Taking stock after Gameweek 12

The 2016-17 season is roughly one-third complete, which seems like a good moment to take stock.

For me personally and, I suspect, some other statistics-driven managers, this has been a somewhat frustrating season. Some players showing good underlying numbers have not posted returns as well as expected (for example, Zlatan Ibrahimovic), while others have delivered points but nagging doubts have kept some Fantasy Premier League managers away (Diego Costa and his yellow cards, Theo Walcott and perceived threats to his game time).

There’s been another group of players who have over-performed their underlying statistics for a while, keeping it going just long enough to provide returns for early adopters before frustrating those who started them later when their ownership made them difficult to avoid (for example, Étienne Capoue). And then there are the players who show signs of delivering sustainable returns at a reasonable price, but only at the whim of where their manager plays them (for example, Joe Allen) or their muscles (Adam Lallana).

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These elements exist to some degree in every season of course, but they seem particularly pronounced this year when the performance of a good number of premium and upper mid-priced fantasy assets has pressed for their inclusion in our FPL squads while few consistent budget options have emerged to free up the funds to pay for them.

On top of that, the transfer market has seemed to move quicker than ever this season. By that, I mean fewer people seem to be waiting until the end of the week to make their moves and there seems to be less diversity in the choices being made. That’s only a perception though, I’ve not done any analysis to see if it really is moving more quickly.

Differentials seem to be problematic this season. I’m not sure whether:

  • they are just harder to find, or
  • if they are more frequently announcing their arrival with goals rather than good underlying numbers, or
  • if there are too many options performing well, particularly in midfield, to risk hunting for them, or
  • they are no longer hidden because more FPL managers are better informed than ever before, or
  • some combination of the above.

Life has been very busy for me this autumn and I have not been able to dig into the statistics as much as I would like, either for my own FPL team or for this blog, so maybe the answers are out there and I haven’t found them yet.

I have some more random thoughts to add, but I’ll save them for a later post or posts if I get time.

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Diego Costa

Gameweek 26 saw Diego Costa score his seventh goal in the eight Premier League matches he has played since Guus Hiddink returned to the Chelsea dugout. That is quite a turnaround in fortune for a striker who scored just three times in the first 14 games he played this season.

The following chart demonstrates why Costa has seen this sudden surge in scoring.

Diego Costa GW1-26 2015-16

Quite simply, Costa is shooting more frequently. Before Hiddink began to work with the Chelsea players, Costa had fired more than two shots in a game on just two occasions: against West Bromwich Albion in Gameweek 3 and against Norwich in Gameweek 13 (both games in which he scored). Since Gameweek 18 he has achieved that in six games. Costa’s shots and shots on target per 90 numbers have nearly doubled since Guus Hiddink took over and his shots in the box per 90 is twice what it was before.

One note of caution is that Costa’s shots on target conversion rate in the Hiddink era is 64 per cent, which is too high to sustain for long. However, even if that conversion rate regresses, it may not drop far. Last season, when Costa was firing shots on target at a rate very similar to that achieved recently, his conversion rate was 55 per cent. That is at the very top end of what we might expect over the course of the season, but the chart above indicates how he can achieve it.

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The conversion rate for shots inside the box is higher than those hit outside the penalty area and the former Atlético Madrid player hits nearly all his shots inside the box. In fact, since Hiddink entered the dugout, Costa hasn’t fired one shot from outside the box. This is a hallmark of Costa’s game in the Premier League. Last season he hit 88 per cent of his shots inside the penalty area and so far this season he has hit 94 per cent of his shots from there.

Costa is undoubtedly a good player when he is on form, the question though is whether there is space in a Fantasy Premier League manager’s three-man front line for him. The Spanish international is among the top three forwards for goals scored and shots inside the box since Gameweek 18, and in the top six for shots and shots on target. With Harry Kane (10.1m) and Sergio Agüero (13.6m) posting similar figures and already in 37.9 and 31.4 per cent of teams respectively, many FPL managers would have to pull a lot of cash from elsewhere in their squad to fit Costa (10.6m) in too.

However, the upcoming blanks and double gameweeks could see the popular forward lines disrupted. Agüero has no Premier League match in Gameweek 27, and both he and Kane would have a blank in Gameweek 30 if their teams progress in the FA Cup. If Manchester City win their FA Cup fifth round game next weekend it would give Chelsea a Gameweek 30 match, but if the Citizens lose it is Chelsea that will have the Premier League blank. Therefore, I would suggest FPL managers thinking of buying Costa should wait for the result of that cup game.

Agüero replacements: Premium forwards

“As long as he stays fit” – within days of publishing those six important words in my post considering the Gameweek 8 performance of Sergio Agüero, the Manchester City star striker damaged his hamstring and is reported to be out for at least a month.

Now the hunt is on among Fantasy Premier League managers for a replacement striker as 13.3m is too much value to leave on the bench for long. The game’s most expensive striker being out means every possible replacement option is available for consideration.

I am starting my look at the alternatives with the premium forwards. With Rooney flagged for a knock, there are only three fit options that cost more than 9.0m  – Harry Kane (9.2m), Daniel Sturridge (10.5m) and Diego Costa (10.9m). Kane has started every match and clocked up 683 minutes, but suspension and injury have limited Costa and Sturridge’s game time to 518 and 242 minutes respectively. Given the disparity of minutes, I think the best way to compare them is to look at their minutes per action.

Agüero replacements - premium strikers

I’ve included Agüero’s statistics for comparison and it’s clear that so far this season only Sturridge comes anywhere near close to the man he would replace. I would normally add minutes per goal into the chart, but with Kane and Costa netting only once each this season that would lift the minutes axis so high that it would be hard to see the other metrics. Sturridge has performed better than his counterparts from Tottenham and Chelsea by scoring twice in his three appearances.

On statistics alone then, there is one clear winner in this price bracket. However we have other factors to consider. Firstly, Sturridge’s own injury problems mean bringing him in could be the FPL equivalent of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Furthermore,  Jürgen Klopp’s appointment last week as Liverpool manager means we can’t be sure which players the new man will favour and where Sturridge will play.

We also have to consider fixtures. Liverpool’s fixture list (tot, SOT, che, CPL, mci, SWA) is far from enticing. Tottenham’s fixtures (LIV, bou, AVL, ars, WHM, CHE) are mixed, but many FPL managers will be looking for more signs of a return to form from Kane before heading in that direction. Chelsea have a lovely match this week (AVL) but after that the fixtures are also mixed (whm, LIV, sto, NOR, tot). With injuries and rotation beginning to bite on FPL squads, some FPL managers will be questioning whether it is worth burning a transfer on an out of form striker leading the line for a stuttering Chelsea side. It might work this week, but that could be a false dawn if the Blues can’t sustain a recovery.