Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gameweek 17 Preview

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Aguero Problem

Given the number of transfers already made (290k at the time of writing), this post is potentially too late, but for those Aguero owners who haven't yet pulled the trigger on a replacement, here are a few factors to consider before you do.

The Argentinian's absence seems to be being pegged anywhere between four and six weeks, which means he will almost certainly miss gameweeks 17-21 and his absence could potentially extend through GW22 or even 23 (with good squad depth City should be mindful not to push their talisman and risk further injury as seems to have been the case with Kompany in the past). With his return therefore scheduled to coincide with the middle of the second wildcard window, the cost to buy Aguero back should essentially be ignored and value for money for right now is a factor. This contradicts the situation if he was missing for just a week or two, in which case it might be worth eating his cost to sit on the bench rather than lose 0.5m when you are forced to buy him back in two weeks.

So if we accept that value is a consideration, the assumption that Rooney is the best (or only if you read some sources) option looks arguable (that's assuming, of course, you already own Suarez. If you don't, you should probably just stop reading and go grab the Liverpool front man).

Team Forecast
If we look at the team forecast for the next six weeks, Aguero's absence become an even bigger blow as the model loves City compared with everyone else in the league.

One can argue, perhaps, that their fortunes will take a hit without Aguero, though in Negredo (and possibly Dzeko) they have a ready made replacement so it's reasonable to conclude that they'd still place atop these rankings even if we could eliminate Aguero's impact. Though Rooney may personally have being playing better of late, the model is terrified of United's prospects and is pretty suspicious of a turnaround, aside from the promising returns for the next three easier games. Based on their team's prospects (which are probably more reliable than individual forecasts as they're predicated on larger shot samples), Negredo looks like the best play here, followed by Suarez, Giroud and then Rooney or Lukaku.

Individual Forecast
Ok, so if you don't have Luis Suarez, seriously, stop reading and go and buy him . . . now. It's okay, we'll wait for you. Ready? Right, assuming you already have Suarez locked down, and most likely paired with someone else on this list, what now? Though not a necessity, it's always nice when the model backs up your own instinct based on watching games, and that's the case here as the next four options are those who likely sprung to everyone's mind when Aguero went down. The model doesn't see a great deal between this foursome (Giroud, Lukaku, Negredo and Rooney) and the only comment I'll add here is that if Giroud is the man you target, you may as well go with someone else for this week given his tricky fixture (CHE) and then bring him in for GW18. Also, one small factor is the captain's armband, and we can see that based purely on the data above, Lukaku is the only man who would be captained twice (GW18 SUN and GW21 NOR) over Suarez. Not a major point, but a point to consider in a close contest like this.

As we said above, given Aguero's expected length of absence, cost should be a factor. Of the four names noted above, Rooney costs between a 1.9-2.7m premium; money that could be used elsewhere to take advantage of other promising players. Those mouth watering numbers for City shown above coincide nicely with Silva's return to the side, for example, and he should be at the forefront of your plans as a high upside differentiator. Pairing the Spaniard with his teammate Negredo would given you an average expected points haul of 13.5 points per week between them, a total that simply cannot be matched by pairing Rooney with anyone available for 1.9m less than Silva (Ramsey would be the best bet at 1.6m less with an 11 point per week average). Granted, that Silva forecast is based on a small sample so I wouldn't necessarily want to hang my hat on it, but the point is, 1.9m-2.7m is a serious premium that can be used elsewhere in your team.

Suarez 46%
Lukaku 32%
Giroud 28%
Rooney 19%
Remy 15%
Benteke 10%
Lambert 10%
Negredo 9%

The latter three names enjoy an advantage here, though only Negredo has the data and upside to really come close to filling Aguero's shoes. The gap to Rooney isn't huge, and some of the Englishman's owners will be dead teams who picked him months ago, though it still represents an advantage that is becoming increasingly hard to find (that of being a "differentiator" if you can call a 9% owned player that).

This isn't an easy question though in some ways it's a welcome one, as while Aguero was playing out of his mind, virtually every contending team owned him so all he really did was make everyone compete with ~92m or so and inflate our collective weekly scores. With Rooney and Negredo looking like the favoured replacements at least we're seeing some element of distinguishing between our teams. As for what the ultimate answer is, I'd suggest that the one based in 2013-14 data is Lukaku, or Negredo if you want an element of differentiation (which I would personally endorse). Could Rooney outperform them both? Sure. But that proposition is based on elements that this blog doesn't really deal with, like achievements from prior years or the ever mythical "form". The way I see it, you have a player who's fantasy points have increased thanks to five goals in the last six weeks, but also one who's production looks unsustainable based on his shot totals over that period (based on his 23 shots, we'd expect 9 to hit the target and 3 to hit the net).

