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.

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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.

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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.


Everything but the goal: GW8

The Everything but the Goal pick for Gameweek 8 is Manchester United striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He hasn’t scored in the last three gameweeks, but no other Fantasy Premier League player has better underlying shot numbers in that time. The control pick is Watford’s Troy Deeney. For both players the objective is to score.

Ganeweek 7 picks Jason Puncheon and Steven Defour were both missing when it came to delivering their objective of an assist.

Season EBTG score: Found 1 – 5 Missing.

Season control score: Found 2 – 4 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.

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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.


Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney notched his fourth goal in three Premier League matches as Manchester United beat Liverpool 1-0 in Gameweek 22. In that period he has scored double the number of league goals he had recorded in the first half of the season.

In the nine seasons of the current Fantasy Premier League era, Rooney has scored between 11 and 14 goals in six of them. With his goals in 2016, he now on course to make it seven in ten if he can steer clear of injury and suspension. But could he go on to an even better total if he can sustain this sudden uptick in scoring?

Wayne Rooney GW1-22 2015-16

Before I dissect the chart, please note the FPL game credits Rooney with an assist against Tottenham Hotspur in Gameweek 1 that is not shown here.

An interesting detail in the chart is the number of shots, shots in the box and shots on target Rooney recorded against Swansea City in Gameweek 20. His numbers in that game are an exception for this season, rather than the norm.

Excluding the Gameweek 21 penalty because of the higher conversion rate for spot kicks, Rooney has been a little fortunate in the past couple of gameweeks to score two goals from two shots on target and two shots in the box. However, over the season, his goals to shots on target and assists to chances created ratios pretty much match the league average. The only metric which strays from the norm is the proportion of shots he hits inside the penalty box, which is below what we might expect for many Premier League forwards but about normal for Rooney.

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The England international has converted between 36 and 44 per cent of his shots on target each season over the last four years, so he could potentially drive this season’s conversion rate a little higher. However, in terms of the number of shots and shots on target he has hit this season, Rooney is in the third tier among Premier League forwards with seven players ahead of him for shots on target and eight players beating him for shots.

As a premium forward, who still costs 9.9m despite being in 900,000 fewer teams than he was at the start of the season, most FPL managers will want more output than Rooney has offered over the course of this season. His short term form is good, but too good to sustain at this level for long. I suspect he is likely to end up with a seventh season scoring about a dozen goals unless he starts to produce more performances like the Swansea game.

Bargain hunting – part one

I said I would look at some budget options as well as mid-price midfield replacements for Dimitri Payet and here is a trio who have attracted buyers this week. First up is Jesse Lingard in what feels something of a repeat of the Anthony Martial situation in that it seems too soon to be considering him.

Until Thursday, when Bamidele Alli overtook him, Lingard had been the second most popular midfield transfer in from the sub-5.5m bracket (Lanzini, who I looked at last week, had been number one). The English winger has played less than two games worth of Premier League football this season in a spread taking in the last four gameweeks, with the last gameweek being the first in which he has played 90 minutes.
Jesse Lingard GW1-12 2015-16Lingard set the pulses of Manchester United’s legion of fans racing with a goal in that first full game and nearly 14,000 Fantasy Premier League managers have brought him into their team during the international break. Lingard is cheap at just 4.5m, but for me the biggest priority for the fifth midfielder is that he starts nearly every game as he is mostly there as cover in case one of the bigger hitters fails to start. Unfortunately we can’t be sure Lingard will start every game.

It’s really far too early to be drawing any sort of conclusions from his data, but I feel confident in predicting he won’t maintain a 100 per cent shots on target conversion rate for long. Lingard’s 90 minute display landed him in the England squad for the friendly against France this week, but it was Alli, another cheap English midfielder, who played from the start and grabbed the headlines.

After breaking into the first 11 at Tottenham Hotspur in Gameweek 5, Alli has started every match and he is displaying some statistics which may not be out of this world, but are a little more balanced than some I have looked at over the past week.

