Will the real Richarlison please stand up

Young Brazilian midfielder Richarlison de Andrade burst on to the Fantasy Premier League scene last season with five goals in the first 12 Gameweeks of the season. However, the promising start came grinding to a halt as the goals dried up.

A couple more assists kept FPL managers interested in the Watford player for a while, but the wheels had completely fallen off the bandwagon by the time his manager, Marco Silva, was sacked in January 2018. After recording more than 2,000 minutes of Premier League action in 24 gameweeks under Silva, he only just topped 750 in the remaining 14 games of the season.

Now, however, the 21-year-old is once again turning the heads of FPL managers following a transfer to Everton in a deal reported to be worth up to £50 million. A kind set of opening fixtures for the Toffees (wol, SOU, bou, HUD, WHU) combined with a middle-of-the-road 6.5m price tag has, at the time of writing, seen Richarlison find his way into nearly 17 per cent of FPL squads for the opening round of the 2018-19 season.

Embed from Getty Images

Silva is now Everton’s manager and the prospect of a renewed link up between the player and the man who brought him to English football from Fluminense has only stoked the expectations of some FPL managers.

Under Silva, Richarlison rattled off shots (3.12 per 90 minutes) and shots in the box (2.51 per 90 minutes) at a rate that was respectable when compared to more highly priced players like Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette (2.69 and 2.36 respectively for the full season, when adjusted to remove penalty kicks). Despite the shot volume, his ability to actually hit the target was was down on many of his peers, with less than 20 per cent of his shots testing the keeper. However, when he did find his mark, his Shots on Target conversion rate in this period was a respectable 35 per cent.

Richarlison's percentage of shots on target percentage compared to Andros Townsend, David Silva and Chris Wood

Richarlison’s percentage of shots on target percentage compared to Andros Townsend, David Silva and Chris Wood

However, a closer look at the Silva era tells a story of two halves. The first 12 weeks saw Richarlison score five goals from nine Shots on Target, a high but not completely unsustainable 56 per cent conversion rate. He was shooting an average of 3.79 times every 90 minutes and doing so inside the box 2.91 times per 90 minutes, a rate that if continued would have put him inside the top 10 for regular midfielders and forwards last season.

In the following 12 weeks under Silva, these numbers fell back to 2.47 and 2.13 respectively, while the percentage of shots that were on target fell from a lowly 21 per cent to just 17 per cent. While he may feel slightly aggrieved not to get anything from those five Shots on Target, it’s not a surprise that the goals dried up.

The accuracy improved once Javi Gracia replaced Silva at Vicarage Road and by the end of the season the proportion of Richarlison’s shots testing the keeper had reached 23 per cent. Nevertheless, that was the joint lowest with Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend among players registering at least 10 shots on target in the season. The highest rate belonged to Burnley’s Chris Wood (62 per cent), while David Silva is shown on the first chart as his 37 per cent was close to the 38 per cent average among this group of players.

Richarlison's shooting actions per 90 minutes at Watford

Richarlison’s shooting actions per 90 minutes at Watford

The interesting thing that emerges from Richarlison’s underlying data in the Gracia period (Gameweek 25-38) is the more balanced shooting profile. The frequency with which the Brazilian took shots and did so in the box remained down on the first 12 weeks of the season, but comparable to the second 12 weeks. However, his accuracy doubled so a respectable 34 per cent of his shots were now on target. Overall, his underlying shot profile changed from one of high volume but low accuracy, to one with a shape that should in theory suggest more consistent returns in the long run. Ultimately, the goals didn’t come under Gracia, but it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions from the data because 751 minutes is not a huge sample size.

What the evidence does do is raise questions about how much of Richarlison’s performance early last season can be attributed to Marco Silva. It is possible other factors – such as a young player tiring, but developing as the season progressed – may also be in play. Hopefully, the 2018-19 season will give us more clues.


Transfer market guide updated for 2017-18

I’ve updated my start-of-season transfer market guide for the 2017-18 season. It’s intentionally designed to be a simple guide to explain the basics to newcomers so experienced FPL managers may recognize that some aspects are more complex than the guide explanation.

The guide can be found on the transfers page on this site (click the hamburger icon to open page menu) or via this link.

