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.

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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. 

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.

Manchester City midfield options

Debate has been raging this season between FPL managers about which Manchester City midfield player is the best addition to their teams. The Citizens’ £55m signing of Kevin de Bruyne on August 30 has refreshed discussion as managers assess the likely impact on their teams.

Clearly it will be a few weeks before we have sufficient data to judge de Bruyne and how his team mates work with him. What we do have is four weeks worth of data from the current starting midfielders: Yaya Touré, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Jesús Navas and Fernandinho. This is too small a sample to make a high quality assessment, but it may throw up some pointers and give us a very rough baseline from which to re-assess later this year.

I’m not going to spend too much time on Fernandinho and Jesús Navas, who is widely predicted to lose his place to the new signing from Wolfsburg. Fernandinho has had two shots all season – and scored from both of them. If he keeps this up this 100 per cent conversion rate throughout the season, we will have witnessed the birth of a new FPL phenomenon unlike anything that has gone before… but I doubt that is going to happen. He has also created five chances for colleagues so occasional points returns are not out of the question.

Navas has hit five of his six shots inside the penalty box and two of those six were on target. He has created seven chances, which is one more than Sterling, but I’m going to leave him out of further discussion because he is thought the most likely to suffer a loss of game time following de Bruynes’s arrival.

So how have the other three got on?

Manchester City midfield performances GW1-4 2015/16

The eagle-eyed will spot that I have followed the Premier League’s lead and credited Silva with the disputed first goal against West Brom in Gameweek 1, which in FPL has been credited to Touré. I dislike getting into “if only that had been different” scenarios because they could go on without end, but I’ve made an exception here because the Premier League did the same. Please delete one assist from Touré and give him Silva’s goal if you disagree.

What the radar chart shows is that while Silva is creating a few more chances for his colleagues, Touré is taking a few more shots and getting more on target.

The interesting one to watch going forward will be Sterling. He has not been shooting as much as the other two, but his 62.5 per cent accuracy is twice that of Touré (30.8 per cent) and thrice that of Silva (20 per cent).

The next chart shows how their performances have translated into points per 90 minutes played (P90) and P90 per million pound each player costs (p90/£), which is an important consideration when Silva currently costs 1.3m more than Touré and Sterling. I have run the calculations with the first goal against West Brom credited to Silva (Adj.) and to Touré (FPL) and altered the bonus points accordingly.* I also display P90 results based on the players’ start-of-season prices and current prices to aid consideration over whether to hold or buy.
Manchester City midfielders P90 and P90/£

Looking at the FPL data, Touré looks the best performer so far particularly when value for money is considered and there isn’t much separating Silva and Sterling. However, with the adjusted data, Silva looks the better performer and there is little difference between him and Touré  in value for money. If you buy Touré, the question is whether you can squeeze more than one point per 90 minutes out of that spare 1.3m – but that’s a question for another day.

As a final thought, the difference the attribution of that one goal against West Brom makes to the results of these charts shows how just one event can have quite a big effect on a small data sample. Therefore it would be prudent not to leap to conclusions based on the evidence we have so far.

Notes

  • *By my calculation, Touré would have still received three bonus points from the West Brom game if the first goal was credited to Silva, but Silva would have come away with two bonus points (FPL gives him none).
  • I have been struggling to do this post through a bad cold. I think I have the calculations correct, but please let me know kindly if you spot a mistake.