Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gameweek 9: Expected Points (or, a tale of one City)

I don't recall there ever being a side in the Premier League with so many viable fantasy options. The 2009-10 Chelsea side that scored 102 goals had Drogba, Lampard, Anelka and Malouda all with double digit goals but there's a non-zero chance that this City side could have four players approaching those totals by the holidays plus two of the best two creative players in the league in Silva and De Bruyne.

This week they have the top five xP players - which is simply absurd - and even Sane could be argued to be higher as he's currently still being penalised for his early season sub appearances (though with Aguero back I'd personally argue they remain a risk). The real heartbreaker is that this game against Burnley looks delicious and someone is going to be benched and disappoint a lot of managers. Everyone except Aguero played midweek against Napoli so there are no clues there, but this is in theory the third game in which Aguero was fit enough play after his broken rib so you have to feel he's in with a good chance of displacing someone. It also wouldn't be a huge surprise to see Gundogan get some minutes here or there. Of course, there's nothing that can be done other than make sure you have a deep enough bench to absorb the blow and brace yourself for disappointment somewhere around 2:30pm on Saturday.

Kane's ranking shows that to a degree he is a fixture proof, though the model is certainly tempering expectations compared to his prior month of action. Reports of his demise are absurdly premature though.

The big surprise here is Lukaku, who I was personally considering for my captain given the risk noted above for my City players. The model believes in this Huddersfield side's defense, whose 5 goals conceded at home put them solidly in the middle of the pack, with their +/- numbers being even stronger after their home record was blown up by Spurs in GW7. United meanwhile have been somewhat pedestrian away from home with +/- numbers of -43% (Liverpool), -21% (Southampton) and 5% (Stoke) following their impressive display at Swansea in GW2 (60%). With goals in three of those fixtures Lukaku has shown he can score without needing too many chances but his points hauls of 6 ,6, 7 and 2 away from Old Trafford do show that he probably lacks the consistent upside of an Aguero or Kane.

Points vs Expected Points: Gameweek 8

Given the short gameweek, I only have one main topic this week: Man City (and then a couple of words on Harry Kane).

Whether you just saw the goals, highlights or whole game, there was no denying how impressive City's demolishing of Stoke was this week. All six of their starting midfielders and forwards amassed at least 31 points under the official BPS system, compared to just two players total from United, Chelsea, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsneal (Bakayoko and Eriksen). Jesus was given the most points under that system (which overvalues goals in my opinion), De Bruyne was awarded Man of the Match at the stadium while Sterling earned the most fantasy points thanks to his goal, two assists and bonus points. In short, there's a lot of talent to go around here. Two things jumped out this week about this City side that need a bit of exploring:

1. It's increasingly difficult to select just three City players given the talent on offer. Silva, Sterling and Mane are all performing incredibly well, especially given their reasonable price tags, while Aguero and Jesus are first and fourth among all forwards in points despite missing time through rotation and injury respectively. Finally, the defense projects as the best in the league in many metrics, making Otamendi and Stones very attractive options for under 6.0m.

While the defense has been good - with 5 clean sheets already - this week's couple of sloppy moments against Stoke remind us how fragile clean sheets can be and with City in free scoring mode, I wonder just how committed they will be to keeping opponents out when they're three and four goals up every week. If they had a player who looked to be heavily involved on at attacking front too I would probably stick with him, but Otamendi projects as the best attacking threat with a good-but-not-great profile and so I can't help but conclude that the best way forward is with a couple of midfielders and one of the forwards from this dynamic side.

2. Which of those players I would select brings me to the second point. Without seeing the game one might think City were a touch fortunate, given that they scored 7 goals on 12 SiB and 11 SoT. Both those totals are of course great - and led the league this week - but they'd generally be more suggestive of a 3 or 4 goal haul rather than a 7 goal demolition. Now in part the team probably was a touch "lucky" - Fernandino likely won't hit another shot like that for a while and Bernardo Silva's effort took a bit of fortune to setup - but on the other hand, they really did feel like they would score every time they went forward. Between them, the six goalscorers registered 8 shots on target and scored 7 times. Some regression is coming but we also need to concede that a chance created by that De Bruyne pass is not the same as a Oxlade-Chamberlain cross wildly thrashed into the box.

