Thursday, 14 August 2014

Fantasy Premier League: An alternate approach

After making sure that we've got the basics right, one needs to take FPL gameplay to the next level and win some leagues. Several FPL players already spend a good amount of time each week scouring the internet for news, following managers' every word, scanning fixture lists and looking at the wealth of player statistics that is now available to make good choices for the team. There are some good resources to track price changes/bonus points.

I want to try a more direct approach. From start to finish, there were 691 players listed at any given time in FPL last season (this includes players who left after the season started, like Gareth Bale). Inspired by Bill's post on mining and analysing FPL data, I went ahead and got the players' numbers in formats that I found comfortable, and did some basic crunching. I won't bore you with programming details, but I will share some fascinating results.

Strong and weak teams

We all have a general idea about strong and weak teams from following the game, but let's look at things from the points perspective. I use two approaches to finding out where the points are going to come from - points scored and points allowed.

First up is points allowed. Finding the FPL points a team allows each player of the opposition over 90 minutes on average and sorting them in descending order gives something that looks like:

Average fantasy points allowed per player per 90 minutes

You will note that this bears an eerie resemblance to the Premier League table (in reverse) of last season. This drives home the points that the opposition and how generous they are is important - Cardiff are almost twice as generous as Manchester City on average.

Of course, the average isn't everything. Teams perform differently home and away, and some teams' home and away performances aren't that far from their average (Aston Villa, Manchester United).

Fantasy points allowed per player per 90 mins - Home, Away and Average

Of course, there is also the points scored by teams over 90 minutes per player:

Average fantasy points scored per player per 90 minutes

Average fantasy points scored per player per 90 minutes - Home, Away and Average

It's debatable whether micromanaging in this way is good, as going into too much depth runs the risk of overfitting. It is probably best to ignore exceptions and consider the average along with a home/away factor as the curves run more or less along the same paths. Fitting a linear model to the numbers yields the following relations with R-squared values over 89 and randomly scattered residual plots (Meaning the relations are more or less reliable):

score_home = 1.11293*score_avg - 0.09057
score_away = 0.88620*score_avg + 0.09291

allow_home = 0.9961*allow_avg - 0.3220
allow_away = 1.0037*allow_avg + 0.3226

I feel it best to stick to the average and twist it as per home/away game rather than use separate home/away numbers to determine the teams to pick the points from. The fixtures that FPL players should focus on is a combination of both scoring and allowing. The ideal team to select players from is one that scores well and is facing a leaky opponent.

Keep in mind, however, that 'leakiness' in this context is determined much more by the opposition's lack of ability to score than how many they concede. Goal points only go to the scorer and, if applicable, the assister. A clean sheet adds 4 points to all the defenders and keepers, as well as an extra point for the midfielders. So merely failing to score dishes out a bigger total to the opposition than conceding 3.

And that makes the metric... not too helpful. To make some really good choices, we need to know the friendliness of opposition towards particular player positions, as well as the share of a team's points scored by position. More on this in the next post.

(It is essential to play the season with recent data, so the numbers need to be progressively monitored as the season goes on without completely ignoring how the players did last season. Also, the 2013-14 data can't be accessed through the FPL API anymore following their update, so if you want the numbers and want to experiment, help yourself. If you want data organized differently, drop me a line and I'll see what I can do.)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Chelsea Then And Now - A Numbers Comparison

Our 0-1 midweek victory against City, with all the joy it brought, was nothing short of a shock. To pretty much everyone. Far from parking the bus, Chelsea ran City over with it. The scoreline ended up flattering the home side a bit as a combination of the woodwork and Ramires denied Chelsea a bigger margin. This was without a doubt one of Mourinho’s finest moments as a Chelsea manager (and there have been some fine ones), seemingly highlighting how much we have improved since last season. But what do the numbers say about that?

Total goals scored by matchday

That red line's in no hurry to go anywhere, is it? It trails the blue line for the most part, and the small phase where it is ahead coincides with our wild games against Stoke and Sunderland. A clash with least season's 8-0 win against Aston Villa brings it back to earth, and it is set to stay there. With our attack last season driven by a record-motivated Lampard and the devastating Juan Mata, we scored 75 league goals, our second-highest total in the Roman era. We shouldn't have been expecting us to outdo our scoring of last season, as we are presently a great team in many other ways.

