Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Undervalued Teammates

One of the easiest ways to save money without losing too much production is to look for players that are cheaper than their teammates but still play similar levels of minutes. This is a hallowed strategy in fantasy circles and needs no further explanation here.

What I do want to discuss is (a) which players allow us to execute this strategy and (b) is this strategy always reliable.

Undervalued teammates

How comfortable would you be picking your weekly defence from Richard Dunne, John Terry, Nemanja Vidic, Roger Johnson and Jody Craddock? Last season these players ranked 1st, 3rd, 8th, 18th, and 35th (Vidic was injured) among all defenders in the game and totalled 657 points between them. At the same PPG rates this year they would amass 630 points even if they each played in a conservative 32 games each (or an incredible 749 points if they each played every week). At the time of writing this group of players will set you back 31.0m which means you would receive a PPMS of 0.636. Solid numbers but not amazing value when you consider that no less than 17 defenders delivered a PPMS above 0.800 last season (only taking those players who played more than 1,000 minutes).

Now how would you like to have this group for 25.1m (and bag a PPMS of 0.784)? You could select Luke Young (saving 2.0m), Alex (saving 0.9m), John O’Shea (saving 1.5m), Scott Dann (saving 0.5m) and Steve Foley (saving 1.0m) and still get the same clean sheet points as the aforementioned star lineup. After all, the raison d’ĂȘtre of defenders is to defend and win clean sheets, doing so as a unit and hence rising and falling as a team. With that in mind, my favourite undervalued teammates are below (keep reading below them for the caveat of this analysis):

Alex (6.1m)
Barring injury or an unexpected signing by Chelsea I think Alex will finish the season as one the highest value players available. The issue of who will partner Terry appears to have been settled and Ferreira’s performance at right back have been shaky suggesting that Ivanovic will lock down that spot, making this one of the more settled backlines around. Sure, he might lose the odd game for Champions League rotation but I think Alex tops 30 games easily this term. Also, consider his love for the occasional long shot and free kick and he may even outscore Terry in the non-defensive point rankings .Alex is no more risky than any top level player and deserves to be held by substantially more than his current 6% holding.

Luke Young (5.0m)
I am not as confident on Young as Alex for two fairly obvious reasons:
  • His job is not quite as safe with Cuellar and Beye waiting in the wings, and
  • Villa’s defence has been wildly inconsistent to date this year.
That said, at 5.0m Young deserves to be more widely owned than his current 3% holding and represents an upgrade over Warnock (6.0m) at this stage of the game (I am planning this move myself if my squad escapes international week injuries). Young is particularly good value in the short term with the next three games seeing Villa face Stoke (H), Bol (H) and Wol (A).

Paul Koncesky (5.0m)
Though not always true, you have to assume that a manager brings in new players to play each week, a scenario that would make Konchesky outstanding value at 5.0m. Available for 2.5m less than Glen Johnson (8% owned), this difference would represent the largest discrepancy among all teammates this season. True, Liverpool do not appear to be a defensive force this season but Hodgson made Fulham very solid in his time there and you have to think that this unit will improve at some point. Remember too that they have already faced Arsenal and City, while recording a clean sheet against West Brom in GW3. Watch this situation closely and jump on Konchesky as soon as it becomes evident he will start at LB (perhaps even wait until after the trip to Birmingham in GW4 to be sure).

John O’Shea (5.5m)
Many owners were on Johnny Evans early and he has delivered good value with two clean sheets in the first 3 weeks. However, the return of Ferdinand is imminent and that should put pay to Evans run in the side. O’Shea however is a different story. Rafael, Neville and Smalling were supposed to be threats to his minutes but so far they have not managed to wrestle a single one from him (Vidic and Evans meanwhile have both been subbed this season). An added bonus is that if Ferguson wishes to give Rafael a run out, O’Shea still has a chance to start elsewhere in the team due to his versatility. I think it is safe to target O’Shea now so long as you can handle the games he will occasionally miss by having a decent bench.

Steve Foley (4.0m)
Wolves have been become a useful unit and are very hard to beat. They have conceded a goal in each of their three games this year against okay opposition but I can see them getting a few clean sheets when all is said and done. At 4m Foley is as cheap as you get for your backline and as an every week player he represents good value, ahead of the higher owned Berra and Ward, and the ridiculously overpriced Craddock.

There are a couple of other candidates that could be thrown onto this list, including Micah Richards, Martin Skrtel, Tony Hibbert, and Steve GohouriBoateng) or they are the cheapest player on a garbage team (Gohouri).

Testing the theory
I noted above that there is a caveat to the above picks and it needs elaborating here. While defenders’ main job is to defend (and keep clean sheets) you cannot ignore the fact that they do score attacking points in the form of goals, assists and, crucially, bonus points.

I am going to largely discount goals here as for all but a handful of players they are almost totally unpredictable and should not be a major factor in picking a player. Consider that last year there were 107 defensive goals (excluding Graham Alexander’s penalties which now reside back in the Championship), which in itself sounds a lot. However, assuming most teams play four defenders in most games, there were 3,040 appearances by defenders, giving the average defender a score once every 28 appearances. Trying to catch this lightning in a bottle is pretty futile as you need to target a player then play him every week (even in bad matchups) if you want to maximise your chances of netting a goal.

Assists are a bit different and can be targeted by picking certain players (i.e. attacking full backs). Twelve players managed to notch four assists or more last season and nine of these would be considered premium players (Mears, Berra and Scharner being the exceptions). It is for that reason that I was careful to compare Alex to Terry earlier rather than Ashley Cole who has been enjoying great freedom down the Chelsea left side (though even he only has one assist to show for his work this season).

The place where this theory can fall down is with the awarding of bonus points. Two factors conspire to ensure that the more expensive players gain more bonus points in general. Firstly, they are expensive for a reason: they are good players playing on good teams. Second, and crucially, the pundits tend to get one player stuck in their head as being the leading man in a defense’s success and reward him when the team plays well, regardless of who actually makes the most tackles, blocks, interceptions etc. This was evidenced last year by Richard Dunne (who played well but not more than twice as well as Collins) and Nemanja Vidic in the preceding year.

The awarding of ‘phantom’ bonus points can tip the advantage in the premium players favour and hence sometimes make them worth the extra investment but so far this season, this does not appear to be the case. Indeed the 9 most expensive players available have yet to notch a bonus point between them (32 have been awarded to defenders in total) and just Agger (3 points) and Carragher (2 points) have gained bonus recognition among all defenders valued at over 6.0m. Consider the situation for midfielders where 31 points have been gained by those valued at over 7m (a smaller population that the aforementioned defender pool). This could indicate that the pundits are no longer levelling the playing field and the likes of Konchesky, Young and Alex could deliver not only better value than their more expensive teammates but even similar levels of actual production (which is what we are actually looking for at he end of the day).

I have preached my loyalty to budget defenders in the past and suggested that the linkage between money spent and points earned is not that strong. I am therefore targeting the aforementioned players (particularly Alex, O’Shea and Konchesky) to give me access to top teams at a budget price. I invite you to discuss below if you are thinking of following suit.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Gameweek 3 Preview

This week's preview is going to be a bit condensed as my internet access has been limited while still on my travels. After the long rambling piece from GW2 was done I had enough time to throw together the below rankings which will hopefully help with lineup and transfer questions for the week:

Clean Sheet Rankings
  1. Chelsea (0.27)
  2. Man United (0.36)
  3. Tottenham (0.40)
  4. Liverpool (0.55)
  5. Blackpool (0.63)
  6. Aston Villa (0.70)
  7. Wolves (0.79)
  8. Newcastle (0.81)
  9. Blackburn (1.13)
  10. Bolton (1.13)
  11. Sunderland (1.17)
  12. Arsenal (1.36)
  13. Fulham (1.44)
  14. Man City (1.48)
  15. Everton (1.61)
  16. Birmingham (1.63)
  17. West Brom (3.39)
  18. Stoke (3.73)
  19. West Ham (3.83)
  20. Wigan (4.03)
Aside from the usual candidates, Blackpool stand out as a top pick for the week but I am cautious about this ranking due to the lack of data we have for them at home in the EPL. That said, Fulham were awful away last season (12 goals) and so Blackpool might just be worth a shot if you need a budget option this week. The top four picks are all worth consideration for doubling up if you can afford them given their great fixtures this week. For reference, I have United defenders ranked 3rd overall as buy prospects based on their value in the next 6 weeks, so they make the most sense if you want to bring one of these boys in this week.

