Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gameweek 28 Preview

Friday, February 14, 2014

The cost of caution: delaying transfers

Striking the balance between risk and reward is a difficult task in fantasy sports and getting the wrong mix can result in wasted points and eventual failure. Perhaps this is me projecting my own views onto the analysis, but I feel that sometimes those of us who are more inclined to make decisions based on data are generally more concerned with the risk of too much action: such as paying ill-advised four-point transfers on a weekly basis or captaining players based on nothing more than a hunch. I often speak - as do those more learned than I - about the risk of relying on small samples and the need to regress anomalous results back to some form of mean to avoid overreacting to chance events, and these are indeed good virtues which will generally lead to fantasy success.

What I want to talk about here though is another type of risk: the risk of inaction, specifically as it pertains to making transfers. I noted last week that my team is valued at a measly 103m while the league's top teams are pushing into the 110m, or even 115m range. Given my moderate success in the past and the constant turnover of players, I've argued that chasing cash is not necessarily a worthy strategy in of itself and a quick glance at the game's "most valuable" teams will highlight that team value does not always correlate to fantasy points (with a major factor being the transfer prices paid by those teams, of course). I am not fully backing up on that approach as "chasing money" still seems like a strategy that wouldn't pay dividends by itself, as by definition, to get the most gains you need to be selecting players that everyone else is also picking, and those people are generally not the ideal role models for rationale behaviour. What does need to be looked at though, is the idea of making the transfers you want to make, but doing so as early as possible in the gameweek (h/t to reader CDI for raising this question).

At this point, I'm sure many of you are astonished that I haven't been through this before, but alas, I am indeed that foolish. My position has always been that I'd prefer to lose out on the odd 0.1m rise by making late transfers if that means avoiding injuries to players I've just signed. What I've failed to properly appreciate though is the surprisingly high cost of delaying your transfer by just a week. I believe this is something akin to what is often defined as loss aversion, particularly in the sense that signing a player on a Sunday night who then gets injured in training that week stings so badly, that it feels much worse than it is (the cost being, at worst, a four point to get rid of him again). If I delay action, I only lose something I never had anyway - that potential rise in price - but by delaying I ensure that I avoid wasting a transfer: something I tangibly 'own'.

I know reading about other people's fantasy teams is the very definition of mundane, but without copying the data for every player in the league, I've had to draw the line for the below analysis somewhere, so I've decided to focus on the transfers made by my own team this year. The methodology is to compare the lowest price I could have paid for a player with the highest for a given week, which will generally be the price paid if you wait until the last minute to make your move. For example, following his fourth goal in three weeks in GW6, Aaron Ramsey was obviously due for another price rise. If you made the move to grab him as soon as the GW6 fixtures finished, you'd have paid the closing price from GW6 of 6.2m. If however, you waited until right before the GW7 deadline, you'd now find that the same player cost 6.5m. I know this is obvious and self evident, but what is surprising to me is that this issue doesn't just apply to 'obvious' examples like Ramsey. Below are all the purchases made for my team this season, excluding those during the wildcard week (even I'm smart enough to make wildcard transfers on day one of the new gameweek):

Though this analysis will slightly overestimate my idiocy as on occasion I did make transfers earlier in the week, it still shows a striking impact in that delaying making these moves cost 2.3m on the purchase side and 1.5m on the sale side (this impact is lowered by the way sales price is calculated, but still, it's a material difference). Remember that this is purely a product of timing and I haven't changed my policy as to who to target at all, yet I've left something like 3.0m on the table purely to guard against the risk of injury. What's really surprising to me is that over half of my transfers were impacted by this effect, not just those following a week where a player produces a huge points haul thus triggering a stampede of transfers.

Assessing the real risk of injury is harder, as potentially I changed my transfer target based on injuries which happened during the week. Though I can recall a few anecdotal instances of avoiding injuries due to delaying these moves, I again can't help but wonder if I'm putting too much emphasis on those occasions as they stood out to me as "justifying" my position. I guess if there's mid-week European action, it might still pay to wait on transfers but otherwise it seems that being cautious can lead to a serious loss of funds in the latter stages of the season and right now I would happily give up 8-12 points to correct injured transferees earlier in the year if that meant I could have another three or four million pounds to spend.

