Sunday, 30 August 2015

Why are Chelsea sucking so bad?

I love bragging to my roommate about how the Premier League provides the most compelling drama every season. I guess I'll shut up about that for now.


Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois frustrated by Crystal Palace result
"I'm gonna pretend this is Ivanovic's head here"

On Saturday, Crystal Palace became only the second team to beat Mourinho's Chelsea in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.

The ensuing bedlam of unsolicited advice from the fans was predictable - Drop Fabregas. Sign Pogba. We should've kept Schurrle. Azpi at right back, Baba left. Remy needs more game time. We need to switch to a 4-3-3. Can't blame them either - This is our worst start to a season since 1995.

It's safe to say we're in a bit of a mini-crisis.

The Palace match was painful to watch. Each time the Eagles came forward, they would nonchalantly lay the ball off to Chelsea's right, knowing something would happen - An utterly predictable attack pattern that Jose strangely doesn't seem to want to fix. Ivanovic's reflex action towards any hint of a cross doesn't help.

Ivanovic's defensive stance (With all respect to the men in the photo)
Spot the Chelsea right back (Photo: The Telegraph)

Through the course of last season, Mourinho identified a first XI that was more or less insulated from any danger of rotation. They delivered almost all the time, and we won the league and the league cup. Clearly, that isn't working anymore, for a few reasons.

One, teams across the league are much stronger than they were last term. You got the sense that something wasn't quite right after the game at White Hart Lane last season, after which Chelsea fell out meekly from the Champions League and resorted to grinding out results throughout the run-in. Now those wins are turning into draws, and the draws into losses, not least because every opponent has strengthened while Chelsea have not.

Second, the leaders in the team are having a stinker. In previous years, when the team hit a rut, one could rely on Didier Drogba or Frank Lampard to take on the situation and turn it around. This time, the underperforming players are Fabregas, Hazard, Ivanovic, Matic, Terry - the precise people the squad relies on for direction and leadership. The odd off-day for a player would usually be papered over by a match-winning performance from someone else, but that just isn't happening so far.

Chelsea's leaders of yesteryear
"It's been a long day, without you my friend..." (Photo: zimbio.com)

All's not lost, however. When it seems at the start of a season like an entire champion squad has been replaced with a bunch of inferior clones, it's both good and bad. Bad, because results are going to suck for a while. Good, because there's enough time to rescue the originals from their dungeons and have them terrorise teams again. In a sense, the international break could not be more welcome. Sure, we still need to strengthen the squad to match up to the pace of growth elsewhere, but nothing too radical. Two more days to go, chop chop.

Also, all managers are figured out by their rivals at one point. What separates the great ones is their ability to evolve and adapt, ensuring it's only a matter of time before they are on top again. Mourinho has a bit of a reputation for his 'third season', which he must now change. This is his latest test - to evolve along with the team, and embark on the next phase of success.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Fantasy Premier League 2015/16 - Gameweek 2

So that was a fun initial week. Goals, snoozefests, upsets and touchline tantrums - the whole package. How did the experimental team do in FPL though?

Gameweek 1 points for the experimental FPL team

A 'grand' total of 30 points. As you can see, the results were... Not great, largely because:

  • I picked a Villa defender who didn't play (the team kept a clean sheet though)
  • I picked Ivanovic (1) instead of Azpilicueta (6)
  • I benched Gomis, who scored
In short - right ideas, wrong lineup. I lost around 16 points to human error after the machine brought me this far. It's only a natural next step to somehow have the machine tell exactly which player to pick as well.

Enough excuses though - the initial signs aren't exactly discouraging. As we move the 4-game window forward by a gameweek to make selections for Gameweek 2, we get an optimal pool of payoffs that looks a bit like this:

Fantasy Premier League payoffs - Gameweek 2

As you can see, both the goalkeeper suggestions changed from last week! This shows that Butland was probably a good idea only for the first game (and was heartbreakingly thwarted by a great late effort by Coutinho). I can't effect these many changes on one team - another lesson for the future.