Bamidele Alli GW1-12 2015-16Despite returning to his starting price of 5.0m on November 20, Alli could be a reasonable prospect for a fifth midfielder or cut-price fourth midfielder – though he would start to move into an awkward price range for a fifth midfielder if his price goes up much further.

I’m also not sure his game time is quite as stable as some of his 20,000 new owners may believe. Since Alli’s first start on September 13, seven potential challengers for his spot in the team have been injured or suspended at one time or another – Ryan Mason, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Nabil Bentaleb, Nacer Chadli, Heung-Min Son and Mousa Dembélé.

Dembélé (5.3m) has been flagged as carrying a calf injury this week. He is worth looking at though because, after starting alongside Alli in the double pivot on his return to the starting line-up in Gameweek 8, he played the last three gameweeks in the number 10 role behind Harry Kane.
Mousa Dembélé GW1-12 2015-16While Dembélé stats showed he scored in two of those games behind Kane, he did so from two shots on target, three shots in the box and five shots in total in those games. Overall Dembélé’s shots on target conversion rate for the season looks reasonable, but it’s not a good sign for sustained returns when a player has fewer shots in the box than shots on target.
Lingard Alli Dembélé actions per 90 minutesOnce again, I’ve charted the actions per 90 minutes of these midfielders against Dimitri Payet as a consistent comparative and none of them offers anything like the creativity of the West Ham United midfielder. There is a closer match when it comes to shooting, though it’s far too early to be reading much into Lingard’s metrics when he has such a small amount of pitch time. Alli probably looks the best of these three, but I would be nervous about his pitch time with players due back from injury and suspension in the next couple of weeks.

Agüero replacements: Mid-price forwards

Yesterday I looked at the expensive forward options for Fantasy Premier League managers replacing Manchester City’s injured hitman Sergio Agüero. Today it is the turn of the mid-price forwards.

The choice in this price bracket is deeper than at the premium end of the field. Five options stand out to me as worth considering: Graziano Pellè (8.2m), Romelu Lukaku (8.4m), Bafétimbi Gomis (7.1m), Anthony Martial (8.4m) and Wilfried Bony (8.2m).

With more than a quarter of a million transfers in already during this international break, Pellè, the top scoring FPL forward with 52 points from 708 minutes played, has emerged as a clear favourite. Lukaku (49 points, 694 min) is another popular choice with over 70,000 transfers in. Despite being the prime candidate to replace Agüero in Manchester City’s normally potent attack, Wilfried Bony (11 points, 218 min) has only received just over 20,000 transfers in. After starting the season with four goals in four games, FPL managers have fallen out of love with Gomis (32 points, 628 min) and he has about 75,000 net transfers out this gameweek. It’s a similar story with Martial (25 points, 296 min), who has failed to score in his last two games and is now in 25,000 fewer teams overall than he was at the start of the international break.

Mid-price Agüero replacements

As I did yesterday, I have included Agüero’s statistics to provide a comparison and displayed the data in minutes per action to account for the wide variety of game time among these players.

Pellè’s stats are comparable to those of Agüero when it comes to shots inside the box, but in terms of the other metrics the Southampton striker does not stand head and shoulders above the other options over the season as a whole. Bony is ahead of Pellè in Minutes per Shot, Gomis in minutes per Shot on Target and Lukaku and Martial lead the way in Minutes per Goal.

Since I looked at Martial after Gameweek 6, the regression I was predicting has begun to kick in and the Manchester United forward has only taken two more shots. The Red Devils next two games aren’t easy but after that their schedule opens up though I wouldn’t say those fixtures are easy (eve, MCI, cpl, WBA, wat, lei).

Two weeks ago, I exposed the myth that Romelu Lukaku only scores against top teams and the Everton man kept up his fine form with a strike in his five-shot game against Liverpool. The Belgian has two tough games up next, but after that the fixtures look almost as good as they can get (MUN, ars, SUN, whm, AVL, bou).