Total goals conceded by matchday

Defence is where the difference begins to really kick in. The goals conceded totals go neck and neck till around the halfway point of the season, where the red line resolutely falls flat and blue one takes off. 6 clean sheets in the last 8 Premier League matches (and it is certainly no shame letting in one each against Liverpool and Manchester United) tells quite a story. As of this moment, Javier Hernandez is the only player to have scored against us in 2014.

The red line’s ground-hugging begins right after our game against Stoke, which was the last game in which Juan Mata played 90 minutes for Chelsea. The red line lies low but spikes up around the time Mata got a run of starts. It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Mourinho’s decision to permanently cull the Spaniard in favour of complete pressing is what has caused a nosedive in our conceding rate and treated fans to premium results (Faced Arsenal, Liverpool, United and City since. Scored 6, conceded 2, 10 out of 12 points won) in the period that followed. In the 9 games where Mata didn’t play a single minute this season, Chelsea conceded just 3 (perfectly forgivable, given that they were scored by City, Liverpool and Man United. We won all the 3 games anyway) and picked up 23 out of 27 points with draws at the Emirates and Old Trafford the only blots on a perfect record. While the Spaniard was a devastating attack force last season, we seem to do better defensively without him around.

Total points won by matchday

The effect of improved defending on our league performance is telling. We are 7 points better off than we were at this stage last season, although it’s clear that we’ve had to wait a while before feeling good about this season while the previous edition wasted no time getting us heady (but eventually brought us down). Table positions are decided by points first and foremost, so the decline in scoring rate compared to last season is nothing to worry about. The City juggernaut has 24 more goals than us in the league, an entire goal a game better, but aren’t exactly light years ahead. We have 53 points from 24 matches now, which is very close to our position at this stage in the 2009-10 season, the last time we won the league. We had 55 points after 24 rounds as league leaders at the time. Coincidentally, the current league leaders Arsenal have 55 points from 24 matches.

There are other interesting numbers. Of the 44 goals we’ve scored in the league this season, 25% (11) have come from our strikers, 59.1% (26) from midfielders and 11.36% (5) from defenders. Last season, the distribution was alarming - Strikers 14.67% (11), Midfielders 62.67% (47), Defenders 18.67% (14) out of 75 league goals. Forget being the driving force of the attack, our strikers had a higher goal total than our defenders for only 2 weeks (28 and 29) in the entire league season last time. We also didn’t have quality midfield depth last season, so this serves to highlight the previously mentioned dependence on Mata and Lampard for goals last season.

The contribution from up front has increased tellingly this season, thanks in no small part to the addition of Samuel Eto’o. Torres has been bereft of confidence for most of his Chelsea career, and the pressure of carrying Chelsea for most of last season - after Sturridge was bizarrely marginalized - might have been too much. Eto’o has brought in experience, a good big-game instinct and uncanny ability to nick the ball off the keeper. The odd hat trick against defending champions is always handy. Our strikers managed 11 league goals in all last season, a total equalled already this season against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

Both in terms of goalscoring and defending, it has been much more of a team effort this season, which is the result Mourinho always aims to achieve with his teams. With better depth, more balance and a more aggressive off-the-ball approach, Chelsea have become a points machine and expect to win every game. It seems like the Portuguese can do no wrong. Just like the old days.

Anfield will host Chelsea’s only away game against teams in the current top four, with a trip to Villa Park the only other away match against a current top half team. With Arsenal about to run into a tough set of fixtures and Manchester City having completed all their home games against the top 7, the season is entering a very interesting phase for Chelsea, whose fans have good reason to be optimistic despite Jose’s best efforts to downplay Chelsea’s title credentials.

I for one agree with Jose. Despite improvement, we lack the firepower up front to compete all the way. However, the eggs have hatched and Jose has done a great job rearing wonderful little horses (Eggs and horses are his analogies, not mine. I am aware of the biology). Let’s hope that the ponies are fed well to outrun everyone next season.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Juan Mata

That Chelsea are finally well in the title race, have snared Matic to finally resolve the midfield issue, are very close to signing Salah and have Jose Mourinho in charge of an amazing squad with great prospects will come – incredibly - as scant consolation for what has emerged over the last few days.

