Saturday, November 1, 2014

Adopt a Team: Liverpool and Newcastle stats

Liverpool

These pages lack the kind of influence that might be able to convince the masses1, but I hope at least one reader with affection for Liverpool might see the above chart and at least take their finger off the panic button, even if they're not willing to put the emergency cover back on. Yes, Luis Suarez has left. And you're right Daniel Sturridge is injured. You can no longer see a movie for a nickel and kids don't have respect for older generations anymore. We get it, all is lost. Except when it isn't. We see above that Liverpool have generated better-than-average shots inside the box in every game while their defense has been solid with five such performances of their own. The conversion of goals per shot on target probably cannot simply be regressed back to league average without other considerations taken into account (type of shot, for one), but it's also reasonable to suggest that it's unlikely Liverpool have gone from a team that converts 40% of their SoT into goals to just 29% in one season, even if they did lose their best player.2 An increased slice of luck and some better finishing from those tasked with replacing Suarez plus the return of Sturridge at the end of the month will likely help this team get back on track, even if that isn't to the level the overachieved to attain last season.

Player focus

Newcastle


1. By masses I mean the kind of group that might struggle to fill a single taxi 2. Suarez's G/SoT rate was actually below his team's average at 38% so while his quality will clearly help his teammates, it's too simplistic to suggest him leaving is the sole reason for this decline

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Adopt a Team: Liverpool and Newcastle lineups

I'm a little bit pressed for time this week so I'm going to keep this post briefer than before so we have time to get into the stats before the weekend.

Liverpool

Despite losing Suarez who was obviously a big driver behind this team's success last season, it's hard to argue that this squad isn't deeper than it was last year, with quality backups at virtually every position. Despite having seven playable options, the back line has been very settled with Moreno, Lovren, Skrtel and Manquillo each starting virtually every game and never appearing as a substitute. Moreno and Lovren were high profile captures during the off season so it was reaonable to pencil that pair in. Skrtel re-solididied his place in this side last season after a year or so of sporadic play but with Sakho available I still felt there was some risk there. That really hasn't materialised and with Sakho now sidelined, the big Slovakian looks pretty locked in right now. If I'm mildly surprised that Sakho hasn't vultured more minutes in the middle I am close to amazed that Manquillo has been able to make that right back spot his own. Johnson, Toure, Flanagan and even Jose Enrique could well have been fancied over the young Spaniard who had played just six league games for Atletico over the past two seasons and - at least I thought - came to Liverpool on loan as an extended trial to showcase his talent for a potential future transfer. Whatever the thought process, he's made the spot his own so far this season and thus becomes the obvious cheap link in this team. Given his age, there might be some concern that rotation will come in the future, perhaps suggesting Lovren could be worth the 0.4m premium but that's something we'll get to tomorrow when we look at this group's attacking potential.

In midfield, we have a similar situation with job security held by a number of players despite some impressive depth waiting in the wings. Markovic, Lucas, Can, Allen and, lately, Coutinho have found themselves on the outside looking in with Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling and Lallana almost ever present when available. The final spot has rotated between those other players along with Sturridge who was deployed alongside Balotelli when they were both available. Though it's hard to see Coutinho being totally pushed out of this side, he obviously can't be relied upon right now, so that just leaves those four big names plus Balotelli up front to choose from. Sturridge's return is going to cloud that issue somewhat as in the three games he played with Balotelli, a pure defensive option (Allen or Lucas) was deployed, presumably to account for the lack of defensive help from that duo and to an extent Sterling. The job security is useful here as no one really comes cheaply, unless you want to get cute with one of the more defensively minded players. Again, we'll look at whether any of those options are worth looking at in the stats review.

With Liverpool travelling away from Anfield, we might expect them to stick with either Allen or Can (or both) in the middle to monitor Sissoko, Cabella and company, which would mean Coutinho missing out again unless he can displace one of those regulars (or Balotelli is sidelined after his continuing struggle for form).

Newcastle

Though competing in a different part of the league table, the story behind Newcastle's squad this year is somewhat similar to this week's opponents: improved depth but less top tier talent. Newcastle's struggles since Cabaye and Remy left have been well documented, with Pardew once again noting his team's struggles to overcome those losses this week. The replacements certainly have promise with Cabella, Riviere and Ayoze all offering flashes of what excited the Newcastle scouts, while Cisse was something akin to a new signing when he was briefly healthy, playing excellently in a handful of games become succumbing to a knee injury. The results haven't been great but there's more than enough talent here to warrant a closer look.

