Monday, January 30, 2012

Season of Two Halves

Season of two Halves - Second Half Sleepers
posted at Fantasy Football Scout (free content)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Playing the market

I've had a few questions of late about making transfers with the intention of making money, and the potential rewards this can have. Unfortunately I haven't uncovered any new secret so this post is going to be a bit unscientific, but it will hopefully give some general pointers (and warnings) about how to play the transfer game.

Being first to market
The easiest, and most effective, way to make money is to identify a player who isn't widely held, sign him, and then have him succeed, preferably in a very evident way via a double digit point game or two (consistent 6 point games aren't as effective). For example, after nine gameweeks Gareth Bale had largely been a fantasy disappointment. He had just 26 points (2.88 P90) with 10 of those points coming in one game against Wigan. At that point, if you bought into Bale (7.9m) you would have seen his price rise 0.5m in just four gameweeks and 1.0m after six. By GW21 his price had risen by a full 1.5m. That's great if you bought at precisely the right time, but if you knew how to do that every time you wouldn't be reading this blog.

Being first to market means you need to act quickly, and in my experience, this will more often that not lead to decisions which lose you points. A few other examples of acting early this season:

  • 78k managers signed De Laet after his goal in GW2. He earned 5 points in four subsequent appearances before being sent back to his parent club.
  • After goals in both of the first two games of the season, 83k managers jumped all over Shane Long, who has averaged 3.1 points per game ever since. 
  • 77k managers have signed Gary Cahill, who is yet to set foot on the field in a Chelsea shirt, and is by no means guaranteed a starting place
  • 130k managers bought Leon Best in GW6-7 and he's scored 1 goal and 32 points since
  • After a couple of good weeks in GW6-7, another 130k managers signed Ramsey who has topped 3 points twice in 14 appearances ever since
Granted, these are a cherry picked list of bad ideas but the point is that these kind of decisions can go horribly wrong and will often cost you points, while playing it a bit safer, and checking underlying data before making moves will often cost you money.

The popular vote
As explained by the good folks at Crack the Code, price rises are based on net transfers in for a given week. That means to earn more money you need to be signing the same players as the masses. Sometimes this will obviously be a wise move (such as the aforementioned period of success for Bale), but often the general public will simply be overreacting to a single gameweek and not basing their decision on logic. Making that transfer too may well net you an increase in money but that won't in itself give you any more points.

A large portion of the content on this site works with trying to spot differential players, so signing popular players is somewhat counter intuitive to this strategy. 

Time value of money
We'd all like more money, in the game, and I'm sure in real life too. But as in real life, the marginal value of each million earned decreases as you get richer and richer (what would you do with a million pounds/dollars/euros versus what would Warren Buffett do?) My team value is currently around 104m, with the growth generated through chasing points rather than value. Right now that can essentially buy the current dream team to date if I am willing to make a couple of minor concessions and accept a budget bench. 

That means that the extra ~3m advantage that some teams enjoy is really only buying them a better bench. That's great if you can get it, and they will certainly enjoy an advantage over my team and may likely finish the season with more points. However, there are a heck of a lot of other teams who took the risks required to earn that extra money who have a lot of cash but find themselves too far behind in points to catch up, now that teams have converged and become very similar. 

It takes 20+ gameweeks (at least) to earn enough money to have a noticeable difference, which of course means you only enjoy an advantage for half a season at best. I'm not sure how many points a better bench will generate over half a season but until I do some better research I'm not convinced it's enough to warrant changing the way we operate in the early part of the season (try to identify value based on player's underlying data and avoid needless risks).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gameweek 23 Captain Rankings

P90 Points per 90 minutes at home/away based on the player's fixture QG Number of quality games for the season (6 or more points) BG Number of bad games for the season (3 points or less) % Percentage of team goals scored or assisted SD Standard deviation of player scores (risk) Rating Percentage of team goals accounted for multiplied by expected team goals for the week.

A couple of readers last week said it might be helpful to get a bit of context for the above stats, so below are a few of highlights for the week:

Everything points to Van Persie for the week, so while I generally stress that the 'Rating' column is not a pure ranking, he would indeed be my number one pick this week. No one can match his combination of upside and consistency. Given the home fixtures enjoyed by Spurs and Man Utd it's rare I will categorically take a road team but Bolton aren't much better at home than they are away, making Van Persie a very good play this week.

Rooney will gain a lot of attention this week, and rightly so, though I'm slightly troubled by his recent performances. His home P90 is very impressive (7.3) but if you look at just the last six games at Old Trafford that number drops to just 5.0, largely due to the removal of his massive GW3 haul. Now I don't want to play around with numbers too much just to fit the narrative but he has clearly struggled for consistency (with his production if not his underlying performance stats which remain strong). Given my suspicion regarding 'form', I'd suggest Ronney is a regression candidate and should start taking his chances more frequently going forward, but I'm not sure I'd be willing to bet my captain's armband on it. For the record, I love Valencia as an asset to own but I'm not sure I'm ready to throw him too much captain consideration just yet.

It's rare that the City boys aren't considered great plays in a given week but their trip to Everton is tricky compared to some of the other fixtures around this week and they go into the game in dangerous, but inconsistent, form. Aguero is the obvious pick but with Balotelli out, Dzeko is looking like a very interesting option, especially if you put any stock in his home performances to date (small sample size alert!). Silva's main appeal is his consistency, as evidenced by his SD of 3.4. None of the other elite options have a floor as high as Silva, who seems to notch at least some points every time he takes the field (his 7 BG in 22 appearances is also the best mark among elite options). There's an argument to be made for always captaining a player of Aguero's quality but if you're following the stats, it's likely you'll have a better option available this week.

Adebayor, Van der Vaart and particularly Bale will get a lot of attention this week too, and with Wigan coming to town the optimism is well placed. Spurs' fixture is comparable to Arsenal's, arguably a touch better given that teams tend to hit their potential more at home than on the road. The problem is that the Spurs trio are all aiming for a piece of the same pie. All three have managed their fair share of quality games this year, and one of them has managed a QG in every game for Spurs bar three. The problem is that only six games have seen two of them notch 6 or more points and this hasn't happened since GW12. By captaining one from this group then, you are really taking an educated guess as to which of the trio will enjoy the success this week. It may seem obvious that it would be Bale but don't forget that both Adebayor (GW11-18) and Van der Vaart (GW6-10) have both enjoyed their own spell of fantasy dominance this year. Of the three I would take the safe play with Bale, but I am actually considering an official 'recommend' stamp for Van der Vaart for the next few weeks, who essentially brings everything Bale does, along with an increased threat from set pieces.

Dempsey is sure to get a look from many this week after his hattrick last week, and while I don't put much stock in prior results, his performances of late have screamed of a player ready to start scoring plenty of goals. Fulham's ceiling as a team will never be able to match the big boys so you're hoping Dempsey's increased importance in that team equalises that fact. Those 12 BGs terrify me and were the main reason I passed on him as captain last week. That said, if you look at how Dempsey has done against weaker opponents at home, the results have generally been very good so there is at least some basis for believing he will notch one of those 8-10 point games. Risky, but I see the logic.

The pleasing thing about the 'rating' category this week is that it is throwing up a good mix of familiar and obvious names, along with a couple of wildcards who people may not be thinking too much about. Bellamy and Zamora have been extremely successful when they've played this year and both should get another chance for success this week. You have to caution against the very small sample size these numbers are based on, but they've taken their chances so far so you wouldn't be amazed to see at least a large portion of this success continue. I'd still probably rate both as third forwards though, unless you decide to go huge in midfield. They are only captain options if you're starting to get desperate to start making ground with opponents whose team is largely similar to yours.

Transfer Clinic

With the new rankings tables doing a lot of the legwork, and with no games this weekend, I've got some extra time for a post, and with no ideas immediately springing to mind, I thought I should use the time to catch up on some reader questions.

As it's wildcard season I am just looking at team reviews here (whether wildcard or not) which will hopefully allow me to cover off all the players I like/don't like for the remainder of the year.


Reader: Ramzy
Proposed team: Mignolet, Vorm : BAE, Richards, Simpson, Evans, Kelly : Silva, Valencia, Dempsey, Sessegnon, Bale : Aguero, RVP, Helguson

I love the entire defence and I'm not sure I'd do anything different. If I did I'd say that I'm not crazy about the Newcastle defence for the short term, so I might look at Brown or N Taylor for the next few weeks. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it's important to consider what your next couple of transfers will be and given the rest of your team looks like every week starters, you can afford to grab a couple of short term plays if you need to.

The midfield and front line is about as good as you can get on paper which is good, but also the source of my concern. I won't go over the numbers here, but in the next post at Fantasy Football Scout I look at the best team from last year and see how they did in the second half of the season (clue: not good). That isn't to say some of these guys won't have success but you do worry about that midfield all having great second halves.

