Five Guys: Neves v Cairney (a prospecting the prospects double patty)

Our “prospecting the prospects” series returns for 2018-19!
This is where we run the rule over lots of FPL prospects who will enter the game next season. This series analyses a selection of these newcomers to the FPL game by simulating how they would have performed using last season’s stats (wherever they played) as if they had been in FPL, then providing our evaluation of the player as an asset ahead of the coming campaign.

When FPL opened (hurriedly) on 5th July, managers scanning the list quickly zeroed in on two men whom are newly promoted but could provide bargains for their teams: Tom Cairney of Fulham and Ruben Neves of Wolves. Indeed, the official account went as far as to highlight (during the one day of teasing) the Portuguese midfielder in one of their price reveals.

27 year-old Scotsman Cairney joined Fulham from Blackburn in 2015, and has proven an integral part of their team in their ascent once more (via playoff glory) to the Premier League. In contrast, the more fresh-faced (by football standards) 21-year-old Neves joined Wolves from FC Porto for £15.8m in last summer’s transfer window , and is another in the Jorge Mendes stable of players.

On paper, their background seems different. But what unites them is their shared 5.0 price tag in this years FPL, and nicely sets up an inaugural comparative prospecting the prospects article for us. So who is the better 5.0? Let’s find out using Whoscored data…

Prospecting the prospects

Instead of our usual run-down, here’s a table of what we saw last season:

Scores on the doors

Cairney

The Scottish midfielder’s 122 would see him finish inside the top 30 midfielders in the Premier League for last season – one point above Andros Townsend and three off Richarlison. I think that number is actually fine given the games he played.

His points per game (PPG) is 3.7 from the 33 full games he completed, which is possibly what we’d expect from a players like that. Over 38 games that’d give him 141 points, three ahead of Paul Pogba and three below penalty king Luka Milivojevic. However I think the 122 total is probably fairly realistic.

Neves

The Portuguese’s 109 would see him finish top 40 for midfielders last season, equal with Granit Xhaka – which chimes given the amounts of yellow cards (10) Arsenal’s clumsy Swiss midfielder accrued last time out.

His PPG is 2.6 from the 42 games he played last season. Pro-rata’d for 38 games, that’d give him 99 points, two ahead of Ryan Fraser and 1 below the likes of Juan Mata and Jack Cork.

Evaluation

Creative (assist potential)

What’s quickly evident from looking at the data is that Cairney carries the far superior assist potential than his fellow 5.0 Neves. The Scot is the clear winner in terms of creativity: he managed 1.69 chances created and 1.84 key passes for Fulham per game last season, versus 0.82/0.8 respectively for Neves. This is despite missing the early part of the season with a knee injury.

This is also shown in the performance data, too, with Neves only recording a single assist all season (in the 3-1 win over Burton in March – albeit the assisting the winner for Afobe).

It’s worth noting that Cairney does not appear to have the monopoly on set pieces, and that many of these assists have come from open play. However, what he does have in his favour (not fault of Neves’ that he doesn’t have this, having only had one, highly successful, season at Wolves) is a history of being Fulham’s key man creatively; in 2016/17, he managed 11 assists and created 2.53 chances per game.

Offensive (goal potential)

Cairney and Neves matched for goals last season (6). Looking at minutes played to give a goals per 90 score, neither are prolific so don’t expect much from them: Neves weighs in at 0.15 goals/90 having played 40.2 90 minute games last year, versus Cairney on 0.18 for 34 90 minute games. Cairney has actually regressed, perhaps due to last season’s knee injury: in 2016/17, he scored 0.28 goals per 90 for a total haul of 13 (at 46.4 90 minute games), indicating perhaps he might be a better prospect now he’s had a year back in the fold and probably gets a full season under his belt.

Neves goal v Derby in April (ASComps, YouTube)

In terms of in-game stats, Wolves’ Portuguese Defensive Midfielder took far more shots: Neves took on average 2.1 shots per game last season, compared to Cairney’s 1.06. Cairney had slightly more shots in the box, at 0.31 shots per game v Neves’ paltry 0.07. Cairney has a better shot accuracy than Neves, too, at 43% v Neves’ 38%. All of this paints Neves as a bit of a potshot specialist, leading to some spectacular goals – many have seen, for example, this sumptuous volley v Derby in April.

However, it’s worth mentioning Cairney’s 2016/17 form for a second time: in that season, though Neves took more shots from outside the box on average, Cairney took 2.43 shots per game v Neves’ 2.1, of which a very decent 54% were on target.

Bonus generation

Cairney would fare better under the BPS system than Neves. In terms of chance creation and key passes he would top the Portuguese. Furthermore, the Wolves man takes more shots off target than Cairney does.

The underlying BPS measures for passing would definitely afford Cairney a far stronger baseline than Neves. At 91% pass accuracy compared to 85% for Neves per game, along with almost 20 more completed passes on average, the Fulham man looks set to be able to generate a decent BPS baseline which will stand him in good stead for bonus should he record an attacking contribution.

The one elephant that’ll continually weigh down Neves is his discipline: he was yellow carded 11 times last season and also sent off once. He’s mostly penalised for bad tackles, receiving a yellow card for a bad tackle once every 4 games (0.23/game) rather than once every 10 (0.09/game) for Cairney. His disciplinary record would have been join worst for midfielders in the Premier League, alongside Southampton’s Oriol Romeu. This is a real cause for concern for owners, who will be looking at best for 2/3 points from Neves but may have to settle for a -1 fairly often and, potentially, a suspension and a headache before long.

Conclusion

It looks like Cairney wins out here.

The comparison between Neves and Granit Xhaka feels really apt – they’re the same sort of reluctant defensive player who would bleed FPL points through poor discipline. The only difference is that Neves has that worldie in his pocket: every now and again, owners could get lucky – however they will more likely receive a yellow card from the ill-disciplined Wolf. The 109 he and the Swiss share seems about the ceiling for Neves.

For Cairney, the nearest comparator is Johann Gudmundsson (6.0) of Burnley. Their data for 17/18 is very similar, creating a near identical amount of chances (1.84 TC, 1.83 JG) and taking a near identical amount of shots (1.44 v 1.46) per game. The key difference again is Cairney’s propensity for bonus, highlighting the difference between Slavisa Jokanovic and Sean Dyche’s game plans: Gudmundsson barely passes, completing on average just 15 passes per game last season. This might mean that a score of around Gudmundsson’s 117 may be viable for Cairney (especially factoring in the performance of 2016/17), with maybe a couple of extra points for bonus thrown in on top. By all indications that seems decent value for money for 5.0, though the usual caveats about making it work at this level apply.

Cairney Overall rating: 3 / 5 – An above average prospect for FPL*

Neves Overall rating: 2 /5 – A below average prospect for FPL*

*derived from a completely subjective scale from 1-5, where 1 is bad and 5 is excellent

Disclaimer: we thoroughly accept this system of evaluating players isn’t flawless. Predicting how well a player will do is an inexact science, and there are many ways to do it. However, we feel that it’s a nice approach to getting a feel for how a player might do in FPL.

 

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