It seems I’ve partially overcome my apparent run in with what can only be described as Hell incarnate and find myself well enough to try to contribute something of value to the FPL ether. Either that or I am trying to focus on something less painful than reviewing my team’s output from last game week which, ironically enough, could also be aptly described as Hell incarnate. In either case, I’ve spent a bit of time taking a look at potential fantasy forward selections for the remainder of the premier league season. The timing of this analysis could not be better with Mr. Van Persie’s unfortunate fall into a camera well leaving many fantasy managers searching for answers. If you count yourself among said managers don’t despair, as below you will find top-notch commentary that is guaranteed to help you win your fantasy league this year!
(Ed. note: guarantee is non-binding and will not be honored)
Before we get started, let me lay some ground rules. First off, I am not in the business of guessing manager rotations. As a result, I have not evaluated or considered quality players who have major playing time issues (e.g., Tevez, Dzeko, Chicharito, Ba, Defoe due to injury). I have considered both Romelu Lukaku and Olivier Giroud, but my expectation is that both will receive somewhat regular time on the pitch the remainder of the season. As with all projections, nothing is guaranteed. Second, I have tried to account for major shifts from the Winter transfer window, specifically for Liverpool and Newcastle assets. Finally, I focus on core underlying statistics rather than accumulated goals and assists as core stats are generally better predictors of future success. Consequently, I put much greater weight on these components than I do on goals/assists only. If you disagree with this outlook then I am not sure you will be in sync with much analysis I offer. So with that out of the way, let’s get to the insight, dammit!
Above, you will see a beautifully rendered screen cap of an Excel table containing several data points for my list of “ownable” forwards. As discussed above, this list does not include several popular options with playing time issues. I have also not included popular options such as Lukas Podolski, Pavel Pogrebnyak, and Peter Crouch as I do not consider these players ownable due to lack of goal threat. You can rest assured that options not listed fare much worse statistically than those you see in the table.
The data presented from left to right: player name, current price, current % ownership, fantasy points scored per 90 minutes, shots per 90 minutes, shots on target per 90 minutes, percentage of shots recorded in the box, percentage of shots on target that have resulted in goals, number of chances created per 90 minutes, and percentage of chances created that have resulted in assists. As you can see, I have captured data on a per 90 minute basis to eliminate playing time issues across multiple players and I rely on percentages to succinctly indicate the key concepts of conversion, shots close to goal, and ability of teammates to convert opportunities. This data set is sufficient and substantial, allowing a quick and easy comparison across multiple fantasy assets.
INSIGHT (PART ONE)
The first thing you should notice from this sheet is the numbers of shots on goal per 90 minutes. If I were to look at only one stat to determine my fantasy forward selections, it would be the number of shots a player gets on the goal. Simply put, players who get more shots on goal almost always score more often and players who score more goals almost always generate more fantasy points. Certainly there are exceptions to the rule, but it is a great principle on which to base your decisions.
The shot on target numbers here are interesting. Immediately one should recognize that Liverpool forwards generate a ton of chances. Before Daniel Sturridge arrived, Luis Suarez was leading the league in shots and second only behind Lukaku in shots on target (more on Romelu later). Since Sturridge has arrived, Suarez has become more of a creator while the former Chelsea man has filled the role as primary assassin. Suarez is still generating a ton of attempts, but Sturridge is clearly the primary focus of attack at Anfield. In fact, Sturridge’s output has been so impressive that his numbers indicate he should be your very first choice at forward the remainder of the season. That may be surprising, but there is no denying someone who produces a full shot on target per game more than all but one other player. We do have some sample size issues here, but I feel five games is enough to demonstrate his potential. In my opinion, he is a must own.
What then of his teammate? While he has certainly become more of a facilitator, he remains a major goal threat. In fact, Suarez with Sturridge still averages 1.6 shots on target per 90 as good as anyone but his teammate and aforementioned Belgian. Given his ridiculously high number of chances created and improved CC %, I see no reason why Suarez owners should be looking to sell unless they are moving to Sturridge and don’t want to double on Reds attackers (a logical argument). Do note though that Suarez is on eight yellow cards and needs to limit his cautions until mid-April or else be suspended for two matches.
