Prodigy

Navigating the Fantasy Premier League rabbit hole

Many of you would have spent weeks listening to experts give advice on their YouTube channels, scouring through blogs and statistics, or merely relying on intuition to get your FPL team ready for the new season.

During this time, you would have come across acronyms like FDR and xG, or terminologies like “squad value”. The jargon can be a real turn off which is why so many of us don’t use data for decision making. Hearing these words may sound like a language only spoken by highly sophisticated extra-terrestrials with a strange fixation of invading the USA. I will cover the key concepts that will make playing FPL a richer experience, giving you a brief insight into how the data analyzed.

The Case of the “x”

By now you would have seen terms like xG and xA being used on your favourite football websites to assess player performances. With so many x’s around it would be easy to assume that this player has a long history of failed relationships, but simply put the “x” is to indicate “Expected” values. There are many Expected Value measures that are available, but xG and xA are the ones I will focus on.

Thanks to the comprehensive stats compiled on Football Statistics and History, I was able to complete my analysis by importing the data into Microsoft’s Power BI tool. The best example I could use to illustrate how xG and xA can be used to assess a player’s performance, was to compare the stats of Liverpool trio Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino, three players with contrasting fortunes during the title winning season of 2019/20.

xG (Expected Goals)

xGis the probability of a shot resulting in a goal based on events leading up to the shot being taken. Here are some situations or variables that affect xG:

  • Player Location:  How close / far was the player from goal and what angle is a shot being taken?
  • Body Part: Did they use their head or foot to shoot?
  • Pass Received: Did they receive the ball from a set piece, through ball, cross, etc?
  • Situation: What did the player have to do with the ball once receiving it? Did they have to dribble past defenders? Did defenders have time to cover the player? Was the player in a one-on-one situation with the keeper? Was it an open goal?

Historical data of thousands of shots with similar characteristics are used to predict the outcome of the situation. Let us have a look at the goal statistics first…

These numbers show that Salah performed as expected. Based on the probability of xG, he did exactly what was predicted. Firmino severely underperformed, scoring 9 league goals all season, where xG predicted that he should have scored 13.

I saved Mané for last because his stats were the most interesting. Often overshadowed by Salah, he drastically overperformed. His shooting was so accurate that it far exceeded the probability of what xG predicted. Put it this way, for the additional 4 goals that Mané scored, let’s assume that the xG model was produced using 1 000 similar situations (the model has much more data than that), it means that those 1 000 players would have most likely all missed.

xA (Expected Assists)

A similar algorithm to xG is used to calculate xA, which would determine how likely it is that a pass will result in a goal.

Here we see Mané performing as xA predicted, but a drastic overachievement for Salah and Firmino. I’m not that surprised by Firmino’s numbers because he is the most selfless member of this trio. However, Salah’s values are very surprising. He is generally seen as the most selfish of the three, but these stats show that he is just as much of a team player as Mané and Firmino.

The combined goals and assists statistics doesn’t read as well for Firmino, but unlike using xG and xA in isolation, this shows that both Salah and Mané were great options:

So how would you apply xG and xA to your FPL picks? Well, there is no hard and fast rule. Exceeding the expected value means that a player is in great form and should therefore be selected. However, factors like upcoming fixtures, the form of the opposition team, or even the history between the two teams should be considered.

Building Squad Value

A player’s value changing can affect your squad value positively or negatively depending on how diligent you are at tracking price changes. Think of how many more premium options you could afford if you were given 5m extra at the beginning of the game, that is very much possible especially towards the end of the season if you’re making a late push and decide to use a wildcard. Here are some things to look out for to help you manage your transfers better.

Track price changes

The exact thresholds of what causes a player’s price to change isn’t clear, however what is certain is that it is proportional to the total number of FPL managers registered at the time, and a percentage calculation based on ins and outs will determine when a price change is triggered. Also, decreases are triggered far more easily than increases.

As a basic example, if Kevin de Bruyne is owned by 1 000 000 managers, 10 000 new owners this week will not change his price. However, 10 000 sales will result in a price drop.

Take a player with lower ownership like Wilfried Zaha though, if he is only owned by 20 000 managers, and an increase of 10 000 new owners happens, his price will increase.

Wildcard selections do not count as part of the ins and outs, because these are not classified as transfers.

A player’s price change is capped at 0.1m per day regardless of movement and is also capped at 0.3m per week. This is probably to prevent new registrations skewing the prices, or some people with mad coding skills running automations to alter prices to their liking.

Price changes occur at 2am GMT, so make sure that you sort out your transfers by midnight SA time just to be safe. Most FPL managers prefer to make their transfers as close as possible to the gameweek deadline once player availability is clearer, so this could force you into making transfers earlier in the week.

To track price changes, Price Change Predictor and Fantasy Football Fix have handy tools that you can use to monitor the transfer movement and when the price changes are expected.

This example illustrates that as it stands, due to a low ownership of 5.6%, the delta value of 44939 indicates the number of transfers until Patrick Bamford’s price increases

At the other end of the table, Sadio Mané, who has a decent ownership of 12.8%, will have FPL managers sweating over a possible price drop coming soon:

When do I make profit?

