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Splitsville: Key Statistical Splits from the FPL Season So Far

As in life, things in the sporting world can be wildly uneven.  Let’s take a look at a handful of intriguing statistical splits that should offer plenty of insight and help you optimize your fantasy teams.

Manchester City v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane have filled fantasy owners full of joy thus far. Can that continue if they aren’t regular starters?
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

When it comes to trying to make a savvy fantasy play, one must sometimes sort through the numbers and sift through the percentages to find an edge. Which statistical splits from the 2017/18 season through 11 games are simply screaming out for us to pay heed?

1. Sane & Sterling - Starting, Subbing in, or Sitting out?

Fantasy managers love it when their players are guaranteed starters. Unfortunately, not everybody can be on the pitch at kickoff, gameweek in and gameweek out. Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola has been blessed with an embarrassment of riches, which comes in handy given the team’s success in the UEFA Champions League and Carabao Cup, not to mention the League title race and the upcoming FA Cup.

Aside from David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, Pep has rotated his offensive-postioned midfielders. Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling have both starred in midfield, despite neither having set starting roles. Can their malleable status be overlooked, or is it something to fret about?

Take a gander at the chart below:

Sane & Sterling

L. Sane Start 7 86 4 5 8.1 11.3
L. Sane Sub in or Sit 4 19 2 0 4.0 5.5
L. Sane % Diff. -43% -78% -50% -100% -51% -51%
R. Sterling Start 6 83 5 * 3 / 2 8.2 12.7
R. Sterling Sub in or Sit 5 17 2 0 2.6 4.0
R. Sterling % Diff. -17% -80% -60% -100% -68% -69%

*Sterling has three assists in the generous Official FPL format and two in Fantrax

Sterling and Sane have both been influential as subs, each scoring multiple goals in that role, so they’ve suffered a less severe drop-off in points per game than in minutes per game when not starting. However, fantasy managers don’t care much about “less-severe”, but rather focus on points per game, where there is no escaping a major dropoff from when they start to when they don’t, as even these super subs simply can’t bridge the huge gap in minutes.

One problem is that they’ve both failed to notch a single assist as a sub, whereas they’ve each contributed a fair number of helpers as starters. Another is that players obviously tend to earn more in the way of bonus points in Official and phantom points in Fantrax the more minutes they play. Put those two factors together, and the not terribly shocking result is that both are significantly better as starters than as subs for fantasy purposes.

When comparing the two players, Sane’s production when on the bench holds up better than that of Sterling, the former falling off by roughly half compared to about two-thirds by the latter. Basically, though, that comes from Sane having played all 11 games, whereas Sterling has two dreaded “DNP” weeks, further denting his expected returns.

Even if Sterling and Sane remain rotation risks, the point will be moot if they can keep pouring in the goals and assists. But in the event that they cool off — which may be inevitable given their sizzling starts — and if they are unable to secure a reliable starting spot, you will have to regard them a bit cautiously; after all, when they’re not in the XI, you tend to miss out on a lot of production and you certainly won’t want to be left wanting too often.

PS: In fantasy formats with bench cover, their risks become much more manageable.

2. Away Sweet Away for Richarlison

Home/away splits tend to favor the home part to varying degrees — that’s why it’s called home field ADVANTAGE, right? — but it’s not completely unusual to see a small gap on the away side, particularly when it’s a sample of only 11 games. Even so, a really extreme away gap is pretty strange. This season, Richarlison and Watford have definitely bucked the trend as huge outliers, performing fabulously on the road and horribly at home. But hey, Katy Perry married Russell Brand, so sometimes life simply doesn’t make sense.

Watford’s defense has been about the same at home and on the road, conceding an average of roughly two goals per game each way. That Watford has not allowed fewer goals at home than on the road is of course a bit odd, but the home number is inflated by Manchester City’s six-goal visit. It’s on the offfensive end where things have been really off kilter, with twice as much success on the road (2.0 goals per game scored) as at home (1.0 gpg). Richarlison, as the Hornets’ offensive leader, has demonstrated truly insane home/away splits with respect to his production.


Home 0 2 2.6 0 3.0 3.6
Away 4 2 4.3 1.2 7.2 15.7
% Diff. Inf. 0% 65% Inf. 140% 336%

How does he still have no shots on target at home???!!! It’s early in the season, relatively speaking, so I would be surprised to see this outsized offensive away discrepancy remain for Watford and Richarlison. That said, until he shows that he can actually score at Vicarage Road, I wouldn’t recommend captaining the brilliant young Brazilian import at home. After all, Perry and Brand did eventually hit the skids, but it took a while.

