Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Adopt a Team: Chelsea and West Brom review

In hindsight perhaps this wasn't perhaps the best game to review these two teams in. We knew Chelsea were good and that West Brom were somewhere between solid and inconsistent though ultimately lacking a great depth in quality. Both these hypotheses proved accurate this weekend as Chelsea not only won the game but did so with almost embarrassing ease. 74% possession, 21 totals shots and eight shots inside the box (versus 24%, 5, 1 for West Brom) go some way to illustrating Chelsea's dominance but while they do capture the result, they don't quite show the ease as which that result was obtained.

One positive - at least in terms of forming a nice narrative to fit into a 500 word review - was the fact that Chelsea's dominance was only matched by the predictability of how that dominance came to be. Fabregas led the way with the created chances (5), Costa contributed his customary shot haul (4 SiB, 1 goal) and Hazard came inbetween the two with a piece of both pies (4 created chances, 3 SiB). Those numbers really support what the game looked like with Hazard really standing out as a constant threat and his involvement in central positions was encouraging as a couple of games I've seen this year have had him pushed out wide too often, struggling to get a decent haul of touches in dangerous positions.

As noted in the stats preview, Hazard's dual threat and much lower ownership number (18%) make him irresistible to this fantasy manager. The model continues to like all three players a lot though and so you should feel comfortably slotting any combination of them into your weekly lineup.

The downside to piling on the attacking options is that it would preclude you from accessing this very good defense, who look set to enjoy an improved run of defensive results if they continue to suppress shots the way they have. They didn't allow a single shot inside the box in this game and West Brom players had an incredible two touches inside the box; total. Repeat that to yourself for a second. West Brom, as a team, touched the ball inside the Chelsea box twice in 90 minutes. Three individual Chelsea defenders (Terry, Azpilicueta and Ivanovic) had more such touches at the other end.

Among those defenders it was once again Ivanovic who looked the most threatening with 11 touches inside the box, two created chances and single effort on goal. Is that threat worth 1.2m more than Azpilicueta's or 0.9m more than Terry's? Perhaps not. But you have to love his upside and given Chelsea's defensive promise and stability, he still forecasts out as probably the best defender around.

There's not too much to add about this West Brom team. Going forward there really weren't any bright spots, though their situation probably won't come any harder than this one. The model likes Berahino as a reasonable third forward and he's shown enough in other games that you wouldn't want to abandon him after one tough outing. Some unfortunate incidents off the pitch are a concern though, not from a fantasy perspective of course, but in terms of them damaging a very promising player whose story will serve as inspiration to millions if he can enjoy sustained success.

As I said, there wasn't much learned here, though perhaps that's the point, at least when it comes to Chelsea. Their success not only shows up with predictability but also comes from predictable sources and that makes fantasy ownership much easier than, say for example, some of the former great United teams who shared goals and assists between what felt like 15 different players. With 50% ownership numbers for Fabregas and Diego Costa, the decision really becomes whether or not you have the confidence in this or any other forecast model to run in the opposite direction to the stampeding masses and take Hazard and a defender or two over Fabregas and Diego Costa.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Adopt a Team: Chelsea and West Brom stats


So this Chelsea defense is pretty solid. They've topped -20% SiB +/- in all but three of their games and currently rank second in supressing opponent SiB with -25% overall, trailing only Arsenal. At home they've been frankly ridiculous with three games over -60% including the -100% effort against Leicester (one of only two such games in the league this year). So far this has only translated into three clean sheets but with an incredible four games allowing five SiB or less yet still conceding a single goal, we can expect some steep improvement in the future.

If we want to access this defensive unit then, who should we focus our attention on? Ivanovic comes with a much higher price tag while the cheapest option - Azpilicueta - is probably the one player who faces at least some rotation threat with Felipe Luis hanging around on the bench. Let's take a look at their respective attacking threat to date:

As expected, Ivanovic is the clear leader here, offering a very good assist threat that comes close to Oscar alongside a more modest goal threat which still eclipses his defensive colleagues by a distance. In the model, this plays out to be about 0.5 expected points per game more than his defensive teammates, which is a fairly sizeable difference. It's a similar sized gap as we see between Hazard/Fabregas and Oscar, who are separated by 1.3-1.6m or even Diego Costa and Welbeck, who are separated by a full 3.7m. These scenarios aren't necessarily directly comparable, but they do suggest that Ivanovic may well be worth the premium here, providing you have at least some disposal cash to spend without seriously hurting the rest of your squad. The model ranks him and Baines as very close but with more of Ivanovic's value set to come from clean sheets, I would probably lean towards the Chelsea man and pocket the 0.1m difference.

As far as the big three go - Diego Costa, Fabrgeas and Hazard - we see three distinct profiles with the front man being close a pure goal scorer, Fabregas deriving almost all his value from assists while Hazard occupies the middle ground (his goal threat is perhaps a bit lower than Costa's depending on how you account for penalties). I can't think of too many elite fantasy players over the years who have enjoyed sustained fantasy success having success in just a single category, particularly when it comes to midfielders who are reliant on others to convert their created chances. It does happen though and Fabregas has been so dominant that he of course remain very ownable and has the underlying stats to support his torrid form. However, with his ownership eclipsing 50% there are reasons to want to look elsewhere and so I would personally lean towards Hazard as the main man to target here, slotting in one of the other pair either as defensive move to block against your rivals, or simply because they are very good and you have the cash to burn.

There isn't a great deal I'm really looking out for in this week's game from Chelsea as I'm sure we've all seen them play several times already and the team kinda is what it is (excellent). I will probably try and focus on Fabregas for evidence that his goal scoring threat might increase in the future but only a dramatic departure from the stats to date would suggest that likely.

West Brom

This isn't a particularly promising chart for West Brom fans and represents the jnconsistency I associate with this team, that I was somewhat surprised didn't show up in the weekly lineups. So we know who'll play each week but we've no idea how they'll perform: great! 'No idea' is a stretch, as we have a pretty good handle on this side's attacking threat, and it isn't good. They haven't yet eclipsed the 0% threshold in aSiB +/- with four games way down in the -50% or worse range. There's no obvious link between these games with up and down performances both at home, on the road, at the start of the season and in recent weeks. The next question then, is do we even care if this team is inconsistent? Is there anyone worth paying attention to outside of Berahino whose price tag and goal threat make him ownable no matter the opponent or his teammates' form.

