Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bench pressing

As alluded to in last week's post about Guardiola's "wild" rotation (or lack thereof), I am currently of the opinion that the various City options that are available (plus a couple of other elite players around the league) are so good that it is worth absorbing the inevitable rotation hits that come, even as those punches start to increase in number over the busy holiday period. One of the risks and possible downsides here is that with rotation generally not being something one can plan around (unlike, say, actual injuries or suspensions), the characteristics of your bench need to be tweaked somewhat.

Two key points need to be changed in my own personal bench strategy. First, I need to pay more attention to it. I am generally pretty focused on maintaining a good substitute keeper that rotates nicely with the other option and then one other sub, but after that I do not prioritise having a deep bench. Second, because you won't necessarily be able to choose when to deploy your bench options, I think you are better focusing on higher frequency scoring events such as clean sheets or bonus points rather than just goals. For example, if 2 players are each expected to play 90 minutes in each of the next six games with one projected for 3 - 3 - 5 - 2 - 3 - 3 points where as the other is projected for 2 - 3 - 4 - 7 - 2 - 2 then while the second player is expected to score an extra point overall, one can make the argument that seeing as you expect to deploy this player just once or twice, you are better off with the 5/6 chance of earning more than 2 points with player one than the 3/6 chance with player two. Of course, this only applies to an extent and if there is a bargain player who offers significant scoring potential then they are obviously the better pick.

The below table shows midfielders and forwards available for under 5.0m (though you can set the threshold as you wish) and plots the percentile they fall into with regards to:

  • the share of their team's BPS they account for (which I am using a proxy for bonus point potential),
  • clean sheets (for midfielders only)
  • expected goals
  • expected assists

I have highlighted a few names below the chart that I will personally be considering as stocking stuffers for the holiday season.

Tom Carroll
Carroll has a bit of a cult following in fantasy circles though despite his promising underlying numbers he hasn't really been able to produce much by way of concrete returns. Here though we're interested not just in his assist potential but also Swansea's reasonable clean sheet record and his solid share of BPS which suggest bonus points could flow his way, especially given Swansea's lack of established stars. However, the model doesn't really like Swansea's defense going forward and their opponents in January - TOT, @NEW, LIV, ARS - make me nervous. Still, he's played every game and doesn't look likely to lose his place to the ineffective Sanches and so for 4.5m Carroll remains a reasonable bench option.

Nemanja Matic
Matic was one of the players I had in mind when considering this strategy and the data supports this thought process to a degree. What you're buying here is a very high chance of a clean sheet to accompany an almost guaranteed appearance, though bonus points are always going to be hard to come by with several other good players in this United side. I would prefer Matic at 4.5m as you are really not getting a great deal of offensive threat here but the fixtures from mid-December to mid-January are so good that one could easily see him racking up five clean sheets in eight games, which is just as good as a goal but spread evenly over the fixture list.

N'Golo Kante
Kante was the other player I had in mind when I started this and he too looks like a decent fit here. Chelsea's defense isn't quite as good as United's to date, although the model likes them slightly more in the coming weeks. Kante also provides a fairly significant increase in attacking potential, though again doesn't offer much by way of bonus point potential with other players like Morata and Azpilicueta attracting the lion's share to date. Given his increased attacking threat and Chelsea's incredibly favourable run of fixtures in December and January, Kante is my number one pick here, even at a slight premium to some of the other bargain basement picks.

Tom Cleverley
Richarlison has rightly won the plaudits in this Watford midfield and Doucoure has received serious backing having notched 4 goals to date already, but I actually quite like the unheralded Cleverley as a bench option here. The former United man actually has a slightly higher xG than Doucoure (though neither offers much to get overly excited about with Doucoure's 4 goals from 5 SoT incredibly unsustainable) though it's once again his ability to chip in across the categories we're interested in. Watford's defense projects reasonable well despite being leaky of late and another healthy of fixtures over the holidays look promising.
I'm still not entirely convinced by this strategy, with the other alternative being to grab 13 or 14 affordable players to build a balanced squad where your bench options can offer more than just scraps. With Aguero's potential injury I was considering this alternative strategy but I can't see not owning the Argentine, Kane and Salah when healthy which pretty much rules out a totally balanced side. Thus I will try and spend the next couple of weeks strengthening my awful bench for the inevitable rash of rotation frustration coming our way.

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