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FPL Game-Week 20 Player Picks: Simple Math

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The conclusion of game-week 19 provides an opportunity for managers to perform some long-term analysis leading in to the official start of the second half.

Victor Lindelof - Manchester United - Premier League
Victor Lindelof dribbles the ball at Cardiff City.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Halfway... From the statistical standpoint, by which I like to govern my managerial decisions, this is a great moment in the season for measuring a player’s or team’s performance. The curators of the Premier League do us a great favor that few other sports or leagues take into account, providing a near perfectly balanced schedule. The only variable that does not reflect this balance is the home/away split. But it is completely rounded off come season’s end.

The midpoint of the season is the easiest time to work through the evaluation of a player’s season pace. The only thing managers have to do is the simple math of doubling the current returns for an individual player. As a prediction tool, this is a very flawed process. The disclaimer is: This is not a method of projection, this is a method of evaluating the first half performance of a player using his current on-pace numbers. Now that we have an acceptable number of observations, we can apply a measuring stick to give ourselves an idea as whether a player was overperforming, underperforming, or performing as expected. The thresholds by which we judge a player’s performance will of course be tailored to the player’s context.

For example, Mo Salah’s penalty conversion in week nineteen put his goal total at 12. Using our handy-dandy little equation, his pace currently sits at 24. For me, I predicted a season around 24-26 goals, as a conservative approximation. While others have been unhappy with his goal tally and fantasy point production, he is right on pace for what I was expecting. The rest of his profile is a little mixed. His basic on-pace number for assists is actually up from last year’s record breaking season, 14 versus 12. One place where he is behind pace is the bonus point system (BPS). Last year he totaled 26 BPS points, but he has totaled only 7 this season, a pace of 14. He sits on 137 points for the season. My top-of-the-head projection sees 275-290 points as his likely landing spot.

I have talked often about Mo Salah in recent weeks, so here are a couple other simple cases. I commented on Chris Manfredi’s First Half MVP piece that Callum Wilson was my first half MVP. Now, Wilson was not a guy on my preseason radar. I doubted his and Bournemouth’s collective ability to be something more than what was displayed in 2017-18. Right now, he sits at eight goals plus eight assists, which really expresses how capable the Cherries’ attack has become. Wilson’s current pace is 16 goals. For him, a goal total of 15-18 seems perfectly reasonable. I have no qualms with his production to this point. However, the application of this metric for his FPL assists seems big to me. I think that number should be more in the 12-14 range, rather than the 16 he is on pace for.

This simple method can be applied in a comparative measure, as well. If we dive into the next bracket of midfield, what do we see if we compare Raheem Sterling and Eden Hazard? For ease of argument, I am going to combine goals and assists (G+A), which, I will admit, is not a perfect measure. But, the application of this tool will satisfy our needs. Last season, Sterling finished second in fantasy points with 229 total. In the 2017-18 season, he combined for 35 G+A. Halfway through this campaign, he is on pace for 32. Coincidentally, since he does play for Pep Guardiola, his pace for minutes is within two for his total last year. So, it is safe to say that he is playing within the expected outcomes relative to last season. He is right on track to hit a window of 220-240 points.

Now, looking at his closest high-price counterpart, Eden Hazard, there is an interesting case to be made for the Belgian. We know that under the imperius Antonio Conte, Chelsea’s game plan was tailored more toward not conceding rather than outscoring opponents. So, Hazard’ past two seasons do not provide a good measuring stick for expected performance. Last year, he finished with 18 G+A, a number he has already surpassed in the first half of 2018-19. The 25 G+A he combined for a year ago is the joint best of his Premier League career. And, in his best fantasy point season, he managed 24 G+A. The question then becomes, Is Hazard overperforming? Or, is the Belgian on the verge of a major breakthrough under Maurizio Sarri? For me, I think the second question is the most affirmative. He is on pace for 266 fantasy points. While that feels a bit high, this current iteration of Chelsea requires him to do more, which should only be a boon to fantasy managers. Given what he has already registered, 240-260 points seems like the applicable scoring window.