Captain Rankings
  1. Gareth Bale
  2. Didier Drogba
  3. Fernando Torres
  4. Ashley Cole 
  5. Florent Malouda
  6. Steve Gerrard
  7. Wayne Rooney
  8. Aaron Lennon
  9. Nemanja Vidic
  10. John Terry
I like the top players this week and would be more than happy captaining anyone in the top 7 here. Spurs, United and Liverpool have outstanding fixtures while Chelsea are in irrepressibly good form and deserve consideration. I can't decide between the top picks here and this will be a decision made at the very last minute. I am currently leaning towards Bale as Spurs could destroy Blackpool having spanked Young Boys last night while Stoke are usually pretty solid defensively and their road defense ranked alongside Arsenal and Villa last year. This might change though such is the form of Drogba, who is the closest thing we have had to a must captain player since Ronaldo left for Madrid.

Apologies for this being a bit short this week but I wanted to get it up quickly rather than writing too much and posting it on Friday night. As always thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing your comments and questions below or @plfantasy.

Ramble On: Gameweek 2

The below is a bit late due to my lack of internet access. The GW3 preview will also be up shortly. 

Seeing as these gameweek roundups invariably descend into random thoughts from the football world, I thought I would rename the segment as both a nod to the nature of my posts and to the greatest rock band of all time (see how even the introductions are now rambling . . . good luck to the reader!).

This week is one in which my concise writing would be especially beneficial given the goals (38) and fantasy excitement of this past week. Without further ado then I will start with a few big performances that require our attention:

Theo Walcott (7.1m) - I included Walcott in my 'under the radar' piece before the season started so while Walcott enjoying success is not a total surprise, the timing is much earlier than I expected. It is pleasing to see him flourish early in the season as this performance should buy him some patience for when he inevitably has one of those inconsistent days that have dogged his Arsenal career to date. I managed to watch the whole Arsenal game and Walcott played better than I have ever seen (though admittedly against a weak Blackpool side). As Wenger pointed out after the game, the impressive part of his performance was not the pacey runs and tricks we all know he has, but the composure he showed in front of goal and the decision making he used when deciding whether to pass or shoot. The way he took his first goal reminded me of certain other number 14 that once graced the Emirates field. While on that, Arsenal's team was full of throwback performances with Rosicky looking like a rejuvenated Robert Pires (wearing number 7) and Abou Diaby doing his best Patrick Vieira impression (though wearing number 2 instead of 4 - again this called a ramble for a reason).
I am still not ready to buy Walcott given his likelihood of being rotated (the front three of Van Persie, Arshavin and Chamakh are all likely to get substantial minutes) but he is definitely on my radar and if he seems to be becoming a fixture in the Arsenal side he might just become a very useful fantasy prospect.

Florent Malouda (9.7m) - No analysis needed here. The best midfielder so far this season and better value than Lampard, Gerrard or Fabregas right now. His value is up to 9.7m and I can see if hitting 10m before September is done as his ownership approaches 30%.

Gareth Bale (6.7m) - Probably my worst pre-season prediction so far was classifying Bale as overvalued. I even went so far as to question if the Welshman would play every week. After Malouda, he has impressed me the most so far this year and Redknapp has described his as undroppable. Tremendous value at 6.7m, he appears to have caught the eye of the pundits which should see a healthy flow of bonus points. By far the most owned player (39%) he has become a must own player as even when his form cools down, you cannot afford to lose double digit points a week in the mean time. Spurs play Wigan this week and Bale will be in running for the best captain pick for GW3.

Andy Caroll (5.1m) - Caroll was brilliant against Villa both in terms of fantasy production and target man play. I don't see him as a consistent every week scorer but I think he will generate bonus points better than his fellow sub-6m strikers, making him better value than the likes of Boselli, Kalinic and N'Gog. Newcastle have a very nice run of fixtures coming up and if you get on board now (at 5.1m) you can be sure of another price rise if he scores again soon as there are few things managers love more than a cheap striker.

Kevin Nolan (5.5m) - Also played well against Villa and his role behind Caroll has intrigued me. He showed a good goalscoring touch at Bolton (almost breaking into the England side) and my issue with him was always his lack of tracking back, an issue that is not a problem in fantasy teams or indeed for the pivotal central midfielder in Newcastle's 4-5-1. At 5.5m he is only okay value, as other good options like Lee, Malbranque, Adam and Gutierrez are available, but he definitely deserves to be in the discussion with these players and leads the pack so far.

Didier Drogba (12.8m) - Apparently it still needs to be said that Drogba is a must own player with Rooney and Torres both struggling for fitness. Owned by 34% this should be close to 50% given the way he has outperformed all other premium players so far. Chelsea face Stoke, West Ham and Blackpool in the next three weeks and the only thing stopping the best player in the league right now is injury or rotation.

Odemwingie (5.0m) - I tweeted that I liked the Odenwingie deal when it went through and this was confirmed after a debut goal for the Nigerian international in GW2. I have only seen him play for Nigeria but he always looked useful and I think he has the talents necessary to be a decent EPL forward. He will probably only ever be a spot starter but with Caroll up to 5.1m I think he's the best way to spend 5m, along with Ebanks-Blake.

Nemanja Vidic (7.0m) - Disappointing gameweek for United players but one thing that stood out was the number of chances Vidic had from set pieces. He managed 4 goals in 2008/09 and I can see him meeting or exceeding that if United keep supplying the balls to him. Could wind up the top scoring defender this season.

City defenders - This defense is for real. With two or three strong midfielders in front of them, this unit is going to be extremely hard to break down and has to rated up there with anyone but Chelsea in terms of clean sheet potential. Joe Hart has been phenomenal but you know my thoughts on expensive keepers so I am targeting Toure as the safest way to access this team's potential until Boateng is fit.

Alex (6.0m) - The second centre back job appears to be Alex's which makes him great value at 6m. I haven't seen too much to illustrate that Terry is worth 1m more so that transfer made perfect sense to me in order to free up some extra spending money. With Ivanovic and Ferreira being subbed on the hour I think Alex is the best Chelsea defender for those who find Cole a bit too pricey.

Frank Lampard - (13.0m) - Lampard has been pretty successful in fantasy terms this year (14 points) but I am still concerned that he is playing too deep compared with last season to be as dominant. I am certainly not suggesting writing off the English star yet, but, considering the opposition he has faced (Wig and WB) I would start to be concerned about his lack of explosive scoring.

Steve Gerrard (11.5m) - Despite Liverpool looking somewhat underwhelming, I am actually less concerned with Gerrard than Lampard in terms of his positional play this year. Gerrard was clearly more involved with Cole not in the side but there are of course questions over how this will play out in the season. If Cole comes back into the free role then I think Gerrard is massively overvalued in the EPL game. If however Cole is pushed to the wing then I think Gerrard can be a useful contributor this season, though I still prefer the likes of Malouda and Milner for 2m less.

