Decision time: Eriksen v Alli and Mkhi v Pogba

Right now in FPL, we’re in a time laden with choices. As we said in off season, this season is one where the importance of choice is paramount due to the (re)inflated prices for multiple key assets in different teams. Unlike last season, this works to prevent double- and treble- ups on assets from one team without huge sacrifices elsewhere, forcing managers to choose one asset over another.

Two big questions in the meta at the moment, mostly driven by the demise of Kevin de Bruyne as an FPL asset, cover these different pairwise comparisons between players in the same team. These are:

  • Do I pick Christian Eriksen (22% owned) or Dele Alli (35% owned)?
  • Do I pick Henrikh Mkhitaryan (21% owned) or Paul Pogba (36% owned)?

As mentioned on our most recent pod, Nick and Tom both have Pogba, with Tom also having brought Alli in for KdB.

Let’s help you take a look at this with the help of some key stats and opinion to give who we think is the best asset here, with a little help from our understanding of the former question perhaps informing the latter.

We think it’s fair to say that the opening premises are:

  • Eriksen and Mkhi are assisters who will give you a “drip feed” of points through the year
  • Alli and Pogba are goalscorers who will be more “explosive”

Eriksen v Alli – the Eriksen enigma

Spurs’ likely lads (other than Kane)

Eriksen (8g 20a last season) was actually only 7 points behind Alli (18g 11a last season) in 16/17, despite scoring less goals. The reason behind this the Dane’s ability to accrue bonus points: he scored 30 last season compared to Alli’s 17, a result of his creative abilities and ball retention being favoured by the bps system, whereas Alli’s tendency to take shots is regarded negatively by that same system.

The reality is that Eriksen absolutely wipes the floor with Alli stats wise; just looking at FPL’s ICT scores, he is far more influential and creative, and has set pieces, too, with Alli only taking threat.

Here’s their stats for last season (WhoScored + Squawka data):

One surprising stat here is the shots per game.

  • Contrary to the popular belief that he’s an assist machine, Eriksen actually takes more shots per game than Alli!

However, he was nowhere near as effective in terms of conversion; he converted only 6% of the time, whereas Alli did 19% of the time. Alli therefore looks the more “lethal” of the two. Alli was on the field for marginally less time than Eriksen – 3065 mins v. Eriksen’s 3167.

Let’s repeat that for this year so far:

Again, we see Eriksen marginally beating out Alli at the moment across the park – yet the reality is that their output is again mightily similar, with Eriksen’s 22 points only 3 points ahead of Alli on 19 so far.

We’re seeing some differences here, so how do we continue to disentangle them?

Data mining

Let’s look more at last year’s data.

It is often asserted (we’ve both been guilty of it in the past) that Eriksen gives you the drip feed of points, whereas Alli gives you the explosions.

Looking at last year’s data, this is actually not true.

We mentioned already that Alli outdoes Eriksen on threat. That threat is really important when we see how this translates into points: last time out, on an arbitrary measure of how many times they scored more than 3 points (i.e. contribution more than appearance), Alli contributed on 23 Gameweeks versus Eriksen on just 17 occasions.

  • Alli, rather than Eriksen, is the man who drip feeds points.

But what of bumper hauls, or “points explosions”?

Well, here, contrary to common opinion, Eriksen actually has the upper hand. A portion of Eriksen’s assists came in pairs or as part of good all-round performances where he also scored.

He scored more than 10 points (we think scoring double figures is a fair cut-off for an “explosion”) on 10 occasions whereas Alli “only” did so on 8 occasions.

  • Eriksen explodes slightly more than Alli.

One way we found of cutting the data which might be useful is to look at it via a moving average trend line, which uses a selected number of data points (I’ve gone for 5 below), creates an average of them, and then uses that average value as the point that is plotted. This means that there are no stats until GW5, which is the average of GW1-5, then GW6 becomes the average of GW2-6, and so on.

What we see here is that at certain times of the season, Alli and Eriksen were averaging higher than the other, but Alli wins out on more occasions. We’ve picked out some distinct phases in the data and annotated them with letters, which show the following:

A) ~GW5-12: Alli favoured

B) ~GW13-18: Eriksen favoured

C) ~GW19-24: Alli favoured

D) ~GW25-33: Alli favoured

E) ~GW34-38: Eriksen favoured

Totals – Eriksen 11 Gameweeks favoured, Alli 23 Gameweeks favoured.

Alli also maintained a higher moving average than Eriksen each time he peaked, with his peak in point C outdoing Eriksen’s high point at B; it’s also the same case with D v E.