Other expected goal measures account for this for past events (based on positions shot were taken from) but I don't know if we have a good grasp on how to project this going forward other than to mentally note that xG totals for the likes of Aguero and Jesus may well be suppressed in the model due a lack of recognition of the quality of player they are working with. Without having the more detailed Opta data my options are a bit limited but my idea is to work in the G vs xG vs shot data thar's available into my team conversion rates to try and capture this nuance.

**Side note: thanks to follower @fisksektionen for reminding me to figure out why Sane was absent from the upper tier of the model forecast. It turns out I had missed an accent over the e-acute which messed up the lookup formula. He's now right up there, alongside teammate De Bruyne**

Harry Kane
7 expected points on a league best 6 shots (3 SiB): he'll be just fine. 86,000 managers aren't as convinced and have sold Kane this week, though that move if defensible if it's a short term play to flip over to Aguero, Jesus or even Morata while Kane endures three tough opponents in the next four games. Indeed, in two of the corresponding fixtures last season - Liverpool (H) and United (A) - Kane didn't notch a single SiB. It's fair to say he's elevated his game somewhat since then though so I wouldn't be too despondent about holding onto the England frontman, especially with that oh-so-juicy sweetener against Palace sandwiched in the middle of those tougher fixures and then a run of games that takes you well past the holidays with only one - Man City (A) really scary game.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Gameweek 8 Projections (or, why can I only have three Spurs players?)

Captain Notes
Despite not boasting an overly impressive set of results to date, the model rates Liverpool's defense quite highly and thus perennial captain option Lukaku is well down this week's rankings. Morata is a injury risk which is unfortunate given Chelsea's visit to lowly Palace, although even if fully fit the model is not enamored with the Spaniard thanks to so-so shot data for Chelsea on their travels. While they've racked up a very impressive 8 goals in 3 games, they've done so on just 21 SiB and 12 SoT, which makes the model cautious of future regression. For context, Arsenal have 20 SiB and 8 SoT in their three away trips and have yet to score.

With Aguero out and City at home, Jesus is a very real option and I might have him second on my own adjusted list. He gets a good share of City's chances when on the pitch (24%) and while his SiB numbers cannot match the likes of Kane or Lukaku, his Big Chances per 90 minutes are right up there and he looks well placed to get on the scoresheet again. Of course, going by the model that is all moot, as if you own Kane you will surely captain him. The only question is whether or not to give him the triple captaincy. The model ranks this as tied for his second best fixture in the next 12, with the top option strangely coming on the road thanks to Watford's stupendously awful defensive start to the season (41 SiB surrendered in three games with a SiB- +/- of 61%). Gun to my head I'd play the odds with the GW11 fixture at home to Palace but the certainty of knowing Kane is fit right now, and not coming off a massive fixture against Real - as he will be in GW11 - is not to be ignored.

The left field (well, left back, (sorry)) option based on the model is Ben Davies - who is now widely owned but not necessarily considered in the same light as his more esteemed colleagues. However, the model gives Davies a ~40% chance at a clean sheet, a 60% chance at an assist and a 20% chance of a goal so one might argue that the chance of him drawing a 2-point blank is arguably lower than Kane (who has done so four times this season). Again though, it's very hard to ignore Kane.

Quick rental option
If your team is in good shape then you might have the privilege of bringing in a player for just one or two gameweeks. For example, I knew I wanted Sterling in the medium term in place of the ineffectual Mahrez but with City travelling to Chelsea and United facing Palace at home I brought in Martial as a one week loan (with so-so results as Martial was limited to bench duty but did manage to nab a sneaky assist).

This week there is likely to be plenty of movement among elite forwards with injuries to Morata and Aguero, and uncertainty around Lukaku's status (not to mention a tricky trip to Anfield). As noted above, Jesus is the obvious pick and I see him as more than a one or two week play but many managers - including your lowly blogger - are already maxed out on City options so would need to look elsewhere.