One way to free up cash would be to switch Aguero to Dzeko, who looks set to play every week in Balotelli's absence, allowing you to upgrade the defence or turn Helguson into someone from the Sturridge/Ba/Cisse/Bellamy group. It's hard to say specifically which of the midfielders I doubt as they all look great, but I'd be remiss if I didn't caution against simply picking the top scorers to date. That FFS scout includes a list of sleepers who you might want to consider, but I love your team so I wouldn't change much.

Reader: Snorre
Proposed team: Lindegaard, Hennessey : Walker, N Taylor, Kelly, Enrique, R Taylor : McClean, Mata, Silva, Dempsey, Dyer : Morison, Aguero, Torres

This is the other direction you can go with your wildcard. Mata and Torres are obviously two of the more talented players in the league but neither have really lived up to the hype this year (particularly not Torres). I'd say it's a risk going with two Chelsea players though they do have some great fixtures starting in GW26 with Bolton.

I have always liked Assou Ekotto over Walker, but now his ownership is way up and the pair's prices have converged, I like the move to grab Walker here. I feel he's the better attacking option and the 0.3m might be worth it to differentiate your team. Though I think he'll probably play in the long run, R Taylor is a risk at 5.4m and given he is so widely owned, I'd prefer to have the 1.0m and go with Simpson. That said, I'm not sure where you'd use the 1.0m saved as I like your budget options of McClean and Kelly.

One option would be to look at grabbing Zamora over Morison with any saved money. Zamora isn't getting much hype but his performances this year have been superb and it's only a lack of playing time that has slowed him down. He was excellent against Newcastle and you like the way he contributes assists as well as goals to keep his fantasy points ticking along. The other option of course would be S Fletcher who I've been all over for a while now.

Overall I like the team and the risks you've taken though I'd be nervous about going with two big Chelsea players given their immediate fixtures (@Swa, MnU, @Eve). Maybe you want them long term but it might be prudent to go with a Spurs or United player for the week to take advantage of their fixture, before grabbing your Chelsea boys later on.

Reader: NSJ91
Proposed team: Lindegaard, Sorensen : Clichy, Evans, King, Brown, Kelly : Silva, Nani, Bale, Sessegnon, Moses : RVP, Aguero, Helguson

You've taken a couple of risks here in defence, but I like the idea behind both. For me, Kolarov has been really poor this year so Clichy should be locked into to play as much as most in this side and thus he's nice value at 0.9m less than Kompany and 0.7m less than Richards. Head to head I still take Richards but in terms of value I like the former Arsenal man a lot. King is more risky but again you're saving close to a million and given that you don't really have any gaps I like the risk. King started ahead of Dawson this week so you have to think he's still the first choice centre back, though my worry would be that he plays in the big (read: hard) games and thus his points may be lower than his teammates.

The issue with the midfield and front line is the same as Ramzy above. Also, it looks like Nani's injury may be serious and he could miss 6-8 weeks (h/t Jay Horrey for that one). For starters then I would switch him out for Valencia if you want to keep with a United theme. After that, it's the same advice as above. I love the team on paper but you have to mindful that the chance of the top five midfielders today ending the year in the same spots in slim.

General transfer questions (no wildcard remaining)

Reader: Vicky
Current team: Stockdale, Vorm : Skrtel, Richards, Kelly, N Taylor, Shotton : Sessegnon, Bale, Valencia, Dempsey, Moses : RvP, Aguero, Sturridge..

You're in great shape here as you have two free transfers and no real holes to fill. As with the teams above, I think your issue is going to be the fact that your team is probably very similar to many others and thus you're going to struggle to make ground on your competitors. If you're out in front of course then you're in a strong defensive position.

Check out the upcoming FFS article for some sleeper ideas but a couple of names I'd throw out there are Dzeko (in place of Aguero), Mata, Van der Vaart (over Bale) or maybe even a total wildcard like a Cisse or Sigurdsson.

Reader: JayDavies
Current team: Vorm, Bogdan, Kelly, Cahill, Evans, Hanley, De Laet, Valencia, Silva, Bale, Sessegnon, Ferguson, Rooney, Torres, Van Persie

The issue you have here is squad depth. Hanley, De Laet and Ferguson may be cheap but they give you no wiggle room when your starters miss out (such as Cahill this past gameweek). I would personally take a downgrade at forward, say Torres to Dzeko, and use that money to grab defenders like N Taylor or W Brown. I like the idea of taking a shot with Torres, but as I said above, I would go with Rooney now and then take another look at the Chelsea boys when the fixtures ease up a bit.

You also have a potential problem between the sticks as Jaaskelainen could return this week or next thus leaving you with just one 'keeper. The good news is that Vorm is a good play for the next few weeks so that isn't a priority move.

Given that you have two transfers, I would move Torres to Dzeko to free up cash (2.0m) and use that to upgrade your defence, targeting De Laet first who is an afterthought in Norwich. There are plenty of good long term options who also have a good fixture this week including Brown, N Taylor or a more expensive play like Assou Ekotto. Of that group I would take Brown which will only cost you 0.7m and give you sufficient cash to upgrade elsewhere later on.

Long term the same caveats about holding all the popular successful assets like Silva, Bale and Sessegnon apply but I wouldn't be rushed to dump any of that group for now.

Reader: WS
Current team: Mignolet, Sorensen : Simpson, Kelly, Enrique, Caulker, Shawcross : Bale, Sessegnon, Silva, McClean, Dyer : Van Persie, Rooney, Aguero

As you want a team for GW23 only, I might try and pickup a different defender as you don't have the best fixtures with your current crop. Shawcross would be the obvious candidate and at 5.1m he gives you flexibility to grab someone else who can help you this week. If you can stretch to Assou Ekotto he is a safe pick with upside, or you could take a risk that King is fit again to play. If not then I would go with Evans who gets a very nice fixture and is almost assured to play with all United's injuries.

Reader: Mulligan
Current team: Lindegard, Vorm : Brown, BAE, Enrique, Richards, Simpson : Bale, Silva, Dempsey, Sessegnon, Dyer : RVP, Ageuro, Helguson

Similar comments here to the above teams. It looks great on paper and you will certainly be competitive but you have to worried about a lack of differentiation.

Overall comments
The astute reader will probably point to my team and realise I too lack differentiators apart from Murphy and Flecther. And that's why none of the above points are criticisms. It's really hard to pick sleepers at this point in the year when you a list of players you are factually good (or at least have been so far). Picking the players who are widely owned might ensure you don't lose too much ground, but you'll also struggle to gain much.

Check out the (free) article at Fantasy Football Scout (due this week) which outlines a few sleeper ideas. Once that's up I'll also address some of those thoughts here, along with some research I'm currently looking at as to which players managed to deliver solid second half production last season after a successful good half to see if there are any trends we can exploit.

Thanks for the comments on the new graphs, please keep the feedback coming and let me know if there's any stats that would be useful for people. I understand they don't work on the mobile version which is a shame, so in the meantime I will disable that version and anyone using a smartphone should then be able to view the full site (and hopefully the graphs, though I'm not sure which plug ins are required). Long term I hope to migrate the blog to a full domain which will hopefully sort some of these issues out.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Gameweek 23 Preview

Don't forget that there are no games this weekend with the next deadline coming next Tuesday for a full midweek slate. That gives us a couple of days so hopefully I'll have a couple of extra pieces up this week. Weekly rankings are below.

Clean sheets kept at home/away based on this week's fixture Opp FTS Number of times this week's opponent has failed to score at home/away GPG Conceded Predicted goals conceded this week based on a team and their opponent's performance this season Opp CS Clean sheets kept at home/away by a team's opponent GPG Scored Predicted goals scored this week based on a team and their opponent's performance this season

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pure Juice Wildcard

I played my wildcard this week and a few readers on Twitter asked where I finally landed. Here's the new team and the rough thought process behind each player.

Vorm kept his place and is almost undroppable at this point as (a) he's awesome and is one of the best value players in the game and (b) it'll cost me 0.6m to get him back if I sell him. Barring injury he's on board until at least GW36 (his last two game are tough so if I'm desperate for GK health I could ditch him).

I almost went with Lindegaard, and may well land there long term but decided that at least in the short term, Mignolet was the better pick. Even after this week's clean sheet, Sunderland still get Nor (H), Sto (A) and WB(A) in the next four weeks so Mignolet should prove to be a nice mid-term option.

I stuck with Jose Enrique, Richards and Assou Ekotto as I couldn't find too many premium options to warrant the loss of money I'd suffer ditching any of the above. That said, I don't think either Enrique or Richards are now undroppable and can see the argument behind ditching either. If the fixtures had fallen more favourably for Man Utd, I may well have dropped one of the pair for Evans to free up cash to use elsewhere. Cahill was also a consideration but it seemed premature to grab him before (a) he's played a game and (b) we're sure Chelsea are going to get any better at the back (ironically they went and kept a clean sheet without him).

