Talisman Theory – 2020/21 Report

Talisman Theory is the idea that you should make a beeline to the key man in every team – the Talisman – over other players.

You may think: Well, duh. How is that insightful?

And you’ve got a point. I’m not here to proclaim that that assertion is, in of itself, worth your time.

What I am here to proclaim, though, is that, unlike eternally boring FPL debates (classics such as “should we favour form or fixtures?” or “is luck or skill more important?“) that you’ll see spattered all over social media, Talisman Theory is different because it is provable. 

Over the last 3 years (2017/18; 2018/19; 2019/20) I’ve donned my insight scuba kit and deep dived into the data to bring Talisman Theory to life for FPL managers, and I’m excited to pick up my figurative pen for another edition to review what was a rather unique season in retrospect.

Usual hazard warning: this is longer than your average weekly churn piece. It’s no 30 second read.

As you might expect, I make zero apology for that, and am going to happily assume that a mix of unique data analysis and my idiosyncratic writing will see you stick with me ’til the end.

I’m also going to assume intelligence on your part when you’re reading this – I’ll analyse the data, but won’t hold your hand the whole way. If you need that level of help to understand the below, it might not be for you.

nb I intentionally use the term “Talismen” throughout. Apologies to scrupulous spellers, but I think it intuitively sounds better than the (more correct) alternative of “Talismans”

The data

As always, my elves scraped the FPL API for last season’s data and bent it, shaped it and reformed it in the lab to help form the data set which underpins this piece.

Talisman analysis breaks down into 3 steps:

  1. Collate overall and team points scored
  2. Find out who scored the most points within each team (“Lesser Talisman”)
  3. Remove non-individual points like appearance and clean sheets to generate a “Talisman Points” metric, which enables us to see who was truly the Talisman to own per side (“Greater Talisman”)

Just because I’m a total nerd who loves to dig into the data as much as I can, as per the last couple of editions I’ll also throw in a pair of extra analyses to cover off any further areas of interest, which you’ll know as Exit Velocity and Sloppy Seconds.

I’ve also included a few further asides where I felt something required a specific call-out.

Step 1: Overall and Team Points

1a – Overall Points

The number of points scored overall in the FPL game has actually increased year-on-year for the first time since 2017/18:

This slight uptick in points scored (1.41% percentage change) is worth meditating on for a second, because last season was an unusual one in terms of the points profile of the FPL game.

As we mentioned on a podcast near the end of last season, the feted “200 Club” – players scoring more than 200 points in any given season – actually shrunk in terms of how many players comprised that elite band in 2020-21, as illustrated below (alongside other facts and figures):

On first glance, this downturn in “200 Club” membership seems to be counterintuitive with the rise in actual points scored.

Some might ask: “how could more points be scored but there be less elite players at the top table?

This is, of course, a rather fallacious way of looking at the data – homing in on the top 10 to create an arbitrary subset (in this case, 200+ point scorers) does tell you how well the top 10 players have done each season (and we can obviously make inferences from this in of itself), but it does not help with understanding the overall picture of the season.

However, if we widen our scope to look at another arbitrary subset which has more sample – the rather less distinguished “100 Club” – it becomes clearer what happened last season:

(nb I could have gone further here and done a “150 Club” analysis – but where does it end? In the interest of brevity, I think the above suffices)

What we saw was both a rise in the number of players scoring over 100 points and – crucially – a rise in the number of points scored by those players scoring over 100 points.

This 5.25% rise in points scored year on year seems to be the key factor in the higher number of FPL points scored in the 2020/21 season than the previous 4 campaigns.

From identifying this driving factor, we can infer more things to sum up last season’s character:

1/ The elite 4 (Bruno, Kane, Son, Salah) should have been nigh-on permanent fixtures in the “template” team that scored highly last season

2/ Beyond that, though, there were more options than we’ve seen in the last 4 years scoring points – where some, like ex-200 Club member Kevin De Bruyne, had poor seasons, there were those such as Ilkay Gundogan filling the gap

3/ Agility was key in terms of jumping on these mid-price movers and shakers when they fired

This wider pool of points on offer has received more attention from me in this year’s report because it has a knock-on impact when it comes to Talisman Theory.

You’ll see that the dilution of the points concentration has caused some interesting results in this year’s edition, especially when we reach the Greater Talisman in Step 3.

But we’ll come to that later – for now, let’s move on with our analysis by funneling these overall points into Team Points scored.

1b – Team Points

As usual, looking at this, we transposed teams’ final Premier League position onto the chart too, with the aim of providing a point of evaluation:

Some points of interest:

