Eldin Jakupovic

Hull City’s signing of David Marshall from Cardiff City will have Fantasy Premier League managers that own Eldin Jakupovic on edge. The Swiss goalkeeper (4.1m) has been one of the budget buys of the season so far, delivering 14 points for anyone who bought him pre-season for 4.0m and played him in every match. But Scotland international Marshall is being touted as challenging him for a starting place.

Whoever starts between the sticks for the Tigers will need to be good. Only Burnley have conceded more shots than Hull’s 70 so far this season, though to be fair to the Yorkshire club they have had a tricky start with home games against Premier League champions Leicester City and a shot-happy Manchester United sandwiching a kinder fixture away at Swansea.

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Despite that, Hull have limited their opponents to just two goals conceded, the joint second fewest early in this Premier League season. Part of that success has to be down to Jakupovic, who currently boasts a save percentage of 88 per cent. That is high and I would expect it to regress a bit if he keeps playing, though it is helped by the Tigers limiting their rivals to shooting from outside the box more often than not. Nevertheless, that save percentage also shows the good form Jakupovic has been in. 

There’s more to goalkeeping than shot-stopping, but Hull dropping Jakupovic immediately for Marshall would be tough on the former Grasshopper man.

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Everything but the goal: GW3

I am conducting an experiment to see what success, if any, can be had by selecting a player who has had good underlying stats in a small number of recent games, but has failed to produce returns. Each week, I score the player from the previous week on whether they found their objective (goal, assist, clean sheet etc.) or whether they were missing again.

Last week I picked Fernando Llorente, but he was missing again. Against Hull he managed three shots, all inside the box, but had one blocked and didn’t trouble the goalkeeper with the other two.

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My pick for Gameweek 3 is Vincent Janssen. The new Tottenham Hotspur striker fired four shots against Crystal Palace, including three inside the box. Two of his shots were on target but saved by Eagles goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. Janssen’s objective this week is to score.

If he keeps starting up top for Spurs like he did last week, with Harry Kane sitting in behind, Janssen (7.9m) looks like he could be one to keep an eye on regardless of whether he scores this week or not.

Season score: Found 01 Missing.

Penalty frequency

A clampdown on shirt-pulling has left Premier League striker Peter Crouch fearing the number of penalties given away could turn the game into a “farce”.

It is too early to tell whether there will be an unusually high number of penalties this year, but evidence from the last four years suggests any increase in the number of penalties awarded on average each gameweek is marginal at best.

Penalties per gameweek - 2012 onwards

The first chart shows the number of penalties given away each week this season and in the previous four seasons has ranged from none to nine, but most weeks cluster between one to three.

A looking at the average number of penalties per week for each season shows the number number hovers just over two. The exception is this year, but the sample size for that is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. For example, the average number of penalties in 2012-13 after two gameweeks was 4.5 and in 2013-14 it was four, but by the end of season the average had dropped back close to two.

Mean penalties per gameweek - 2012 onwards

It’s fair to raise the question about whether shirt-pulling will lead to a rise in the number of penalties given, but we can’t tell from two weeks of data if that will translate into a long-term increase. Fantasy Premier League managers making an extra effort to stock up on penalty takers might find it doesn’t deliver substantially greater long-term returns.

The difference in the 2012-13 average and the 2015-16 average amounts to an extra seven penalties across a whole season, but knowing which of the more than twenty Premier League penalty takers will benefit and when is almost impossible to know. The best an FPL manager can probably do is look for evidence of which teams are proving more adept at winning penalties, which teams give them away more frequently and which referees, if any, tend to be more inclined to point to the spot than others.

Everton midfield options

Everton assets are attracting the attention of Fantasy Premier League managers as the club continues a run of kind fixtures that started last week against West Bromwich Albion. In the next five gameweeks the Toffees play Stoke City, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace.

When many FPL teams have, or are looking to pair, Sergio Agüero and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their forward line, Everton striker Romelu Lukaku is too expensive at 9.0m for those who want to keep their spending in various areas of the team somewhat balanced.

