This is our “prospecting the prospects” series, where we run the rule over lots of FPL prospects who will enter the game next season– our directory for these (over 20!) is here. This series analyses a selection of significant newcomers to the FPL game by simulating how they would have performed using last season’s stats (wherever they played) in FPL, then provide our evaluation of the player as an asset ahead of the new season.
On the 6th July, Leicester signed Vicente Iborra, a defensive midfielder from Sevilla for £15 million.
— Leicester City (@LCFC) July 6, 2017
But why are we looking at a defensive midfielder? Well, it’s because Iborra is not your typical defensive midfielder: dubbed the ‘Spanish Fellaini‘ by the Leicester Mercury, Iborra doesn’t just offer defensive potential. Standing at 6’3, he will play an important role as a target man on set-pieces and corners, as well as bringing with him a decent goalscoring record from La Liga.
Very different to the vertically challenged N’Golo Kante, whose departure for Chelsea last season left a void that Leicester have been struggling to fill (Nampalys Mendy was a flop, though Wilfried Ndidi appears to be strong prospect).
Prospecting the prospect (using last season’s data)
So how good would the big Spaniard have been if he had played at this level last season in the Premier League? Well using WhoScored and our knowledge of the FPL bonus point system we can give a shot at providing an analysis.
Appearances: 31 appearances (12x played over 60 mins, 19x subbed on/off) = 43 points ((12×2)+19)
Goals: 7 goals (5×7) = 35 points
Assists: 2 assists (3×2) = 6 points
Not conceding: 4 clean sheets (1×4) = 4 points
Bonus: Let’s analyse the games he contributed in. This (of course) covers goals, assists and clean sheets for defenders.
(Occasional random bonus points (bps) are sometimes awarded in FPL where a player has bossed it but not actually got on the score card. We’re not estimating these as we’re using pure data rather than contextual data (e.g. watching the games he played in) to make perform this analysis. Plus it’ll only be an extra one or two points either way, which won’t change the story.)
For goals: Despite not nailing a starting berth in the Sevilla team, he managed to score seven goals. However, he scored these seven goals in just 4. In one big game for the player, on 11th December, he managed to net a hattrick against Celta Vigo. Sevilla won the game 3-0, but Iborra only actually played 45 minutes in the game: however he would have definitely picked up the 3bps for his heroics and goals (scored via header, right foot and a penalty). On 22nd January, in a topsy-turvy match for the player, Iborra scored a brace (the opening two goals) but also scored an own goal whilst picking up a yellow card in the 4-3 victory over Osasuna; perhaps he’d have received 1bp here, all things considered. On at half time against Real Betis on 25th February, he scored the winning goal, perhaps netting him 2bps. Finally, in a rare full 90′ against Athletic on 2nd March, his goal in the 14th minute proved the winner; 3bps here.
9 bps for goals
For assists: The big man in front of the defence picked up only two assists during the season. One of them was against Las Palmas on 12th February when he assisted in a 1-0 win; however, again he got carded so maybe he would have got 1bp. He also got an assist – setting up the winner – in the 2-1 win against Celta Vigo on 22nd April, and played the full game in this one, so perhaps he would have got 1bp in this game too.
2 bps for assists
Total guesstimated bonus = 11 points
Disciplinary: 9 yellow cards = -9 points / 0 red cards
Own goals: 1 (in 4-3 victory over Osasuna = -2 points
Scores on the doors
88 points in 31 appearances. Top 60 midfielders, 1 ahead of Hull’s Sam Clucas and 1 behind Alex Iwobi, but well outside the top 100 overall. Hmm.
Given he only appeared 31 times, let’s work out his point per game (ppg) score, which is 2.84ppg (88/31): a total of 108 points (2.84×38) for a whole season, which is a bit more OK: that takes him into the top 90, equal with Dusan Tadic, and the top 40 midfielders.
We don’t normally do this, but we felt that it might be worth take into account the fact that 20 of his appearances were on/off the bench which he meant he didn’t play 60 minutes and lost out on appearance points in those games. Let’s have a play with this for a second and give him the 20 appearance points on top of his original total, giving him 108 points in 31 full appearances (funnily enough, what we get if we do the original calculation). This would give him a hypothetical 3.49ppg, which across the season would give him 132 points (3.49×38): that puts him in the top 30 midfielders overall, equal to Michail Antonio, and into the top 50 overall, equal with David Luiz. Extrapolating?
Evaluation and conclusion
Sevilla managed to finish 4th in La Liga which means they will be pplaying in the Champions League yet again. However this was accomplished without Iborra, who wasn’t really able to nail down a place in the starting 11 for the team. In a “Per Mertesacker / Tomas Vermaelen is my captain but I’m never going to play him” type scenario, Iborra was the team captain for Sevilla but, following on from the resigning of Ever Banega, was deemed surplus to requirements and allowed to leave for Leicester.
Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli opted to play the likes of ex Blackburn and Stoke man Steven N’Zonzi, Arsenal pariah Samir Nasri and Matias Kranevitter in the centre of the park in many of their games last year, which limited his captain’s involvement. However, it’s worth noting Iborra scored more goals from the bench than any other La Liga player all season, and was given 4 full games in the Champions League too.
It’ll be interesting to see how Iborra fits into the Leicester team. We have to be assume, given Iborra’s leadership credentials and past experience, he has been signed to play a big (starting) role. His new manager Craig Shakespeare was apparently impressed by what he saw when encountering him in the Champions League last season. As mentioned above, N’Golo Kante was never really replaced, with his nominal replacement Mendy barely playing and now seemingly headed for the exit, though January signing Wilfried Ndidi played a fair bit alongside Danny Drinkwater in the second half of the season and showed some real promise. It remains to be seen if he will slot into the side as Ndidi’s replacement (and therefore playing in a predominantly defensive role), or in a midfield three alongside the other two (with some licence to roam forward). As seemingly an aerial threat – WhoScored say he is Very Strong in aerial duels – he could delight in converting balls delivered by the likes of Marc Albrighton and Christian Fuchs, and indeed maybe even new signings like Gylfi Sigurdsson if he, as has been rumoured, goes to the Foxes.
