themselves 10th in the clean sheet rankings. The prior year numbers illustrate why. Just 5 clean sheet on the road for Man Utd last year: less than or equal to all the top 6 teams this week managed at home last year. It is generally the rule that a good defense at home (Stoke, Spurs) will be a better consistent bet than a very good defense on the road (that sounds obvious but how many times do you see teams start Evra at Spurs rather than Shawcross at home to Wolves?).

One a side note, it is usually around this time that I start to lessen, and then remove the impact prior year numbers have on the forecasts, though I will still include them in the above table for reference purposes.

Attacking Rankings

Not too many shocks here, though it somewhat strange to suggest that Arsenal on the road are a stronger play than Spurs, Chelsea or City at home. The answer, simply, is that Arsenal have been pretty devastating of late (13 goals in their last 4 games) and have racked up 11 goals in 5 road games this year, despite travelling to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane and the suddenly air tight St James' Park (I doubt anyone will be using the new sponsorship name anytime soon, even the local council). The forecast numbers are pretty high this week, and there could be some big scores for those who can manage to get 11 men on the field this week.

Captain Picks
The list of captain options seems to decrease by the week, to the point that the only non-City player who justifies consideration every week in Van Persie. Rooney, of course, should be on that list but with his recent deeper deployment and lack of goals, he is a borderline option at best. If you own him, you'll consider it, though my advice would be to save yourself the bother and bring in Van Persie or Aguero until Rooney can get back up front and scoring goals.

It's the same old story at Man City with Aguero, Dzeko and Silva representing potentially great options this week, though each played a role for their respective countries during the international break and thus carries some risk:
  • Silva played 45 minutes against England and then half an hour against Cost Rica (getting a goal in the process), 
  • Aguero sat out against Bolivia as an injury concern but came back against Columbia with a goal,
  • Dzeko played 180 minutes as Bosnia lost out over two legs to Portugal, and
  • Balotelli played 180 minutes and added his first goal for the Azzurri
Balotelli (the least owned of the City front men) playing for Italy probably does fantasy managers a favour as it's no longer easy to simply bench the tired Aguero and Dzeko as Super Mario himself is also tired (based on the assumption that Balotelli suffers from the human condition of fatigue). As the most rested, Silva looks like the safest bet to play here, though to be honest I have started to give up trying to second guess Mancini too much, and just roll with the notion that unless strong evidence exists to the contrary, Aguero, Silva and Dzeko will play most weeks and you just have to take your hits when your man is benched.Gun to my head, I'd captain Silva, then Aguero, then Dzeko, but I wouldn't feel totally comfortable with any of the trio until the teams sheet is announced.

For anyone who owns him, it's going to be tough to take the arm band away from Van Persie. A great fixture and his scintillating form make for a winning combination and his 68 points over the past 6 GWs are some of the best returns I remember in fantasy history. Van Persie played in the 0-0 with Switzerland but missed the 3-0 defeat to Germany, and thus should be fit enough to play at Norwich this weekend. He will certainly wear the armband in that game for me this week.

They get a decent game at Swansea, but with A Young injured and Rooney playing deeper, it's tough to see captain value in this current United side. I have little doubt that Hernandez will have his moments this year but he isn't there yet, and while I've been more supportive than most of Nani, he's only completed 90 minutes once in the last 5 games and has just a lone assist and bonus point to show for his work over that period. Ownable, yes, but not captain material as things stand.

As United's options decline for a while, Chelsea's supposedly deep team continues to provide little fantasy value (at least going forward). That said, Lampard has been very productive this year and yet finds himself held by just 4% of managers. As we touched on earlier in the long list, Lampard has been pretty good this year, if a bit up-and-down, and for managers looking to play catch up in the early stages, he at least deserves a look. The fixture is a turn off however as Liverpool already have 3 road clean sheets this year and have generally defended well (aside from the Spurs game). The Chelsea side we have seen so far this year is just not likely to put 3 goals past a good side and that means the chances of big Lampard games are lower than you'd like. A outside bet, but one that's too pricey for my taste.