To some of you this has probably been as enlightening as a long prose explaining how the earth actually isn't flat, but hopefully my late arrival to the common sense party will help illuminate reality for a few others.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Can Sturridge replace Suarez?

I've noted a couple of times this week that I'm personally looking to make changes to my side given budgetary constraints and I assume at least some of you are in the same (or similar) position. I'd suggest the most common solution is to go with a "stars and scrubs" strategy, holding the star players like Suarez and Aguero (when healthy) while trying to fill your squad with a smattering of low priced picks who you believe you can squeeze enough value from to give you the edge. Generally, this strategy can work quite well as (a) you're better off with two players who score 8 points and 4 points than two who score 6 due to the ability to captain the star player, and (b) the game tends to leave a number of players undervalued due to a sudden increase in playing time or player improvement.

However, at this stage in the season, I am concerned about the lack of budget options. The best budget options have been bid up to mid level prices and thus if you want to hold onto the likes of Suarez you need to take a serious risk somewhere else, either backing sporadic starters like Januzaj or Gnabry, or pinning your hopes on one of the new arrivals to the league. This piece is not arguing against that strategy - as I'd suggest there remains enough promise at the budget end to make it work - rather it will try and establish how much you loose by making a downgrade at the top end of your team and what that can buy you in return.

I'm going to focus on the comparison of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, but you can make a similar comparison to Negredo/Aguero, van Persie/Rooney or Hazard/Oscar. Indeed, I will try and visit some of those pairings in future posts, but for now, let's look at the Liverpool duo.

Below is a snapshot of the two players' performances to date. I have only included games where they both played as (a) this is the reality of the current situation and I don't want to distort data with shots earned in a different position to the one currently occupied, and (b) if either player were to get injured, the argument becomes moot:

Note that the "expected" part of the above is based on the expectation of goals and assists based on their actual shot totals (rather than what the model suggests as a forecast).

So in all we have Suarez scoring two more goals and three more assists which equates to around 20 extra points. That's a pretty significant number, especially if you assume you'll be captaining the player every other week or so. The current iteration of the model is less bullish on this gap and projects just a 10 point gap for the remainder of the year, the difference largely being due to the fact that a projection model is never going to forecast Suarez to have a 10 shot game, as was the case in GW11. The degree to which you feel this kind of model underestimates Suarez will likely be instructive on how you interpret the rest of this post.

The current price difference is 3.6m which is also significant, although that number is greatly reduced for anyone who's held Suarez for a long time (I hold him at 12.1m for example, which gives a premium of just 2.3m). It's impossible to give a complete list of options for what that money can buy you, but here's a few ideas to put the numbers into context:

Lambert > Negredo +2.8m : Forecast gain of 25 points for the season (16 points using regressed rates)
Wilshere > Ozil +3.7m: Forecast gain of 9 points (16 points regressed)
Mirallas > Silva +1.9: Forecast gain of 21 points (16 points regressed)

It's coincidence that all the above options came out with a regressed 16 point gain but I guess it's a decent benchmark to sum up the kind of haul we can expect. Depending on how you feel about the model's view of Suarez, there seems to be an argument here to making the move to Sturridge and using that money to upgrade elsewhere. The captaincy issue is worth considering, though if you'd upgrading from a mid range option to an elite player, you will likely consider captaining them once or twice too, which would reduce that impact.

If your team is swimming in cash, I'm not sure this move makes sense. Suarez is essentially owned by everyone who's paying attention so you're opening yourself up to a huge risk by not owning him and I wouldn't advise making that play just to upgrade your first bench slot or to grab a slightly better 'keeper pair. But, if like me, you are struggling to even to put together a strong eleven, it looks like you might be able to squeeze more value out of Sturridge and another top flight player than Suarez and a mid level option. A final complication for those who've held Suarez for a while is that once you sell, you might not be able to afford to bring him back so this would be one mistake that literally cannot be rectified. This is about as hard of a decision as it gets, but I can't help but feel that continued inaction for those who have a low value team is going to lead to slow reduction in mini-league leads.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Finding value in the new arrivals

I didn't plan to write a full post on the transfer window dealings as, well, they tend to be pretty boring. Aside from a few select writers, most of them simply cut and past snippets from Wikipedia and combine them with some vague knowledge of players from Football Manager before declaring the player a "hit" or "miss" or some other awful measure of success failure (Ferguson/Moyes, Anyone/Heskey etc).