Negredo's data isn't spectacular either, and he too has benefited from a favourable G/SoT rate (6 goals / 11 SoT), but he also finds himself in a team whose attacking fortunes look much brighter, comes at a 1.9m discount and offers an increasingly valuable differentiation factor. Given that it looks like everyone will be captaining Suarez with a regularity harping back to the days of Ronaldo, I'd suggest you can take a risk with someone like Negredo over Rooney, especially if that could open the door for you to also bring in someone like Silva. In fact, that final factor may be the deciding piece of the puzzle and could finally offer an alternative to those wanting to go another way than Ramsey whose own 62% ownership has become an issue.

If in a position of strength, one can also make a good case for Lukaku who falls in the middle of most of the above considerations, though his high ownership rate suggests that many of you (including your humble blogger) already have the Everton man locked down. If that doesn't apply to you then the Belgian can offer increased stability and Premier League pedigree over Negredo, but comes with a lower ceiling and doesn't do much to really set you team apart.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Going streaking

Whether you're lucky enough to still have your original wildcard stashed away in your back pocket or not, as we approach the second wildcard window, it's worthwhile putting together a transfer plan to best exploit the fixtures on offer. We have at least four transfers before then (GW16-19) followed by the important period right after we play the wildcard, so with that in mind, let's try and identify a few fixture streaks during which we might want to target specific players.

For simplicity I've only looked at streaks of four gameweeks here. In reality we might want to dig deeper into streaks where you like three out of four games, or four out of six, but this is the starting point, for better or worse. Double gameweeks will also likely cause chaos at some point too, but without knowing where or when they'll strike, their impact is ignored for now.

The below table shows the expected goal total over the four highlighted games above or (below) the team average. So a score of -1.5 suggests that the model believes Arsenal will score 1.5 less goals over those four games than their average GPG to date would suggest (that GPG is based on actual goals scored/conceded, not regressed or expected goals).

I'm going to keep the analysis brief as this data really speaks for itself, but there are a few comments to make on a couple of these streaks.

Arsenal and Liverpool have been firm favourites of fantasy managers to date, yet appear to be risky investments in the immediate future based on the above (more on Arsenal in the longer term below). Both face three away games in the next four, including trips to the likes of the Etihad, Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane. Does this mean you should be targeting Suarez and Ramsey for sale? Probably not, as they still do very well in the weekly rankings, but the lesser players from those sides should be considered expendable, particularly on the defensive end of the pitch.

Sunderland look like they enjoy incredibly easy fixtures as they're forecast to well exceed their goals scored and conceded tallies to date. However, this is more a product of the model thinking they've been somewhat unfortunate to date rather than the fixtures being unbelievably favourable. Saying that, over the next eight gameweeks they do get a number of promising fixtures (NOR, @CAR, AVL, @FUL, SOU, STK) so players such as Giaccherini or Johnson could make useful 4th midfielder types in paired with the right complementary piece.

The model loves Arsenal after GW19, and well it might given their fixture list of @NEW, CAR, @AVL, FUL, @SOU and CRY. This is one situation when careful planning is required, as to potentially get a 1.5 goal bonus on top of the excellent form this team has already shown suggests we should really be trying to squeeze an extra Gunner in our team for this period (the start of that period nicely coincides with the opening of the transfer window so they should be a hot commodity for wildcarding teams).

Another team whose assets you will want to maximise coming out of the transfer window is Man City. They get CRY, @SWA, @NEW and CAR from GW19 - 22, a period of fixtures that suggests we should try and squeeze at least one more attacking player into our sides alongside the presumably ever present Aguero. It isn't always easy to identify such players in this changeable City side, so here's hoping we're seeing some vintage David Silva play by the time Santa delivers that appetising run of games.

West Brom are a massively underrated defensive side with ownership numbers of 3.0% or less across the whole back five. Granted, the results of late have taken a turn for the worse (no clean sheets in the last five games) but they still boast excellent +/- scores of -19% at home and away and have four teams on deck who are all struggling for goals right now (@CAR, HUL, @TOT, @WHU).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Second Act

As we all know, the fantasy season does not comprise 38 independent events. Medium and even long term plans need to be put in place based on the next 'x' number of games and over-reliance on the now can handcuff your team in the future. Though all teams are constructed differently and thus will encounter these periods at different times, there are also overarching factors which impact all (or at least most) teams in the same way.