  • Since I’ve been doing Talisman Theory, this is the first year that only one team has scored more than 2,000 points. Man City’s dominance is writ large here. They’ve scored more than 2,000 points every season over the last 4 years, and scored 24 more points than last season
  • In contrast, Liverpool’s annus horribilis is starkly displayed in this chart – they scored 2094 points last season, meaning we’ve seen a 15% drop in the number of points the Reds managed in 2020/21 compared to their title-winning season in 2019/20. A combination of losing Virgil Van Dijk early on, stymying clean sheet potential, plus the likes of Sadio Mane having lengthy cold streaks led to points not being realised left, right and centre. Will we see a course correction in the new year?
    • They staged a recovery in the second half of the season, of course, which could well mean they revert to type in 2021/22 (something that will be touched on later in Exit Velocity)
  • The gap of 240 points between City and Chelsea in second is the most significant gap ever observed in Talisman Theory. Nonetheless, the Blues and Man United plugged the gap left by Liverpool by taking up second and third places
  • Tottenham’s deadly duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung Min (both 200 Club members) drove Spurs to finish just outside the top 4 in terms of FPL points scored
  • Aston Villa and Leeds in finishing in 6th and 7th, in contrast to their actual league positions of 11th and 9th respectively, is a story in the importance of the difference between FPL as a game and the actual Premier League
    • The Villans were fuelled by big years from the likes of Emi Martinez (who was very close to becoming the first goalkeeper in the 200 Club in FPL history), Ollie Watkins and Jack Grealish
    • The Whites had more than decent performances from individuals such as Stuart Dallas (now sadly reclassified to midfield) and their Talisman (not really a spoiler) Patrick Bamford doing the business for them as they took the Premier League – and FPL managers – by relative storm after their promotion from the Championship. Much more on them later!
  • Leicester saw a significant drop off in the number of points scored year on year. Last campaign they managed 1783, finishing in 3rd place, so a tumble to 9th with 1679 (-5.83%) is quite something. Though members of their squad (Jamie Vardy; Kelechi Iheanacho; Harvey Barnes) had their moments in the sun, a lack of consistent points-scoring sustained through the season (Iheanacho only came to the fore in the second half of the season after Barnes’ injury, for example), alongside a muted campaign for James Maddison, saw the Foxes’ season end as disappointingly in FPL world as in the real world
  • Arsenal stay 10th for a second consecutive season. But we scored 9.25% more points than last year. That’s something eh? Eh?
  • In keeping with most years, we saw 9 teams fail to score over 1,500 points. These sides, though, tend to offer up our Talismen…
  • A quick one on the roller coaster that is Burnley – last season, I was lauding their 8th finish place in terms of FPL points scored, ahead of the likes of Spurs and Arsenal – a feat built on their sturdy defence (remember those Nick Pope v Nick Nope days?) keeping 15 clean sheets. In 2020/21, though, they’ve fallen down to 16th as a combination of fewer clean sheets (11) and fewer goals scored (just 33, compared to 43 the season before) took their toll on the Clarets’ final score
  • And finally – Sheffield United. What a dreadful season. This is comfortably the worst points total in the last 4 years, worse even than in 2017/18 when Huddersfield managed a paltry 1068, and last season with Norwich on 1123. A truly abysmal total that makes me feel sorry for Bladesmen everywhere

Having collated this data, we move forward to the next step.

Step 2: Lesser Talisman

Next, we take a simplistic look at which player scored the most points from each team, which I call “Lesser Talisman”.

I refer to this as “Lesser Talisman” because I think it’s a pretty basic look at the data – I’d not be satisfied with any conclusions drawn from this step as it’s just goal involvement translated into FPL points vs total FPL points scored… though I’m sure others could find this revelatory.

Here’s 2020/21’s Lesser Talisman graphic:

Summary notes:

  • Harry Kane is the Lesser Talisman king. Hold that thought for now
  • Bruno isn’t far off Kane. The Portuguese playmaker comes in second despite having scored more points individually by dint of recording a lower % total of his team points scored (remember, Man Utd outscored Spurs in terms of total FPL points scored)
  • Mo Salah‘s in 3rd, which again probably isn’t unexpected – it’s of no surprise that the top 3 players are also members of the 200 Club (more on the 4th, Son, later on!)
  • As we always see in this basic analysis, there’s a lot of presence between the sticks – 7 Lesser Talismen are goalkeepers
  • The key observation I’d make here is that, in 2020/21, we observed a higher proportion of “Lesser Talismen” scoring fewer than 10% of their teams’ points than ever before – we normally see 3 or 4 of these, so having 9 is quite unprecedented!
    • In keeping with the “100 Club” analysis above, this is because there is a wider spread of players scoring FPL points at bigger volumes throughout Premier League sides – especially those with a <10% Lesser Talisman: Because more players are scoring more points, it’s more difficult for a Lesser Talisman to cut through that 10% threshold

As I say every year, I find this analysis vanilla in the extreme: This is demonstrable in the chokepoint of players between 9-12%, which is too bunched up to tell us anything useful.

If we’re doing objective research well, we should ask: how can we improve this analysis?

Key to answering this question is remembering the insight we’re looking to generate from this. This is Talisman Theory, and the focus is on identifying Talismen using the most effective method possible.

As Lesser Talisman doesn’t quite get to that, we need to sharpen our data set.

I propose to do this via the next step, which is where we remove “team based points” so we can home in on individual metrics like goals scored, assists, and bonus points to create our “Greater Talisman” metric.

We’ll tally up what I call “Talisman Points”.

For this purpose, “team based points” – meaning things like appearance points and clean sheet points (including negative points incurred for multiple concedes) – are removed from the data.

Why?

  • On removing appearance: Of course, minutes played is hugely important in terms of picking players – arguably the most important, in fact. I am not arguing this isn’t true. But, in this specific use case, these points are not as useful. For the purposes of this analysis, understanding what players add beyond hygiene measures – the “added value” – is what we’re trying to uncover!
    • For example, if a player plays 38/38 games for 90 mins (e.g. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in 2020/21), an individual scores 76 points by default as a base line, which skews the data. This is particularly true of goalkeepers, who dominate the Lesser Talisman metric – in no small part due to the fact they are likeliest of all to fulfil 3420 mins throughout a season
  • On removing clean sheets: Yep, it’s a double whammy for minute-heavy defenders and goalkeepers. I’m well aware that a strong defence is the foundation for a positive performance for many of these Talismen, but the fact is that this analysis aims to uncover not value-for-money players but value-adding ones
  • On keeping bonusLike it or lump it, bonus is a big part of FPL. Elements such as defenders keeping clean sheets clearly contribute to bonus points being scored, so maybe it could be argued that these could be excised too. But the fact is that these points are just the kind of individual points we’re looking for – players earn them through their contributions on the pitch, so they stay

Right, now we’re all agreed, let’s elevate this “Lesser” analysis into something better…

Step 3: Greater Talisman

Beautiful. Players spread out. Meaningful findings galore.