As you can sense though, there's a however coming. My own team's value is so low that I'm seriously hamstrung compared to many other managers and thus the onus is on me to find new value. If you're swimming in cash and/or sat pretty in your mini league I probably wouldn't get too involved in the new arrivals, at least until we've seen them in action for a month or so. But, if you're desperate like your humble blogger, cast your miserable gaze over this somewhat sorry list of alternatives (apologies for the random order, the below list is pulled from Transfermarkt, which lists teams in order of money spent):

Juan Mata (9.7m)
Juan Mata! But he's great. Wow, this is going to be a great list of talented options. Let's quickly nip those thoughts in the bud - this is as good as it gets. But in fairness, it's about as good as it gets in any season with a legitimately excellent player joining an underachieving team who still boast a number of top assets (including at least a couple who should be able to convert Mata's nifty passes at a healthy clip). Things didn't get off to a great start at Stoke for the team and Mata didn't set the world alight despite notching an assist from a nice through ball to the fit again van Persie. Two shots (both from outside the box) and three created chances are hardly a disaster but when your outlay is close to 10m, we need to see more. With Mata taking the field alongside van Persie and Rooney, he's nominally a wide player in this system, but one who will want to drift in and that makes this transition somewhat hard to forecast. For a cheaper price and in a more stable environment this seems like a match made in heaven but given my current increasing doubt in players like Silva and Ozil (who boast much better data than Mata right now) it's tough to see how he fits into your team other than as a stubborn desire to do something different.

Nemanja Matic (6.0m)
Matic made his league debut tonight against City and put in a man of the match performance which given his price tag, could pique the interest of a few fantasy managers. He did occasionally foray into City's half - including one run which resulted in a great long range effort - though for the most part he sat even deeper than Luiz and his attacking potential is therefore likely to be highly limited. Of course, Chelsea will play in some games where more bodies are committed forward with regularity but the then there's the risk that Lampard, Willian or Ramires occupy the "holding" role in those games with Matic forced to the bench.

Mohamend Salah (6.5m)
Where Matic lacks the opportunity to succeed in terms of his likely deployment, Salah's limitation is almost certainly going to be his playing time. Mourinho's comments on Salah's arrival seemed to indicate the Egyptian will offer an alternative option to get in behind defenses by utilising his speed, but there's no real reason to think he's going to challenge the excellent Hazard, Willian and Oscar for regular playing time.

Kim Kallstrom (6.0m)
Speaking of Football Manager scouting, I'm sure many gamers noticed this arrival following years of the Swede being borderline world class in the virtual world. In the few appearances I've seen for Sweden and Lyon he's actually a pretty good player and if he started this week in place of Ramsey and Wilshere, he could offer a nice, low priced bet. However, given his injury situation he may never be needed and thus might be condemned to the same fate as other FM heros before him (remember Mario Jardel at Bolton?)

Lacina Traore (7.5m)
With Lukaku sidelined for at least another month, you have to imagine that Traore will get a shot to make that front man position his own - even if Naismith did get on the score sheet this week. Everton have said that Lukaku's injury will be "weeks rather than months" so the clock is ticking for Traore to make his mark, and he's currently hindered by a hamstring problem that will see him miss at least one more week of action. Given the limited period to impact the team and the high price tag the risk here looks to significantly out weigh the reward.

Aiden McGeady (6.0m)
It wouldn't be unbelievable to see the once highly rated McGeady slide into the first team here, though for that to happen with any regularity will likely require no one emerging as a replacement for Lukaku as if Mirallas moves back into the wide positions that will leave Pienaar, Osman, McGeady, Oviedo, Barkley and Naismith competing for the other wide berth (with one also taking up a spot in the middle, of course). He's never been much of a goalscorer and if we're suggesting his best way to stay in this side is to not have a target man up top, his assist potential presumably takes a hit too. Only on five occasions this season has an Everton wide man put together a game with three or more created chances, and all those appearances belong to Kevin Mirallas. Can McGeady improve on that? Perhaps, but you can still probably find incumbent players in other comparable positions who offer a bit more certainty for the same price.

Thievy Bifouma (5.0m)
It's always interesting to see some new faces in the league (for me, Bifouma is a player I'd never even heard of before last week), rather than the same old tired carousel of Danny Graham clones, yet with Anelka due back soon and Anichebe and Berahino already in the fold, it's going to take a minor miracle for Bifouma to play a role any more is significant than "interesting" substitute.