So, if we take the middle of both player’s point windows, 230 for Sterling and 250 for Hazard, and compare what we know, we should have our verdict. The 116 points he has gained, thus far, subtracted from the 230 estimation gives us a second half expectation of 114. Under the same premise for Hazard, 250 minus the 133 he has already accrued, is an approximated second half of 117. Given the parameters we have, perhaps the best move for my team is moving from Sterling to Hazard for the duration of the second half. This simple math shows Hazard having a slight scoring edge. And, that is with an expectation that Hazard’s production will slow a bit. What if he holds his current pace? That would far exceed the total that Sterling seems to be galvanized for. And, in all of that there is a saving of £0.4m.

But, that is just my measuring stick. You may see it differently. I will acknowledge that I do have some inherent bias against Raheem Sterling. He was my preseason pick to flop this season, after all (which looks to be a completely incorrect assessment, at this point). The images of him playing at Liverpool and this summer’s World Cup overshadow the images of him scoring en mass this season, and last. Your measurements could be different. That is for you to decide.

And, as a final note, there is a cost variable that this methodology has not accounted for. As I sit here typing this sentence, you could account for the price discrepancies by combining multiple pairs that satisfy the budget constraint and look to maximize from that perspective. As I have said multiple times, this is not a statistical measure of any sort. It is a tool of assessing and managing expectations for the second half of the season.

And, as we take a brief long-term approach to player analysis, there is still the more match-up based immediacy that needs tending to for week 20.

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Goalkeepers

Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea (£5.6m)

Chelsea remain tied for second in clean sheets, behind Liverpool. Following a resounding clean sheet performance against Manchester City, the defensive performances have not lived up to expectations. That was the last clean sheet they earned, week 16. This weekend’s match-up with Palace sees them playing the league’s fourth worst attack, an attack that has failed to score in two of its last three matches.

Hugo Lloris, Tottenham (£5.4m)

Spurs are running rampant at the moment. While they have totaled 14 goals over their past four games, the defense has been equally fruitful for fantasy points. In three of those four games, Tottenham have not conceded. The Wolves side they play this week only managed two goals on them in the reverse fixture, both due to penalties. With the cohesion they have showed at the back, the Wolves’ test should be handled with aplomb, like the four fixtures prior. On top of that, Wolves have yet to score more than two goals in a single match all season.

Jordan Pickford, Everton (£5.0m)

Since the back-to-back clean sheets in weeks 12-13, Everton have failed to keep a clean sheet. The weekend match against Brighton allows Pickford, and Everton, to get things right defensively before they face the proven attacks of Leicester and Bournemouth.

Kasper Schmeichel, Leicester City (£5.0m)

There is not much to like in the discount bin this week, so paying up may be something to consider. Schmeichel’s test versus Cardiff is one of the friendliest on the weekend slate. Cardiff rank 15th in goals scored, and they must travel to the King Power Stadium for the weekend fixture.

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Defenders

Marcos Alonso, Chelsea (£6.9m)

The selloff of the highest scoring fantasy defender continues, for reasons unbeknownst to me. Avoiding the urge to sell him should come easy, as his coming opponents are Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Newcastle.

Kieran Trippier, Tottenham (£6.1m)

The way Spurs have been playing, Trippier has plenty of opportunity to get fantasy points. There is plenty of attacking intent in his game, and his team’s attack is flying right now. On the back end, the clean sheet opportunity is high as well. Again, their only concessions in the return fixture were due to the two penalty kicks.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool (£5.1m)

The match-up looks poor on paper; however, the attacking potential for all Liverpool players is too high to hide from. The Arsenal defense is in tatters, so I see the Reds attack taking full advantage, fullbacks included.

Lucas Digne, Everton (£5.1m)

Now, I am not calling for another brace this week. But, the defense looks a stronger unit when Yerry Mina is a part of it. Having earned a rest in week 18, I expect him to be the key cog locking down the backline while Digne compounds those points with his prolific attacking prowess once again.

Victor Lindelof, Manchester United (£4.8m)

It is only going to take one clean sheet before the United prices begin a rapid ascent. Following an assist last week, I am surprised more managers did not jump on the Lindelof bandwagon. This could be your last chance at one of the few remaining bargains in midseason.

Jose Holebas, Watford (£4.7m)

The Hornets are at home, so the defensive solidity should make an appearance this week. Holebas has been a major threat in the attack all season. He has three goals and five assists to his name, either of which could see an additional tally this weekend. The main question will be whether this defense can contain the Salomon Rondon and Ayoze Perez show, as I expect them to return to the starting lineup following their absence in midweek.

