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Mathematical Musings: Players Ready for Better Fortune

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Pondering some statistical outliers from this season, which Premier League players have endured a bad stretch of luck and should be due some improved fortune the rest of the way?

Marcos Alonso - Chelsea FC - Premier League
Whaaat? I’m supposed to hit it BETWEEN the posts and UNDER the crossbar?
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

As Rod Stewart once crooned, “Some Guys Have All the Luck.” (He did marry Rachel Hunter, after all!) Meanwhile, Elton John famously lamented “I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues” even though he wasn’t belting anything actually resembling the genre mentioned in the title, and he certainly didn’t seem too poorly off himself.

Of course, when you’re listening to music, if you want to get out of the doldrums, just switch the dial on the radio to shift tempo from blues to pop. In that vein, which fantasy Premier League players may be due for improved form and fortunes?

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A Couple of Blues’ Stars Who Keeps Cracking the Woodwork

When attempting to predict who would be a vital performer during the recent stretch of fixture congestion, I tagged Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso. I pointed to the fact that he had scored only one goal while having hit the woodwork three times in the first 13 games, expecting him to nab a score or two from Weeks 14-21 with better luck. Instead, he smacked the bar TWO MORE TIMES in those eight games, while failing to crack the net. The back-breaker was the brilliant strike that looked like the tying goal when watching in real time (or even via replay), as the ball clanked off the inside of the left post and tantalizingly rolled across the goalmouth against Leicester.

Alonso’s fortune must change eventually, right? Well, let’s take a look at the ledger. There are a whopping 13 players who have hit the woodwork at least thrice this season, but only three who have done so four or more times. Interestingly, it’s not just Alonso who has been hitting the woodwork at a breakneck pace this season. The marauding left back actually ties with his teammate, right-winger Willian, getting wood a league-high five times, while Manchester City sniper Sergio Aguero has done so four times. Let’s compare their numbers:

  • Alonso: 5 hit woodwork, 1 goal, 31 shots, 5 shots on target, 4 big chances missed
  • Willian: 5 hit woodwork, 2 goals, 37 shots, 15 SOT, 4 BCM
  • Aguero: 4 hit woodwork, 10 goals, 66 shots, 23 SOT, 7 BCM

Alonso has the same number of shots on target as times hit woodwork! By comparison, that ratio is 3:1 for Willian, and over 8:1 for Aguero. In another area, Alonso and Willian are equally unlucky compared to Aguero using an efficiency metric that takes the woodwork into account; the two Chelsea players each convert only 10% of their combined times hit woodwork and shots on target into goals (1 out of 10 for Alonso; 2 in 20 for Willian), while Kun does so at a significantly more efficient 37% clip (10 out of 27). The Argentine’s world-class skill may certainly account for some of the difference, but it can’t quite explain the enormous gap in efficiency, can it?

Now let’s also look at Alonso’s and Willian’s numbers for this season compared to their prior EPL body of work, just to make sure things really are out of whack.

Marcos Alonso:

  • This season: 5 hit woodwork, 1 goal, 31 shots, 5 shots on target, 4 big chances missed
  • Previous seasons: 4 hit woodwork, 14 goals, 143 shots, 47 SOT, 8 BCM

Willian:

  • This season: 5 hit woodwork, 2 goals, 37 shots, 15 shots on target, 4 big chances missed
  • Previous seasons: 8 hit woodwork, 25 goals, 258 shots, 93 SOT, 9 BCM

Coming in, Alonso and Willian probably should have expected to hit the woodwork about twice each all season, but they’ve already done so five times, putting them on pace for about eight each. Their ratio of big chances missed to shots on target has skyrocketed for both, jumping from about 1:1 to about 5:1 for Alonso, and from about 4:1 to about 10:1 for Willian. Correspondingly, their efficiency (again, goals divided by the combination of hit woodwork and SOT) plunged from 27% for Alonso and 25% for Willian down to 10% each. [Ah, now Aguero’s 37% conversion rate certainly makes more sense compared to the context of 25%-27% for Willian and Alonso.]