Except the headline one.

Harry Kane takes the Greater Talisman crown this time around. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

A potent mixture of goals and assists for the combined golden boot and golden creator (or whatever it is) winner meant him taking this arguably even more prestigious individual award was inevitable.

Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering what a turnaround this is for Kane in terms of views of him as an FPL option. To many last year, he began it a busted flush: “Harry Kante”. I’m not immune from having written him off to some extent. His roaring back to prominence shouldn’t be dismissed in the cold light of hindsight.

To this end, it’s also worth remembering that, last season, Kane was actually the Sloppy Second for Spurs as Son grabbed the 2019/20 top spot for them after scoring 104 Talisman points (20.4% of Tottenham’ total). Kane only managed 100 (19.7%), meaning he returned a whopping 73% increase on last season’s output in terms of this metric. That’s certainly not to be sniffed at.

173 Talisman Points is also the second highest individual total we’ve ever seen during Talisman Theory. The first is obviously Mo Salah, who netted a record setting 217 back in 2017/18 in his 303-point scoring season. Since then, we’ve seen Salah again in 2018/19 (163) and Kevin De Bruyne (166 in 2019/20) come relatively close.

Further notes:

  • Matheus Pereira joins a long list of Talisman heroes (such as last season’s Talisman King Teemu Pukki and Troy Deeney) from seasons past who were relegated despite scoring strongly. He’s a shining example of how picking up the best player from a small team can be really effective. Obviously, you had to time it right (this is no 200 Club player, after all), but his 28.4% of talisman points scored was an easy second place. His total Talisman point score of 86 also exceeded 11/20 clubs’ Talismen
  • The majority of the list are strikers. Though we at WGTA (amongst others) have been increasingly enthusiastic about the value of midfielders (1 more point for a goal, 3-5-2 etc etc) in recent years, it shouldn’t be forgotten how important one individual finishing the meagre number of chances a perhaps smaller team creates can be for a team’s fortunes. Much like Pereira, the mid-priced individuals in particular (though Kane is an obvious example) are the epitome of Talisman Theory
  • Bruno and Salah are the other 200 Club members who finish in the top 5 for this metric
    • Bruno’s 160 Talisman point haul is the highest individual haul for Man Utd we’ve seen since I’ve been doing thisAnthony Martial in 19/20 (123), Paul Pogba in 18/19 (102) and Romelu Lukaku in 17/18 (96) don’t come close. In my view, he’s a great example of a desirable Talisman for a big team – despite the fact they score lots of points, he in of himself has multiple routes to points, and currently doesn’t have an opponent to steal share (let’s see what happens with Jadon Sancho‘s arrival). It almost feels implicit that Bruno’s performance was so brilliant, but let’s not forget this was only his first season in the Premier League: It’s not even a prediction worth bragging about, but I did say last year that his 56 Talisman Points in just 8 games post-restart for United were setting him on the road to glory…
    • Salah’s 149 points is actually his lowest tally in 4 years but, due to the spread nature of points I’ve noted, his 5th place finish is actually his highest finish ever during the time I’ve been doing Talisman Theory. I’ll come back to this in Sloppy Seconds
  • Picking up on that striker point, I’d like to take a moment and skip down the list to Bamford here…

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Anchored Bamford

Leeds United surprised and delighted FPL managers and Premier League watchers alike in their first campaign back in the top flight for nearly 20 years. In terms of FPL, they provided ample options ranging from the aforementioned Dallas, through midfielders such as Jack Harrison and jinking trickster Raphinha, all the way through to their Greater Talisman, Patrick Bamford.

On first glance, I saw Bamford in 8th in Greater Talisman and thought meh, no big deal.

But then I glanced at how many Talisman Points had been scored by all 20 teams last year:

Leeds were simply terrific as an FPL side by the Talisman points metric. Coming 6th is no mean feat.

Bamford himself was actually 5th in terms of Talisman points scored too (we’ll get on to this below).

Another way of looking at this was more basic goal involvement. I was actually a bit surprised that Bamford’s 28 goal involvements (17g, 11a) saw him involved in a massive 45% of their 62 goals last term, earning 194 points.

But after an awesome performance like this, why aren’t we flocking to him in our drafts ahead of 2021/22?

He’s not figuring in many RMTs on social media, nor breached 20% ownership at time of writing (~mid July).

Well, my best guess is that it’s at least partially because he’s now 8.0, a hike of 2.5 on last year’s ludicrous-in-hindsight 5.5 price point.

This makes me wonder if there’s an element of anchoring bias coming into play with Bamford. Anchoring bias is the idea that we rely heavily on an initial piece of information to decide what we think about a topic.

Since we knew him last season as an outrageous bargain of a player who surprised us all by returning consistently at just 5.5, in our heads, a mental shortcut we may have taken is thinking that he’s no longer good value because he’s not in the bargain bucket anymore.

Throw in a glut of other options around his price point and an opening fixture vs Man Utd (and Luke Shaw’s huge ownership at the time of writing) and it seems a recipe for him to conveniently forgotten about.