Brunt and Dorrans have risen to the top of the assist charts, though offer little going forward as goal threats. I hesitate to draw comparisons between this pair and Fabregas who is obviously operating on different a plane, but the issue is the same: do you want to back a player who derives virtually all his value from a single source. That issue is doubly important for Brunt and Dorrans, whose passes are aimed at the likes of Berahino and Sessgnon to finish rather than Diego Costa and Hazard. For ~5m though, it's useful to have a player who excels in one area, even if his production is going to be hard to forecast. Rather than trying to rotate him every week then, if interested, it might be advisable to identify a run of good games and try and milk the associated value (GW14-17 would be a good example).

At the back we see the two full backs leading the way in attacking potential. As noted yesterday, Wisdom comes with the cheapest price tag and no obvious threat to replace him and so this extra attacking bonus seals the deal for me as the best option in this backline, other than Foster who remains one of, if not the, best 4.5m 'keeper.

Berahino deserves a quick mention, if only to underline the fact that this kid is for real and not the product of a series of fluky early season goals. That said, when viewed in the context of the league rather than his own underwhelming team, the situation isn't so rosy:

He's in the mix with some other good players and we shouldn't of course be comparing with the scale-breaking Aguero, but still, this makes Berahino's numbers look a little underwhelming. Sakho, Jelavic and any of the Newcastle options (if one emerges as a consistent starter) all offer comparable or superior value but are owned by considerably less managers. I'm certainly not bailing on Berahino just yet, and neither should you if you're sat on a large profit but I don't believe he's a no-brainer option in that suddently deep ~6m range.

I'll be watching Berahino closely in this one to see how he can perform against a very good defense and thus if he's an option to deploy on a weekly basis despite his team's up and down fortunes. It will also be interesting to see if any of the midfield options can distinguish themselves in the contest and make a play for 4th or 5th midfield potential status.

The international break is over, roll on Saturday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Adopt a Team: Chelsea and West Brom lineups

Hopefully you've made it through the international break unscathed - unlike many players - and you're ready for the fantasy fun to start again. We start this week with a new set of team's to adopt, headlined by the all conquering Chelsea and supplemented by a hard-to-pin-down West Brom side. Let's start with the team who appear to be have been crowned as the Champions-elect, which seems like a great idea in mid-November:


Chelsea are generally regarded as having the deepest bench in the league, though at the back they don't have a multitude of options and are thus somewhat limited when it comes to rotation options. This, of course, is good news for fantasy managers as while Felipe Luis has shown flashes in limited time, Azpilicueta was quickly restored to the side last time out and still looks fairly entrenched at left back. Zouma meanwhile will be closely watched by the Football Manager crowd having brought a sizeable reputation from St Etienne, but remains very much a bench option with Terry and Cahill likely to start close to, if not every, game if they can avoid injury. The two centre backs and Azpilicueta come in with similar price tags with Ivanvoic comanding a million pound premium due to his attacking reputation. We'll look at whether that extra cost is justified in the next post.

In midfield Chelsea enjoy significantly more strength and depth with but we've still seen a very settled lineup so far this year. Matic, Fabregas and Hazard have all been ever present and Oscar has joined in them in all but two contests. The last midfield spot has been split between Ramires, Schurrle and Willian, with none of that trio able to really sustain a threat to the starting eleven. Based on last season that is particularly surprising in the case of Willian who I felt was a major factor in a lot of what Chelsea did well, yet they've been able to improve their attacking threat without losing out on the defensive work rate he brings thanks to equally impressive efforts by Hazard and Costa.

It can be tempting to look at a player like Matic who plays every game for the best team in the league, but as we can see in the forecast, he just doesn't offer enough going forward despite the talent of his teammates. The other three attacking options offer different packages of fantasy value and all deserve some attention in the play stats post.

Up front the story starts and ends with Diego Costa who's been a great signing so far for Mourinho's side. The model expects some regression in the coming weeks but still ranks him as the third best forward and still reasonable value at 11.0m. The issue - as with teammate Fabregas - is that everyone who's paying attention now seems to own the Spaniard (*cough* Brazilian) so those looking to do something a bit different with their side face some nervy weeks ahead if they choose to stay away from the Chelsea men.

West Brom

Despite watching a fair amount of football and paying what I consider to be close attention, I'm often surprised by at least one or two things in these team reviews and it's West Brom's lineup consistency that has really surprised this time around. In my head I consider this team to have a handful of true Premier League worthy players supplemented by a number of quasi-able bodies who tend to come in for a few games, lose "form", get replaced by another warm body, who then loses "form" and the circle continuing into perpetuity.

With the signings of Lescott, Pocognoli and Wisdom, this defense has a level of depth and stability we haven't always seen and that's been rewarded with four clean sheets in 11 games - a healthy if not spectacular rate of return. Those three are joined by the lone incumbent - Craig Dawson - to form a foursome that have played together in seven straight games save for a single absence for Wisdom. Olsson's expected return at the end of the month will cause some disruption here with either Lescott or Dawson dropping to the bench (or even Lescott sliding to the left to replace Pocognoli, though that seems unlikely). With the lowest price tag and no apparent replacement, Wisom may well be the best bet here, though the 4.5m Foster remains a great buy at a bargain price.

The midfield is where the real surprise comes for me, as the Baggies boast seven players who have all shown themselves to be capable of playing at this level in the past without really excelling to the point where you have extreme confidence in them to deliver each week. Regardless of those thoughts, Brunt, Gardner, Dorrans and when healthy Morrison have all shown the ability to sustain their place in the team with Mulumbu, Sessegnon, Yacob and Blanco forced to battle it out for the last spot in the team, along with Anichebe who was deployed as a second forward this past week. I'm not sure this stability has really led to anyone standing out of the pack as a viable fantasy option, but at least we have a foundation to project from.

Up front we have Berahino who very much has been a viable option, with the model liking him to continue modest success in the future. He probably isn't an every week starter for your team but at 6.1m he doesn't need to be and he deserves to be on the collective radar once he gets this week's near impossible trip to Chelsea out of the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Model behaviour

As we enter another drab international week, it presents a well-overdue chance to dig a little deeper into this year's model and look at some of the results which don't necessarily align with what the majority of people appear to be thinking.