At the back this has been a very settled team with just six players getting a start and only five of them being in serious contention for starter minutes (Haidara looks like a firm backup for Dummett at left back). Williamson's injury opened the door for Steven Taylor to make a return to the team though we still don't have a definitive answer as to who will hold onto their place when everyone is healthy. Dummett, at 4.0m, looks like the obvious play for this defense but Davide Santon is apparently getting close to full health and will surely have every chance to re-take his starting spot in the coming weeks. We'll touch on the attacking threats in the next post but Coloccini's combination of job security and price tag looks like a strong place to start.

Much like Liverpool, given the depth here it is surprising that Pardew has opted for a fairly settled lineup with Colback, Gouffran and Sissoko being ever present with the other two spots filled by a couple of rotated pairs in Cabella/Obertan and Anita/Tiote. Based on the classic YouTube scouting and sporadic reviews from France, Cabella was the player most people were excited about and he's done okay - good enough to deserve better than his recent benching but not enough to warrant serious fantasy consideration. We'll see what a deeper dive into the stats provides tomorrow but outside of Cabella - who's playing time is in question - I'm not sure there's enough upside here to justify a place in your team.

Having been burned before, managers will be understandably wary of buying into Papiss Cisse's rejuvenation but based on an admittedly small sample, serious attention needs to be paid to him when he returns from a knee injury. Again, we'll dive into detailed stats tomorrow but just know that Cisse's numbers in just a handful of games were excellent and far eclipsed anything managed by teammate Riviere, who was given the chance to lead the line but seems to have fallen out of favour of late. At 6.7m and with underwhelming stats, if Riviere wins this starting job then it might be time to move on. If however the 5.9m Cisse can snag the job, he could become one of the most interesting budget front men to look at over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Adopt a Team: Everton vs Burnley review

This was an enjoyable game to watch for the neutral spectator, with two teams that were fairly evenly matched on the day and a couple of quality moments which defined the game. If we're being honest, the game was generally close because of Everton's inability to really push on and dominate against the supposed "lesser" team, but credit must be given for Burnley's industry and the way Dyche had his team setup which countered much of what Everton wanted to do.

The game stats show Everton dominating in overall possession (64%) though less so in the amount of time spent in the opponents' half (56%) which highlights the fact that Everton were cautious for long stretches of this game; something that was always likely to be true with Barry, McCarthy and Osman all used in the middle of the field. Though perhaps harsh to criticise a team who scored three away from home, without Mirallas, Barkley and Pienaar I believe this team lacks a bit of creativity and at times they lacked direction in their attacking play. The one exception all day was really the full backs who drove the team forward and provided the extra man in useful positions which led to much of the best attacking play Everton managed. Burnley's full backs showed some potential too, but it was Coleman and particularly Baines who looked truly dynamic and a clear difference in class between these sides.

Everton focus
Defensively the team looked okay and Howard wasn't tested too many times despite Burnley's 8 SiB. Once again it was an error which led to a goal, with Lukaku this time being the culprit with a sloppy pass being intercepted and nicely finished by Ings. That was the league leading sixth error punished with a goal and that area of their game will need to be cleaned up if Baines and company are truly going to be elite defensive options. Some regression will help (they're unlikely to have 50% of all their mistakes converted into goals all season) but there were a number of times where midfielders were also caught in possession in dangerous positions as they looked build the play from the back. Whether or not that tactic helps Everton win games, there's no doubt that at the moment it isn't helping their defensive cause. On my viewing I felt that Alcaraz was a bit patchy and didn't look quite as solid as Jagielka's other partners, yet the stats show he led the team in both interceptions and clearances so perhaps I'm doing him a disservice. Baines actually had one of his worst statistical games with just a single created chance and no shots on goal. Of course, he still wound up with an assist and had almost as many touches in the final third (19) as Naismith and Lukaku (20). As noted in the preview, if you have any faith this team can start registering clean sheets, Baines becomes a player who can now justify that price tag based on his otherworldly attacking numbers.

It's fair to say that the Everton (starting) midfield was somewhat underwhelming but not in a way where they played poorly so much as just not offering anything at all to get excited about. In fairness, a large portion of that is likely due to the instructions from Martinez but it was still extremely noticeable how much more dynamic the team were with Barkley and Pienaar on during the last 20 or so minutes of the game. If it's as simple as a healthy Barkley replacing McCarthy or Osman then you can probably pencil in an uptick in attacking numbers going forward, but the concern is that this will consistently be the "away" lineup, with perhaps Barkley splitting time with Eto'o; a move that would put everyone's job security and ultimate production in question.

