Part 1: The Top Five
As we wait through another, seemingly interminable, international break we are presented with our first opportunity to really catch our collective breath and start to figure out how the season is unfolding. We’re nearly 20% of the way through the Premier League season which is enough time for some trends to emerge and for us to start moving beyond the “small sample size” argument when confronted with things that we didn’t expect. After three weeks of Aaron Ramsey and Daniel Sturridge sitting atop the fantasy scoring charts we could easily shrug it off as a hot streak. After seven weeks of the same, it’s much harder to do so.
This examination of where things stand is even more important this season because of the subtle adjustments in the scoring system that Yahoo implemented over the summer. Those changes have seen a different mix of players – mostly those playing centrally in midfield and defense – achieving fantasy heights they wouldn’t have dreamed of previously while others – specifically wingers and full backs – have seen their fortunes wane. The trend isn’t an exact one but it – along with new managers and styles at Manchester United, Chelsea, and Manchester City – points out a need to examine what has happened so far this season and what it means for selecting your fantasy team.
In our first installment of The Fantasy Table, we’ll look at teams in aggregate to determine how they are performing as fantasy producers and how tightly a predictable group of players produce these points and how they’re distributed among Fantasy Stars (defined as having scored 60 or more points thus far this season), Above Average Fantasy Players (defined as having scored 40 or more points), and Meaningful Contributors (20 or more points). The first thing that will likely strike everyone reading this is that after seven matches neither Manchester United nor Chelsea are in the top five fantasy producing teams. Manchester United's struggles in real life probably make it less than shocking that they are not in the top group but Chelsea's exclusion was very much a surprise to me as I was running the numbers. Here's what else we found about the Fantasy Top Five after seven weeks:
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Position: First (633 points as a team)
Stars: 3 (Daniel Sturridge, Simon Mignolet, Steven Gerrard) + 1 (Luis Suarez who would be there but for his suspension)
Above Average: 1 (Jose Enrique) + 2 ( Glen Johnson and Phillipe Coutinho but for their injuries)
Meaningful Contributors: 6
What It Means
Liverpool are scoring fantasy points at a breakneck pace which is good if you’re a fantasy manager or a Liverpool supporter and even better if you’re both. Even better for fantasy managers is the fact that an incredibly high percentage of Liverpool’s fantasy points come from Daniel Sturridge, Simon Mignolet, Steven Gerrard, Luis Suzrez, Jose Enrique, Philippe Coutinho, and Glen Johnson. This group has fully 2/3rds of Liverpool’s fantasy points for the season and the number would likely be higher if Johnson and Coutinho hadn’t missed significant chunks of the early season and Suarez hadn’t been injured. On the average week, Sturridge, Suarez, Gerrard and Mignolet are all very strong starting options and when Liverpool have a very favorable match-up, adding Johnson, Coutinho and Enrique will make sense as well. The real lesson here is that, in general, the rest of the supporting cast like Jordan Henderson, Lucas, and the array of center backs have very little value.
Position: Second (597 points)
Stars: 4 (Boruc, Lovern, Fonte, Lallana)
Above Average: 3 (Lambert, Shaw, and Clyne)
Meaningful Contributors: 4
What It Means
The first comment here is that the shocking fantasy success of this Southampton team thus far this season is due in no small part to the Yahoo scoring changes and some great summer transfer work shoring up the defense. A quick look at the defending group shows 3 of the 4 players rated as “Stars” thus far and 5 of the 7 rated Above Average or better coming from that group. The other great thing about this Southampton group so far is that all of the Meaningful Contributors play regularly with all having featured in no fewer than 5 of the Saints 7 matches and their top 5 having appeared in all seven matches. When it comes to churning out good but not great fantasy results, this core group of Southampton players and especially the defensive group makes for a solid play week in and week out.
