Thursday, August 16, 2012

Team Previews Part IV: The Others

Warning: some of the following lineups may cause severe depression and bewilderment. Be assured that they are indeed Premier League lineups and take solace that we still have three weeks before the transfer deadline. If the below gets too depressing, check out the other previews for comfort:

The Elite
The Maybes
The Promoted

Aston Villa
Projected lineup: Given (5.0), Stevens (4.0), Clark (4.5), Vlaar (5.0), Lichaj (4.5), N'Zogbia (6.5), El Ahmadi (4.5), Holman (6.0), Delph (5.0), Weimann (5.5), Bent (8.5)

This lineup would be more settled if not for the one month or longer injuries to Agbonlahor and Dunne which make the opening lineup tricky to predict. Hutton and Warnock appear to deemed surplus to requirement with Stevens, Lichaj and Lowton apparently being left to fill the void. A new arrival is surely imminent with Aaron Cresswell widely regarded as the man to take the left back spot, but for now Stevens is pencilled in by default. Though this unit should improve under Lambert, I'm not sure I'm ready to spend 5.0m on anyone from this back line so we're really reliant on someone else locking down a spot before we can safely invest.

There's quantity in midfield if not quality though you'd imagine N'Zogbia and the two new arrivals will have fairly long leashes. No one from the group inspires much confidence though and we need to see who Lambert favors and how he deploys them before even considering investment here.

Up front Agbonlahor and Bent would normally pick themselves but in light of the injury, Weimann should get a chance to impress after a useful end to last season. Bent is always a fantasy consideration due to his consistent returns in recent years but his problem has always been that he doesn't contribute much outside of goals and in a team not exactly bursting with talent, they may be somewhat hard to come by. At 8.5m you are in range of players with higher upside (Tevez and Hernandez) as well as players on better teams who should enjoy significant minutes (Podolski and Ba) and thus Bent is somewhat caught in no man's land. We'll see what Lambert can bring to the team (remember, Holt scored 15 under him last season) but until we see big changes Bent's price is inflated by prior seasons and looks too rich for my taste.

Projected lineup: Howard (5.5), Baines (7.0), Jagielka (6.0), Heitinga (5.5), Hibbert (5.5), Fellaini (6.5), Osman (6.5), Pienaar (6.5), Coleman (5.0), Naismith (6.5), Jelavic (8.5)

I know many managers like Baines but as good as he is offensively (and don't get me wrong, he is right up there with Vermaelen in terms of attacking points potential), I'm just not sure anyone can generate enough points to justify his higher price tag. At 8.0m or close to it over the past couple of seasons I thought Baines was a crazy purchase, but at 7.0m it is at least close. With Heitinga coming in at 5.5m, you need Baines to score about 40 points more to break even, based on the points per million spent required to achieve a 2000 point season. 40 points is certainly achievable but Baines has only done it once (2010-11: 63 offensive points) and even then, if you give Heitinga a goal and an assist (9 points) you're still only looking at a 54 point margin which would seem to be about the ultimate upside. In fairness though, his offensive downside (barring injury) is probably around 30 points, or a 20 point gain on Heitinga. When I see those numbers though I see a player who will outscore Heitinga (or Hibbert/Distin if you so wish) by between 20 and 50 points but needs to top 40 just to break even. The downside therefore out weighs the upside and thus I'm struggling to justify investment on a value basis.

Sometimes you will wish to make an investment ignoring pure 'value' and instead just try and maximise your points (as is the case, for example, when picking your elite strikers) but I'm not sure that a defender from a mid table team is the place to engage such a strategy.

Outside of the defense I'm not sure I'm even monitoring anyone here other than perhaps Pienaar. Some will point to his 4 goals on his return to Everton in the 2nd half of last season but they came on just 8 shots on goal and I'm not sure he ever really had the kind of game that translated into fantasy success. Jelavic looks like a good player but he scored 9 goals on just 17 shots on target and is surrounded by a cast of players who are solid but hardly elite. At 8.5m he costs as much as Podolski and Bent as well as being 1.0m more than Ba. Of that foursome I would put him 4th by a distance, and that's before we get to the players on elite teams with huge upside like Tevez. At 7.5m I'd be interested but at 8.5m you're essentially already paying for his upside.

Projected lineup: Ruddy (4.5), Tierney (4.0), Turner (4.5), Martin (4.5), R.Bennett (4.0), Howson (5.0), Hoolahan (6.0), Pilkington (6.0), Bennett (5.0), Snodgrass (6.0)Holt (6.5)

Norwich had a number of useful players last year but Lambert was fond of rotating them and thus few emerged as legitimate fantasy assets. In comes Chris Houghton, a more, shall we say, traditional manager, who may bring some stability to the side and may allow some of these well priced assets to excel.

