Friday, August 17, 2012

The Changing Landscape, or, what to do with Robin van Persie?

The best part of this time of year as a fan is that almost anything is possible and things can change dramatically in a heartbeat. The worst part about this time of the year as a fantasy manager is that almost anything is possible and things can change dramatically in a heartbeat.

After putting together a high level team preview for the league's elite, United finally concluded their drawn out negotiations for Robin van Persie thus having a massive impact on both United and Arsenal's lineup for the upcoming year. With the season so close and with so many questions still unanswered (indeed the transfer hasn't even gone through yet) we can only hope to clear up what we do know to avoid costly mistakes right out of the gate. I've put together some quick thoughts on the key players this impacts, though to be honest, we aren't going to know too much until Van Persie has played a few games for United.

Robin van Persie (13.0m)
I don't think anyone can say for sure how van Persie will be impacted but there are a number of things in play which will balance out to a degree, but their collective impact is debatable:
  • Van Persie will no longer be the focal point of the offense and will likely have less chances per game
  • He may lose penalty duties, though United haven't had anyone dominant from the spot so this one is at least arguable. The same could be said for set pieces
  • The chances he gets could be of a higher quality with more 'easy' goals, rather than having to do it all himself
  • Rooney played superbly with Ronaldo and Tevez, forming one of the best offensive sides in the Premier League era.
  • However, in that trio only Ronaldo managed to top 14 goals in a single season (17 in 2006/07 and 31 in 2007/08) so unless you have van Persie making an Ronaldo-esque impact, a decline, perhaps significant, in goals is surely likely.
  • Van Persie has averaged 9 assists over the last four seasons so there is room for improvement playing in a team who scored 15 more goals than Arsenal last season.
  • The key number may be 3331 - the number of minutes played by Van Persie last season. Rooney managed 2830 with Welbeck (2012) and Hernandez (1477) making up another season's worth of games. I would never expect any player to play every week (I base calculations on an optimistic 34) but you have to think Van Persie's ceiling is 30 barring injury to anyone else. Significantly, the rotation could come against the weaker sides that Van Persie devoured last year.
On balance I think there are more negatives than positives though I don't see this as a major downgrade for Van Persie. However, as someone who already felt he was a touch overpriced at 13.0m, any further negatives just push him further from my thoughts. He's going to look great at some point, there's no doubt in my mind, and will very likely be right up in scoring charts come season's end. But with a price tag of 1.5m more than Aguero, I kind of feel that he's lost two of his biggest advantages (guaranteed minutes and set piece dominance) over the City man and thus he looks like he should be priced about the same. As the season progresses and budgets swell that 1.5m may be easier to cover, but out of the gates I think it can probably be better deployed elsewhere.

Wayne Rooney (12.0m)
As noted above, we have a partially useful case study here as Rooney has been deployed with two world class talents before. In 2007-2009 Rooney played alongside Ronaldo and Tevez with the below results:

2007-08 2008-09
Team Goals 80 66
Ronaldo 31 in 31(3) 18 in 31(2)
Rooney 12 in 25(2) 12 in 25(5)
14 in 31(3)
5 in 18(11)

I'm not going to draw absolute conclusions from the above but it is enough to make me pause on Rooney's prospects a bit more than I did a week ago. Of the available forwards, Rooney seems the most likely to be deployed in a deeper role, where his fantasy totals could suffer (though hardly be extinguished). Again, I'm not saying these stats form a conclusive statistical study, but looking at the data for last season depending on where Rooney played, we get:

4-4-2 Fwd
4-4-2 Mid
4-5-1 Fwd
4-5-1 Mid


*The 'Fwd' and 'Mid' notation describes where Rooney played the majority of the game, per ESPN.

Now, we have to be careful here as in a couple of instances Rooney actually played a fairly traditional 4-4-2 midfielder role, rather than merely a deeper forward, but with a glut of attacking options up front and on the wings together with a somewhat limited group in the middle, I don't think we can say for sure this situation won't arise again.

Rooney is possibly the hardest player to forecast after this move as while van Persie will likely score fewer goals, we can have a sensible estimate as to how the goals will shared out and then take into account a possible rise in assists and make a final assessment. Rooney however could either (i) benefit from a new talented teammate and match last season's haul, (ii) lose some shots / set pieces and hence some fantasy value or (iii) be deployed in a deeper role more often and become drastically less valuable for fantasy owners. In all likelihood it's going to be scenario (ii) with the odd game where (i) or (iii) apply but nevertheless that's added risk to a player who seemed pretty locked in just a few days ago.