Conclusion: Alli v Eriksen

In short, looking at last season’s data shows three key things which are of importance to us in an FPL sense rather than a footballing one generally:

  • Alli and Eriksen are mightily close in terms of output, with Eriksen actually taking more shots but far lower conversion
  • Alli registers slightly less explosions but gets something more often than Eriksen does
  • Despite being awarded less bonus over the course of the season, Alli yields higher points when he’s in form compared to Eriksen

This seems to slightly favour Alli, and there’s also a couple of more contextual factors to throw in to the mix for those deciding between the two:

  • Alli is suspended for the first three UCL fixtures having been sent off v AA Gent in February
  • Alli costs 0.1 less than Eriksen

We think, in sum, this shows that Alli is marginally the superior FPL asset over Eriksen, despite the stats favouring Eriksen as maybe the statistically better footballer of the two.

Mkhi v Pogba – who’s the real king?

So, does looking at Eriksen v Alli help us understand Mkhi v Pogba, you ask?

Well, on the surface there are some similarities.

Here’s a comparison of how both are currently shaping up in terms of a few key metrics (as before, WhoScored and Squawka data):

Of course, this is very, very early days, but it’s interesting to see the same sort of relationship in play for Pogba and Mkhi at it seems to be for Alli and Eriksen; Pogba is taking the shots, whereas Mkhi is creating the chances.

The two are neck and neck for points scored, both on 26, with 5 assists thus far for Mkhi v 2 goals and 2 assists for Pogba.

Mkhi costs 0.1 more than Pogba, having had an early rise off the back of 2 assists in GW1, whereas Pogba only saw his first rise in GW2; a blank for Pogba versus an assist-but-booked performance for Mkhi in GW3 has slowed progress for both.

So, does this all mean that Pogba will get you goals and track Alli whereas Mkhi will track Eriksen’s assists?

Well…

Things start to get a bit less solid at this point as we haven’t the best data to go on, especially given Mkhi’s patchy season last year – he was only on the pitch for 1352 minutes v 2610 minutes for Pogba.

However, it would seem that their outputs are slightly less defined than Alli and Eriksen in terms of their past performances, making it a bit more difficult to come to a clear conclusion on that front.

Comparing the two the last time they had a full club season each, in 2015/16 Pogba at Juventus scored a career high of 8 goals and 12 assists. This is far beneath Alli’s 20 last year. In comparison, Mkhi’s final season at Dortmund saw him score 11 goals and 15 assists, compared to 8 goals and 20 assists for Eriksen. Here’s the above stats for that season:

From this, we can infer that the roles were a somewhat similar profile to what it is so far. Pogba is more profligate than Mkhi – far less shots per game for Mkhi, but more goals scored. The through balls stat is a bit questionable.

Can we apply Alli v Eriksen?

Does this mean that Alli and Pogba are alike? Or that Eriksen and Mkhi are alike?

Well, yes and no.

Yes in the sense that they present us with a similar either/or question in the United midfield. It would seem from the stats this season that Pogba is indeed taking the shots and Mkhi is indeed creating the chances: in fact, this is a more distinct divide than Eriksen and Alli!

But we think it’s mostly no because of past outputs:

  • Pogba hasn’t ever managed to hit the 20 goals Alli scored last season, and only once ever superseded Alli’s 11 assists last season. Pogba also plays a bit further back than Alli, who has been playing second striker almost for Spurs since last year.
  • Mkhi seems a bit more an all-rounder rather than Eriksen, with his goals and assist outputs often being similar, rather than weighted toward assists; however, his creativity stats are borne out in his past outputs.

This means we can’t assert that Pogba is probably the better choice over Mkhi, as we did with Alli and Eriksen; if anything, it’s even more of a close call.

There are a couple of contextual factors at play which could swing this:

  • Mkhi could be marginally more of a rotation risk than Pogba, with the likes of Mata able to play in the no. 10 role he’s now adopted
  • Pogba costs 0.1 less than Mkhi

Conclusion

What’s the right track?

So, who to choose?

In the case of Eriksen and Alli, in an FPL sense it’s clearly Dele Alli.

In the case of Pogba v Mkhi this is less clear.

The two are neck and neck, with Mkhi marginally more expensive and less owned than Pogba. It’s one to keep an eye on, but we can’t quite (despite it being the ambition when we set out to write this article) neatly draw the comparisons between Pogba and Alli / Mkhi and Eriksen, beyond surface level similarities. The jury’s out here, but it’ll be fascinating to revisit this in the close season and see how closely the two pairs match each other.

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