I don't want to get too bogged down in the merits of any particular assumption in the model, though obviously as we look back and see where the model missed reality, tweaks can and are made. I do however want to illustrate how individual forecast numbers are made up and why that leads to the situation, for example, where Alexis Sanchez has so-so forecast numbers despite leading all midfielders in points to date (by a distance).

Regressing conversion rates
The first and most obvious point to note is that Sanchez has a particularly high goals per shot on target ratio (50%) which based on history is unlikely to be sustained. The model uses a regressed conversion rate based on a combination of a player's history (where applicable) combined with the average conversion rate for a player with his particular "shot profile" which consists of his position, volume and type of shots. Players like Fabregas (25%), Di Maria (30%) and Hazard (33%) have rates we would expect from their position.

Next up, we have to remember that player forecasts should always be considered in the context of their respective teams. So, while Hazard's 19% share of his team's shots inside the box is a great number, it isn't superior enough to Di Maria's (16%) to cover for the fact that in Gameweek 13 Man Utd are forecast to have a far greater number of SiB (9.4) than Chelsea (6.5). In short, you need to consider the size of the whole pie, not just the size of a given player's slice.

Let's look at the numbers for Gameweek 13 in a bit more detail:

Fabregas's goal threat is a standout number here as with 2% of Chelsea's SiB, he isn't likely to rack up a big goal total and that should immediately set off some kind of alarm as you're going to need absolute dominance in one category if you are basically performing at a league average in another. Sanchez and Di Maria have a fairly similar profile individually but we can see that with United forecast to have a much better day against Hull than Arsenal will at West Brom, Di Maria winds up with a superior points forecast. That's really the story of the next eight weeks or so, as Arsenal have the highest forecast SiB just once (GW18), which is not coincidentally the game in which the model likes Sanchez the most:

This post isn't necessarily a knock on Fabregas or Sanchez's prospects, nor a campaign for Di Maria, just a friendly reminder that the model is at least based in logic and if a ranking looks odd, there will be a reason behind it. Now, of course, whether those reasons are correct is up for debate but it's worth pausing whenever a player is presented as "must own" or undroppable.

Okay, you say, I don't need a lesson, I need some names to look at. First up, let's plot ownership with total forecast points for the next eight gameweeks and see who the masses might be sleeping on:

This chart is a little cluttered to derive masses of information from, but I believe it does a good enough job at illustrating that, on the whole, ownership numbers are based in reality. There's no one who is owned by thousands of managers who doesn't deserve at least a large part or their attention, and we don't see anyone with potentially explosive numbers who is currently being completely ignored. As is always the case then, it's on the fringes where we find value. I don't want to get into deep dives on scores of players right now, but a couple of interesting names to highlight are:

A lot of people own him but it probably should be more. He is, quite simply, the best player in the league by a distance right now and his fantasy potential is superior to everyone by some distance. Indeed, without getting into specifics, we can probably expect some regression from the majority of those players forecast around the 4.5 point per game mark, yet Aguero pushes closer to 5.0 without any signs of slowing down. Best case scenario from a fantasy perspective is that City get knocked out of Europe and we finally get that dominant Aguero season we've waited for, where he can be slotted into a side and captained freely without fear of rotation from the likes of Dzeko or Jovetic.

With this chart and the aforementioned note about Fabregas' lack of goal threat, I am a bit spooked about his long term prospects, especially in light of the fact that the former Arsenal man hasn't missed a game yet this season and now has a slight hamstring issue, which could lead to some rotation in the coming weeks. Of course he remains very ownable and the assist potential is sky high but with his ownership rate creeping over 50%, contrarians like your humble blogger will be getting itchy trigger fingers.

It's not a flashy move, but as we noted, the value is in the fringes and so ditching Clyne who is (a) widely owned and (b) 0.7m more expensive than Alderweireld who finds himself buried in the 1% ownership group despite offering just a touch less forecast value than his teammates, makes a lot of sense.

Despite Southampton's incredible success, Tadic doesn't seem to have quite earned the same attention as some of his teammates - particularly Pelle - which leaves him as one of the best handful of midfielders in terms of forecasted points yet with an ownership number more in line with his defensively minded teammates than the league's elite midfielders. At 7.9m he isn't cheap enough to be considered an absolute lock in anyone's team but then the players he's comparable to here are generally coming in at least a million more than the young Serb.

Baines' ownership number is still something of a surprise as while 25% is high, it isn't particularly high for the oft-fancied Baines yet this is the first time I recall that he might actually deserve such a high number. Everton's shaky defensive form will probably keep me away but you cannot underestimate just how much better he is than every other defender when it comes to attacking threat (and remember that the model doesn't really give extra attention to penalty takers).

For the rest of the international break I hope to do a stock check on each position and have a look at forecasting the next third of the season. I imagine many of you will be entertaining the idea of using the wildcard this week (as I have), as it's a logical idea to try and split the season into three roughly equal slices.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adopt a Team: Newcastle and Liverpool review

Right off the bat, let's all dispose of our shock that this game didn't finish 4-3. Okay, those games happened almost 20 years but I really felt that Stan Collymore and Tino Asprilla would have a big impact on this game. In reality this game was along way from a classic, with two sides lacking something, quite what that is is hard to say. The optimist will say confidence while others will argue quality. I might argue Suarez and Cabaye.

The gap between Liverpool's dominance in possession (65%) and shot production (two SiB) is about as stark as I recall seeing and probably performs a reasonable summary for Liverpool's woes. I'm not going to make this 500 words on Balotelli's ineptitude as, simply, he just isn't a bad player. He is however not playing particularly well on a zero to Suarez scale and the system he's being used in does not seem to be working well for either party right now. The Italian seems to want to drop off the front, much like United found with Rooney playing up front in van Persie's absence and it leaves an enormous hole which doesn't have to be occupied by anyone other than a relaxed Coloccini (does Coloccini come in any states other than relaxed?).

If you look at the average position chart for the game we see Sterling about 15 yards ahead of all his teammates with Balotelli's average being the edge of the centre circle. It seems somewhat interesting to note that Balotelli's desire to get involved in the play and run back may be the issue rather than his supposed "laziness". Oh why can't you be more like Dimitar Berbatov, Mario?

That's not to say that Balotelli is poised for an explosion in production based on his underlying stats. Consider that Balotelli had one touch inside the penalty box in 94 minutes, recall that Suarez averaged 10 a game last season, and then weep.

