Liverpool midfield options

After six gameweeks Liverpool are the second highest scoring team in the Premier League. That success has attracted the attention of Fantasy Premier League managers who want a piece of the action.

With six mid-priced midfielders and one lower premium midfielder all clocking up about 400 minutes or more of play and the points being divided among them, there has been a lot of debate about which Liverpool midfielder is the best to own.

In this review I have excluded Jordan Henderson (6.4m), who anchors the midfield, because I wanted to narrow the field slightly and he is the only one of the seven to not achieve at least three shots on target this season.

I have included James Milner (6.5m), who is currently being used at left back, because of his three goals this season. All three goals have come from the penalty spot, including the two last week against Hull City that have attracted the attention of more than 40,000 FPL managers ahead of Gameweek 7.

Liverpool midfielders GW1-6 2016-17 Actions per 90

The attacking and creative metrics shown here are broken down into actions per 90 because while all six players have several hundred minutes of game time under their belt, Georginio Wijnaldum (7.7m) has played 30 per cent more minutes than Philippe Coutinho (8.2m). Game time, of course, is a consideration for managers, particularly with Daniel Sturridge’s presence hovering over most of these players and that’s where FPL managers will have to look to press conferences and other places for clues.

Penalties and how often Liverpool are likely to win them are also factors to consider. I have removed penalty goals and the shot numbers behind them from my calculations of actions per 90 minutes because of the significantly higher conversion rate for penalties. That is why Milner, who has taken all his shots from the spot, is showing zero goal threat except for penalties.

The stats show there isn’t much to chose between Coutinho, Roberto Firmino (8.4m), Adam Lallana (7.2m) and Sadio Mané (9.0m) in terms of shooting output.

Coutinho is a league ahead of the other three when it comes to shot volume, but roughly equal to them on the frequency with which he does so inside the penalty area. Therefore it is not a big surprise to see his goal output being similar.

Firmino is probably closest to the norm in terms of percentages of shots taken in the box, being on target and converted into goals. Although Mané and, particularly, Lallana have high shots on target conversion rates, the underlying data suggests they are good for future returns – albeit likely at a slower rate.

The numbers indicate Wijnaldum has a tendency to shoot from distance, but also suggest he will likely find the net in the Premier League occasionally this season.

Firmino has been the most creative of the midfielders and therefore seems to be a little unfortunate in not having that turned into an assist or two (the data set I’m using doesn’t recognise the assist the FPL granted him against Tottenham Hotspur in Gameweek 3).

For managers that don’t believe Liverpool will keep winning a penalty every other game on average, there is some redemption for Milner in his creativity. And Coutinho gains a little edge over Mané, Lallana and Wijnaldum when it comes to creating chances.

In terms of underlying statistics, Coutinho may have a slight edge over Firmino, Mané and Lallana, but the differences are not huge. Therefore, price becomes a consideration given the range on offer.

Liverpool midfielders GW1-6 2016-17 points and price

The second chart shows how many points each player has delivered so far per 90 minutes played (P90) and that points output adjusted by their current price (P90/£).

Here the value Lallana has offered so far (remember he may have been somewhat overachieving) is demonstrated, while we might want more from Mané for his price. It also suggests Coutinho has delivered the best return on investment so far.

Any one of Lallana, Firmino, Mané and Coutinho look decent picks. If budget isn’t a concern and you had to pick one above the rest then it looks like Coutinho has the edge based on statistics from the small number of games played so far. However, several people who watch more games than me have suggested Mané looks the most dangerous. I’d be interested to hear your views in the comments below. 

Everything but the goal: GW7

Everything but the Goal had its first test selection success last week when Son Heung-Min followed up his strong Gameweek 5 underlying statistics with a good performance in Gameweek 6 in which the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder found the back of the net not once, but twice against Middlesborough. He did so off four shots, including three in the area and two on target.

This experiment is attempting to see what success can be had from selecting a player with good underlying statistics from a small number of recent games but has failed to deliver Fantasy Premier League returns. Players are judged to have either found their objective (goal, assist, clean sheet etc.) or to be missing it again.

Alongside the main selection, I choose a control pick. This is a player who had good underlying numbers but also delivered returns the week before. Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez, the control pick last week, also found the net after hitting four shots, including two in the box and one on target.

While it is a shame to overlook the merits of Christian Benteke or Jermaine Defoe as control picks given their striking performances last week, the objective for the two picks this week will not be goals but to deliver an assist each. The Everything but the Goal pick for Gameweek 7 is Jason Puncheon. He created eight chances for Crystal Palace against Sunderland, including two from corners.

The control selection is Burnley’s Steven Defour, who created six chances against Watford, half of them from corners, and saw two of those chances turned into assists.