The new arrivals were Bardsley and Kelly, though the former would have been Brown if I was more certain he would play. I will likely make that move next time I have a spare transfer to use. As mentioned above for Mignolet, Sunderland are a great medium term play and while I'm a bit nervous to double up, I figure I will often be playing Vorm anyway. It's going to be rare that I play five defenders so I wanted a budget option here with Simpson and Evans getting strong consideration. I held off on Evans due to United's tough couple of upcoming fixtures but will probably go there long term. Similarly with Simpson, I didn't see enough value there to warrant grabbing him when the upcoming games were so tough. I'm not crazy about Fulham's defence but Kelly is a decent fifth option who might get the odd game.

Silva was the only holdover here and I envision him holding a first team place all season. He brings an almost unrivaled combination of upside and consistency and I wouldn't consider dropping him, no matter who the opponent.

This was the area I struggled most with as I had two objectives (1) try and avoid chasing points and (2) save enough cash so I can afford whichever two forwards I want. All things considered I decided that Bale was the midfielder I wanted most after Silva, but given his tough fixture this week (there's no way he scores against City, right?) I wanted a different one week option, with the intention of swapping him out for Bale next week. With Van der Vaart and Nani facing relatively tough opponents, the only man I really considered for that role was Dempsey.

[I think there's an important point to emphasize here. Generally people make one of a couple of mistakes when wildcarding. One, they overly gear their team towards the short term, loading up on players with one or two good games or with short term playing opportunities, thus requiring multiple transfers in the near future. Or, two, they setup their team purely looking to the future and then get to next week with no use for their free transfer. The best method for me is to set your overall team, then find someone who has a bad fixture this week and replace him with a one week 'loan' to be dumped next week. Just make sure you have sufficient room in your budget to cover any price rises].

The American obviously proved to be a good pickup and with him getting West Brom at home next week, and Bale getting Wigan, I now have another tough decision to make which I didn't plan for (a good problem to have though). A lot of managers were all over Sessegnon and Walters but for me the decision in that ~6.5m range wasn't close. Sessegnon's underlying stats are much more impressive and I feel he has a much better chance of matching his first half success than Walters does. I like Sinclair too thanks to the set pieces but Swansea's midfield looks crowded and half the teams in the league still haven't yet won 4 pens, so it's tough to see him matching that total again in the second half.

That left me ~10.5m to fill my final two midfield spots so I had to decide whether to go with a couple of 5 million guys or 4.5 - 6 combo. I opted for the latter based on the fact that I knew I'd play my forwards almost every week and was happy with my defence, thus meaning I only needed four reliable mids (and could therefore go super cheap with one of the picks). I struggled with both picks, looking at the likes of Ben Arfa, Pilkington, Henderson, Drenthe, McLean and a host of Swansea players before settling on Murphy and Surman. Murphy was the pick due to his set piece duties and relative consistency (7 games with 5 or more points this year) while I like Surman's recent underlying stats, most notably his key passes. Aside from the aforementioned potential Bale move, this is the area of the team I am least satisfied with and I would imagine I'll use a couple of transfers in this area over the coming weeks.

No need to talk about Van Persie who was always going to hold his place. Long term I will probably target Ba, but in his absence I love Fletcher who is cheap enough to let me grab another elite option. With Chelsea looking fairly average I decided Sturridge wasn't worth the extra outlay so Fletch got the call. That left a final decision of Rooney or Aguero. Again, long term I might go for Ade (so I can keep Bale and Dempsey in midfield) but with him out and for the week I didn't want a ~10m asset sat on the bench as soon as I played the wildcard so he was out of contention. Rooney and Aguero have both gone quiet in the past couple of weeks but I'm sure both will be fine and found it hard to find anything to distinguish them. In the end then, it was simply a case of value for money, and it's tough to argue that Rooney is 1m better. Given my team isn't particularly valuable, I can't afford to waste cash and thus Aguero got the call (I then captained him which was the only real downer on a good first week with the new team).

It was a good start this week but I'm a bit concerned that I haven't gotten enough differentiation in the team and will probably end up using my other wildcard sooner rather than later (aiming for GW30). With the elite options dominating it's tough to not try and grab as many of them as possible, which then limits what you can do elsewhere. We'll see how things pan out in the coming weeks, but at least so far, I'm ahead of where I was.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lineup Lessons Gameweek 22

Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Rosicky, Song, Ramsey, Walcott, van Persie, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Subs: Almunia, Park, Squillaci, Arshavin, Benayoun, Miquel, Yennaris.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Oxlade-Chamberlain in their starting lineup given the recent struggles of Arshavin. He didn't disappoint either, impressing with his movement, composure and football IQ (sorry, Theo) which led to a good assist for Van Persie's goal. We're always looking for fantasy value in this Arsenal team and at 5.7m Ox has some makings of that very player. However, this was his first league start and only his third appearance so be careful not to get carried away here. Maybe Wenger decides to throw him out there for the rest of the season (he can't be much worse than Arshavin and Walcott have been at times this year) but it's too risky to make that leap right now. I want to say more, but there just isn't much else of interest in this lineup.

Aston Villa
Given, Hutton, Clark, Collins, Dunne, Albrighton, Petrov, Gardner, Bent, Agbonlahor, Keane
Subs: Guzan, Warnock, Cuellar, Baker, Bannan, Delfouneso, Weimann

Warnock was a surprise omission here though he did come on at half time and one would expect he'll stay in this side long term. Whether or not the Villains provide any defensive value is another question though.

Strangely, Villa have score three goals in each of their last two road games but struggled at home against Swansea and Everton. Keane is intriguing to say the least given his price tag, but I would issue some caution over a player who converted his only two shots on target into goals. He has shown an eye for goal in the past of course, but I'd like to see Villa generate more chances for him before jumping on board. Bent is interesting as a differentiator but for me he's too expensive given that he doesn't contribute anything outside of goals (and the bonus points that come with them).

Robinson, Lowe, Dann, Givet, Olsson, Nzonzi, Hoilett, Petrovic, Dunn, Pedersen, Goodwillie
Subs: Bunn, Modeste, Formica, Rochina, Vukcevic, Hanley, Henley.

This lineup is becoming more predictable but in terms of points concentration, there is little to get excited about with Yakubu missing. The results have improved of late but they still don't look like a side who are going to keep clean sheets and the goals are spread thin across a number of overpriced options.

Bogdan, Steinsson, Knight, Wheater, Ricketts, Eagles, Reo-Coker, Muamba, Petrov, M Davies, Ngog
Subs: Lynch, Sanli, K Davies, Pratley, Boyata, O'Halloran, Riley.

Three goals from unlikely sources don't add much to this team's fantasy fortunes, who look a lot like their northern rivals Blackburn. N'Gog has looked pretty useful since breaking into the side and is worth monitoring but it's tough to see him overtaking the likes of Helguson, Graham or Morison in that budget category. Coyle seems to be more committed to the 4-5-1 now which should allow Eagles to play more often (he was sometimes exposed in a 4-4-2) and his nice assist this week shows he has some talent. I'm not sure I see much in him that you can't get elsewhere (Ben Arfa, Moses, Dyer, Morrison) but he deserves consideration alongside that group.

Cech, Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Ramires, Lampard, Meireles, Sturridge, Torres, Mata.
Subs: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Essien, Romeu, Malouda, Lukaku, Bertrand.

A few people jumped on Cahill early and I thought he had an outside chance to play here. Villas-Boas said after the game that he had some "team principles" to learn though that begs the question when Luiz will be taught those same principles. Assuming Cahill takes over at centre back he will be good value but with a clean sheet here, you have to be cautious about how soon that move will happen. Torres had chances again here and everything suggests he is a sleeper candidate (talent, bad luck, good support players) but yet he just looks devoid of confidence and hopeful, rather than confident, that the net will bulge. If you're in a deep hole he deserves brief consideration but I'd suggest it's a needless risk at this point. Essien will likely crack the first team very soon and that should have a positive impact on the team, though I'm not sure it's going to catapult this team's fortunes to the point where you're ready to spend big money on the available assets. If a team ever needed a quality January signing it's this one.

Howard, Neville, Duffy, Heitinga, Baines, Donovan, Gibson, Fellaini, Anichebe, Cahill, Saha
Subs: Mucha, Hibbert, Bilyaletdinov, Drenthe, Stracqualursi, Gueye, Vellios.

Blackburn at home is one of the better fixtures a team can have, but as reflected in this week's rankings (Everton were 10th) the Toffees just aren't that good at the back. The goal, of course, was unlucky but Blackburn were probably good value for their point with Everton playing fairly uninspired stuff all day.  Donovan looked pretty good and warrants ownership, but I'm somewhat concerned by the lack of goal scoring opportunities he receives. Good, but not outstanding value at 7.0m. I want to be able to recommend Drenthe who has been impressive during most of his cameos but his defensive weakness seems to be keeping him out of the side and he is too pricey to play so sporadically.

Stockdale, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, JA Riise, Ruiz, Murphy, Sidwell, Duff, Dempsey, Zamora
Subs: Etheridge, Baird, Johnson, Gecov, Hughes, Frei, Briggs.