But does he deserve that?

Let me leave you with these two questions to help you consider this:

  • If we’ve got a player with a 190+ point finish in his locker who hadn’t previously been 5.5 – imagine he’d started at 7.0 instead last season – would we be as reticent to own him?
  • If an 8.0 player scored 190+ points, would that also not constitute a bargain?

Of course he could be just a one season wonder, but it’s one to ponder…

(We spoke about anchoring bias on our Behavioural Science & FPL Summer Special podcast, which you can catch up with here)

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  • Continuing in the striker vein, Chris Wood in 4th is a similar story to the WBA key man Matheus Pereira. The burly New Zealander obtains Burnley’s Talismanship for the 4th season running and has been remarkably consistent in terms of  Talisman points scored throughout the seasons, scoring tallies of 64, 77 and 73 over the last 3 campaigns
    • Again, this is symptomatic of the larger points pool out there as mentioned earlier in this piece – the dilution of points has meant a lesser concentration for the Talismen in this edition, pushing specific individual contributions, especially in low-scoring team such as Burnley, to the fore
  • Similarly, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Callum Wilson being Talismen for their teams is unsurprising
    • DCL claimed Everton’s Talisman mantle for the first time, taking over from Richarlison. There’s a neat role reversal at play between the two of these guys, too – last season, the Brazilian was the Talisman with 85 points as  Dom runnered up on 61: A 24 points (6.4%) difference
    • On Tyneside, Wilson managed 12 goals and 6 assists in an otherwise constipated Newcastle team last season, meaning he was involved in over a third (37%) of their goals. More on the former Bournemouth striker later!
  • As usual, too, some teams are decidedly Un-Talismanic – West Ham, Man City and Chelsea’s Talismen scored <15% of their team’s total Talisman Points and, indeed, the Stamford Bridge club’s crown was shared between two players
    • This is actually the second year in a row where Chelsea’s Talisman crown has been shared. Last year, Willian (remember him?) and Tammy Abraham shared the crown. Eden Hazard has not been replaced in terms of being a Talisman for the Blues, creating an opportunity again for someone to potentially step up. Could Kai Havertz be that man? Or a new striker? Or could Thomas Tuchel‘s penchant for Guardiola-style rotation mean points continue to be distributed evenly?
  • Sidenote: Aaron Ramsdale would be the Talisman King if I hadn’t removed him from this chart. Ridiculously, this is the second year in a row he’s been Greater Talisman for a relegated team, having been Bournemouth’s back in 2019/20. The low number of points scored by Sheffield United means that not a single outfield player of theirs could eclipse Ramsdale’s “haul” of 48 points. They only managed 144 attacking points last year, meaning Ramsdale got a potentially misleading outsized score. I’ve omitted Ramsdale from the graphic main for clarity, but you can view the graphic with Ramsdale in it here

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Sky Blues Thinking

With the exception of seasons such as last season when Kevin De Bruyne had a standout campaign, or when Sergio Aguero was on tear back in the day, the above may mean I’m asked: “So, are you saying don’t buy players from Man City because of Talisman Theory?

I’d guess this is because Man City’s points are always fairly spread out, the result of which is that their Talisman is always in the lower echelons of the Greater Talisman metric.

After I finish rolling my eyes at this question, my answer is always the same: obviously not.

The fact is that Man City are the single best example of how a spread of points scored by a spread of players dilutes any concentration into one individual. 

This is best displayed by ranking the Talisman Points by integer rather than % (which I’ll cover later in Sloppy Seconds).

If you look at the data in this way (and remove Sheff Utd anomalies), no team contributed more players to the top 20 than Man City, whose assets represent a quarter (5/20) of this top table:

(nb technically they had 6 as Jack Harrison was on loan to Leeds, but let’s not split hairs)

There wasn’t a consistent Talisman all the way through the 2020/21 season, as shown by the highest scorer being 9th, but particular individuals (e.g. Gundogan between GWs 19-24 or so when he went on the rampage) were must owns at particular points. It’s just all about the timing, as I concluded above when examining 2020/21’s character.

As we all know, Pep’s men are unique in terms of being a high scoring team whose manager has a penchant for the unpredictable, hence the existence of forum posts galore dedicated to guessing his next move. You can never be totally assured of starts when owning a player – save Ederson (though even he missed out on a game to Scott Carson last season!)

This is why, in 2019/20, the consistently starting Kevin De Bruyne was gold dust – and probably why he’s been bumped up to 12.0 despite an injury hampered output of just 141 points in 2020/21.

Could it change in the new campaign, with high profile signings mooted? We shall see.

Returning to the opening bit of this little aside though, I’d just reiterate that engaging brain is important when reading any study like this: I’m not attempting to solve FPL, merely aiming to give you another perspective in your arsenal of knowledge when making your decisions as a manager.

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So, Greater Talisman wise, there you have it – Kane the Talisman King; strikers rule the roost.

Bamford a bit overlooked.

Surely it ends there, right? There’s no more analysis?

Nah, there’s more – just because, as a researcher and nerd, I don’t want to leave any stone unturned in case there’s further insight to be gleaned.

Let’s move on to Sloppy Seconds.

Extra Analysis – Sloppy Seconds: Which Teams Are The Most Talismanic?

We’ve all been there.

(No, don’t kid yourself, you play Fantasy Football and are into it enough to be reading this. You have definitely been there.)