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Position: Third (596 points)
Stars: 2 (Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero)
Above Average: 6 (Zabaleta, Kolarov, Negredo, Dzeko, Nasri, and Hart) + 1 (David Silva on pace but for his injuries)
Meaningful Contributors: 3
What It Means
Unlike their high-scoring brethren that see a high percentage of points coming from a consistent group of players, Manchester City’s wealth of talent (and injuries) has conspired to spread the points around among a high number of Above Average contributors but only two real Stars and Aguero just barely scrapes by as a Star with 65 points despite only having missed out on one match entirely. The headline here is that City are more likely than most to score fantasy points and the majority of those points are likely to come from attackers but each week will represent a struggle to figure out where the points will come from. Intuitively we have all observed this but seeing the breakdown by the numbers just pounds the point home. The only potential ray of hope for fantasy managers is that once City have a healthy core group – specifically Aguero, Negredo, David Silva, and Gael Clichy all being healthy and match fit we will see if a line-up emerges that we can count on most weeks. If the splitting of minutes and points continues between Kolarov/Clichy (likely), Silva/Nasri (less likely), and Aguero/Dzeko/Negredo (who the hell knows) then City’s fantasy proficiency will continue to be less than useful for fantasy managers unwilling to play rotation-roulette.
Position: Fourth (567 points)
Stars: 2 (Ramsey and Giroud) + 2 (Ozil and Walcott but for late arrival and injury respectively)
Above Average: 2 (Mertesacker and Szczesny)
Meaningful Contributors: 7 + 1 (Cazorla but for his injury issues)
What It Means
Like Liverpool, Arsenal have been very good to fantasy managers not only because they have produced a lot of points overall as a team but because those points have come from a small number of players. Fantasy managers dedicating roster space to Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud for the entire season and the tag team of Theo Walcott (first four matches) and Mesut Ozil (most recent four) with one week of overlap between the two will have done a great job of getting the points out of the Arsenal line-up. The big question here is whether this is likely to continue. With Santi Cazorla returning soon and Theo Walcott not too far behind that the question of regular minutes for everyone will become a potential issue. It seems unlikely that Giroud will be impacted much as there is really little competition for his spot and the quality of service should stay high regardless of which of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Rosicky, Wilshere, and Walcott are playing between Mathieu Flamini and Giroud. The big questions will be the fantasy fate of Ramsey and Ozil. It hardly seems likely that either will lose their place in the preferred eleven but with a greater depth of talent they might see less of the ball when on the pitch and might be substituted out earlier in matches they do start.
The one other note worth mentioning is the separation between Per Mertesacker and the rest of the Arsenal defense, almost all of whom have played a similar number of matches and have similar statistics for core defending statistics (i.e., passes intercepted, tackles made, clean sheets). The difference for Mertesacker has been his offense. He has a goal (which was also a match-winner) and three shots on target. You could just attribute the uptick in performance to the vagaries of when central defenders get attacking points but it would be just as reasonable to speculate that Mertesacker is on the same page as his Germany colleague Mesut Ozil who has improved the quality of Arsenal’s set pieces and looks for the tall central defender in whom he has confidence.
Position: Fifth (561 points)
Stars: 1 (Baines) + 1 (Lukaku but for his late arrival)
Above Average: 6
Meaningful Contributors: 3 + 1 (McCarthy but for his late arrival)
What It Means
Everton are, for all intents and purposes, a two person fantasy team supported by a lot of solid-but-not-spectacular complimentary parts. Leighton Baines sits with the surprising Ben Davies a cut above all other defenders after seven weeks. Romelu Lukaku – shockingly cast aside at Chelsea despite an excellent league record so far – would likely join Baines at or near the top of his position had he been with the Toffees the entire season. After those two, there are some interesting players like Ross Barkley (who is interesting as much for his price and potential as his production thus far which has been solid but not spectacular) and Kevin Mirallas (who has some amazing patches when healthy but is a risk to turn up crocked at any time. With the departure of Marouane Fellaini the midfield contains a number of players who might be interesting if Everton have a favorable match-up but just aren’t week-in, week-out point producers.
In Part II we'll examine the second group of five teams in terms of fantasy production and any interesting notes we can come up with from the bottom half of the fantasy table.