Thursday, August 30, 2018

Looking at early conversion rates (to justify your transfers or crush your dreams)

There seems to be an emerging narrative in the early week of the season that fantasy teams are starting to converge and a “template” has emerged for people to follow. The strong start of the elite full backs, the apparent “must own” status of pricey Salah and Aguero and a couple of budget midfield enablers (Neves and Kante) make it seem like this is the case. If we look at the prior year ownership data for GW3 though, we see a broadly similar pattern of ownership:

Overall we had 14 players with 20%+ ownership where as this season we have 17, with one clear leader over 50% and a handful more over 30%. This season I think we have a couple more budget options with the likes of Wan-Bissaka, Richarlison, Neves, Kante and to an extent Zaha and Mkhitaryan, where as last year we saw just Hernandez, Hegazi and Rooney. I wonder if the the presence of these budget options here might well be what is leading folks to conclude that teams are starting to all look the same. Differentiation is always an important consideration and so while the question as to whether or not teams are less diverse is an interesting question, but the point I wanted to dwell on here was another.

If we look back at that list of early favourites from last season and see where their ownership percentage was a few gameweeks later, we see some interesting results:

By GW10, 12 of the 14 most-owned players had either decreased in ownership or stayed approximately the same. The likes of Rooney, David Luiz, Mane, Hernandez and Alli had all seen their ownership percentage drop by over 10% with only Salah and Kane increasing their numbers significantly. By the halfway point of the season five players had lost 20 percentage points or more. On the flip side, players like David Silva, Jesus, Sane, Otamendi, Doucoure, GroƟ, Azipilicueta and Richarlison all had low ownership numbers at this point last season but by GW10 were all close to 20% owned.

So all that is a long road to get to our destination of concluding that we probably don’t know as much as we think we do, and those players who look to be essential now might be discarded in a few weeks and new options will surely emerge. I’ve noted before that I’m not super comfortable suggesting that Player X is a “good” pickup because he has good shot totals as this data is so noisy after just a couple of games. Schurrle, for example, seems to be getting some buzz given his high shot totals but a quick peak at the underlying data shows a mediocre xG, backed up by watching last week’s game – he’s clearly a promising option with a good pedigree and involvement in that team, but his mandate appeared to be to shoot on sight and thus his lofty shot totals are probably not a great data point to rely on alone. To try and tease some of these over (and under) achievers out, we can plot players’ conversion rates for this season (CY) and compare to the prior year data (PY) as well as the rate at which their teammates are converting chances (Tm). If we see some of these “hot” players with conversion rates that are well above normal then that might pour some cold water on our enthusiasm (or vice versa for players whose rates are inexplicably low).

Mkhitaryan (20% ownership)
Clearly his G/SiB rate is higher than expected, but not so much as to scream regression. His SiB/PBT rate is right around where we'd expect, suggesting he's earning his shots at a reliable rate, and of course he still offers some value from shots outside the box given his ability. The rate at which he's creating chances coupled with a slightly lower than expected conversion rate suggests his assist potential could even be a little understated. Arsenal have a good fixture list over the next seven weeks but there aren't too many other options in this team you'd feel comfortable backing. You typically like your mid-price options to offer a bit more differentiation but 20% isn't too high and the pick just makes sense right now.

Wilson and Fraser
As I started to write this, I very much expected both Wilson and Fraser to have the kind of stats that pointed towards a nosedive in the coming weeks. I'm a fan of Wilson and Fraser has really impressed, but for a reasonable but non-explosive Bournemouth side, I just didn't imagine there would be enough there to support their points hauls. However, Wilson actually has a slightly lower G/SiB conversion rate and while he is earning shots at a slightly higher rate based on his PBT, that could at least be in part down to the way this side is playing. His assist threat looks overstated but for a 7 million forward, you don't need many assists so long as the goals keep flowing. 14% (and climbing) is a reasonable number of managers, most of whom are presumably quite active as he surely wasn't a huge GW1 play, but with many teams looking to install two mid-level forwards, there's good reason to suggest Wilson can be one of those players.

Again, Fraser appears to have some hints around the edges that he's overachieved a little, but really nothing to worry about. His set piece ability will mean that he will always have the potential to create more chances than open play numbers would suggest and with a decent stable of teammates, it's not unreasonable to think they will be converted a decent rate.