As the title says, the above is a quick ramble through the week's action and departs somewhat from my usual statistical framework. The weekly preview will be back very soon in time for the weekend's games (again delayed because of traveling).

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Is the grass going to be greener for Milner?

"James Milner might think the grass is greener at Manchester City. He may be in for a shock." (Stephen Ireland)

Seeing as I'm on Malaysia time, I have several hours to burn before the Saturday news starts rolling in so I thought I would lay down some random thoughts on the Milner / Ireland trade that could have fantasy impact immediately and throughout the season.

James Milner

The general consensus seems to be that City have been mugged by Villa and overpaid for the services of Milner. 43% of Goal.com readers think that the move is a bad one for Milner personally which implies they think he won't get enough playing time at City in the coming months and years. I disagree. I think people often underestimate the effect that it has on a manager's team selection when he signed a player - which is not the case for De Jong, Barry, Wright Phillips and Johnson. If any of these players are dropped by Mancini, and hence considered busts, it is Hughes' fault but if Milner does not play that Mancini will be blamed.

He may not like it, having stated his desire to play inside for both club and country, but Milner's ability to play on the right gives him an even better chance to feature most weeks as he is only really competing with Wright Phillips as a pure right-sided player which is great news given SWP's ineffective performances at the end of last season and against Spurs last week.

The BBC suggest that Milner will fit in a 3 man midfield with Barry and Toure and I totally agree. I think Mancini will go with 4-5-1 with Tevez and Silva behind Balotelli allowing Tevez to slide forward and Milner to slide right to give the team a 4-4-2 shape if required. Of course, players like Johnson, Adebayor, De Jong and Wright Phillips might come and go but I think this is his best team and Milner will feature as much as anyone from here on out. I'd set the line for the number of Premier League appearances he ends the season on at 28-30 and I'd still be buying that total.

As for his fantasy impact, that is slightly trickier. I have generally cautioned against players who move clubs due to the time required to settle in, get to know your teammates, possibly learn the language etc. These factors are less troubling with Milner than say David Silva but still a concern. I am personally going to watch this situation through GW3 and GW4 after which City have some dynamite fixtures that will make Milner very appealing if he is playing the right role. I am hoping for an advanced role in that 3 man midfield (think Iniesta) with Barry (Xavi) and Toure (Busquets) providing the protection. If this is the case then Milner has top 5 midfielder potential and is a steal at 9m. The development here could be one of the key things to watch in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned for some chalkboard analysis when the games have been played.

Stephen Ireland
I'll put my cards on the table: I like Stephen Ireland a lot. Trawling through my blog archives you can find comparisons to Steve Gerrard and general admiration which has not wavered even if his status at City did. I thought he was desperately unlucky to be pushed out at City, and even if his recent comments are a little arrogant, he is probably not far wrong. At Villa he should slot right into Milner's role, flanked by talented players in Young, Downing and Petrov which should present plenty of attacking opportunities. There are also Milner's 35 bonus points to go around, which Ireland should have a decent shot at winning (he won 16 of his own in his landmark 2008/09 season).

When the season is done I think Ireland has the chance to be the best player available for under 8m and will give some of the 8m+ players a run for their money (not bad for 6.5m).

I am very high on Malouda and Valencia so I have tough choices ahead of me if I want to get Milner in too. Ireland however, is only 0.5 more than N'Zogbia so I plan to make a double swap next week, losing Vidic or Terry for one of their cheaper teammates allowing me to bring in Ireland in time for 3 decent home games (Eve, Sto and Bol).

I imagine this will be somewhat controversial as everyone has an opinion on City's transfer dealings so why not post your thoughts below to spark the EPL debates for another weekend.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gameweek 2 Preview

The pessimist in me is wondering where I go from here after a very successful first week in which my predictions did well and my team dominated to a three digit score. However, I am going to be positive and look to have another good week of predictions and hope to show that last week was no fluke (in reality it was probably was a fluke, as my countless failed predictions in the past show).

One thing I didn't focus on last week, which I now wish I had, is the prediction tool I use to create my clean sheet rankings. Without getting too bogged down in Excel nonsense, the basic idea is to break down teams historic performance at home/away, against other teams and against certain types of team along with the corresponding data for their opponents. To get the historic data for the promoted sides I used a historic relationship between teams' performance in the EPL and the Championship to try and gross up/net down the expected goals conceded/scored.

Anyway, the point being is that along with some somewhat easier predictions that were correct, the spreadsheet also spat out the following:
  • Man Utd 3-0 Newcastle
  • Chelsea 5-0 West Brom
  • Wigan 1-2 Blackpool
Granted these are only three games out of ten but it shows that the spreadsheet is working pretty well and I have renewed confidence that if we rely on the clean sheet rankings over a long period we should get a decent level of success. Indeed, of all the individual team predictions, only the City prediction was out by more than the odd goal (the stats suggested they would concede 1.9 goals but they kept a clean sheet). Now I've talked up the prediction tool let's get this week's picks in the books and hopefully they will be as useful as last week:

Clean Sheet Rankings
  1. Birmingham (0.33)
  2. Arsenal (0.56)
  3. Chelsea (0.63)
  4. Man City (0.70)
  5. West Brom (0.70)
  6. Newcastle (0.77)
  7. Everton (0.78)
  8. Man United (0.84)
  9. West Ham (0.90)
  10. Fulham (0.99)
  11. Stoke (1.10)
  12. Tottenham (1.35)
  13. Blackburn (1.37)
  14. Aston Villa (1.38)
  15. Liverpool (1.59)
  16. Wigan (1.81)
  17. Sunderland (2.08)
  18. Bolton (2.10)
  19. Wolves (2.31)
  20. Blackpool (4.11)
Some tasty looking fixtures for some premium teams this week with Arsenal (vs Blackpool) looking like pick of the big boys. In truth they probably should be number 1 but I have some uncertainty as to how to predict Blackpool's goals. Regardless, Birmingham deserve their place alongside the big teams as they welcome a Blackburn side to St Andrews who were horrific on the road last year. Add to that the way they struggled to keep possession in GW1 against Everton and you have a great looking opponent for Foster, Carr and co. In fact, I am tempted to play both of these players this week to try and double up on the fixture.

I wouldn't go anywhere near the bottom six sides given their opponents and historic performance. True, West Brom looks like an easy game for Sunderland but the Mackems had the 4th worst road defense last season and conceded twice to a Birmingham side at home who managed just 19 all last season.

In all I think it's a decent defensive week but not as promising as last week. It might be worth considering a three man defense if you are loaded up on mid-price options from teams like Spurs, Blackburn or Villa who face tricky road trips this week.

Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Florent Malouda
  3. Robin van Persie
  4. Frank Lampard
  5. Cesc Fabregas
  6. Darren Bent
  7. Mikel Arteta
  8. Dimitar Berbatov
  9. Ashley Young
  10. Wayne Rooney
Two fixtures stand out this week from where to select you captain as two of the best attacking teams around take on the two favorites for relegation. The issue is that the star players involved in these games are almost all considered to be risky this week and so the armband must be awarded with care. Drogba and Lampard are both rumoured to be rested though Ancelotti said yesterday that "Drogba is fit, [and] he does not have problems physically". I am fairly relaxed that Drogba will play but less so with Lampard. Still, if either get a rest they will likely not play at all so as long as you have a decent reserve captain, you should be okay. I have put Malouda ahead of Lampard due to Lampard's deeper role and Malouda's risk free status.

The Mirror (not quite the Wall Street Journal but it's all I have right now) claim that Fabregas will be rushed back this week in time to play the mouth watering tie against Blackpool. Given that Cesc didn't play at all last week, this seems a bit suspect and we know the Wenger has alot of time for Wilshere so I am not that confident that Fabregas features here, especially in light of the fact that Wenger will surely back his team to beat Blackpool without their Spanish genius. I am more confident that Van Persie will play having come on late last week. Needless to say, they are both great options and it is worth checking the newswires (or following me over at @plfantasy) to see if any breaking news emerges on this pair.

