Tuesday, October 28, 2014
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.
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.
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
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
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 FocusLet's take a look at the Everton squad to date, plotting their goal and assist threats:
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):
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:
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.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Everton have always been one of the sides I enjoy writing about as over the past couple of seasons they've had a pleasing blend of both ability and predictability, all while often flying under the radar of the masses.1 For the most part those trends have continued this year with a solid back line and talented front man, although there isn't really a target player in midfield as we've had in the past with the likes of Arteta, Cahill, Pienaar and Fellaini.
Starting at the back, we have Howard, Baines, Jagielka and Coleman absolutely locked into their respective positions, with at least threee of those options offering about as much security and low upside as you're going to find among premier league starters. We'll get to a comparison of the defenders potential weighed against their price in the next stats post but for now we can conclude that they are all essentially as safe as each other. The last man in when healthy is probably Stones but with the youngster sidelined for a couple of months, Distin probably has the inside track on that final spot. At 5.4m he doesn't offer enough of a discount to be interested in, but one name to watch is Alcaraz who made his first start this week. At 4.3m he does offer an interesting discount to his team-mates and might be worth bearing some risk for if you believe he has a good shot at holding onto that job. For now, all indications seem to be that Distin will return when healthy but it's a situation worth monitoring.
This midfield isn't without talent but with Mirallas and Barkley sidelined it really lacks star power, especially with Pienaar regressing as the miles start to take their toll. Barkley returned this week but has a sizeable price tag (6.7m) to live up to, which is possible but by no means guaranteed based on his somewhat up and down play to date.2 Still, Lukaku reckons he's the best player in the team which is quite high praise considering his teammates and with his season slowed by injury, he's under everybody's radar right now and thus has the makings of an differentiator when he returns to fitness. Again, we'll look at attacking potential in the next post, but in terms of job security we see that Barry and McCarthy has essentially been ever present in the middle with Osman, Naismith, Barkley, Pienaar and McGeady vying to provide the attacking options to support Lukaku. Aside from the potential of the aforementioned Barkley I'm not sure any of this midfield group have the reliability and underlying data to warrant serious interest, as reflected by their generally minuscule ownership numbers. One exception to that latter point is Naismith whose 5.2 price tag has caught the eye of many an owner, and based on playing time alone that appears to be a fair move.3 This lineup is perhaps a touch less reliable than in past years, mainly due to injuries to Barkley and Mirallas, yet with the replacement group not really standing out, it doesn't appear there is too much to be overly concerned about until that duo return. At the back they remain one of the best options around and Lukaku is still one of the remaining, genuine every week starters with enough upside to justify a lofty price tag.
At the back we have a perfect record with five players each starting every game to date. Off the bat this would suggest that Michael Duff (4.2m) is going to be the pick here but I'll reserve judgement until I've seen the attacking threat in detail
The midfield has a few interesting options but could present some selection questions when everyone is healthy. Arfield has been ever present to date while the likes of Boyd, Marney and Jones have generally played when available. Kightly came into the side when Marney went down and has since played reasonably well by all accounts and provides from natural width that teams crave, and is important in the formation Burnley appear to favour. Boyd's playing time, position and price tag look promising and Marney - someone who had caught my eye in the opening games - is set to return soon after being sidelined for the last three gameweeks. Arfield meanwhile leads the team in fantasy point giving us plenty to look at in the data and this week's game.Up top we have a team who look to be committed to playing two front men with highly rated Danny Ings and new arrival Jutkiewicz looking generally locked into the first team. My concern would be that after a good defensive start to the year (at least in terms of goals conceded if not underlying process), the team has started to ship more goals of late and one response would be to lose one of their front men and try and play tighter. Such a move could render both players too risky to own, although at least their price tags remain attractive. Gun to your head you'd expect Ings to play more often than not, but with talk of him wanting out of the club, it wouldn't be amazing to see Jutkiewicz preferred which makes it tough to really commit to anyone here.
Next up we take a look at these two teams' data to date and what we might expect from the weekend's action
1. With the exception of Leighton Baines, of course, who remains a favourite of the public and a constant point of contention for me↩
2. That's not meant to be a knock of Barkley - still just 20 - but you don't get a discount for youthful inconsistency in fantasy football↩
3. I have a feeling that the conclusion once we look at the underlying data will be less kind↩
Monday, October 20, 2014
The highlights package would give you much of what you need to know in that Arsenal largely dominated the game but were picked off by a couple of Hull attacks and lacked the clinical edge to convert their own chances into goals. The data does a better job at highlighting that dominance:
- Arsenal: 25 shots, 16 SiB, 9 SoT, 65% possession
- Hull: 4 shots, 3 SiB, 4 SoT, 35% possession
The familiar cliché of Arsenal trying to "walk the ball into the goal" might seem applicable based on the data but from my viewing I might suggest they would have been better advised taking less shots, with several efforts - particularly in the first half after the equaliser - falling into the "hopeful" rather than "expectant" buckets. We'll get to player specifics in a minute but Cazorla and Chamberlain seemed to be the main offenders here.