The second place pick. The runner-up. The guy/gal/other that he/she/they didn’t want, or the guy/gal/other that he/she/they settled for as the first choice was unavailable.

Applying this idea to Talisman Theory, what I do here in the Sloppy Seconds analysis is look at the distance between the Talisman and the second place scorer of Talisman points per team to try to help us elicit further insight into this Talisman thing – in this case, this approach mainly helps us unearth which teams are most Talismanic.

Here’s the data:

How to read: Table shows Team Talisman Points, Talisman, Sloppy Second and Distance between the Talisman and Sloppy Second both as an integer and as a %. By reading across, you can make comparisons per team. My highlights in red.

So, we’ve already identified that a few teams such as West Ham, Chelsea and City are Un-Talismanic via our Greater Talisman analysis.

This further step consolidates that analysis, whilst also bringing out the most Talismanic teams as mentioned.

Key notes:

  • Newcastle emerge as the most Talismanic team in terms of % difference, with newly anointed no9 Callum Wilson’s hero status among the Toon fans underpinned by the Sloppy Seconds analysis as he scores 11.7% more than his Sloppy Second. It’s telling in terms of how reliant the Magpies were on the former Bournemouth man that second placed is indeed Arsenal loanee Joe Willock, whose goalscoring run towards the end of last season effectively picked up the mantle from where Wilson left off when he got injured. At 7.5 and many seasons of Premier League pedigree, Wilson’s highlighting by Sloppy Seconds marks him out as a perhaps overlooked option that’s worth considering ahead of the new season (he’s in ~5% of teams at time of writing) – although, aesthetically, it’s a bit tough to watch Newcastle games
    • This is actually the smallest “winning” difference between Talisman and Sloppy Second I’ve seen in the last couple of seasons running this particular analysis level – last year, Danny Ings was 20% clear of 2nd place and in 2018/19 Eden Hazard was 16.8% clear
    • This again keys into what I’ve consistently asserted during this article – the spread of points we’ve seen has diluted the concentration of points that Talismen have enjoyed in previous years
  • In terms of points difference (integer), Man Utd gave us the biggest gap between Talisman and Sloppy Second via Bruno’s 67 point advantage over Sir Marcus Rashford. Once more, this difference is smaller than years past – this would have placed as the 3rd biggest gap last season, for example, behind Ings’ aforementioned difference to Stu Armstrong and also Jamie Vardy’s difference to Harvey Barnes (73). This again underlines the point on Bruno which seems so obvious as to be implicit – the former Sporting Lisbon man was an excellent FPL option last season and is one of the established picks we should be strongly considering ahead of Gameweek 1 2021/22
  • Everton had the third largest difference % wise between Talisman (DCL) and Sloppy Second (Richarlison). The England striker recorded his best ever season in FPL with 165 points. After hitting 108 points by GW20, many assumed that he’d be able to enter the 200 Club but a slowdown in the second half of the season (see Exit Velocity) curtailed his chances of reaching the elite
    • Of course, how well they do next season depends on how new boss Rafa Benitez utilises the two of them in terms of formation – will he be playing them as a partnership as his predecessor Carlo Ancelotti did?
  • Amazingly, Analytics FC’s nemesis Jesse Lingard was just 1 Talisman Point away from being West Ham’s Talisman
  • Bamford again catches the eye a bit – 40 Talisman points ahead of the Sloppy Second Harrison puts Leeds at the sixth most Talismanic team
  • The likes of ArsenalBrightonChelsea and Palace, alongside the already analysed Man City, emerge as decidedly unTalismanic teams. This is especially surprising when it comes to Arsenal – I’ll come onto this in the Conclusion where I’ll talk about how last year’s Conclusions fared…
  • We saw the largest gap between Mo Salah and Sadio Mane (50) in the last 3 years (previously 6 and 22). The Senegalese had a cold streak season, picking up a mere (by his standards) 176 points after a couple of seasons in the 200 club. That gap contributes to why the Egyptian King ranked so highly in the Greater Talisman stakes compared to previous years – less points were scored by Liverpool, and he bagged a higher proportion of them
  • In contrast to those two, this analysis exacerbates the fact that, in 2020/21, Spurs were a team with twin peaks. One club contributing the Talisman King and the best Sloppy Second (the Sloppiest or the Least Sloppy?) hasn’t been seen before in this analysis. Kane finished as the Talisman and also won out on the Greater Talisman metric, but that meant poor old Sonny really got a bum deal: A stellar season for the South Korean led to his first entrance into the 200 Club in his Premier League / FPL career, carrying on from last season when he was Spurs’ Talisman (beating out his partner-in-crime Kane), but he was still eclipsed by the England captain’s fabulous individual season

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Here Comes The Son

Hold up – let’s give Son his due here, actually.

As our (now on hiatus) co-host Nick predicted at the start of last season, Sonny finally had that year he’d been threatening to have – when it all came together and he was able to finally breach that elusive 200 point ceiling:

This performance has been overshadowed by Kane doing even better unfortunately, but it’s worth mentioning that, in terms of the Talisman Point rankings by % overall, Son’s actually 5th (adjusting for Sheff Utd anomalies). This underlines the fantastic season the South Korean enjoyed last campaign in FPL terms:

Nonetheless, it’s actually very tough to anoint him as one to recommend for the season ahead due to the uncertainty at Spurs. If there was a more settled club context for him, I’d be saying he’s another who has been overlooked by FPL managers currently (<20% ownership) but again a mixture of that uncertainty, a higher price and iffy fixtures understandably ushers him into the “wait and see” tavern.