After his first goal I asked on Twitter why no 'big' team has ever been in for Dempsey and no one really had an answer. I am not encouraging the move (I hate it when the rich teams unimaginatively steal all the middle teams' talent) but with the inevitable decline of Gerrard and Lampard, is there a better goalscoring midfielder around in the league? His first goal showed the instincts (and luck) of a number 9, while his third simply showed a player utterly convinced he was going to score (the anti-Torres so to speak). A full write up on my wildcard team is to come, but I'll be honest, I brought Dempsey in as a one week hire, due to be replaced next week by Bale. I've got a tough decision to make this week now though.

I thought Johnson was excellent off the bench but probably won't get enough minutes to warrant ownership while Zamora also looked good but is priced in a tough spot between the budget options in the ~5m range and the classier group (Ba, Sturridge, Dzeko). Probably not enough upside to justify his 6.6m tag.

Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Maxi, Henderson, Adam, Bellamy, Gerrard, Carroll
Subs: Doni, Coates, Kuyt, Downing, Carragher, Shelvey, Kelly.

This team has talent, but I'm not sure it's enough to overcome the premium those players come with due to the badge on their shirt. The defense was pretty awful against Bolton and while I still like them at the right price, even if you have Enrique at 5.5m I don't think he is undroppable. The next three gameweeks don't project to be great for this defense and it might be time to look elsewhere if you're wildcarding this week. Bellamy was fancied by many this week and rewarded their faith with a well taken goal, giving him four goals in his last three starts. If you're wildcarding he is worth a look, as you can then move him on in four weeks when Suarez returns, but I'm not sure I'd spend two transfers on him given their opponents over that time (Wol, Tot, MnU, Eve).

Man City
Hart, Richards, Savic, Lescott, Clichy, Barry, Milner, Silva, Aguero, Nasri, Dzeko
Subs: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Johnson, Kolarov, Onuoha, De Jong, Balotelli.

No real surprises here. City are prone to poor defensive days (especially without Kompany) but we can chalk this one up to the quality of the opposition rather than any significant concerns for Richards and company. They remain an elite group of defenders to hold. Silva continues to chip away with good scores with his production finding a great combination of consistency and upside. One goal in five games for Aguero makes one a touch nervous and his lack of chances today compounds that concern. Van Persie remains in a league of his own right now but Aguero is still right there behind him, you just need to decide if he's worth the money required to get him over Adebayor, Ba or Dzeko.

Man Utd
Lindegaard, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck.
Subs: De Gea, Berbatov, Park, Hernandez, Fabio, Rafael, Scholes.

Most sources had Rafael starting at right back but I think they continue to underestimate Ferguson's confidence in Evans. Even before the injury to Jones I would suggest Evans was in line to play most games for the remainder of the year. With so many injuries this may not be a truly elite defense but Evans and Lindegaard are obviously good value when they play and are worth a spot in your squad if you're confident in your other options. With the way he's playing Valencia has overtaken Nani as the best value midfielder in this side and Nani owners should consider how they could use that couple of million elsewhere in their team. Like Aguero, Rooney has been kept quiet in recent weeks and actually failed to register a shot on goal this week. However, the notion of 'form' is flawed and he is playing well enough to deserve consideration for any fantasy side. A home game with Stoke looks like a good way to cure those blues. Many will be tempted by Welbeck but I still think Hernandez has a big part to play in this side and at 6.6m Welbeck is too pricey to have him sit every other week, even if he's great value when he plays.

Krul, Simpson, Williamson, Coloccini, Santon, Ben Arfa, Guthrie, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Best, Ameobi
Subs: Elliot, Lovenkrands, Perch, Gosling, R Taylor, Obertan, Ferguson.

Who knows what to make of this defense? They aren't without value but the last four road games have seen them concede 5, 3, 0 and 4 and they were all over the place again this week. The decision to keep Santon in the side over R Taylor seems curious as he hasn't done much to impress since breaking into the side and was left wanting again against Fulham. I'd still be happy holding Simpson, Williamson or Taylor but they aren't every week starters anymore so you need sufficient depth and rotation options to accompany them. Going forward I like Ben Arfa as the pick of the bunch here and rate him as a good 4th or great 5th midfielder.

Ruddy, Martin, Whitbread, Ayala, Naughton, Fox, Johnson, Pilkington, Surman, Morison, Holt
Subs: Steer, Drury, Crofts, Jackson, Hoolahan, Bennett, Wilbraham.

Don't get overly excited about this defense, who conceded 19 shots and were bailed out by the good form of Ruddy and the poor finishing of Torres and co. I was surprised to see Ruddy had an ownership of 12% and with several cheap options available, I don't understand the logic behind owning him, or any of the Norwich defense for that matter. This midfield has some talent but I wouldn't rate them as highly as the Swansea group. The next games are pretty favourable though so the likes of Pilkington or Surman are intriguing options.

Kenny, Young, Hall, Ferdinand, Hill, Mackie, Buzsaky, Barton, Wright-Phillips, Helguson, Campbell.
Subs: Cerny, Orr, Derry, Bothroyd, Smith, Ramage, Macheda.

Helguson continued his good form, and it could have been better but for Al-Habsi's heroics from the spot once again. He makes an excellent 3rd forward, adding four more shots this week to accompany his penalty duties. I wouldn't put him alongside Fletcher but he's atop that group of ~5.5m or cheaper players. I don't see much else here to hold our interest.

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

Along with Liverpoool, Stoke's defense was a huge disappointment this week and you wonder if they will ever become a reliable unit again this year. Given that Shawcross and Huth are priced above those available elsewhere, the oft-injured Woodgate looks like the best value option, but he too carries significant risk of his own. I'm not crazy about Walters anyway and the potential loss of penalty duties further hurts his value. I would advise his owners to start making alternative plans.

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

Unlike Walters, I think Sessegnon is for real, though I'm still a bit concerned that his current goal/shot conversion rate is unsustainably high. He's probably the best player in this team though and anytime you can get that for a good price you have to be interested. McClean has really caught the eye since breaking into the first team and looks like one of the best sub-5.0m options around. Don't expect him to continue his 6.0 P90 for much longer but he should definitely warrant spot starting when your other options face tough games.

Sunderland have only conceded more than a single goal twice in their last eight games, adding two clean sheets in the last five weeks. Only one game (GW25 - Arsenal H) registers as a tough game in the eight week forecast, making this one of my favourite defenses to buy into. Mignolet and a fit again Brown look like the best ways to make that happen.

Vorm, Rangel, Caulker, Williams, Taylor, Dyer, Britton, Sinclair, Allen, Sigurdsson, Graham
Subs: Tremmel, Routledge, Monk, McEachran, Moore, Agustien, Richards.

What's good for the team isn't always good for fantasy, and the arrival of Sigurdsson and McEachran may fall into this category. The midfield suddenly looks a bit crowded and while it's still a good source for fantasy value, predicting regular minutes just got harder. Dyer would appear to be fairly safe as the most natural wide player (along with the oft-benched Routledge) and he wasn't taking many set pieces anyway (which seem to have been stolen by Sigurdsson). Graham remains the best uber-cheap forward but I like Helguson more if you can afford it. This defense remains a great value unit, particularly at home.

Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Parker, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart, Defoe.
Subs: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Bassong, Dawson, Kranjcar, Livermore, Pienaar.

No Adebayor of course due the terms of his loan arrangement, but otherwise it was as expected for Redknapp's side. Not too much to add on this lineup who provide good fantasy value at each position.

West Brom
Foster, Tamas, McAuley, Olsson, Shorey, Thomas, Mulumbu, Dorrans, Morrison, Cox, Fortune
Subs: Fulop, Mattock, Tchoyi, Long, Jara Reyes, Odemwingie, Dawson.

Over the last four gameweeks, six midfielders have registered double digit shots: Mata, Bale, Dempsey, Van der Vaart, Modric and Morrison. There is obviously potential with Morrison but my concern is that his points have come in a couple of big games followed by weeks of mediocre returns. The encouraging part is that those big games have come against weaker opponents, suggesting his success is at least somewhat predictable. No one owns him (0.4%) and the price is pretty good making him shortlistable if you're looking to do something a bit different. The other two options in the West Brom side who I liked - Long and Odemwingie - were both benched this week, rendering this team fairly useless outside of the aforementioned Morrison.

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

Al Habsi is a perfect advert for why you don't pay for 'keepers. Wigan have the league's second worst defense yet he ranks 7th among all 'keepers this year, thanks to his save points (especially those from the spot). There aren't any other every week starters here but I'd suggest that Gomez and Moses are worthy of consideration as a 4th or 5th midfielder. Rodallega is a name worth watching as he appears to have re-secured a spot in the first team and is clearly one of this team's most talented players when in form. He doesn't represent incredible value at 5.9m (I like Fletcher and Helguson more) but Wigan have a good run of fixtures from GW24-29 and he could be well placed to take advantage.

