Goalkeeper choice seems like it should be simple. After all, you only choose two keepers total for your Official FPL teams, with one starter and one backup. Of course, that means that if you screw up your choice, you’re going to be in a world of pain. Comparatively, if you make a poor choice in another position, you’ve got plenty of cover. With keepers, you are naked, everything out there flapping in the wind. And no, I really don’t want to picture that. So let’s all make some wise decisions, agreed?
As in that Pink Panther Movie, Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
I went with Burnley’s Tom Heaton last season. Why did I pick Heaton? Partly to save money (he cost only 4.5). But more importantly, because of his history, an admittedly brief one. Nonetheless, he had proven himself previously, and that experience could not be ignored. In 2014-15, his first season in the Premier League, Heaton scored 150 points. I reasoned, why not expect things to go similarly in his second stint? Well, upon his return in 2016-17, Heaton scored...wait for it...149 points. As Yogi Berra infamously noted, “It’s deja vu all over again.”
It seemed like the obvious choice at the time. Is it still? Perhaps not quite as resoundingly, but yes it is! After finishing as the #1 keeper in Official FPL in 2016-17, Heaton’s price rose... but only to 5.0. If he’d risen to 5.5, it would be a different story. But with that kind of expected production, 5.0 is still a bargain in the grand scheme of things.
How can we be sure? Let’s investigate by taking a look at the historical performance of all currently selectable FPL keepers (minimum two seasons, minimum 2,500 minutes per season, only includes seasons with available/recorded data).
Keeper Fantasy Stats 2016-17.csv
|Player||Team||Cost||# Seasons||# w/ 145+ Pts||Avg. CS||Avg. GC||Avg. Saves||Avg. Bonus||Avg. Pts|
|Player||Team||Cost||# Seasons||# w/ 145+ Pts||Avg. CS||Avg. GC||Avg. Saves||Avg. Bonus||Avg. Pts|
|D. De Gea||MUN||5.5||6||0||13||33||91||3||132|
Heaton allows more goals and gets fewer clean sheets than the other top keepers such as Arsenal’s Petr Cech, Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris, Manchester United’s David De Gea and Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois. Does that matter? Of course not! Because Heaton was the #1 keeper last season and also has tallied the highest average points of all keepers out there. Something that stands out is that in Heaton’s two seasons, he has notched at least 145 points in both of them. All of the other goalkeepers combined have played a total of 64 seasons and only 13 of those could boast 145+ points. Cech, with four of his eight seasons on record at 145+ points, and West Ham’s Joe Hart, with three in seven, have accounted for over half of the big non-Heaton seasons together.
You may be surprised to learn that the only keeper to join the aforementioned trio with at least two seasons of 145+ points is Watford’s Heurelho Gomes, who notched 157 points in 2015-16 (before plummeting to 113 in 2016-17). Heaton is the only keeper who has amassed all of his multiple seasons of 145+ points with his current team; Cech did so three times with Chelsea; all three of Hart’s such seasons came with Manchester City; and Gomes turned the trick once with Tottenham.
In most positions, generally you’re going to get the most points from players on the top teams. But there are exceptions. (Looking at you, Gylffi Sigurdsson from wretched Swansea City!) When it comes to keepers, Heaton is the glaring counter-example, the sublime statistical outlier. As mentioned, he doesn’t get as many clean sheets as keepers from the top teams, and he allows significantly more goals, but he more than makes up for it by snagging a lot more saves. And when Burnley wins, particularly if via clean sheet, it’s Heaton who tends to be awarded the three bonus points, not a defender (or player at another position) as is often the case when a more loaded team such as Arsenal, Chelsea or Tottenham do likewise. Heaton has averaged 16 bonus points while Julian Speroni, with 11, is the only other keeper to manage more than eight.
No, of course I’m not going to guarantee that Heaton will be the #1 keeper in Official FPL again this season. In fact, I’d be surprised if he was. It’s extremely difficult to repeat as the top scorer in any position. But you know what? There’s a strong chance that he’ll be a top three or at worst top five keeper this season. For 5.0, I’ll take that over paying 5.5 for someone who has at best a similar percentage chance of being the top keeper and could just as easily end up outside the top five. Of course, if you are Nostradamus and can say with certainty who the top keeper will be, go ahead and pick him at any price. (Also, please tell me which stocks to load up on!)
At the same mid-tier price, Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet is also an intriguing option. He scored 149 points as recently as 2014-15, and while he managed only 110 last season, he split time with Loris Karius, who added 32 points. If you combine the two, that’s 142 points. If you assume that Mignolet is the undisputed starter and gets all the points, that’s not very far from Heaton. If Liverpool’s defense is better and Burnley’s falls off, Mignolet could turn out to be a better bargain. Of course, you know what they say about ifs and buts.
Premium Choices (5.5)
Even if you agree that Heaton is an essential choice, some of you enjoy the the security of having two top-notch keepers and don’t mind paying for the privilege.
A lot of fantasy players and experts alike are high on Courtois, De Gea and Lloris. However, even in Chelsea’s amazing title-winning season with 16 clean sheets, Courtois only managed to score 141 points. Similarly, Lloris played behind the league’s tightest defense and notched 15 clean sheets, but they translated into only 143 points. In the same vein, De Gea benefited from 14 clean sheets but could produce only 136 points. Was 2016-17 an outlier for them? Well, those three keepers have combined to play 12 seasons of 2500 or more minutes on top teams that play stout defense. How many seasons of 145+ points do they have to show for it? Astoundingly, absolutely none. Then why would you pay premium for them?
