They say you should start each column with a topical quip or humorous anecdote. With Andy Gray, Richard Keys and Ian Prior providing plenty of ammo of late, this should be an easy task. However, this is not what this column is about. It’s about facts. A place to investigate the past to predict the future, the use of data manipulation to spot trends or perhaps, if you prefer, the numbers bit on Countdown.
Fantasy football is fun so there won’t be any algebra and no one will be forced to write on the blackboard, but I will focus on some stats and trends to make weekly recommendations that could help lead you to glory over your competitors. They won’t always come true (cut to a scene of anyone who read my pre season love of Lee Chung-Yong nodding) but they will be based in fact rather than gut feelings and hunches.
Warning: Readers of my blog will know that I have a tendency to make up the odd abbreviation or two. This is partly to save space/time and partly because I fancy myself as a bit of a football sabremetrician (some will remember that term used to describe Billy Beane, the infamous General Manager of the Oakland A’s who was once rumoured to be a target for Liverpool such are his advanced analytical skills). Most abbreviations/acronyms are fairly self evident (goals per game becomes ‘GPG’) but if you’re stuck there’s a handy glossary here).
Gameweek 25 Rankings
On to this week then. Two factors should be dominating your thinking this week. Firstly, it’s the game at Old Trafford. The league’s best home scorers (2.83 GPG) meets the league’s shakiest away defence (2.25 GPG) and United have scored 8 goals in a week in the league. Getting the most out your United players will be key again this week, just as it was last week (just ask anyone who didn’t captain Berbatov). The second big issue is the looming double gameweek in GW27. There were some epic scores this past week and anyone caught sleeping on the double games were likely left behind as their competitors threw together triple digit scores. Arsenal, of course, dominate the thinking for GW27 but there is value to be had elsewhere too and this will be focused on below in the ‘on the horizon’ section.
Clean Sheet Rankings
(clean sheets kept at home/away – number of times opposition have failed to score at home/away)
- Man Utd (7 – 5)
- Man City (4 – 4)
- Liverpool (5 – 4)
- Chelsea (3 – 2)
- Sunderland (7 – 5)
- Arsenal (4 – 3)
- Fulham (5 – 2)
- West Brom (1 – 6)
- Blackburn (5 – 2)
- Bolton (2 – 4)
- Birmingham (4 – 4)
- Blackpool (0 – 6)
- Wigan (3 – 2)
- Newcastle (3 – 1)
- Everton (2 – 2)
- Tottenham (0 – 2)
- Stoke (2 – 1)
- Wolves (1 – 3)
- West Ham (0 – 0)
- Aston Villa (0 – 0)
After his hat trick last week, Berbatov is now averaging a ridiculous 12.11 points per game at home and has 15 goals in 9 home games including 4 games of 2 or more goals. A slight knock is that he has two bad games (3 points or less) in the last five but if you’re looking for upside, no one is better (he has two of the four 20 point games this year). Nani has also been very good at home, adding another good performance against Birmingham to give him 9.0 PPG at Old Trafford. What I like about Nani at home is the way he is contributing points: 6 goals, 6 assists and 14 bonus points. I maintain from last week that Nani is a slightly safer pick but it’s admittedly hard to look away from Berbatov right now. Rooney is of course an option too but until he proves he is back on form I would prefer to use my money elsewhere. I’d prefer to be a bit late (and miss one good week) than too early (and sit on him for weeks with minimal returns) when looking at Rooney right now.
Arsenal are the second best bet of the week and with Samir Nasri sidelined, there are again two options who really stand out. Again I think the midfield option (Fabregas) is slightly safer due to the way he accrues his points: 3 goals, 8 assists and 21 bonus points, though no one, not even Berbatov, has more points over the last couple of weeks than van Persie (they are tied on 31, despite the Dutchman not having a double gameweek). The Arsenal pair are owned by considerably less managers (Fabregas 9% and Van Persie 13%) compared to the United pair (Nani 43% and Berbatov 36%) and so anyone looking to gain ground in the respective leagues might favour the former, if only to try and differentiate their team this week.
We all know the deal. You’re not loyal to these guys. You’re not thrilled about them pulling on the hallowed green/pink/orange shirt you spent weeks designing, but whether you like it or not, you sometimes need a mercenary: a player with no loyalties and an easy opponent who can do a job for you for one gameweek. These are those players:
Johan Elmander (6.4m) – The Swedish striker has really cooled down of late (1 goal in his last 10 games) but he has been superb all year against weaker opponents. He has netted against West Ham (twice), West Brom (twice), Newcastle (twice), Wigan, Wolves and Arsenal, who all rank 12th or worst in goals conceded (aside from Arsenal) with West Ham, West Brom and Wolves in the bottom four. This week he faces Wolves again who do not travel well and have given up 7 goals in the last two weeks. Elmander may not deserve to be held for the long term anymore but he is a great short-term pickup for this week.
