Welcome to the long-overdue Fantasy Premier League (FPL) player rankings update, where I identify the players with the most potential for points per minute played 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).
For new readers, and even those who have read my articles before, I want to start by reminding everyone that these rankings are entirely free from subjective input and therefore conventional wisdom, which is perhaps why they may not conform to expectations sometimes. I have toyed with the idea of adding a weighting in to account for the likelihood of a player starting, for example. You will see in this article that Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool is second in the forward rankings by virtue of his performances when he is on the pitch; Opta record that he has registered an impressive seven shots on target and 45 touches in the final third in just 104 minutes of football over the last four games. Therefore, if we objectively look at his performance per minute, his stats indicate that he should be scoring more FPL points per minute than all but one other forward (again, see the appendix of this article for details of how I developed this method).
But, if we look at the player and his club situation subjectively, we understand (or at least believe we understand) that Sturridge is not a guaranteed starter, and that we should be picking players who will score fewer points per minute but will score a better overall total by virtue of playing more minutes, for example Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who sits fourth in the rankings after playing 378 minutes in the last four. So why not take total time played into account? Because a player is just as likely to have low minutes due to an injury or returning from a suspension as he is to being an impact sub from the bench. Objectively, ‘time played’ is not a factor I want to bring into the rankings because it assumes there is consistency in team selection, hence the ‘per minute’ nature of the calculations.
There are potentially other objective measures we could introduce to the model, such as number of starts in the season, but I have yet to be happy with any of the ideas. The inevitable and logical next step is to move to subjective rankings, downgrading Sturridge and upgrading Ibrahimovic based on who I believe will start. But that will do the methodology and the reader a massive disservice because I do not have the inside track on every manager’s thinking: who am I to say that Sturridge won’t start or that Zlatan won’t be rested?
In the end, whenever I sit down to think about a way of improving these rankings I come to the same conclusion which is that I cannot add subjectivity into the equation. I believe it is better to present the numbers as they are based on a transparent methodology and pass the burden of interpretation onto the reader. This is why the player you rate isn’t higher in the rankings, and why perennial substitutes like Juan Mata are higher in the rankings than regular starters.
Finally, new for this article I have decided to add a brief few lines under each section with my own team’s representatives in each position and any transfers I’m considering. They are questions I’m regularly asked on Twitter, so at least a couple of you must have a passing interest.
If you have any questions, I can as always be found @artemidorus_1 on Twitter.
This methodology favours the team performance and potential over individual form when ranking the goalkeepers, which explains the prominence Manchester City’s Claudio Bravo in the number 2 position. Whilst his personal performances have seen him concede 13 of the last 21 shots on target he has faced, he remains part of a defensive line that has only conceded one big chance (as defined by Opta) in the last four games, which has contributed to Manchester City objectively having the best defensive potential over the next six. Of course, those who saw the capitulation to Everton in GW21 may well choose to invest their goalkeeping funds elsewhere, with Manchester United’s David De Gea the top ranked stopper for the next six.
For those looking for a immediate potential, Southampton’s Fraser Forster faces a Leicester attack in GW22 that has only produced two big chances in the last four games, and is ranked number one for the next gameweek.
My Team: Lee Grant, Jordon Pickford. Not looking particularly rosy as I was hoping to ride out the next few weeks with Grant until Pickford returns, but the Stoke keeper’s lowly rank has given me pause for thought. For the budget, replacing Pickford with Darren Randolph could be an option with Stoke and West Ham’s fixtures rotating acceptably.
Marcus Alonso’s explosive display for Chelsea in GW21 has earned him the top position in the rankings, and his potential and ability will be a surprise to no one reading this. Indeed, the regular starters in this list – the Tottenham and Manchester City full-backs, Valencia of Manchester United, Daniels of Bournemouth, Coleman of Everton – are all names we would expect to see in a table of FPL potential points. Another prominent name, sitting in third, is Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard missed the victory over Swansea with an ankle injury but is expected to return for GW22, and his underlying stats are very strong. Considering his output this season has consisted of just three assists, there is an argument to say that he is on the brink of a points haul soon.
Ryan Bertrand is another name high up in the ranks, and like his team-mate Forster in the previous section he looks well placed to return against a Leicester attack which is not creating big chances at the moment. Therefore, he is the top pick for GW22, and fourth overall for the next six.
My Team: Marcus Alonso, Cedric Soares, Johnny Evans, Jose Holebas, Jordi Amat. I’m very happy with Alonso and Soares’ home ties against a couple of the division’s weaker attacks in GW22, and if Evans is passed fit at home to Sunderland I can be confident about the probability of defensive returns even if Defoe is playing. Holebas away to Bournemouth is not as appealing, but is a decent sub option in an emergency. No need for urgent changes here until Holebas picks up his 10th yellow of the season.
