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Spotlight: New Burnley Striker Chris Wood

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Burnley’s record signing from Leeds United has already paid dividends for the Clarets thanks to a late tying goal at Spurs. Can he provide a healthy return on investment for your fantasy teams?

Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley - Premier League
The first of what Burnley hopes will be many big goals for Chris Wood
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Last season, led by the three-headed but mild-mannered monster of Andre Gray, Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes, Burnley scored a meager total of 39 goals, fourth fewest in the league. You know which teams scored fewer goals? You guessed it, the trio that got relegated: Hull City, Sunderland and Middlesbrough.

In the wake of star defender Michael Keane’s pricey move to Everton and Gray’s insanely overpriced transfer to Watford (seriously, whomever negotiated the latter transfer fee for Burnley deserves an astronomical pay raise, and I would love him to try for the same on my behalf with the mucky-mucks at my company), this season has brought plenty of additions. £8 million ex-Swansea man Jack Cork has shored things up in defensive midfield, while Phil Bardsley (Stoke City) and Charlie Taylor (Leeds United) provide needed depth in back.

But the key action has deservedly come on the offensive end. Winger Jonathan Walters was an intriguing addition from Stoke City earlier in the summer, but surprisingly, he has yet to crack the starting line-up for a team that struggled so much to hit the back of the net last season. But while the more recent record £15m transfer Chris Wood from Leeds United was not on the pitch when the opening whistle sounded, he struck the point-winning goal after coming on as a substitute, and he should not have to wait long to crack the starting 11. Amazingly, even though Wood was Burnley’s most expensive addition ever, he still cost them less than the £18m they were able to extract for Gray.

Naturally, projecting a player’s performance following the major class rise from the Championship to the Premier League is always tricky. However, we can try to get an idea of things by starting with a statistical breakdown while also considering other factors, of course.

How do Players Fare Coming from the Championship to the Premier League?

Chris Wood scored 27 goals last season in the Championship, which sounds extremely impressive if you put that side by side with Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane who won the Premier League’s Golden Boot with 29. Of course, there are a few caveats involved with how you make such a comparison. It’s extremely difficult for Championship goal-scoring stars to recreate their Championship magic after moving up to the Premier League. The first two factors are fairly obvious, while the third may not come to mind as easily but is also very important:

  1. The step up in competition faced is astronomical. In the Championship, there is simply nothing to prepare you for facing the well-organized, talent-laden defenses of Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City, et al.
  2. As part of that step up, the player usually goes from being on one of the best teams in the Championship to one of the worse teams in the Premiership. So it’s not only that the opposing defenses are tougher, but the offenses are also better, too. Instead of being able to play with a free-flowing style, a defensive mind-set is usually adopted. Again, when you’re besieged by the explosive offenses of Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, et al., your team cannot afford to devote nearly as much attention to attacking.
  3. There are 20 teams in the Premier League, which means that each side plays 38 games. Meanwhile, there are 24 squads in the Championship which translates to 46 games each. When you see eye-popping goal numbers from Championship players, they have not only been inflated by weaker competition, they’ve also been buttressed by a significant increase (+21%) in the number of games played.

In the past three seasons, 16 strikers have scored 15+ goals in the Championship and then moved to the Premier League for the following campaign. The results have for the most part been poor, with goals scored plummeting from 19 down to seven on average. Only five of those strikers have managed at least 10 goals, and just two have notched 15.

Striker Goals-Champ to PL.csv

Player Champ. Season Team Goals PL Season Team Goals % Diff.
Player Champ. Season Team Goals PL Season Team Goals % Diff.
Andre Gray 2015/16 *Burnley 25 2016/17 Burnley 9 -64%
Danny Ings 2013/14 Burnley 21 2014/15 Burnley 11 -48%
Troy Deeney 2014/15 Watford 21 2015/16 Watford 13 -38%
Abel Hernandez 2015/16 Hull City 20 2016/17 Hull City 4 -80%
Callum Wilson 2014/15 Bournemouth 20 2015/16 Bournemouth 6 -70%
David Nugent 2013/14 Leicester City 20 2014/15 Leicester City 5 -75%
Odion Ighalo 2014/15 Watford 20 2015/16 Watford 16 -20%
Rudy Gestede 2014/15 Blackburn 20 2015/16 Aston Villa 5 -75%
Sam Vokes 2013/14 Burnley 20 2014/15 Burnley 0 -100%
Cameron Jerome 2014/15 Norwich 18 2015/16 Norwich 3 -83%
Charlie Austin 2013/14 QPR 17 2014/15 QPR 18 6%
Patrick Bamford 2014/15 Middlesbrough 17 2015/16 CRY/NOR 0 -100%
Jamie Vardy 2013/14 Leicester City 16 2014/15 Leicester City 5 -69%
Bakary Sako 2014/15 Wolves 15 2015/16 Crystal Palace 2 -87%
Sam Vokes 2015/16 Burnley 15 2016/17 Burnley 10 -33%
All Players Championship Average 19 Premier Lg. Average 7.1 -63%

(*Includes two games with Brentford. Additional Note: Minimum 10 games played in Premier League season.)

But don’t forget those success stories. Can Wood be another Odion Ighalo or Charlie Austin? Or if not, at least another Troy Deeney, Danny Ings or Vokes (the more recent Vokes version, that is)?

