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.

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