Pablo Armero (4.5m)
Much of the press around Armero suggests he was signed as "cover for Joey O'Brien", yet it seems reasonable to suggest that a player with 50 international caps and who has featured (albeit sporadically) for Napoli and Udinese over the past couple of seasons will be aiming to do more than than backup the former Bolton man. At 4.5m though, he doesn't offer a particular discount to his teammates yet comes with the risk of uncertainty so unless he has a particular attacking threat I'm unaware of he's probably not worth more than anyone else in this back line.

Marco Boriello (6.5m)
This is an interesting name as Boriello has enjoyed some very good seasons in the past, though I've only seen him feature with any regularity during his solid season at Roma (2010-11). Though the comp is probably a bit lazy, his game isn't massively different from his incumbent challenger Andy Carroll as Boriello brings a physical presence (less so than Carroll, though) which Allardyce will likely value at the apex of his 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 system. The problem though is that in Carroll, Allardyce already has the answer to that question, it's just that the big Geordie has been unable to stay on the pitch. If Carroll doesn't win his appeal, Boriello could be given the chance to play as soon as this week, but even if that audition is a success, it's hard to see a scenario where Allardyce (a) gives up on Carroll or (b) deploys both forwards in the same side. If given the chance I think Boriello could succeed but I fear he just won't be given the opportunity to do so with any regularity.

Antonio Nocerino (5.5m)
Nocerino has occasionally been regarded in high esteem but his star has faded in recent seasons and this move likely represents one of his last chances to reignite his career. At his best though, he can offer a useful threat from midfield and would offer a better attacking threat than the likes of Noble, Collison or Diame. How that gels with Nolan is a real question though, as is the fact that Nocerino hasn't really shown flashes of his true ability for some time now. I don't watch much Italian football these days so I can't comment on why he's declined (some writers suggest he was only ever the beneficiary of having talented teammates) but the fact that he arrives in a new league to a new team with a new style in perhaps the worst form of his life doesn't scream "instant success". The price is right if he can settle quickly, and Allardyce does have a history with turning round some fading careers (less so these days) so I'm intrigued but there's too many questions to pull the trigger yet.

Roger Johnson (4.3m)
Johnson looks like depth with Tomkins and presumably Collins the first choice picks with Reid out indefinitely.

Jonas Gutierrez (5.2m)
This could be a useful signing for the Canaries in real life as Gutierrez offers a good work ethic with some ability going forward and the flexibility to play multiple positions. However, he's never been much in the way of fantasy production and stepping down from a talented Newcastle side to a mediocre Norwich team is unlikely to reverse that trend.

Johnny Heitinga (4.6m)
Fulham have been improving at the attacking end of the pitch but their defense continues to struggle, conceding double digit SiB in nine of the last 14 games, despite only facing three elite teams during that period. Hangeland's return coupled with Heitinga's arrival might help to a degree but overall this remains a poor defensive lineup and there appear to be very few opportunities in the rest of the season in which you'd want to start your Fulham defenders. Only an unexpected u-turn in Fulham's fortunes can make this move interesting.

William Kvist (4.5m)
I really like the work Fulham managed to do during the transfer window and Kvist offers a potential upgrade over the somewhat uninspiring collection of central options they currently have. However, he will occupy a deep role for his new club and is unlikely to add too many goals to add to his zero from his time at Stuttgart so from a fantasy perspective there is little interest here. He does add a more stable base in the middle though, from which the next group of players could benefit.

Konstantinos Mitroglou (6.5m)
This is one of the more interesting moves of the window and I feel that this is a player it's going to be tricky not to overreact on. Wherever Mitroglou has played, he's scored, including 17 in 19 this season for Olympiakos (three of which came in the Champions League). With Berbatov and Ruiz departed and Bent being but an empty shell of a former player, the path should be relatively clear for Mitroglou to stake a claim for an early starting spot. As noted above, it's extremely dangerous to scout players based on video highlights but one thing at least that they do show is that he's fairly comfortable in front of goal and at least offers a few different dimensions on how he can contribute (the same could be said for a number of failed forwards before him though). Fulham aren't going to be confused for City or Arsenal any time soon, and their forwards have managed to notch two or more SiB in a game just 12 times in 38 opportunities (45 minutes or more played) while 8 of their 12 three created chance performances have come from players no longer with the team. In short, Mitroglou ticks the opportunity and ability boxes, but his current situation isn't great. I might be willing to take the risk if the fixtures were better but alas the next four games look pretty miserable and the going isn't that easy after that. I guess a trip to Old Trafford and the visit of Liverpool will offer Mitroglou the chance the impress.