Alonso
The Spanish full back is good value for his goal and is arguably as likely as anyone to lead all defenders in goals by the end of the season. His assist haul however is significantly overblown and we'd expect some serious regression there. This means that to justify that premium price tag, you need reasonable confidence that he's also going to earn defensive points. Chelsea only have the one clean sheet from the first three games, although they are second only to Liverpool in terms of shots conceded inside the box, despite two away games (albeit to somewhat weak opposition) and the visit of Arsenal. If you buy the red flag about assist potential and aren't totally convinced about Chelsea's defensive potential then I'm not sure Alonso justifies the 0.4m more than Mendy, or the 0.6m over Robertson (both of whom I would expect to notch plenty of assists and clean sheets but perhaps not the goals). That said, there is a pretty strong case for owning all three of that group and I therefore wouldn't argue against feeling the need to bring Alonso in while his price continues to rise.

Zaha
The numbers here suggest we pour a bit of cold water on Zaha, although given his price and guaranteed playing time, I don't think we need to panic. However, with a G/SiB more than double last year, we'd expect him to slow down a bit and when you look down that list of teammates, you can see why. Without too much other attacking quality in the side, teams should be able to focus on Zaha and as the season goes on and the tactics become more known, it'll be a hard lift for Zaha to continue his form. Of course, Townsend is a decent player, the attacking full back pair of Wan-Bissaka and van Aanholt look promising and new arrival Meyer comes with a good reputation, so it's possible this Palace side continue to develop as the season progresses. I'd say if you own him or sign him now then the move still make sense, but with brutal fixtures starting in GW10 and continuing for the most part through GW18, time is certainly of the essence.

Richarlison and Walcott
The Everton duo have 5 goals between them and a combined ownership now approaching 40% (with a shift from the Brazilian to the English man due to the former's red card). However, Richarlison has scored 3 goals from 4 SiB and Walcott has 2 goals from his 3 SiB; both rates which look unsustainable for anyone, nevermind two players whose profile pictures weren't exactly shortlisted when defining "clinical" in the dictionary. Now, 4 SiB in two and a half games is a totally reasonable haul for Richarlison and his penalty box touches and pass numbers suggest he will continue to earn those high value shots. The numbers don't, however, speak of a "must own" player and with his absence in GW4-6 followed by trips to Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool in GW10-14, I wouldn't rule out selling him and circling back after those games are in the books.

Walcott too has some reasonable underlying data and his game isn't necessarily going to be well reflected by stats looking at total touches, but his shot totals are pretty low and he's offering little assist threat, making him a fine but not overly exciting option at 6.7m. With home games against WHU, HUD and FUL in the next 4 gameweeks, he makes sense as a short term rental, or for anyone convinced they need to switch back to Richarlison immediately post-suspension, but I don't know if this move is certain enough to justify the 500,000+ transfers we've already seen in the gameweek. Of course, there aren't too many options in the 6-8m who look totally convincing right now, so the move certainly isn't crazy either.

Maddison
Speaking of mid-level midfielders, I am surprised Maddison's ownership numbers are so low given the chatter around the Leicester man, although not at all surprising based on his underlying data. A single SiB and two CC don't suggest a breakout in the near future, even if he has impressed to the eyeball test in that role off of Vardy and more recently Iheanacho.

Mane and Salah
One current line of thinking is that Mane can provide sufficient Liverpool cover to free you of the need to own Salah, giving you over 3 million to spend elsewhere in your team without losing too much ground. Through three gameweeks that strategy has obviously proven wise with Mane not only matching but actually surpassing Salah in both goals and fantasy points. This data suggests the next set of gameweeks might not go the same way though. While Mane has been significantly more clinical than last season - converting his SiB at double last year's rate - Salah has actually been less clinical than we might expect, although I think it's reasonable to expect some regression from last season's lofty heights. The fact that Mane is second only to Salah in total shots sounds promising but when you realise that Salah has literally doubled Mane's total efforts and out shot him 11 to 8 inside the box, it starts to suggest there really does remain a gap here, and it's probably not a question as to whether Salah starts to outscore his teammate, but by how much, and more importantly, whether than gap justifies 3 million pounds. I think there's a pretty strong case to be made for owning both Mane and Salah, especially given Firmino not looking quite as sharp as last season, but given the 60% combined ownership numbers for Robertson, Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold, that means you could have 28 million or so invested in a single team that is about to face TOT, CHE and MCI in the next five gameweeks. I could definitely see a scenario where I own both these players in the future but right now that looks tough to justify and given Salah's threat, that Mane ownership number starts to look a bit big to me.

