Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goalkeeper combo strategy

[edit: thanks to Ben for pointing out that I forgot to include Foster's loan move to West Brom below. Replace all Myhill references will Foster but be mindful of his higher price]

I've been talking about the GK combo strategy for a number of years now, though the basic premise is worth repeating. There are two main issues which give to my support for this strategy:
  1.  If you go for a 'big name' keeper you effectively burn 4.0m as you are highly unlikely to ever play the lesser player. Only in a perfect storm where Petr Cech travels to the Emirates while John Ruddy welcomes Swansea will you bench the 7.0m man.
  2. The correlation between cost and points for 'keepers (right) has never been particularly strong with low budget options showing up every year (Al Habsi, Foster) to rank close to, if not above, their expensive counterparts (van der Sar).
With a combo strategy you play the best fixture each week, on the basis that if you stick to the logical projections, over the course of a season you will be sufficiently correct to generate enough points with your budget pair to match or exceed the points of a premium player, saving a couple of million in the process.

Method behind the madness
A couple of points to note on the methodology here:
  • GPG data is based on prior year defensive records, which I have found to be a fairly reliable indicator of future results. Where significant changes were made halfway through last season or this off-season I have allowed a small adjustment.
  • For the promoted teams, I looked at how previous newbies' goals scored declined upon entering the Premier League to generate a factor to apply to Norwich, Swansea and QPR's record from last season. 
  • Only 'keepers valued at 5.0m are included in the review. In prior year I had set this mark at 4.5m but this would leave us with just 8 viable options this year so I've expanded to 5.0m.
  • Where there is some uncertainty as to who will start (Mignolet vs Gordon, Begovic vs Sorensen) I have opted for the pricier of the two, which also happens to be the keeper I predict to win the #1 shirt.
  • The average GPG is calculated by taking a combination of a team's average GPG conceded at home/away and the opponents average GPG scored at home/away. We then select whichever keeper has the best fixture and finally take an average of these games to see which fixtures 'gel' best together. For this year, I have also included the number of games where the stats suggest a team will concede less than a goal (ie those with the best chance of a clean sheet).
Matching Pairs
I have chosen the first 10 gameweeks as a useful frame of reference to help select your keepers which will hopefully set you up nicely for the season, while allowing you to make the necessary moves if a particular team sees a substantial decline or improvement. For reference, I have included the data for the entire first half of the season at the bottom of this post.



Top Pairs

Rank Players Cost Average GPG GPG<1.0
1 Given / Begovic 10.0m 1.05 5
2 Begovic / Moreira 9.0m 1.11 4
3 Begovic / Robinson 10.0m 1.12 4
4 Given / Schwarzer 10.0m 1.12 3
5 Hart / 4.0m GK 11.0m 1.12 5
6 Schwarzer / Moreira 9.0m 1.13 3
7 Given / Kenny 9.5m 1.13 3
8 Kenny / Moreira 8.5m 1.13 3
9 Schwarzer / Robinson 10.0m 1.16 2
10 Schwarzer / Begovic 10.0m 1.17 2
19 Cech /4.0m GK 11.0m 1.21 2
38 Reina / 4.0m GK 10.5m 1.27 4
48 De Gea / 4.0m GK 10.5m 1.29 2

Once again, the stats seem to suggest that the GK combo pairing could top the elite 'keepers, and at a reduced price.A final caveat to add is that the new bonus system seems to favor 'keepers more than the old system and this could potentially be disproportionately to the benefit of the big name keepers. A boost in bonus points could help close the gap on the GK-combo system and hence this issue will need to be re-visited after a few gameweeks. Until then though, I am once again convinced that this is the best way to go, particularly as it will free up some cash to use on other areas of the team in light of the lack of reliable budget options this year.

The remaining team previews will continue to come over the next few days and remember to check back after Saturday for the write up of the inaugural SimPrem draft.In the mean time, all the latest news and links will be posted at @plfantasy.

First half data

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bonus Round

The old bonus points was a constant source of contention for fantasy owners and while we tolerated the system, I'm not sure anyone ever really understood it. Well, credit to the developers over at pl.com who have added a layer of accountability with the inclusion of EA Sports Index as the new method of awarding points.

The system aims to measure a player's all round contribution to the success of his team using six key indices:
  1. Winning performance - shares league points won by a team between the players according to the minutes they played. This will obviously favour winning teams, and to a lesser extent home teams who generally enjoy a higher winning percentage.
  2. Player's match performance - earn points for positive events (shots, tackles, saves etc) and lose them for negative events (missed shot, yellow card etc). Doesn't really favour anyone as any talented player can have a good game. Slight edge to keepers from weaker sides who may rack up more saves and clearances.
  3. Appearances - points awarded purely for playing time, regardless of result. This one seems obvious but it does reduce the chance of players coming off the bench to score the winning goal and then receiving the full 3 points.
  4. Goals scored - this was the major factor under the old system and remains important, but apparently to a lesser degree
  5. Assists - appear to be gaining as much weight as goals, which would seem to favour non-forwards
  6. Clean sheets - played very little role in the old system with defenders being massively under-represented (see below). This could be a game changer in how points are awarded.
History Lesson
Lucky for us, the EA Sports Index sports scores are available from last season so we can see which type of player excels under both systems:

Number of players ranked in top 100 by position

Position
EA Index
pl.com
GK
12
1
DF
30
19
MD
42
52
FW
16
28

It's immediately obvious that 'keepers and defenders are the big winners here with players like Joe Hart and Petr Cech ranking as high as 11th and 12th in total points for the season. Only Ben Foster ranked in the top 100 under the old system, coming in at 85th with 9 points. Even within these categories there is a slight shift with deeper lying midfielders (Essien, Wilshere) seeming to gain more favor than their traditionally rewarded attacking counterparts.