Lewis Holtby (6.2m)
This looks like another useful move for Fulham and could potentially combine with Mitroglou to change this team's fortunes which does make projection a touch tricky. Holtby took up a very nice position against Southampton in the hole behind Bent and was given corner duties from the off. It didn't do Fulham too much good in the end as the stumbled their way to another miserable loss which featured just eight total shots (four SiB) but there is at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Again, with better fixtures I might roll the dice here but it's very hard to see Holtby eclipsing players like Sterling or Januzaj in terms of upside or players like Nolan or Wilshere as a reliable, safe pair of hands.

Clint Dempsey (7.4m)
Dempsey's four shot effort against Swansea suggested we could be somewhere close to getting a vintage Dempsey for the second half of the season. However a deeper look shows that his three SiB came off his only touches inside the opponents box, giving him just seven such touches in 274 minutes of action (for reference, Patrice Evra had that many this week). He was then benched this week in favour of Holtby and thus his long term prospects look to align more with his Spurs days than his glory days from Fulham seasons past.

Grant Holt (5.5m)
Holt could probably do a job for someone in the Premier League and could well be targeted by any of the promoted sides next season, yet at Villa he finds himself behind a stable of decent front line options and will likely find himself fighting for scraps barring an injury to Benteke.

Ryan Bertrand (4.4m)
This was a nice pickup by Villa as Bertrand will come in to replace Luna who has struggled a bit so far at Villa Park. Prima facie the move doesn't offer much value with Villa shipping six goals in the last four games but it should be noted that they came against good teams and Villa actually limited their opponents to 29% fewer shots than expected in those games, but couldn't quite keep their opponents at bay. The real appeal with this Villa side is that when they've played bad teams they have tended to do quite well with clean sheets against Sunderland (twice), Palace, Cardiff, West Ham and Norwich already in the bag. The next four weeks sees them face three of those teams again (WHU, @CAR, NOR) and they should be pretty much at full strength throughout. Whether Bertrand offers better value than Vlaar is debatable but given Villa's recent wing back tendencies plus Vlaar's lack of attacking excitement, I'd be willing to put Bertrand pretty close to the top of my budget defender list.

Luuk de Jong (6.5m)
After a couple of prolific seasons at Twente, de Jong has found it harder going in the Bundesliga and will now try his hand in England. Newcastle have really struggled for goals of late with five blanks in the last six so the opportunity for de Jong would appear to be there but Remy, Gouffran and Cisse could all be back to join the Ameobi brothers by the time the Magpies face Villa in GW27, by which point de Jong could find himself buried down a depth chart for a team that isn't likely to waste much time developing a player who is only on loan. if we get a suggestion he has displaced Cisse and Gouffran as the second forward in this side then his 6.5m tag looks interesting but there's too much risk here to act just yet.

Liam Bridcutt (4.5m)
Bridcutt jumped straight into Gus Poyet's side for the derby win and seemed to equip himself quite well in his debut. However, a deep holding position in a team not blessed with an abundance of attacking talent doesn't sound like a winning fantasy formula and so while the price is right, you're really just buying into a player who looks likely to offer consistent minutes and not much else.

Marcos Alonso (4.5m)
Alonso is one of the players I am more familiar with after his time at Bolton and based on those couple of years this is a good capture for Sunderland (though you have to be a bit worried about his lack of action at Fiorentina). Still, Wes Brown has been ever present in this team when healthy (which admittedly has been an issue over the years) and he would still be the best option here at just 4.3m. Unlike Villa who have been unlucky based on their defensive stats of late, Sunderland appear to have been very fortunate, surrendering a total of 42 shots (24 SiB) over the last two games and yet somehow coming out with two clean sheets. Indeed, over the last 10 weeks they've surrendered 33% more SiB than expected with only two of the games registering above average marks (-19% vs WHU and -14% vs EVE).