Season EBTG score: Found 1 – 4 Missing.

Season control score: Found 2 – 3 Missing.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Having failed to score for two consecutive Premier League games, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is being sold in droves. At the time of writing, with Gameweek 6 not even complete, more than 100,000 Fantasy Premier League managers have shipped him out. That comes on top of more than 180,000 net transfers out last week.

The Manchester United striker’s price has dropped from a high of 11.9m to 11.6m with a return to his 11.5m season starting price not far away. Once Ibrahimovic hits that, the price drops should slow as further price changes will require a percentage of his ownership – and his ownership is vast. More than two million FPL managers still have the Swede in their teams.

Given his price and the strong performances of other premium priced players, like Sergio Agüero and Alexis Sánchez,  it is understandable that Ibrahimovic is being sold to fund other moves. But could those sellers regret their decisions?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic GW1-6 2016-17For those new to my statistical dashboard, I separate out penalty kicks (PK) because they have a much higher conversion rate than goals from open play. The other note about the numbers is Ibrahimovic is not credited here with the assist against Watford that the FPL gave him.

Even without the assist, Zlatan’s numbers are healthy. His percentage of shots taken in the box and on target are both a touch low but basically close to where we might expect them. His conversion rates are also at sustainable levels.

Where the former Paris Saint-Garmain star really shines is in his shot volume, prior to the Gameweek 6 matches being played (when he added another five shots, including four in the box and two on target) Ibrahimovic had taken more shots than any other player.

There is a lot to like in Ibrahimovic’s statistics: a high volume of shots, well-proportioned in terms of location and accuracy, sustainable conversion rates and penalties.

With Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal making up half of Manchester United’s next six fixtures, the Red Devil’s upcoming schedule isn’t easy but it is balanced by games against Stoke City, Burnley and Swansea City in the same period. Based on his performances so far, it is possible that Ibrahimovic will punish his sellers in the weeks to come.

 

Everything but the goal: GW6

My experiment to see what success, if any, can be had by selecting a player with good underlying statistics from a small number of games had it’s first triumph last week – but only for the control group. The test group, those that haven’t delivered returns in a small number of recent games despite good numbers, are still waiting to get off the mark. I assess players in this experiment as having either found their objective (goal, assist or clean sheet etc.) or missing it.

My test group selection last week was Shane Long. Although he started, the game time curse of being an Everything but the Goal pick struck again and he was substituted for Charlie Austin after 54 minutes having managed two shots, one inside the box and off target and one outside the box and on target. His objective had been to score and he went missing. After getting on the pitch, Austin promptly rattled off four attempts, including three in the box and two on target, and found the net. There was a goal for Romelu Lukaku, my control group pick, and he therefore found his objective. He managed to do it with his only shot of the match.

My Everything but the Goal pick this week is Son Heung-Min. Against Sunderland in Gameweek 5 the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder fired seven shots. Five of those shots were in the area, including two that were blocked. Two of his shots tested the goalkeeper. He also created five opportunities for team mates without gaining an assist, but his objective against Middlesbrough will be to score.

The control pick – a player with good underlying statistics who did convert last week – was close between Michail Antonio (eight shots, including five in the box and three on target, for one goal) and Alexis Sánchez. The Arsenal man is the selection because his shots, while fewer in number, were of better quality – three of his four shots in the box were on target (including both of his goals), as was his shot from inside the D. His objective this week is to score.

Season EBTG score: Found 0 – 4 Missing.

Season control score: Found 1 – 3 Missing.

Kevin De Bruyne

Kevin De Bruyne has scored a goal in each of his last two Premier League games and put himself firmly on the radar of fantasy managers. His price went up the night before Manchester City’s Gameweek 5 match and again two days later to reach 10.7m. At the time of writing, the Belgian has more than 250,000 transfers in this week and is heading toward potentially becoming the first player to have a triple price rise in one gameweek this season.

Looking at De Bruyne’s statistics, please note there is disagreement regarding how many assists he has tallied this season. The Fantasy Premier League credits him with setting up a team mate to score against Manchester United, while FourFourTwo Stats Zone does not. I have used the lower figure, but please make you own mental adjustment if you agree with the FPL that he has four.

Kevin De Bruyne GW1-5 2016-17

I would argue De Bruyne’s primary asset is his creativity. He is joint best in the Premier League for chances created this season and joint best for assists so far. He is the only player to top both metrics. I was able to watch Manchester City dismantle Bournemouth and De Bruyne’s interplay with Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho was at the heart of that performance.