Sometimes these are obvious, such as the opening of the second-wildcard transfer window or the real-life transfer window which potential opens the door to new options for our teams. On other occasions, however, the trends are tougher to spot, especially when we're in the eye of them (they are much easier to see with hindsight). We are potentially at a changing point for one of these period-changes.

Like any mostly free market, the demand for players will settle into something of an equilibrium, and for most managers the leading role in determining their level of demand is past performance (yes, if you're reading this you'll almost certainly place more emphasis on future forecasts, but we'd still be hesitant to back a player with a terrible points tally to date, no matter what his underlying data suggested).

Consider the below chart:

Ignoring defenders and 'keepers for a second (whose ownership numbers tend to be a bit more unpredictable), we see just eight players who've amassed 50 or more points and are still owned by less than 10% of managers. 16 such players are owned by 10%+ with half of those owned by a full 20% or more. This is always going to be the case to a degree (the best players, or at least those with the best results, attract the most managers), but it seems as though we're reaching a critical mass with regards to this trend. 

Just look at this past gameweek. Nine midfielders and forwards managed to notch double figures but four of them seemed to be owned by everyone (Suarez, Yaya, Ozil and Hazard) and four were - justifiably - owned by no one (Oviedo, Delph, Agbonlahor and Dyer) with Lampard being the sole occupier of the middle ground. Throw in decent contributions from other favourites like Aguero, Ramsey and Lukaku and you're left with a situation where unless you owned all four star performers, a couple of the middle guys and notched a couple of clean sheets, you probably ended up losing ground in the overall leaderboard this week (my own team lost over 4,000 places despite what appeared on its face to be a very healthy 88 point week). 
This all conspires to a very long winded way of saying it's time to push for differentiation.

Now, before we delve into names, let's just lay down a couple of ground rules on what we really mean by this. First, differentiation just for the sake of it should not be pursued. Sometimes there are good reasons for people to be suspicious of a given player and a need to 'stand out' shouldn't interfere with the ultimate goal of points maximisation. Second, even at this relatively early stage of the season, different teams will have different appetite for differentiation based on their league position and objectives. If you've amassed a 100 point lead in your mini league, and your ultimate goal is to win that, rather than strive for the highest overall points finish, then picking Yaya Toure - who is owned by your next three closest competitors - makes more sense than if you're in the chasing pack. I would personally caution against such 'defensive' moves this early in the season, but that's something for each manager to decide.

With the customary caveats in place, let's have a look at some of the most widely owned players right now and see if we can find some reasonable alternatives. For the sake of repetition avoidance, I'll add this disclaimer here just once. These are ideas designed to give some fresh thought to what is becoming an increasingly stagnant fantasy season. I wouldn't (indeed won't ) make the majority of them and I fully understand that they will all likely involve a lot more risk than sticking with who we "know" will have future success (this in itself is a misnomer, but that's a point for another day.

Aaron Ramsey (62% owned)
The Welshman's 62% ownership number is a huge outlier in the earlier chart, though in all honesty, this number could really have peaked higher given the way he's played to date (the 'real' ownership number is much higher, of course, as that 62% is based on a denominator which includes a lot of teams who have gone untouched since GW1 and still roll out the likes of Podolski (1%), Adebayor (0.7%) and Zaha (1.3%)). Ramsey simply leads all midfielders in total points despite opening the year with a price tag of 3.0m+ less than all his closest rivals and appears to have turned the corner from 'someday prospect' to 'everyday star'. 
The model supports Ramsey's high ownership to a degree as his 61 xP ranks 3rd among midfielders (behind the surprising Gerrard and Hazard) but it also suggests that his future forecast is closer to players available for comparable prices and thus he isn't an automatic pickup. Let's filter our data to highlight a couple of options. We're looking for a player who:
  • is available for close to Ramsey's price (we'll give ourselves a 1.0m variance, so a maximum of 8.3m),
  • gets a sufficient number of chances per game (more than 1.0 SiB per 90 minutes),
  • does something with those chances (more than 0.75 SoT per 90 minutes) without benefiting from unsustainable good fortune (SoT% of 50% or less), and
  • can also contribute in the assist department (more than 1.0 CC per 90 minutes)

There's some intrigue here for sure, with Paulinho's 1.9 SiB90 and Sigurdsson's 1.4 SoT90 jumping off the page. However, the first Spurs man seems to be taking too many ill advised shots given his 32% SoT% rate while his Icelandic teammate is hitting the target with long range efforts, but as we know, these tend to hit the back of the net with less regularity than those from close range. Mirallas is probably the safest play here given his solid returns and supporting data yet his tendency to be withdrawn early in games and a lack of explosive upside makes it really tough to part ways with Ramsey for the Belgian wide man right now. As keen as I am to suggest alternatives to Ramsey and as likely it is that he regresses in the coming weeks, no obvious one-for-one replacement is apparent. As we move into wildcard season though, alternative arrangements should certainly be considered.