Fabio (4.1m)
This looks like a nice snag on paper for Cardiff but based on their recent defensive stats he's not going to be able to offer much value for us as fantasy managers. Cardiff have given up double digit SiB totals in five of the last six games, surrendering an eye watering 75% more SiB than opponent adjusted average. I guess at 4.1m he offers some value in that he might play every week (though after a somewhat shaky debut that isn't a guarantee) but don't expect much from your minimal outlay.

Wilfried Zaha (5.4m)
Zaha took just 12 minutes to make an impact for Cardiff and with Solskjaer fawning over the United loanee, we could be in for more of the same in the coming weeks. The man he replaced - Whittingham - has enjoyed a reasonably good season himself so Zaha isn't an absolute lock to start every week, but you have to imagine that when the Norwegian is making his first team plans, the thought of having a genuine match winner deployed out wide must be a tempting proposition. To temper the excitement a bit, Zaha didn't register a shot last week and only created two chances while his 13 passes in 58 minutes don't really suggest he's suddenly the lynchpin of this side either. Such is life for wide men though and if you have faith that the likes of Bellamy, Campbell or another new arrival Jones can convert chances at a reasonable rate, there is a lot to like with this package on offer. For most of the season I've penciled in players like Januzaj, Gnabry and Sterling, who offer reasonable upside for a low price (offset by risky playing time), into one of my midfield slots and Zaha is probably in a similar position. He's on a much weaker team of course, but could also potentially play a bigger role and for just 5.4m that's value not to be taken lightly.

Nikica Jelavic (6.9m)
I always felt people got a bit too excited about Jelavic after his early scoring form for Everton as while he's a useful player, he's not someone who's likely to help you take that next step from mid table to European places, as Everton have strived for under Moyes and now Martinez. At Hull though he should do a solid job for Steve Bruce and the upgrade from Graham and Sagbo to Jelavic and Long could be telling come year end. Without wanting to put too much emphasis on one game, Jelavic managed five shots with three inside the box and two hitting the target this past week against a good Tottenham side who have held opponents to 17% less SiB than average. Alas, Hull didn't offer too much outside of Jelavic's efforts, but that's perfect for fantasy purposes as a wide distribution of shots never helped anyone. At 6.9m he isn't a steal and it's hard to say he's a lock to beat out players like Lambert or Rodriguez or those who could take advantage of extra playing time like Dzeko. He does, however, offer something different and brings a fairly high floor to accompany a reasonable ceiling. Hull get @SUN, SOU, @CAR, NEW and @WHU in the next five games, though of course go into the run with just one goal in the last five games (and attacking data which suggests they haven't been particularly unlucky). Despite the attacking additions there's a real dearth of creativity here but if you're looking for a player to be the focal point of a team and capitalise on weaker fixtures, Jelavic seems like a decent bet and his 1.0% ownership only sweetens the pot.

Shane Long (5.6m)
Perhaps the premium to get Jelavic over Long is a tad high, yet I'd still feel more comfortable with the former Everton man than the former Baggie. Long is a pretty good player and in terms of helping Hull might be just as important as Jelavic, yet for fantasy purposes, unless you have a unique skill set or proven ability to take chances, I look for volume of efforts on goal and Long just wasn't able to generate those with any consistency during his time at West Brom. That said, if you really want/need to go cheap with your third forward I'd put him ahead of anyone in his price range other than perhaps Weimann and so he's certainly an asset to note when playing with your squad during a wildcard and contemplating going big in midfield rather than up top.

I'm conscious that I've missed a few names here but I've tried to stick to names that I either feel could contribute or ones who others seem to be talking about and who I thus want to cool the flames on. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Attacking SiB +/- moving averages

Each stage of the season throws up different challenges, and while I'm very conscious of not overreacting to small samples at the start of the year. sometimes I think my model and associated analysis can be too slow to react to emerging trends by putting too much weight on events from last August. For example, should we totally discount those opening weeks of the season when Liverpool were Suarez-less? Or, should we press the reset button on Fulham's woeful data after Meulensteen took over?

With that in mind, the below graph shows the average attacking SiB +/- score for the season, the 8 week moving average and the 4 week moving average, with the weekly score in the bar chart below. A couple of teams stand out for further comment below:

It isn't immediately obvious what the problem is here, though mounting injuries putting a strain on Arsenal's solid (but not City-like) depth is likely a factor. Many have commented that Ozil has looked less impressive than in the earlier stages of the season, but based on simple data like created chances and touches in the opponents' third, this isn't really borne out (I haven't seen every one of Arsenal's games though so I'd be willing to listen to suggestions this is indeed a fair claim).