Sure, there has been a change in system with Maurizio Sarri taking over, but how much can that really factor into these numbers? The statistical anomalies between past and present performance (and luck) for both players are simply mind-boggling. Unless they are truly living a cursed season, Alonso and Willian should both expect their fortunes to improve the rest of the way, with fewer goal posts — and more goals — in the offing.

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The Secondary Manchester City Striker

When you think about the Manchester City offense, living legend Sergio Aguero is probably the player who automatically comes to mind. But it’s easy to forget that not too long ago, Gabriel Jesus had seemingly been anointed as Kun’s successor. Jesus has certainly had his moments, but ultimately Aguero has kept chugging along and ably fended off the challenge.

Naturally, the Brazilian’s poor form this season certainly has not helped the young striker’s cause, not one bit. Let’s take a look at the league leading players in big chances missed:

Big Chances Missed Leaders thru Week 21

PLAYER TEAM BIG CHANCES MISSED GOALS DIFFERENCE EFFICIENCY
PLAYER TEAM BIG CHANCES MISSED GOALS DIFFERENCE EFFICIENCY
P. Aubameyang Arsenal 15 14 1 48%
C. Wilson Bournemouth 13 9 4 41%
G. Jesus Man. City 11 3 8 21%
M. Salah Liverpool 11 13 -2 54%
A. Morata Chelsea 10 5 5 33%
J. Vardy Leicester 10 7 3 41%
H. Kane Tottenham 8 14 -6 64%
A. Lacazette Arsenal 8 7 1 47%
M. Rashford Man. United 8 6 2 43%

Jesus ties for third-most in the league with 11 big chances missed, yet he has scored only three goals, leaving him behind a whopping 42 other EPL players; perhaps most amazingly, he has the 8th-most goals of anybody on his Manchester City team! Of the nine players with at least 8 BCM, Jesus stands out with the biggest difference between big chances missed and goals (8) and the worst efficiency of goals divided by goals plus BCM (21%). Even Chelsea’s wayward forward, Alvaro Morata, isn’t really all that close with 5 and 33%, respectively.

It’s been a very bad year for Jesus, but is it in character or something that should have been expected? Let’s take a look at the breakdown for Jesus and Morata:

Gabriel Jesus:

  • This season: 3 goals, 27 shots, 15 shots on target, 11 big chances missed
  • Previous seasons: 20 goals, 80 shots, 45 SOT, 16 BCM

Alvaro Morata:

  • This season: 5 goals, 35 shots, 16 SOT, 10 BCM
  • Prior season: 11 goals, 79 shots, 34 SOT, 17 BCM

Indeed, it looks like an unlucky aberration for Jesus, whereas it seems merely a continuation of the same form for Morata. In the prior two seasons, Jesus was solid, posting a +4 difference between goals and big chances missed, along with a remarkable 56% efficiency. Meanwhile, in Morata’s only prior season, his -6 differential and 39% efficiency from 2017-18 are roughly on par with his second time around.

One big problem with Jesus, of course, is playing time. As long as Aguero is healthy, the Argentine should lead the line most of the time. But if a Kun injury leaves Jesus to fill his role, or if Pep Guardiola pairs both strikers together with any regularity, fantasy managers should be ready to pounce, expecting a natural uptick in production from a player who simply seems to be having an unusually unlucky season.

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Fulham’s First-Choice Penalty Taker

Who’s the league leader in shots? Well if you read the header above, you probably can glean the answer. But would you have guessed it otherwise? Indeed, Fulham forward Aleksandar Mitrovic surprisingly leads the league with 77 shots and is fourth with 30 shots on target, yet he ranks only ninth (in a nine-way tie, so really he just as well may be 17th) with 8 goals.

Admittedly, part of the problem might be the Fulham offense. It’s a lot easier to be an efficient scorer when there are multiple talented teammates opening up space to work and supplying high quality chances. But there are other strikers on non-Big Six clubs who don’t have such discrepancies between their goal scoring and shot taking ranks, such as Southampton’s Danny Ings and West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic, who are both close to Mitrovic in goals but nowhere near in shots taken.

