Saturday, 14 October 2017

International football: The maligned sibling

The "club vs country" debate rages on, and nobody sides with "club" more strongly than England fans disconnected from their national team and millions of Fantasy Premier League managers who played their hands early in the international break. Predictably, the period ended with a long list of crocks including big names like Mustafi and Kante, leaving a large number of folks less than pleased.

Lukas Podolski, German forward
Podolski recovering from a nightmare that he and Klose only played club football

However, the format is unique and compelling in its own way, providing the opportunity for fans of a country to unite and watch players motivated for a different cause. This is a playing field disconnected from the riches and royalty of top-level European football which brings forth a very different meaning and emotion. You cannot just buy players into a national team, and you cannot just "go again next year". You have to make it count with the players you have, and when an opportunity comes once in 4 years, every game matters.

Here are four of the most incredible moments from FIFA World Cup qualifiers played over the past couple of weeks.

Iceland became the least-populated nation to ever make the World Cup


Panama qualify for their first ever World Cup


Argentina jump 3 places with a final day away win to qualify



Egypt reach their first World Cup in nearly 3 decades


Try telling these people that international football should take a back seat!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Fantasy Premier League 2017/18 - Gameweek 2

That was quite the opening weekend, eh? 13 goals were scored in the two games preceding the standard Saturday 3 PM kickoff, and the fun didn't end there as Burnley pulled off the biggest upset in recent memory by storming the home of the champions to get their first PL victory against Chelsea. Huddersfield had a day to remember as they ran away 0-3 winners from Selhurst Park in their first Premier League match before Tottenham and the clubs from Manchester restored a look of normalcy to the results.

Sergio Aguero, Manchester City striker
Man City got off to a Kuntastic start

The fixtures

Swansea vs Man Utd
Bournemouth vs Watford
Burnley vs West Brom
Leicester vs Brighton
Liverpool vs Crystal Palace
Southampton vs West Ham
Stoke vs Arsenal
Huddersfield vs Newcastle
Spurs vs Chelsea
Man City vs Everton

Player selections

Forwards

Lukaku (11.5) - FPL favourite Lukaku added a brace against West Ham to his tally of x goals from the last y seasons. There is a very high likelihood of him adding to it in the coming matches against sides that struggled for form last season.

Lacazette (10.5) - The Frenchman's early Gameweek 1 strike made it 29 goals from 31 league appearances since the start of last season, and he should add to it against a Stoke side that shipped 7 goals over two games against the Gunners last season.

Roberto Firmino, Liverpool forward
The Mino that Man Utd don't love

Firmino (8.5) - The Brazilian frontman is the cheapest route to a Liverpool attack that should deliver regardless of the opposition. He followed up a 5.3 PPG showing from 2016/17 with a 13 point haul at Vicarage Road.

Midfielders

Eriksen/Alli (9.5) - The duo carried their form into this term as they did the damage from midfield for last season's top scorers on opening day. Next, they face a Chelsea side that fell victim to their antics early this year, and are on the ropes with poor form and a raft of injuries and suspensions.

Ritchie (6.0) - The Magpies got off to an unflattering start against last season's runners-up, but should see their output brighten in the upcoming fixtures which see them with the kindest schedule in the next 5 matches (average FPL difficulty 2). Their chief set-piece taker should be among the points.

Ward-Prowse (5.5) -  James Ward-Prowse is a great option for a fifth midfielder owing to a combination of price, set-piece duties, and a kind fixture list.

James Ward-Prowse, Southampton midfielder
"It wasn't me, I'm a Saint"

Defenders

Bertrand (5.5) - The Saints full back reaped 8 points against Swansea, and is likely to continue delivering big returns with games against West Ham, Huddersfield, Watford and Palace looming.

Jones (5.0) - Phil Jones appears to be the preferred option as Bailly's centre-back partner, which makes him the cheapest route into a Man Utd defence that should benefit from Matic's signing and a raft of fixtures against mid-table opponents.

Phil Jones, Manchester united defender
"Take that, Lindelof!"

Lowe (4.5) - As mentioned last week, Huddersfield have an easy opening that they made the most of with a 0-3 win in GW 1. With additional penalty/set-piece threat, Lowe looks like a great value-for-money add to your squad.