I read that there were other players than Balotelli involved in this one, though in all honesty they don't deserve a great deal more praise than their much maligned teammate. There is of course talent here and I was once again impressed by some of the 'supporting' players on show with Henderson reminding me that he's matured into a very solid players these days, while Joe Allen had a reasonable game which I personally haven't seen too much of in a Liverpool shirt. Yet, from a fantasy perspective there is literally not a single Liverpool player here that I would single out for positive attention. Indeed, Johnson starting the game actually took value away from a prospective pickup as Manquillo sat out for the second time in three weeks. I noted in the preview that I was amazed he was becoming an every starter and it looks like perhaps that confirmation ceremony did indeed come a couple of weeks (or seasons) too early.

Where to go from here? Sterling still boasts tremendous numbers and ranks as one of the better midfielders for the coming weeks, despite his not unreasonable 8.5m tag, though his 44% ownership is something a turn off for those not already invested. At this point of the season, differentiation shouldn't be a huge factor, with maximising points and price increases both more important, yet it still makes one pause when you see that the majority of your league mates are already on board. That's probably an issue of taste though. When Sturridge returns, perhaps as soon as GW12 it will give us a chance to re-evaluate this team but until then I wouldn't be in a rush to buy into anyone, especially as they have to face Chelsea this week.

It's been quite a turnaround for Newcastle, utterly miserable through the first seven weeks of the season with just four draws and three defeats to their name. Pardew managed to hold onto his job and has really turned things around, almost certainly by willing his players to play harder, run further and pay more attention to the motivational expert they have brought in, telling them to play harder and run further. The numbers tell us all we need to know about these two Jekyll and Hyde Newcastle teams:

Attacking averages
Gameweeks 1 - 7: 16 shots per game, 7 SiB, 5 SoT
Gameweeks 8 - 10: 15 shots per game, 4 SiB, 5 SoT

Defensive averages
Gameweeks 1 - 7: 11 shots per game, 8 SiB
Gameweeks 8 - 10: 15 shots per game, 8 SIB


I sometimes wonder if judging a manager, team and entire organisation based on seven 90 minute contests (two of which came against the defending Champions and a red hot Southampton team) is such a great idea. Then I hear all the reasoned and well thought arguments by the likes of Ian Wright or Chris Kamara and I'm convinced.

Newcastle weren't amazing in this game, just as they weren't terrible in the opening few weeks of the season and they remain a team who are still arguably a bit less than the sum of their promising parts but still offer enough quality to (a) remain in this league and (b) offer fantasy intrigue.

I was most interested to see Cisse and Cabella in this one but was unfortunately limited to just 45 and 28 minutes of viewing with Cisse departing at half time, apparently still feeling the effects of a knee injury, while his teammate Cabella was relegated to the bench once again. I'm not sure Cisse was particularly spectacular here, but still managed to rack three shots with two in the box (a good haul in 45 minutes) and three touches in the opponents box. Ayoze Perez's goal is a bit of an issue as there doesn't seem to be room for both he and Cisse in this team, given Pardew's preferred shape and the presence of Sissoko in that role lurking off the front man.

A couple of goals presumably won't be enough to totally re-shape Pardew's plans, but Ayoze is not without promise of his own and brings a decent reputation with him from Tenerife. The Shields Gazette - a titan of the journalism world - reports that he snubbed advances from both Real Madrid and Barcelona to land on Tyneside, and who are we to argue with the likes of the Shield Gazaette? If the young Spaniard can land that starting job, he too could be outstanding value given that he's even cheaper than Cisse, but the unfortunate reality might be some form of ghastly job share which would see both relegated to afterthought status. Let's see how this plays out when Cisse is fully fit.

Fitness may also rob us of another option as Obertan was starting to become a viable 5th midfielder thanks to his increasing minutes, solid play and excellent price tag. He's now out for what looks like the rest of the year though with a thigh problem so it's back to the drawing board on that front. One silver lining is that his injury could open the way for the mercurial Cabella to have another crack at the starting lineup, though Pardew has a number of good alternatives with Gouffran, Ameobi and Aarons also vying for a spot (plus Cisse/Ayoze if he pushes one of his midfield spots into a more advanced role).

I'm not sure we really learned a great deal this week that we didn't know, though that's probably a conclusion we're going to say a lot in these pages as one game is rarely enough. The game confirmed that these two teams have talent in their teams and on their respective benches and - as Newcasle have started to see - their fortunes will almost surely improve to a degree based on nothing more than regression. That said, Balotelli is not going to be confused for Suarez and until Sturridge returns, Liverpool are a team who are playing at a 2011-12 level but with 2013-14 price tags.

After some internet issues at home, I'm now behind on the week's data and adopt a team review so I'm going to cancel this week's teams and instead take a quick look into the forecast numbers which I haven't really referenced to date. We'll then pickup new teams to adopt again after the international break.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Adopt a Team: Liverpool and Newcastle stats


These pages lack the kind of influence that might be able to convince the masses1, but I hope at least one reader with affection for Liverpool might see the above chart and at least take their finger off the panic button, even if they're not willing to put the emergency cover back on. Yes, Luis Suarez has left. And you're right Daniel Sturridge is injured. You can no longer see a movie for a nickel and kids don't have respect for older generations anymore. We get it, all is lost. Except when it isn't. We see above that Liverpool have generated better-than-average shots inside the box in every game while their defense has been solid with five such performances of their own. The conversion of goals per shot on target probably cannot simply be regressed back to league average without other considerations taken into account (type of shot, for one), but it's also reasonable to suggest that it's unlikely Liverpool have gone from a team that converts 40% of their SoT into goals to just 29% in one season, even if they did lose their best player.2 An increased slice of luck and some better finishing from those tasked with replacing Suarez plus the return of Sturridge at the end of the month will likely help this team get back on track, even if that isn't to the level the overachieved to attain last season.

Player focus


1. By masses I mean the kind of group that might struggle to fill a single taxi 2. Suarez's G/SoT rate was actually below his team's average at 38% so while his quality will clearly help his teammates, it's too simplistic to suggest him leaving is the sole reason for this decline

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Adopt a Team: Liverpool and Newcastle lineups

I'm a little bit pressed for time this week so I'm going to keep this post briefer than before so we have time to get into the stats before the weekend.