Mendy
Despite Mendy having 6 totals shots (compared to Alonso's 7), I don't think it's controversial to suggest that the Chelsea man would be strong favourite to finish the season with more goals. Assist wise, both players have benefited from unsustainably high conversion rates of the created chances, though Mendy's case is not as extreme as Alonso who has literally more assists than created chances. I think it's fair to conclude that Mendy offers just about the best assist threat among defenders though, given his advanced role in the best team and so while the lack of reliable goal production is a concern, I do think the assists will continue to come, and I'd expect City to have the best defense again, which together with a lack of too many options at his position in the City squad, conspire to make Mendy justifiable at any price up to probably close to 7.0m.

Not much to add on Aguero here, other than to note that while he already leads the league in goals, he's just doing what he does. Nothing suggests he's overachieving or outperforming his stats by a material amount, and the only thing likely to slow him down is rotation (which could come as soon as this week) or injury.

Trippier
All this data should be taken with a pinch of salt given the small sample, and that applies even more to Trippier who missed a game, but I just want to note here that while the England man can probably fairly be put in that elite fullback group with Mendy and Alonso when it comes to assist potential (5 CC already in just 166 minutes of action), I don't think his goal threat is that much higher, if at all, just because of his free kick ability. He's managed just two totals shots in his two games, and only four touches in the penalty area, compared to double digit efforts from Alonso and Mendy. The free kicks are certainly a nice bonus, but with Eriksen, Alli and even players like Lamela and Dier in the side, I don't know if that's quite the gold mine that memories of Russia might suggest for the England fullback.

Pereyra
I think most managers buying Pereyra are savvy enough to know that his current pace is obviously going to slow down, the question just being by how much. WIth that in mind then, I think this data is actually quite positive. A 38% G/SiB is high, but not laughably so and it's fair to argue he's been good value for at least one or two goals based on the underlying data. His 8 shots have all come inside the box giving him the exact shot profile as the significanlt pricier duo of Alli and Mane. At 6.2m he's just about cheap enough to bench every second or third week, although the upcoming fixtures of TOT, MUN and at ARS look perhaps too daunting to justify pulling the trigger now. If you haven't already jumped in, then it might now be worth waiting out that run of games given the presumed slow down in price rise after the early gameweek rush.

Arnautovic
I imagine a lot of teams had Arnautovic in them at some point during the preseason given his reasonable price tag, ability and success last year in a more advanced role, and he opened the season with a solid but not sky-high ownership number that surprisingly hasn't changed too much. I guess his injury status is weighing against his back-to-back goalscoring games, offering a bit of time for prospective buyers to consider their options. He's earning chances at a higher rate than last year, though that could partly be role-related, but nothing else is really a cause for concern here and once the injury situation is cleared up I would definitely have the Austrian on.my shortlist The only significant arguments against the West Ham man are the overall uncertainty around his team - the Hammers have managed just 16 SiB in three games, the 4th lowest mark in the league - and the decent array of mid-price forwards that have emerged (Wilson, Mitrovic, Zaha, Tosun) as competition.

I'm going to leave it there for now, having only focused on those with high ownership numbers, but plan a follow up post where we look at players with low ownership numbers whose underlying data suggest some position regression in their future.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

How much extra value do premium defenders need to offer? Part II

Previously we looked at some data from last season and tried to set a rough benchmark as to how much value you need from premium defenders in order to be worth their higher price tag. If you didn't catch that piece then I'd encourage you to do so, but if not, the TL;DR is that we estimated that you should be aiming to earn somewhere around 26 points attacking points (goals, assists and bonus points) for every 1.0m extra invested over a player in the same team i.e. Alonso over Luiz or Walker over Stones. It's also worth re-empahasising that this would exclude any playing time concerns, which further complicate things somewhat.