Goalkeepers

Foster (5.0) - The Baggies keeper pulled a solid 7 points from the opening day, and should see more of the same with matches against Brighton, Burnley and a home game against Stoke in the next 3

Elliot (4.0) - Basement-priced Rob Elliot would be a tidy enabler for your squad, and has the benefit of the aforementioned schedule.

The Blogger's Team

A mere 66 to start with. What's next?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Fantasy Premier League 2017/18: Gameweek 1 - The fixtures

Villain of the FA Cup final Victor Moses provided the Community Shield's opening goal, reacting sharply to a loose ball following a Chelsea corner early in the second half. The Blues held their lead until Pedro got himself sent off in a rush of blood, conceding a late free kick that Arsenal's new signing Sead Kolasinac headed in. Thibaut Courtois provided a memorable/forgettable (depending on whose side you're on) moment by taking - and skying - Chelsea's second penalty in the ABBA shootout. Arsenal went on to win the Shield 4-1 on penalties, raising the curtain on the English top division season.

With you on penalty #2, this goes without saying, Thibaut

(I know the image is from the FA Cup final, don't bite my head off)

Things will get real on Friday. Without much further ado, let's dive into the fixtures. The color coding is based on the FPL difficult ratings (1: Dark green to 5: Dark red)

Who's Hot

Man Utd

Man Utd's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

With an average FPL difficulty of 2.33 for their opening 6 matches, the Red Devils have the easiest opening to the season among last season's top 6. The Europa League winners face teams from last season's bottom half in their opening 4 matches as well, making their personnel a good bet to make a strong start to the season.

Matic's (5.0) will most likely partner Herrera (5.5) as a midfield screen, making Pogba (8.0) an enticing selection in a role that promises further attacking returns. Lukaku (11.5) is the lucrative premium selection from this side, with De Gea (5.5) the cheapest assured route to defensive returns.

Man City

Man City's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

The opening schedule is a boon, with the only difficult fixtures coming defensively leaky Merseyside. Add to this the fact that just a trip to Stamford Bridge mars the 4 fixtures following these, setting up Pep Guardiola's attackers to provide a strong foundation for the opening third of the campaign.

Just a point shy of the 200 mark, creative outlet Kevin de Bruyne (10.0) provided 21 assists and 6 goals last season. Gabriel Jesus (10.5) proved extremely useful when called upon, and is the manager's preferred forward. The recommendation with their defensive assets would be to wait and watch, despite Pep Guardiola bolstering his ranks in the summer.

Southampton

Southampton's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

The Saints are the only team with 4 home games in the opening 6, and they also reap the benefits of facing promoted Huddersfield and bottom half sides in their first 5 matches. They should be a force to reckon with in our initial lineups, even if they should lose Virgil van Dijk (5.5).

Owing to popular pick's Yoshida's price rise, Cedric (5.0) offers the joint-cheapest outfield route into the Saints rearguard along with him and Forster. While the dynamics up front are less clear between Austin and Gabbiadini, Tadic (6.5) looks a solid pick at his marked-down price following last season's 4 points per game (PPG) showing.

Who's Not

Chelsea

Chelsea's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

Chelsea are handed an unkind opening schedule. Given two strikers settling into the first team, a defensively suspect second half of last season and the absence of explosive midfield asset Eden Hazard (10.5) for possibly the entire duration, there is little upside to investing in the champions at this time.

Everton

Everton's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

The Toffees finished a respectable 7th in 2016/17 following a forgettable previous campaign. Having lost star hitman Lukaku (11.5) to Man Utd and got old boy Rooney (7.5) in exchange, Ronald Koeman wouldn't have been best pleased with the fixtures computer - Two promising home games sandwich an otherwise challenging schedule, to say the least.

Leicester

Leicester's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

The 2015-16 underdog winners are handed a torrid opening, with a cloud hanging over the future of talisman Riyad Mahrez (8.5). Two fixtures against promoted sides brighten up what is otherwise a very challenging schedule.

Bang for your buck

Huddersfield Town

Huddersfield's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

Promotion playoff winners Huddersfield Town boast the easiest opening fixtures according to the average FPL difficulty ratings. Aaron Mooy (5.5) looks a solid punt for a fifth midfielder, while German left back Chris Lowe (4.5) is their most enticing defensive pick owing to a combination of price, penalty-taking and corner kick duties, although he is a rotation risk owing to the addition of Scott Malone (4.5).

Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

Brighton had the joint-best defensive record in the Championship last season, particularly at home - They let in just 12 from 23 games at the Amex stadium. They have the potential to be this season's Burnley -> Mathew Ryan (4.5) could be this season's Tom Heaton, and Markus Suttner (4.5) is nailed-on at left back. The opening two fixtures aside, you could get tidy value for money in the games that follow.

Bournemouth

Bournemouth's opening 6 fixtures of the Premier League season

Ryan Fraser (5.5) delivered 5.1 PPG last season, is still terribly cheap and looks set to play a big role in the Cherries' third straight Premier League season. Asmir Begovic (4.5) has clean sheet potential in half of the opening 6, should deliver save points in the other half and rotates nicely with Brighton's defence.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Season That Was: Fantasy Premier League

With just 2 weeks to go for the new Premier League season, the hype is building slowly as the teams wind down pre-season across the world to mount an assault on the big prizes. The sums around the players warming up for the new season are as mind-boggling as ever - At the time of writing, Premier League clubs have thrown over 970 million at the transfer market so far at 167 player movements. With a month to go before the window shuts, the 1 billion mark is set to be shattered (and then some).

"And to think I came over for 10 bleedin' million..."

One of the most popular pieces of machinery built around this hype-train is the official Fantasy Premier League game, with over 4 million players contesting last season. Let's now dive into numbers from the 2016/17 Fantasy Premier League with laser focus. All numbers were calculated considering data from players who played at least 450 minutes (the equivalent of 5 full-length matches), and matches where the player in question made an appearance.

The teams

Anyone who's taken a good look at a player's info would know that FPL assigns a 'difficulty score' ranging from 1 to 5 for all fixtures that a player has coming next. Unfortunately, I couldn't find this precise detail in the data for matches in the past (basically, all of them from 2016/17), so I went about this the hard way - using player statistics to figure out how difficult a given opponent was.

It is a simple concept: Difficulty = How hard it is to get FPL points against a team. Find out how stingy a team is. This is fairly straightforward - Consider the average points allowed per player per game (overall, home and away).

Clubs ordered by stinginess. Rankings look familiar?

Sunderland offered up 3.9 points per game to opposition players, a level of generosity 85% higher than that of champions Chelsea (2.11), who gave away just a little more than appearance points overall. The red and blue lines show an expected trend - That teams are generally stronger at home (2.77 allowed) than away (3.35 allowed).

A couple of noteworthy observations emerge if we consider the gap between points allowed at home vs away by team:
1. Home comforts: Watford (+1.34), Everton (+1.21) and Hull (+1.19) have the largest difference between how many more points they allow away as compared to their own backyards.
2. Voyagers: West Ham (-0.21) and Southampton (-0.1) were the two teams that were harder to host than visit.

The players

Reliable

#9 is a #9. These things write themselves

The player who "impacted" (Scored 4 or more points) the largest proportion of games was Gabriel Jesus, who scored/assisted in 7 out of 10 (70%) appearances. At a price not too far removed from last season’s 9.0, he should be on several managers’ radars for a strong start to 2017/18. He is followed by Diego Costa (23/35 = 66%), whose strong first half to the season sees him capture second place on this list. Third is Chelsea’s marauding left full back Marcos Alonso (20/31 = 65%).

Take your positions

The position with the best average points per game was... Goalkeeper!

The fat kid gets to... score the most FPL points

Not only did the men with the gloves outdo the others overall, standing between the sticks was also the most venue-agnostic position with a home advantage of 0.3 points per game (PPG) as compared to the defenders, for whom home advantage mattered three times as much (0.9 PPG)

Keepers also have the smallest price range (4.0 - 5.5) among all positions, however, so you might be well-served picking someone at 'basement price' to enable points elsewhere. Indeed, the top-scoring goalkeeper (oxymoron alert) was the 4.5-priced Tom Heaton.

Bang for your buck

Adjusting for price, last season's MVP was Kieran Trippier, who delivered a mammoth 1.62 PPG per pound, delivering 51 points from just 568 minutes of play, priced at £5.0 at the start of last season. Also getting the most bonus points per 90 mins (1.1) for his position thanks to 5 assists, he looks an enticing prospect at£5.5.