Despite losing Suarez who was obviously a big driver behind this team's success last season, it's hard to argue that this squad isn't deeper than it was last year, with quality backups at virtually every position. Despite having seven playable options, the back line has been very settled with Moreno, Lovren, Skrtel and Manquillo each starting virtually every game and never appearing as a substitute. Moreno and Lovren were high profile captures during the off season so it was reaonable to pencil that pair in. Skrtel re-solididied his place in this side last season after a year or so of sporadic play but with Sakho available I still felt there was some risk there. That really hasn't materialised and with Sakho now sidelined, the big Slovakian looks pretty locked in right now. If I'm mildly surprised that Sakho hasn't vultured more minutes in the middle I am close to amazed that Manquillo has been able to make that right back spot his own. Johnson, Toure, Flanagan and even Jose Enrique could well have been fancied over the young Spaniard who had played just six league games for Atletico over the past two seasons and - at least I thought - came to Liverpool on loan as an extended trial to showcase his talent for a potential future transfer. Whatever the thought process, he's made the spot his own so far this season and thus becomes the obvious cheap link in this team. Given his age, there might be some concern that rotation will come in the future, perhaps suggesting Lovren could be worth the 0.4m premium but that's something we'll get to tomorrow when we look at this group's attacking potential.

In midfield, we have a similar situation with job security held by a number of players despite some impressive depth waiting in the wings. Markovic, Lucas, Can, Allen and, lately, Coutinho have found themselves on the outside looking in with Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling and Lallana almost ever present when available. The final spot has rotated between those other players along with Sturridge who was deployed alongside Balotelli when they were both available. Though it's hard to see Coutinho being totally pushed out of this side, he obviously can't be relied upon right now, so that just leaves those four big names plus Balotelli up front to choose from. Sturridge's return is going to cloud that issue somewhat as in the three games he played with Balotelli, a pure defensive option (Allen or Lucas) was deployed, presumably to account for the lack of defensive help from that duo and to an extent Sterling. The job security is useful here as no one really comes cheaply, unless you want to get cute with one of the more defensively minded players. Again, we'll look at whether any of those options are worth looking at in the stats review.

With Liverpool travelling away from Anfield, we might expect them to stick with either Allen or Can (or both) in the middle to monitor Sissoko, Cabella and company, which would mean Coutinho missing out again unless he can displace one of those regulars (or Balotelli is sidelined after his continuing struggle for form).


Though competing in a different part of the league table, the story behind Newcastle's squad this year is somewhat similar to this week's opponents: improved depth but less top tier talent. Newcastle's struggles since Cabaye and Remy left have been well documented, with Pardew once again noting his team's struggles to overcome those losses this week. The replacements certainly have promise with Cabella, Riviere and Ayoze all offering flashes of what excited the Newcastle scouts, while Cisse was something akin to a new signing when he was briefly healthy, playing excellently in a handful of games become succumbing to a knee injury. The results haven't been great but there's more than enough talent here to warrant a closer look.

At the back this has been a very settled team with just six players getting a start and only five of them being in serious contention for starter minutes (Haidara looks like a firm backup for Dummett at left back). Williamson's injury opened the door for Steven Taylor to make a return to the team though we still don't have a definitive answer as to who will hold onto their place when everyone is healthy. Dummett, at 4.0m, looks like the obvious play for this defense but Davide Santon is apparently getting close to full health and will surely have every chance to re-take his starting spot in the coming weeks. We'll touch on the attacking threats in the next post but Coloccini's combination of job security and price tag looks like a strong place to start.

Much like Liverpool, given the depth here it is surprising that Pardew has opted for a fairly settled lineup with Colback, Gouffran and Sissoko being ever present with the other two spots filled by a couple of rotated pairs in Cabella/Obertan and Anita/Tiote. Based on the classic YouTube scouting and sporadic reviews from France, Cabella was the player most people were excited about and he's done okay - good enough to deserve better than his recent benching but not enough to warrant serious fantasy consideration. We'll see what a deeper dive into the stats provides tomorrow but outside of Cabella - who's playing time is in question - I'm not sure there's enough upside here to justify a place in your team.

Having been burned before, managers will be understandably wary of buying into Papiss Cisse's rejuvenation but based on an admittedly small sample, serious attention needs to be paid to him when he returns from a knee injury. Again, we'll dive into detailed stats tomorrow but just know that Cisse's numbers in just a handful of games were excellent and far eclipsed anything managed by teammate Riviere, who was given the chance to lead the line but seems to have fallen out of favour of late. At 6.7m and with underwhelming stats, if Riviere wins this starting job then it might be time to move on. If however the 5.9m Cisse can snag the job, he could become one of the most interesting budget front men to look at over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Adopt a Team: Everton vs Burnley review

This was an enjoyable game to watch for the neutral spectator, with two teams that were fairly evenly matched on the day and a couple of quality moments which defined the game. If we're being honest, the game was generally close because of Everton's inability to really push on and dominate against the supposed "lesser" team, but credit must be given for Burnley's industry and the way Dyche had his team setup which countered much of what Everton wanted to do.

The game stats show Everton dominating in overall possession (64%) though less so in the amount of time spent in the opponents' half (56%) which highlights the fact that Everton were cautious for long stretches of this game; something that was always likely to be true with Barry, McCarthy and Osman all used in the middle of the field. Though perhaps harsh to criticise a team who scored three away from home, without Mirallas, Barkley and Pienaar I believe this team lacks a bit of creativity and at times they lacked direction in their attacking play. The one exception all day was really the full backs who drove the team forward and provided the extra man in useful positions which led to much of the best attacking play Everton managed. Burnley's full backs showed some potential too, but it was Coleman and particularly Baines who looked truly dynamic and a clear difference in class between these sides.

Everton focus
Defensively the team looked okay and Howard wasn't tested too many times despite Burnley's 8 SiB. Once again it was an error which led to a goal, with Lukaku this time being the culprit with a sloppy pass being intercepted and nicely finished by Ings. That was the league leading sixth error punished with a goal and that area of their game will need to be cleaned up if Baines and company are truly going to be elite defensive options. Some regression will help (they're unlikely to have 50% of all their mistakes converted into goals all season) but there were a number of times where midfielders were also caught in possession in dangerous positions as they looked build the play from the back. Whether or not that tactic helps Everton win games, there's no doubt that at the moment it isn't helping their defensive cause. On my viewing I felt that Alcaraz was a bit patchy and didn't look quite as solid as Jagielka's other partners, yet the stats show he led the team in both interceptions and clearances so perhaps I'm doing him a disservice. Baines actually had one of his worst statistical games with just a single created chance and no shots on goal. Of course, he still wound up with an assist and had almost as many touches in the final third (19) as Naismith and Lukaku (20). As noted in the preview, if you have any faith this team can start registering clean sheets, Baines becomes a player who can now justify that price tag based on his otherworldly attacking numbers.