Darren Bent, Mikel Arteta (or is that Michael Alpha now that the Everton man is being tipped for an England call) and Dimitar Berbatov are three somewhat cheaper options who I like this week if your star men don't excite you. Arteta has a very good fixture (Wol) while Bent and Berbatov are in top form, though facing away trips to West Brom and Fulham respectively. Finally, I am unconvinced by the final pair due to their tricky ties and inconsistent form, but I was running out of options and you really need to try and get one of the Chelsea or Arsenal boys in this week if you.

In case you missed it, I had some rambling thoughts on a successful week one here which I urge you to take a skim through in your own time. As always thanks for reading and good luck for GW2. Continue to check back here and on Twitter for last minute injury news and it's fantasy impact.

Week One Roundup: Lessons learned

Well that went well. One of my better week of predictions is in the bag and Pure Juice sit 113th out of close to 2 million managers having managed six goals and four clean sheets on opening weekend. Unfortunately I don't think I have struck some sort of fantasy blueprint to be applied in all future weeks - more than I got a bit lucky and applied some fundamental principles that hold true for the coming weeks too:
  1. While I cautioned earlier about using minutes played as a sure fire barometer for future success, during these opening weeks when team selections are unsettled from prior season, it is essential to go with the sure things and try and avoid trying to discover the next big thing too early. That is why - as some of you have correctly pointed out - I somewhat deviated from my normal strategy of cheaper defenders and brought in Vidic and Terry for opening weekend (this was also due to saving some cash swapping Van Persie to Berbatov quite late on after it became apparent that Van Persie would not start this week). My big mistake of the week was sticking with N'Zogbia despite the warnings that he was upset and might not feature in Martinez's side. I was lucky this time as Chaz Adam came off the bench with 6 points but this was a careless risk and I must now burn a transfer this week to remove N'Zogbia and lose 0.1m in the process. Many managers got burned with either big name arrivals failing to excite (Silva, Hernandez, K.Jones, J.Cole, Boselli) or players failing to make the first team (Adebayor, Lescott, N'Zogbia, Ivanovic).
  2. Playing the fixtures is still one of the safest strategies. It might not work every time (Wolves conceding to Stoke was a blow to my clean sheet rankings) but those who jumped on the solid defensive fixtures of United, Villa, Chelsea, Bolton, Spurs and Blackburn were rewarded with clean sheets this week and the only game that really went against the defensive trends was the 2-2 Sunderland-Birmingham game which looked more like a 0-0 before kick off.
For real or no deal?

One of the hardest parts at the start of the season is knowing what trends are for real and what are aberrations. Didier Drogba probably won't continue his form and end the season on 114 goals but his dominant play is, as will all know, for real and he is a legitimate stud going forward. But what about someone like Marc Albrighton who shone for Villa and can be had for a measly 4.6m (his value has already gone up). Here's my take on the headline makers from week one in no particular order:

Steve Gerrard / Frank Lampard: I am concerned for this pair's ability to generate top level returns given the positions they took in their team's gameweek one games. Looking at the chalkboards below, we can see that both players took up rather deep positions and despite Lampard completing almost all his passes against weak opposition, most of them were not in dangerous positions.

Gerrard v Lampard chalkboard: too deep to dominate?

I voiced my approval for the premium strikers before the season and I am even further on board this strategy after watching the games this week. In the 4-5-1 formation there is room for the Mezhut Ozil / Kaka type 'trequartista' who could dominate the fantasy scoring charts but neither Lampard nor Gerrard are being deployed in this way, possibly due to the inclusion of natural forwards in the wide right position (Anelka and Kuyt) who often push the formation into somewhat of a lopsided 4-4-2.

There aren't any other players who fit this mold either but if you make Lampard/Gerrard just a very good central midfielder then give me James Milner and 4m any day. I am not willing to give up on this pair yet but I stick by my pursuit of premium strikers for the time being.

Gareth Bale: I wasn't particularly high on Bale before the season and I felt that most people were overvaluing him due to the clean sheet points he earned last year while classified as a defender. However, he looked very dangerous against a good City side, and seems locked into the first team lineup.

I am still concerned with how wasteful his passing is sometimes (see below) but the pundits didn't seem to be bothered when handing out the bonus points and so long as you can handle some inconsistency in his points, I think Bale should represent good value for the foreseeable future.

Bale chalkboard: wasteful in possession

Marc Albrighton: The Villa youngster looked very good in his debut and the fantasy managers have already reacted to the 4.5m player pushing his price up to 4.6m. However, the return of Gabby Agbonlahor will limit Albrighton's playing time and I think whoever the manager is at Villa will be keen to not put too much pressure on the teenager. I am currently filing him as one for the future and I think you'll spend more time frustrated by him giving you 12 minutes and 1 point than counting the points you won by being the first on the kid's bandwagon.

Paul Scholes / Darren Fletcher: This pair played tremendously well for United against Newcastle and I was particularly intrigued by Fletcher's forward runs and attacking influence. Scholes has developed into a Pirlo-like deep lying playmaker which allows Fletcher the room to run forward more, knowing that he has a few bodies protecting him. I'm not ready to buy either of these players yet but they have turned a somewhat fantasy-sparse United team into an intriguing squad of players, along with:

Nani: I am a proud Valencia owner and I have stated that I think he has a shot at being a top 5 midfielder this year. However, for me, Nani was the more dangerous player on Monday and his pass to Evra for Fletcher's goal was pure class. I cannot believe I have now championed both Nani and Walcott in the past few weeks but I think they have the chance to take the next steps to being mature wingers this season. I'm not buying yet but if Nani keeps this up he could develop into a very useful squad player.

Dimitar Berbatov / Javier Hernandez: I hate to ride the United bandwagon too much but I think there are goals in this team and one of these two players are going to get a chunk of them. I absolutely love Berbatov when he's "on"and during his best spell at Spurs I would have put him in the top 3 or 4 strikers in England. He actually had a good fantasy season last year (5.59 PPG and 0.607 PPMS - Rooney's was just 0.620) and he has started the season on fire in the Community Shield and in gameweek 1. He looked very hungry and seemed to be enjoying his football and the chalkboard below shows how involved he was, with touches all over the pitch.

Berbatov chalkboard: involved in the action all over the field

My concern is the presence of another player who has impressed - Javier Hernandez or "Chicarito". He plays like a goalscorer and looked fresh when he came on against Newcastle. While Rooney is getting back to fitness there are minutes for both these players but once fit, Rooney will take 90 minutes every week and the fantasy value of Berbatov and Hernandez may be limited. United have a pretty awesome set of fixtures through week 11 with only @Ful @Eve, Liv and Tot looking even vaguely threatening and so I think I will stick with Berbatov for now, but if Ferguson starts getting too happy with his rotation it's time to move on as 8.5m is simply too much money to have on the bench. Monitor this situation closely.

David Stockdale: Stockdale did okay in Schwarzer's absence and Fulham look like they are still a decent defensive side under Mark Hughes. If Schwarzer finally completes his drawn out move to Arsenal or somewhere else then Stockdale becomes a 4m starting keeper which are hard to come by and he would become a very useful asset for all teams, either in a rotation strategy or as the best 4m keeper around (no I'm not on board the Gilks / Mignolet or Carson trains just yet).