Number of players ranked in top 100 by team

Team
EA Index
pl.com
Arsenal
9
7
Aston Villa
6
4
Bimringham
6
4
Blackpool
5
4
Blackburn
3
4
Bolton
6
4
Chelsea
10
8
Everton
6
7
Fulham
4
6
Liverpool
7
5
Man City
7
5
Man Utd
8
8
Newcastle
5
5
Stoke
3
4
Sunderland
2
5
Tottenham
5
5
West Brom
3
3
West Ham
2
3
Wigan
2
4
Wolves
1
5

We can wee that the better teams had more players in the top 100 than under the old system, likely due to the 'winning performance' index noted above. This listing will slightly exaggerate that fact as it doesn't properly reflect that players from 'weaker teams' will still pick up plenty of points when they play each other, but still, I think the point stands that players from successful teams are set to benefit from the new system.

Distribution of points
Under the old system, a handful of players dominated the bonus allocation with Charlie Adam (45), Luka Modric (34), Charles N'Zogbia (33) and Carlos Tevez (32) all topping 30 points. 12 players down the list and you see that the bonus points awarded have already halved (Dempsey 23). Under the new EA system, the points distribution seems to be much shallower, with the 100th player still exceeding half the points awarded to the 1st.



Who will excel under the new system?
A couple of points stand out when reviewing the above and the list of leaders on the EA Sports index which will be important to consider when picking your team:
  • 14 of the top 19 players play for Man Utd, Man City or Chelsea and while some were already ranked highly in bonus points under the old system (Berbatov, Drogba) the likes of Kompany, Terry and Hart looking to be key beneficiaries
  • Midfielders who play a deeper role like Essien, Wilshere and Fletcher will carry a touch more value thanks to their ability to contribute in several player performance categories and win games.
  • The order of goalkeeper rankings under the EA system appears to be directly correlated to team wins. This would imply that teams from weaker sides are going to struggle to get bonus points even if they make plenty of key saves. While those saves will still generate points of their own, this would make the GK-combo strategy less reliable as the big name keepers rack up more points each week.
  • The biggest losers could be players on weaker teams who are seen as the focal point for the team. Adam, N'Zogbia, Parker and to Odenwingie all rank among the biggest losers under the new system. The presumption that a Charlie Adam will get three points every time Blackpool wins appears to be a thing of the past.
Biggest Winner
Pts
Biggest Loser
Pts
John Terry
16
Charlie Adam
-30
Patrice Evra
15
Luka Modric
-23
Petr Cech
14
Charles N'Zogbia
-19
Edwin van der Sar
13
Cesc Fabregas
-17
Gael Clichy
13
Carlos Tevez
-15
Jose Reina
12
Scott Parker
-13
Heurelho Gomes
12
Robin van Persie
-13
Joe Hart
12
Ashley Young
-13
Bacary Sagna
11
Peter Odenwingie
-13
Vincent Kompany
10
Clint Dempsey
-13


Bonus points have generally been somewhat of an afterthought for selecting an opening day team as the allocation seemed somewhat random and largely based around a player's reputation and performance for an individual gameweek (if you score the winning goal you are likely to get a couple of points). We can now hopefully build a better expectation of bonus allocation, and I will try and incorporate these expectations in the features to come as we countdown to the new season.

Team previews should be coming thick and fast now, with a full list available here. In the meantime, the latest transfer rumours and pre-season comments will be posted over at @plfantasy.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Notebook Preview: Bolton Wanderers

Looking back at last season
  • Failed to score 11 times in the season, including 4 of the last 9 weeks. 
  • Scored 52 goals last season (10th) but 20 of these have moved on with Elmander (10), Sturridge (8) and Taylor (2) no longer with the team.
  • Only logged 5 clean sheets, which were all at home. One of only three teams to fail to log a single road clean sheet (Villa and West Brom).
  • Actually ranked 13th in goals conceded at home and away, so were perhaps a bit unlucky with the clean sheet results
  • Huge variance between home and road goals scored: 1.79 GPG at home (5th) while just 0.95 away (15th). Home record eclipsed Arsenal and tied with Man City.
  • Jaaskelainen ranked 9th in points among 'keepers but the team total was only good for 16th place. If you think other teams will have more settled lineups, you might want to pass.
  • Defensive unit scored just 319 points all season (17th), less than half of Chelsea's total. 
  • Thanks to Cahill's bonus haul (23) the team somehow ranked 6th in defensive bonus points. If Cahill leaves or the system assigns points more evenly, this unit becomes basically un-ownable.
  • The midfield ranked poorly in terms of actual points (16th) but represented good value for money with a 0.755 P$ (7th). With all but Lee under 6.0m, they could once again provide solid minutes with limited upside but consistent returns.
  • No team's forwards scored more points (465) than Bolton's ast season. Part of this is due to being one of the few teams to play two recognised strikers every game, but nonetheless it shows the potential for Davies and Klasnic to be productive this year.
Predicted lineup
Jaaskelainen (5.0m), Robinson (4.5m), Cahill (5.5m), Knight (4.5m), Mears (??m), Muamba (5.0m), Holden (5.5m)*, Petrov (5.5m), Lee (6.0m), Davies (6.5m), Klasnic (6.0m)

* Holden is injured until October, Mark Davies (5.0m) or Pratley (5.5m) are the likely fill ins

Safest Picks
Jussi Jaaskelainen . . . always reliable, logging over 3,000 minutes in four of the past five seasons . . . good save numbers (117) can pad his points when clean sheets are missing . . . xP of 120 shows his limited upside, with value being derived from his guaranteed playing time . . . can be used in a GK-combo rotation but at 5.0m better options may exist

Zat Knight . . .  hasn't really shown himself to be a goal threat though height always give him the potential to score a couple . . . faces some competition from Wheater but pretty safe to play most weeks . . . 4.5m pool is thin thin year so a reliable 80 point defender has some value . . . isn't reliant on bonus points (2 last season) so new system can only benefit him . . . departure of Cahill could be disastrous for this unit, likely making Knight a poor option . . . low upside but a nice spot start bench player

Chung-Yong Lee . . . almost hit three digit points despite only playing in 24 games worth of minutes . . . xG (5) and xA (13) show he can contribute in a number of categories . . . didn't log a single double digit gameweek but contributed more than just appearance points in 14 of his 24 appearances . . . no bonus love under the old system so some upside there . . . been on set piece duty in the pre season