Van der Vaart and Adebayor represent classic fixture plays as Villa have struggled a bit on the road while Spurs have continued to be successful at the Lane. It's been rags or riches with Van der Vaart this year and he comes with an injury warning (which he says is not necessary) and thus becomes a very risky captain pick. Many have cooled on the prospects of Adebayor but he's added at least an assist or goal in 6 out of 8 games and his 6.0 P90 ranks among the elite forwards this year. I like this pair and can see an argument that this pair deserve captain attention every week, though I'd put them behind the City elite and Van Persie this week.

Now we're a good way into the season, I am going to ramp up the statistical side of the blog in the coming weeks, as we start to rely on the trends we are seeing a bit more. I will also try and get to the long promised wildcard piece, though I'm honestly struggling for what to write there, other than to own Van Persie, Aguero and/or Rooney, an elite midfielder or two and then stuff your defense with budget players and cheap links. Any radical ideas will be more than welcomed (below or @plfantasy).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ramsey vs Arteta

This will just be a quick post, to address a very good point raised by reader chemikills regarding the inclusion of Arteta in the recent 'long list' of underowned players (chemikills makes some other good suggestions of underowned players in the comments section, which are well worth taking a look at).

Anyway, I have a confession to make. The comment that Arteta will benefit from the opportunities afforded to Fabregas was a bit cheap and probably not really based in reality. Fabregas is one of the best players to play in the Premier League, and no matter who replaces him, to suggest they can enjoy the same heights was hyperbole. Anyway, the question did raise an interesting side point: who will benefit most from Arsenal's revival? Arteta or Ramsey? I had been fairly high on Ramsey a few weeks back, but I must admit, he has somewhat slipped from my mind in recent weeks.

Looking at the chalkboards from the last 3 weeks, I think it's hard to conclude that Ramsey, rather than Arteta, is playing in that 'Fabregas role' but equally, it's hard to argue that Arteta is taking up significantly better positions either, and thus may not be worth the extra 1.4m it costs to bring him.

If we look at the stats over at Fantasy Football Scout, then the story becomes even more confusing:

  • Arteta: 23 key passes (1 assist), 10 shots, 4 on target, 3 goals
  • Ramsey: 14 key passes (4 assists), 13 shots, 4 on target, 1 goal
Arteta looks like the more dangerous passer but has just one assist while Ramsey seems to be the bigger goal threat yet has just a lone goal. Based on history those totals with level out over time as each pair starts converting their shots (and having their passes converted) at a more consistent rate. Whether or not that will start to happen in the next few weeks, or even this season remains to be seen. 

I am still aboard the Arteta express but this has definitely revived my interest in Ramsey. At 6.7m he is cheap enough that you could probably own him as a 4th midifielder or a very reasonable 3rd midfielder, thus allowing you to hold a pricier defense or to have 3 elite forwards. Gun to my head I'd still take Arteta to score more points from here on largely based on what I perceive as a more natural goalscoring touch and his set piece duties, though I wouldn't be surprised if Ramsey ends up the more valuable player, provided that is you put the money to good use and don't blow it on Leighton Baines (sorry, that's the last shot at poor Leighton I'll make all year day).

So thanks to chemikills for the reminder, and thus we have another underowned player to consider.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Long List: Under Owned Players

Following on from the earlier list of over owned players, here are a few players who still seem to be underrated, whether based on their production to date, underlying stats, or simply that they deliver better value than a comparable peer.

Gabbidon (4%) - This is partly a symptom of Gabiddon's injury, but he is back entrenched in the first team now and should really be the highest owned QPR defender. Granted, the team shipped 6 goals in the past 2 weeks but they were at Spurs and against City so I wouldn't read too much into that. Gabiddon presents a great opportunity for Ferdinand (7%) and Young (2%) owners to save a bit of cash without losing much, if any, production.

McAuley (1%) - I wasn't 100% sure McAuley would lock down a place in this lineup on a weekly basis but he's done just that and has played every minute since GW6. West Brom have been a better defensive unit this year than last and while McAuley probably wouldn't warrant consideration every week, he is one of a handful of 4.0m players to be getting guaranteed minutes, and that kind of production cannot be ignored. I'd still rank him below Simpson and N Taylor but if the fixtures are right or if you already own, say, S Taylor and Vorm and need to spread your defense a bit, McAuley is a nice differentiating option along the back line.

