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


#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

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!

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