The below graphic starts to plot the defenders from each team to quickly highlight the potential areas where the more expensive players are starting to show their value. I must note here that two gameweeks is too soon to draw any strong conclusions based on the underlying stats, but then again, we need to start making transfer decisions now so like it or not this is what we have. My own approach is to keep my prior based on what we know from last season or beyond, taking care to adjust it as new data comes in, and not tear it down based on one or two good games. After the vizualisation I will flag a few names that have caught my eye:



Chelsea
Chelsea were the team that inspired this piece and Alonson was the specific player. Despite Azpilicueta's 14% ownership and assist at the weekend, there is really no way to justify him in your team based on the 2nd level data (shots and created chances), although if you dig a little deeper into attacking touches and passes, the Spanish duo start to look more comparable. Rudiger has offered a decent amount of attacking threat but with Alonso stronger claim on a starting spot and a general preference for the consistent threat from attacking full backs over the sporadic returns from centre backs scoring from set pieces, I would give the nod to Alonso there without much question. Luiz makes the decision close as now you're talking about a little over a million pounds, which would play out to be something like 30 points, and we know that Luiz carries his own threat, not just from headers but from taking set pieces himself and even the odd long range thunderbolt. The expected points gap through two games is about 2 points which puts Alonso ahead of schedule in justifying the premium, and again, with the higher likelihood of holding his starting spot I think this is one area where the most expensive defender is actually worth the premium. The 26% ownership is a bit of a turn off and the fixture list is good rather than great, but if you're buying Chelsea I would agree that Alonso is the best way to do so.

Crystal Palace
After his run to end last season, I expected Van Aanholt to be a significant bandwagon pick this season. However, it looks like his price tag probably scared many off initially, and then the subsequent emergence of Wan-Bissaka as a 4.0m starter and Schlupp as a defender-playing-in-midfield option, the former Chelsea man is somewhat being ignored. Based on this early data I would say that decision looks smart, although Schlupp could well lose playing time now Meyer looks ready to slide into midfield and Wan-Bissaka will miss a game through suspension. The youngster's attacking threat make him incredible value at 4.0m but even if he fell out of favour, the likely replacement would be another 4.0m man in Kelly, and it's really hard to see Van Aanholt generating enough points to justify a 1.5m premium over either of these options.

Leicester
Maguire is obviously a threat from set pieces and this is one example where that prior shouldn't be overtaken by two games of blanks from the England man in terms of shots on goal. That said, Chilwell really impressed against Man United and has already generated some decent attacking data, all while costing 0.5m less and being something of a differentiator. This is a close one and picking Chilwell might be being a touch too clever, although I can't help but feel that some of Maguire's perceived value comes from his marauding runs upfield and his place in the England team, which count for nought in fantasy football. I was also surprised to see that he wasn't even particularly a bonus magnet last season with just 10 points on 716 BPS. This one is arguable either way, and despite the advantage Chilwell shows here, you can also make the case for Pereira, who has some very nice level 3 data (touches in the final third etc).

Man City
This one looks like no-brainer given the start Mendy has enjoyed, and I don't really have any push back on that conclusion, other than to say that his price is already up to 6.2m, he's already owned by 27% of managers (and rising) and given his playing time last season, it's not hard to imagine sitting out a game or two in the near future, which would frustratingly be likely to come against an easier opponent. It's all but impossible to choose the more expensive Walker though, so if you are looking to go in a different direction to access this City defense then you're stuck playing the Pep Guessing game between Stones, Laporte and Kompany. I didn't list goalies here, but Ederson is probably the best pick after Mendy given his lack of rotation threat and the potential for the odd assist.

It's a credit to fantasy managers and an indication that generally people are getting more savvy with the fact that what appear to be the best option from a number of teams are currently the most selected player, including Arsenal (Bellerin), Brighton (Duffy), Burnley (Tarkowski), Man Utd (Shaw), Liverpool (Robertson) and Watford (Holebas).

I will add this vizualisation to the man menu and check back in a couple of gameweeks to see if anyone new is emerging.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

How much extra value do premium defenders need to offer? Part I

At this stage of the season, those of us who are statistically inclined face a bit of a dilemma. We know that too much weight should not be placed on the limited data that's available, but yet the alternative is to rely on no data and simply make your picks based on the one or two games of action you've seen, or worse, some voodoo about world class players not being able to score in August.

With this in mind, this time of year offers a good opportunity to explore a couple of other broader topics before the games start coming thick and fast and we get lost in expected goal regressions. Though data in a wider sense may not yet be stable, we can start to take some reasonable confidence from starting lineups and some of the lessons we can draw from there. Specifically here, I am interested in (a) which players offer a discount among their teammates and (b) when would we be willing to pay for the more expensive option. This is typically most useful when it comes to defenders and 'keepers as the substantial part of their value normally derives from clean sheets - which are the same for all starting players - with the difference then being their attacking potential. Two forwards are obviously much harder to compare as while they enjoy the same opponents each week, everything else is different.