This may seem like a question with an obvious answer, buy low, sell high and you make a profit? It isn’t that straightforward.

Let’s get buying a player out of the way because that’s the easy part. If Bruno Fernandes’ current price is 10.5m, you will purchase him for that price.

Selling is a bit more complex…

So, you purchased Bruno Fernandes, suddenly Manchester United stop receiving penalties (as if that will happen) so his points return dries up, resulting in his price dropping by 0.2m. If you bought him for 10.5m and you now decide to sell him, you will receive 10.3m. That is easy enough, but how are increases handled then…

Alternatively, the referees meet for drinks at Old Trafford, no minutes were taken during the meeting. But mysteriously United now seem to get a penalty or two each game. Since Fernandes is the penalty taker, FPL managers want in on this, his value increases to 11.5m. If you sell him now, do you make a profit of 1m? The short answer is no.

Here is how it is calculated…

Using the Fernandes scenario:

If for whatever reason you decide to sell Fernandes, you will receive the selling price of 11.0m for him, making a tidy profit of 0.5m.

But what if you realised that you made a mistake and that you want to buy him again? You probably know the answer. Assuming no price changes have happened, you will need to fork out 11.5m. Make sure that you have a good reason for selling a player who’s value has increased that much, with very little intention of buying them again.

The house always wins…

Fixture Difficulty Ratings

One of the key measures used when selecting players is the Fixture Difficulty Ratings (FDR). FDR may sound like a regulatory body for food and drugs, this is slightly different. According to the official FPL website, this is their explanation:

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the fixture difficulty ratings that come standard on the FPL website. It will give you a clear enough idea of the upcoming fixtures. However, I think that the ratings aren’t transparent enough. Below are additional tips on how to analyze fixture difficulty.

Attacking Fixtures

When an opposition team has a strong attack but a suspect defence, this is referred to as an attacking fixture. When selecting players for this type of fixture, the preference is to select attacking players rather than defenders.

Defensive Fixtures

On the other side of this, the opposition has a strong defence but doesn’t score too many, this would be classified as a defensive fixture. For these types of fixtures, defenders are preferred.

Easy / Hard Fixtures

These are fixtures where the teams are going through contrasting fortunes. This makes it easier to double or even triple up on players from the form team for that gameweek.

Form vs Fixtures

Sometimes you have to ignore the FDR and go with your intuition regarding specific teams. Sheffield United were a good example of this last season, they were the surprise package of the promoted teams, creating many upsets along the way. The ratings for Spurs fixtures at the start of this season seems like a dream run on paper both for attacking and defensive fixtures, but I’m not convinced that they will match that in real life because of their style of play.

Here is an example of the FDR on the official FPL website:

I circled a few examples of fixtures that will confuse even the most ardent football fans. Brighton’s fixtures against Chelsea, Newcastle and Everton are rated equally. Since the ratings are based on recent form, I’d be reluctant to pay too much attention to some of these, especially if you consider how a team like Chelsea has changed so much recently.

I’m taking an educated guess regarding Liverpool’s fixtures, I would assume that Arsenal would be seen as a good attacking fixture, while Sheffield United is being classified as a defensive fixture.

 I like the fixture ticker on Fixture Ticker (Subscription Required). The tool allows you to view fixture difficulties based on attack or defense.

Assessing Player Value

For a while, most expert FPL managers subscribed to the idea of choosing a 3-4-3 formation, relying heavily on the front three. Over the last few years, goal scoring midfielders like Salah and Mané have been outscoring many strikers, providing more value for money than forward players. This has seen a shift to a 3-5-2 formation being used more often.

Packing your team full of premium players may seem like a fun idea. However, having good support players who keep things ticking over generally determines how well you will score every week. I will discuss a few areas that you could assess when determining if a player is worth having in your squad.

Position Selection guide

This may sound like something out of the Kamasutra, but I can assure you that it’s far more complicated than that and requires just as much flexibility. The positions that players take up on the field and their roles in the team makes some players more attractive selections.

Here are some things to look out for…

Forwards

The conundrum that FPL managers face is deciding whether to spend big on forwards or midfielders. Since strikers are generally classified as forwards, they’re an attractive option because they play closer to goal. However, they also score a point less per goal than midfielders, and don’t get any points for clean sheets.

When selecting forward players, I prefer choosing pure goal scorers rather than target men or players who tend to drop deeper from goal.

Midfielders

This is the area that I reserve my big spending for. As mentioned earlier, recent seasons have seen us spoiled for choice because of midfielders outscoring forwards. The additional point per goal, and the additional point for a clean sheet also makes them great captaincy options. The downside is that these players are the highest priced in the game, so you need to choose them wisely.

The reason why defensive midfielders are so cheap is because they are very unlikely to score or assist, neither are they getting additional points for clean sheets, so stay away from these players.