Kevin Davies . . . led all forwards in minutes played, missing just 36 all season . . . has topped 3,300 minutes in each of the past 3 seasons, adding 26 goals, 16 assist and 51 bonus points in the process . . . more valuable at home (4.0 PPG) than away (3.0) where he is forced to do less chasing and takes more attacking positions . . . took penalties last season, with no reason to think that won't continue . . . led all forwards now priced at 6.5m or less last season in points and probably has the least question marks

Upside Plays
Stuart Holden . . . currently injured and not due back until October . . . xP of 117 shows he played at a high level last able to contribute goals (xG 3), assists (xA 3) and bonus points (xB 10) . . . new bonus system likely to reward his style of play . . . presence of Pratley is a concern and lack of consistent starting minutes may kill his value . . . two double digit games shows his ceiling is fairly high

Ivan Klasnic . . . didn't get a start last year but added 4 goals feeding on scraps at the end of games . . . averaging 0.7 G90 in his Bolton career, only Tevez, Owen, Hernandez, Berbatov and Van Persie topped that mark last season . . . with Elmander gone and Coyle's desire to play two up top he should get consistent playing time . . . fit for the first time in a Bolton uniform after a good pre season

No Thanks
Martin Petrov . . . not a particularly popular player among the Bolton faithful thanks to perceived lack of effort . . . played well at home (7.0 PPG, 3 goals) but ineffective on the road (3.1, 0 goals) . . . 4 games of 6 points or more but 21 appearances of 2 or less points, a classic all or nothing player . . . xP of 180 shows he could still do damage if given consistent minutes . . . Matt Taylor gone but Chris Eagles brought in to challenge his roster spot . . . at 5.5m still paying a premium for his performance at City in 07/08.

Gary Cahill . . . great player, by far the best along this backline . . . genuine goal threat with 11 goals in last 3 seasons . . . defense is very poor away from home making him a pricey spot starter . . . reliant on bonus points and goals, which can be tricky to forecast going forward (the new system suggests his haul will decrease - more on that to come soon) . . . to pay 1.0m more than teammates you need a guaranteed skill set such as penalty duties or very attacking role and I don't see that with Cahill

Fixtures
@QPR, MnC, @Liv, MnU, Nor, @Ars, Che, @Wig

aFix: 2-3-3
dFix:0-6-2

A brutal start for the Wanderers sees them face five of last year's top six in the opening eight weeks. Their usual defensive form at home will be challenged to the full with City, United and Chelsea in town, thus making the defence a poor early investment. Getting these games out of the way now though may open up a good stretch of games later in the season so it's worth checking back with Bolton later in the season.


Conclusion
My bias towards Bolton is well documented, but from a fantasy perspective it's hard to be overly excited about this team early on. The defence looks shaky given the tough fixture list and if Cahill leaves, the unit might lose its value for the whole season.

I rate the midfield on pure talent but it isn't clear if any of them can take the next step to become every week fantasy starters. Again, this warrants monitoring early on but I wouldn't recommend making an investment out of the gates.

Davies is always a legit option and joins a nice group of players in the 6.5m bracket. He probably lacks the upside of Sturridge, Fletcher or Rodallega but is more consistent than any of them and is exactly the kind of player to target to open the season. You can plug him in and know you'll get consistency, allowing you to avoid a mad scramble early on or worse, a forced use of the wildcard.

Comments are welcome below or at @plfantasy, and a full list of these previews can be found here. Check back over the weekend when GK-combo and bonus analysis will hopefully be ready.

Notebook Preview: Blackburn Rovers

Looking back at last season
  • Rovers had the 7th best home clean sheet total (7) while struggling mightily on the road (1). The difference in GPG at home (0.84) and on the road (2.26) was the largest in the league.
  • Joined Arsenal as one of two teams to average more goals away from home (1.26) than at Ewood Park (1.16). 
  • Failed to score 10 times all season. 2 of these came in the first 18 games, 8 in the final 20 games after Steve Kean took over as manager. 
  • Rovers 'keepers ranked 2nd overall at home in P$ with a tremendous mark of 0.990. Much like the previously discussed Villains, the defense makes a potentially nice spot start at home.
  • The Rovers midfield was a wasteland outside of Gamst Pedersen, with the group averaging just 3.4 PPG, better than only Birmingham. 
  • The front line scored 311 points between them, good for a ranking of 6th, but they were too widely dispersed to make anyone overly valuable. A more regular partnership might be worth a look given their low price tags.
  • The top scorer for the team were Hoilett, Kalinic and Roberts who all chipped in with 5 goals. 
  • Entire team earned just 95 bonus points all season, 28 of which may be gone (Samba 17 and Jones 11). That should create opportunities for others to bad their scores.
Predicted lineup (4-5-1)
Robinson (5.0m), Givet (4.5m), Samba (5.5m), Nelsen (5.0m), Salgado (4.5m), N'Zonzi (5.0m), Emerton (6.0m), Olsson (5.5m), Gamst Pedersen (6.5m), Hoillet (6.0m), Roberts (6.0m)

Safest Picks
Paul Robinson . . . Rovers' 'keepers ranked 12th in points last season but 4th in P$ considering Robinson's low price . . . rise to $5m might price him out of being a true steal . . . much better at home (4.6 PPG) than away (2.6 PPG) . . . loss of Samba along with departed Jones would leave massive question marks over the teams defensive qualities . . . 4th in the league in saves which can get him out of trouble when his defense lets him down

Ryan Nelsen . . . club captain should play every game when fit . . . chipped in with 3 goals and 2 assists last year in 27 games worth of minutes . . . xP of 122 would have ranked him as as top 20 defender last season, one of a handful available for 5.0m or less . . . departure of Samba/Jones will hurt defensively but also frees up 28 bonus points which captain Nelsen could sweep up

Upside Plays
David Hoilett . . . on pace for 11 goals and 23 bonus points last season . . . ability to slide out wide will help him stay on the field when a traditional 4-5-1 rather than 4-3-3 shape is maintained . . . averaged 4.3 PPG after Kean took over the team including 4 goals in the final 7 games . . . lack of assists is a concern . . caught the eye of the bonus judges last year (9) which could change under the new system

Mauro Formica . . . not even included in the game yet, Formica is a very deep sleeper . . scored a couple of goals in preseason . . . Kalinic appears to be on his way so minutes could open up soon . . . not worth more than minimal investment but worth a look in case he's added to the game for 5.0m

No Thanks
Pretty much everyone else. The team can rival any other in the league for a lack of fantasy talent and I would imagine most teams will go the entire season without ever even flirting with a Rovers player. The current outlook is bleak for Steve Kean's men.