What I am interested in then is, if we have a defensive line valued like this:

  • GK: 5.5m
  • DEF: 6.0m
  • DEF: 5.0m
  • DEF: 5.0m
  • DEF: 5.0m
and we expect them all to start essentially every game, what does the premium 6.0m defender need to do in order to justify his price tag?

The big picture benchmark
Looking at the big picture, over the course of the season you'll want to eclipse 2,000 points and probably push into that 2,200+ point range. Without chasing value too much, you should be able to have an average team value of somewhere around 102m (yes it will be higher later, but you're likely to have 8-10 weeks in that 100-101 range unless you hit on some very early risers). However, 17-18m (or more) of that value is going to be sat on the bench each week, meaning you need your ~85m squad to generate those 2,200 points. This means for every million you spend, you need to be earning somewhere around 26 points.

26 points doesn't sound like that much for elite defenders to earn, when the likes of Alonso or Bendy are more than capable of notching double digits in a single gameweek. However, remember that these points need to come from attacking sources only, as their teammates will obviously score clean sheet points at the same rate. This is a slight oversimplification as you may also be paying for increased stability of playing time, and then bonus points further cloud the issue as these can be earned for both defensive and offensive outcomes, but I'm going to put a pin in those questions for now.

If we calculate attacking points as a simple formula of goals x 6 plus assists x 3, then you end up with just six defenders who managed 26 points or more. Not 26 points more than their teammates but 26 attacking points in total. As above, this is an underestimation as we're ignoring bonus points, so if we include an estimate of their full value then you get 29 players who would have notched 26 points or more. The reality is likely then between these two numbers but I have included an estimate of bonus points in the numbers below.

2017-18 cast studies
Let's have a look at a couple of teams from last season to see this calculation in action. Note that I am using starting prices as (a) these are more widely available and (b) it lessens to variety of prices to just seven categories (4.0m, 4.5m, 5.0m . . . 7.0m) rather than having to account for every 0.1m.


Here's an example where I think the top two players are offering not just the attacking bonus but also the playing time stability, as the other centre backs in the team tended to get rotated throughout the season. Ignoring that though, we see that Azpilicueta costs 0.5m more than the pack and would have delivered around 10 more attacking points (if one CB had been consistently deployed). So this is slightly below the 26 point rate noted above but given the extra stability I think a strong argument could be made he was worth it. Similarly, the next upgrade from Azpilicueta to his Spanish colleague Alonso provided an additional 13 points, which for 0.5m equates exactly with our 26 points per million mark. In this situation then, I think it's fair to conclude that Alonso was the best pick, although as fantasy team's became saturated with him, one could make a reasonable case for Azpilicueta too.


Based on these values Harry Maguire was a no-brainer, offering a 24 point premium for just 0.5m. As the season wound on though, his price rose to 5.5m, which seems like about the equilibrium: a 1.0m premium for 24 points (in reality Maguire was worth a little less than this as he earned bonus points at a lower rate than the model suggests, but the general point remains).



Here we can see a team where no one player was able to differentiate themselves and the best selection would likely have been whoever was cheapest (assuming they had a similar chance at playing time). I've shown Watford here but the same logic applies to several teams and the lesson is not to assume that a team's best attacking option is not necessarily a worthy option.

Now we've set the context and defined what we're looking for, in the next post we'll have a first look at this year's team selections and a cautious first glance at the attacking data and see which premium defenders are off to the kind of start that might justify their price tag.

Monday, August 20, 2018

An emerging buy opportunity

Just a quick post today to highlight what I think is a promising buy opportunity, not currently getting too much attention. What's on offer:

  • A proven midfielder who has averaged the equivalent of 31 games of action over the last 5 seasons
  • Currently ranked 12th among midfielders in successful passes in the final third and 9th in created chances.
  • Took penalties for his team last season (though that could be in jeopardy this year)
  • Currently just the third most owned midfielder on his team.

Sounds reasonably promising so far, but what if I added that he accumulated those impressive stats in just 43 minutes of action this season? We're of course talking about Eden Hazard. Not exactly an unknown quantity - indeed he's still owned by 12% of managers despite his fitness concerns - but with question marks surrounding arguably half of all midfielders valued at 9.0m or above, Hazard's return to fitness in a rejuvenated Chelsea side seems like a real opportunity.

