Stats vs the Eye Test: Buy, Sell, Hold or Avoid? GW3-4

Stats v the Eye Test is 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).  

Most FPL managers will be glad to see the back of GW3 as the average points total dipped to 43, the lowest of the season so far.

One of the reasons for the paucity of points was the half-time withdrawal of Heung-Min Son.

This column tipped labelled the South Korean as a hold in GW1 and, after a 24 point haul in GW2, his 784,722 new owners were left with just a solitary point in GW3.

His injury and the uncertainty over his return date has meant he’s by far the most transferred out player this week, with over 900,000 managers having moved him on ahead of GW4’s 11am BST deadline.

So, this week’s edition is a Heung-Min Son replacement special as I scout three of his most popular replacements.

(All figures are correct as of 20.30 BST, Thursday, with Opta Stats taken from the Fantasy Football Hub’s members area)

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James Rodriguez (7.7m) – 299,000 transfers in

Heading into GW2, I touted Rodriguez as a Son replacement, noting that in GW1 Rodriguez was the only player to feature in the top 10 for expected assists, passes into the final third and progressive passes and that he would likely prove to be Everton’s talisman.

So, what has another 180 minutes of football told us?

In those two matches, Rodriguez has continued to impress.

Across all midfielders he ranks first for xA, joint first for big chances created and second for key passes (behind Salah). The stats therefore confirm that eye test that it’s assist threat that is the Colombian’s biggest string on his attacking bow.

He slips outside the top 10 when you look at shots (-=11th) and xG 35th. Now, goals are worth more points than assists, and the news that he’s not on penalties is a blow.

When you pop all that in the FFHub xPts p90 mixer Rodriguez is ranked 13th with 5.7 pts p90.

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Wilfried Zaha (7.2M) – 271,000 transfers in

I covered Zaha in last week’s column, suggesting he was an avoid. He promptly had his quietest game of the season (two shots, 0.1 xG) as Palace lost to Everton, so it’s fair to see I’ve not changed my mind.

Yet, his xPts p90 of 6.3 is higher than that of Rodriguez.

The trouble is much of his attacking threat has come from the penalty spot.

He only took a penalty because Jordan Ayew’s was saved, meaning there’s some uncertainty over Zaha’s continuing to be on penalty duty.

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Harvey Barnes (7m) – 157,512 transfers in

Perhaps because of Leicester’s stuttering finish to the 19/20 season, or perhaps because of the ominous looking GW3 fixture at The Ethiad, Leicester attacking players somewhat flew under the radar for our GW1 squads.

The 22-year-old, who received his first senior England call up this week, is still only owned by 5.8% of managers.

The good news for any current, or future owners, is that Barnes form this season is no fluke, the numbers he’s putting up this season are in the same ballpark as last season, and it’s the sort of ballpark you want to be in.

His 6.3 xPTS p90 over the 2019/20 season was fuelled by 0.37 xGp90 + 0.23 xAp90. That ranked him 11th across all midfielders and the highest scoring asset who’s priced at 7m or below in FPL this season (jointly with Walcott).

The eye test suggests that Barnes has added more directness to his game this season and that’s borne out in the numbers, he sits third for total shots (12) behind Salah and Mane and as a result, his xG p90 has taken a hike to 0.52 p90 and his xA a drift downwards to 0.17 p90. Combined, that puts him at 6.2 xPts p90.

All things considered, including fixtures, form and price, it’s Barnes of the three that I’d be targeting if I owned none of the triumvirate, with Rodriguez a close second.

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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.

  1. With 61 shots, Liverpool are way out in front, but Leicester’s five penalties sees them top the xG charts.
  2. The sides standing either side of Liverpool on the shot podium may comes as some surprise as they are West Ham and Brighton, with 44 each. Both teams are more than just volume shooters too, with Brighton ranking fifth for xG and West Ham eighth. This despite, somewhat sticky starts for both teams.
  3. Whilst West Brom look to be the current whipping boys, who are the clean sheet collaborators? The teams whose attack is tooled up from a toy shop. West Brom, Newcastle and Wolves, of the teams who’ve played three games are in the xG relegation zone.
  4. Get it in the mixer! Fulham (76) and Sheffield United (72) are the crossing kings, whereas West Brom (29), Man City (35), Man United and Southampton (both 36) sit at the other end of the spectrum.
  5. Spurs and Liverpool (10 each) have created the most big chances.

I’ll be back next week with another look at the market movements.