However, as a long term favourite of mine, I couldn’t let Sonny’s ceiling-smashing season go undocumented in this analysis.

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Well, anyway, that’s Sloppy Seconds.

Newcastle, Man Utd and Everton the Talisman fiends. Who knew?

So we’ve now looked at Talisman Theory through many angles. Most of them look at the whole set of 38 Gameweeks of data, but here and there I’ve referenced things like “timing” and “at certain points of the season”.

Can we look at Talisman Theory through what nerds may call a “temporal lens”?

Why yes, yes we can.

Extra Analysis: Exit Velocity

This analysis charts how things developed between a certain snapshot (usually around March) and the end of the season to determine “Exit Velocity”. The aim of this analysis is to show us who ended the season strongly and therefore who might be worth considering ahead of the upcoming campaign.

I’ll do this by comparing a snapshot of how things looked in GW28 versus the final 10 Gameweeks to see who, if anyone, smashed it out of the park at the end of the season and could therefore be deemed have a sense of momentum going into 2021/22.

Obviously, there’s a bit of a logical stretch needed here – as I sit here writing this in the sun dappled light of mid-July, many things could change ahead of GW1: Any idea of “momentum” will also of course be checked by the fact that there’s a summer in between seasons, the Euros have been and gone, and there will of course be transfers and injuries and other factors which may change things here.

Nonetheless 2 years ago, this analysis picked up Jamie Vardy becoming a points machine under then-new manager Brendan Rodgers. He then proceeded to then knock out a 210 point season – his second best after that one. So it does have merit.

Here’s 2020/21’s breakdown:

I’ve removed the 3 teams who are not longer in the PL, leaving us with the 17 teams who remain.

But wow, what a weird, weird data set. As I’ve mentioned many times throughout, this was a year where there’s a huge pool of points scored which are spread out through the set of FPL relevant players – and this shows most clearly how it impacts Talisman Theory if we examine the metric through this temporal lens.

Here’s the key outcomes:

  • I’ve done this analysis three times – albeit using slightly different data snapshots – but I’ve never had a year when splitting the data like this has spat out just two Talismen continuing to hold the mantle over the final 10 Gameweeks. Last year, it was 10/17 and the year before that it was 15/17
  • This all again points to something we all already know – Mo Salah is a Talismachine. This analysis has shown over the last 3 years that he’s capable of being that sustained Talisman throughout the season for Liverpool. Exit Velocity has only served to further highlight the strength of the Egyptian King as an FPL asset
    • In general, Liverpool’s resurgence in the final 10 Gameweeks is worth noting. Their players scored the most Talisman points of any team on the home straight as they recovered what could have been a disaster to obtain that coveted Champions League berth. I’m not convinced that their season was the start of a terminal decline, although with players like Gini Wijnaldum leaving there were some whispers that it was the “end of the cycle”. It remains to be seen whether they can return to their pre 2020/21 levels, but the avuncular Jurgen Klopp is one boss in world football whom I’d back to coax his team back to the light
  • It’s really 1.5 Talismen keeping their positions between time periods. DCL’s was a shared position with Gylfi Sigurdsson for Everton, following a fallow end to the year wherein he was injured (missing Brighton and Crystal Palace fixtures) and only returned a couple of goals across that ten Gameweek period
  • Elsewhere, over the final 10 Gameweeks it’s fascinating to speculate about how we’ve ended up with 15 different Talismen to the first third of the season:
    • I count ~8 known injuries which could have hampered or altogether stopped performance Pedro Neto, Grealish, Pope, Gundogan, Kane and Wilson were all definitely out for a while, and Transfermarkt tells me that DCL and Alexandre Lacazette missed a couple of games each at the end of the season due to suspected injuries
      • Ohh Nicholas Pepe. What an end to the season. Could the quality player we’ve seen glimpses of finally be emerging from that particular chrysalis?
    • In the case of Neal Maupay, there’s a character who fell out of favour as Arsenal legend Danny “Dat Guy Welbz” Welbeck became the leading man up top for Brighton
    • This maybe accounts for 9 of the changes, then…
  • The other 6 – Christian Benteke taking over from Wilf Zaha, Harrison from Bamford (who went through a spate of pre-60 min subbings, much to owners’ chagrin), Iheanacho from Vardy, Mason Greenwood from Bruno, Ings from JWP and Lingard from Tomas Soucek – all appear to be instances worth homing in on especially as they could point us toward emergent characters who may be worth looking at next season
    • Benteke’s late spurt of form, securing him a new deal at Palace and an improbable place at the Euros with Belgium, was enjoyed by yours truly as I owned him for all 4 of the goals he scored in 4 games. Will he repeat it again? We’ll need to see what Patrick Vieira has in store at Selhurst Park
    • Bruno did slow down at the end of last season as Mason Greenwood returned to prominence. The young starlet’s been given a 7.5 valuation again and could indeed have this carried momentum going into the new season – provided he can wrestle a starting berth. Bruno wise, some could take this as an indicator that the huge number of games he was fielded in led to fatigue, as his ineffectual (in terms of end result anyway) performances for Portugal at the Euros showed. Does he have the bouncebackability for next season? I’d not bet against him, personally
    • Ings and Lingard’s futures are up in the air at time of writing so I’ll leave them be
    • Harrison is certainly worth monitoring for next season – no-one seemed to own him much at any point of the season, but he stealthily grabbed over 150 points. At just 6.0, the ex Man City man is certainly worth a look come GW1
    • And in the case of Iheanacho – are we finally reaching the moment where he supplants the old warhorse Jamie Vardy? He scored nearly a third of Leicester’s points in the last 10 Gameweeks (albeit in the absence of Harvey Barnes). It’s feasible to suggest that he will become the new focus of the team and Vardy will be gradually succeeded by newcomer Patson Daka, but we really need to wait and see what the return to fitness of Barnes will have on the Foxes’ team shape.