There's a chance that everyone's production is in question in large part due to the somewhat disappointing display from Lukaku here which built upon some questions that have been raised by Everton fans for his play to date this season. Again, the Belgian front man wasn't bad, it's just he was a touch sloppy with some of his layoffs and didn't really do enough to apply constant pressure to Burnley's backline which has been shown to be, shall we say, susceptible to such pressure. He did of course end the game with a goal (well finished after his initial effort was blocked) and one could easily play the "best players score when they don't play well" card. Yet, that makes you feel better if you've spent 28 million on a player and can't move on but in fantasy circles we have plenty of other options so I'd personally take the player with the great stats than relying on players to score when they don't "play well". This was just one game though and for the most part Lukaku's stats are just fine and thus he remains an interesting differentiator, though should not be confused for an elite option to compete with the likes of Diego Costa or Aguero.

One of the stand out players in the game was Naismith who provided plenty of energy - as expected - and also some genuine quality which is perhaps lost in his "scrappy" narrative. Unfortunately, with Eto'o playing well and Barkley regaining fitness, you have to think that the chances for the Scot will start to decline in the coming weeks. As for Eto'o, his age is going to be a factor at some point with Martinez highlighting that he was a surprised that the Cameroon star managed another 90 minutes here after playing a full game in midweek. Questions of playing time for Lukaku from a fantasy perspective are moot, as if he plays as he did last year then he's essentially undroppable while if his form suffers then the likes of Eto'o and Naismith will start to steal minutes, but in that scenario he wouldn't be ownable at 9.0m anyway. In short then, he remains an option for now but should be on a short leash should be see any further decline from last season's lofty heights.

Burnley focus
Based on the numbers to date this season, we highlighted Trippier and Arfield as a couple of players to look at and both looked good in this one. It's not a reasonable benchmark to compare Trippier to Baines but the Burnley man is solidly in the next category down with the likes of Cresswell and Roberston. Unlike that pair though, Trippier has a teammate (Duff) who is a full 0.7m less and so while the couple of created chances a week are nice, they aren't enough to justify that premium on paper and nothing I saw in this game really suggests otherwise.

As for Arfield, he took up some promising positions in the space off the front pair and managed to orchestrate what limited attacking possession Burnley had. As a general point, relying on "creative" players from the lower scoring teams can be a risk as you are of course reliant on their other players more than you might be with someone who takes their penalties or accounts for a large share of their shots. The goods news for Arfield is that he is supplementing his useful 10 created chances with an excellent 10 SiB and therefore continues to offer a nice dual threat for his 5.0m tag. In this contest he wasn't able to really get close enough to Howard's goal to create a real threat but he still managed to add another three shots to his total and led his team in passes in the final third (9) so I wouldn't be overly concerned with rolling with Arfield as a very promising 5th midfielder.

One player I didn't get a chance to talk about in the game preview was George Boyd, whose 2% ownership is second to only Duff among the Burnley outfield players. I must say I didn't see a great deal here to really excite me, which echoes what the stat sheet shows with Boyd offering up 7 created chances and 6 SiB. It should be noted that those numbers have come in just six games, but still, they don't particularly leap off the page. However, at 4.4m he comes at a significant saving over Arfield and assuming he offers the same job security (which looks like a fair assumption right now) he certainly justifies consideration as a 5th midfielder who you might only start once a month. This probably wasn't a great game to judge him on either, as he seems to have been pushed particularly deep, perhaps to help deal with the threat of Baines, and so never really got into the kind of positions we'd expect fantasy points to flow from. That doesn't mean he can't be useful, of course, but if your budget stretches, the data still suggests that Arfield is a tick ahead of Boyd as an overall fantasy contributor. It's also worth noting that Dean Marney was playing well by all accounts before his injury and is set to return to the side soon, offering another 4.4m option.

Both of these teams have the potential to offer solid fantasy options for your team, though few, if any, really jump out as being the "must have" players so many managers talk about. That, of course, is a good thing and represents an opportunity to solidify your team with productive mid-level options who might save you 0.5m here and there and ultimately free up cash to use on the likes of Aguero or Diego Costa in other positions in your team. Baines is the main exception to that trend and he continues to walk a fine line as to whether his price tag can justify the cost. The upcoming fixture list for both these sides look promising and with wildcard season likely approaching, there are worse ideas that taking a chance with a couple of these options - such as Lukaku or Baines - with the knowledge that you can easily bail out in a couple of weeks if they fails to really push on to that next level we all expect.