In terms of comparators, it would seem United big man Marouane Fellaini is a good example of a similar style of player. In the 2012/13 season, his final one for Everton, Fellaini scored 11 goals and got 7 assists and was receiving many accolades – and FPL interest, given his overall score of 168 points – for his aerial prowess as he was played in a more advanced position. In other seasons (2008/09; 2011/12) when Fellaini was given lots of minutes, he managed over 100 points – 111 in his maiden season, and 105 in 2011/12. His output has diminished at United, as he was made the scapegoat to some extent by fans disenchanted by “football genius” David Moyes’ approach, and failed to really recapture his spot in the XI though Mourinho has played him a bit recently. We’re focusing on his Everton years here as Iborra was also employed as an attacking midfielder in the 2014/15 season for Sevilla (where he scored 9 goals in all competitions) and may well be played in this kind of position for Leicester rather than at the base of the midfield. Of course, Fellaini also has a penchant for indiscipline and this is something to watch with Iborra too as he is picked up 9 yellow cards throughout the season, which is a high number considering he wasn’t playing in every game.
Another similar player in stature and positional presence is Etienne Capoue. It has taken Capoue a few seasons to really settle in the Premier League but last season he scored 7 goals and got 2 assists for Watford, accruing 131 points. Memorably, this includes a 5 game flurry at the start of the season when he turned into our enabler of choice in FPL: interestingly, this score is the same as what Iborra scored this season in La Liga. I believe Iborra has the potential to deliver these types of returns in the Premier League, bearing in mind, as mentioned elsewhere, that Iborra has a good record in terms of scoring goals for Sevilla in general, managing to score 7 goals in the league per season in each of his last three seasons in La Liga.
Another midfield dynamo that has trodden a similar path to Iborra – at least in terms of signing from a Spanish club to joining ex-Premier League champions – is former Athletic man Ander Herrera, who signed for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United in 2014 off the back of a 5 goal 5 assist returning season in La Liga in 2013/14. A player similarly deployed in midfield, though perhaps more creatively in a “deep lying playmaker” role (in Football Manager parlance), his first season at Old Trafford resulted in 6 goals, 4 assists and a 98 point return, albeit in only 26 appearances (17 starts; 9 times off the bench). With a ppg of 3.77 based on those figures, a projected score of 143 points (3.77×38) isn’t far off the 132 we gave in our “if Iborra had played 90 mins in each game” example.
In general, it should be mentioned, La Liga players have adjusted well to Premier League and we’ve seen the likes of Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas and Ander Herrera all come to the Premier League and adjust well. Iborra has also always been comfortable performing against foreign opponents and this is reflected in his role in helping Sevilla win the Europa League three times in a row.
Given the stature of the player, I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays the majority of games for Leicester. This, plus his demonstrable eye for goal might make him a decent proposition for the Foxes: could lightning strike four times and he score 7 goals again this year? Either way, the signs are fairly good in terms of how effective he can be if he’s on the pitch.
Price wise, Leicester’s values were out of whack last season due to their fairytale 2015/16 season, so we’ll definitely see a reduction across the board. Much depends on how FPL towers regard Iborra as a potential asset: comparable scorer Tadic at Southampton was landed with a 7.5m price tag, which would clearly take Iborra – unless a bandwagon formed – out of consideration for us. Looking at how prices for new signings were allocated for teams finished around where Leicester did this season caused us to delve back into last year’s Fantasy Football Scout previews. According to that old FFS article Stoke, who finished in 9th in 2015/16, and two men from abroad in the off season – Bojan and Xherdan Shaqiri – who received 6.0m and 6.5m price tags respectively; it was a similar price for Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu, who was priced at 6.5m after his side finished 11th. It could be, then, that a 6.0-6.5 is where the tag will end up. I’m not sure if we’ll be flocking to him from the offset at that price. If he is 5.5 or even below (especially if FPL towers deem him a defensive midfielder) he could figure in our thoughts, but it’s looking prohibitive.
As we spoke about on the podcast, Leicester’s opening fixtures are tough (they play Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool all within their first 6 games). However, their fixtures improve from there, so if I wildcard early and Iborra is looking dangerous then I may well be picking him up if a bandwagon has formed! Due to Leicester’s tricky opening fixtures, we will have the luxury to scout this player further and see how he performs under Craig Shakespeare as he adjusts to Premier League life. If it turns out that he is playing too deep and not getting on the end of set-pieces then he will quickly become an irrelevance.
To conclude, Iborra has some potential for our squads, with a keen eye for goal and also the ability to play further forward. He won’t be a mainstay, but if he starts performing could well begin to figure in our thinking. It all depends on the price, his adjustment to English football, and where Shakespeare plays him. If he’s 6.5 and predominantly playing in a defensive role, then forget it. But if 5.5 – or below 6.0 due to early price drops – and playing with some threat about him later on in the season, he could be one we’d be looking at. The upshot of this uncertainty is that we can’t endorse him for FPL just yet, but he may prove us wrong.
Overall rating: 2.5 / 5 – A reasonable prospect for FPL (Tom thought he deserved 2.0 but I disagreed and believed worthy of the 2.5)
*derived from a completely subjective scale from 1-5, where 1 is bad and 5 is excellent
Caveat: we thoroughly accept this system of evaluating players isn’t flawless. However, we feel that it’s a nice approach to getting a feel for how a player might do.