I also ran one more analysis here that I’ll term “Exit Velocity Extra”, which looked at when Talismen bagged the majority of their points over these two data snapshots:

This perhaps leads us to a point on Wood and Watkins as players whose exit velocity saw them become Talismen – but don’t forget that was abetted by injury.

Ollie Watkins deserves a quick mention, despite perhaps taking the Talisman mantle by default due to Grealish being injured in all probability. He nonetheless managed 14 goals from a non pen xG of 15.27 which isn’t bad at all in a debut season in the Premier League – plus he was super unlucky on many occasions (hitting the woodwork, offside VAR). Provided Grealish stays, he’s now got an extra supply line in the prodigiously creative Emi Buendia also feeding him – could Watkins build on this solid start in 2021/22?

Instead, what interests me is how in 2020/21 an overwhelming number of Talismen were “locked in” come GW28. The vast majority of them were pretty much done by then, with over 80% of their Talisman Points already scored – in the case of Neto and Gundo prior to their respective injuries, over 90%!

This was also the same in 2019/20:

The solidity of the Talisman template – outside of Salah – seems to have become shakier at the season entered its end game in both seasons shown above.

Feeding into that shift in fortunes for the established Talisman, is it that a mixture of changing motivation, injuries and fatigue took their toll over the tail end of the season? Could it be that we need to move away from established norms as we enter the business end?

We tend to talk about teams being “on the beach” in FPL towards the end of the season, and maybe this is what is reflected in the above to some extent. As priorities become clear to teams and individual players as the majority of the season is now behind them, targets really come into focus – such as things like avoiding relegation or obtaining European spots for teams and things like striving for individual accolades or playing for a big move for players. Either way, as motivations shift, it looks like there tends to be an impact on the players scoring points.

FPL wise, as we saw with the likes of Bruno drop off dramatically as we entered the tail end of the campaign, perhaps it’s a case of being more ruthless and less “loyal” to players who have rewarded us for our patience once the end of the season rolls around.

Will leave this here in the interest of brevity, but it’s something to think about.

Evaluation

Caveats first:

  • There are lots of ways to analyse data. You may disagree with the method or the findings, or indeed think a different approach is better. Perfectly reasonable – but, if so, you do the work and show how you can do it better (but please credit and don’t brazenly steal others’ work or ideas!)
  • Context is key. No Man City player especially stands out according to Talisman Theory. But I’m obviously not saying that Man City players aren’t worth considering. This leads me to…
  • Talisman Theory is part of – not the full -picture. This article and analysis is not claiming to have solved FPL nor be the most important bit of information you should use when picking your team. Hopefully the fact it’s evidence based means it should be worthy of consideration, but please weigh this analysis alongside others you may have read, listened to or made yourself before making decisions. It’s meant to be a weapon in your armoury, not the whole arsenal

I think I need to address an elephant in the room before we move onto this edition’s evaluation, though

*

About Last Year’s Aubamegate

Sometimes, the Talisman analysis can be shot down by events as they unfold during a season.

I’m sure many of you will remember last season’s evaluation, which is a case in point. Here’s what that I wrote:

Ouch.

Some may ask: “Does this invalidate Talisman Theory?”

Predictably, I’m going to say: No, of course it doesn’t!

Judging by the data and what we knew at the time, it seemed like a good bet that Aubameyang could’ve taken FPL by storm. Don’t forget that he’d returned 205 points in 2 consecutive seasons beforehand, scoring 22 goals per season, and had just been reclassified to a midfielder with a new contract to boot.

I wasn’t able to foresee a dramatic downturn in output (only 10g 3a last season giving him a meagre 131 points), his contracting malaria and Mikel Arteta shoving him on the wing with the instruction of providing width rather than cutting inside (among other things). This is always a game of predictions and there are lots of impacts I can’t know about when I write forward-looking conclusions.

Hindsight has 20:20 vision.

I still stand by the evaluation by the standpoint of what we knew at the time in 2020/21’s preseason!

*

Onto the 2020/21 evaluation, then.

What have we learnt this time around?

The 2020/21 FPL season’s unique character diluted the traditional concentration of points we have seen around Talismen in the past. The fact that a wider spread of players were returning over 100 points, and scoring more points, than in the last 4 years has seen a few characteristics seep into this edition’s data outputs, such as the likes of Chris Wood and Mo Salah entering the top 5 of the Greater Talisman chart, plus impacts such as a decline in things like the gap between Talismen and Sloppy Seconds.

Kane was the Talisman King, but it’s tough to make a clear recommendation for him due to contextual factors. If we had the blinkers on and focused on the data alone, I’d do so. However, the uncertainty surrounding Kane makes it difficult, at time of writing, to be endorsing him – but we obviously know what he’s capable of. If he does get into the groove under Nuno, or get his move to another Premier League club, he’ll no doubt be challenging for a spot on our teams – if he goes to Man City in particular the picture changes markedly. The same may be true for his teammate Son, who has similar uncertainty over his future.