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Instead, attention has turned to midfielders Ross Barkley (7.7m), Gerard Deulofeu (6.5m) and Kevin Mirallas (6.5m), who have been playing as the front three in a 3-4-3 formation in Ronald Koeman’s first two Premier League games in charge. Newly added to the mix is Yannick Bolasie (6.0m), Everton’s expensive new signing from Crystal Palace.

There are several problems with picking an Everton midfielder, including how they will line up following Bolasie’s arrival and Lukaku’s return to fitness. The other issue is that two games give FPL managers insufficient data on which to make an informed decision.

To combat this problem I have gone back and added the players’ data from the 2015-16 season to that from the two Premier League games played so far this season. It’s not ideal because Koeman wasn’t their manager last season but it will have to do.

Everton mids - actions per 90

I’ve broken their contributions down to actions per 90 minutes because it would be unfair to compare Barkley’s raw numbers with Mirallas or Deulofeu, when he played twice as many minutes over that period. I also excluded two penalties Barkley scored against Newcastle in Februrary because penalties generally have a much higher conversion rate than regular shots and Lukaku will likely be on spot kicks this year if last season is any guide. In these circumstances I consider any penalties he gets this year to be an unexpected bonus, but one which some FPL managers might want to take into consideration.

The chart shows that Deulofeu is the most creative of the four when he is on the pitch, but the least likely to score a goal. Although Barkley is more creative than Bolasie was at Crystal Palace, there is not much to choose between them when it comes to goal threat. The leader in that department though is Mirallas. He shoots more frequently, takes more shots in the penalty area and finds the target more often per 90 minutes played.

Everton mids - conversion rates

Although weak in shooting volume, Deulofeu does have the edge when it comes to finding the target, getting more shots on target and scoring more goals per shot taken. The rate at which he turns shots into shots on target looks unusually high and could regress this season. But I am interested to hear in the comments from anyone who watches a lot of Everton games and has a theory that could explain why it is high.

What this chart also suggests is Barkley has a propensity to bulk out his shooting numbers with low quality shots that fail to test or beat the keeper. However, when he does shoot in the box or hit the target the results are not much different from those of his colleagues.

Everton mids - P90

Of course, what matters most in FPL is the ability to generate points. The chart of points scored per 90 minutes played (P90) shows Mirallas leads the way, while Bolasie lags behind the others as the only player not to achieve an average of at least four points per 90 minutes played.

Where Bolasie does have an advantage is in being the cheapest of the four. Being 1.7m cheaper than Barkley catapults the Congolese player above the Englishman in terms of points per 90 per million of FPL budget spent. However, the 0.5 gap to Mirallas and Deulofeu doesn’t make up for the difference in points output per 90.

A major part of the calculation FPL managers have to make is predicting who will play. In the two Premier League games played so far this season, Mirallas and Deulofeu have both been withdrawn early. The latter made way just after the hour against the Baggies so Bolasie could make his competitive debut. Based on game time so far, Barkley’s position looks more secure but that security is reflected in his price.

Each of the four players has his strengths and weaknesses. The challenge for FPL managers will be weighing up the budget demand, gametime risk and potential output of each then deciding if any of them would be a good fit for their team.

Everything but the goal: GW2

This is going to be a little experiment. I’m going to pick a Fantasy Premier League player each week who has some good form in their underlying stats, but has been missing the end product.

Normally I like using lots of data, but this is going to be about form and will therefore use a precariously small sample, sometimes as little as one week. That’s certainly the case this week, where I have just one gameweek of data with which to work.

There were a few players I considered, including Southampton’s Dusan Tadic, who created six chances against Watford and hit four shots, two of which were on target. But my choice this week is Swansea City’s Fernando Llorente.

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Against Burnley in Gameweek 1, Llorente fired six shots, including five from inside the box, and hit the target with four of them. It was a strong competitive debut for the Spaniard that was just missing a goal.