Harry Kane blanks again

Before the season started there was a lot of talk about how Harry Kane had never scored a Premier League goal in August. There were good reasons to believe this season might be different. Unlike his first two Premier League seasons, Kane is now a starting striker and unlike the last two Premier League seasons he was coming into August off a proper pre-season break.

Embed from Getty Images

Yet, with two games gone this August and just one Premier League match left to play before September rolls around, Harry Kane has so far failed to find the net in the last full month of summer. It’s certainly not for want of trying. I was able to watch part of Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Chelsea and there were moments where Kane played like a man possessed, determined to break his August duck.

Indeed, a look at his stats from the first two games tells a similar story. In his first match, against newly promoted Newcastle United, he unleashed six shots, including five in the area and one on target. Against Chelsea, last season’s Premier League champions, he performed even better with eight shots, six of which were in the area, and three of which tested the goalkeeper.

Harry Kane - actions per 90 minutes to GW2, 2017-18

Harry Kane – actions per 90 minutes to GW2, 2017-18

The chart compares Kane’s output to previous seasons, with penalty kicks excluded from the calculation of actions per minute. It shows that Kane has actually been shooting more frequently this year and doing so inside the box more regularly too. His Shots on Target output is similar to previous years and it is only the goals column where he has failed to register so far.

The sample size for this season is tiny – just two games – so there is more scope for variance in the results. During the season we may see that the shots and shots in box frequency decline at one end of the chart while the goal numbers increase at the other end. However, it’s also not completely out of the realm of possibility that these shooting numbers are the first tentative indications of a step up in output for Harry Kane – if that is the case Premier League defences should be getting very nervous.

More games will help give us a clearer picture. Up next for Spurs is Burnley at Wembley. The Clarets were the eighth best team in the league for goals conceded at home last year, but on the road they were the joint seventh worst. This could be a good opportunity for Kane to finally break his August goal drought.

Manchester United attackers

Manchester United have raced out of the blocks in the 2017-18 Premier League season, logging two wins in two games and scoring eight goals without reply.

Such success has seen Fantasy Premier League managers flocking to United’s assets. Romelu Lukaku started the season with the weight of expectation behind him and it has only grown after three goals in the first two games. The Belgian has already had one price rise and his ownership is now over 54 per cent. However, since the start of the season, even more managers have been buying Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose four assists have propelled him to second in the FPL midfielder standings. The first two also helped him to a price rise a few days before the Gameweek 2 deadline.

Embed from Getty Images

Following suit was Paul Pogba, formerly the world’s most expensive player, who shot to the top of the midfielder rankings and an instant price rise with a goal and two assists against Swansea City in Gameweek 2. Like Pogba, Anthony Martial has also found the net twice this season, but his appearances in the first two games have come as a substitute and that isn’t an attractive feature for most FPL managers.

Given the clean sheets accompanying Manchester United’s wins have made goalkeeper David de Gea, or the defence in front of him, an attractive addition to many FPL teams, there’s not much space left for the Red Devils’ assets. Therefore, the question for a lot of managers is who to pair with Lukaku in attack. I took a quick look at the early data on actions per 90 minutes and the results only serve to cloud the picture.

Manchester United attackers - actions per 90 minutes

Manchester United attackers – actions per 90 minutes

The sample size is tiny, so we should not put too much stock into this analysis. The results exclude Nemanja Matic because of his defensive posture and Martial because of his limited game time so far.

The first thing to note is that Mkhitaryan has some underlying numbers to back up his emerging role as the creative influence at United this season. Not only has he assisted half of their goals, but he is creating chances roughly twice as often as any of the other attackers. While he has been unleashing a few shots, they’ve mostly been from outside the area so it is no surprise to see him struggling to hit the target so far.

Lukaku’s shot profile is generally positive, with his proportion of shots hitting the target looking very sustainable, particularly given many of them are being hit inside the penalty area. That’s the good news. The bad news is he won’t sustain a 100 per cent Shots on Target conversion rate for long.

Pogba’s shooting profile is a little flat, which doesn’t bode well for sustaining his present rate of return if this pattern continues in future games. However, the French international tended to be a long range shooter in the Premier League last season, so it’s beneficial to his prospects this year that a greater proportion of his shots have been fired from inside the penalty area so far.

Embed from Getty Images

The interesting thing from this small sample is the performance of Marcus Rashford. The young England international has been shooting more frequently than Lukaku and doing so from inside the box nearly as often. All that is missing is the end product. He’s unlikely to be out of the goals for long this season if he can sustain these kind of performances. Priced at just 7.5m – 4.1m less than Lukaku – Rashford is certainly one to keep in mind.