Next up on the adopt a team schedule we look at two interesting teams not enjoying the best start to the new campaign: Liverpool and Newcastle.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Adopt a Team: Burnley Stats

The above chart doesn't show Burnley in a great light, with a few too many games drifting into that bottom left quadrant, but hey, at least they're (probably) better than QPR! The underlying data suggests their defense has actually been pretty useful with above average performances in every game other than this week's defeat to West Ham and for the most part they've been reasonable value for their three clean sheets. They have conceded 70 SiB which isn't great but given the fact they've already got one meeting with Chelsea and Man Utd out of the way and already travelled to Swansea and West Brom, there's hope that some success might come in the future against fellow bottom dwellers.

Going forward, the team really struggled out of the gates with just a single goal in the first six games, but they have at least come back with two at Leicester and a consolation against West Ham suggesting there might yet be light at the end of the tunnel. The team have created 68 chances to date which puts them 15th in the league, but they compare favourably to the likes of Swansea (57), West Brom (66) and even Tottenham (73) so that number should certainly spark enough interest to not write this whole unit off, despite the fact that Sergio Aguero scored as many goals in just over an hour's work this past week as this team have all season. Let's take a look at who has contributed the most to the team's attacking success (however limited it is) so far this season:

Kieran Trippier The chart looks quite promising for Trippier's credentials as a dual threat defender with Burnley's reasonable defensive record discussed above combined with what appears to be a very good attacking threat (at least when it comes to assist potential). As if often the way in these pages though, we need to pour a bit of water of those flames. If we quickly glance back at the defender chart posted in the Everton stats piece we see that while Trippier has enjoyed some solid statistical games to date, we're unlikely to confuse him for Baines, Ivanovic or even Cresswell anytime soon. Of course, he's also cheaper than the elite class but my concern is that for reasons that aren't clear to me, the market makers priced him at 1.0m more than some his teammates and while that gap has now narrowed to 0.7m, that's still a hefty premium to pay over Michael Duff, who's been ever present for Burnley this season. If we were talking about a mid-upper team who offered a great clean sheet potential every week then you might argue that the increased attacking threat is worth this investment but for a team like Burnley, it's likely you're looking for at best a fourth defender and thus 4.9m is just a bit too steep to bench three of every four weeks. I'm keen to see Trippier play this week against a good side like Everton and see if he can still make a mark in the attacking third but it's going to take something special to suggest he's worth that premium.

Scott Arfield Coming into the season Arfield, along with Danny Ings, was one of the few Burnley players I had real expectations of, and someone I am looking forward to watching this week. So far so good for the young Scot, who has followed up his opening gameweek goal against Chelsea with some impressive stats. Consider the below comparisons (these are not a suggestion that Arfield is necessarily in their overall class, just that he's shown flashes of promise to date, at least in terms of his underlying data):

Arfield 17 shots, 10 SiB, 9 created chances, 0.5% ownership
Nacer Chadli 15 shots, 14 SiB, 10 created chances, 12% ownership
Oscar 16 shots, 10 SiB, 9 created chances, 3% ownership
Schneiderlein 10 shots, 8 SiB, 5 created chances, 18% ownership

This is interesting company for a 5.0m player and his lack of "big" games has surpressed his ownership numbers making his a perfect 5th midfielder candidate. I look forward to seeing him in action tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Adopt a Team: Everton stats

Given their tough fixture list to date - Everton have already faced Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd - and having not seen too many of their games myself, I figured a deeper look at the stats would reveal a team who had either been particularly unlucky with their results or were simply victim to those tough teams. To a degree that's true, as they picked up just two points from the three games in which the data falls into the top right quadrant yet their defense has been below average in the other five contests as they've struggled along with just a couple of clean sheets. This week's 3-0 win over Villa will have many assuming the team have turned the corner but those three goals came on just eight SiB (six SoT) suggesting there is still some way to go until we see this attacking unit hit the heights of last season.

It's not surprising to see that Everton have tended to favour the left side of the pitch when going forward with 49% of their created chances and 61% of their crosses come from the left flank. To put those numbers in context, both are the highest in the league with the second highest totals being 44% and 57% respectively (both Crystal Palace). How to capitalise on that trend in the midfield isn't immediately obvious though no such questions remain at the back, with Leighton Baines enjoying an unbelievable start to the season in terms of attacking data (more on that below).