Phil Jones / Paul Robinson: Blackburn managed an opening day clean sheet against a decent Everton side, though ranked as the 9th best clean sheet bet for the week, it was hardly a huge surprise. I rated Blackburn's defense coming into the season and mentioned both Paul Robinson and Phil Jones before the season, however, Blackburn enjoyed very little possession against Everton - Yaya Toure completed more passes for City than the entire Rovers team - and against better teams that formula will not lead to clean sheets.

This week's trip to Birmingham is a good test for Allardyce's unit and if they get through it okay I think we can safely put Rovers into the decent mid-level defensive unit options. However, if they struggle to hold the ball again and look vulnerable it might be time to cut loose now given that they face Arsenal and City in GW3 and GW4. A quick note on Jones that may have been missed: he is lining up in midfield and was given man of the match by the pundits this week. That is a valuable combination and if Blackburn can show more defensive strength I think he is one of the best 4.5m options around.

Benoit Assou Ekotto: I held BAE for long chunks of last season and I was fairly satisfied with his performances for a while (3.20 PPG and 0.68 PPMS) though he never really excelled as I hoped. I feared for his place in the starting lineup this year as I wondered if either Bale or one of Spurs' several CBs would take the LB spot leaving BAE out in the fantasy wilderness. In fact he looked very good in GW1 and his left field partnership with Bale looked extremely promising. He was handed 2 bonus points which puts him in the pundit's eyes early on and opens the way for more rewards in the future. Spurs' defensive fixtures are good but not great so I wouldn't jump all over BAE per se, but if, like me, you are a Dawson owner, you might consider a switch if you have a spare transfer to allow for a bit of differentiation in your side (Dawson 25% owned, BAE 5%).

Marlon Harewood: Don't even think about it. There is a reason Harewood had no team until about a week before the season. Wigan are horrible and my Sunday league team may have scored 3 or 4 past them on Saturday.

James Milner: I wasn't expecting a big performance from the want-away midfielder but Milner played well by all accounts (I haven't seen the game) and grabbed the 3 bonus points. For all City's spending they don't really have any pundit favorites so Milner should be able to continue his bonus grabbing at Eastlands. I think Milner becomes a viable 9m option at City and should not only feature in most games, but also be protected by some very good players in Barry, Yaya Toure and De Jong. Assuming one of these makes way for Milner, you get a 4-2-3-1 shape with Milner playing alongside Silva and Tevez behind Balotelli with few defensive responsibilities. You can make a case that there is more talent there than that which surrounds either Lampard or Gerrard and thus Milner looks very interesting at 9m. He would currently by my 5th pick in midfielder regardless of price (Lampard, Gerrard, Cesc and Malouda still look very good) but when you take into account his lower price tag he might be ahead of anyone. I'm waiting a week or two for him to bed in, but then he will be very near the top of my transfer list, right around the time City play Bla, @Wig, New and @Bll in a 5 week spell.

Emmanuel Adebayor: Sell. I was on Ade before the season but he is far too expensive to ever be rested or rotated. Anelka, Bent and Defoe are much safer options who should finish the season with more points.

Mario Balotelli: I am excited by the arrival of Super Mario who dazzled me a couple of times in cameo appearances in the Champions League. As with most new arrivals I am staying away for now but as noted for Milner above, City have a good run of fixtures from GW4 on so if he can get into the team and prove his worth somewhere in that run he might be a nice option for anyone who is sick of Defoe/Anelka/Bent/Berbatov by that point. You have to think that Mancini plans to play Balotelli (that is of course if he had any say in who the board signed) so he should get plenty of chances to shine and his talent is undeniable. One to watch but hold off for now.

Wayne Rooney: Rooney looked a bit laboured against Newcastle and was clearly lacking both sharpness and confidence. I have little doubt that both of these will return but in the next 2 or 3 weeks the returns could be limited to the odd goal. His bonus points will be hurt by an inability to pursue his trademark closing down and passionate play and United have other strong options on the bench (Hernandez, Owen, Macheda) to pull Rooney off if he is struggling. For the immediate future I think Torres, Van Persie, Defoe and of course Drogba are all better options.

That round up turned into a bit of a random ramble so apologies if I lost any of you halfway through. I will be back very shortly with the GW2 preview include the usual clean sheet and captain rankings.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pure Juice announce 2010/11 lineup

The talk is over and the season has kicked off. Without further ado then, I proudly introduce your 2010/11 Pure Juice lineup.

Keepers
J.Jaaskelainen
B.Foster

My love for the rotation strategy is well documented and I recently hinted that I like the combo of Jaaskelainen and Foster due the security of their jobs, their big league experience and the meshing of the pair's fixtures in the early part of the season. I see Foster starting the majority of games but Bolton are okay at home and with Foster's uncertain fitness, Jussi gets the gloves for week 1 as Bolton entertain Fulham at the Reebok. I'm happy with this pair though I imagine at least one of them will be moved as some point as a bargain keeper emerges once again.

Defenders
N.Vidic
J.Terry
S.Warnock
M.Dawson
S.Carr

My two key indicators here were opening fixtures and certainty of playing. I was tempted by Ferreira, Alex and Evans but I ultimately went for 5 players who will definitely play each week to open the season (barring injury) and whose teams face weaker opposition over the opening weeks. Vidic and Terry are both slightly more expensive than I like to spend on defenders but I liked United's and Chelsea's opening fixtures and felt this pair gave me good access to clean sheet, bonus and even goal opportunities. Villa and Spurs have good opening fixtures and Warnock and Dawson provide access to those teams without breaking bank so I'm pretty happy with this pair in the medium term.

Midfield
F.Malouda
A.Valencia
C.N'Zogbia
C.Y.Lee
C.Adam

The biggest controversy here is probably who I haven't picked - namely a top shelf midfielder like Lampard, Gerrard or Fabregas. Fabregas was in my team for a long time but with him likely to miss week 1 I decided I couldn't handle 10m on my bench from the kick off so I re-jigged a bit, but with Cesc in mind when Arsenal's fixtures look good. A similar story goes for Lampard though at 13m I think the only way I bring him in is as a defensive move if everyone else has him and I need to block his points (much like Ronaldo in his final season at United).

I'm a big fan of both Malouda and Valencia for this season and I think they both have top 5 potential among all midfielders. N'Zogbia and Lee are two players who had decent seasons last year but I think both have a higher ceiling than they have shown yet and remain good value at 6m and 5.5m respectively. I am a bit concerned with N'Zogbia throwing his toys out of the pram but I hope he can play well enough to either settle back in at Wigan or earn a move to another EPL team in the near future.

Finally, Charlie Adam's selection goes against my philosophy of picking proven players but his excellent goal scoring record along with his set piece duties made me think that the 5m price tag was okay. I think a couple of goals in the opening few games will see his price rocket due to the dearth of talent at that price range.

Forwards
D.Drogba
D.Berbatov
N.Kalinic

I have stuck with the high priced forwards on the basis that bargains are harder to come by here, and my top pair were going to be Van Persie and Drogba until RvP was all but ruled out of the start of the season. I have temporarily brought in Berbatov, who impressed last week in the Community Shield, due to United's favourable fixture, but he is unlikely to stick around for too long given the presence of Hernandez to snatch valuable minutes. I love Drogba again this year and he says he is fitter than ever which is daunting news for the rest of the league. I would say that Torres is still the best all round striker but issues over his fitness and supporting cast make Drogba the pick for me right now.

There are several decent budget strikers who I think can contribute as a third striker this year and I've gone with Kalinic after competition from Rodallega, Zigic and Campbell. This position will likely be in flux throughout the season as I try to capitalise on hot streals on good fixtures for my third striker.