  • Mitrovic: 77 shots (#1), 8 goals (#9T)
  • Arnautovic: 41 shots (#17), 7 goals (#18T)
  • Ings: 38 shots (#18T), 7 goals (#18T)

One thing to consider is the penalty situation which came to the fore recently. Fulham has taken two PKs, and amazingly Mitrovic has not been involved in either. He wasn’t on the field during the 4-1 loss to Manchester United in early December, having been removed at halftime with the team already down 3-0, leaving Aboubakar Kamara to successfully slot it home. While Mitrovic was on the field for the other pen in the 1-0 win over Huddersfield in late December, Kamara infamously elected to contravene Claudio Ranieri’s chosen pecking order and failed to convert.

Fulham FC v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
This is not a scene that should happen again, which will surely aid the fortunes of Mr. Mitrovic.
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

If Mitrovic had taken and scored that recent pen, he would have 9 goals, good for a 6th-place tie. If he had been on the pitch for the other as well and successfully put that home, he would be tied for 4th with 10 goals. Suddenly there wouldn’t be a discrepancy at all between his shooting and scoring ranks. By comparison, Ings boasts three goals from the spot, while Arnautovic has one, helping their cause.

Fulham isn’t going to draw the most penalties in the league, but there is some talent on offense with Andre Schurrle, Ryan Sessegnon, Jean Michael Seri and Tom Cairney surrounding Mitrovic, so they will induce one from time to time. From now on, we know that the Serbia international is the Cottagers’ undisputed #1 PK taker. As announcers often like to say, sometimes goal scorers need a cheap penalty conversion here or there to really get them going. Fantasy managers don’t mind cheap goals — and the corresponding haul of points — at all!

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Wolverhampton’s Defensive Assets

Wolves are enjoying a strong run under Nuno Espirito Santo in their first season in the Premiership since 2011-12, sneaking into the top half of the table at 9th. Several of their players have even proven fantasy-worthy. But have they actually been unlucky? Could things get even better from here on out?

Wolves’ remarkable success has come largely on defense, as the team has conceded only 25 goals, sixth fewest in the league. (Meanwhile, the offense has scored just 23 times, only 13th best.) However, despite the overall stinginess, Wolves have kept only five clean sheets.

There’s certainly no surprise in having fewer clean sheets than Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Leicester City, teams which have all conceded fewer goals than Wolverhampton. But Wolves have kept three fewer clean sheets than Crystal Palace’s eight, despite the Eagles allowing one more goal; Wolves also have one fewer clean sheet than Newcastle’s six, despite the Magpies allowing four more goals (29). Even more bizarrely, Wolves have kept the same number of clean sheets as Bournemouth, Burnley, Cardiff and Southampton, who have each conceded between 38 and 42 goals, which is not even in the same ball park!

The crime: Wolves have conceded one goal eight times so far. By comparison, Newcastle and Crystal Palace have done so only five and three occasions, respectively. A close offside call that the sideline referee flags, a ball that hits the woodwork and comes out rather than creeping in, a shot that the keeper gets a fraction more of a fingertip on, that’s the infinitesimal difference between keeping a clean sheet or instead seeing that beautiful donut disappear.

The clean sheet bonus is vital to fantasy success for goalkeepers and defenders in Official FPL. Many have rolled with Wolves productive budget options such as keeper Rui Patricio (71 points, 10th at his position) and defender Matt Doherty (89, 7th). If Wolves can get some more of that luck that they seem to deserve, then Patricio, Doherty and company should pay off famously down the stretch.

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(Note: Most of the statistics used above came from the official Premier League and Premier League fantasy websites. Penalty kick information came via www.transfermarkt.com.)

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Which of the above players are you looking to add to your fantasy teams, or stick with, in the hopes that their luck will turn? Are there any others who you expect to play a better tune the rest of the season? And which troll will always be a troll? Let us know in the comments!

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