At the back, the 16 goals conceded put them 19th in the league, ahead of only QPR but a couple of factors point towards a brighter future. First, they've surrendered 58 SiB which ranks 12th in the league: not spectacular, but far better than their goal total suggests. Further, the defense have made a league leading 10 errors, five of which have led to goals (which is also a league high). Of course, this kind of error is an issue and will hurt a team's chances at a clean sheet every week but there isn't much evidence that this stat is stable from year to year and there's reason to think they've just been unluckily punished for their slips, compared to, say, Man Utd whose eight errors have led to just a single goal. Everton were a bit error prone last season, ranking 15th with 24 errors, but even so, that pace is a far cry from 10 in just eight games and those 24 errors last year gave rise to just six goals. In short we'd expect a combination of skill and regressing luck to help this team on the error front, which together with a lower conversion rate of shots into goals should help this defense get back to a level (or close to) the one they played at last season.

Player Focus

Let's take a look at the Everton squad to date, plotting their goal and assist threats:

Leighton Baines
It's not hard to conclude on who stands out here with Baines enjoying what could be the biggest lead in the assists department over his team-mates as anyone else in the league. Indeed, the lead looks just as ridiculous when we expand the chart to include all defensive players (it should be noted that part of his advantage in the goal threat department is due to how penalties are treated in the model rather than purely his shot totals, but then that seems fair as penalties are obviously much more valuable than your typical shot):

I wrote a few megabytes of blog posts on why Coleman was a better bet than Baines last season and was ultimately rewarded by an incredible campaign from the Irishman where he not only outscored Baines but did so at a significantly lower price tag. So far this season, this trend has very much been reversed. Coleman's success led to a price tag equal to his teammate (which seemed odd given Baines' penalty duties) but to date Baines has been light years ahead when it comes to attacking play with an absurd 22 created chances to Coleman's four. Indeed, Baines has 10 created chances in his last two games; more than all defenders on the season other than Ivanovic and Cresswell. Given the nature of his passes (crosses rather than through balls and short passes) it isn't fair to conclude that his 22 created chances are better than,say, David Silva's 21, but it is without question that when it comes to assist threat, Baines is without peers among his defensive rivals. Whether or not that is worth 7.1m really depends on your view of Everton's defense as while Baines is clearly offering great potential going forward, without clean sheets he simply cannot justify a 2.0m premium over players from Southampton, West Brom or even Burnley who are offering cheap access to clean sheets so far this year. As noted above, I do think there's reason to predict an improvement in Everton's defensive results and that has me considering Baines for my own team for pretty much the first time ever.

Romelo Lukaku
Fantasy managers and Everton fans alike haven't been overly impressed with Lukaku's play to date, despite having notched three goals and an assist already this season. His underlying data is more solid than spectacular and the availability of players like Pelle and Berahino makes a 9.0m price tag suddenly look steep unless you're playing at an Aguero/Diego Costa level. To date, that's a fair assessment of the situation but if we look at the threat levels of all forwards, we see that Lukaku is just about the next best option after that pair of bargains and the all conquering Diego Costa and Aguero, yet the way people are talking suggests he's been a major flop:

The data accrued to date does not support a 9.0m price tag nor inclusion over the likes of Pelle and Berahino, but as we've seen countless times before, eight games is not a conclusive sample and you need to at least place some reliance on your preseason rankings which would surely have had the Belgian ahead of the new group of upstart challengers. If you think Lukaku has underperformed yet still ranks 8th in fantasy points among all forwards (with two of those ahead of him costing significantly more) then he makes for an interesting option to keep in mind and a reasonable gamble given their upcoming fixtures (@BRN, SWA, @SUN, WHU). If nothing else, he might be a nice three week rental for those spooked by Mourinho's cryptic comments about Diego Costa's injury, especially with Chelsea facing trips to Man Utd and Liverpool in the next three gameweeks.

Ross Barkley
I would love to put a chart here to support buying into Barkley, whose potential seems to be legitimately outstanding. Lukaku recently declared the youngster the best player in the team and the man to lead England in the near future yet with just 65 minutes played this year, we only have these soundbites to go on. I only bring him up here because with his injury he's likely flying a bit under the radar now (presumably his 3% ownership is based on people not monitoring their teams) and is a good candidate to quickly explode should he enjoy a breakout game over the next couple of weeks. With Mirallas sidelined for at least another month, this Everton midfield is very much one of function rather than flair and so Barkley should have every opportunity to not only quickly win back a starting job but also secure his place as the the go to option at the attacking end of the pitch.