I hope everyone is happy with their teams and not too many of you had Adebayor, Lescott, Kranjcar etc who already find themselves out of the first teams, just a few minutes into the new season. Let the games begin (not to mention the ridiculous stress this causes every Friday night/Saturday morning).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scanning the radar: Defenders

Having done earlier posts on forwards and midfielders, it's time to sneak in the defenders before the season starts. As indicated in an earlier piece on value against points earned, you can often find good value in cheaper defenders, along with those consistent performers who aren't flashy or exciting but do the business each year and give you consistent returns each week. Here are my favorite players 'under the radar' along with a couple of players just off the radar who need a bit of help before they become good pickups.

Under the radar

Fabio Aurelio (6.0m)
Given that Liverpool were willing to let Insua leave, it seems likely that he isn't going to be first choice at Anfield this season. There is a chance that Hodgson will bring in someone else (such as Konchesky who would become a steal at 5m) but until then Aurelio looks like he will be first choice at LB. Hodgson made Fulham into one of the best defensive units around and similar success at Liverpool, with more talented players, would make Aurelio and co very useful assets. At 6m Aurelio would be the best value (unless of course Skrtel wins the second CB job - see below).

Gael Clichy (6.0m)
Just a couple of years ago people were talking about Clichy as one of the best left backs in the league and one of the hottest prospects in all of football. After a so-so season at the Emirates he now seems to be an afterthought and is owned by just 4% of managers. True, he managed just 3.15 PPG last season but the Arsenal defensive unit should be better this year and I am backing Clichy to return to form and provide good differential value at 6.0m. I loved Vermaelen last season and I'd put him in the top 5 CBs in the league, but at 7.5m you are backing him to score 5+ goals again which seems like a stretch even for a man of Vermaelen's talents. I think Clichy is therefore the pick of the Arsenal back line.

Fabricio Coloccini (4.5m)
As I have mentioned a couple times in the pre season, I think Newcastle have the potential to be in 8-12 range of defensive units and therefore make good bargains this season. Coloccini played almost every game last year and should be one of the first names on the team sheet again this term. He doesn't bring a great deal of goalscoring or assist potential but his barnstorming style might attract some bonus points and I think he's a nice addition to any fantasy bench.

Aaron Hughes (5.0m)
Some players just never really get any respect. Hughes scored just 2 points less than Hangeland last season but yet is owned by 6% versus 19% of managers despite costing 0.5m less. Do I think Hangeland is a better player? Yes. Does that give you anymore points? Apparently not as Hangeland managed just 3 bonus points more than Hughes last year. When all is said and done Hangeland might just shade Hughes but until I see something else, give me the extra 0.5m any day.

Zat Knight (4.5m)
I've never been a huge fan of Knight and I was a bit underwhelmed when Bolton signed him a couple of seasons back. However, he has proven to be a pretty reliable defender and carries a decent goal threat from set pieces (though he managed just 1 last season). Bolton managed 5 clean sheets in Coyle's 20 games last season (having recorded 0 in the first 18 games) and for 4.5m Knight looks like a reliable defender who can be happily deployed when the matchup is right. As with Hangeland / Hughes, Cahill is a much better player (one of the league's better defenders) but I can't justify an extra 1m for talent alone.

Aleksandar Kolarov (6.0m)
Going against my mantra, this one is based on perception and judgment rather than statistical analysis as Kolarov is a newcomer to the EPL. However, what is factual were the 3 goals, 3 assists and 99 shots he managed last season at Lazio along with his nickname as the 'Serbian Roberto Carlos'. City managed 11 clean sheets last season and have added Boateng, Kolarov and Toure as protection to sit in front of what looks like a deep and talented back line. I don't love their opening fixtures but that should give you a week or two to assess whether Kolarov (and indeed City) are for real.

Off the radar

Agger / Skrtel
The winner of this battle will be decent value either for Agger's attacking potential of Skrtel's low price tag. The first couple of games (Ars and @MNC) are very tough anyway so monitor this situation and see who Hodgson likes to partner Carragher and act accordingly when the situation is clearer.

Alex / Bosingwa / Ferreira
As with Liverpool above, Chelsea have three player competing for the right to join the talented line of Cole, Terry and Ivanovic. Presuming Ancelotti likes Ivanovic at right back, Alex will be the man to win the job after Carvalho departed for Real Madrid. However, Ivanovic was originally a centre back and a shift back inside could open the way for a return to fantasy relevancy for Bosingwa or even Ferreira. Of this pair I think Bosingwa would win out when he is fit, though Ferreira should get a least a couple of games as both the Portguese right back and Alex start the season in the trainer's room.

Week 1 Preview

Here we go again. The off season seemed to fly by thanks to the World Cup and it's aftermath but the show must go on and the English Premier League is back with what promises to be a great season. I cannot pick between Chelsea and United and I genuinely feel that both Arsenal and City could be champions come May time. Add in an intriguing managerial appointment at Liverpool, drama galore at Villa and the return of a giant (Newcastle) and the season looks setup for another thriller.

Week one throws up some interesting fixtures include a tone setter for Arsenal and Liverpool who clash at Anfield and a rematch of last season's Champions League decider between Spurs and City at White Hart Lane. Elsewhere, there are baptisms of fire for two of the newly promoted sides as Newcastle travel to Old Trafford and West Brom go to Stamford Bridge.

Hopefully your fantasy squads are settled by now, but if not then I urge you to look back at some recent articles on goalkeeper selection, strength of schedule and some analysis of how best to spend your budget. With that in mind, let's look at the upcoming week including the usual defensive and captain rankings along with a new piece where I highlight some budget players who might get short term minutes due to injury or rotation ('fifteen minutes of fame').

Defensive Rankings (expected goals conceded in parenthesis)
  1. Wolves (0.43)
  2. Man Utd (0.47)
  3. Aston Villa (0.53)
  4. Chelsea (0.54)
  5. Stoke (0.68)
  6. Sunderland (0.70)
  7. Bolton (0.72)
  8. Tottenham (0.75)
  9. Wigan (0.75)
  10. Blackburn (0.87)
  11. Liverpool (1.02)
  12. Everton (1.52)
  13. Fulham (1.56)
  14. Blackpool (1.70)
  15. Man City (1.94)
  16. West Ham (2.08)
  17. Birmingham (2.11)
  18. Arsenal (2.17)
  19. Newcastle (2.83)
  20. West Brom (5.01)
Anyone who read my earlier post on strength of schedule knows that I like United, Villa and Chelsea  alot to open the season and that starts right now in week one. I plan to grab a player from each of these teams who I know will play, to guarantee myself at least a couple of good shots at clean sheets on opening weekend. Wolves hosting Stoke is a great chance to get a cheap clean sheet as Wolves were solid at home last year while Stoke were horrific (10 goals in 19 games). The addition of Kenwyne Jones should help but I'm not sure if he'll be ready to start here and so Wolves make a good option this week. The whole top 11 are not bad options and so you should be able to field plenty of good options this week. Despite the fixtures this week I like Newcastle and Birmingham to open the season and so I would be happy to stash their players this week before opening them up in week 2.

15 Minutes of Fame
A new section for this season where I try and highlight/predict (guess?) players who will play this week despite being available at a much lower price than their peers - usually because of injury or suspension. I will normally focus on cheap defenders in a good team, for example, if Ross Turnbull won some playing time at Chelsea for 4.5m. As suspensions haven't started yet and players aren't fatigued this list is probably a bit short this week but it should grow as the season goes on.
  1. Paulo Ferreira (5.5m). With Carvalho gone and Alex injured, Ivanovic moved across to centre back in the Community Shield with Ferreira grabbing a spot at right back. Bosingwa is still a couple of weeks away so Ferreira should give fantasy owners a couple of decent weeks (WB, @Wig, Sto, @WH, Blackpool) after which new options should have emerged to replace him with. 
  2. John O'Shea (5.5m) - The perennial utility man is back in the first team once more, this time starting at right back against Chelsea in the aforementioned Community Shield. I am not sold on the fact that this position is his and I think United want Rafael to win the battle, but for a couple of weeks I think O'Shea is a decent, if somewhat risky, option if you need cheap access to a top team.
 Captain Rankings
  1. Didier Drogba
  2. Frank Lampard
  3. Wayne Rooney
  4. Nicolas Anelka
  5. Darren Bent
  6. Hugo Rodallega
  7. Florent Malouda
  8. Antonio Valencia
  9. Charles N'Zogbia
  10. James Milner
The best attack the Premier League has seen (103 goals last season) meets a newly promoted side whose players lack experience dealing with top flight teams, never mind one that boasts the likes of Drogba, Lampard, Anelka and Malouda. With their great opening fixtures all these players are great options for your opening day squad and I am looking to grab one or two of them for my team.