3. N’Golo Kante’s Defensive Impact

Much has been made of Manchester United’s offensive falloff since the injury to Paul Pogba, so I don’t think there’s really anything I can add to the discussion. Instead, I’d like to turn to the other end of a pitch and another top team in a situation that doesn’t seem to have drawn as much attention.

Defenders and keepers aren’t the only players who have a tremendous influence on being able to stop opponents from scoring. A great central defensive midfielder can be as vital as anyone in keeping clean sheets and rewarding defenders and keepers with the important CS bonus in fantasy. In Chelsea’s 2014/15 title-winning season, I thought that defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic played just as vital a part as Player of the Season Eden Hazard, primary goal scorer Diego Costa, or team and defensive captain John Terry.

For last season’s crown campaign, though, another key figure emerged, even enabling Antonio Costa to part with Matic in favor of Tiemoue Bakayoko. After helping to lead Leicester to an unlikely league title in 2015/16, midfield spark plug N’Golo Kante won the title for the second season in a row, earning Player of the Season recognition with Chelsea. Working in tandem to shield the defense — Matic providing brawn in making tough tackles, Kante offering quickness by intercepting passes — the duo destroyed opponents’ advances before Kante often instantly turned defense into offense by bringing or distributing the ball upfield in a blinding blur of Blue.

In 2015/16, Leicester City allowed only 0.95 goals per game. Without Kante in 2016/17, that skyrocketed up to 1.66 gpg. That’s 75% higher!

In 2016/17 with Kante coming aboard, Chelsea allowed 0.87 goals per game.

In the 2017/18 campaign thus far, it has been a tale of three parts:

  • The Blues allowed 0.86 gpg in the first seven matches of the season with Kante healthy.
  • When he was out injured for three games, that spiked to 1.33 gpg.
  • When Kante returned against Manchester United, it was back to business as Chelsea blanked the Red Devils. (Then again, if you’re so inclined, you can attribute that at least in part to United’s offense sputtering sans Pogba.)

In all, Chelsea has allowed a miserly 0.75 gpg when Kante has played this season, compared to a more problematic 1.33 gpg (77% higher) without him. Looking back to the Leicester City situation, you see the obvious similarity. Put another way, Chelsea has allowed two goals only once in Kante’s eight games, and that was the Burnley debacle in which both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas earned red cards. In just three games without Kante, the Blues twice allowed two goals (Crystal Palace and Watford, not exactly the cream of the crop). That certainly lends plenty of credence to Kante as reigning P.O.Y.

Let’s take a look at how the team’s two mainstay defenders, Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpillicueta, have scored in fantasy with and without Kante in the line-up.

Azpi & Alonso re: Kante

C. Azpillicueta w/ Kante 6.6 10.1
C. Azpillicueta w/o Kante 2.7 8.7
C. Azpillicueta % Diff. -59% -14%
M. Alonso w/ Kante 5.1 7.9
M. Alonso w/o Kante 1.7 4.3
M. Alonso %. Diff. -67% -46%

Given the importance of the clean sheet bonus, you shouldn’t be surprised to see that Alonso and Azpillicueta have fared appreciably worse without Kante than with, particularly in Official where each has fallen off by well over 50%. (And this comes despite Alonso being infamous for failing to get the CS bonus in Fantrax.) So feel free to roll with Chelsea’s defenders now that Kante is back, and pray that he stays healthy the rest of the way!

4. Nick Pope, from Understudy to Star

Backups are usually secondary alternates for a reason. Of course, there’s the famous story of Wally Pipp in Major League Baseball, who long ago relinquished his New York Yankees’ starting job at first base through injury and never got it back after some nobody named Lou Gehrig turned out to be, in the immortal words of Larry David, “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.”

The Pipp comparison may be unfair. Heaton is an absolutely brilliant goalkeeper who led the Official fantasy game in points at the position last season with 150. You remember don’t you? He finished ahead of more well-renowned superstar keepers such as Arsenal’s Petr Cech, Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois, ManU’s David De Gea and Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris, along with every other keeper in the league. And he did it for Burnley. Yes, Burnley! Pretty amazing, agreed? He was also just as outstanding in the one-and-done promotion/relegation season of 2014/15 with 149 points, so we know that his superlative performance last season was no fluke.