Defensively we need to note Ruddy and Tierney simply because they look likely to play and come at the lowest price among starters. Neither get the pulse racing but (and I know it's only pre season), Norwich have been very good defensively over the summer; perhaps a sign that Houghton will put a bigger emphasis on defense than his predecessor.

Hoolahan and Pilkington are players who might have some value at some point if the fixtures fall well but I'm not sure I see either as likely to match last year's goal per minutes rate. Snodgrass is, for me, the intriguing pick here as he should play the majority of games and has even been deployed behind the front man a couple of times in the pre season. Snodgrass isn't a prolific scorer but he's shown a good touch in front of goal while with Leeds as well as showing some ability at set pieces. I don't see him having huge upside but something like 6 goals and 6 assists wouldn't be out of the question which would push him nicely into the ~120 point range.

Up top Morison will get some games and Houghton could still move back to a 4-4-2 making him intriguing simply because of his budget price (5.5m). Until then though it's Holt or bust, whose price has been kept surprisingly low given last season's goal haul. Like the market makers though, I'm not convinced he can repeat, but, over 30 games he only needs 130 points to represent sufficient value to get you to 2000 points and he was on pace for 166 over that period last season so there's room for regression. At 6.5m there isn't huge scope for upside here but equally he will play almost every week when healthy and is one of the better finishers in the league. I think of him as a poor man's Darren Bent and that is fine for 6.5m

Projected lineup: Green (4.5), Fabio (4.5), Ferdinand (4.5), Nelsen (4.0), Onuoha (4.5), Hoilett (6.5), Park (6.0), Faurlin (5.0), Wright Phillips (5.5), Taarabt (6.0), Cisse (6.5)

I debated this lineup on Twitter and though the discussions were interesting I'm not sure we were able to reach a conclusion as to what Hughes will do here. He's stockpiled a decent array of talent at Loftus Road but in doing so has caused fantasy managers a few headaches.

The back line looks fairly settled with Fabio apparently taking over the left back duties from Traore, who is now rumoured to be being shipped elsewhere. I'm not sure we've seen enough of Fabio while at United to conclude on his abilities but he should bring an decent offensive threat down the left channel and comes at a useful price. I generally exercise caution about managers picking their defenders based on attacking potential as without clean sheets they're almost guaranteed to underwhelm, but, Fabio is similarly priced to his teammates so I'd be happy taking a chance on him as my 4th or 5th defender on the assumption Hughes can make this team tighter at the back.

Nelsen could be even better as I believe he was originally priced as a Spurs player (where he would rarely, if ever, have played) and thus we get him at a discount. With Onuoha and Young both available at right back, there's no guarantees Nelsen will play as Onuoha could easily slip inside, as he has already done in the preseason. Needless to say though, if Hughes keeps his loyalty to his old mate Nelsen, he will be very good value at just 4.0m.

The front six is where things really get messy with 13 serious contenders all vying for a place in the first team. We don't need to dwell on everyone though as really we don't care who's going to play if no of them will contribute enough to be useful fantasy assets. I like Hoilett as a player quite a lot but at 6.5m his potential to be rotated and unclear positioning scares me away. Wright Phillips has had a good pre season but rumours of a loan move concern me and make me wonder how long he can hold down a place in the first team.

You have to think that Hughes is going to go with one up top quite often and while Zamora is more suited to that role, it would be surprising to see Cisse sit too often. At 6.5m I believe Cisse provides a good opportunity as while last season was blighted by red cards, he surely won't suffer that kind of misfortune again (he'd never been sent off before last season). He registered 6 goals on 12 shots on target last season in just 550 minutes which compares favorably his similarly priced colleagues such as Graham (2965, 12-34), Holt (2376, 15-33), Odemwingie (2405, 10-22) and Crouch (2914, 10-35). I don't buy Cisse as a super clinical striker by any stretch but if can generate shots at a similar rate this season he could hit the target 40+ times which even at a rate closer to his historic average should allow him to approach double digit goals. I worry about the lack of assists and the discipline can't be totally ignored but I'd certainly put him alongside, if not ahead of, the above foursome, all of whom currently have a higher ownership than Cisse.

After last season's debacle, I won't even be commenting on Taarabt until October.