Defenders

Many FPL managers neglect these selections, filling these spots with cheaper player who are less likely to offer decent points returns, opting to save the money to spend elsewhere. Recent seasons have shown that there is a lot of value to be gained by opting for premium priced defenders.

The preference is to select defenders who are fullbacks because they tend to get further up field, make more crosses into the box and take the occasional shot. However, centre backs who are goal threats from set pieces are a good alternative.

So, what can I use to measure value?

After importing the FPL data from the 2019-20 season into MS Power BI, I created two measures which I think is a good gauge of how valuable a player is.

Minutes per point = Minutes Played / Total Points

  • I’ve seen many uses of Points per Game as an alternative. The reason why I prefer to use the minutes instead is to be able to see how effective a player will be when playing a limited amount of time.

Points per Price = Points / Price

  • This will determine how many points you’re earning for the money spent on the player.

The Analysis

Using the top 20 highest scoring players from last season, with the inclusion of Bruno Fernandes who only arrived mid-season, I was able to complete a value analysis using their base prices for this season. This visual shows that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between money spent and points earned.

These were my findings:

  • At 5.5m, Nick Pope is still a great option if he can replicate the form of last season, ranked the highest for Points per Price. He was priced at 4.5m last season, which made him a set and forget goalkeeper option. The price increase has put people off him this season.
  • FPL managers are generally reluctant to spend big on defenders. However, Trent Alexander-Arnold proved the value of having premium defenders by finishing on 210 points, equal with Jamie Vardy who was the top ranked forward, while also finishing 4th highest among midfielders. All the players who scored higher than Trent cost at least 4m more, with Vardy costing 2.5m more.
  • Special mentions for Andy Robertson and Virgil van Dijk, who scored 5th and 6th highest respectively among forwards, while scoring 6th and 7th among midfielders.
  • Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s numbers are misleading because he was classified as a forward last year. If he was listed as a midfielder, he would have ended the season with a total of around 250, which would have seen him post numbers similar to De Bruyne.

Marcus Rashford is another player reclassified as a midfielder. He would have ended the season with around 195 points when recalculated, creating another selection headache for FPL managers.

  • Anthony Martial has moved the other way, from midfielder to forward. The 200 points he earned would be reduced to around 170 after removing clean sheet points and the additional points for each goal. However, at 9m he is still a good option.
  • Then there’s the anomaly in this sample, Bruno Fernandes. Such was his impact when he arrived at Manchester United, he earned a point for every 10 minutes played, a faster rate than any player with a minimum of 100 points. A levelling off would have happened at some point, but if he somehow kept this rate going, extrapolated over 2790 minutes (which is the amount Kevin de Bruyne played), Bruno would have ended the season on 279 points.

Considering that he was priced at only 8.5m last season, Points per Price would have gone up to 14, ranking alongside Riyad Mahrez, but being virtually guaranteed to start every game.

  • As for Mahrez, he was a player many FPL managers avoided because he wasn’t guaranteed a starting place. However, his impact during limited playing time meant that if you were willing to take a risk, he would have been a great differential.

What next now that Gameweek 1 is done?

Selecting your initial squad is much easier than maintaining it between gameweeks.

This section was not part of my original plan. I wanted to have this completed before the first gameweek started, but circumstances dictated otherwise. The silver lining is that I have some bonus info to share with you regarding Gameweek 1, because I’ve spotted the same behaviour that occurs every season, even though it has only been just one gameweek.

Knee-Jerking

If you had a well thought out plan, your team would contain players that you want for more than just one gameweek. You’re probably one of the many FPL managers who selected Trent Alexander-Arnold (the most selected player in the game), just to watch him get rinsed against Leeds. Maybe you chose Aubameyang as captain over Salah based on statistical evidence, losing 13 points in the process.

Impulsively transferring these players out, only to bring in players who have performed for one week is what amateurs would generally do. No player will score highly every week, there will be major upsets. The data allows you to distinguish between Possibility vs Probability. Don’t allow anomalies to ruin your strategy.

Quitting

You might be new to the game and didn’t realise how technical it can become, or maybe you’re sitting rock bottom of your mini-league and feel that your time could be more well spent. Ultimately this is just a game, so make sure to have fun. You won’t get better by abandoning your team now. This is also highly frustrating for active players when their mini-leagues are filled with teams that aren’t being maintained.

Analysis Paralysis

This is your team, so play to a strategy that fits your personality. If you’re going to constantly doubt yourself after the experts on YouTube give their opinions or take every scout recommendation on the official site too seriously, you will either never make a decision or even worse, make a decision that you’re not comfortable with.

Don’t get lost in the endless supply of information, have a clear strategy and follow that.

Bias

You may be tempted to constantly select the maximum of three players from the club you support even when they’re not doing well. Even worse, you refuse to select players from a rival club who are in good form at the moment. The game has no emotions, it isn’t for you or against you, so play with you head and not your heart.

If you’re reading this, you made it to the end and need to get out more! If there is any topics that you would like to discuss regarding FPL, enter your suggestions in the comments. Enjoy the rest of the season!

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