This is the gameweek 12 (GW12) edition of my attempt to identify the players with the most potential for points in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game based on a methodology I have developed (see appendix for details, or earlier articles on my blog for how I came to the conclusions I have). This is the first edition since the start of the season where I have not tweaked the methodology from one article to the next. That’s not to say it is perfect, just that I haven’t had the time for any refinements.
As a prelude, I want to point out that I will frequently reference in the following paragraphs the need to look at the ‘Time Played’ data. The player performance is based on a ‘per minute’ basis in order to level the playing field. In absolute terms, a player who has played four full games in the last four will have better stats than one who has played just 30 minutes. However, performance is assessed in relative terms; e.g. what would have both players have done if they were on the pitch for just a minute?
This can provide some false positives, for example Jesse Lingard of Manchester United features very high in the midfield rankings because of his actions per minute. However, as he is often sent on late in the game, he is not a recommended FPL target because he has fewer minutes with which to accumulate points. It is important to remember that this is not a list of the best FPL players, but a ranking based on the greatest potential per minute. It is up to the reader to define whether they will play regularly or not, and if they do start playing regularly whether they will be able to maintain the level of performance they have registered in their cameo appearances. It also does not take into account injuries, either of the player mentioned or their competitors within the squad.
If you have any questions, I can as always be found @artemidorus_1 on Twitter.
This methodology favours the potential for clean sheets over individual performance, and this is evident here with the presence of Champions League-chasing goalkeepers near the top despite poor individual potential (with the notable exception of Petr Cech: Arsenal have conceded nine big chances in the last four games, and will be facing tougher attacks in the next six, leaving them with an expected 2.76 big chances conceded per game in the next six, the worst in the league).
Chelsea’s obvious strength in defence is evidenced by five clean sheets on the bounce and no big chances conceded in the last four, meaning Thibault Courtois is the stand-out candidate amongst the goalkeepers with representatives from Manchesters City and United, Liverpool and Tottenham also viable options.
For managers on a budget, Lee Grant is the clear choice sitting second in the rankings currently. Stoke’s form has improved, their fixtures look kind from a potential clean sheet perspective and first choice Jack Butland remains sidelined for the foreseeable future, meaning Grant looks a solid enabler for any FPL team. Hull’s David Marshall also comes onto the radar as their fixtures take a turn for the better and his individual performance has been solid in recent weeks.
For those looking for a short-term punt, the number one rank for GW12-only falls to Sunderland’s Jordan Pickford who faces the league’s most anaemic attacking force, Hull. In fact, if I were a betting man I’d fancy that one to be a very low scoring game.
Defenders (top 20)
These rankings in recent weeks have featured Chelsea defenders heavily, so considering their recent form it is surprising not to see names such as Marcus Alonso higher. The club’s players are ranked number one for clean sheets potential in the next six, but their individual performance potential is lower than many other players. Top of the rankings is Danny Rose of Tottenham, who plays for a club with a good chance of conceding minimal big chances in the coming weeks and is playing as a de-facto attacker down the left hand side for Spurs (his right-sided compatriot Kyle Walker also appears prominently in these rankings).
Amongst the big club names here there are some differential / budget options available from less glamorous clubs. Watford’s returning Daryl Janmaat has usurped teammate Jose Holebas as the favoured route into that defence following a goal in GW11 which elevated him to the top of the individual performance ranking. However, the six goals they conceded against Liverpool in that game is surely going to put at least an asterix against his name when considering transfers in.
As with their goalkeeper, the Stoke defenders are worthy of considering against some obliging attacks in the coming weeks, whilst West Brom’s out-of-position/set-piece taking Chris Brunt looks set for an extended run near the top of the rankings providing he keeps his place following a return to the first team.
For those looking for a short-term option for GW12, Sunderland’s Patrick van Aanholt is ranked just behind Rose and is up against a Hull side which is not creating much despite the win against Southampton in GW11.
Midfielders (top 20)
It should come as no surprise to anybody playing FPL or watching Premier League football to see Eden Hazard’s name at the top of the rankings considering his current form. What is perhaps unexpected is the sight of Bournmouth’s Junior Stanislas sharing top spot with him. It should be noted that Stanislas has featured in just two of the last four games, therefore his man-of-the-match performance against Hull in GW8 takes on extra weight and skews his ranking in his favour. However, this doesn’t disguise the fact that when he has been on the pitch (against Hull and Sunderland) he is contributing more actions that correlate with FPL points than any other midfielder. Whether he can maintain this with three away fixtures in the next four is another question.
Elsewhere in the rankings, Liverpool’s Brazilian duo Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino remain premium options with the main question for most managers being whether to play one, the other or both. Manchester United duo Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard continue to promise strong returns but are hampered by their pitch time, whilst Southampton’s Dusan Tadic may be a doubt for GW12 following a suspected broken nose incurred whilst on international duty.
A name on near the top of the rankings to seriously consider is Victor Moses who appears to have nailed down his position in the Chelsea midfield. His introduction into the starting line-up five games ago has coincided with the club’s good run, and with just 1.4% ownership, a £5.6m price tag (at time of writing) and attacking returns in two of the last four games, he appears to be a good differential option.