Free Hit chip

The 2017-18 Fantasy Premier League season is nearly upon us and the game makers have started dripping out the prices of some players. Among the players announced so far the best value appears to be in midfield, with Alli – the second highest scoring player in the game last season – looking a particular bargain at 9.5m.

Then, yesterday, came the surprise announcement that the All Out Attack chip is being replaced with a new chip called Free Hit. We’re still waiting for the fine print on how the chip works, but basically it allows you to put your squad into hibernation for one week, select as many new players as you want for the next gameweek, then have the old squad return the following week.

I’m sorry this post isn’t going to be a stunning statistical analysis of the new chip’s potential impact, it’s just a little rant to get my strong initial feelings about it off my chest.

I know the All Out Attack chip wasn’t popular with many people, but I didn’t mind it because I felt it created, in a very minor way, a little bit of variety in the game. This new chip, I suspect, will do the opposite.

The obvious place to use the chip last season was to ride out Gameweek 28, when the schedule was reduced to four fixtures. Those games featured just two of the eventual top seven Premier League teams. FPL managers faced a choice in the weeks coming up to Gameweek 28, do they: A) keep their players from top sides and ride out the blank fixtures, or B) sell some of those good players and bring in players who have matches?

That choice helped create differentiation. Among those who chose option B the pool of good players was small, but crucially it was different to those who chose option A.

The choice also afforded people a chance to shake up their overall rank, either through the players they kept or the players they brought in.

With this new chip, that choice will likely be removed. The template move among serious managers will probably be to keep the Free Hit chip for the blank gameweek caused by the FA Cup quarter finals. The same popular template team will likely run until that week, be swapped out for one week for another template team, then carry on as it was before.

There will be merit in looking for alternative ways to use the chip, but the old blank gameweek choice was very powerful. For example, despite there being just four fixtures, I gained more than 50 points on the the FPL average in Gameweek 28 last season because of the choices I made.

The new chip is powerful too and it could potentially match the power of the blank gameweek choice if used creatively elsewhere. But negating a blank gameweek will probably become the default position like the Wildcard-Bench Boost combination played over two gameweeks has become the orthodoxy for many managers approaching the late season double gameweeks.

For the risk takers there will be opportunity in looking for unorthodox ways to use the chip, but the safe play is likely to be to save it for a big blank gameweek. In all likelihood, the chip will produce a more cookie cutter experience and the game will be poorer for it.

Everything but the Goal: GW16

Neither the Everything but the Goal pick nor the control selection for Gameweek 16 had the highest shot tallies last week, but they did fire their efforts from more dangerous areas. The Everything but the Goal pick is Leicester City’s Islam Slimani, who failed beat Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with four shots. Three of those efforts were off target but taken close to the six yard box, while the fourth was hit from just outside the box and was on target.
Embed from Getty Images
The control pick is Swansea City striker Fernando Llorente, who also fired four shots. He netted twice past Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford with his two shots on target. His other two shots, which were also taken well inside the area, both missed the target.

For both players the objective is to score, which is what the Everything but the Goal selection for Gameweek 15, Victor Anichebe, and the control pick, Harry Kane, failed to achieve.

Sorry for the lack of an Everything but the Goal post last week. Emre Can, the Everything but the Goal pick for Gameweek 14, found the target in Gameweek 15, but Sergio Agüero, the control selection, did not.

Season EBTG score: Found 3 – 11 Missing

Season control score: Found 4 – 10 Missing

Everything but the Goal: GW14

We turn to the Liverpool midfield for the Everything but the Goal pick for Gameweek 14. Emre Can fired five attempts against Sunderland, all but one of them from inside the box. However, he is not the strongest pick this season because failed to find the target with any of the shots.

Embed from Getty Images

Once again I turn to Sergio Agüero for the control selection. The Manchester City forward unleashed seven shots against Burnley, including four in the box and four on target. Of those on target shots, two beat the goalkeeper.

For both players the objective is to score, which Everton’s Yannick Bolasie and Sunderland’s Victor Anichebe failed to achieve as the Gameweek 13 picks.

Season EBTG score: Found 2 – 10 Missing

Season control score: Found 4 – 8 Missing