Instead, I lean toward Cech. After all, he’s averaged 148 points in his career (at least since 2008-09 when FPL statistical availability began) and scored 159 for Arsenal as recently as 2015-16. Along with the Gunners’ unexpectedly leaky defense, the big Czech had a down year with 134 points last season, but Arsenal and Cech both have the track record to suggest a return to form.
Budget Options (4.5 or lower)
Some players will want to go with a pair of cheap keepers to free up money at other positions. No matter how pricey your first keeper is, you probably want an inexpensive second. At 4.5, Joe Hart screams out as the best option when looking at the above chart. However, while he averages a stout 147 points, those exploits came with Manchester City, muddying the waters. How should the England international be expected to fare at his new home in London?
You see a bit further down the table that Adrian has averaged 134 points at West Ham in his two seasons with 2500+ minutes, 2014-15 and 2015-16. Last season, Adrian and Darren Randolph split duties in a rough year for the Hammers who allowed the 14th most goals in the league, after conceding only the 7th most scores in 2014-15 and tying for 10th most in 2015-16.
Hart is certainly an upgrade on Adrian and Randolph, and West Ham’s overall improvement (also adding Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic to boost firepower up front) should augur well for the Londoners to enjoy a reversal of fortune. Opposing teams will have to show defensive discipline in accounting for the added danger from West Ham, meaning that they will not be able to bomb forward with the regularity they could last season, when the anemic Hammers tallied only 47 times. Hart will have to sit out the two games against Manchester City under his loan stipulations, but you may have chosen to rest him in favor of your second keeper in those tilts anyway.
Stoke City’s Jack Butland may actually be the strongest pick among budget options. He notched 132 points in fewer than 2800 minutes in 2015-16. In the past two seasons combined, he has 152 points in 3240 minutes, which is the amount of playing time you would expect from a starting keeper in an entire season. If he can stay healthy and produce at or near that level, the Potters’ stopper would be a fantastic deal thanks to last season’s injury keeping his price down.
If you’re looking for this season’s Heaton — a discount keeper on a newly promoted team — Newcastle’s Rob Elliot may be your best play. The Magpies were last season’s finest team in the Championship, and they boast a strong Premier League pedigree. In Newcastle’s doomed 2015-16 campaign, Robert Elliot (4.0) scored 66 points in 1890 minutes, while Karl Darlow (4.5) chipped in with 41 points in 810 minutes. If you prorate both to a full season, it translates to about 110 points for Elliot and around 160 for Darlow. Having a full-time starter for any team at 4.0 is a nice option for your #2 keeper. Right now Elliot looks to have the inside track, but a new signing could factor in, so stay tuned.
Brighton & Hove Albion tied Newcastle for the Championship’s stingiest defense, and the Seagulls will be expected to hang their hats on that end even more than the Magpies. Given the departure of last season’s hero David Stockdale, taking a flyer on expected starter Matthew Ryan (4.5) is a bold, speculative option.
How Much Should you Factor in the Early Schedule?
It’s always a choice between picking someone based more on having easy competition for the first handful of games and think about switching later or whether to just focus on expectations for the season at large from the get-go. After all, transfers are precious, and it’s natural to be loath to use them on keepers.
Burnley has a brutal start to its schedule, with travels to Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool in its first quintet of games (and then the following pair of away games are Everton and Manchester City), so if you do want to take a schedule-based approach, you could wait on Heaton. On the other hand, his opening home fixtures are appealing (West Brom, Crystal Palace and Huddersfield).
Chelsea has a tough first handful of fixtures (including Tottenham and Leicester City away along with Everton and Arsenal at home), so you will not expect a parade of clean sheets for Courtois. Arsenal travel to face Liverpool and Chelsea, making things tricky for Cech. The schedule appears more favorable for Lloris as Spurs face Newcastle away along with Burnley and Swansea at home. As for the expensive keepers, De Gea enjoys the best early fixture list with Swansea, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion on the road and West Ham and Leicester City in the confines of Old Trafford.
Otherwise, it’s somewhat favorable for Liverpool and Mignolet (tough tilts vs. Arsenal and at Manchester City but easier going at Watford plus hosting Crystal Palace and Burnley). Hart must sit out week one, and week two is at Manchester United, but the next four look more appealing with Huddersfield at home mixed in with trips to Southampton, Newcastle and West Brom. Things look rougher for Butland as Stoke visits Everton and welcomes Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea in its first half dozen affairs.
But again, how much attention should you really pay to the schedule? Heaton should be expected to rack up the saves when it comes to his tough stretch of away games, while he will mix in good prospects for clean sheets at home. Last season, despite Burnley’s dreadful away record, Heaton’s home/away splits were actually similar to those of more balanced Chelsea’s Thibaut in Official FPL, whereas there were pronounced differences between their splits in Fantrax. After all, in the former, winning or losing doesn’t impact scoring as it does in in the latter.
In Heaton’s first five games last season, which included Liverpool at home and Chelsea on the road, he scored 21 points (4.2 points per game). For the entire season, he averaged 4.3 ppg. There’s no reason to fret about starting off with Heaton this time around.
Which keepers are you going with on your FPL teams to start the season? Are you taking a season-long approach or looking to grab early returns? Join in the comments below!
Who is your #1 FPL keeper to start the season?
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David De Gea
Other (name in comments)