While that is an interesting fact, it is only made relevant by the knowledge that he is now nailed-on in the absence of Walker. Generally, looking at a top 10 list here only makes sense for people who've played considerable minutes, so let's get stricter with our filter - A minimum of 1,350 minutes (15 full matches' worth) will be required.

Junior has grown up

The top 4 were listed as midfielders, and the bottom 6 are defensive players - half of those goalkeepers. Predictably, all their prices have risen for this edition, some more than others. Stanislas, Fraser and Heaton are nailed-on players with the smallest increments (+£0.5). Fans of Josh King were hardest hit by the summer revisions, with the 16-goal midfielder seeing a +£2.0 increment, and a change of role to Forward.

The biggest premium-priced let-down by far was the 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, who delivered a measly 120 points from 36 matches for his initial £9.5 price tag, while Odion Ighalo was another who flattered in 2015-16 only to disappoint last season (0.36 PPG per pound at £7.5).

Bonus round

A popular aspect of FPL curiosity I will address last is bonus points. Who doesn't love gift points?

Premium domination: Free points are not so free

Sticking with the above section's 1,350 minute requirement, we find that the top 10 list is dominated by premium-priced players. Fernando Llorente, Swansea's £7.5 frontman, is currently the most affordable of this bunch.

I hope you found this interesting and useful as you prepare to boss your FPL leagues. If you want to have a look at the data, feel free to go ahead! Also let me know if there’s anything else you all want to know, and I can try to make it happen

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Season That Was: Europe's Top Four Leagues

The European summer transfer window is now well under way. AC Milan have taken massive steps to bolster their squad in several positions and announce their ambition, while Bayern Munich have silently snapped up James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso even as Omer Toprak and Mahmoud Dahoud are getting ready to put on Dortmund's colours. Manchester United's snare of Romelu Lukaku is the biggest signing in the Premier League in a window that has also seen Bernardo Silva, Alexandre Lacazette and Antonio Rudiger arrive in England.

While all of that promises much for 2017/18, let's take a few minutes to look at some of last season's numbers from the top divisions of England, Italy, Spain and Germany.

Odds and results

Everyone's heard or read this at some point: "The Premier League is the most unpredictable league in the world".

Well, not on the face of it. For measuring this, I compared the full-time results of league matches against the result with the shortest odds offered on bet365.

bet365's prediction accuracy for European leagues in 2016/17
When in Rome, do as the bookies do

In the season gone by, the Premier League was the second-most predictable in the top 4 leagues at 61%, as the top 6 comfortably distinguished themselves from the rest. Serie A sees the highest bookmaker accuracy at 62% - tip of the hat to Juventus, who have won their 6th straight Scudetto. bet365's accuracy for full-time results for the Bundesliga was the lowest among these four, at 52%.

Last season's Bundesliga was surprising in a number of respects - the loss of key players in the 2016 summer hit Dortmund's consistency, leading to them winning 6 less games and gathering 14 fewer points. bet365 called 53% of their matches correctly, which is the worst they did for a team in the Premier League (Middlesbrough, 53%). Dortmund still finished just one place lower than the season before - The real surprises in Germany that contributed to this coin-toss accuracy were the performances of Wolfsburg (8th to 16th), Leverkusen (3rd to 12th) and Schalke (5th to 10th) in comparison to 2015/16.

Bayer Leverkusen left back Wendell
Wendell looking unimpressed with a 9-place drop

Note that this type of "accuracy" doesn't mean much in actual gambling, which is about playing the odds for profit and sounds way easier than it is. For example, if you had put $10 on every Bayern Munich 'prediction' by bet365, their 74% full-time result accuracy for this team - much higher than the league-level 52% - would've helped you end up with a $24 loss.

Shots and goals

At an overall level, the story here is one of remarkable similarity. Across leagues, roughly 1 in every 3 shots was on target, and roughly 1 in 3 shots on target ended up in the back of the net.

Barcelona may not have won the Spanish title for a 7th time in 9 years, but they did top the charts across these for leagues for shots on target per game (7), with Italy's AS Roma a close second (6.9).