"Off I go"

There are Blues who rationalise what is happening. The player hasn’t kicked a ball in a blue shirt since Mourinho made his “Door is always open” comments. He is clearly struggling to adapt to a system that requires pace and a lot of off-the-ball work. Mourinho has reiterated that this is the way Chelsea will go – maximizing the skills as well as energy of every player to get results – and that the player has to adapt. Playing a World Cup in Brazil is an experience no footballer of his quality should be forced to pass up.

But then you look back, just for a moment, and all of that reasoning goes out the window. Every Chelsea memory since Carlo Ancelotti has Juan Mata’s stamp all over it.

Juan Mata poses with the FA Cup trophy

Juan Mata with the Champions League trophy

Juan Mata poses with the Europa League trophy

Scoring on almost all his competition debuts, the Man of The Match performances at Wembley under di Matteo, both European trophies, “Mazacar”, the goals, the assists, the passes, the consistent big game performances - all of it. Punching the Allianz Arena pitch in joyous tears - that was supposed to be the defining image of a Chelsea legend, a player we would love for years to come.

Juan carried the club to successive Champions League qualifications under difficult circumstances as new signings adapted to the league and tried to fit into the Chelsea system. We had long phases when we couldn’t buy a win but as long as there was Mata, there was hope.

Juan Mata celebrates scoring the equalizer at White Hart Lane. Chelsea won 4-2

Juan Mata celebrates scoring the only goal at Old Trafford in a crucial game as Chelsea went on to secure Champions League football

Hazard and Oscar have since improved massively and slotted right into the new Chelsea. They would then go on to return the favour and Mata would get a season to adapt as we embarked on years of success together. At least that’s how we hoped it would work out. No way the last image of Mata as a Chelsea player would be that strop at St. Mary’s, no way…

Mata has been a player-messiah during two of the club’s most testing seasons in the Roman era, the bridge that kept us from falling into the river as we crossed from one period of consistency to the next. It’s not easy to shake off the feeling that after using the bridge to get to where we are, we have cut the ropes and set it on fire.

Our squad is overloaded with talent. With all the favours, tie-ups and the army of loanees, we're probably starting a footballing dynasty that could last for a long, long time. Jose Mourinho knows the club better than anyone and knows football better than any of us, so this is not likely to be a foolish decision. How things might have worked out with Mata at Chelsea will forever remain a figment of imagination.

Hope you have a good time (except two dire games a season) and thank you for the memories.

Juan Mata was "happy to go" to Man United the moment he was told of the offer, Mourinho said. Now it's not like Lampard, Drogba, Terry, Torres, Joe Cole (most relevant example) - and also Ashley Cole, Schurrle and Luiz right now, and surely Cech next season - had no tough times at the club, long phases when they were not playing, especially in international tournament years. They stayed. They fought. Mata was more than happy to run to a Premier League rival. Not that he should be hated, oh no. Give him respect for his contributions, but nothing more. He's not a kidnapped child. He's an ex.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

7 signs of a "true football fan"

It doesn't come down to how late you stay up, how many games you've attended or how much merchandise you own anymore. The True-Football-Fans Illuminati have created new rules for "the club". This post attempts to lay them bare so that you are prepared to strut around the football webspace without embarrassing yourself.

Here you go - 7 signs to check if you are a "true football fan".

You casually throw around terms like "Trequartista", "Catenaccio" and "Regista", and can speak for hours about them.

Pondering about trequartistas...

You follow at least one mainland European league (Bonus points for Hellas Verona fans).

Classy Italian man tells a Premier League fan what he thinks of him

You have read at least one of "Inverting the Pyramid", "The Numbers Game" or "Soccernomics", plus a football autobiography or ten.

Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography - true literature
"Harry Potter"? Pffft.

You feel at least one top team/manager is "over-rated" (you use that word a lot by the way) and have an "under-rated" (this too) name ready to counter.

Everyone is over-rated. And under-rated. Sometimes at once.

You treasure the nuances of each formation, sometimes a bit too much.

4-4-2 IS different from 4-4-1-1. Trequartista, pay attention!

You prefer stories of tactical victories over showy individual heroism.

Hurray tactics, boo Roy of the Rovers

Last but not least, you detest Troll Football.

Troll Football, that disease