It's fair to say that the Everton (starting) midfield was somewhat underwhelming but not in a way where they played poorly so much as just not offering anything at all to get excited about. In fairness, a large portion of that is likely due to the instructions from Martinez but it was still extremely noticeable how much more dynamic the team were with Barkley and Pienaar on during the last 20 or so minutes of the game. If it's as simple as a healthy Barkley replacing McCarthy or Osman then you can probably pencil in an uptick in attacking numbers going forward, but the concern is that this will consistently be the "away" lineup, with perhaps Barkley splitting time with Eto'o; a move that would put everyone's job security and ultimate production in question.

There's a chance that everyone's production is in question in large part due to the somewhat disappointing display from Lukaku here which built upon some questions that have been raised by Everton fans for his play to date this season. Again, the Belgian front man wasn't bad, it's just he was a touch sloppy with some of his layoffs and didn't really do enough to apply constant pressure to Burnley's backline which has been shown to be, shall we say, susceptible to such pressure. He did of course end the game with a goal (well finished after his initial effort was blocked) and one could easily play the "best players score when they don't play well" card. Yet, that makes you feel better if you've spent 28 million on a player and can't move on but in fantasy circles we have plenty of other options so I'd personally take the player with the great stats than relying on players to score when they don't "play well". This was just one game though and for the most part Lukaku's stats are just fine and thus he remains an interesting differentiator, though should not be confused for an elite option to compete with the likes of Diego Costa or Aguero.

One of the stand out players in the game was Naismith who provided plenty of energy - as expected - and also some genuine quality which is perhaps lost in his "scrappy" narrative. Unfortunately, with Eto'o playing well and Barkley regaining fitness, you have to think that the chances for the Scot will start to decline in the coming weeks. As for Eto'o, his age is going to be a factor at some point with Martinez highlighting that he was a surprised that the Cameroon star managed another 90 minutes here after playing a full game in midweek. Questions of playing time for Lukaku from a fantasy perspective are moot, as if he plays as he did last year then he's essentially undroppable while if his form suffers then the likes of Eto'o and Naismith will start to steal minutes, but in that scenario he wouldn't be ownable at 9.0m anyway. In short then, he remains an option for now but should be on a short leash should be see any further decline from last season's lofty heights.

Burnley focus
Based on the numbers to date this season, we highlighted Trippier and Arfield as a couple of players to look at and both looked good in this one. It's not a reasonable benchmark to compare Trippier to Baines but the Burnley man is solidly in the next category down with the likes of Cresswell and Roberston. Unlike that pair though, Trippier has a teammate (Duff) who is a full 0.7m less and so while the couple of created chances a week are nice, they aren't enough to justify that premium on paper and nothing I saw in this game really suggests otherwise.

As for Arfield, he took up some promising positions in the space off the front pair and managed to orchestrate what limited attacking possession Burnley had. As a general point, relying on "creative" players from the lower scoring teams can be a risk as you are of course reliant on their other players more than you might be with someone who takes their penalties or accounts for a large share of their shots. The goods news for Arfield is that he is supplementing his useful 10 created chances with an excellent 10 SiB and therefore continues to offer a nice dual threat for his 5.0m tag. In this contest he wasn't able to really get close enough to Howard's goal to create a real threat but he still managed to add another three shots to his total and led his team in passes in the final third (9) so I wouldn't be overly concerned with rolling with Arfield as a very promising 5th midfielder.

One player I didn't get a chance to talk about in the game preview was George Boyd, whose 2% ownership is second to only Duff among the Burnley outfield players. I must say I didn't see a great deal here to really excite me, which echoes what the stat sheet shows with Boyd offering up 7 created chances and 6 SiB. It should be noted that those numbers have come in just six games, but still, they don't particularly leap off the page. However, at 4.4m he comes at a significant saving over Arfield and assuming he offers the same job security (which looks like a fair assumption right now) he certainly justifies consideration as a 5th midfielder who you might only start once a month. This probably wasn't a great game to judge him on either, as he seems to have been pushed particularly deep, perhaps to help deal with the threat of Baines, and so never really got into the kind of positions we'd expect fantasy points to flow from. That doesn't mean he can't be useful, of course, but if your budget stretches, the data still suggests that Arfield is a tick ahead of Boyd as an overall fantasy contributor. It's also worth noting that Dean Marney was playing well by all accounts before his injury and is set to return to the side soon, offering another 4.4m option.

Both of these teams have the potential to offer solid fantasy options for your team, though few, if any, really jump out as being the "must have" players so many managers talk about. That, of course, is a good thing and represents an opportunity to solidify your team with productive mid-level options who might save you 0.5m here and there and ultimately free up cash to use on the likes of Aguero or Diego Costa in other positions in your team. Baines is the main exception to that trend and he continues to walk a fine line as to whether his price tag can justify the cost. The upcoming fixture list for both these sides look promising and with wildcard season likely approaching, there are worse ideas that taking a chance with a couple of these options - such as Lukaku or Baines - with the knowledge that you can easily bail out in a couple of weeks if they fails to really push on to that next level we all expect.

Next up on the adopt a team schedule we look at two interesting teams not enjoying the best start to the new campaign: Liverpool and Newcastle.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Adopt a Team: Burnley Stats

The above chart doesn't show Burnley in a great light, with a few too many games drifting into that bottom left quadrant, but hey, at least they're (probably) better than QPR! The underlying data suggests their defense has actually been pretty useful with above average performances in every game other than this week's defeat to West Ham and for the most part they've been reasonable value for their three clean sheets. They have conceded 70 SiB which isn't great but given the fact they've already got one meeting with Chelsea and Man Utd out of the way and already travelled to Swansea and West Brom, there's hope that some success might come in the future against fellow bottom dwellers.