Rooney has 3 goals in the last 3 games against Newcastle and though I quite like Newcastle this year, I don't think they have the quality to deal with Rooney. I like Valencia to have a big season this year and really push into the upper echelons of Premier League midfielders. I wouldn't be surprised to see Berbatov or Hernandez do well here too but I am unwilling to rate them as captain worthy until we see who is Ferguson's preferred option.

I rate the Wigan pair of Rodallega and N'Zogbia highly and I think both will build on last season's solid campaigns this year. A good start against weak opposition (Blackpool) is a must and most of Wigan's success will flow through these two players.

We're hours way from the new season now but I hope to squeeze in a few underrated defender picks before we reach the big kick off so stay tuned if you need some help along your back line.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Goalkeeper Pairs

Last season I did a piece that proved to be quite popular regarding the two keeper strategy of picking players whose fixtures complement each other so as to maximise the number of good games you get. Though I whiffed with one of my picks (Kirkland) the other three cheap keepers - Sorensen, Jaaskelainen and Robinson - all had good seasons (top 12 GK) and along with Joe Hart gave you plenty of budget options to deliver value at the GK position.

This season I am sticking with the same strategy, especially after my recent analysis that player cost is not a great indicator of future points for keepers. With that in mind, the below shows which 'keeper pairs sit well together in order to maximize the number of games played against weaker teams. Initially I only considered players valued at 4.5m or less from teams I considered to have a chance at doing okay this season (sorry Blackpool, this means you're out).

The pairs in order of average goals scored by opponents are as below, looking over the course of the season (playing a single keeper for an entire season would be equal to a GPG of 1.43):
  1. Ben Foster / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.02
  2. Paul Robinson / Steve Harper - 1.06
  3. Ben Foster / Steve Harper - 1.07
  4. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Ben Foster - 1.07
  5. Paul Robinson / Ben Foster - 1.07
  6. Paul Robinson / Jussi Jaaskelainen - 1.07
  7. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Steve Harper - 1.10
  8. Paul Robinson / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.13
  9. Marcus Hahnemann / Steve Harper - 1.15
  10. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.15
The top pair are intriguing as Foster joins a decent Birmingham side who boast a top 10 defense and Hahnemann finished last season 9th among all keepers in point per game (ahead of fantasy favourites Joe Hart and Mark Schwarzer). The issue I have is that planning for a good combo in week 31 is pretty useless as teams will be better/worse than expected; so choosing between playing Newcastle or Bolton could in fact be a nightmare scenario (okay its unlikely but you get the point). Therefore, let's look at the best pairs for the opening 10 weeks, after which you can switch either of your underperforming net minders if they aren't doing the business:
  1. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Ben Foster - 0.94
  2. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Steve Harper - 0.94
  3. Paul Robinson / Steve Harper - 0.95
  4. Marcus Hahnemann / Steve Harper - 1.00
  5. Ben Foster / Steve Harper - 1.00
  6. Ben Foster / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.00
  7. Paul Robinson / Ben Foster - 1.04
  8. Paul Robinson / Jussi Jaaskelainen - 1.05
  9. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.07
  10. Paul Robinson / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.16
Here we see that  the previous top pair of BF/MH drop to 6th place, though still offer a pretty attractive 1.00 GPG rate. In fact, this top 6 all look pretty attractive and you could feel relaxed taking any of these in order to fit into your other team selections. I like that top pair of JJ/BF quite alot given that both players and defense have histories of decent fantasy returns and both players should be able to feature in a large number of games this year. Steve Harper is a riskier pick but I think Newcastle's defense should be okay and might surprise a couple of people this year.

Expanding the field
Not wanting to restrict our picks too much, it might be useful to see what happens if we include the 5.0m players in the analysis. The top pairs for the first 10 games of the season then become:
  1. Rob Green / Steve Harper - 0.89
  2. Thomas Sorensen / Steve Harper - 0.89
  3. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Ben Foster 0.94
  4. Jussi Jaaskelainen / Steve Harper - 0.94
  5. Paul Robinson / Steve Harper - 0.95
  6. Thomas Sorensen / Jussi Jaaskelainen - 0.99
  7. Marcus Hahnemann / Steve Harper - 1.00
  8. Thomas Sorensen / Ben Foster - 1.00
  9. Ben Foster / Steve Harper - 1.00
  10. Ben Foster / Marcus Hahnemann - 1.00
I'm not sold on the Green pick as I don't rate West Ham any higher than Bolton, Blackburn or Birmingham so despite the great fixtures I am personally out on that one (given that he costs 0.5m more). I do like Sorensen alot and I think Stoke should continue to have success this year but they play ManU, Che and Tot in the opening 10 games meaning I will forced into using Harper early on which I am cautious to do given Newcastle's absence from the top flight last year meaning I have little concrete base to say that Newcastle might be okay this year.

Conclusion
I am setting up with the Jaaskelainen / Foster combination based on the fact that I think both teams are still underrated, both players have a a history of success in both reality and fantasy, and the fixtures sit well together. Bolton managed just 5 clean sheets last season but all of them came under Owen Coyle in the final 20 games of the season and Jaaskelainen still managed to finish 12th among all keepers (ahead of van der Sar and Almunia and just 15 points behind Given).

Note: Ben Foster is currently listed as questionable for the opening day fixture but given that Bolton have a home game anyway, I will be playing Jussi under my strategy so this hasn't play a massive part in my thought process.

As always thanks for reading and if anyone thinks I have missed a pair of keepers unfairly from the analysis, post in the comments below and I will add their shared GPG to the listings.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Strength of Schedule

Without wishing to tread on the toes on the first weekly preview post for the season, I thought it might be useful to quickly run through the strength of schedules for the new season, as these should factor into - but not wholly drive - your initial squad.

Readers from last season will know how much I love looking at a team's fixtures, and I will often state how I prefer a good fantasy player (say, Clint Dempsey) with a great fixture over a great fantasy player (say, James Milner) with a so-so fixture. This holds true to an extent though two important caveats should be noted here:
  1. Don't get too cute - I would never drop Lampard on a weekly basis for someone like Steve Pienaar as there are sound reasons why Lampard costs twice as much: he plays for a top team, takes penalties and dominates the bonus category. You may look at Lampard's fixtures and decide that over a 6 game period his production might be limited and therefore look to sell him, but dropping a star is never recommended unless there are questions over whether he might play.
  2. When it comes to picking your opening day squad, ideally you are picking the team who you think will be the best over the course of a season. This means that while the strength of the opening fixtures do matter, they should not drive your squad selection: if you like Robin van Persie to win the golden boot then buy him now and enjoy the upcoming price rise, even if you don't like his opening fixture at Liverpool.
The possible exception to this rule would be if you choose to pursue a 'three thirds' strategy, given the availability of a second wildcard for this season. This would entail focusing purely on the opening 12-13 weeks of the season and trying to maximize points in that period only. While I like this idea, the risk is that it is always hard to predict which players will play well initially and this strategy gives way to picking too many unknown entities for my taste.