Barcelona had the highest shots on target in 2016/17
Peppering the opposition

Middlesbrough were the least potent of these teams, with the lowest shots on target per game (2.63) as well as the lowest overall goals scored (27) despite them playing 4 more matches than any Bundesliga side.

The most common scoreline across all four leagues was 1-1, happening in roughly a tenth of the matches across these leagues. As for the distribution of goals, last season bore itself out exactly as Chris Anderson and David Sally alluded to in The Numbers Game - the distribution of goals in a match was almost the same across leagues.

Roughly 6% of matches ended goalless, and matches with 3 goals were the most frequent type, making up around 24% of matches. La Liga recorded a higher percentage of "high-scoring" games than other leagues, with a fifth of its matches seeing 5 or more goals.

Distribution of goals scored in the 2016/17 season across European leagues
Spot the difference
Discipline

Spain's referees have a reputation of being heavy-handed, and they did very little to defy stereotype last season. The Bundesliga saw 0.73 more fouls per game - It was in fact the league with the highest fouls per game (28.62), but Spain's referees doled out 1.31 more cards per game than their German counterparts, punishing 19% of the league's fouls by brandishing plastic.

Comparison of fouls and cards in European leagues for 2016/17
Sunny Spain gives refs quite the temper

The Premier League stood out, seeing both the lowest fouls (22.72) and the lowest cards (3.74) per game across the top four leagues. The Bundesliga had the most lenient referees in terms of how many fouls were punished with cards (14%), with both the Premier League and Serie A seeing roughly 16% of their fouls translating to a booking/sending off.

The most attritional match in these leagues was a goalless draw between Milan and Atalanta at the San Siro - It ended goalless, but saw the ref blow his whistle 51 times (or once every 105 seconds) and go to his pocket 9 times. Spain's Leganes racked up the highest fouls per game (16.95) in a successful scrap for top division survival.

If there is anything you found interesting and want to know more about, or if you simply have something to say about the post, leave a comment or drop a note and I'll see what I can do!

Data Source: football-data.co.uk

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

The Prediction Game: 2017 Confederations Cup semifinal

It's been a while, eh? First off, a couple of things:
  1. I have yet again managed to collect all of the FPL data from the season gone by. It isn't quite as clean as what I had for 2015-16, but it is something. Shoot me a note or leave a comment if there are any answers in particular you want from this data in future posts.
  2. Props to you if you've noticed the new URL.
Today, I want to talk to you about... predictions. Predictions are food for the football soul and such a big part of a fan's build-up to any football match. As we await kick-off in tonight's Confederations Cup semifinal clash between the European and South American champions, here are a few things to ponder about to see if the big match between Portugal and Chile bears out your guesses!

1) How many aggregate goals will be scored?
A) 2 or less
B) 3-5
C) Greater than 5

Info: Portugal are the tournament's top scorers with 7 goals from 3 games. Chile, on the other hand, have found the net just 4 times so far. At the other end, both sides have let in 2 goals in the group stages.

My take: 3-5

2) Will Cristiano Ronaldo score a goal?
A) Yes
B) No


Info: He is the current Ballon D’or holder, and ranks as the top active international goalscorer, shaking the net 75 times for Portugal. He has scored twice already this tournament.

My take: Yes

3) Will the outcome of the game be decided by penalties?
A) Yes
B) No

Info: The only H2H game between these two teams ended in a draw. Chile have played out 2 draws from 3 games in this tournament, while Portugal have managed to win 2 group stage matches.

My take: No

4) Who will go through to the Final?
A) Portugal
B) Chile

Info: Chile rank 4th in the FIFA rankings while Portugal are 8th, and both sides are unbeaten in this tournament. As mentioned before, the only other result in this fixture was a draw.

My take: Portugal

5) Who will make more saves?
A) Rui Patricio
B) Claudio Bravo


Info: The Portuguese stopper has made 4 saves from 3 games in this tournament, while Bravo has only had to get hand to ball twice. Both keepers have a save rate of 66.7% in the tournament, however.

My take: Claudio Bravo

The predictions for this post are sourced from the newest prediction game on the block: Nostragamus. It's an awesome app which shoots interesting questions such as these about sports events around the world, while arming you with the information you need to succeed.

If you want to make your predictions and win prizes, click here!