Let’s not get complacent about how good Mo Salah and Bruno Fernandes are as FPL picks. We all know that consistently returning players with multiple avenues to point-scoring are the holy grail of FPL. These two have all of that in their locker, plus, unlike Kane, are also classified as midfielders. I don’t feel like I’m going out on a limb, based on what we know, to say it seems a case of looking a gift horse in the mouth to go without these guys ahead of Gameweek 1, 2021/22. Salah kept his Talisman status all season and, though Bruno did eventually drop off, there’s more than enough evidence that both of these big team Talismen have solid cases to be as close to Essential for FPL as can be.

Apart from the obvious picks, Patrick Bamford would be the one who emerges well from this piece. Following the likes of Vardy, Raul Jimenez and, er, Aubameyang in past years, the Leeds striker seems an unsung hero of last season from this analysis. I’m reminded of Jimenez’s situation a couple of years ago following his own hike from 5.5 to 7.5 when the doubters again were out in force: The Mexican went on to better his tally in line with his price hike, from 181 to 194 (coincidentally what Bamford recorded in his debut year). It’s a big call to say that Bamford’s trajectory will follow suit and he’ll enter the 200 Club but he’s nonetheless one who really needs to be paid more attention. During preseason, we’re all forecasting who could be the next big Talisman – but could he be hiding in plain sight, partially obscured by our own psychological foibles? The Leeds frontman is overlooked (at least on social media) at the time of writing due to what I suspect to be anchoring bias, alongside a few other factors. However, looking objectively at his performance last season through the lens of Talisman Theory, it seems to be that we should re-evaluate why Bamford has (maybe harshly) been left out in the cold.

Strikers for other Clubs outside the top 4 remain hotbeds of Talismen. Callum Wilson, following prior examples through his exploits on the south coast with Bournemouth, is in my thoughts ahead of the new season as a top example of how small clubs can provide us with Talismen – as evidenced by his putting the most daylight between himself and his Sloppy Second in this report. He’s a great example of a mid-table team Talisman in terms of how he hogs both the real football goal involvements as well as the FPL points (though I won’t be going out of my way to watch Toon games if I do own him). Additionally, we can list off the likes of Ollie Watkins, Kelechi Iheanacho in the second half of the season, Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s performances for Everton over the first two-thirds of the season and Chris Wood scoring nearly a quarter of Burnley’s attacking points, as all being great examples of Talisman Theory in action.

Linked to that, Matheus Pereira a good example of how newly promoted teams can be Talismanic – as long as you time it right. This kind of individual is a fairly obvious candidate to be a Talisman for their team. Ivan Toney hasn’t been mentioned in this article as of yet, but he’s one who is already in approaching a third of teams and could be the one who “does a Pukki” (or should it now be “does a Pereira?”) by returning the vast majority of Brentford’s Talisman points following 31 goals and 14 assists in the Championship last campaign. Don’t forget about Teemu Pukki himself, though, who’s also back in the Premier League. The Finn claimed the golden boot prior to Norwich’s promotion in 2018/19 and bagged 11 goals and 3 assists (mostly in the first throes of the season, fading badly as it wore on) and 139 FPL points in 2019/20, “winning” Talisman Theory in last year’s edition – could history repeat itself with him? Or could Toney do it for us at 6.5? Or could even Ismaila Sarr or Joshua King do it for Watford?

Some teams aren’t Talismanic – but obviously that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them. As alluded to in the Man City callout, Talisman Theory isn’t going to tell you which of these players are worth buying in. In football terms, KdB is a player with an ability commensurate with FPL big team Talismen like Bruno and Salah but his injury hampered season led to City having a wide spread of points. But it goes without saying that if the Belgian master does emerge as a must-own due to consistency of points returns and starts next season, it’s a no brainer. It’d be great if he was a season-long pickup like it was in 2019/20, but looking at last season’s evidence the fact is that in a team with a plethora of options like City that it highlights the importance of timing, as evidenced by how Gundogan took Man City’s Talismantle in terms of scoring north of 90% of his points pre GW29. But it’s ludicrous to suggest that you’d not consider City because of Talisman Theory – this is lens through which to analyse FPL, not the magic bullet that solves the game.

Talismen might drop off in the back end of a season. Apart from Mo Salah and, to an extent, DCL, the home stretch saw several new individuals come to the fore and take the Talisman mantle off of the season leader (if only for a short period). The unique character of the final few Gameweeks must be acknowledged – motivations shift as both team and individual priorities become more clarified, meaning that performances and key performers shift around. The solidity of the Talisman template – outside of Salah – became shakier in 2020/21 at we reached the final 10 Gameweeks. This was also true of the year before, which shows the benefit of examining Talisman Theory through a temporal lens.

Conclusion

To end, it’s really important to remember there were more FPL points on offer in 2020/21 than in recent seasons, which diluted the impact of Talismen.

Harry Kane takes the Greater Talisman crown – but the uncertainty at the time of writing with regards to his future means any recommendation I can give currently is muted. Nonetheless, we were able to reaffirm the importance of a few elements of interest such as the enduring essentiality of elite players such as Mo Salah, and how teams outside the top 4 tend to be where Talismen heroes – such as Patrick Bamford and Callum Wilson – flourish.

As always, the key takeaway from this article remains that Talismen should be top of the agenda when deciding who to buy in at any point of the season. That’s because the data shows that focusing on these guys in how we build our teams should help maximise your FPL point gain throughout the campaign.

I hope this was useful.

Thank you for reading.

Shout outs: merci beaucoup to Mitchell Stirling for his data expertise, Tomasz Kucharski for the design work (find him here) and my good friends King Karam Tayser and Sir Tom of Campbell for proof reading.