Will the real Richarlison please stand up

Young Brazilian midfielder Richarlison de Andrade burst on to the Fantasy Premier League scene last season with five goals in the first 12 Gameweeks of the season. However, the promising start came grinding to a halt as the goals dried up.

A couple more assists kept FPL managers interested in the Watford player for a while, but the wheels had completely fallen off the bandwagon by the time his manager, Marco Silva, was sacked in January 2018. After recording more than 2,000 minutes of Premier League action in 24 gameweeks under Silva, he only just topped 750 in the remaining 14 games of the season.

Now, however, the 21-year-old is once again turning the heads of FPL managers following a transfer to Everton in a deal reported to be worth up to £50 million. A kind set of opening fixtures for the Toffees (wol, SOU, bou, HUD, WHU) combined with a middle-of-the-road 6.5m price tag has, at the time of writing, seen Richarlison find his way into nearly 17 per cent of FPL squads for the opening round of the 2018-19 season.

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Silva is now Everton’s manager and the prospect of a renewed link up between the player and the man who brought him to English football from Fluminense has only stoked the expectations of some FPL managers.

Under Silva, Richarlison rattled off shots (3.12 per 90 minutes) and shots in the box (2.51 per 90 minutes) at a rate that was respectable when compared to more highly priced players like Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette (2.69 and 2.36 respectively for the full season, when adjusted to remove penalty kicks). Despite the shot volume, his ability to actually hit the target was was down on many of his peers, with less than 20 per cent of his shots testing the keeper. However, when he did find his mark, his Shots on Target conversion rate in this period was a respectable 35 per cent.

Richarlison's percentage of shots on target percentage compared to Andros Townsend, David Silva and Chris Wood

Richarlison’s percentage of shots on target percentage compared to Andros Townsend, David Silva and Chris Wood

However, a closer look at the Silva era tells a story of two halves. The first 12 weeks saw Richarlison score five goals from nine Shots on Target, a high but not completely unsustainable 56 per cent conversion rate. He was shooting an average of 3.79 times every 90 minutes and doing so inside the box 2.91 times per 90 minutes, a rate that if continued would have put him inside the top 10 for regular midfielders and forwards last season.

In the following 12 weeks under Silva, these numbers fell back to 2.47 and 2.13 respectively, while the percentage of shots that were on target fell from a lowly 21 per cent to just 17 per cent. While he may feel slightly aggrieved not to get anything from those five Shots on Target, it’s not a surprise that the goals dried up.

The accuracy improved once Javi Gracia replaced Silva at Vicarage Road and by the end of the season the proportion of Richarlison’s shots testing the keeper had reached 23 per cent. Nevertheless, that was the joint lowest with Crystal Palace’s Andros Townsend among players registering at least 10 shots on target in the season. The highest rate belonged to Burnley’s Chris Wood (62 per cent), while David Silva is shown on the first chart as his 37 per cent was close to the 38 per cent average among this group of players.

Richarlison's shooting actions per 90 minutes at Watford

Richarlison’s shooting actions per 90 minutes at Watford

The interesting thing that emerges from Richarlison’s underlying data in the Gracia period (Gameweek 25-38) is the more balanced shooting profile. The frequency with which the Brazilian took shots and did so in the box remained down on the first 12 weeks of the season, but comparable to the second 12 weeks. However, his accuracy doubled so a respectable 34 per cent of his shots were now on target. Overall, his underlying shot profile changed from one of high volume but low accuracy, to one with a shape that should in theory suggest more consistent returns in the long run. Ultimately, the goals didn’t come under Gracia, but it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions from the data because 751 minutes is not a huge sample size.

What the evidence does do is raise questions about how much of Richarlison’s performance early last season can be attributed to Marco Silva. It is possible other factors – such as a young player tiring, but developing as the season progressed – may also be in play. Hopefully, the 2018-19 season will give us more clues.

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Harry Kane blanks again

Before the season started there was a lot of talk about how Harry Kane had never scored a Premier League goal in August. There were good reasons to believe this season might be different. Unlike his first two Premier League seasons, Kane is now a starting striker and unlike the last two Premier League seasons he was coming into August off a proper pre-season break.

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Yet, with two games gone this August and just one Premier League match left to play before September rolls around, Harry Kane has so far failed to find the net in the last full month of summer. It’s certainly not for want of trying. I was able to watch part of Tottenham Hotspur’s game against Chelsea and there were moments where Kane played like a man possessed, determined to break his August duck.

Indeed, a look at his stats from the first two games tells a similar story. In his first match, against newly promoted Newcastle United, he unleashed six shots, including five in the area and one on target. Against Chelsea, last season’s Premier League champions, he performed even better with eight shots, six of which were in the area, and three of which tested the goalkeeper.

Harry Kane - actions per 90 minutes to GW2, 2017-18

Harry Kane – actions per 90 minutes to GW2, 2017-18

The chart compares Kane’s output to previous seasons, with penalty kicks excluded from the calculation of actions per minute. It shows that Kane has actually been shooting more frequently this year and doing so inside the box more regularly too. His Shots on Target output is similar to previous years and it is only the goals column where he has failed to register so far.

The sample size for this season is tiny – just two games – so there is more scope for variance in the results. During the season we may see that the shots and shots in box frequency decline at one end of the chart while the goal numbers increase at the other end. However, it’s also not completely out of the realm of possibility that these shooting numbers are the first tentative indications of a step up in output for Harry Kane – if that is the case Premier League defences should be getting very nervous.

More games will help give us a clearer picture. Up next for Spurs is Burnley at Wembley. The Clarets were the eighth best team in the league for goals conceded at home last year, but on the road they were the joint seventh worst. This could be a good opportunity for Kane to finally break his August goal drought.

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: GW10

The Everything but the Goal pick for GW10 is Christian Benteke. The Crystal Palace striker has fire nine shots over the past two gameweeks, all from inside the box, but he has struggled to find the target with just one of those efforts testing the goalkeeper.

The control selection is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, who has also had nine shots in the same period, including eight inside the penalty area. He has only fired two shots on target, but scored with both of those efforts.

For both Benteke and Hazard the objective is to score, which is what both of last week’s picks, Southampton’s Charlie Austin and Dusan Tadic, failed to do.

Season EBTG score: Found 1 – 7 Missing

Season control score: Found 2 – 6 Missing

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.

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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.