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Mathematical Musings: Players Primed for a Change in Fortune

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So far in the 2017/18 season, we’ve had plenty of nice surprises along with loads of disappointing performances. Seeking out some statistical outliers, which high-performing players are likely to see their luck run out, and which duds are due to hit the jackpot after all?

Crystal Palace v Manchester City - Premier League
Raheem Sterling has been absolutely brilliant this season but will be hard-pressed to keep it up
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

Sometimes sunny fortune smiles warmly out of nowhere on an unsuspecting face. But as we know from Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra, Lady Luck may just as easily blow on another guy’s dice. If there’s one thing that Las Vegas has taught us, though: Things tend to even out. So with that in mind, what changes in fortune — from good to bad, as well as from dark to sunny — might we look for during the remainder of the fantasy Premier League season?

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Cash Your Chips Now, or Risk These Players Crapping Out

Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling

Sterling has truly come into his own this season, ranking as the league’s #3 goal scorer, and it’s been a wonderful thing to watch. However, there are a couple of screaming signs that point to it being unsustainable:

  • Sterling had never scored more than nine times in any season, totaling 31 goals in 159 games prior to 2017/18 (0.19 goals per game).
  • He already has set a career high with 14 goals in only 20 games, an astronomical leap to 0.70 gpg.
  • His 14 goals have come from only 21 shots on target, a fairly unbelievable conversion rate of 67%.
  • By comparison, last season his efficiency rate was 32%, and the season before it was 27%.

Part of Manchester City’s brilliance this season is that the exquisite teamwork often results in easy, tap-in goals, and Sterling has definitely been a major beneficiary in that regard as we just saw in the 3-1 victory over Watford. It is certainly possible that Sterling will keep benefiting from the Citizens’ all-around greatness, as well as his own. But as much as I’d love to believe that he can continue his otherwordly form, a word of caution is definitely in order.

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Chelsea defender Cesar Azpillicueta

When you look at the top 10 players (actually, 11 due to a tie) in assists, does anyone stand out? Here you go: Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sane, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Paul Pogba, Marc Albrighton, Dele Alli, Cesar Azpillicueta, Philippe Coutinho,, Christian Eriksen and Aaron Ramsey. Well, if you’ve noted that they’re all midfielders except for Azpi, you win a cookie! In fact, he’s the only defender in the top 20.

Prior to this season, Azpillicueta had totaled four goals and 14 assists in 160 games (0.09 assists per game), and now he’s already got one goal and six assists in only 21 games so far in 2017/18 (0.29 apg). Yes, he has shown a special chemistry with forward Alvaro Morata, but it would still be a surprise if the wing back could keep things up at his current pace of around 10 assists. After all, only one defender was able to turn that trick in the previous five seasons, and only four have done so in the history of the Premier League (i.e. since 1992/93).

On top of that, Chelsea kept 16 clean sheets last season, just behind Manchester United and Tottenham who led the league with 17. This season the squad’s 11 clean sheets are third best, which puts the Blues on pace to finish with around 18. Do you expect Chelsea to have more clean sheets this season, when they’re in third place, than the title takers of last season? Not only should it be expected that Azpi’s offensive contributions will fall off somewhat, but it would not be a surprise if his defensive offerings dipped slightly as well.

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Burnley Goalkeeper Nick Pope (along with Claret defenders)

Pope has been an absolute revelation this season, notching 10 clean sheets, making 64 saves and ranking near the top of the leaderboard at the position in fantasy points despite bench-warming the first three and a half games.

However, with midfield playmaker Robbie Brady out injured, the pressure on the defense may simply have gotten too much to hold in. After Pope allowed only eight goals across his first 14 starts, he’s given up seven scores in his past four games. Regression may have been in order anyway; after all, the team’s #1 keeper, Tom Heaton, has been a fantasy force in his own right, but he notched only 10 clean sheets in the whole of each of Burnley’s two prior Premier League campaigns. Burnley should be able to sprinkle in a clean sheet here or there, but to expect one every other game is unrealistic.

If you own Pope (or defenders such as Phil Bardsley, Ben Mee, James Tarkowski or Stephen Ward) in formats such as Official that heavily reward clean sheets, it may be time to consider the possibility of selling.

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Players Ready to Roll Hard 8 after Sticking on Snake Eyes

Crystal Palace forward Christian Benteke

Saying that Christian Benteke is having an abysmal 2017/18 would be an understatement. He ties for the fourth most big chance misses in the league at 11 while turning 33 shots (13 SOT) into one single, solitary, stinkin’ goal. There are 13 defenders in the league who have scored as many own-goals by accident. I even recently made the case that the Palace forward was the league’s Least Valuable Player for the first half of the season.

But now there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Benteke has a proven track record as a Premier League goal scorer, netting 15 times just last season, plus 9, 13 and 19 in the three seasons prior. Benteke’s surrounded by talented players such as Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Yohan Cabaye who can open up the field and provide good service. The Eagles have no other options at forward for the moment, so Benteke will continue to start.

Of course it’s possible that this is a doomed season and that the magic is gone for the Belgian. But there is also good reason to think that Benteke’s horrible performance so far is a fluke that he will be able to turn around.

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Bournemouth forward Jermain Defoe or Callum Wilson

It has been a disappointing season for Jermain Defoe, Callum Wilson, Joshua King and a Cherries offense that was expected to be considerably more dangerous. After netting 55 times last campaign (1.45 goals per game), they have managed only 22 goals in 22 contests (1.00 gpg, obviously) so far in 2017/18.

A notable problem has been at the penalty spot. Bournemouth led the league with 10 penalty kicks earned in 2016/17 but is near bottom this season, having drawn only one. That was taken and scored by Junior Stanislas in GW9 against Stoke, as neither Jermain Defoe nor Callum Wilson were on the pitch at the time.

Assuming that Wilson or Defoe is actually the primary PK taker rather than Stanislas, and if Bournemouth can get a few pen calls from here on out, Wilson or Defoe will see his fantasy value improve appreciably. Unfortunately, you might have to wait until the next big call to find out which one it is.

(Note: Penalty kick data via www.myfootballfacts.com .)

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Huddersfield midfielder Tom Ince

Looking at a list of the top 12 (actually a baker’s dozen due to a tie) players with the most shots taken, one stands out. You probably can guess who it is, but bear with me and take a look: Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah, Alexis Sanchez, Richarlison, Sergio Aguero, Romelu Lukaku, Alvaro Morata, Kevin de Bruyne, Christian Eriksen, Philippe Coutinho, Sterling, Alexander Lacazette, and Tom Ince.

Everybody on that list has at least five goals... everybody that is, except Ince, who has only one. Not only does Ince lead Huddersfield with 50 shots, 15 on target, but he also has 40 crosses with no assists.

Of course, part of the problem is that Huddersfield has one of the most anemic offenses in the league with only 18 goals in 22 games. But while I’m not saying that he’s going to turn into Coutinho or KDB, I do expect Ince to pick things up. Doesn’t he have to, given his high rate of activity? If Ince can learn to translate that industry into results, then he would prove a useful differential pick given his low price and meager ownership rate.

Which of these players are you adding or dropping based on the statistics and reasoning mentioned above? Or do you instead think that things for them will continue going to form? Are there any other players you see dropping off or picking things up for the rest of the season? Let us know in the comments below!