Hennessey, Ward, Johnson, Berra, Foley, Edwards, Kightly, Henry, Frimpong, Jarvis, Fletcher
Subs: De Vries, Elokobi, Stearman Hunt, Milijas, Ebanks-Blake, Doyle

My Fletcher boosting is well documented and I really liked him this week so was disappointed with the outcome. Wolves managed to add a couple of goals but Fletcher was quiet throughout with just a single shot on goal. He was however involved with the play (48 touches and 34 passes) and I'm happy owning him over the coming weeks in spite of the tricky fixtures. There isn't a great deal more on offer here until O'Hara returns, with Jarvis looking too expensive and Hunt often benched. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gameweek 22 Captain Data

Something which has bothered me this year are the weekly captain rankings, as I find they generally descend into the standard conjecture you find on other fantasy sites. It's not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just it is freely available elsewhere and I don't think you get much out of reading it all again here. With that in mind, I'm moving to a more stats based approach, though with the intention of providing a pool of data, rather than specific rankings (which will depend on how risky you want to be, last minute injury news etc which I struggle to keep up with 100%).

Update: There has been confusion as to what the original table was setting out. I do not really have 'rankings' as such, only a number of different metrics which I use to base my weekly captain decision on. I haven't found one to be the 'magic bullet' and thus I'm shying away from saying Player X is clearly the best pick of the week, unless of course he was the leader in every category.

The below data should all be taken into account and you can give as much weight to any individual metric you see fit. The tableau powered tables should allow you you re-order the data however you see fit. They are summarised as below:
  • P90 Points per 90 minutes at scored this season at home/away based on this week's fixture
  • QG Quality Games - Number of appearances with 6 or more points
  • BG Bad Games - Number of appearances with 3 points or less
  • % Percentage of goals accounted for (goals and assists) when the player has been on the field (save for a few rounding errors where a player is subbed, but you get the rough idea)
  • Rating Percentage of goals accounted for multiplied by forecast team goals to give the forecast number of goals a player will account for in a given week. Possibly the strongest of the metrics, but by no means a perfect solution.
As always, I welcome any suggestions or requests, specifically regarding any data you would find useful when making your weekly captain selection. Over the coming weeks I be working towards trying to build a 'catch all' formula which incorporates all these factors into a single, rankable number, but until then, enjoy the raw data:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gameweek 22 Preview (new look)

I've been looking for a better way to present the data on this site for sometime, and, finally, I think I've found the answer. The folks at Tableau have put together some great software, which (hopefully) will allow me to update the site quicker and present more analysis in numerical form.

Below then are the weekly forecasts for GW22. The advantage of this is that it will allow me to get the rankings up sooner (and thus help with transfer decisions), while the captain rankings will follow later in the week (as that decision can be made at the last minute).

Please let me know in the comments or @plfantasy if the below table isn't showing up, or looks wrong (doesn't fit on page etc). If you do have any issues, please advise on whether you're using a Mac or PC and what browser you are using. I'm still experimenting so please be patient with anything that looks a bit off in the next day or so.

Lineup Lessons Gameweek 21

Szczesny, Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Miquel, Walcott, Ramsey, Song, Benayoun, Arshavin, van Persie
Subs: Almunia, Rosicky, Park, Henry, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Squillaci, Yennaris.

Arshavin and Walcott have to be two of the most frustrating, supposedly good players in the league, and yet they both line up in a significant amount of games for Wenger's side. Walcott at least gets into good positions but his final ball has regressed once again to simply hitting it hard into the box or taking an ill-advised shot (he did take his goal very nicely though, hence: frustrating). Arshavin, however, contributes essentially nothing and worse, gave away the ball for Swansea's second this week. Rosicky did okay off the bench without much end product but you'd expect that he or Oxalde-Chamberlain will get more minutes in the future. Henry came on to play alongside Van Persie suggesting that's an option too, but you'd be surprised if he is fit enough to immediately start playing every week. This defense is too pricey to warrant ownership.

Aston Villa
Given, Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Clark, Petrov, Albrighton, Ireland, Agbonlahor, Bent.
Subs: Guzan, N'Zogbia, Delph, Keane, Cuellar, Bannan, Gardner.

Given returned as expected which makes this unit more solid, though Guzan did a decent job so I wouldn't say this suddenly transforms Villa into a top unit (they did have 4 clean sheets in 13 games with Given though). I don't see Keane as someone who might have a fantasy impact failing injury to Agbonlahor or Bent. Keane's career could probably be classified as a disappointment with constant transfers hampering him from ever really settling into a side other than his first spell at Spurs. You always felt he had an eye on his next move (probably to a boyhood favorite club), and perhaps always thought he should be playing at a 'bigger team' and thus failed to settle at somewhere like Leeds or Spurs for too long. That's the most I've ever written on this site about a player with zero fantasy impact. Oh well.

Bogdan, Steinsson, Wheater, Knight, Ricketts, Eagles, Reo-Coker, Muamba, Petrov, M Davies, Ngog
Subs: Lynch, Sanli, K Davies, Klasnic, Pratley, Boyata, Riley.

I'm not condoning the 'long ball to Davies' tactics, which is way overplayed as the focal point of Bolton's play (under Coyle they actually try and get the ball down) but the decision to play N'Gog over Davies here left me puzzled. N'Gog seems like the type of player Ferdinand will be comfortable playing against where as Davies has given him all kind of problems in past seasons. Eagles and Petrov simply don't produce enough down the flanks, suggesting a 4-5-1 with Klasnic up top and Davies on the right looking like a better option. Klasnic is the only player who can be fantasy relevant in this side yet he finds himself benched once again. Unless they invest the Cahill money wisely this is a side who you can all but exclude from your weekly scan of transfer targets.

Robinson, Lowe, Hanley, Givet, Olsson, Nzonzi, Pedersen, Dunn, Petrovic, Hoilett, Yakubu
Subs: Bunn, Formica, Rochina, Goodwillie, Vukcevic, Morris, Henley.

I've been fairly vocal in my criticism of Blackburn this year but in all fairness they have really started to turn the corner offensively, not only in that they've scored in 10 straight games, but also that they are beginning to score more than once, with seven goals in the last three weeks. However, the only player to score multiple goals over that 10 game period is Yakubu, who will likely now face a suspension, pending a potential appeal. No player other than Yakubu has managed to hit the target more than 10 times this year, a number that is particularly concerning when you consider that Wigan have four such players (Rodallega, Di Santo, Moses and Gomez). If they can get a focal point in midfield they could generate decent assist numbers but until then (and despite the fact I like Hoilett's game) this looks like a one man team for fantasy purposes.

Cech, Bosingwa, Luiz, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Romeu, Meireles, Ramires, Torres, Mata.
Subs: Turnbull, Essien, Malouda, Lukaku, Sturridge, Hutchinson, Bertrand.

It was somewhat surprising to see Sturridge miss out again here, though it might just be that he still wasn't quite fit enough to start. Torres is an intriguing play in Drogba's absence and though he didn't enjoy any end results here, he did at least manage four attempts on goal. It's tough to seriously consider him over the cheaper Adebayor though. The Chelsea defense was a good play this week and they duly delivered with a clean sheet. You have to at least question whether Cahill will walk into this side from day one but you'd think they're spending the money for a reason and thus he becomes another excellent way to access an elite defense for a mid-range price. Though it probably doesn't have a direct fantasy impact, it was good to see Essien make an appearance for Chelsea and his presence should make everyone better in this side (he isn't going to the African Cup on Nations, by the way).

Howard, Neville, Heitinga, Duffy, Baines, Donovan, Gibson, Fellaini, Drenthe, Cahill, Saha.
Subs: Mucha, Anichebe, Bilyaletdinov, Stracqualursi, McFadden, Gueye, Vellios.

I didn't see this one but from the stats it looks like Everton were a touch lucky to get away with a point. This side now has quite a lot of talent and I'm a little surprised there is so much focus on the 'Moyes has no money to succeed narrative' rather than the 'why aren't we getting more from our current players'. Drenthe has been in and out of the side despite having excellent underlying stats and production when he's played, but if he gets a consistent run of minutes he is a worthy option. Donovan got his first real fantasy points this week and is a decent differentiator for the foreseeable future. With so many defensive injuries (note the complete lack of cover on the bench) it's tough be overly excited about this unit's value at the back.

Stockdale, Kelly, Senderos, Hangeland, JA Riise, Murphy, Dembele, Dempsey, Duff, Zamora, Ruiz
Subs: Etheridge, Sidwell, Johnson, Kasami, Hughes, Frei, Davies.

Not a good result here though at least this back line has finally settled down (at least for now). I'm a bit puzzled with what has happened to Baird who seemed to be a fixture in this side, but didn't feature at all again despite a lack of injury news. In the mean time Kelly is a nice option at 3.9m despite Fulham's inconsistency. That front line looks pretty settled now too, making this one of the more predictable lineups in the league.

Reina, Johnson, Coates, Skrtel, Jose Enrique, Carragher, Adam, Henderson, Gerrard, Downing, Kuyt.
Subs: Doni, Aurelio, Carroll, Shelvey, Kelly, Flanagan, Bellamy.