Jose Enrique (33%) - He's the second most owned defender yet he still makes this list of under owned players. That might sound perverse but the point is to emphasize how potentially valuable Jose Enrique is. Liverpool have recorded 4 clean sheets this year, and have only conceded more than a single goal on once occasion (GW5 @ Tot). If they can start to be a bit more ruthless, this unit could quickly turn into one of the top couple of defensive sides around. Consider that you can still not only get access to that unit for 5.6m, but also that you are getting the better offensive force on that back line, and Enrique's value becomes evident. His 18 key passes far eclipse any defender other than Baines and only Richards has more assists to his name this term. 'Must own' is an overused term in fantasy circles but Jose Enrique's value and ceiling push him very close to that heralded category.

N Taylor (7%) - We discussed a couple of weeks back the merits of the promoted sides, all of whom have provided fantasy value in various forms this year. The Swansea defense may be the pick of the bunch here. This week's clean sheet an Anfield gave us three indicators that this side is legit and should be able to continue having defensive success as the season goes on. One, they were playing a good side. Two, they were away from home (their first 4 clean sheets all came and home). And three, they were able to hold possession for long periods of the game (55% overall) and didn't resort to simply throwing men behind the ball and trying to hold on for dear life. The team seems to understand how games (and points) are won and lost in the Premier league already. The science behind liking Taylor here is simple: he is the cheapest player on the back line (at least until we are certain whether Caulker or Monk will play every week). Rangel has impressed going forward but an 8 to 5 key pass advantage does not really warrant the extra 0.4m you need to get him. That said, Rangel (1%) should probably be on this list too, though I wouldn't go so far as to own both (especially given that Vorm is looking like a stud choice between the sticks).

Dempsey (6%) - Every year he's underrated and yet he always seems to deliver. I was spooked at the start of the season by how deep he was playing with Zamora, Johnson, Dembele and now Ruiz giving Fulham a decent stable of forwards from which to select their front pair. Fear not though, Dempsey hasn't missed a beat and finds himself 5th among midfielders in points having added 3 goals, 3 assists and 3 bonus points. His lack of ownership may be because of the 'stars and scrubs' mentality most people seem to be adapting this year but as the Christmas period arrives (and players start to get rotated) there is some logic (which needs exploring further) to hold players like Bale and Dempsey rather than Nani and Silva as they are less likely to be dropped given the comparative depth of their teams. I'm not ready to put Dempsey in the top class just yet, but at 2.0m less than that group, how you could spend that money at least deserves some consideration.

Arteta (5%) - Arteta's ownership went up almost 100,000 when he was sold to Arsenal and continued to rise through GW6 but has been falling ever since. Back to back productive games, and a glowing review from Wenger suggest that the Spaniard is starting to find his feet at the Emirates, which coincides with Arsenal's return to form (4 wins in a row and 13 goals scored). At 8.1m he is in the same category as Dempsey and could well be suffering from the same problems that managers don't put him in the elite group but can't afford to hold him as their 3rd, 4th or 5th midfielder. Arsenal's good run of fixtures continues for the foreseeable future and there's a good argument to be made that Arteta should benefit from many of the opportunities afforded to Fabregas, which helped him become a fantasy force. Of course, he isn't quite on the same level as Fabregas, but for fantasy purposes a player can be helped by his surroundings and few players find themselves in a better situation than Arteta.

Lampard (4%) - Honestly, I wouldn't buy Lampard as the upside of the front men this year is too high. I feel you need to own two from Aguero, Van Persie and Rooney, though there is an argument at least that the cheaper Dzeko should be in that group. However, it seems crazy to see the second highest scoring midfielder is owned by just 4% of players, especially given Lampard's history of delivering year after year. Yes, his price tag is high, but with it he brings a goal scoring record matched by few forwards, never mind midfielders, and set piece duties for a good side which can rescue poor games with a goal or assist from nowhere. If you're out in front in your leagues then I see little reason to ditch the elite front man strategy (all of whom have outscored Lampard), anytime soon, but, if you find yourself in a hole, you're not going to get out of it by playing Silva (44%), Aguero (34%) and Rooney (37%) so you need to take a risk somewhere. 6 of Chelsea's next 10 games come at home, with the road trips including Wigan and Wolves. Anyone planning on using their wildcard soon might consider taking a run with Lampard, before swapping back to a more conventional Silva/Rooney type combo with their second wildcard, in time for the rotation-risk-reduced period in February and beyond.