Going forward, the team really struggled out of the gates with just a single goal in the first six games, but they have at least come back with two at Leicester and a consolation against West Ham suggesting there might yet be light at the end of the tunnel. The team have created 68 chances to date which puts them 15th in the league, but they compare favourably to the likes of Swansea (57), West Brom (66) and even Tottenham (73) so that number should certainly spark enough interest to not write this whole unit off, despite the fact that Sergio Aguero scored as many goals in just over an hour's work this past week as this team have all season. Let's take a look at who has contributed the most to the team's attacking success (however limited it is) so far this season:

Kieran Trippier The chart looks quite promising for Trippier's credentials as a dual threat defender with Burnley's reasonable defensive record discussed above combined with what appears to be a very good attacking threat (at least when it comes to assist potential). As if often the way in these pages though, we need to pour a bit of water of those flames. If we quickly glance back at the defender chart posted in the Everton stats piece we see that while Trippier has enjoyed some solid statistical games to date, we're unlikely to confuse him for Baines, Ivanovic or even Cresswell anytime soon. Of course, he's also cheaper than the elite class but my concern is that for reasons that aren't clear to me, the market makers priced him at 1.0m more than some his teammates and while that gap has now narrowed to 0.7m, that's still a hefty premium to pay over Michael Duff, who's been ever present for Burnley this season. If we were talking about a mid-upper team who offered a great clean sheet potential every week then you might argue that the increased attacking threat is worth this investment but for a team like Burnley, it's likely you're looking for at best a fourth defender and thus 4.9m is just a bit too steep to bench three of every four weeks. I'm keen to see Trippier play this week against a good side like Everton and see if he can still make a mark in the attacking third but it's going to take something special to suggest he's worth that premium.

Scott Arfield Coming into the season Arfield, along with Danny Ings, was one of the few Burnley players I had real expectations of, and someone I am looking forward to watching this week. So far so good for the young Scot, who has followed up his opening gameweek goal against Chelsea with some impressive stats. Consider the below comparisons (these are not a suggestion that Arfield is necessarily in their overall class, just that he's shown flashes of promise to date, at least in terms of his underlying data):

Arfield 17 shots, 10 SiB, 9 created chances, 0.5% ownership
Nacer Chadli 15 shots, 14 SiB, 10 created chances, 12% ownership
Oscar 16 shots, 10 SiB, 9 created chances, 3% ownership
Schneiderlein 10 shots, 8 SiB, 5 created chances, 18% ownership

This is interesting company for a 5.0m player and his lack of "big" games has surpressed his ownership numbers making his a perfect 5th midfielder candidate. I look forward to seeing him in action tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Adopt a Team: Everton stats

Given their tough fixture list to date - Everton have already faced Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd - and having not seen too many of their games myself, I figured a deeper look at the stats would reveal a team who had either been particularly unlucky with their results or were simply victim to those tough teams. To a degree that's true, as they picked up just two points from the three games in which the data falls into the top right quadrant yet their defense has been below average in the other five contests as they've struggled along with just a couple of clean sheets. This week's 3-0 win over Villa will have many assuming the team have turned the corner but those three goals came on just eight SiB (six SoT) suggesting there is still some way to go until we see this attacking unit hit the heights of last season.

It's not surprising to see that Everton have tended to favour the left side of the pitch when going forward with 49% of their created chances and 61% of their crosses come from the left flank. To put those numbers in context, both are the highest in the league with the second highest totals being 44% and 57% respectively (both Crystal Palace). How to capitalise on that trend in the midfield isn't immediately obvious though no such questions remain at the back, with Leighton Baines enjoying an unbelievable start to the season in terms of attacking data (more on that below).

At the back, the 16 goals conceded put them 19th in the league, ahead of only QPR but a couple of factors point towards a brighter future. First, they've surrendered 58 SiB which ranks 12th in the league: not spectacular, but far better than their goal total suggests. Further, the defense have made a league leading 10 errors, five of which have led to goals (which is also a league high). Of course, this kind of error is an issue and will hurt a team's chances at a clean sheet every week but there isn't much evidence that this stat is stable from year to year and there's reason to think they've just been unluckily punished for their slips, compared to, say, Man Utd whose eight errors have led to just a single goal. Everton were a bit error prone last season, ranking 15th with 24 errors, but even so, that pace is a far cry from 10 in just eight games and those 24 errors last year gave rise to just six goals. In short we'd expect a combination of skill and regressing luck to help this team on the error front, which together with a lower conversion rate of shots into goals should help this defense get back to a level (or close to) the one they played at last season.

Player Focus

Let's take a look at the Everton squad to date, plotting their goal and assist threats:

Leighton Baines
It's not hard to conclude on who stands out here with Baines enjoying what could be the biggest lead in the assists department over his team-mates as anyone else in the league. Indeed, the lead looks just as ridiculous when we expand the chart to include all defensive players (it should be noted that part of his advantage in the goal threat department is due to how penalties are treated in the model rather than purely his shot totals, but then that seems fair as penalties are obviously much more valuable than your typical shot):

I wrote a few megabytes of blog posts on why Coleman was a better bet than Baines last season and was ultimately rewarded by an incredible campaign from the Irishman where he not only outscored Baines but did so at a significantly lower price tag. So far this season, this trend has very much been reversed. Coleman's success led to a price tag equal to his teammate (which seemed odd given Baines' penalty duties) but to date Baines has been light years ahead when it comes to attacking play with an absurd 22 created chances to Coleman's four. Indeed, Baines has 10 created chances in his last two games; more than all defenders on the season other than Ivanovic and Cresswell. Given the nature of his passes (crosses rather than through balls and short passes) it isn't fair to conclude that his 22 created chances are better than,say, David Silva's 21, but it is without question that when it comes to assist threat, Baines is without peers among his defensive rivals. Whether or not that is worth 7.1m really depends on your view of Everton's defense as while Baines is clearly offering great potential going forward, without clean sheets he simply cannot justify a 2.0m premium over players from Southampton, West Brom or even Burnley who are offering cheap access to clean sheets so far this year. As noted above, I do think there's reason to predict an improvement in Everton's defensive results and that has me considering Baines for my own team for pretty much the first time ever.