Fixtures
Wol, @AV, Eve, @Ful, Ars, @New, MnC, @QPR

aFix: 1-6-1
dFix: 2-4-2

The lack of quality isn't helped by the fixture list which sees three very good teams go to Ewood, likely negating any home field advantage they enjoyed last season. Such is his ability to generate decent point hauls from nothing, Robinson still deserves GK-combo consideration, but unless someone in midfield or the front line separates themselves in the early weeks, steer well clear for now.

Conclusions
I hate being down on a team out of the gate, instead considering myself a sports optimist who never leaves a game early and can easily convince a crowd (or at least myself) that Kevin Davies is one of the best forwards in the country. That said, there really is little to get excited about for this team.

It's not that they are totally devoid of talent, but more that their average-good skills seem to have been overpriced by the market makers. Heading into the season I had targeted Hoilett, Nelsen, Robinson and Gamst Pedersen as players to check the price of, but all have come in at least 0.5m over where I would have felt comfortable rostering them.

The back-line remains a decent home spot start option and at 5.0m Robinson is still in the conversation but with Given, Schwarzer and Jaaskelainen available on better teams for the same price, it's hard to get overly excited about the occasionally porky Yorkshireman. Nelsen, as club captain, looks promising but again there are other options who carry a higher ceiling without sacrificing much in the way in of safety (Bardsley, A Hughes, L Young).

On the attacking side of the field, the front line has some potential but the value is way too dispersed to consider any one of the group right now. I liked Hoilett as a super-cheap bench player in the 5.0m category but at 6.0m there are probably better options available (A Johnson, Kalinic). Again, Gamst Pedersen has ability and so peaks my interest but his price tag puts him in a group of players with which he simply does not compete right now (Etherington, Albrighton, Henderson).

The team previews should continue to roll in over the next few days, with a bumper edition over the weekend. All the previews can be found collectively here. Twitter users can follow the latest news and ramblings over at @plfantasy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Notebook Preview: Aston Villa

Looking back at last season
  • Managed just 48 goals (13th) which conceding 59 (14th) in what was a pretty mediocre fantasy season in the midlands. 
  • Three of the top five points scorers from last season (Downing, Young and Friedel) have all moved on.
  • Villa players racked up 40 assists last season, 20 of which came from Downing (9) and Young (11).
  • After moving to Villa, Bent added 9 goals in 16 games with a 5.4 PPG. He continued his career trend of contributing little outside of goals though (1 assist, 9 bonus points).
  • Villa racked up just 7 clean sheets (14th) though all of them came at home which ranked 7th in the league. At 5.0m the price tags might be low enough to warrant spot starting them at home this year if this trend continues.
  • Only Blackburn had a bigger differential between home (1.00 GPG) and road (2.11) goals allowed.
  • After Bent joined the team in January, Villa scored in every game but one.
  • Villa 'keepers ranked 8th in P$ at home but 19th on the road. Given is a nice addition but that kind of difference cannot be blamed on the consistent Friedel.
  • The midfield suffered a smilar fate, averaging 4.6 PPG at home but just 3.2 on the road. 
  • Strangely, the forwards fortunes were reversed, averaging 3.2 PPG at home but 4.9 PPG away from Villa Park. Both Bent (11 v 6) and Agbonlahor (3 v 0) were significantly better at goalscoring away from their home fans.
Predicted lineup (4-5-1)
Given (5.0m), Warnock (5.0m), Dunne (5.5m), Collins (5.5m), Young (5.0m), Makoun (5.5m), Petrov (6.0m), Ireland (6.0m), Albrighton (6.5m), N'Zogbia (7.5m), Bent (10.0m)

This is a tough one to call given McLeish's defensive tendencies and traditional reliance on the 4-5-1 counteracted by the presence of a couple of good forwards in Bent and Agbonlahor. Agbonlahor has played out wide before but, at least initially, I would imagine that McLeish will stick to his trusted formation with Agbonlahor getting plenty of minutes off the bench. 

Safest Picks
Shay Given . . . one of the better GK in the league finally gets a starting birth again . . . at 5.0m he could feature in a GK combo strategy to take advantage of Villa's play at home . . . Birmingham were also an elite home defensive team under McLeish which could translate across the Midlands

Charles N'Zogbia . . . his xP of 205 ranked 9th among all regular starting midfielders . . . fairly reliant on bonus points which could change in the new system and while supported by better players . . . second among all mids with 91 points away from home, only Adam also topped 80 . . . only had 7 assists in each of the past two seasons which could improve on an improved team . . . he would seem to be closer to the players ranked 8-9m rather than 6-7m and so could deliver good value at 7.5m

Darrent Bent . . . very consistent goalscorer, averaged 21 goals per season when extrapolated over 38 games over the past three seasons . . . brings little else in terms of assists or bonus points making him an all-or-nothing type player . . . played in all but 312 minutes of games over the past two seasons . . . might lose some minutes to Agbonlahor if McLeish sticks with the 4-5-1 system

Upside Plays
Marc Albrighton . . . led both Young and Downing in P90 (5.0) last season . . . over a full season his totals would have been 10 goals, 13 assists and 188 points . . . transfers should all but guarantee him regular minutes and at 21 is still getting better . . . one of few Villa players to play equally well at home (4.9 PPG) as on the road (5.0 PPG) . . . better chance of bonus points with Young gone and attacking style could win favour under the new system.