However, goals provide FPL points and that is why the striker priced at 6.5m has not received the same attention as someone like Álvaro Negredo, who began the season at the same price but now costs 0.1m more despite registering just one shot in his game.

I’m interested to see what value, if any, there is in jumping early on players when they show promising signs in their underlying statistics. So each week I will score the player from the previous week on whether they found their objective (goal, assist, clean sheet etc.) the following week or whether they were missing again. The objective for Llorente this week is to score. At the end of the the season I will tally up the results and see whether this exercise gave me anything more than an opportunity to use the same 1990s pop music reference 37 times.

The Coutinho conundrum

Philippe Countinho has long been a tempting player for Fantasy Premier League managers. He tends to score enough goals each season to put him on the radar, without scoring enough to make him a key player. He also teases managers by backing up those goals with a high number of shots.

With two goals in Liverpool’s opening weekend win at the Arsenal, Coutinho has already put himself firmly on the radar for 2016-17. The 8.1m midfielder has been far and away the most popular transfer in, with more than 250,000 FPL managers adding him to their ranks, and he was one of the first three players to go up in price this season.
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reviewed Coutinho’s performance in November after a Gameweek 11 brace against  Chelsea. His underlying statistics showed a player who took a lot of shots, but they were often from long range and frequently blocked.

At that time, Jürgen Klopp had only been Liverpool manager for a few weeks. As Klopp is famed for gegenpressing (pressing the opposition as soon as possession is lost), I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of Coutinho’s key underlying data for the rest of last season to see if that approach was turning him into a more prolific finisher.

There wasn’t a huge difference in the rate at which Coutinho’s shots were blocked. The Brazilian had 37 per cent of shots blocked under Klopp, 42 per cent in the small sample size of games played in 2015-16 prior to the German’s arrival and 39 per cent in the last full season under Rodgers.

Philippe Coutinho Shots on Target conversion rate to GW1 2016-17

What has improved since the latter stages of Rodgers’ rein is the rate at which Coutinho converts shots on target into goals. Under Klopp, he turned shots on target into goals at a higher rate than the Premier League average for midfielders over the course of the season. However, it should be noted he achieved a shots on target conversion rate of 30 per cent in 2012-13 when he was managed by Rodgers. (We can put the 2016-17 numbers to one side for now because one game is too small a sample size to make a judgement on and I would be stunned if he maintained 67 per cent for the rest of the season.)
Philippe Coutinho percentage shots in the box to GW1 2016-17

One of the key factors I also like to look at is where players are unleashing their attempts from because shots fired from inside the area normally have a higher conversion rate than those hit from outside. In Rodgers’ last couple of months in charge, Coutinho was shooting from inside the box at close to the league average for midfielders, but since Klopp took over he has reverted back to taking about two-thirds of his shots from long range, as he did in 2014-15.

Philippe Coutinho percentage shots on target to GW1 2016-17

That distance shooting doesn’t appear to help Countinho’s ability to test the opposition keeper. The proportion of shots hitting the target under both Klopp and Rodgers was below the league average for midfielders last year. Nevertheless, Coutinho was also top among midfielder for shots taken in 2015-16, so his volume might compensate for his inaccuracy to some extent.

Countinho is a conundrum. His shots on target conversion rate improved under Klopp, but the reason why is not apparent from the statistics I have looked at here. The Brazilian still had a large proportion of his shots blocked (he topped the league among midfielders last season), he is frequently shooting from distance and he’s is still failing to hit the target with nearly three-quarters of his shots. Unless Gameweek 1 marked the start of a fresh beginning for Coutinho, I’m wary about buying into the notion that he has taken a major step up in performance. Some useful indicators suggest not much has changed.

However, statistics don’t always tell the whole story. I wasn’t able to watch Liverpool’s game against Arsenal, but if anyone who saw the game also saw something in Coutinho’s play that gives them optimism he can sustain this level of performance I’d be delighted to hear about it.