Red Roulette 2018/19: Can Bobby and Mane cover Salah?

In this piece, our designer Matt looks at whether Mo Salah can be covered by owning Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

A lot has been said about Mo Salah’s effective ownership (i.e. overall ownership + captaincy) going into Gameweek 1 this year. We expect it to be loitering around 100% with many, including Nick and Tom on their L-W Podcast, suggesting that going without him as a risk too far. My thinking, however, was somewhat different.

The ability to jump on bandwagons early in the season is something that should be considered when constructing your GW1 team as it’s a sure fire way to get off to a good start while building your team value in the process.

Given Salah’s prohibitive price tag I wondered, as a few I’ve seen on social media and forums like Fantasy Football Scout have, just to what extent he and a cheaper forward could be “covered” by Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Both sets of players cost 19.0m.

My thinking here in terms of contemplating life without the Egyptian was: if Salah doesn’t start off at 100 miles an hour, I’ve not got an eighth of my budget going to waste. If Liverpool start poorly, it’s much easier to jump onto a premium forward, whilst there are lots of options to move sideways to from Mane.

This could be particularly pertinent given Arsenal and Man City’s lovely fixtures Gameweeks 2-9, while Liverpool’s toughen in that time frame – between GW5-8 their fixtures read: tot SOT che MCI.

All of this begs the question: can the phenomenal Egyptian have been covered by the other two members of Liverpool’s “Fab Three”?

Individual Returns Covered

Let’s jump to the numbers. I looked through all the goals Liverpool scored in the Premier League last year, noting down how many of them were scored or assisted by the “Fab Three”. Here are the results:

What we can see here is that, of Salah’s 32 goals, you could cover 9 of them (28.13%) by Bobby and Mane getting assists.

Similarly, you could cover 6 of Salah’s 11 assists (43.33%) by the other guys scoring. All things considered, you’ll cover just over a third (34.88%) of Salah’s offensive returns with Mane and Firmino.

Salah himself covers both Firmino’s (36.36%) and Mane’s (41.18%) returns more effectively than this on his own, which shows why, if you’re only plumping for one Liverpool attacker, it has to be Salah.

Pure Offensive Points

In terms of pure points, Salah scored 27 more offensive points than Firmino and Mane combined.

When you factor in the average offensive points scored by the top four sub 6m forwards from last season (Wilson, Depoitre, Gayle and Barnes), you’d expect to be 72.25 points worse off over the course of the season by selecting Firmino and Mane over Salah and this 6m forward.

It’s worth noting that these four forwards averaged 1971 minutes of game time last season, meaning Salah and the 6m forward played a combined 4876 minutes, and Bobby and Mane played a combined 4989, so it seems fair to directly compare their results against each other.

Crucially though, once you pick your team you can make transfers so perhaps it’s more effective to look at this in terms of points per week rather than points per season. This works out at 1.9 points a week more than Mane and Firmino.

Caveats

According to the numbers, it’s a no-brainer to go for Salah and a cheaper forward over Mane and Firmino. However, there are a couple assumptions and circumstance from last season that this doesn’t take into account:

  1. Salah’s form last season was unheard of – will he be able to repeat his incredible form?
  2. Mane played 716 minutes less than Salah last season due to suspension and injury: will this narrow this season?

Whilst I certainly wouldn’t question Salah’s ability to continue his great form, (some of the ridiculous stats in the second part of the podcast previewing all the squads reference that he could possibly even improve next season). I’d expect Mane to play the majority of minutes at the beginning of the season – depending on the impact of new man Xherdan Shaqiri, of course.

Evaluation

Mo than adequate

Clearly, Salah is essential over the course of the season if he continues his form from last year. Unfortunately I can’t stick with my initial thinking about going without Salah: I think he should probably be in your team at the start.

A big factor for me, though, is the Wildcard. It often takes 3-4 weeks to identify which cheaper attacking players will provide good value, which is why it’s such a popular time to use the chip.

If you can hold your nerve and Wildcard Gameweek 8 or 9 this season to address the fixture swing against Man City and Arsenal, this might be the prime time to build a team around Salah and/or possibly even Kane, who may have woken up by this point. This allows you to take advantage of better team structure early in the season and gives you the option of putting your money elsewhere for Liverpool’s tough run in week 5-8 and avoiding putting all your eggs in Salah’s basket.

However, the “World Cup” factor meaning many are avoiding late returnees in their initial squads may see Wildcards pulled earlier this season overall.

Captaincy and subsequent effective ownership are also big considerations, though, and it can’t be questioned that Salah is the safest choice in Gameweek1.

Beyond that, though, given Man City and Arsenal’s great fixtures, there will be a plethora of other great options. Personally I’d like to captain Aguero or a Man City midfielder for those incredible home games in weeks 2-7, so Salah loses a little of his appeal if you look at it on a periodic rather than per-Gameweek basis.

Conclusions

I had hoped this research would make me feel more confident going without Salah, but it has in fact done the opposite.

That being said, I think that the numbers show that if you’re going with Mane and Firmino, there is a chance (albeit an unfavourable one) that they may do the job – assuming you’re happy to hide behind your sofa on Gameweek 1.