Best Schedules
With the caveats in place, let's look at the best fixture lists over the opening six weeks (a somewhat reliable time-frame) and see if anything stands out that might act a tie break if you are torn between two similar players.
  1. Aston Villa (opponent's score an average of 0.98 goals per game)
  2. Chelsea (1.19)
  3. Birmingham (1.21)
  4. Man Utd (1.25)
  5. Newcastle (1.31)
  6. Tottenham (1.35)
  7. Wolves (1.36)
  8. Arsenal (1.36)
  9. Everton (1.38)
  10. Man City (1.38)
  11. Blackburn (1.38)
  12. Fulham (1.38)
  13. Wigan (1.47)
  14. Bolton (1.51)
  15. Sunderland (1.57)
  16. Stoke (1.57)
  17. Liverpool (1.60)
  18. West Ham (1.61)
  19. Blackpool (1.66)
  20. West Brom (1.94)
Before we look at the numbers, a quick word of caution over the data used. Firstly, this is based on last year's full season in the EPL, which is dangerous given that their have been managerial changes, new signings, squad rotation etc but it is a useful starting point so I've stuck with it. Second, for the promoted teams I have used their goals conceded last year in the Championship and adjusted them based on a historic rate at which teams perform in the big league compared with the minors (on average teams concede 1.56x more and score 0.68x as many goals).


So what stands out? First, Villa have a very favourable set of fixtures; over a 5th of a goal better than anyone else. Combine this with one of the best defensive teams around from last year who haven't really lost anyone in the off season and it looks like a recipe for success. I highly recommend getting at least one Villa defender in your team, and if you were bullish on them anyway, you might want to roll the dice with a second (this is risky though).

Second, Birmingham once again look like good value and I think they are undervalued based on last year's performances. True Joe Hart is gone but Ben Foster is a decent replacement and the rest of the defense is intact. I think they once again make excellent rotation options and these fixtures suggest that they are good value early on.

A potential sleeper team is Newcastle, whose defenders can be had for 4m. I'm not saying these guys will be clean sheet kings but I think they have a useful unit (who conceded 35 in 46 last season) and will be particularly strong at St James Park. I would be more than happy stashing a Newcastle defender on the bench and hoping to gain a bit of cash should they play well in the first few weeks.

Finally, of the most fancied sides, Liverpool have the toughest run and you might want to bear this in mind before investing heavily in Glen Johnson or Pepe Reina. I do like the Liverpool defense this year but I for one will be targeting them in week 6 onwards after two trips to Manchester and a home game with Arsenal are behind them.

Not long until the season now so please keep checking back for regular updates to try and help you pick your final squads.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thinking Outside the Box

It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing” [Gladwell, What the Dog Saw]

When picking a fantasy team, like when trying to win anything, most participants will search for an ‘edge’ or secret formula to give them a jump-start over their opponents. This may take the form of relying on industry knowledge (“a friend of mine is a scout at Spurs and he assures me Assou Ekotto will retain his starting LB position from last season”), trend analysis (“Rooney scores 69% of his goals against bottom half teams”) or historical performance (“high price midfielders always out deliver their expensive forward counterparts”).  This quest for more information works on the assumption that the common ‘knowledge’ is at best limited and at worst incorrect.

How true is this though? In NFL fantasy we are told to draft running backs in the first round, in baseball anyone who can deliver speed and power is a sure fire early pick and the EPL game is no different in giving us several age old adages upon which we base our team. One of them that interested me is how reliable a measure of success is the number of playing minutes a player generates in the season. Many – including this blog – will often praise the virtues of the reliable player will who play 90 minutes each week and while not win you the league, will never lose one either.  Let’s take a look at the numbers:

Forwards
The correlation between forward minutes and points is strong (0.772) which is in line with common sense – if you don’t play you will struggle to achieve the main aim of a forward: score goals. What is also worth noting is the strong correlation (0.726) between points scored and player value. 


 This suggests that bargains are hard to come by when it comes to strikers and only a couple of players can be described as anomalous outliers last year (Bent, Tevez and Rodallega all outperformed their value). When it comes to minutes played, the four best ‘overachievers’ are the big four of Drogba, Rooney, Tevez and Torres (to be expected given their individual and team talent).

You can summarize this position as ‘you get what you pay for’. It is going against recent history to expect to find a forward equivalent of a 2008/09 Stephen Ireland or a 2009/10 James Milner. Players like Amr Zaki 2008/09 have done it to a degree but failed to keep it up for a whole season, instead leaving you to try and capture lightning in a bottle.

In summary, the data from last year underlines the need to pay for big name strikers. A look over the message boards at Fantasy Football Scout suggests that many consider this to be an anomaly and are returning to the big midfield names, but until I see otherwise, I will be paying a premium for strikers who can be relied upon not just for minutes but also for goals.

Midfield
The correlation between midfield points and minutes is much weaker than with forwards, and indeed at 0.535 we can conclude that there is only a weak linkage. 


Admittedly the sample size is quite a lot larger than forwards but still the number of both over and underachievers is noticeable. This is somewhat of an eye opener to me as I have often stuck with midfielders through baron patches on the basis that they are guaranteed to play – which I thought was a useful measure of overall success.  In fact, you are better chasing points a bit and trying to find the form player rather than stubbornly sticking with the player who just isn’t delivering the goods.

The linkage between points and value is once again relatively strong at 0.701 showing once again that you get what you pay for.  Plenty of outliers exist though and this line of best fit is somewhat skewed up by the outstanding returns delivered by Lampard and Fabregas.


 The data shows that while, of course, the top players will always usually deliver good returns, there is value to be had elsewhere. Also, relying merely on a player getting consistent minutes is not enough to guarantee good returns in the future.

Defenders
The key lesson here is the lack of correlation between value and points – standing at just 0.559. 


Thinking about this for a second, this suggests that all those United, Chelsea and Liverpool players are overvalued and you should continue to pursue players from team such as Fulham and Villa last season. This makes sense due to there being 2 ways to ‘beat the market’ when it comes to defenders. Firstly, a team’s players are undervalued, like with Birmingham last season, whose players could mostly be picked up for 4.5m or less. The second is a player on a premium team who is valued significantly below his teammates but still gets the same access to clean sheets. These are hard to find right away but much success has been enjoyed in previous seasons with players like Johny Evans, Armand Traore, Martin Skrtel and Roy Caroll who have all gained significant runs in top teams despite costing several million less than their teammates.

Now, be careful here, as we are not saying the top defenders to not deliver at all. Indeed, of the top 10 leaders in points only Jody Craddock who scored an unlikely 5 goals was available at a low price. What we are saying though is that, comparatively speaking, there is better value to be found lower down the price lists than with forwards and midfielders.

Goalkeepers
Not much to say about value against points as there is not a strong correlation (0.619) and the best points delivered by 4m and 4.5m players comes close to that delivered by the most expensive players. 


I emphasized last season that you should not pay for a goalkeeper – instead relying on a rotation system – but even if you simply played someone like Sorensen or Hart every week you were still rewarded with much better value and only 20 points less over the whole season.

As you would expect the correlation between minutes and points is extremely strong but there isn’t much fantasy advice to gain here other than make sure your ‘keepers are playing!

I am sticking with the rotation strategy for this season, and I will post shortly who I think complement each other well to avoid having to play unfavourable matchups as often as possible. 

To conclude then, it seems that the old adage of getting 'reliable minutes' is not always a useful measure of fantasy success and we should look for other means of determining value. While it seems obvious to say that price dictates performance, we can see that this holds truer for forwards than for other positions and so it seems wise to once again spend money up front, so long as you feel the EPL forwards will enjoy another good season.