You may wonder how can I be so high on Liverpool forwards when Van Persie has so clearly dominated the first two-thirds of the year? Besides his injury, I have four reasons why you may want to considering moving away from the erstwhile Gunner hero. First and most concerting is his potential rotation throughout the remainder of the year. United are well on their way to the league title and, more importantly, find themselves as a potential Champion’s Legaue quarterfinalist. Given the Red Devils’ significant depth up front, I don’t see any scenario in which United continues on in Europe and RVP plays regularly down the stretch with most of his potential rotations coming against weaker foes. This is a huge issue as these rotations could result in numerous short substitution appearances, destroying captaincy choices for thousands. Why take on the stress? The second reason that Wayne Rooney has produced nearly as well as Van Persie for much less money. While Rooney’s percentage of shots in the box are a bit concerning, the rest of his numbers are right in line with the Dutchman’s and comes with less threat of rotation. To me, Rooney seems like an equal if not better option than RVP. Thirdly, Van Persie is the most owned forward in FPL. While this is not an issue if you are leading your league, anyone trying to make up points via RVP will most likely be unsuccessful. Personally, I’d much rather take a chance with Rooney or another power forward than I would swapping a differential midfielder for Bale or even Mata. Finally there is the obvious cost issue. Robin Van Persie is currently £ 2.2 more expensive than any other forward. At that price, he must be virtually risk free and an obvious captain option week-in and week-out. In my opinion he is not and thus I cannot recommend him for the remainder of the season, at least if United progresses into the UCL quarters.
As for his teammate, I do like Rooney and owned him until his untimely pre-Boxing Day knee injury. I feel he will produce at a consistent level if 1) he plays and 2) he plays without Chicharito and RVP on the pitch. I presume the first caveat won’t be much of an issue as Rooney should feature in the majority of games for the remainder of the season; he’s not as key as RVP and he is fresher. However, I have no idea how often SAF will play the three forwards together. When he does, Rooney drops much deeper and basically plays central mid or shifts out wide, allowing RVP to service Hernandez up top. In either formation, Rooney’s potential is limited and he cannot justify his exorbitant price. Thus, while Rooney does have strong upside potential, he is costly and carries a fair amount of risk. As a result, I can see a tentative buy on Rooney, especially if you have a high team value.
As hinted at above, Romelu Lukaku’s numbers are exceptional. He has been simply unstoppable, providing an ever-present force near the goal. He has recorded an incredible 87% of his shots in the box even while the second highest amount of total shots per 90 (excluding Suarez without Sturridge as that player no longer exists). While he has benefited somewhat as a late sub, his numbers as a starter are commensurate with his overall performance. Quite frankly, he’s been one of the three or four most productive forwards in the league whenever he has played. Yet, I should note that Romelu remains a risky purchase. He is on loan to West Bromwich and it seems Steve Clarke is somewhat reluctant to rely primarily on a player who won’t be around next season. This has left the Belgian starting only about half his appearances although he has started six of seven and eight of the last ten. Further, one should consider that West Brom has the second most difficult schedule in the league from here on out, playing the likes of Man City, Man United, Arsenal and at Stoke over the coming ten weeks (that doesn’t include Chelsea as Lukaku is prohibited from playing in that game). Still, even with his risks, I see no reason not to consider Lukaku at £ 6.5, especially if you are looking to gain points on league leaders.
The last player I want to discuss in-depth is Sergio Aguero. I have been and remain high on Sergio, maybe irrationally so. The Manchester City attack continues to produce chances on par with anyone in the league. This is evidenced by Aguero’s underlying statistics which show his shot numbers as good as anyone in the league not playing for Liverpool or named Lukaku. He is surrounded by an insane amount of skill and should have absolutely no rotation issues as City trying to track down the title. He seems to be on the precipice of a huge return as his numbers and overall skill is simply too much to hold down for an entire season. I mean, he has to get untracked at some point, right?