I know Vardy has received buzz in this category but he has his own injury issues and so I'm going to go with Lacazette as a player I might target for 1 - 3 gameweeks while I wait for the dust to settle after the turmoil among the other elite forwards. His numbers don't generally blow me away but Watford has been miserable at home and with Ozil and Sanchez potentially both in the side, the chances should be plentiful for the Frenchman.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Points vs Expected Points: Gameweek 7

With 8 clean sheets and big performances from the likes of Spurs, United and to a degree Arsenal, there were points a plenty this week, though as we can see above, not all those performances were necessarily backed up by the underlying stats. A couple of names to focus on here:

Alexis Sanchez
The model liked the Arsenal man as the best performer of the week with 10 expected points on 8 shots (4 SiB) and 6 CC. The "three elite forward" strategy which was en vogue for all of 2 weeks has been devastated by injuries to Aguero, Morata and Lukaku and so managers are now looking back to elite midfielders to lead their team and Sanchez is well placed to potentially fill that role. His incredibly low ownership number of just 3%, plus his earlier price fall make him an incredible opportunity to turn a profit if (or should we say when) his actual points haul starts matching his xP. Arsenal's fixtures are good but not spectacular as they face City and Spurs in GW10 and 11 and the model doesn't think they're in the same league as City or their North London rival, but you have to also factor in that Sanchez will likely represent a huge share of Arsenal's SiB and CC and is about as locked into the team as one can be when healthy (the lack of Champions League involvement could be a rule boost there too).

Fantasy squads are built as a whole, so looking at one or two individual spots in isolation isn't always useful, but if you'll permit a thought experiment, consider this. You need to fill two spots: a forward and a midfielder, and you currently have Lukaku at 11.6m and Silva at 8.4m (i.e. 20m). If you like Sanchez at 11.9m then who is the forward who balances the equation for 8.1m? Vardy is close enough in price to be doable, as is Firmino, and then you have the next group of the likes of Rashford and Welbeck (though you likely wouldn't want to go double Arsenal). This model isn't perfect of course, but, accepting it's limitations, and looking at that group you see players projected for somewhere around the 60 point mark, a full 20-30 points behind the elite forwards. That puts a lot of pressure of Sanchez to make up the difference given that the likes of Salah, Silva, Eriksen and Alli all bring a similar level of job security and are looking at points hauls of around 70 themselves.

Based on the above - very rough - maths, Sanchez would need to be getting into Kane-level returns to justify his premium price above those other top midfielders and that's hard to project right now. Of course, you only have to go back to last season so see such a level of performance and if any midfield option can do it, it would surely be Sanchez, but I think the conclusion for now is that we need to see this week's performance level and maybe more over a couple of sustained weeks before he makes logical sense, although for those looking to gain ground on teams already, he offers a rare opportunity to own one of the best handful of players in the league without sharing his inevitable returns with everyone else.

Shane Long
In some ways the elite players in the league can seem to cancel each other out, either because a huge portion of fantasy managers own them, or because they offer equally good value to another option who costs a similar price (see the recent Kane vs Lukaku vs Aguero vs Morata contest). Where you can make a sneaky difference is around the edges of your first team: players who need to play almost every week but need to come at a discount price. I'm not sure he's there yet but Shane Long's appearance in a prominent place on this week's chart highlights the Irishman's return to favour at Southampton and continues a decent run in Pellegrino's side. Over the past three gameweeks Long is tied with Aguero and Kane for the most touches in the opponent's box (22) and has racked up 7 SiB, just one behind Lacazette and Vardy and two behind the all conquering Kane.

There is some concern around the quality of those shots but for what it's worth Understat ranked his xG for this week's game as 0.54, exactly the same as Kane against Huddersfield, so it seems at least some of the shots were quality. I still like Calvert-Lewin and Joselu's potential in the budget group but not one is doing a great deal to stand out right now which opens the door for someone like Long to get a look in if Southampton can get back on track in the next month which features games against NEW (H), WBA (H), BHA (A) and BUR (H).