As for the transfer I can and did make, I got rid of Hutton and got in Cresswell. The fixtures look good for the left back in theory as well.

The Blogger's Teams

The experimental soldiers I am going in with for this week looks a bit like this:

Fantasy Premier League experimental team - Gameweek 2

From the fixtures, it seems like they should have a far better time of it than they did last week. Heck, they may even outdo my primary FPL team, which is:

The Blogger's Fantasy Premier League team - Gameweek 2

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The road to FPL 2015-16 (part 3)

This post is the third in a 3 part series leading up to kick-off in the EPL and, of course, the FPL season. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

This post looks at the over the next few matchdays to decide a good squad to start the FPL season.

As we saw in part 1, the points output depends on:
  • Team
  • Opposition
  • Venue
  • Position
The approach to deciding a team is really simple once all the numbers are in place. We have:
  • Points scored by position-team-venue
  • Points allowed by position-team-venue
Let's consider the expected payoff from each fixture as the average between the two. For example, say Chelsea are at home to Swansea. Chelsea midfielders score 4 points per game at home, while Swansea allow midfielders 5 points per game away, yielding a payoff of 4.5 for Chelsea midfielders from this fixture.

All that's needed now is to calculate payoffs for each fixture, and pick from the highest payoffs. The actual numbers are not that important, but I'll mention them anyway.

Choosing the opening 4 weeks as a window, we get a squad with a payoff pool that looks a bit like this (cumulative payoffs over 4 weeks in brackets):


Fantasy Premier League payoffs

Which is a LOT unlike the squad mix most of us would pick. It pays testimony to two things - Southampton's easy opening fixtures, and Chelsea's propensity to score points regardless of fixture. The rest of it... Let's call it weird, but not discard it entirely.

Codifying intelligence

Besides, there is a lot of FPL know-how that remains un-automated at this point. The next steps now are to make judgements based on:
  • Set-piece takers: Set piece takers tend to be rather valuable for the chances they create from dead ball situations
  • Keeper pairings: Picking rotating keepers is an important part of the FPL strategy to generate points on a budget
  • Out of position: Players listed a position behind the pitch compared to where they play, like Bale in 2009-10.

The Blogger's Teams

To experiment with the payoffs, I have a slightly crazy team set up:

Fantasy Premier League experimental team

And this is the team I'm using in my primary account, FYI

Fantasy Premier League blogger team

The road to FPL 2015-16 (Part 2)

This post is the second in a 3 part series leading up to kick-off in the EPL and, of course, the FPL season. You can read part 1 here.

A light post on some interesting and possibly useful trivia from last season's FPL data this time before we embark on the final steps towards making a team tomorrow morning.

Quality

Players with the highest EA Sports PPI


Top performers - EA Sports PPI

Now this is obviously no sure indicator of output in terms of fantasy points, as it's more of an index calculated based on a number of attributes. The Premier League obviously loves to sing its praises, and the rankings do look interesting - Charlie Austin above Fabregas and Costa, for one?


Efficiency

Players with the best points per 90 mins played

FPL - Points per match

Now this is a more business-like metric. Note that not all these players played week in, week out. But when they did step on the pitch, they delivered. If you're sure of these guys playing, you should probably think about getting them in.


Saviours

FPL - Saves per match

The usefulness of these rankings depend on what you are looking for in a keeper. None of the keepers in the running for last season's Golden Glove feature here, so if you want clean sheets, this list isn't very useful. However, if you wanted to know which budget keepers to get in for save points, it is worth looking at. And hey, you might win a pub quiz or two.

Value

Players with the best points per 90 mins per price unit

FPL - Points per match per price unit

A list of players who managed to "return their price" in every game, and then some. We're always on the lookout for a steal, and these are the budget-priced stars from last season. The likes of Harry Kane (9.5) and Hector Bellerin (5.5) are more dearly priced this term, but the likes of Marc Albrighton (5.0), Nacer Chadli (7.0) and James Milner (7.0) might still be a worth a look based on these numbers.

Want to know anything else? Feel free to leave a comment.

*All lists created using players who played at least 900 mins through the season.