Stag’s Take - Gameweek 17
Three gameweeks in ten days hit my FPL team like a triple combination from a heavyweight boxer as Chelsea slumped, Manchester United surged, Steve Bruce’s Toon continued to defy gravity, and rock-bottom Watford overtook Liverpool in terms of clean sheets.
The flaw in my side is quite clear with the help of Captain Hindsight; I have spread myself too thin. My last column focused on the form table, and highlighted the contrasting fortunes of five sides versus the rest of the PL. Liverpool and Leicester were, of course, flying - there remains no sign of altitude sickness afflicting either team. A resurgent Wolves and Jonjo Shelvey inspired Newcastle had leapt up the PL table by scoring few and fewer goals respectively - that remains the case. City and Chelsea had had “blips” at that point which have since been revised to “dips”. There were two emergent FPL forces: Crystal Palace’s defence, which locked out all their opponents in the fixture triplet and Marcus Rashford, who notched up three goals and an assist in the period.
What we didn’t see was standard Top Six dominance with big scores being racked up in imbalanced fixtures through the period. Liverpool and Leicester did that, and to a lesser extent Spurs too, but otherwise FPL players who had talismen (h/t to the Who Got The Assist podcast for the concept) like Raúl Jiménez/Diogo Jota, Rashford, Danny Ings or Palace’s Martin Kelly prospered.
Adjusting FPL points scored by team by excluding appearance points illustrates the picture clearly. Liverpool, Spurs, and Leicester all racked up 100 or more points from goals, assists, and clean sheets. Newcastle and Crystal Palace were the only other sides to exceed 90 in the last three games.
At the moment, it is concentration of your budget in form teams and specific talismen enjoying purple patches, NOT covering all your bases across the top teams, which will yield success.
The form teams
To start: What differentiates form teams from teams with form players? For me, a form team is one which is both performing well (in strict terms of results) and one which is not overly reliant on one particular scorer.
A form team is Leicester City: Over the past six gameweeks, five Leicester players have been in the top 20 FPL points scorers when adjusting for appearances. Ricardo, Evans, Soyuncu, Maddison, and obviously Jamie Vardy. The healthy spread of scoring through the team, even if Vardy’s fantastic scoring means he forms an unhealthily large proportion of their scoring overall, to me shows that Leicester are (clearly) worth a triple up.
Reducing the sample size a bit, we see that Palace are well represented by four players in the top 20 scorers over the past few weeks. However, all of these players are defenders or the goalkeeper - Wifried Zaha and other attackers are absent. This is a defence, not a team that has done well, but the underlying stats suggest that they are over-performing dramatically at the moment.
Over the last three games, where they kept three clean sheets, they had only the 11th best xGC in the league and in terms of shot stats, they are equally mid-table table. At the other end of the pitch, only Newcastle (11) had less shots in the box than them (13) in the three gameweek period. Even with good fixtures right through the festive period, it seems a second Eagle player in your team - attack or defence - would be too many.
Spurs’ FPL points scoring is the complete opposite of Palace’s. Aside from a sprinkle of attacking returns and a solitary clean sheet against (the completely out of form) Burnley, all of Spur’s points have come from their success at the other end. Both Son and Dele Alli are in the top five FPL scorers for the last five gameweeks and Harry Kane also features in the Top 20.
At this point, it seems safe to say that Alli has shown that he is the heir to the goalscoring Number 10 role once carried out with aplomb by Frank Lampard under the Portuguese manager. After a (kind of) fortunate start to the Jose-era where he picked up FPL returns in spite of a relative lack of involvement in the last two steps of scoring a goal, Dele is now shooting and creating chances at will. Over the past three games, he has shown enough to be safely categorised as the Spurs player to own. However, Son’s creation stats are particularly strong and his goal-scoring opportunities are reduced yet not to a disheartening extent, lending me to believe that a double-up is the best course of action through the festive period.
Over the past three gameweeks, no player has had more shots on target than Dele (6); he is fourth in terms of xG. Only Raúl Jiménez (5) created more big chances than Son (4)
Contrary to known wisdom, Liverpool meet the definition of a team relying on a talisman more than Leicester when you consider just the last five gameweeks. Mo Salah (20th) is the only Liverpool player in the Top 20 for adjusted FPL points in the last five gameweeks.
Their defensive woes are damaging their FPL prospects hugely, yet many of us hold on because the underlying statistics scream that only Leicester’s defence is on par with Klopp’s rearguard this term. Salah’s awakening in GW16, his first double figure haul since GW3, was a reminder of what will eventually come when he hits form again though. Being in the garage as the engine is placed in the Salah bandwagon will be the next big chance to rage against the template and soar up the rankings - it’s just a matter of timing. The GW18 Club World Cup blank is putting many off Salah ahead of Watford this coming weekend.. Is it a risk worth taking? Only Diogo Jota (6) had more shots in the box than Salah (5) in Gameweek 16.
Both Salah and Joat underlined their GW16 successes with midweek goals too, though Salah was guilty of serious profligacy before finally scoring a memorable strike whilst Jota showed an uncharacteristic clinical edge in scoring a hat-trick off the bench against Besiktas. That Europa League performance pushes him above Jiménez in the Wolves FPL pecking order in my mind. His stats were always there, but never the Midas touch in front of goal; suddenly the tide has turned and it looks like a winter edition of the second half of last season has been released.
Other noteworthy details
Manchester United have suddenly began the mythical run Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been seeking for so long. Wins over big teams have not been rare in the Ole era - in fact United are top of the intra-Top Six table (so long as you replace Arsenal with Leicester) this season - picking up more points against them than in their other 11 fixtures combined. However, the overall picture at United has improved also. They are creating much more chances, hitting 45 shots in the box over the last five gameweeks compared to just 32 in the 5 before that. Anthony Martial was present for four of those five games and his presence usually helps United’s overall chance creation, yet it is Daniel James who is United’s most creative player (9CC in last 5).
Marcus Rashford had 8 of United 45 shots in the box in the last five though. Second to him is fellow England international Harry Maguire (6). That is a worrying underlying trend. Even more worrying is how reliant on Rashford United have been in terms of FPL points. Rash scored 21 of United’s 35 FPL points in the last five gameweeks, in spite of having 17% of their shots in the box. It’s Rashford or nothing from United.
Danny Ings keeps scoring goals but his injury record still terrifies me to the point that I struggle to give him the recognition he deserves. Only Jame Vardy and Marcus Rashford have scored more FPL points than Ings over the last ten gameweeks, a period in which Southampton’s form has been variable. It shows his reliability as an FPL points scorer even when his side is struggling - the hallmark of a great pick. The Saints face three of the Top Six in the next six, but Ings will be fancied to do well against West Ham in GW17 first.
Danny Ings (West Ham H)
No side has conceded more big chances than West Ham in the last five gameweeks.
Ings has scored in five consecutive PL games.
Jamie Vardy (Norwich H)
Vardy is leading the Golden Boot with 16 goals, having scoring 11 in the last 8 PL games the Foxes played. Furthermore, his 28 goals in the calendar year is only bettered by some guy in Spain called Lionel Messi (33).
Norwich’s defence, to their credit, has shored up considerably since their injury crisis abated and Farke tactically tweaked… but you can’t help but feel that nothing will stop Vardy again this weekend.
Sadio Mané (Watford H)
After a rest last weekend, Mané is well placed to continue his sublime season against the worst team in the league. Only Gabriel Jesus achieved a higher xG than than the Senegal international over the last five gameweeks.
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.