*After writing the above I now see that Long missed tonight's Ireland v Wales game, so obviously check his status if you did want to make a move.

Not a great deal to say here, other than that it's amazing people aren't on the Brazilian yet. To date 90,000 managers have brought him in - which isn't nothing - but it's less than the 97,000 who have opted for his teammate Doucoure, who has exactly 3 SiB and 3 SoT on the season (albeit all of which have become goals). Richarlison meanwhile is 2nd among midfielders in touches in the opponent's box, total shots and SiB. Even his 10 CC isn't terrible for a mid-level player focused on scoring rather than setting up others (ahead of Salah and Mahrez and tied with Willian).

Watford get Arsenal this week then face a tough trip to Chelsea so perhaps managers are wisely waiting until after that to pickup Richarlison but I urge you to keep him in mind at that point, even if he's kept quiet for those tricky games, as Watford then face only two really tough fixtures in the next 12.

Kevin De Bruyne
I have heard some talk that De Bruyne is widely considered to be the best player of the 2017-18 season as we approach the quarter-way mark. I am not particularly interested in debating that suggestion but I am interested in this kind of discussion's impact from a fantasy perspective. A player's overall ability is not a huge concern for fantasy purposes - other than I suppose the small impact on earning bonus points - but rather it's simply about racking up goals and assists. In terms of assists, there are few, if any, better placed that the young Belgian. He leads the league with 24 CC and with elite teammates getting on the end of them, not to mention a large chunk of them coming from set pieces, from which De Bruyne clearly excels, there is no arguing his assist potential is sky high. However, his teammate Silva trails him by just a single created chance and has notched six "big chances" created to De Bruyne's three, most likely due to the advanced areas behind the front two that Silva has been occupying of late. Either way though, let's call it a tie.

The goal threat however is far from close. Silva has racked up 9 SiB with 3 "big chances" in the first 7 gameweeks, compared to just 2 SiB for De Bruyne and 0 big chances. Of course, the Belgian has 12 efforts from outside the box and will no doubt ripple the net a couple of times this year thanks to his quality, but history shows that SoB are converted at a low rate, even for a player of De Bruyne's quality. Consider that last season he converted 54 SoB in 4 goals (a 7% rate) and the season before that he notched 2 goals on 27 SoB (7%). This season he has a single goal from 12 SoB for, you an 8% conversion rate. This puts him on track for something like a 5 or 6 goal season if he plays every week. Now, the retort could be that Silva is yet to find the net at all, but give me the player who's shooting from inside the box will regularity and has averaged over 5 goals a season over the past three despite playing just an average of 26 games any day of the week.

Factor in Silva's 1.5m lower price tag and I find it hard totify De Bruyne's 17% ownership. In fact, I could make a decent argument he's the 4th ranked City midfielder I would own, given the additional chances Sterling and Sane should get in the side with Aguero sidelined.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Wilcard resources

As we sit in the middle of another dull international week, many managers will be tempted to play (or have already played) that wildcard chip.

With that in mind, I wanted to link to a few resources that I have posted over the past few weeks that might be useful

Overall player projection - projected points for the next 12 gameweeks

Player share of key stats - the percentage of their team's SiB and CC that each player has accounted for

Points vs Expected Points - a quick way to highlight players who have underperformed their underlying stats to date and could see increased fortunes in the future with improved conversion rates.

Performance vs prior season - see how players have performed in this season's fixtures compared to the same fixture last season

Team snapshot and projection - which teams are performing best and who do you need to secure coverage for?

Defender selector - which defender gives the best combination of value and attacking threat within each team?

Differentiators - whose ownership numbers remain surprisingly low?

Finding a differentiator

One of the downsides of the fantasy game is the fact that every manager has the same access to every player, which can cause teams to converge as the season goes on. This can lead to the conclusion that we need ways to differentiate our teams to try and gain some advantage over the pack. I would suggest there is some danger in chasing this idea too much as ultimately you need to be chasing points, not just unique points but there is of course some value to having players who offer something a bit different.