Luke Young / Stephen Warnock . . . McLeish has generated solid fantasy numbers for his defenders in Birmingham before and has more talent in Villa . . . at 5.0m this pair should play every week, make great home plays and could wind up one of the best mid-range options around . . . neither contribute much on the offensive side and McLeish's use of fullbacks at Birmingham would suggest they will be limited again

No thanks
Richard Dunne . . . too reliant on bonus points and goals over the years, both of which evaporated last year . . . no real reason to justify the extra 0.5m over his teammates

Gabriel Agbonlahor . . . looks undervalued at 6.5m based on talent but lack of playing time is a massive concern . . . Birmingham strikers ranked 18th last season, getting just 52 games of playing time and 8 goals between them . . . if played will likely be forced wide away from the box and points

Fixtures
@FUL, BLA, WOL, @EVE, NEW, @QPR, WIG, @MNC

aFix: 4-3-1
dFix: 3-3-2

A good looking start for the Villains with four home games against some of the weaker road defenses in the league. Given the splits we've seen in the past, and with McLeish's teams in Birmingham, several of the mid-range options might only be home plays but Bent and N'Zogbia make intriguing options out of the gate.

Conclusions
At 5.0m the defense is just cheap enough to be rotated, which could make them valuable when at Villa Park. With limited options for 4.5m, Given could be a very useful GK-combo play (more on that to come in a future post). 

The midfield looks a bit thin though Albrighton is a potential star. For 6.5m you're not going to get a sure thing and while Albrighton is in good company (Etherington, Henderson, Taaarabt) he projects as well as any of them. N'Zogbia is constantly underrated and while I like him more than most of his fellow 7.5m players, I'm not sure he is definitely worth the extra 1m over the aforementioned bunch. If he inherits set pieces though and the new bonus system takes a shine to him, he should once again be on the fantasy radar.

Up front, it's all Bent until McLeish shows a willingness to deploy an extra striker. Bent is extremely consistent in terms of goalscoring but a lack of other production makes it very hard to recommend him over the likes of Hernandez or Suarez (I haven't analysed the fixtures yet though so if Villa win out there he could be back in contention).

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for team previews and other features. If there is anything in particular you'd like to see discussed please post suggestions below or @plfantasy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Notebook Preview: Arsenal

We're under three weeks until the start of the season so team previews are more than due. In order to save time, I have kept the posts to a scouting notebook style, rather than fluffing them up with prose which doesn't really teach you anything. The aim is to post a couple a day to give everyone time to digest them, ask questions and, more than likely, object to something contained within. First up, a deep source of fantasy talent: Arsenal.

Headlines
  • 72 goals scored ranked second in the league, 2.05 GPG rate on the road better than every other team by over half a goal.
  • Failed to score on only 6 occasions, only bettered by Man Utd (5)
  • Second in bonus points received (142), again only trailing the Champions (154)
  • Sixth in clean sheets (13) overall, but dramatic splits between home (9 - 4th) and away (4 - t8th)
  • Squad depth looks worryingly deep from a fantasy perspective with arguably the best squad Wenger has had since Henry, Pires et al graced the Emirates pitch.
Looking back at last season
  • Van Persie led the team with 8.0 P90 last year. Second on the team? Walcott with 7.1
  • Chamakh scored 7 goals at a rate of 0.34 per 90 minutes. Bendtner's rate? 0.35
  • Over the season, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Sagna averaged between 1.18 - 1.24 goals conceded per 90 minutes played. Johan Djorou's rate was just 0.75. Djorou led the entire team with a P$ rate of 1.079.
  • Only two players logged more than 30 games worth of minutes (2,700) last season. One of them (Gael Clichy) now plays for Man City, the other is Bacary Sagna.
  • Arsenal defenders accounted for four goals and five assists last year. Sagna (one goal, three assists) led the team with Koscielny (2 goals) in second place.
  • Arsenal goalkeepers ranked 6th in total points and 3rd in P$, Szczesny's price this year may negate this value though
  • Arsenal defenders ranked 7th in points at home but 12th on the road. This led to them delivering the 4th worst P$ value in the league.
  • No midfield unit in the league scored as many points (845) as the Gunners including the second most bonus points (95). These rankings hold up at both home and away. A note of caution though, the unit ranked 19th in terms of P$.
  • Up front looks to be an area of weakness as the team ranked just 13th in forward points for the year. However, their P90 score is 3rd showing that a lack of minutes is the root of the problem. Only Man Utd averaged a higher P90 (6.5) from their front men than Arsenal (6.3).
Predicted Lineup (4-5-1)
Szczesny (6.0m), Gibbs (5.5m), Vermaelen (7.0m), Koscielny (6.0m), Sagna (6.5m), Song (6.0m) Wilshere (6.5m), Nasri (9.5m), Fabregas (12.0m), Walcott (9.0m), Van Persie (12.0m)

Safest Picks
Wojciech Szczesny . . . thinks he will be the team's first choice 'keeper and so do the market makers, pricing him out of GK-combo range at 6m . . a reliable unit at home but lacking form on the road . . . might justify consideration for those looking at a premium GK with Hart/Cech out of range.

Bacary Sagna . . extremely consistent . . . can contribute with goals (1) and assists (3) though shouldn't be relied on for either . . . team around him looks fairly settled though replacing Clichy is a big question mark . . . opening three games are very tough . . decent value to open the season though better options probably exist.

Samir Nasri . . . could be unsettled after an off season of speculation . . . majority of points came in the first half last year with a 85:49 split . . . streaky player whose skills and tactical deployment can lead to periods of slow production . . . only logged one assist all season . . . upside is limited for a player of his cost.

Cesc Fabregas . . . most assists per game among all midfielders . . . increase in goals to close to 2009/10 levels would make him elite once again . . . despite a difficult season, still ranked 4th among mids in PPG . . . derives a lot of value from bonus points which could be damaged under new system . . . delivers similar value at home/away . . . sometimes takes penalties and free kicks/corners

Robin Van Persie . . . historic pace last year, on pace for over 300 points . . . averaged 8 points per 90 minutes, only 5 other regulars in the league topped 6 . . . one of 9 players to forecast double digits in goals and assists . . . substantially better last season on the road (7.0 PPG) than at home (8.9) . . . price tag risen by 1m each of the past two years . . . only topped 1500 minutes twice in 5 seasons, topping 1800 just once.