Managers looking for a 4th midfielder in recent weeks have been attracted by the bright budget lights of Joe Allen (Stoke) and Ilkay Gundogan (Manchester City). These two miss out on the top 20 list here just barely: Allen is actually joint-20th but with slightly lower personal performance stats than Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, and Gundogen is not far behind in joint-24th. Both these players represent good options for FPL managers.
Forwards (top 20)
Manchester City duo Sergio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho are top of the rankings, although the latter of the two is very much the understudy to the Argentine and game time continues to be limited. Aguero however continues to justify his price tag as the game’s most expensive asset and appears indispensable for the next few weeks: his individual form is better than anyone else, and his club’s potential for big chance creation is the highest in GW12 (away to Crystal Palace) and over the next six games. If you can afford him, make sure you have him.
Below him, there are few surprises. Regular readers will know that Charlie Austin has been hitting all the necessary underlying metrics for weeks now and continues to be a strong option. The Bournmouth pair of Callum Wilson and Benik Afobe are perhaps flattering to deceive as their pitch time has been limited in the last four, however it should be noted that whilst they are on the pitch they are doing all the right things to secure a long-term haul of FPL points, although they may be too much of a short-term gamble at this point.
Perhaps the most interesting ranking on the list currently is the 34%-owned Romelu Lukaku, who has dropped to joint-16th in the rankings to the probable alarm of many.
The Belgian is hitting 90 minutes regularly and has scored two and assisted two in his last four, which makes him a more prolific FPL asset than other 360+ minute strikers like Alvaro Negrado and Christian Benteke. However, it must be noted that from an underlying stats perspective he is underperforming: an average of one shot on target per game, and only between 18 and 25 touches in the final third per game (granted, two of these were against Chelsea and Manchester City when Everton were thoroughly dominated). Based on these numbers, he is massively over-performing in front of goal, in the same way that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been significantly underperforming.
In a model such as this, almost every player will over- or under-perform to some degree; the formula was developed from the average of all players and of course there is a margin for error. Therefore, if Lukaku reaches the end of the season as one of the leading scorers despite being starved of service the numbers will say it is unexpected but within the realms of the possible, and he will take his place as one of the outliers on the spectrum of players. Perhaps he is just that good that he only needs one chance a game to score, and his record so far in his career would suggest he is a top-quality striker. However the numbers suggest that he shouldn’t be scoring as many FPL points as he is. It is therefore up to each manager that owns him to decide whether he is an outlier and will continue scoring, or whether his performances will revert to the expected levels in time and is due a barren spell*. Indeed, that is true of every player on these lists.
*note: I’m keeping him in my team for the moment
For those who are interested and to avoid repeating myself from previous articles, here is a run-down of how I calculate the rankings.
- I correlated FPL points from 2014 to 2016 with key underlying metrics for each position, which through a simple linear regression analysis gave me equations which explain what should be happening each game from an FPL perspective. This method is a way of ranking players by their probability of performing through assessment of their on-pitch actions, or what I’m calling form, over the last four games.
- I then rank each club based on the forthcoming six fixtures relative to the previous four. This is done by understanding the propensity of the opponents to concede big chances and the propensity of the midfielder or forward’s team to create big chances. For goalkeepers and defenders, the reverse is taken into account.
- For the goalkeepers and defenders, clean sheets play a significant role in assessing their form, which is a team action covered by the fixtures ranking. Therefore, in order to get a true view of a player’s form regardless of their team’s activity, I neutralise the clean sheets metric by giving all players a value of zero for this metric.
- The overall rank over the player is discovered by simply calculating the average between the form (individual) rank and the fixture (team) rank. To reflect the importance of the team effort, I have up-weighted fixtures over form for goalkeepers (75%-25%) and defenders (60%-40%).
Here’s an example to illustrate my methodology. Let’s take Troy Deeney of Watford.
- From gameweeks 6 to 9 his form suggested he should be scoring 0.0213 points for every minute he was on the pitch (not including appearances), which earns him a form rank of 15th. Whether he scored this amount is not of interest, what is important is that he should have done based on the equation for midfielders.
- Watford in that time created 2 ‘big chances’ according to Opta, or 0.5 per game. In that same period, Watford’s next six opponents from gameweek 10 onwards conceded an average of 2.0 big chances per game. The last four opponents’ conceded 1.438 chances per game, so Watford’s opponents are judged to be likely to concede 39% more chances per game in the next six that they did in the last four. Therefore, we calculate Watford’s attacking potential over the next six as 0.695 big chances per game (=0.5*139%), which earns him a fixture rank of 16th.
- Taking the average of the form rank (15th) and fixture rank (16th) gives him an overall rank score of 15.5 (=(15+16)/2). 20 forwards earned a better rank score than this, so his overall rank amongst forwards is joint-21st (with Leicester’s Okazaki).
- For the next gameweek (10), his form rank remains the same (15th), but Watford’s fixture rank (away to Swansea) is 10th. His overall rank score (=(16+10)/2) of 13 is bettered by 15 forwards, so he sits in 16th in the rankings for forwards for gameweek 10.
Please note that only players who have played more than the equivalent of more than one full game in the last four qualify for the rankings. It should also be noted for anyone looking to use this analysis as the gospel that some players will over-perform against the model and others will under-perform (see the ‘forwards’ section above and the chat about Lukaku). The research is designed to highlight probability, not provide a definitive answer. If you have any questions, I can be found on Twitter @artemidorus_1.