I really disliked what Dalglish did here, playing five at the back at home to Stoke. We did however get a start for Gerrard who moves into a position where his viability at needs mentioning. Perhaps this deserves a separate post, but in summary I like the idea of fully fit Gerrard (indeed he was one of my favorite players to watch at his peak) but given his price tag you need him to beat out the likes of Silva, Nani, Bale and Van der Vaart which looks a stretch right now, if only based on their respective teams' attacking options. Yes he will be a differential candidate but I'd like to see more from him before I consider him back to ~10m value. I want to be able to throw Carroll into that 'bounce back' potential category too but his playing time is simply too sporadic to consider.

Man Utd
Lindegaard, Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra, Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck
Subs: De Gea, Berbatov, Giggs, Park, Hernandez, Fabio, Pogba.

Lindegaard got his second straight start and could well be emerging as a close-to-must-own player if he indeed holds onto that job full time. Unfortunately, there's no real way to know for sure what Ferguson will do but if you're planning to wildcard this week, it's worth considering pairing him with Vorm (who you can start almost every week anyway) and then simply cut him when the situation becomes messy again. You can get similar value with Jonny Evans who should get plenty of minutes himself with Vidic done for the year and Smalling and Jones unable to regain their fitness. Even when that pair return, Ferguson has shown faith in Evans before and the first choice backline could well involve Evans and Jones alongside Ferdinand and Evra. A somewhat risky strategy with significant upside would be to grab Evans and Lindegaard now and ride them while you can, though you will of course then be limited with decent replacement options if and when they drop out of the side.

Going forward the important names remain unchanged and while Welbeck is tempting, it's tough to waste a United slot on a player who will likely only feature, at best, two of every three weeks (and that's probably optimistic).

Krul, Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, R Taylor, Guthrie, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Best, Shola Ameobi
Subs: Elliot, Ben Arfa, Abeid, Perch, Gosling, Obertan, Ferguson.

Newcastle notched their 3rd clean sheet in the last six games, continuing their trend as one of the best budget defenses around. I wasn't convinced they would bounce back from the loss of S Taylor but they've been okay since then, if a bit inconsistent. If you look at who the clean sheets have come against, they've tended to be the weaker sides (Man Utd last week and Arsenal in GW1 aside) but that's actually a good thing for fantasy managers, who will find it easier to predict their successes in the future. The whole back line is well settled, though Santon won't always play, presuming Taylor's midfield deployment is not permanent. Going forward this side obviously loses a lot without Ba and the best other two options (Cabaye and Ben Arfa) were injured and benched. This team is a defense only unit until further notice (or if Cabaye is declared fit).

Ruddy, Martin, Whitbread, Ayala, Naughton, Johnson, Pilkington, Surman, Hoolahan, Morison, Jackson
Subs: Steer, Drury, Crofts, Holt, Fox, Bennett, Wilbraham.

This midfield unit continues to frustrate, well, their unpredictable selection does anyway. All four players selected this week have scored a couple of goals already this year (with Pilkington adding five) but yet none of them have been able to earn a guaranteed place in the side. Johnson has the most shots, Pilkington has the most on target (and goals) while Hoolahan has the most key passes (and assists). You can take this to mean that they are all ownable but I take it as that none of them are.

Kenny, Young, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Hill, Wright-Phillips, Derry, Buzsaky, Mackie, Helguson, Bothroyd
Subs: Cerny, Orr, Hall, Campbell, Smith, Ephraim, Macheda.

QPR were a little unlucky here, out shooting Newcastle 15-9 and enjoying 55% of the possession. Unfortunately the best chances fell to Bothroyd, who does some things well but is far from clinical. We'll see how Hughes changes the way he deploys the team and who he brings in during the transfer window (Santa Cruz anyone?) but as things stand there is limited value in this side, other than the spot-startable Helguson.

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

This is a fairly predictable side now, with Woodgate's fitness being the only real concern. With a couple of clean sheets in the last four gameweeks, perhaps we are starting to see a return to the form which made Shawcross and co useful options in the past couple of years. The stats suggest they were somewhat fortuitous to pickup a clean sheet this week (they had just 40% of the possession and were out shot 13-3) but Sorensen was credited with just two saves so all that possession didn't lead to much for Liverpool. The relevant attacking options in this side are pretty settled but I would issue a word of caution for all the managers piling on Walters as they play their wildcards. Per ESPN, in the last 10 league games he has registered just three shots on target (14 total) so while he did convert two of those into goals, that kind of conversion rate is unsustainable and unless Stoke change their style of play, he is a regression candidate for the second half of the year.

Mignolet, Bardsley, Kilgallon, O'Shea, Richardson, Larsson, Cattermole, Vaughan, McClean, Sessegnon, Bendtner
Subs: Westwood, Turner, Gardner, Wickham, Ji, Meyler, Elmohamady.

This was a bit of an odd team selection with Kilgallon and O'Shea starting at centre back despite Turner being available. Without Brown and Bramble (I can't believe I'm saying this), you can't rely on this unit for clean sheets and I'd keep away for the next few weeks until that situation shakes out. With Swansea and Norwich at home it is tempting to try and buy in but I would suggest that is risky given the rotation this team has endured. Sessegnon has received some attention of late (less than Walters though) but I like his chances of continuing his first half form given the number of changes he is receiving each week.

Vorm, Rangel, Caulker, Williams, Taylor, Dyer, Agustien, Britton, Allen, Sinclair, Graham
Subs: Tremmel, Routledge, Monk, Lita, Moore, Richards, Sigurdsson.

A great win for Swansea and while they did concede twice, that was the first time that happened at home all year and so we won't downgrade this defensive unit on one game. They looked very composed going forward and moved the ball around well, but the problem is still (much like Norwich above) that the midfield can all produce and thus it's hard to harness their fantasy potential. Sinclair's penalties are a boost to his value and his 16 shots on target rank second only to Graham, making him the safest (but also the priciest of the midfield options) pick. He's never really going to rack up the assists though with both Gower and Allen looking better in that department. Dyer is somewhere in between the group and probably represents the best value, given his ability to contribute across all categories. Sigurdsson looked good off the bench, particularly on set pieces, and is worth monitoring over the coming weeks.

Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Parker, Modric, Bale, Adebayor, Van der Vaart
Subs: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Defoe, Bassong, Kranjcar, Rose, Livermore.

The team was as expected but this was a bit of a let down for Spurs following their attacking disappointment of the double gameweek. I'm still very much on the Bale, Van der Vaart and Adebayor bandwagons but just remember that these guys aren't quite at the City/United level, at least over prolonged periods of time. Also remember to note that Adebayor is unavailable next week (against his parent club).

West Brom
Foster, Jara Reyes, McAuley, Dawson, Shorey, Morrison, Scharner, Mulumbu, Thomas, Odemwingie, Cox
Subs: Fulop, Mattock, Long, Dorrans, Thorne, Tamas, Fortune.

Regular minutes or not, there's very little to be excited about here. I like Odemwingie a lot but at 7.2m he is just too expensive considering the lack of goals in this side. I'd prefer a Graham or Morison plus ~2m unless West Brom bring in a couple of bodies to help create more chances for this side.

Hennessey, Foley, Johnson, Berra, Ward, Kightly, Frimpong, Henry, Jarvis, Edwards, Fletcher
Subs: De Vries, Elokobi, Stearman, Ebanks-Blake, Hunt, Milijas, Doyle.

He just scores goals. If only he would play every week. Only Ba has scored more goals than Fletcher over their last 10 appearances but yet he is still regularly rotated for Doyle, who has two goals despite playing 250 minutes more than Fletcher. He has played more of late though (only one sub appearance in the last nine gameweeks) and given his price and hence value, I think he is very ownable as a third striker. With three of the next four at home (and the other against a so-so QPR side) Fletcher (2% owned) looks like a very nice replacement for anyone stuck holding the Africa-bound Ba. There's not much else to get excited here as this defense is mediocre and the midfield has talent but lacks a potential star in O'Hara's absence. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Gameweek 21 Preview

Captain Picks
Those top four teams look pretty appealing and when you throw the ever present Van Persie to the mix, you have good depth in captain options for this week.

I've been working on some data for an upcoming post, looking at the percentage of goals each player accounts for (counting goals and assists). I hope this will make the above goalscoring forecasts more useful in that, if Arsenal are projected to score 2 goals and City are projected to score 2.3, you might still favour Van Persie as your captain over Aguero if you knew that he accounts for 64% of the Gunners goals (and is thus forecast to account for 1.28 goals) where as Aguero's percentage is just 38% and so he is forecast to account just 0.86 goals.A full post is to come on this, but I start to reference the stats below, as I try to make the captain more picks for quantitative, rather than just the standard, "Rooney is good, Bolton are crap' you get elsewhere.

Wayne Rooney
Rooney already has a hat trick against the Wanderers this year and as a long suffering Bolton fan, I can tell you he has piled the misery of the Whites several times before. United have the best fixture of the week and Rooney has enough rest of late to suggest he'll start here without too much risk. He's accounted for 35% of United's goals when he's played (pulled down by his poor assist numbers) which gives him a rating of 0.855 in this one. He's probably the safest play of the week.