To be honest, I have no idea. I own Aguero and have no current plans on selling him, but watching him flounder has been frustrating. He just seems off, much like the entire City club. I do expect him to turn it around, but he could very well stay cold all season and fail to turn his underlying excellence into goals and fantasy points. Still though, I think you have to give him a shot as his downside risk seems minimal.
A quick summary then for part one. I have a STRONG BUY rating on Sturridge, with a BUY rating on his teammate Suarez. RVP gets a SELL with potential for buy back later depending upon UCL results and Rooney gets a SPECULATIVE BUY / HOLD. Lukaku gets a BUY with a STRONG BUY speculation for those needing to major upside. Aguero gets a BUY.
INSIGHT (PART TWO)
Whew, that was a mouthful. This should go quicker now. In fact, let’s go shotgun for the remaining forward options starting with most desirable.
Rickie Lambert – I love Rickie Lambert. I have owned him longer than any forward besides Luis Suarez this year. I enjoy watching him play and am happy to finally see him at the highest level of English football. Lambert is a safe option, with solid but unspectacular shot numbers coupled with strong assist potential. He’s a great budget buy and a good fit for those who can’t stomach the risk of other options such as Lukaku and Giroud. Keep in mind though he is owned by a good amount of FPL teams and is most likely not a differential for those needing to gain. Rating: BUY for risk averse and those in solid league positions
Olivier Giroud – The potential here is through the roof based upon shot numbers. Giroud gets a ton of chances from close range and one would expect better goal numbers from the Frenchmen (check out that conversion percentage). Watching him play, it’s clear to see that he misses a bunch of clear-cut chances which must make owning him absolutely infuriating. Still though I’d much prefer the guy who gets chances versus the one who doesn’t, especially with such low ownership. Rating: SPECULATIVE BUY for those needing upside
Christian Benteke – That Belgian national team has some potential, eh? Benteke is an extremely gifted athlete and should be an exceptional player in time. However, he is very young and struggles with the nuances of the game from time-to-time (e.g., he is very prone to offsides). More importantly though are Benteke’s teammates. Aston Villa is not good. I have their attack rated above only Reading and Stoke. To put it bluntly, Villa do not generate chances and Benteke’s production is limited because of it. Rating: HOLD although I would much prefer Lukaku and Sturridge.
Arouna Kone – A bit surprising to some I suspect, but Kone is owned by no one and represents value and upside over the remaining options. He’s not as physically overpowering as Benteke, but he plays for a substantially more potent attack. You could make up substantial ground with Kone especially after GW29 when the fixture list improves. Rating: SPECULATIVE BUY if chasing
Steven Fletcher – Fletcher can score without a doubt and Sunderland’s attack has been much improved over the past ten weeks or so. However, they are still somewhat toothless and Fletcher’s relatively high ownership numbers limit his upside. Don’t see the logic in choosing Fletcher over Lambert as they are similar in scope but Lambert is better and cheaper. Rating: SELL
Papiss Cisse – I have included Cisse here as he has been a popular potential speculative buy on many message boards, especially since the transfers of Sissoko and Gouffran. As you can see, the table above should put that speculation to rest. Cisse simply doesn’t get on the end of enough attacks, even since the transfer window. While I think he has more upside than the numbers above suggest, his price and low assist potential make him a non-option for me. Rating: SELL
Dmitiar Berbatov – I was infatuated with Berbatov early in the season. However, Fulham’s attack has been impotent since the holidays and shows little signs of reviving. The numbers above, while poor, tell only half the tale; Berbatov has just four shots on target in his last six matches. Rating: SELL
Get yourself a Liverpool man (or two). If you are chasing the leaders grab yourself Mr. Lukaku and Mr. Giroud, or, if desperate, Mr. Kone. Don’t expect RVP to lead the world in fantasy points the remainder of the year, but keep your eye out for alternatives elsewhere in Manchester. If you are leading you could do a lot worse than bringing in Rickie Lambert. Whatever you do, don’t purchase Berbatov, Cisse, or Fletcher.
Hope you enjoyed this. I plan on providing similar evaluations periodically, although I hope most are much more succinct! As always, comments and criticisms are very welcomed.