Dele Alli’s extraordinary form in recent games unsurprisingly sees him top the midfielder rankings. His shots on target total of six in the last four games is surpassed by only two others (Sanchez and Firmino), and whilst Spurs are not facing the most obliging defences in the next six games their ability to create big chances (2.25 per game in the last four, a league high) means that their prominent attacking midfielder cannot be ignored.
Conspicuous by his absence considering his club’s attacking threat is Alli’s teammate, Christian Eriksen. Fifth-highest for passes received in the final third and third-highest for touches in the final third – both prominent metrics in this methodology – show his importance to the Tottenham forward line and have resulted in him providing six assists in the last four games. However, this methodology is based on historical correlations between actions and points, and the metric which carries most weight is shots on target for which Eriksen can be attributed to just one in the last four. Therefore, his rank is lower based purely on the numbers; again, read into that what you like.
For those looking at budget options, Bournemouth’s Junior Stanislas and Everton’s Kevin Mirallas stand out as stellar candidates, with Stanislas’ consecutive home fixtures to Watford and Crystal Palace of particular immediate appeal.
My Team: Alexis Sanchez, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Jay Rodriguez, Darren Fletcher. I have concerns over Sterling considering his rank of 60, driven by just a single shot on target in the last four despite playing every game, but like Eriksen above he is contributing assists and his appealing GW23-28 fixtures will probably convince me to hold fire for the moment. The aforementioned form of Stanislas and the insecurity of starts has probably condemned Rodriguez to the status of failed experiment at this point, so this is a transfer I am seriously considering.
There can be no denying that my FPL season has taken a significant downward slide since the start of December and I am attributing that largely to the failure of captain Harry Kane in his ‘banker’ home fixtures versus Hull and Burnley. Following this disaster I watched him miss a penalty against Southampton and decided to sell, so you can imagine my supreme irritation at seeing him top of these rankings and his recent form. A frankly ridiculous 11 shots on target in the last four have propelled him to the summit, and it is only irrational loathing at the earlier trolling that is stopping me bringing him into my team (and budget, to be fair).
For the most part, the names towards the top of this list that have racked up a lot of minutes represent the form players in the division and are unsurprising by their inclusion. Differential options include, as always, a Bournemouth striker in the form of Benik Afobe; both him and Callum Wilson have frequently appeared near the top of these rankings this season, but unfortunately neither seems capable of nailing down an extended run the team. On the whole though, it looks like the best options are the expensive ones, and there is little value to be found in the budget range aside from Sunderland’s Jermain Defoe.
My Team: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Olivier Giroud, Solomon Rondon. Despite the absence of Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku, and the lowly rank of Rondon, I am reluctant to change my forward line this week. Ibrahimovic sits fourth in these ranks – in my opinion the second-highest viable option behind Kane – and is in form at the moment, and Giroud’s home fixtures against Burnley, Watford and Hull in the next four games make him an essential figure providing he can shake off his ankle injury. Rondon’s lack of form is a worry, but with Tony Pulis’ side playing some good attacking football and a coming six fixtures that includes, a, four home fixtures, and b, no opponent in the current top eight, he is worth sticking with in my opinion.
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 Eden Hazard of Chelsea.
- From gameweeks 18 to 21 his form suggested he should be scoring 0.0343 points for every minute he was on the pitch (not including appearance points), which earns him a form rank of 20th. Whether he scored this amount is not of interest, what is important is that he should have done based on the equation for midfielders.
- Chelsea in that time created 6 ‘big chances’ according to Opta, or 1.5 per game. In that same period, Chelsea’s next six opponents from gameweek 22 onwards conceded an average of 1.333 big chances per game. The last four opponents’ conceded 1.125 chances per game, so Chelsea’s opponents are judged to be likely to concede 18% more chances per game in the next six that they did in the last four. Therefore, we calculate Chelsea’s attacking potential over the next six as 1.777 big chances per game (=1.5*118%), which earns them a fixture rank of second.
- Taking the average of the form rank (20th) and fixture rank (second) gives him an overall rank score of 11 (=(20+2)/2). 13 midfielders earned a better rank score than this, so his overall rank amongst midfielders is 14th.
- For the next gameweek (22), his form rank remains the same (20th), but Chelsea’s fixture rank (home to Hull) is third. His overall rank score (=(20+3)/2) of 11.5 is bettered by 14 midfielders, so he sits in 15th in the rankings for midfielders for gameweek 22.
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. The research is designed to highlight probability, not provide a definitive answer.