Normally, a decline at the position would have been expected after Heaton was injured early in the season. Nope! Young Pope has been absolutely outstanding, actually outperforming his senior, doing his best to turn poor Heaton into a Pipp. Pope has allowed fewer goals per game while at the same time making more saves. Naturally, that has translated into more fantasy points, and it’s not even close! In fact, he’s outperformed Heaton by over 50% in Official and returned more than double in Fantrax.

Pope v. Heaton

T. Heaton 76 1.4 3.6 26% 4.0 5.3
N. Pope 7 0.7 4.9 57% 6.1 12.3
% Diff. -91% -50% 36% 31% (pure %) 53% 132%

*Does not include GW4 this season when Pope replaced Heaton mid-game.

In my pre-season player picks, I pegged Heaton as the top keeper choice in Official FPL at a very reasonable, mid-priced tag of £5.0.

Heaton’s understudy remains even cheaper (at a ridiculously affordable £4.5) with production that compares very favorably. In Fantrax at the moment, Pope costs $7.60, which is only the sixth highest price at the position. Amazingly, despite not appearing in the first three-plus games, Pope ranks sixth in total goalkeeper points in Official and second in Fantrax.

Admittedly, seven games is a small sample size, especially when compared to the much larger body of work by Heaton. Pope will certainly be expected to fade from his amazing start. If he does, but still keeps performing at a better clip than Heaton, you’ll have a monumental deal on your hands. But even if he dips to a bit below the level of Heaton as originally expected, he will still remain a nice bargain.

Santiago was ahead of the curve recommending Pope in his Spotlight over a month ago, and fantasy managers who paid heed have been well rewarded.

For the rest of you who may have been waiting to see how things would pan out, it’s still not too late to jump in.

5. Alexandre Lacazette, One Trick Pony

Fantasy managers value some amount of diversity in players, which makes those who can do only one thing, and who simply do not return value unless able to turn that trick, painfully useless much of the time. That’s one reason why managers love Spurs stud Harry Kane.

Kane won the Golden Boot award as league’s top scorer last season, but he is not a one trick pony. Even when he doesn’t get a goal, he can chip in with an assist, which is crucial in the Official platform. And even when he fails to deliver a goal or assist, Kane can still pick up phantom points in portals such as Fantrax and Togga due to his activity, effort and utility. This season, the Tottenham talisman has averaged 5.8 ppg in Fantrax when he hasn’t scored. You're always going to be disappointed when the Spurs star doesn’t get a goal (or two... or three), but you usually won’t be gutted. Even Red Devils striker Romelu Lukaku, who isn’t especially known for doing too much beside scoring, averages 4.0 ppg in Fantrax when he fails to crack the net.

For other players, it’s a different story entirely. Alexandre Lacazette, it turns out, is one of them. As a big-name (and money) transfer from Ligue 1’s Lyon over the summer, the Arsenal sniper costs a pretty penny — not as much as Kane or Lukaku, but he’s no bargain. The French import has delivered no shortage of goals, and when he does score, you come out loving life. However, if Lacazette doesn’t convert, all you end up with is a big fat fart in the face.

Fantrax points in games w/ at least one goal: 16, 15, 23, 16, 5 (avg. 15.0)

Fantrax points in games w/o a goal: 1, 1, 1, 3, 3, 3 (avg. 2.0)

Difference: -87% when he doesn’t score a goal vs. when he does

Official FPL points in games w/ at least one goal: 6, 6, 13, 6, 4 (avg. 7.0)

Fantrax points in games w/o a goal: 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2 (avg. 1.8)

Difference: -74% when he doesn’t score a goal vs. when he does

Take out the garbage, that stinks like the Dickens! Would it kill him to get an assist, maybe draw some fouls, and win a corner here or there? Sorry, apparently that’s too much to ask. It’s not as easy as we’d like to predict when a player is going to score and when he won’t. But let’s just say that you really shouldn’t bother picking up Lacazette unless the Gunners are facing a long run of vulnerable opponents.

(NOTE: Data used in this article were compiled via the Premier League, Premier League fantasy and Fantrax fantasy web sites.)

Are you going to make any changes to your fantasy teams based on these statistical splits? Which gaps do you expect to hold true and which ones seem like quirks that should revert to normal? Are there other splits that you have noticed? Do tell in the comments below!