D.J.Campbell (4.7m) – Few players are in better goal scoring form than Campbell, who has 6 goals in his last 7 league appearances. West Ham have conceded 2 goals a game away from Upton Park and have shipped 10 goals in the past 3 games. Blackpool always score at home and Campbell makes a nice short term option to capitalise on their fortunate fixture.
Martin Kelly (4.3m) – He isn’t a lock to play with Aurelio on the mend but Dalglish seems to have a soft spot for the young full back, playing Johnson out of position and shipping Kochesky off to Nott’m Forrest to accommodate him. Liverpool have a great fixture this week and keeping things tight at the back will be a good start to beginning life without Torres.
On the Horizon
The GW27 doubles should be dominating your medium term transfer strategy right now as you look to capitalise on the extra games being played. Arsenal, Birmingham, Blackpool, Newcastle, Stoke, Tottenham, West Brom and Wolves all play twice with Arsenal (attack/defense), West Brom (attack), Spurs (attack) and Blackpool (attack) looking like the best bets.
With Nasri injured, and presumably not fit for the double gameweek, I think it is time to sell him unless you are sat on a huge profit and would be desperate to get him back. You really need to be lining up with three Arsenal players in GW27 and can’t afford to use a space and 8m+ on an injured player. The best Arsenal players for now until GW27 are:
- Cesc Fabregas – just ahead of Van Persie on account of the bonus points which tend to flatten out his points and ensure he always receives something (just 1 bad game in his last 8 starts versus 2 in 5 for Van Persie).
- Robin van Persie – more competition in the premium forward pool and skewed production (which makes it harder to captain him) force RvP into second spot. Still, if he continues as he has for the past two weeks he will be number one on this list and overall in the league.
- Wojciech Szczesny – Wenger has said the No.1 shirt is his to lose and at 4.5m he represents excellent value. I don’t condone spending big on keepers and Szczesny’s presence makes a rotation strategy even easier to follow.
- Johan Djorou – with Squillaci suspended and Vermaelen injured, Djorou will at least hold his place for the coming gameweek and may keep it until Vermaelen is fit (though this is a risk).
- Theo Walcott – I’m not his biggest fan but when he’s played he has been successful from a fantasy perspective (5.27 points per game, PPMS of 0.763) and with Nasri out he should get some consistent minutes.
- Rafael Van der Vaart – two rare off weeks in GW23 and 24 may have reduced some of the attention on Van der Vaart but these low scores were in relatively tough games. The two games in GW27 are up and down with Sunderland being one of the hardest games around while Blackpool are very leaky at home. However, the Dutchman is worth holding at the worst of times and makes a great option in GW27.
- Charlie Adam – from a fantasy perspective I think he is best placed for success at Bloomfield Road and given his propensity for bonus points, he remains a must own player. As with Van der Vaart his immense value is further exaggerated with the double gameweek.
- Gareth Bale – his fantasy form probably hasn’t reflected his club form as he seems to play the second to last ball so often (only 3 assists all year). Bale remains a very good option and his 46% ownership makes it somewhat risky not to have him when he plays twice.
- Peter Odemwingie – the West Brom forward has quietly added 8 goals in the league to date and his minutes per goal (195) puts him 8th among all forwards with more than 5 goals. In terms of fixtures West Brom look like the 3rd best team for the double gameweek and Odenwingie seems well placed to capitalise
- DJ Campbell – Blackpool forecast as the 2nd best attacking team for GW27 and Campbell is very much like Odenwingie (in fact he ranks just behind him in minutes per goal with 196). As noted above, few are in finer form and for the price you really can’t go wrong with the well-travelled front man.
- Carlos Vela – this would be a risk but if you’re really strapped for cash, 4.4m on Vela looks like it might be worth it. He has been far from prolific for Arsenal but he had a decent stint on loan at Salamanca and has shown an eye for goal with the National team. I might hold off on this one for now but consider pulling the trigger for GW27 if Vela shows he has settled in quickly at the Hawthorns.
One final word of caution, Arsenal and Tottenham currently have no game in GW28 so before going too crazy with these players, consider the long term impact first. One would expect the game to take place midweek alongside the Chelsea-Man Utd clash (and hence still in GW28) but at least be mindful of this when making transfers.