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With four goals and five assists in his last five games, Pellè is clearly a man in form. With a nice run of fixtures (LEI, liv, BOU, sun, STO) before a Gameweek 14 match against Manchester City, it is clear why the Italian is such a popular pick this week. The Saints striker’s Shots on Target conversion rate is a touch high. However, given the high percentage of shots he hits from inside the box, there might be a case for arguing it is the Shots on Target rate that is too low and not that the number of goals scored is too high.

Gomis is an interesting case given the common perception that he is out of form. He was hauled off at half-time in Gameweek 7 after failing to record a single shot. That game aside, however, his underlying stats have continued to tick over since I looked at his performance after Gameweek 4, even if the goals have stopped flowing. As Fantasy Football Scout member Balders pointed out, the four fixtures he blanked in were against some of the better defensive teams in the Premier League (wat, EVE, sot, TOT). With four good fixtures in the next six (STO, avl, ARS, nor, BOU, liv), it wouldn’t surprise me if Gomis rediscovered his scoring touch soon.

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Despite some minor speculation to the contrary, Bony’s minutes so far this season suggest he is the first choice back up at Manchester City to Agüero. It is hard to judge a guy who has only played a significant amount of minutes in two games, but the data shows that per minute he is keeping up with the other options considered here in every metric aside from goals. The Citizens may be missing Silva as well as Agüero this week, but they would remain one of the most potent attacking sides in the league even if they suffered a 20 per cent drop in shooting opportunities created. And with three good fixtures in the four games Agüero is likely to miss (BOU, mun, NOR, avl), Bony could soon notch his first goal of the season. However, as Ruth pointed out in the comments on yesterday’s post, switching back to Agüero from Bony could be tricky unless you have two free transfers or a lot of money in the bank.

Juan Mata

I like Juan Mata as a Fantasy Premier League option and he has graced my teams on multiple occasions over the last few years.

The Spaniard is rocking along nicely this season, clocking up three goals, three assists, five clean sheet points and six bonus points in the first seven games. He is now the third highest FPL points-scoring midfielder and the third highest FPL points scorer in the game.

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Despite his success, the Manchester United midfielder only began surfacing in discussion in the last couple of weeks. He recorded his first price rise of the season on September 17 and has risen twice more since then, reaching 8.8m on Tuesday morning. There are a couple of reasons for him appearing late and low on FPL managers’ radars. Firstly, he delivered no major returns in two of the first three gameweeks. Secondly, there was some uncertainty about whether he would keep his place.

The former Chelsea man has been subbed twice before the 70-minute mark this season, but if he can keep up his current rate of minutes played he will top 3,000 minutes for the first time since arriving in the Premier League. While the situation may need monitoring, I don’t see concerns over playing time as a reason not to bring him in.

Juan Mata GW1-7 2015-16

Mata isn’t among the best midfielders when it comes to his underlying stats. Where he shines is in the top level stats, particularly goals – Mata is joint second with the six other midfielders who have notched three times.

At this point you might expect me to make some reference to Mata’s goals to shots on target ratio being too high and to expect some regression – but I’m not going to.

In the last three seasons, Mata has consistently recorded an above average shots on target conversion rate and done so with more than 2,000 minutes played each year. Only in his first season in the Premier League did Mata record a below average shots on target conversion rate. Therefore, in the context of the player, I think his current goal-scoring performance can be sustained.

Where Mata is arguably over-performing is in assists. Some midfielders, like Cesc Fàbregas last year, can be exceptional at having chances created turn into assists, but Mata has not been one of them during his Premier League career.

Mata’s fixtures are tough over the next three weeks (ars, eve, MCI), but the Red Devils have scored three goals in each of their last three games (LIV, sot, SUN) so they have attacking form on their side. From Gameweek 11, Manchester United’s fixtures look more promising (cpl, WBA, wat, lei, WHU, bou, NOR, sto).

I discussed Kevin De Bruyne as a possible Yaya Toure replacement earlier this week. At 1.4m less, Mata should be considered as another good option for a vacant midfield slot.