Nani has accounted for 13 goals versus Rooney's 15 so there isn't as big of a difference as you might think. That gives him a rating of 0.664 for the week. It's been a quiet couple of weeks for Nani but those two double gameweeks still lurk in recent memory and his form over the last 8 gameweeks (6.6 P90) rate ahead of everyone aside from Demba Ba. The downside with captaining Nani is always his inconsistency as you hate to pickup just 2 points from your captain. The standard deviation of his scores this year comes in at 5.5, second only to Lampard. 

Sergio Aguero
Aguero continues his excellent season at City and few others can match his upside or consistency. When he's played he has accounted for 38% of City's goals this year, a higher total than Rooney, which is surprising given the strength of depth of attacking options in this talented City side. This gives him a rating of 0.844 for the week. The last few weeks have been feast or famine for Aguero so he does come with some risk, especially as he's on the road where as most of the other options here have home games.

David Silva
You're paying here for consistency rather than upside. The Spanish wizard has just two double digit gameweeks, but on the other hand, he's only failed to score more than appearance points once when starting the game. Despite City's abundance of talent, Silva has still managed to account for 29% of their goals, giving him a rating of 0.643 for the week. He does come with some fitness worries for the week though, which obviously hurts his 'consistency' tag and thus he isn't as good a pick as normal.

Emmanuel Adebayor
Ade broke some hearts last week (your humble blogger included) as he managed just 4 points in the double gameweek. That said, he's still accounting for 41% of Spurs' goals which gives him a rating of 0.791 for the week. He's had successful scores in seven of the last 11 gameweeks thus making him one of the more consistent options around. He's played virtually every minute in the league this year so, glass half full, he's a lock to start, glass half empty, he's due a rest (and with City coming up next week, now might be a tempting time to do it).

Gareth Bale
Bale's production of late is pretty much the definition of boom or bust with scores of 13-2-0-4-16-1-12 over the past seven gameweeks. That said, those big gameweeks came against Bolton (H), Norwich (A) and West Brom (H) / Everton (H) so Wolves at home would appear to be another golden opportunity for another big haul (indeed Wolves have a worse road defense than all those teams).Bale has had a hand in 35% of Spurs goals this year giving him a rating of 0.685 for the week.

Rafael Van der Vaart
The thing I like best about statistical research is when you find a (usually trivial) small piece of data that surprises you. For example, Van der Vaart has scored or assisted 38% of Spurs' goals when he's played, ahead of Gareth Bale who has been (rightly) hailed as one of the best players in the league this year (this gives him a rating of 0.740 for the week). Of course, Bale's form has led to more fantasy points but when the Dutchman has played he's been even better in fantasy terms with a P90 of 6.6 versus Bale's 6.0. That said, since his explosion in GWs 6-10 Van der Vaart has been pretty inconsistent and thus it's tough to put him alongside some of the other elite options until he shows he is fully fit and ready to contribute.

Juan Mata
Mata probably isn't a captain option just yet but he's clearly showing signs of fulfilling the potential we thought he had coming into the season. He's accounting for 31% of Chelsea's goals which is ahead of the likes of Nani and Silva, though he is of course limited by Chelsea's underwhelming form (perhaps weakened still by the departure of Drogba to the ACN). He does however have one thing in his favour: a home fixture; and the list of regular starters who've managed to top his 7.4 P90 average at home is limited to Aguero, Ba, Van Persie, Silva and Rooney - a who's who of captain options. I'm not quite there yet with Mata given the good fixtures enjoyed by the other top teams (as reflected by his 0.542 rating) but he's earned his place on this list and could move up in future weeks if the fixtures fall more kindly.

Robin Van Persie
It's not often we take this long to get to Van Persie but the fixture just simply isn't very promising. Swansea's home form may be the biggest story of the year as they've notched 6 clean sheets and haven't yet conceded more than a single goal, despite already facing United and Spurs.Van Persie has been basically as good away from home (7.7 P90) as at the Emirates (7.8 P90) so there's no reason to be too concerned there. He's also gone to Chelsea and Villa, who have decent home records and enjoyed success so let's not write him off just yet. I wouldn't be worried about captaining Van Persie in any gameweek but this is one where there might be better options available. His 0.765 rating is still good, but perhaps not the elite level we've seen in past weeks.

I will expand on the ratings used above over the weekend and as always continue to send your questions to @plfantasy or post them below in the comments and I'll try to answer as many as possible by the deadline.

Finally, a big thanks for all the kind words following the announcement of my guest spot at Fantasy Football Scout. Things will continued as before here, but I hope anyone who doesn't already read FFS will check out my, and all the other, work over there in the coming weeks,

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fantasy Football Scout

In case anyone missed today's announcement, I've been lucky enough to be invited to write some guest posts over at Fantasy Football Scout. I'm sure everyone who reads this humble blog is well aware of the awesomeness of FFS, but if not then I whole heartedly recommend the site as a daily must read.

Nothing will change here and I'll continue to post the weekly preview, lineup lessons and other ramblings you've grown accustomed too. My posts at FFS will be a mixture between free to all and members only, and I'll link to them from here (and note whether you need to be a member or not).

I'll also continue to ramble on Twitter @plfantasy - something I recommend for all. It may not sound like everyone's thing but even if you never post, it's a great way to follow the news and keep up to date without trawling sites every day.

Anyway, thanks for everyone's continued support and I look forward to the remainder of the season which is shaping up nicely.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The form fallacy

Any time one of the league's better players struggles for goalscoring form and then breaks his drought, you will inevitably hear the commentator point out that while his poor 'form' was temporary, his class is permanent. We aren't here to perform autopsies on former stars of previous decades to suggest their class was anything but permanent, but instead we will examine the very notion of 'form' and how this is reflected in a player's goalscoring record (and hence fantasy success).

A player is described as being 'in form' under two distinct scenarios. The first is where a (rare) commentator has actually watched all of that players' games, assessed his overall performance and concluded that he is playing up to his full potential. The second, and much more common occurrence, is where an 'expert', or more pertinently here, a fantasy manager, will assess that a player is in form because he's scored a couple of goals in the last few weeks.

We are obviously interested in the second scenario, and more precisely, whether players score more goals following a game in which they found the back of the net. We will expand the analysis to assess the likelihood of a player scoring following a scoring streak of one, two and three games.

The madness in the method
We want to ascertain how often a player follows up a goal scoring performance with another goal scoring performance, and then how this compares to their standard goal scoring rate. We will look at how often players follow one, two and three game scoring streaks to try and identify the value of 'form'.

Scoring Games (SG)
Scored in next game

Back to back SG
Scored in next game

Three in a row SG
Scored in next game

As expected, scoring last week does not have much predictive value for scoring this week (just 15%). The first lesson then is to not chase points based on a single performance alone. If a player is a recent signing or has suddenly been deployed in a new position his goalscoring may be indicative of future success, but chances are the predictive value is low.

If a player has scored in back-to-back games (or even three in a row), on first glance it appears that there is fairly strong evidence that his success will continue in the next fixture (31%). However, the proportion of goals scored by the top players is obviously disproportionately high and so you need to see the rate at which each player normally scores goals to understand the context.

The below table shows the 'streakiest' players from last year, based on the difference between the rate at which they normally score goals ('Score %') and the rate at which they scored a goal following a goal in the prior week (GW1%), having scored in back-to-back games (GW2 %) or following a scoring streak of three games (GW3%):

Not the worst list of players but aside from Meireles (who scored in 5 straight games and then never again), Adam and Kuyt the majority of the group failed to continue their 'form' across all three categories and thus we have to doubt if there's anything more to their streaks than blind luck and random chance.

Top guns
Rather than look at random players, let's turn our attention to the league's top scorers and see if any of them showed a propensity for hot streaks:

In short, there is very little correlation here. Some players had success in the games following goals, but nothing really to a degree that indicates other than a normal distribution of results. It seems that the only players who consistently showed a higher likelihood of following up a scoring performance with a goal played for Liverpool with the aforementioned Meireles, Kuyt and Adam joined by Maxi Rodriguez here. That may say as much about that team as the individual players though, and could be a separate avenue worth exploring (does a team's form or their opponents' strength dictate the result more?).

This season
Has anything changed this year? Are we seeing any different trends of predictable players? Is the world really going to end?

The top two names obviously stand out as a couple of elite players who have shown a strong tendency to follow up scoring performances with another, whether looking at a scoring streak of one, two or three games. However, Van der Vaart actually just has the one streak of five games, while Rooney has two streaks of five and three games respectively. Considering a distinct lack of 'streakiness' last year, it is therefore tough to read too much into these numbers.