Even without their talisman, Chelsea have managed 6 goals and 22 shots inside the box in their two games, trailing only City and Spurs in both categories (and surely having faced a harder schedule than their London rivals). The next 10 games see them face two top sides (MUN and TOT) although both travel to the Bridge, as do four other opponents (BOU, CAR, CPL and EVE), together forming a promising set of fixtures for the fit-again Hazard.

The arrival of "Sarri-ball" was awaited with anticipation, and while it is again far too soon to draw conclusions as yet, the two games to date have been very promising and when compared to the corresponding fixtures from prior season (at HUD and ARS at home) we see signs of improvement (again, small size warning and a note that Arsenal are a team in flux themselves):

  • 2017-18: 25 shots, 17 SiB, 201 passes in final 3rd, 3 goals
  • 2018-19: 37 shots, 22 SiB, 262 passes in final 3rd, 6 goals

The potential loss of penalty duties to Jorginho could be a blow, although with Chelsea doing all they can to persuade him to stay beyond the season, it's not yet certain whether that transition will indeed happen. Without too much concrete information at this stage of the season, the certainty that a fit again Hazard would bring to your side is extremely valuable, and as an early buyer you could enjoy a month or so of differentiation as others opt for Mane, Eriksen and Pogba. Those players each have their merits too, so I'm not necessarily say we can be sure Hazard is worth the extra cost above that group, but for those of you with Sanchez, De Bruyne or other City players whose minutes are causing you stress, Hazard is worth a long look this week.

For what it's worth, I was a foolish early investor in Alexis Sanchez, and with his "small issue" and United's uninspiring start to the campaign, this was a pretty easy switch for me to make before the Chilean's value presumably falls ahead of this week's visit of Spurs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The best data categories for early gameweeks

Gameweek 1 has been somewhat less dramatic than last season. With the new Friday kick off and a solid day of Saturday action under our belts I went to bed on August 12th just like any other Saturday night. A few hours later I was woken by my wife who was in labour - 7 weeks before our due date. A few more hours later our twin girls appeared and let's just say that questions around Gabriel Jesus's playing time or Paul Pogba's xG suddenly seemed somewhat trivial. Needless to say, the past year has meant I've had less time to dedicate to fantasy football, although the early starts on the weekend make watching the 7am ET games much easier.

Over the offseason I have been debating how, if at all, this blog can continue to offer value. With the prevalence of Opta's xG, my own version of a similar (but more basic) model becomes somewhat irrelevant and my absence from England means that I will never be as up to date on team news as those who live in the city, read the local press and have Sky Sports New on a loop. Time constraints also make it very hard to individually maintain a broad catalogue of data visualizations trying to monitor fixture strength, expected points, injuries, playing time and form.

My plan then is to try and focus on bigger picture pieces that try to develop a concept and provide some push back to the extreme shifts in mood that tend to fill the discussion boards of popular sites (player X is a "must own", player Y must be sold after his 2 point performance this week).

This first post then is trying to identify (a) what are the metrics we should be looking at in the early weeks to predict future success and (b) how do the current hot/cold transfer targets perform in these areas.

Correlation and stabilisation
I think a majority - or at least a large number - of fantasy managers understand the idea that a goal in gameweek one or two does not mean that player is destined for a great season. Early goals last season for the likes of Jese, Robson-Kanu, Okaka, and Okazaki were not the spark for greatness, with that group all failing to score more than one more goal for the remainder of the campaign. Of course, an early goal for Salah was indeed the first sign of an incredible season on his return to English football, so we don't want to totally ignore the early action and be slow to respond.

The area where analysis seems to typically lie at the moment is to focus on what I will call Level 2 events (with Level 1 being the actual outcome of a goal and/or assist). Level 2 events are the building blocks for goals, most notably shots of various varieties but also key passes and crosses. Over a longer enough period these events are predictive of goals and if you target them over a season you will surely enjoy success. However, here I am going to look at Level 3 events, namely the kind of actions which are indicative of a player who will ultimately create Level 2 events than will lead to goals/assists. Level 3 events include actions such as touches in the penalty box and passes in the final third of the pitch. xG is obviously an incredibly useful metric, but in these early weeks when we're still trying to work out who is likely to be in the right position to even earn/create shots, digging even deeper can be useful.