Upside Plays

Kieran Gibbs . . . favorite to win the left back spot though other transfer targets appear to have been discussed . . . team hasn't enjoyed good results in the small sample of games he played (2.3 goals conceded) . . . with limited non-defensive points Clichy was still able to register a 100+ point season so the upside is relatively high . . . 0.5m - 1.5m discount over other Arsenal defenders

Theo Walcott . . . led all midfielders in xP last year, on pace for 269 points, 18 goals and 16 assists . . . sensational on the road (8.5 PPG) where counter attack game suits his style . . . in half a season of minutes, scored as many or more goals than Nani, Cahill and Young with the third best GPG rate after Van der Vaart and Kalou . . . 6 double digit gameweeks in 19 starts . . appeared in all but 3 games in the second half of the season scoring 6.3 PPG over those games . . . remains a lot of competition for minutes which could once again limit his success

Gervinho (9.0m) . . . big name arrival comes with a good scoring record in Lille (28 in 67) . . . price tag is no guarantee of minutes in a crowded front line . . . probably better/safer options to open the season with based on his cost . . . already showed his talent in the pre season, upside is very high

No thanks
Thomas Vermaelen (7.0m) . . . huge injury risk . . . paying for 2009/10 goals which didn't show in a small sample last season . . . 0.5m more than the safer Sagna without much further upside

Johan Djorou / Laurent Koscielny (6.0m) . . . unclear who will partner Vermaelen when everyone is fit . . . Djorou has the superior GPG conceded record (0.75 vs 1.24) but Koscielny was the big name signing just last year . . . Koscielny did contribute a couple of goals but neither bring much outside of clean sheet potential . . . Sagna is safer while starting left back will likely be cheaper.

Andrei Arshavin (9.0m) . . . faces stiff competition for minutes . . . awfully inconsistent and can disappear in games . . . had 3 double digit games but 21 appearances with 3 points or less . . . better, more reliable value can be found in his price bracket

Jack Wilshere (6.5m) / Alex Song (6.0m) . . . derive their value from simply playing minutes as neither can be relied upon for goals or assists . . . new bonus system may reward good players rather than just the top scorers/big names but no proof of that yet . . . presence of Ramsey and Diaby make this pair rotatable . . . higher higher upside to be found with top players on lower profile teams

Marouane Chamakh (8.5m) . . . scored 7 goals at a rate of 0.34 per 90 minutes, substantially below much cheaper options . . . chances may be limited with the arrival of Gervinho and a (hopefully) fully fit Van Persie . . . didn't score well on the road last season (4.4 PPG)

Fixtures
@New, Liv, @MU, Swa, @Bla, Bol, @Tot, Sun
aFix: 4-1-3
dFix: 2-3-3

Assuming Swansea don't become a defensive force, Arsenal get an average fixture list which should see them have success at home, while perhaps struggling a touch on the road (MU, Bla and Tot all averaged a goal per game conceded or less at home). Defensively, the line doesn't look great as Newcastle and Man Utd were the best two offensive teams at home last season while Spurs were pretty good and one can predict an uptick in goals for Liverpool too. Fixtures might not put you off Van Persie or Fabregas totally but they should, as is the case throughout the season, play a part in your though process.

Conclusions
The defense is probably a touch underrated by fans thanks to their soft reputation but the market makers sets the price high for all high profile teams and thus probably price the majority of the Gunners back line out of my recommended range. I would like Sagna's consistency at 6.0m but for that extra 0.5m I would like to see a player on an elite defensive team or a legit goal/assist threat every week.

It's hard imagining having a team which doesn't own at least one Arsenal midfielder over the course of the season such is the depth of quality here. Fabregas and Walcott still rank highly in my pre-season thoughts though I would be more comfortable with both at 1.0m less. After a comparatively slow year, it is surprising to see Fabregas' price so high and on my first glance you struggle to see the extra 2m of value over a Nani, Van der Vaart or Silva.

There are always a couple of players who justify the high price tag and given the way he performed in the second half last year, there's little reason to think it won't be Van Persie this year. Van Persie was able to have success both at home (7.0 PPG) and away (8.9 PPG) and it didn't seem to matter who he played (though he simply shredded weaker opposition). From GW23 on, Van Persie failed to notch 5 points once with 5 double digit games logged over that same period.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for team previews and other features. If there is anything in particular you'd like to see discussed please post suggestions below or @plfantasy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Name PL.com game released: early thoughts

The new game is finally here, so go ahead and sign up at the usual address: 

http://fantasy.premierleague.com/

There will obviously be a few weeks of analysis to follow before the season kicks off, but until then lets look at a few of the price highlights and possible trends that emerge on first glance:

Goalkeepers
  • The rotation strategy is probably in play again this year, though sub-5m options are somewhat limited. Al Habsi (4.5m), Harper (4.5m) and Gordon (4.5m) look like early favourites though Given (5.0m) could justify the extra price assuming he locks down the #1 jersey at Villa. 
  • With the return to fitness of Ferdinand and Vidic you wouldn't bet against a big season from new boy de Gea (6.5m) who could well prove to be the points leader come year end.
Defenders
  • No one has any idea who will start for City. Despite having the best defence last season, the most expensive players along the back line for City are Lescott (6.5m) and Kolarov (6.5m) though no less than seven players cost 5.5m or more. At 6m, new arrival Clichy looks like a decent bet though even he looks uncertain to play every week right now.
  • Man Utd still don't have a right back. With O'Shea and Brown moving up North the situation is at least a little clearer than in prior years with Rafael (5.5m) and Smalling (5.5m) looking to be in a two horse race. If a clear winner emerges they would represent an early steal in this year's game.
  • Someone on Chelsea's team is going to be an early must own. You have to assume that Chelsea will settle on a regular back pairing rather than rotating every week. The early front runner would be David Luiz (6.5m) though Alex (6.0m) shouldn't be ruled out. Based on last year's points per game data, Luiz would give a P$ of 0.814 substantially better than most of the other high priced options.
  • On first glance the 4.0m pool looks pretty thin though there are options at 4.5m to fill out your squad. Stoke, Sunderland and Bolton players look like potential buys at this price.
Midfielders
  • Midfielders seem to be priced on reputation rather than last year's performance. Nani (10.0m), Adam (9.0m), Malouda (10.5m) and Kuyt (10.0m) led all midfielders in total points though only Adam's price has significantly risen. Unless Nani loses significant time to the Young/Valencia combo, it makes it hard to justify not including him in the team at this price.
  • Players with high ceilings who are priced at a step below the elite bunch include Walcott (9.0m), Kalou (7.5m) and Adam Johnson (7.5m). Each have questions around regular playing minutes but still delivered excellent value for money last season without too much fanfare.
  • The depth in midfield looks as thin as I remember. The options at 5.5m or less look fairly weak. It is going to be tricky to manage your budget this year.
  • Seamus Coleman (7.0m), Yuri Zhirkov (6.5m) and Mohammed El-Mohamady (5.5m) have all lost their defensive status and so they become all but worthless for this year. I had marked Coleman down as a potential steal for this year so losing him is a real blow. Vincent Kompany (6.0m) has gone the other way which is somewhat of a boost.
Forwards
  • Javier Hernandez (10.0m) is the early favourite to win the golden boot this season yet his price tag remains considerably below some of the traditional powerhouses. With Tevez (12.0m) presumably on the move and lingering questions about how Drogba (10.5m) and Torres (11.0m) will play together, last year's second half hero Van Persie (12.0m) and the ever reliable Rooney (12.0m) will likely be widely owned.
  • The depth up front looks pretty good with a host of intriguing options at the 6.5m range including Fletcher, Ba, Davies, Agbonlahor, Rodallega and Beckford. With a lack of similar depth in midfield, an early developing thought would be to pair a couple of these mid-range options with an elite striker and then load up on higher priced mids.
  • An alternative thought suggests investing in the second tier of forwards which includes Suarez (9.5m) and Balotelli (9.0m). It will be tough to pair these with a Van Persie or Rooney, unless you are willing to add a cheap third man or suffer in the middle.
As is the case every year, the possibilities are endless and significantly more work is required before we begin to settle on any players within your squad. That said, it never hurts to try and highlight a couple of players you really like so you are juggling 6 or 7 pieces rather than 11. The analysis is going to start coming thick and fast now so be sure to check back regularly or follow @plfantasy for all the latest news.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Looking back in numbers: Defense

After discussing goals earlier, we now turn our attention to the defence and review who kept clean sheets last year and how. More defenders hit triple digits than forwards and their production is often an afterthought as we chase 20 point games from the biggest names. As we approach the new season, here are some somewhat random thoughts to keep in mind as you pick your team.
  • Man City and Chelsea tied for the best defense overall (33 goals) and were both dominant home teams (12 and 11 clean sheet respectively). However, on the road City conceded 1.11 GPG with just 6 clean sheets, making them comparable to the Birmingham defence at home (1.16 GPG with 6 clean sheets). Obviously, if you own Kolo Toure or Ashley Cole you are playing him pretty much every week, but just be careful about buying into total defensive stats and not paying due attention to the home/road splits.
  •  Clean sheets were particularly streaky last season with the longest streak being held to 4 all year (Arsenal GW 21-24). Clean sheet leaders Man City (18) managed three steaks of 3.
  • Despite registering 18 clean sheets, Man City didn't boast a defender who registered more than 12 and only Zabaleta (12) and Lescott (10) even managed to register double figures. This emphasizes the importance of selecting players who are guaranteed to start or else you could find yourself playing Kolarov who was dropped or substituted for 10 of City's clean sheets.
  • If you take the view that good defensive play will eventually lead to clean sheets, Bolton could be in for a clean sheet boost this season. Despite ranking 10th in goals conceded, they ranked just 17th in clean sheet registered.
Goalkeeper Pairs
In what has developed into an annual post, I usually state the virtues of investing in a couple of cheap 'keepers and playing them based on the match-up, rather than opting for one of the premium net minders. The rationale has been well documented but the essential part is that if you opt for someone like Joe Hart or Petr Cech, you will likely play them every week and hence render a player almost worthless.
A post will come on the prospective best pairings for this year will follow soon, but before then, let's look back and see how the numbers played out last year:

Best GK combos
  • Ben Foster and Craig Gordon/Simon Mignolet - 20 clean sheets - 9.0m cost
  • Craig Gordon/Simon Mignolet and Paul Robinson - 19 clean sheets - 9.0m cost
  • Craig Gordon/Simon Mignolet and Wojciech Szczesny/Lukasz Fabianksi - 19 clean sheets - 9.5m cost
  • Joe Hart and replacement level player - 17 clean sheets - 10m cost
  • Ben Foster and Wojciech Szczesny/Lukasz Fabianksi - 16 clean sheets - 9.5m cost
  • Petr Cech and replacement level player - 15 clean sheets - 10.5m cost
  • Craig Gordon/Simon Mignolet and Ali Al-Habsi - 15 clean sheets - 8.5m cost
  • Jose Reina and replacement level player - 14 clean sheets - 10/5m cost
The above clean sheets are based on which of the combo you would play following the rankings published weekly on this site. For the expensive trio or Hart, Cech and Reina I have assumed you would play them every week having made the sizable investment. In reality this may occasionally change (if, say, City played at Old Trafford while your backup entertained Birmingham) but I think the point remains valid.

Last season was complicated a bit more by the multitude of injuries to good budget options but 'keeper is one of the positions that can be fairly easily predicted by keeping abreast of injury news so the only loss here are a couple of transfers.

The dominance of Hart last year at a relatively good price (6m) made the GK-combo closer than it has been in prior years but I remain confident it is still the best way to go.

The new price list will hopefully be released soon, but in the mean time, post your comments/question below or @plfantasy. Anyone interested in the new SimPrem game can reach them @simprem regarding entry to their new awesome game for this season. I will be posting a full preview of the rules and potential strategies shortly.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Looking back in numbers - goals

    The sun is out, the money is flowing, players are on strike and fantasy football is on the horizon. Before the new prices come out and we scramble to attach value to the likes of Gervinho or Adel Taarabt, let's take a quick look back at some of highlights from last season, and what that might teach us for next season. Today we will start with the sexiest of the fantasy categories: goals.