An average of just 7 SiB against a mouth watering fixture list of @AVL, FUL, @SOU and CRY is a real concern and after months of having a couple of Arsenal names at the top of everyone's hit list, it's looking harder and harder to justify the lofty prices attached to the likes of Ozil, Giroud and Cazorla while cheaper options like Ramsey and Wilshere are of course sidelined. I'm generally one to sugest caution but with only a couple of really good fixtures in the next nine gameweeks, serious thoughts of selling some of these assets would be reasonable.

Before we get too excited about this chart, remember that everything is relative. Even a sharp improvement still makes Fulham a pretty mediocre team, but they'll certainly take that after a near historic level of ineptitude to open the year. What this really means is that they now have a base from which they can build and the addition of a couple of promising signings - led by the free-scoring Konstantinos Mitroglou - suggests this may not be the fantasy graveyard it was for the first half of the season. Now, realists will be quick to counter that this improved shot data has meant little in the way of actual results (just three goals in the last seven games) but at least Mitroglou should get some chances to continue his goal scoring form from Greece. I'll follow this post up with some thoughts on the transfer window but early thoughts seem to suggest that Mitroglou might be worth a look if you're looking for something new.

Liverpool showed steady improvement through basically the entire first half of the season and have since managed to stabilise at that elevated level, which puts them a distance ahead of everyone other than the all-conquering City. Indeed, given the rotation risk associated with their sky blue rivals, one can argue that Liverpool offer the best combination of elite returns and security, thus making it reasonable to consider the normally-ill-advised same-team-duo of Suarez and Sturridge (and possibly even a trio adding Coutinho or Sterling). With European action set to return in a couple of weeks, the value of having players who could very well be out of all non-Premier League competitions in two weeks should be high.

Man City
Like Liverpool, City have shown an incredible ability to improve as the season has progressed, taking things to an even greater level of success than we've previously seen. There's nothing really to say here as we all know how great they've been, and the bright spot from a fantasy perspective is that Aguero's injury makes it slightly easier to project the lineup every week (the team will presumably take a slight step back though, especially if you buy into the correlation between that dip in the four week average from GW16-21 and Aguero's absence).

Like Fulham, we should be careful about what exactly we're seeing here, but such improvement deserves attention, even if it's only going from awful to mediocre. The improvement looks real and we've already seen the impact it has had on Adam Johnson's fantasy returns, though the sticking point is that outside of him the team is still highly unpredictable and still lacks the kind of upside we'd ideally like for mid-priced options. In the last 10 gameweeks Sunderland players have registered just 14 appearances where they've registered two or more SiB. Johnson owns two of those games with the others dispersed between Fletcher (4), Borini (2), Colback (1), Larsson (1), Giaccherini (1), Altidore (1), Ki (1) and the now departed Ji (1) (who has interestingly just agreed to join Dortmund in the summer). So, in short, while the team is showing a marked improvement, I'm not sure it's focused on few enough players to translate into too much fantasy success.

Swansea enjoy a reputation of a mid level team who can punch above their weight with attacking flair, though the data suggests such a reputation should be fading. In fairness, of course, they have been without their talisman Michu for some time (he's played just twice since GW10) but other than a bump in GW11-13, the decline started even with the Spaniard in the team. There's enough talent here for this team to be successful but right now that isn't translating into an end product and I'd be cautious about owning any Swans right now.
West Ham
Long time readers will know of my admiration for Allardyce and I'd still suggest he's been underrated throughout his time in the Premier League due to some media criticism which has (often) been unfair. That said though, his current West Ham team has been in attacking decline for some time now and the hyped return of Carroll hasn't shown a bump in the stats the narrative suggests it might. Allardyce has demonstrated an ability to "out perform" the data more than some teams, possibly due to a focus on high conversion chances like close range headers from set pieces, but that's not enough to paper over a team who are creating SiB's at rate 30% below the league average. Managers haven't really bought into the Carroll discussion yet (and any such excitement will have been extinguished by this week's red card), but just in case you were flirting with the idea of bringing in the big Geordie, be sure you understand the level of scraps he will be feasting on.