Stats vs the Eye Test: Buy, Sell, Hold or Avoid? Gameweek 1

This is the first in a season-long series of articles from FPL veteran, poker aficionado, former professional journalist and all round good guy Nick Wright (follow him on twitter here).  

The purpose of this article is to look at some of the biggest market movers and see if these moves are backed up by stats, the eye test or both.

The transfer market is bonkers at this time of the year, and in FPL it’s no different.

Over 7M transfers have been made since the GW1 deadline passed as wildcards are wielded, bandwagons are jumped on and hits are made.

At this time of the season we have precious little of stats or eye test (my key assessment criteria!) to go on, so we have to carefully tread the line of using this seasons early showings combined with last seasons information.

Let’s get into it.

All figures correct as of 2pm BST Thursday. All data taken from Fantasy Football Hub’s Opta Data.

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Trent Alexander Arnold (7.5)

Last season’s highest scoring defender had a 7.5m price tag slapped on him this year – and the overriding reaction to that was that he was still too cheap.

However, three goals conceded to promoted Leeds have prompted over 256,000 managers to part ways with TAA (rank one for defenders), whilst a further 25,000 have seen enough to transfer him in.

By the eye test, a defensive malaise that infected the backline during project restart has not been cured, with even Virgil Van Djik committing an uncharacteristically sloppy defensive error that led to the second goal.

However, dig into the stats and there’s less cause for alarm:

Liverpool took 22 shots, whilst giving up just six, only Palace and Fulham took fewer shots in Gameweek 1. Those six shots included zero big chances, not even Bamford’s goal was classed as a big chance by Opta, and a combined xGC of just 0.58. That’s a lower total than Crystal Palace, Everton, Newcastle and Wolves, who all kept clean sheets.

Verdict: Hold

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Son Heung-min (9.0)

It appears Son Heung-min is the fall guy for various replacements, as more than 330,000 managers have waved 안녕 to the South Korean.

On the eye test, this likely just has as much to do with Spurs as a team, as it does with Son as a player.

That’s because Son’s stats look in line with what we’d expect from the 9.0 midfielder who has produced 23, 20, 20 and 24 attacking returns over the last four seasons. Against Everton he produced 0.2 xG + 0.55 xA, three key passes, created one big chance, took two shots, with one shot in the box.

All thoroughly encouraging.

So, if he’s been going out, who’s been coming in?

Bruno (339k) and KDB (324k) are the two most popular midfield transfers in, but they’d require cash in the bank or a -4 to get to.

Whereas for a downgrade, Willian (315K) and the pull of the West Ham fixture have proved alluring, as have the silky skills of James Rodriguez (197K). It’s the Everton man that, perhaps, makes most sense but, even then, Son’s GW1 xPts of 5.6 eclipses the 5.0 of Rodriguez.

However, the appeal of the Everton man isn’t hard to fathom – he passed the eye test and the stats test.

As Ryan O’Hanlon pointed out in his weekly ‘No Grass In The Clouds’ newsletter, across the league, Rodriguez was the only player to rank in the top 10 for expected assists, passes into the final third and progressive passes. Everton’s talisman? Most likely.

Verdict: Hold – but I wouldn’t put you off selling for Rodriguez

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin

DCL’s magnificent leap against Spurs has already seen his FPL price soar – okay, jump – upwards, to 7.1m.

He’s signed into 256,000 new teams, but is it possible we’re all looking at the wrong Everton striker?

Goals might grab the headlines – and the FPL points – but across almost every attacking metric Richarlison outpointed DCL against Spurs: seven shots to two, two big chances to zero, 0.82 xG to 0.32 (headers are hard yo!).

Additionally, The Brazilian was the main beneficiary of Rodriguez cutting inside and switching play from right to left.

However, if we zoom out and compare the two over the entirety of the 2019/20 season then, especially given the price difference, DCL holds the edge in the expected metrics with a combined 0.66 xGA p90 to Richarlison’s 0.55 xGA p90.

Furthermore, over last season among all strikres DCL was ranked seventh for xG p90 and with Rodriguez pulling the strings behind him, the outlook is bright.

Verdict: Buy

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Five-a-side

Five quick fire stats on a team level (not that we should read too much into them at this stage of the season.)

Most Big Chances: Leicester – 4

Highest NpxG: Arsenal – 2.08

Most Passes Into The Opposition Penalty Area: Sheff Utd – 57

Most Shots on Target conceded: West Brom – 7

Most Saves: Crystal Palace/Everton – 5

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I’ll be back next week with another look at big market movers as the Manchester sides, Burnley and Villa come to the party.

Double the data, double the fun…probably!