    Goals per Game
    Taking a player's goals per 90 minutes and extrapolating over 38 games gives some interesting names to note, who quietly had exceptional seasons and would have delivered great fantasy value if you knew when to pick and choose your spots. The number of goals each player would have scored if playing every minute of every game is below:
    1. Robin van Persie - 35
    2. Dimitar Berbatov - 33
    3. Javier Hernandez - 30
    4. Carlos Tevez - 29
    5. Demba Ba - 26
    6. Steve Fletcher - 25
    7. Daniel Sturridge - 24
    8. Salomon Kalou - 22
    9. Roman Pavlyuchenko - 22
    10. Andy Carroll - 21
    11. Jermaine Beckford - 21
    12. Rafael van der Vaart - 20
    13. Peter Odenwingie - 19
    14. Mario Balotelli - 19
    A couple of names to highlight here. Firstly, this shows the potential of Hernandez should he somehow secure more minutes in the United first team this year. The bad news is that everyone else seems to be savvy to this trend with the bookies installing him as a +650 favorite for the golden boot this season. A price tag in single digits would be a surprise (and a bargain) at this point.

    Ba and Sturridge had tremendous finishes to the season and providing Sturridge can secure a move back to the Reebok (or somewhere else where he will play), they should both offer potential value depending on where the price makers set their mark. Ideally Sturridge would start the fantasy season on Chelsea's books, thus forcing his price down, before securing a move away from Stamford Bridge. Ba should get regular minutes at Newcastle, though further analysis is needed to see if their style will suit his play.

    Fletcher was a massive shock to see on this list as he seemed to be fairly anonymous following his move from Burnley. However, he racked up 10 goals despite playing over 45 minutes just 17 times including 5 over the final 5 gameweeks (amassing 44 points in the process). As with all cheaper prospects, playing time and support are always a risk but Fletcher is worth stashing on your watch-list when the price list is released.

    I am somewhat reluctant to predict midfielders enjoying the kind of goalscoring form van der Vaart showed this year so be careful before throwing Lampard/Fabregas money his way. Very few midfielders over the years have managed to sustain that kind of form. If his price can hold at 10m though, he might still give enough to justify inclusion in your opening day thoughts.

    Finally, Balotelli's potential is for all to see. His first season in England seems to have been categorized as a disappointment but 6 goals in just 12 games worth of minutes shows what he could do if given a prolonged run in the side. With Tevez potentially on the move and City cautious about Uefa's new financial regulations, Super Mario could find himself thrust into a consistent starters role and if he can settle down in Manchester, his potential is elite.

    No place like home
    Any reader of this site knows how much emphasis I place on matchups and while we are all cognizant of   dropping players against good teams, we don't always pay much attention to home/road splits. Below are those players who performed significantly better at home or away (minimum 4 games played):

    Home advantage
    Goals per 90 minutes at home (H) and away (A)
    1. Berbatov - 1.4 H : 0.3 A
    2. Zamora - 1.1 H : 0.2 A
    3. Park - 0.7 H : 0.0 A
    4. Benjani - 0.6 H : 0.0 A
    5. Fuller - 0.6 H : 0.0 A
    6. Malouda - 0.7 H : 0.1 A
    7. Nolan - 0.7 H : 0.1 A
    8. Saha - 0.7 H : 0.2 A
    Road advantage
    1. Kalinic - 0.2 H : 0.7 A
    2. Roberts - 0.1 H : 0.6 A
    3. Van Persie - 0.7 H : 1.1 A
    4. Ba - 0.5 H : 0.8 A
    5. Bent - 0.3 H : 0.7 A
    6. Agbonlahor - 0.0 H : 0.3 A
    7. Anelka - 0.1 H : 0.4 A
    8. Walcott - 0.4 H : 0.7 A
    9. Elmander - 0.2 H : 0.4 A
    Streaks
    Riding hot streaks is obviously key to any fantasy success and while the below are in no way indicative of future success, they make for some interesting reading:
    • Through GW15 Tim Cahill and Johan Elmander each had 8 goals. They managed 3 more between them for the remainder of the year. 
    • Chaz Adam had 9 goals in the final 15 gameweeks to finish the season 
    • Didier Drogba failed to net more than once in a game after his hattrick in GW1. Carlos Tevez had 7 multi goal games over the course of the season.
    • Javier Hernandez had 4 goals in the first half of the season and 9 in the second. Frank Lampard's split was 1:9
    • David Hoilett managed 4 goals over his final 7 appearances of the season, despite costing only 4m.
    • Florent Malouda
    • 42 players scored 7 or more goals for the season. Maxi Rodriguez accomplished that feat in a three week period (GW34-36)
    • Three players netted in five consecutive gameweeks: Kuyt (GW32-36), Meireles (GW23-27) and Odenwingie (GW32-36).
    • Robin Van Persie played his first 90 minute game of the season in GW21. From that point on he netted 18 times in 18 GWs despite missing two games and having an off week in GW28. 
    I will be back later in the week with more analysis, before the price list for next season is announced. In the mean time, post your comments/question below or @plfantasy. Anyone interested in the new SimPrem game can reach them @simprem regarding entry to their new awesome game for this season. I will be posting a full preview of the rules and potential strategies shortly.

      Thursday, July 7, 2011

      Sim Prem

      Welcome back everyone. It seems like just a couple of weeks since the United players were lofting the Premier League trophy up high - before most of them signed for Sunderland that is. This site has been quiet since then I didn't even get a chance to chip in with my end of season thoughts as I have been re-working my data to try and setup better predictive tools for next season.

      In the meantime I have an exciting opportunity involving a new fantasy game - SimPrem. I have long speculated on the creation of a draft style game in which each player can only be owned by a single team and the boys over at SP have delivered in a major way. The rules are fairly complex compared to the PremierLeague.com game but they are intuitive and once you understand them, they should make the game very interesting to play.

      John and Doug are currently welcoming new entrants to the league so I thought I'd put it out there for any readers who are keen to try something new and can commit to being an active player throughout the season.

      Coming Soon
      I have almost finished uploading all last season's data so I hope to start getting some lessons from last season out soon, before the prices for next season are released. Stay tuned to this blog or @plfantasy for the latest updates and drop @simprem a note if you are interested in the new league.