Projected lineup: Begovic (4.5), Wilson (4.5), Shawcross (5.0), Huth (5.5), Wilkinson (4.5), Etherington (6.5), Cameron (4.5), Whitehead (4.5), Kightly (5.5), Walters (6.5), Crouch (6.5)

Anyone familiar with the book (or movie I suppose) Moneyball will no doubt remember the scene where the A's scouts dismiss prospective players based on their look alone (or a lack of 'the good face'). The good face can come in many guises: Cesc Fabregas looks like a top class centre mid with skill, pace and guile; Didier Drogba looks like a top class forward with power, pace and agression; Stoke players do not generally have the good face. Like their manager and the system he deploys they lack the appearance of what we believe world class athletes to look like and thus we perennially undervalue them.

The Stoke defense didn't have the best time last season with just 9 clean sheets but they return everyone in a useful unit and may yet strengthen if they can get a work permit sorted for Popov. If he can stay fit, Shawcross looks like a lock for ~110 points which translates to a P$ of 0.647, just about what we need on the quest for 2000 points. Even better would be if Wilkinson, Wilson or Popov can establish themselves as guaranteed starters at just 4.5m but I'm not convinced by that just yet. Between the sticks Begovic is, for me, the clear pick among 4.5m 'keepers and he makes an ideal backup to David de Gea or can form half of a promising rotation pair.

I like Etherington and Walters (and Kightly based on his price tag) but I believe we need to see how they will be deployed before getting overly excited here. Providing Pulis is still willing to deploy Walters just off Crouch, he should remain a useful asset here and I'm surprised his price was kept so low after a campaign of fairly high profile success last year. He isn't the most clinical player around but he did manage 69 shots last season, 19 on them target with 7 hitting the back of the net. If he can maintain those totals then another 120+ point season should be possible.

West Brom
Projected lineup: Foster (5.0), Ridgewell (5.0), Olsson (5.0), McAuley (5.0), Reid (5.0), Mulumbu (5.5), Yacob (5.0), Morrison (6.0), Brunt (6.0), Odemwingie (7.0), Lukaku (6.5)

It's tough to predict what we're going to see from this team with Hodgson gone but the good news is that the important pieces of this team look fairly settled. The back line has the promise to be solid rather than spectacular and without any 4.5m options I'm not sure I'm ready to get excited about any of these options. Olsson's combination of job security and little bit of offensive upside makes him the pick and West Brom's fixtures are good enough to make him worth bearing in mind.

The midfield looks a touch crowded but Morrison should get plenty of minutes and is now surrounded with plenty of talent to take his assist totals to new levels. At 6.0m I don't see him as a steal and would put him below several of his similarly priced colleagues though again, he's worth looking at given West Brom's useful looking fixtures.

Up front you have to think Odemwingie will play one way or another, although with Rosenberg and Lukaku brought in and Clarke appearing to favour a lone striker, the Nigerian could be pushed out wide and thus his goal prospects decrease somewhat. There isn't a huge amount of choice in the 7.0m range but given the risk involved, the likes of Holt, Cisse and even Graham may be safer than Odemwingie until we know a bit more about Clarke's plans.

Projected lineup: Al-Habsi (5.0), Figueroa (4.5), Ramis (4.5), Alcaraz (4.5), Boyce (5.0), Moses (7.0), McCarthy (5.0), Beausejour (5.5), Gomez (5.5), Di Santo (5.5), Kone (6.5)

In my weekly roundups last season I recall writing several times that this Wigan side had nothing to offer fantasy owners. In fairness, their defense isn't the worst around and they've added Ivan Ramis who should bring an extra layer of composure and experience to the unit. He and Figueroa can probably be thrown into the 4.5m lottery and the early home games might be good enough to pique our collective interest.

Older readers will know that Moses is - to borrow a phrase from ESPN's Matthew Berry - my fantasy kryptonite. If I back him he struggles, yet when I ignore him he explodes for points. I can't believe he will secure a move to Chelsea, and if he does, I fear he will go the same as Wright-Phillips and Parker. If he stays at Wigan then he has the benefit of playing with a bit more talent than prior year but for 7.0m you need him to compete with the likes of Cabaye and Sinclair along with new intriguing arrivals like Michu. Moses is a decent player but you need more than that to justify 7.0m and I just don't see much upside beyond what you're already paying.

Up top the situation looks a bit unclear and with a lack of sure things I'd stay away for now.


grahamj said...

Hi Chris,

Brilliant blog mate.

Do you any benefit in picking players for rotation benefits? Or is it not worth it and just pick the best value players regardless of how their fixtures gel together - on the assumption that you will be making transfers anyway?

Also do you not see any value in Noble at West Ham? Or Bpyce at Wigan playing as a wing-back?


Jeremy Wright said...

Thoughts on Miyachi's loan move to Wigan?

Arseshavin said...

Who plays instead of Brunt? I would imagine Brunt would be a shoe into the West Brom midfield.

Great post though.