O'Hara (2%) - On paper, and looking at the underlying stats, O'Hara is a total stud who should be owned by a large portion of managers. He ranks 4th in key passes and 2nd in goal attempts, helping him to a 3rd place ranking in Fantasy Football Scout's ICT index (which essentially measures a player's threat to score fantasy points). Until the last couple of weeks however, O'Hara has not been able to convert these shots/passes into points and his production has been largely disappointing. I would normally caution against chasing points from players coming off a big week, but with O'Hara, he has the stats to back it up and big games could be more the rule rather than exception if he continues to play like he is. The return to fitness of Doyle and Fletcher will also help his cause, making him one of the most intriguing options around. As a final bonus, his price is yet to rise after his big GW11 meaning that anyone who gets in at the ground level should see their investment steadily rise over the coming weeks, from a reasonable starting spot of 5.7m.

Van Persie (22%) - it's hard to find any forwards on this list, as it's hard to argue against everyone owning Aguero and Rooney, both of whom have been money in the bank this year. However, while I don't doubt the strategy, at the moment Van Persie is clearly a better option than Rooney. Past production alone would not lead to such a claim but with Rooney pushed into a deep position, it is worth using a transfer to get away from that situation immediately, even if it is only for a short period. In truth, the time to move was a few weeks ago when Rooney missed the Stoke game, but even now, with Arsenal's fixtures, Van Persie looks like the safer option yet enjoys as high of a ceiling as anyone in the league. I wouldn't move mountains or pay points to make the move as I would imagine Rooney will be back up front soon, but if you have the spare cash and a free transfer, Van Persie looks like the man to own for the next few weeks.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Short List: Over Owned Players

It's always interesting to look at who are most widely owned players as this can give us some ideas as to who we might be overlooking, who is still being overvalued, and finally, how crazy/lazy some managers are. The below isn't an exhaustive list of who to buy/sell, but just a few ramblings on ownership numbers which look strange at first glance.

*To be clear, I like some of the below players, and have actively boosted them on this site before. However, in each case there is at least one other option whose ownership numbers are significantly less without much explanation and thus there could be value to be found.

G Cahill (23%) - I love Gary Cahill. He's one of the better defenders in the country and deserves to be linked with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool on a regular basis. However, until that move happens he is not a fantasy asset. Under Coyle, Bolton have tried (and sometimes succeeded) to play more expansive football and despite the slow start this year, I think we can all agree they're a better side (at least aesthetically) than under Megson. That said, if you stack your team with the likes of Eagles, M Davies, Lee and Petrov you are going to lose something at the back, which is exactly what has happened at the Reebok. Perhaps Saturday's dismantling of Stoke (accompanied by a pleasing display at the back) will see a turnaround for the Whites but even then I'd prefer to go with Robinson (4.3m) or one of the myriad of better ~4.5m options. You're paying a premium for last year's defensive stats and 2009/10's goals, neither of which have any bearing on this year.

R Taylor (33%) and S Taylor (22%) - Newcastle have been one of the biggest surprises of the season, keeping 4 clean sheets and conceding more than a single goal on just one occasion (GW8). R Taylor has added a couple of goals and S Taylor has brought a decent bonus point haul but I'm not sure either are definitely better than Danny Simpson, who comes at a 0.9m discount. Simpson is widely held too (24%) but readers will know that I am firmly behind picking the cheap link in a defensive line but Simpson seems to be slightly overlooked here in favour of the bigger name Taylors.