Romelo Lukaku
Fantasy managers and Everton fans alike haven't been overly impressed with Lukaku's play to date, despite having notched three goals and an assist already this season. His underlying data is more solid than spectacular and the availability of players like Pelle and Berahino makes a 9.0m price tag suddenly look steep unless you're playing at an Aguero/Diego Costa level. To date, that's a fair assessment of the situation but if we look at the threat levels of all forwards, we see that Lukaku is just about the next best option after that pair of bargains and the all conquering Diego Costa and Aguero, yet the way people are talking suggests he's been a major flop:

The data accrued to date does not support a 9.0m price tag nor inclusion over the likes of Pelle and Berahino, but as we've seen countless times before, eight games is not a conclusive sample and you need to at least place some reliance on your preseason rankings which would surely have had the Belgian ahead of the new group of upstart challengers. If you think Lukaku has underperformed yet still ranks 8th in fantasy points among all forwards (with two of those ahead of him costing significantly more) then he makes for an interesting option to keep in mind and a reasonable gamble given their upcoming fixtures (@BRN, SWA, @SUN, WHU). If nothing else, he might be a nice three week rental for those spooked by Mourinho's cryptic comments about Diego Costa's injury, especially with Chelsea facing trips to Man Utd and Liverpool in the next three gameweeks.

Ross Barkley
I would love to put a chart here to support buying into Barkley, whose potential seems to be legitimately outstanding. Lukaku recently declared the youngster the best player in the team and the man to lead England in the near future yet with just 65 minutes played this year, we only have these soundbites to go on. I only bring him up here because with his injury he's likely flying a bit under the radar now (presumably his 3% ownership is based on people not monitoring their teams) and is a good candidate to quickly explode should he enjoy a breakout game over the next couple of weeks. With Mirallas sidelined for at least another month, this Everton midfield is very much one of function rather than flair and so Barkley should have every opportunity to not only quickly win back a starting job but also secure his place as the the go to option at the attacking end of the pitch.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Adopt a Team: Everton and Burnley Lineups


Everton have always been one of the sides I enjoy writing about as over the past couple of seasons they've had a pleasing blend of both ability and predictability, all while often flying under the radar of the masses.1 For the most part those trends have continued this year with a solid back line and talented front man, although there isn't really a target player in midfield as we've had in the past with the likes of Arteta, Cahill, Pienaar and Fellaini.

Starting at the back, we have Howard, Baines, Jagielka and Coleman absolutely locked into their respective positions, with at least threee of those options offering about as much security and low upside as you're going to find among premier league starters. We'll get to a comparison of the defenders potential weighed against their price in the next stats post but for now we can conclude that they are all essentially as safe as each other. The last man in when healthy is probably Stones but with the youngster sidelined for a couple of months, Distin probably has the inside track on that final spot. At 5.4m he doesn't offer enough of a discount to be interested in, but one name to watch is Alcaraz who made his first start this week. At 4.3m he does offer an interesting discount to his team-mates and might be worth bearing some risk for if you believe he has a good shot at holding onto that job. For now, all indications seem to be that Distin will return when healthy but it's a situation worth monitoring.

This midfield isn't without talent but with Mirallas and Barkley sidelined it really lacks star power, especially with Pienaar regressing as the miles start to take their toll. Barkley returned this week but has a sizeable price tag (6.7m) to live up to, which is possible but by no means guaranteed based on his somewhat up and down play to date.2 Still, Lukaku reckons he's the best player in the team which is quite high praise considering his teammates and with his season slowed by injury, he's under everybody's radar right now and thus has the makings of an differentiator when he returns to fitness. Again, we'll look at attacking potential in the next post, but in terms of job security we see that Barry and McCarthy has essentially been ever present in the middle with Osman, Naismith, Barkley, Pienaar and McGeady vying to provide the attacking options to support Lukaku. Aside from the potential of the aforementioned Barkley I'm not sure any of this midfield group have the reliability and underlying data to warrant serious interest, as reflected by their generally minuscule ownership numbers. One exception to that latter point is Naismith whose 5.2 price tag has caught the eye of many an owner, and based on playing time alone that appears to be a fair move.3 This lineup is perhaps a touch less reliable than in past years, mainly due to injuries to Barkley and Mirallas, yet with the replacement group not really standing out, it doesn't appear there is too much to be overly concerned about until that duo return. At the back they remain one of the best options around and Lukaku is still one of the remaining, genuine every week starters with enough upside to justify a lofty price tag.

A few people might be wondering why you're reading about Burnley and Everton rather than Man Utd and Chelsea or even Tottenham and Newcastle. One factor is that this is the only televised game these two teams are in for the next couple of months but the more pressing factor is that I simply haven't seen Burnley play this season - other than oft-abbreviated highlights - and really need to get a handle on them as I've found decent value in the less heralded promoted sides in the past. Luckily for me, and potentially fantasy owners, Sean Dyche seems to have a first team in mind and to date hasn't shuffled his deck too often.

At the back we have a perfect record with five players each starting every game to date. Off the bat this would suggest that Michael Duff (4.2m) is going to be the pick here but I'll reserve judgement until I've seen the attacking threat in detail

The midfield has a few interesting options but could present some selection questions when everyone is healthy. Arfield has been ever present to date while the likes of Boyd, Marney and Jones have generally played when available. Kightly came into the side when Marney went down and has since played reasonably well by all accounts and provides from natural width that teams crave, and is important in the formation Burnley appear to favour. Boyd's playing time, position and price tag look promising and Marney - someone who had caught my eye in the opening games - is set to return soon after being sidelined for the last three gameweeks. Arfield meanwhile leads the team in fantasy point giving us plenty to look at in the data and this week's game.

Up top we have a team who look to be committed to playing two front men with highly rated Danny Ings and new arrival Jutkiewicz looking generally locked into the first team. My concern would be that after a good defensive start to the year (at least in terms of goals conceded if not underlying process), the team has started to ship more goals of late and one response would be to lose one of their front men and try and play tighter. Such a move could render both players too risky to own, although at least their price tags remain attractive. Gun to your head you'd expect Ings to play more often than not, but with talk of him wanting out of the club, it wouldn't be amazing to see Jutkiewicz preferred which makes it tough to really commit to anyone here.

Next up we take a look at these two teams' data to date and what we might expect from the weekend's action

1. With the exception of Leighton Baines, of course, who remains a favourite of the public and a constant point of contention for me
2. That's not meant to be a knock of Barkley - still just 20 - but you don't get a discount for youthful inconsistency in fantasy football
3. I have a feeling that the conclusion once we look at the underlying data will be less kind