The below visualization shows the standard points vs expected points chart but with the marks colour coded based on ownership. The bluer marks are the players everyone seems to own (Lukaku, Kane, Salah etc) while the orange marks show the players flying below the radar.

The first observation is that the vast majority of players are in very few teams so your search for differentiators doesn't need to go too deep. You don't need to be looking at the 4th defender on Brighton's backline to find a variable: Monreal, for example, is the third highest scoring defender to date but is owned by just 6% of teams. The second point to note is that if you look at the ownership charts of the players at the top end of range, they are generally increasing so it's only going to get harder to separate your side from the pack.

A couple of players that stand out for me:

Richarlison (MID, WAT, 6.1m, 6% owned)
As noted above, I think people can get too cute when it comes to looking for differentiators. A team's 3rd of 4th best option might have a nice run but over a few games it's likely that their chances will start to diminish, unless they're in a truly special team (such as Sterling and Sane at City). The beauty with Richarlison is that he is arguably Watford's best player, accounting for 29% of Watford's SiB and 17% of their CC, ranking 1st and 2nd respectively (he trails Holebas in CC). There just aren't that many mid-level midfielders that excite me at the moment and so with so many managers looking to spend 30m+ up top, I am surprised there hasn't been more interest in the Brazilian. Back to back goals in GW6 and GW7 seem to have started to move the ownership needle though.

Sterling (MID, MCI, 7.9m, 6% owned)
This pick may look contradictory based on the suggestion that you shouldn't get too cute with your picks, but such is the potential of this City side, any way to access it is worth consideration. With Aguero out for perhaps 6 weeks there are additional minutes to go around, which should open things up a bit for Sterling (and Sane). Sane has of course outscored Sterling to date but his playing time has been so limited that's it hard to project anything with much certainty. Sterling is not a certainty himself but I prefer his combination of potential and playing time as an additional way to get access to the City juggernaut.

Joselu (FWD, NEW, 5.5m, 1% owned)
The Newcastle man's low ownership is a bit of a puzzle as for anyone who wants two elite options up front plus a selection of expensive midfielders, they need a cheap forward to round out their team and Joselu is about as good as anyone in terms of points to date in that group. His expected points total is even better and with a continued run in the side and a bit more adventure from Newcastle, one could see Joselu being a 8-12 goal man who can be deployed when the fixtures look best. The fact that he's the third most owned forward on his own team is a nice little bonus.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Individual game performance this season vs last season

Readers of this blog will likely be comfortable with the idea that one way in which we tend to mis-evaluate a player's performance to date is to focus too much on outcomes and not enough on process i.e. on goals and not shots. This problem, of course, is what stats like expected goals (xG) try to combat, as does simply looking at underlying stats rather than focusing on goals or assists.

Another area for caution is to adjust for the opponents an individual player has faced. A player may well be good value for their 3 goals in 3 games based on their underlying stats, but if those all came in games against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Swansea then it doesn't necessarily mean they will enjoy future success when the opponents get tougher. This is implicitly factored into the player projections, which are based on individual opponents but there are holes in the model that can need to be recognized.

For example, the model allocates a team's projected shots to individual players based on the percentage of their teams shots they have accounted for in the past, but what about the scenario where a player feasts on weaker sides, accounting for 30-40% of his team's total shots, but goes quiet against the stronger sides? This is a fairly nuanced point and one that isn't immediately obvious how to embed in a model across the entire population.

The below visualization therefore attempts to fill this void a bit, just as a sense check for how you think an individual player has been performing. Each player's SiB and CC in games this season are plotted against how they performed in the respective fixture last season. We're only showing games where a player logged more than 45 minutes in each fixture, so you won't necessarily see every game from this season on there. More marks in the bottom-right, orange section speak to a player who has been stronger against a like-for-like fixture in the current campaign (see Harry Kane's SiB) where as more marks towards the top left show that they performed better last season (see Nathan Redmond's SiB). Hovering over each mark will show the opponent and in aggregate can help build a bit of nuance as to where the player is succeeding or failing this season compared to last.