Terry (13%) and A Cole (10%) - both players will probably finish around the top-20 among defenders this year but you're paying a premium over Bosingwa based on the uncertainty of his position to start to season, which is no longer an issue. He brings as good, or better, of an assist threat than Cole and while Terry has the goals to his name already, it's unlikely that he continues to score at a rate of 3 goals every 4 shots and hence a 1.2m premium looks tough to justify. Bosingwa is held by more managers than both this pair (22%) but that total really should be higher.

Jagielka (11%) and Baines (6%) - some players made the list on the basis that their teammate represented better value. This pair are on because no defender, nay, no player, from Everton is fantasy relevant at time of writing. Everton have a lone clean sheet all year (against lowly Blackburn) yet their players are priced as if they reside just outside the elite level (and in Baines' case, as the top dog). I like Baines, I really do, and I sometimes feel that this blog sounds like a personal mission against him, but going into the season he looked overpriced, and now his lofty price tag is laughable. Jagielka at least comes at a discount, and there is a circumstance where he could provide value at 5.4m, but right now you'd be better off with players from the likes of QPR and Swansea, each of whom have options at 4.5m or less.

Jarvis (15%) - this one I just do not understand. A huge start for Jarvis (20 points in the first 2 weeks) has been followed by 9 weeks of 3 points or less, including 3 games where he didn't even crack the starting eleven. I am a big fan of Wolves' midfield but the underlying stats have favoured O'Hara, and to a lesser extent Hunt, all season with Jarvis not doing a great deal to distinguish himself from his peers. It is all too easy to hold onto mid level players like Jarvis on the basis that they don't cost a fortune and will presumably score at some point, but with the front line basically picking itself this year, it is in these mid range slots that leagues will be won and you can't afford to have someone dropping 2 pointers every week. Do yourself a favour (and gain 0.3m to boot) and bring in O'Hara (we'll talk about him more in the upcoming under owned post).

Ferguson (13%) - I did a double take when I saw this name on the list but then remembered why I recognised the name from the pre-season: Ferguson has the dubious honor of being the only 4.0m midfielder (now 4.1m). While it is always tempting to try and plug cheap pieces in your squad to upgrade elsewhere, you should never just write off a bench spot, as when injuries and suspensions start piling up over Christmas, you're almost certain to be caught short. You should always be able to free up at least 0.5-0.7m to upgrade Ferguson to a Johnson/Moses/Fox type who at least gives you a chance at some success.

Yaya Toure (11%) - on any other team Yaya would not only be off this list, but could well be close to finding himself on the buy list. He brings consistent minutes along with a decent chance of goals and assists and comes at a discount to many of his teammates. However, such is City's power up front and at the back, I feel you really need to own Silva, Aguero/Dzeko and a defender which really leaves no room for the other options like Yaya, Johnson or Milner. Even if you don't like Silva to continue his form, I would then opt for a second defender rather than a good but unspectacular option like Yaya. If you are looking for a solid ~7.0m option, go for Ramires or Ramsey instead, who play for elite teams but don't hinder your ability to select their teammates.

N'Zogbia (9%) - unless N'Zog is back in a Wigan shirt, he has no business being owned by close to a tenth of all managers. His only non appearance points for the season came from a lone assist in GW8 and he's been pushed much deeper into midfield to accommodate the in-form trio of Agbolahor, Bent and Heskey (alright, the first two are in-form at least). At this point he is trading on past success and his play justifies a price tag of closer to 5.0m than 7.0m.

Rooney (38%) - I'm not particularly down on Rooney as a long term prospect but when it comes to the premium forwards, you really can't afford to hold anyone for more than the odd week with depressed production. With ready made (and in form) replacements in Van Persie and Aguero, and Rooney's deeper role of late, it's hard not to recommend ditching the Englishman and waiting for him to return to his normal forward role, all the while reaping the benefits of an in form Van Persie.The downside (and thus the rationale for keeping Rooney) is that the fixture list looks pretty promising and Rooney could get back in goalscoring form at any time, but in my view that is a risky I'm not willing to take at this early stage of the season.

A sample of under owned players will follow tomorrow, and then we'll be back with the regular weekly preview and hopefully some wildcard thoughts at the end of the week, or next week. As always, post your questions below or @plfantasy and I'll answer them in the weekly preview.