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Midfielders

Mo Salah, Liverpool (£13.2m)

The league’s most prolific fantasy scorer meets an Arsenal team that has only prevented three teams from scoring all season. “Now this is a story all about how / [Salah] flipped-turned [Arsenal] upside down...”

Eden Hazard, Chelsea (£11.0m)

In the reverse fixture, Hazard scored four fantasy points in 26 minutes. In his new false-nine position, I would expect him so see a full runout this time around. He has earned a return in five of the last six matches, and this defense should not impede his ability to make it six in seven.

Heung-Min Son, Tottenham (£8.7m)

Over his past six weeks, he is averaging 11.5 points per game (ppg). No man embodies the term “in form” more than Son. He has two more game-weeks before leaving for the Asian Games. That is two more weeks of points while the Korean international is in the best form of his life.

Paul Pogba, Manchester United (£8.0m)

Chugga, chugga, CHOO-CHOO! It only took two weeks for the Paul Pogba hype train to reach full speed. Now is the time to jump on board, as United’s favorable fixtures run until March. It is he, not Anthony Martial, that conducts the Manchester United engine. And, the attack could only increase in potency should Romelu Lukaku return to the fold this weekend.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton (£7.3m)

Against Burnley, the Iceland international earned his fourth double-digit haul of the season. The Brighton challenge give Sigurdsson the opportunity to cement his status as the Everton midfielder to own, especially if Marco Silva continues to play Dominic Calvert-Lewin as the number-nine, pushing Richarlison back to his winger role.

Felipe Anderson, West Ham (£7.3m)

With his brace against Southampton, he became the fourth midfielder to breach the 100 point mark. There is not much an analyst can say about the West Ham’s highest scoring fantasy player at this point. It will be hard to find a single critique until this current run of friendly fixtures ends on the 30th of March. In fact, you could say his fantasy potential could get even higher as Marko Arnautovic nears a return to action.

Roberto Pereyra, Watford (£6.2m)

Pereyra has hit his stride, having four assists and a goal in his last four games. At home, the opportunities to impact his team’s goal efforts should be plentiful against a packed-in Newcastle side. If you cannot find the funds, then look at teammate Gerard Deulofeu (£5.4m), who is playing in a forward position alongside Troy Deeney lately.

Nathan Redmond, Southampton (£5.2m)

He somehow got credit for scoring against West Ham, Thursday, after the ball careened off his arm. But, that now gives him goals in back-to-back games. Manchester City’s defensive woes have been well chronicled. Should the Saints force a tenth game without a clean sheet for City, Redmond is sure to have a hand in it, pun intended.

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Forwards

Harry Kane, Tottenham (£12.5m)

The Englishman only makes the list because he has the best match-up, and the best chance of starting, of all his premium priced colleagues. The play surrounding him has been far superior to his, but he is the least objectionable alternative this week.

Roberto Firmino, Liverpool (£9.2m)

If Mo Salah is going to tear the Arsenal defense to shreds, he is going to need a little help. The greatest weakness of the Gunners’ defense is the center back position. Firmino will be the player in charge of finding the spaces to exploit within the Arsenal ranks.

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United (£7.2m)

The possible return of Romelu Lukaku puts some rotation risk on Rashford, but with the way this attack is rolling, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may wait to reintroduce Lukaku into the side. Rashford also provides the ability to move out to the wing, helping preserve his spot. Bournemouth continue to concede in bunches, and this rejuvenated United outfit is out to prove its worth.

Salomon Rondon, Newcastle (£5.8m)

Rondon will be the key player Watford need to contain if they are to preserve a clean sheet. History suggests their back line will be incapable of doing so. In fact, it was the Newcastle defenders that held strongest in the reverse fixture.

Steve Mounie, Huddersfield (£5.8m)

There had to be a player facing Fulham on the list, right? Mounie has managed two assists in his last two games. There is no better time to notch your first goal of the season than the instant you face the team trending towards being worst defensive side in Premier League history.

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The festive period has reached its apex, and now begins the rapid descent into the New Year. It is all downhill from here. A little simple math at this juncture can help find those players expected to overperform over the second half. Finding these pockets of points will be pivotal to green arrows down the home stretch.

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Are there any players you believe over, or under, performed their first half statistics? Who are they? Which ones are you turning to at the outset of the second half? Please let us know in the comments below!

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