The reason I want to talk about these Level 3 events is because of the speed at which they stabilize. Taking data from last season I compared the yearly totals for players, on a per minute basis, against their cumulative totals through GW1, GW2, etc. all the way through the first 15 weeks of the season. As expected, the correlation between player totals in GW1 and GW38 is essentially non-existant in all categories: success in GW1 alone is a very poor predictor of season success. Allowing for a bit of noise as players debut at different stages, this correlation improves week-by-week so that by GW15 we have a number of metrics that correlate very well to a player's actual profile. In other words, by GW15 we have a good idea of a player's profile in terms of their ability to generate shots and create chances. The question though is whether we start to understand that profile earlier than GW15.



The interesting point here is that shots inside the box (SiB) - a metric favoured as a predictor of goals by many, including this site - takes a relatively long time to stabilise. Even after 6 gameweeks, the correlation between players' SiB per 90 minutes at that point with the rate they would ultimately post for the season was just 22%. It would take until GW13 until this rate reached the 50% mark. Conversely, the events I have dubbed "Level 3" were much quicker to stabilise, reaching that same 50% correlation level in just six or seven gameweeks. Indeed, passes in the final third eclipsed the 40% correlation rate in just 4 gameweeks. With this in mind, let's take a look at some of the names making early headlines and involved in the early transfer action, and see if this "Level 3" data offers any useful insights:


The first thing I noted here was that fantasy managers are clearly getting more savvy and you don't see a lot of absolutely terrible transfers in this list. Based on this metric alone Neves is a bit of an overreaction although he of course offers value from long range efforts and from set pieces so it's hard to push back too much on a 5.0m purchase price. Diogo Jota did eclipse his teammate in this one metric but it's too close to argue either way and Jota of course comes with a higher price tag.

I am a big fan of Paul Pogba but this table offers another notch against him. Despite playing very well in gameweek one, he still didn't get into really attacking positions and his fitness remains a concern after a long World Cup campaign. Penalty duties are of course a huge bonus but Sanchez may still take some spot kicks in the future, and even then, United scored one penalty all last season with other talented teams like Liverpool and Spurs only notching two a piece, so I'm not sure penalty duties are quite the treasure trove some seem to think (Milivojevic aside).

It's a similar story for Jorginho (who took an even more impressive penalty than Pogba) though he faces a greater threat of losing these responsibilities when Hazard returns. At 5.0m though, he comes at a significant discount so I can see the temptation. I'm surprised his teammate Kante isn't getting more buzz, although he did enter the season with a high ownership rate. His goal is one thing - coming on his only shot - but the presence of Jorginho offers the intriguing chance for the Frenchman to be released to play further upfield in this potentially exciting Chelsea lineup, as evidenced by the number of passes he received in the final third. Pedro tops this list but with Willian also playing well and Hazard close to full fitness, it's very hard to see a scenario in which the former Barcelona man gets reliable minutes. Perhaps if Hazard can take some time in a Fale 9 role in place of Morata and Giroud?

Eriksen stands out here as an outlier among the players being sold, who otherwise did indeed have generally poor GW1 games. If you liked Eriksen going into GW1 there was nothing here to concern you - but for what it's worth his fixtures and teammates' fitness remain worrisome.

The Liverpool trio of Salah, Firmino and Mane all rank highly here, adding weight to the suggestion that doubling up on Klopp's men might be a good idea. Indeed, Keita and Milner would also place highly on this list but haven't yet garnered much transfer attention as yet. If you do want to double up though, it would be a good idea to act now, as bringing in extra Reds before the GW5-8 run of games against TOT, CHE and MCI would seem ill advised.

They aren't shown in the table as they've seen minimal transfer activity to date, but the Fulham duo of Seri and Crainey both did well by this metric with 19 and 15 passes respectively. With Mitrovic racking up 8 of his own, I think we saw enough from Fulham despite their loss to not abandon them too soon.

City looked to hit the ground running despite a few absences with Aguero (9), Bernardo Silva (11), Mahrez (10) and Sterling (17) all placing well. I am very surprised that Sterling has received so little transfer interest as he's clearly an elite player who's only drawbacks are his fitness after the World Cup - which seems fine - and I suppose rotation risk. Like Pogba above, a rest day could be in his future but this game seems to suggest he is first choice when fit and thus there remains significant value despite the high price tag.

Finally, the hype around the Bournemouth group of King, Wilson and Fraser seems well deserved based on this single game with all players heavily involved. Defoe's presence on the bench is still a slight concern but in the medium term you have to like the value here given Bournemouth's reasonable fixture list.