The point here is not to get into individual players but to focus on the fact that, if you measure 'form' in terms of goalscoring, there is little evidence to really suggest that players consistently get 'hot'. There isn't any evidence to suggest you should shy away from players who scored last week either (indeed it is probably foolish to bench a Rooney or Aguero coming off a good game) but you should be thinking twice about bringing a player in based on a 10 point fantasy gameweek which was built on a goal from a single shot on target and the inevitable three bonus points that follow. Even two or three game scoring streaks can be fools gold if not backed up by sustainable underlying stats (shots on goal, particularly those on target).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Reader Questions

@McShambles Is Elliott Bennett worth a punt as my 5th midfielder now that Brunt is injured? Two assists in last two games for Norwich and 4.8

No one in that Norwich side has been able to lock into the first team and with just two starts since GW12 I don't think Bennett is the answer here. I still like B Johnson the most from the Canaries but would still rank him behind Moses and Faurlin who remain atop my budget mid list. Gower has fallen away having struggled to log consistent minutes over the Christmas period.

@CSJDKK will u be making a list of prem players going to the African Cup?
I will try and do a post on this, but in the mean time, Fantasy Football Scout has a nice summary here.

nsj91 - Chris (or anyone else for that matter).. do you have any suggestions on the ideal week to play the january wildcard?
It's going to be subjective based on your team's performance and injuries but given that we only have 3 gameweeks to use the extra wildcard, if you need to make changes, do so now. We have 18 gameweeks yet to go and assuming you still have both wildcards left, you want to maximise both of them. It therefore makes sense to break the fixtures into two groups (say, GW21-30 and GW30-38) and plan to use your wildcards to capitalise on both. If you only have the freebie left then you need to plan for the entire season and can make less short term decisions (such as looking at someone like Torres who will greatly benefit from the African Cup of Nations).

DtotheT - what would your opinion be on losing Aguero for Yakubu? Obviously frees up a serious amount of funds i.e. allows Sessegnon for Tiote, Kompany for Gabbiddon. I already have Silva Bale Nani Van Persie and Adebayor.
I don't consider Aguero to be a must own player but I'd be wary of downgrading to Yakubu to then only grab solid performers with the freed up funds. The elite players have been just that this year and I would suggest having several stars and a group of scrubs is a better way to go than stacking your team with mid range options. It's far from guaranteed that a Sessegnon will significantly outscore the mids available in that ~5m group, and while I still like City's defence, they don't necessarily represent amazing value over some of the less-fancied teams (Swansea) or some of the budget options available at the big teams (Evans). Given the quality of your other players, it might be that your bench is really stretched thin and thus the move makes sense, but as a general rule I'd lean towards more, not less, stars.

Chris - Is it really advisable to keep the likes of Phil Jones and Richards/Kompany at the same time? Looking at the top teams, it seems that most put more emphasis on midfield and forward and stack the back with budget defenders. 
This is one of the decisions that will define the second half. Historically you need to have coverage of at least a couple of the elite sides. Ideally you would get this via cheaper routes (like Enrique at the start of the season and Evans at the moment) but leaning too heavily on the Swansea's on the world tended to be a bad idea. However, the inconsistency of the big sides is a concern and the likes of Kompany or Jones are no longer guaranteed consistently high returns.

United and City are still 1st and 3rd in clean sheets though so in terms of absolute points I still they deserve ownership. The issue of value is a different question and one that turns on where else you will use that cash. I would absolutely take a ~6m defender and a ~4.5m midfielder than a ~4.5m defender and a ~6m midfielder as I really don't see much improvement in the midfield options until you get to the 6.5m range. Sessegnon and Walters are the pick of the mid-range midfielders but they both cost as much as Kompany and have just a couple more points. Kompany's future production is much more predictable and thus I'd still prefer to own him from that group.

I will try and find a way to quantify these thoughts and put them into a more coherent post, but in short, I think the City/United defenders remain good value, but not the must own players they once were.

Vanilla - it seems to me that although the quantity of clean sheets to go around may be similar to previous years, they are difficult to predict this season. Is there any easy way to take this analysis, Chris, and scrub against your "gameweek preview" data?
This is a great idea, and something I thought about doing last year but never got around to doing. I will compare the expected goals per game with the actual result which will give us an idea of which teams are the most 'predictable'. A team who gets a predictable 6 clean sheets will have just as much value as a great team who get 9 clean sheets but do so in games in which you'd never start them (vs United, at Arsenal etc) but will likely come at a lower price.

Vanilla - What's everyone's take on Thierry Henry ? Seems like he might get a few games: the coach loves him, and a 2month loan deal is a welcome extra-man for rotating players that need a day off
It's going to take all my self restraint not to chase Henry but given that Chamakh was priced at 8.0m it's likely that the legend's price tag will be simply too high to consider. I don't watch MLS enough to know what kind of pace Henry has maintained but it's doubtful he can explode back on the scene in just 2 months to justify a price tag higher than Ba or Dzeko.
Remember the above paragraph when Henry scores against Leeds on Monday and I add a new post saying he is a must own player. I CANNOT be trusted when it comes to the great one!

Wildcard proposals

Current team
Vorm, Given : Assou-Ekkoto, Jones, Enrique, Evans, N Taylor : Silva, Valencia, Bale, Dyer, Tiote : Van Persie, Aderbayor, Morrison

Proposed team
Vorm, Hennessey : Assou-Ekkoto, Jones, Enrique, Simpson, N Taylor : Silva, Valencia, Bale, Sessegnon, Dyer : Van Persie, Aderbayor, Sturridge

On paper, Vorm and Hennessey make a good but not great combo, though Stooshermadness makes a solid point in that Hennessey can be bailed out by his save totals. With Vorm being so good this year it makes sense to pair him with a cheaper option as he will probably play 60%+ of your games (basically every home game and some road games against the weaker sides). I like the potential of Sunderland under O'Neil and might therefore go with Mignolet but I like the proposed move too.

I still like Assou Ekotto for the medium term, though I'd agree that Spurs hit a tricky spot from GW26 onwards and thus you'll need a backup plan for him if you keep him here. I might be tempted to hang on to Evans given United's next fixture (Bolton H) though I understand this a a risk and so I wouldn't argue with making this move either. Again I like Stoosher's idea to flip Jones to Evans, though this will depend on (a) how much money you lose on Jones as if you bought him at 5.5m you won't be able to get him back without wasting money and (b) how you can use the money saved.

I like the midfield with Silva and Bale looking like sure-fire bets right now. Dyer has been up and down but I like him considering you probably have him at 4.5m. I like Sessegnon but I think Valencia is overpriced given his deployment as an emergency right back and the imminent return of Young who will steal some minutes back. His underlying stats aren't particularly impressive and I would much rather have Dempsey if your budget will stretch.

It's tough to argue with that front three which looks great and gives you three players who you feel comfortable starting every week (Sturridge is even more valuable with Drogba departing for the ACN).

It's a great looking team but the overall caveat I would add which applies to everyone is to consider differentiation too. You of course want to pick players who have performed well, but also those who you like to have a big second half. There aren't any particular red flags here but it is worth bearing in mind.

Current team
Vorm, Ruddy : Enrique, Jones, BAE, Evans, Senderos : Bale, Nani, Silva, Osman, Drenthe : Ade, Ba RVP

Proposed team
Vorm, Sorensen : Enrique, Jones, BAE, Shotton, Kelly : Bale, Nani, Silva, Dempsy, Sessegnon : Adebayor, Yak, RVP

Vorm and Sorensen make a really nice pair though you have some risk in that Begovic might regain his place at some point. That wouldn't necessarily put me off though and I like the upgrade over Ruddy for the money. I agree with ditching Senderos but I'm not sure Kelly is a long term solution either. Baird and Hughes are big threats to play RB too and I'd say at this point you really need to either pay for Riise or switch Sorensen to Stockdale. Shotton is tempting given his price but I'm not sure you want two Stoke defenders given their two clean sheets in the last 13 gameweeks. I would prefer to double up on Swansea (N Taylor or Caulker) or go with Newcastle (Simpson).

I love the midfield and my only word of caution would be that you don't have any differentiation. It's hard to balance between not chasing historical points but yet also not being too cute with your selections and the safest move is definitely the path you have taken. Be mindful though that your unlikely to catch the leaders with these selections.

The front line is good again, especially considering the fact that Yakubu is essentially relegated to the bench in most weeks as your midfield is so strong. In terms of value and pure production Ade and RvP might be the best two forwards to select at the moment.

Mitchell Sterling
Proposed team
Vorm, Stockdale : Kompany, Enrique, Evans, McAuley, Caulker, Bale, Silva, Walters, Sessegnon, Moses, Van Persie, Aguero, Adebayor

There's no arguing with any of your selection as while I'm not keen on West Brom's defense, McAuley is clearly your third sub and thus will rarely play.

My gut says that there will be better players than Walters and Sessegnon in the second half, as those mid-range options rarely deliver a full great season. Both are deployed further up the field than their classification though so they could well be exceptions to that trend. I might be tempted to go with Dempsey and a budget midfielder which as you will often have the opportunity to play a 4-3-3 when Caulker has a good fixture. You need a strong bench but it's tough to bench ~6.5m players on a regular basis.

Thanks for all the questions this week. Keep them coming and I'll try and answer another round with next week's GW21 preview. I have a few other pieces due this week including some wildcard thoughts and the aforementioned words on the African Cup of Nations.