Yaya Toure (38%)
Here we're looking for reliability. Yaya has about as high of a floor as you can find and can contribute solid value over virtually any stretch of games. To replace him, we're therefore looking for the below attributes:
  • ability to score with some consistency (more than 0.75 SiB)
  • maximises his opportunities (more than 0.75 SoT)
  • strong chance at assists (more than 1.1 CC)
  • plays consistently (more than 900 minutes played or return from injury will guarantee playing time)
  • less than 10% ownership (if we're sacrificing his consistency we need to make gains on a lot of other managers)

Of all the alternatives looked at today, this is probably the one that makes the most sense. Some of the best options here currently carry injury concerns so may not considered immediately (Walcott, Michu and Silva) but Coutinho looks well healed and took up some very promising positions in Sturridge's absence, behind the all conquering Suarez these past couple of weeks. Though it's a tiny sample size and too much weight shouldn't be placed on this data set, the fact that Walcott has tripled Toure's SiB90, doubled his SoT90 and doubled his CC90 suggests he could offer significant upside when healthy and should be monitored closely for signs that he's back in Wenger's first team plans. Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't draw some attention to Frank Lampard who in many ways looks exactly like Yaya Toure, just with a lower G/SoT rate. Lampard's currently sits at 33% versus a 42% career rate while the Ivorian's is hovering around 64% compared to a career rate of 30%. If it's reliability you desire, it seems that Lampard should be able to fill a similar role for 2.0m less and with a quarter as many managers sharing in your spoils.

Luis Suarez (39%) / Sergio Aguero (33%)
We're not looking for much here. We just need someone who is averaging over three shots a game, with two on target and . . . ok we can stop now because we've already filtered the entire league. Only five other regular starters (Lukaku, Sturridge, van Persie, Grioud and Remy) are able to average as many SiB as this pair have averaged SoT and none of that group come close to boasting the assist potential of this elite duo. I hate the label "must own" and for the most part this has been wrongly attributed to various players over the years but right now the only real argument against owning this duo is one of value as you could go with a Lukaku-Giroud-Remy trio and save at least 4.0m, but then it isn't really clear who you'd then spend that surplus on. The return from injury of Benteke, Sturridge and van Persie will at least swell the pool of players who could threaten this pair's dominance but of of now, the only reason to look elsewhere would be injury to either of these forwards.

Olivier Giroud (34%)
Given what we've said about Suarez and Aguero above, Giroud is essentially competing with every other forward in the league for the right to be your third front man. Though Giroud does offer some assist potential, we can't be too choosy as we slide down the price list, so to fill this role we're merely looking for a player who:
  • offers a consistent goal threat (over two SiB per 90 minutes),
  • costs the same or less than Giroud (with Suarez and Aguero we're already in danger of committing too much cash to our front men with Giroud),
  • is owned by less than 12% managers (that cut off is clearly fixed so I can include Benteke
  • offers some threat of assists (more than 1.0 CC per 90 minutes)

Giroud has enjoyed a great season to date but all of the above options either strong differentiation potential, cost savings, or both, and given Arsenal's fixtures in the immediate future, this is one move that could be considered for sooner rather than later.

Ross Barkley (28%)

I would imagine a fair number of Barkley's owners still hold him due to more pressing issues in their teams eating up weekly transfers, but still, he's held by an awful lot of managers and with wildcard season approaching, we should be considering everyone's place in our respective squads. There are several options to really like here with Arnautovic particularly catching the eye. The Stoke man has taken a very healthy share of shots given his price bracket, even if the number of target somewhat disappoints. However, his 20% SoT% rate is well below the 33% rate he posted in the Bundesliga while at Bremen and so if that number starts to track back towards his expected average, it should give him a profile to far exceed the somewhat mediocre prospects of the majority of his peers. Digging deeper we have Redmond who is enjoying his prolonged run in the Norwich side following their rash of injuries, and even deeper we have the highly rated Jonny Williams who has finally returned for Palace and could offer intriguing value at just 4.3m. In short, this is a category with a good number of alternatives and if you've transfers to spare, Barkley's waning fortunes should really be taken notice of.