Lukas Podolski (8.5m)
The impact here is clear and Podolski might be the biggest beneficiary of the deal. I originally had Van Persie leading the line with Podoloski, Cazorla and Walcott behind him but that left Giroud out in the cold, not to mention the likes of Chamberlain, Gervinho and Ramsey. With the Dutchman departed, Podolski now looks like an even better buy as he is more likely to lead the line rather than being pushed out wide and should benefit from a wealth of talent around him, not to mention the fact that penalty duties are now up for grabs.

Over his last three seasons with FC Koln, Podolski has hit the target with 34% of his shots, with 42% of those on target making the net bulge. Now, the Bundesliga is a different (though for me, comparable) league to the Premier League and Podolski isn't Robin van Persie, but still, if you consider van Persie's 174 shots from last season, a quick bit of arithmetic can quickly get you to Podolski threatening the 20 goal mark even with regression built in at each stage. Apparently he has a 'very good chance' of making the team for the opener against Sunderland but there is some risk there so if you're considering Podolski be sure to check the team news before the transfer deadline. On a medium-long term basis though, I liked Podolski before and this has probably made him even more attractive. For what it's worth he is currently pencilled into my opening day XI.

Danny Welbeck / Javier Hernandez
Simple: this pair are simply unownable. United deployed three front men just three times last season, and even then it was with Rooney is the unusual deeper role. Barring injury or a fairly drastic shift in philosophy this pair simply aren't going to get enough minutes to earn sufficient fantasy points to justify their still lofty price tags.

United midfielders
Net, this group is arguably unchanged as while they have another quality player to aim at in the attacking third, the chance of rotation increases further as Van Persie and Welbeck could each vulture minutes in the wide role of a 4-5-1 / 4-2-3-1. If you can get the timing right someone from this group is undoubtedly going to have a big season but if I was unsure who to back a week ago, I'm obviously not going to make such a pick now. I took a little bit of stick last preseason for suggesting Nani would lead the wingers in games played (which he did if you exclude Valencia's defensive minutes) and I still believe that pair are a cut above Young, who remains a frustrating player. I don't know where Kagawa fits into the pecking order though and thus I'm minded to steer well clear until further notice.

Olivier Giroud
I'm afraid my knowledge of Giroud is limited to YouTube clips and Football Manager so I can't present any great insight as to how he fits in here. He's obviously more of a 'classic' forward than Arsenal's other options and thus could wind up leading the line with Podolski forced out wide once more. That said, Arsenal have had traditional forwards before and none of them have really established themselves in the lineup every week, with Wenger leaning towards options who offer more flexibility and fluidity. It's not that Giroud is Franny Jeffers, it's just that of the pair of new arrivals, Podolski has a slightly better pedigree and obviously fits in with what Arsenal have done in the past. Van Persie's departure obviously clears a large amount of minutes for Giroud and co but I still prefer Podolski over his French teammate.


Rob Tite said...

Hi, Chris. Great blogging as ever. You've even made me consider people I never would have. I wonder if you'll be doing a piece on formations at some point? Do you think there is an optimum one?
All the best,

footballfan said...

Completely agree with you there, will be a shame to see such a great future English talent in Welbeck not getting much football this season.

footballfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven said...

What about the possibility of a 4-3-3 for United.. that'll put Welbeck in there more often then not.

NovaHammer said...

Any thoughts on Saha also a recent change ...

Noah Kidron-Style said...

Shwtz, Minglolet

Fonte, Fabio, Cole, Gibbs, Colloccini

Lamps, Kagawa, Nani, Carloza, Maloney

Giroud, Tevez, Graham

.5 in the bank for tinkering (Lamps>gerrard/bale, Graham>Cisse, Carloza>Wallcott)?

Possible solution to Roo/RVP debate. Have neither with two MUFC mids. Brave or just stupid?

Tom Shaw said...

Hi Chris, fantastic blog. Been reading everything youve written since 2011 and I only found your website 2 weeks ago. Will you be posting your team selection prior to EPL 1130 deadline?