For his goal in that game, De Bruyne beat Cherries goalkeeper Artur Boruc with a cheeky free kick that slid under the wall, but the Citizens midfielder isn’t reliant on set plays to score. Where he does have a weakness is in his preference to shoot from distance. It may have worked against Bournemouth, but generally shots from outside the area tend to be converted far less frequently than those hit from closer range.

Already this season De Bruyne is repeating a pattern from last season of having hit more shots on target than he has fired shots from inside the box. While he undoubtedly appears accurate, having tested the goalkeeper with about half of his shots this season and last, the distance factor probably helps explain a shots on target conversion rate languishing at 27 per cent over the same period.

Despite the continued low conversion rate, there is a positive sign that suggests the Belgian midfielder could increase his goal output. Five gameweeks is not a large sample size, but the former Wolfsburg player has increased his shooting frequency dramatically in that period, upping his shots per 90 minutes by 71 per cent from the 2015-16 season. The opening schedule was fairly favourable to Manchester City (SUN, stk, WHU, mun, BOU), but if De Bruyne can maintain his higher shooting frequency he could reach double figures for goals this season.

Everything but the goal: GW5

This experiment is in danger of becoming as risky to player game time as my Over the Radar series was to player health last season. Last week my pick Philippe Coutinho was benched on his return from international duty despite Liverpool making special arrangements to fly him home. That’s the second week in a row my Everything but the Goal pick has been riding the pine at kick-off.

Everything but the Goal is an experiment to see what success, if any, can be had by selecting a player who has had good underlying statistics 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.

Coutinho managed two blocked long-range shots after replacing Daniel Sturridge in the 76th minute, but he was missing for the third gameweek in a row.

My pick for Gameweek 5 was close between Sturridge (five shots, three in the box and four on target in Ganeweek 4) and Shane Long, who gets the nod. Both carry some bench risk, but this experiment is about whether underlying performance indicates imminent returns so I feel I should pick a strong performer from the week before if they have a reasonable chance of starting. The Southampton striker had five shots, including four inside the penalty area and three on target, against Arsenal but failed to find the net. His mission against Swansea City is to score.

Last week my control pick – a player with good underlying statistics who did deliver the previous week – was Eden Hazard, but he also went missing. The control pick for Gameweek 5 has to be Romelu Lukaku after his monster performance against Sunderland. Of his nine shots, eight were in the box, six were on target and three rippled the net. I’m looking for at least one goal from Lukaku this week.

Season EBTG score: Found 0 – 3 Missing.

Season control score: Found 0 – 3 Missing.

Michail Antonio

Earlier this week I looked at Étienne Capoue and expressed strong doubts about his ability to continue delivering his current returns given his high shots on target conversion rate and low shot volume. Today I’m going to look at another player with a high shots on target conversion rate, but one whose other underlying statistic look a lot healthier for the prospect of delivering returns in future – albeit not quite at the same rapid rate. That player is West Ham United midfielder Michail Antonio, who is currently priced at 7.1m in Fantasy Premier League.

Michail Antonio GW1-4 2016-17

As noted by Elvy in the comments section on my post about Capoue, Antonio’s shots on target conversion rate is at 80 per cent, which is above even the Watford man’s ridiculously high rate. However, despite failing to get a single shot away in 51 minutes playing at right back in Gameweek 1, Antonio has managed unleash twice as many shots as Capoue this season and his shooting metrics are already beginning to take on healthier looking proportions outside of the goals column.

Unlike the Hornets midfielder, who had only scored one goal in three previous Premier League seasons* (albeit two of them without consistent game time), Antonio has a brief but proven ability to find the net in the English top flight. Although he didn’t start a game for the Hammers until December, Antonio subsequently began every remaining league game after that last season and racked up eight goals in the process.

Michail Antonio 2015-16

Antonio’s underlying statistics last season were balanced and goals against Southampton, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United showed he was as capable of delivering returns against tough opponents as easier ones. Despite lining up as a defender for nearly a third of his 23 Premier League starts last term, the Englishman delivered shooting statistics for the season that were comparable with midfielders like Barkley, Tadic and Sterling.

Antonio’s spell as a defender did coincide with his longest run without a goal after he broke into the team – so  his position will be something to keep an eye on – but for 7.1m the 26-year-old should be considered as an option for a mid-price midfield spot. After facing West Bromwich Albion’s often stingy defence in Gameweek 5, Antonio has a run of kind fixtures (SOU, MID, cry, SUN, eve, STK) that could make it a profitable time to invest. The current rate at which he has been scoring may ease off, but the underlying numbers suggest there will be more goals to come this year.

*Note: FPL Diva guest poster Balders shared some data with me yesterday which coincidentally included Capoue’s shooting metrics from last season, when he failed to score a single goal from 35 shots, of which 11 were inside the box and eight were on target. We joked that his goals this season might be the regression.