It's generally dangerous to place too much stock in tired narratives about goals breeding confidence but in this case, the timing of Hull's equaliser did really seem key as the 10 minutes before and the immediate period after the Arsenal opener saw the home team camped in the final third with a second (and third) goal seeming a mere formality. Once they settled down, Hull did an okay job holding possession when they needed to, with Huddlestone and Diame controlling things quite well in the middle.
I won't go through every player in these wrap ups, but a couple of points stood out as being worthy of comment:
The consensus among fans still seems to be that Welbeck simply isn't good enough but he equipped himself well here and impressed both in terms of effort and ability. Welback made dangerous runs all day and of all the Arsenal players it was he - the newest arrival - who seemed most in tune with his teammates, linking up nicely on several occasions. That ability to bring others into play suggests he should be able to contribute both goals and assists this year, something that cannot be said for some of his comparatively priced peers. He finished the day with five shots (all SiB) and a couple of created chances and was overall good value for his goal and single bonus point. Other good options exist in his price range of course but I'd still be more than happy sticking with the England man during Arsenal's upcoming run of games.
This might have been the best Sanchez has played for his new team and he was the best player on the pitch for large portions of the game. Five shots (four in the box) and three created chances underline his attacking threat while his nine penalty box touches and eight dribbles highlight his overall involvement. His goal was great but his assist may have been even better and there's really not too much to say about his production or potential, both of which are predictably excellent. The question is whether his price tag is worth (a) the 0.4-0.7 premium over the two Chelsea options and (b) the 1.5m premium over Ramsey - who returned as a late sub here. With Fabregas' ownership up over 50% and a trickier fixture list on deck, the argument is certainly there to be made, but as always it depends on too many factors to try and sum up in a quick blurb, so we'll leave that for another day.
I don't really know what Cazorla is anymore. Ostensibly a creator, he seems to spend long stretches of games with players running past him and thus not contributing a great deal at either end of the pitch. He ended the game with a lot of touches of the ball (138) and perhaps that's his designed role but then I don't know what that mean for Jack Whilshere who seemed to spend a good amount of this game stepping on Cazorla's toes and gesturing where he thought the Spaniard should be. For the first goal, Wilshere was caught upfield and seemed to expect Cazorla to cover but by the time he did he was stuck behind the powerful Diame and never recovered enough to influence the play. On the second goal Wilshere just simply didn't track Huddlestone - Cazorla was along way away so this must have been miscommunication with someone else - who ran free to chip the ball to Hernandez.
It's perhaps unfair to hold anyone to this standard, but, if you if look at Fabregas and Yaya Toure, it feels like they basically do the job that both WIlshere and Cazorla did here, which frees their teams up to have Oscar/Silva etc play with essentially no responsibility. I don't know if this has any huge impact on fantasy results but it does feel like this Arsenal side are sometimes lacking an extra body going forward and then at the back, often due to the middle men not seeming to commit to either role.
Four goals in five games could well open the floodgates on Diame who has so far apparently gone unnoticed by the masses (2% ownership and a 0.1m decrease in value since his arrival at Hull). As an actual performance I thought he looked great, offering Hull a strong outlet to try and connect the midfield to Hernandez on the rare occasions they were able to hold onto the ball and, of course, he took his goal very nicely indeed. In fantasy terms though he's the classic regression candidate with nine total shots, four SiB and four SoT barely being enough production to support scoring once every eight games nevermind four times. Considering he seems to be fairly secure in the first team and at least offers something going forward he doesn't look like a terrible investment and wouldn't be a player to target selling but there's not enough here to warrant a transfer either unless you're solely look to capitalise on the likely price rise.
I've been an admirer of Huddlestone for some time but without wanting to sound like a broken record, while the assist was nice it came on literally his only successful pass in the final third and his average position on the pitch was deeper than Per Mertesacker's. His 13 shots for the season suggest he might get the odd goal but with just one from within the box, they're going to be few and far between (SoB are converted at a rate of about 4% across the league). Again, at 5.4m it's hard to be too critical but I'd suggest either going significantly cheaper or trying to sneak into the next price bracket as there just isn't much potential here other than consistent two-pointers.
This was a fairly entertaining game from a neutral perspective but with a fantasy football hat on, I'm not sure we learned a great deal more than we already knew. Arsenal are a good but not great side and without Ozil and Giroud the team really looks like it will pick itself for the next couple of months. That is perhaps unfair on Cazorla who isn't without quality but you have to think that Walcott, Ramsey and Sanchez will provide the ammunition for Welbeck more often that not with Wilshere pushed deeper and Chamberlain and Cazorla sliding to the bench (we might even see Chamberlain getting more time in the deeper middle role, where he has impressed in short spells). All four of those attacking options - along with the budget Chambers - look ownable and picking between the midfield trio needs a deeper dive than we're performing here.
As for Hull, this probably isn't the best game to judge them on as they were pinned deep for long stretches of the contest, but in their defense, they showed the moments of quality needed to score against a reasonably good backline and should enjoy success against weaker opponents in the future. Individually, while we see snippets of that quality, no one has the underlying data to really support anything more than a speculative pick, especially without too many promising fixtures in the next couple of weeks. Diame, Ben Arfa and Hernandez showed they have enough talent to offer hope though and so this remains a team worth keeping in mind when filling out the bottom end of your fantasy squad.
This week we're going to look at another of my favourite teams to watch (Everton) face off against newly promoted Burnley.