Of course he can! One advantage is that while Wood is moving from the Championship, Burnley has already been in the Premier League for one season, so he will have a well-tested, proven group surrounding him, unlike many of the other players in the chart whose teams found themselves overwhelmed by the step up in competition.

Comparing Wood to Gray and Vokes

It is also illustrative to compare Wood’s 2016/17 Championship numbers for Leeds to those of Gray and Vokes in Burnley’s most recent Championship campaign of 2015/16.

When Burnley transitioned from the Championship to the Premier League, Gray plummeted by 61% (from 23 down to 9) in goals scored while Vokes fell off by a much less severe 33% (from 15 down to 10).

Wood was a more impressive scorer. Not only did he score more goals (27) for Leeds United than either Gray (23) or Vokes (15) managed for Burnley the prior season, but he also accounted for a significantly higher portion of his team’s goals (44%) compared to Gray (32%) and Vokes (21%). Opposing teams knew that stopping Wood was key when facing Leeds, and they still weren’t able to do it.

Wood vs. Gray and Vokes

Player Season Age Team Games Goals PK Goals Assists % Team Goals
Player Season Age Team Games Goals PK Goals Assists % Team Goals
Chris Wood 2016/17 24 Leeds Utd. 44 27 5 4 44%
Andre Gray 2015/16 24 *Burnley 41 23 4 8 32%
Sam Vokes 2015/16 25 Burnley 43 15 3 4 21%

(*Does not include two games by Gray with Brentford due to the focus on Burnley and percentage of team goals. Note: Age is at start of given season.)

How Should Wood Fit in with Burnley the Rest of the Way?

Last season, manager Sean Dyche generally fielded a 4-4-2 formation, with two from Gray, Vokes and Barnes playing in tandem up front. This season, Dyche has opted for the 4-5-1, with Vokes leading the line. Things have turned out well on balance with an absolutely shocking win at Chelsea, a disappointing loss to West Brom, and the impressive draw at Tottenham. Dyche has several options going forward:

  • Keep the 4-5-1, with Vokes starting for the next several weeks as Wood gets acclimated to the team
  • Keep the 4-5-1, with Wood immediately leading the line and Vokes being the primary substitute
  • Return to the 4-4-2, with Wood and Vokes playing up front together
  • Rotate between the 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 as the fixture dictates

None of those outcomes would surprise me, to be honest. What I’m personally hoping for is the third option, because I truly believe that Vokes is a worthy starter, at least for a lower-echelon team such as Burnley. (Full disclaimer: I also pegged him as my surprise fantasy player of the season in the NMA staff season predictions.) The newcomer may get more chances in the 4-4-2, but Vokes could possibly retain primary PK duty. More isolated up front in the 4-5-1, Wood should be the undisputed penalty man, so things may somewhat even out. Whichever way Dyche goes, Wood should be a starter immediately or at the worst, in the near future.

How Much Does Wood Cost and Does He Offer Good Value?

New, unproven players often enter the fantasy fray at tempting prices, and Wood is no different. With a tag of merely £6.5 in Official, he comes in as only the 29th most expensive striker (interestingly, at the same price as Watford’s Gray). In Fantrax, Wood can be had for just $5.56 as the 45th (!!!) priciest forward.

Aside from All the Numbers, How Does Wood, You Know, Look?

The numbers are an important aspect, but let’s not forget the eye test. There’s a reason the New Zealand international cost Burnley so much money, relatively speaking. He is not a giant, but is tall, big and strong enough to hold off defenders. He possesses a composed, clinical finishing touch both on the ground and in the air. Most importantly, he boasts the innate striker’s goal scoring mentality that cannot be taught, highlighted by an ability to be in — or run into — the right place at the right time. A comparison to Harry Kane is obviously exceedingly lofty while at the same time frankly unavoidable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J78_U3VCXyY

(How pumped up are you after watching that?!)

After coming on in the 56th minute at Tottenham, Wood managed to fire off three shots, with two of those on target. As demonstrated by the tying goal, Wood brilliantly ghosted behind an unaware Kieran Trippier, sped into the path of Robbie Brady’s pin-perfect pass, sized up the goal, and before the challenge from Toby Alderweireld could arrive, the Kiwi slotted into the side netting past a helpless Hugo Lloris. (Additionally, Wood played a major role in keeping team possession via a hold-up header from the initial outlet pass.)

The Final Verdict

You should not expect 27 goals or anything close to that. But if Wood can deliver 12-15 scores, which is certainly a realistic target, while chipping in with the odd assist, you should be very happy with that production at his extremely affordable prices.

Spurs fans will be having nightmares about him this week. Burnley fans and fantasy owners alike should be seeing him in their dreams from now on.

(Note: transfer prices and player/team data compiled via transfermarkt.com )

Is Chris Wood on your fantasy radar? Are you thinking of adding him or do you have better options? Let us know in the comments below!

Poll

Is Chris Wood on your fantasy radar?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Yes, he looks brilliant and I’m adding him straightaway
    (10 votes)
  • 27%
    No Burnley striker will ever take up a precious striker spot
    (8 votes)
  • 37%
    I don’t know, we’ll see how things shake out
    (11 votes)
29 votes total Vote Now