Talisman Theory – 2018-19 Report

Talisman Theory is the concept that you should always favour buying in the key individual – the Talisman – over any others in teams as they are the most likely source of FPL points.

This concept sounds intuitive, and we thought it could help us both in the build up to Gameweek 1 last season (and throughout the campaign) in terms of transfer decisions.

Last year, we looked at how FPL data backed up this theory in the introductory article, and followed it up with an emergence analysis.

Due to the absence of creativity on my part, I’m going to replicate that process for the season to come because the analysis remains interesting and informative ahead of the 2019/20 campaign.

*In the style of the brilliant work done by Peter Blake (see his article on predictive analysis here) this is a long form article*

The data

We scraped the FPL API for last season’s data and messed with it, basically.

We break Talisman analysis down in to three steps:

  1. Collate 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 see who is truly the individual to own (“Greater Talisman”)

I’ve also included a couple of extra analyses to cover off any further areas of interest – Exit Velocity and Sloppy Seconds.

Step 1: Team Points

The first step of any analysis is to check out team data to understand how many points overall were scored by FPL teams versus their actual league position. Here’s that:

Last season, 31,021 points were scored in FPL – intriguingly, that’s 417 less than 2017/18’s 31,438 total, a decrease of 1.33%.

That’s actually not too much in the wider scheme of things. This was very likely driven by Fulham and Huddersfield being so poor.

In terms of the data itself:

  • Liverpool supplant Man City as winners of the FPL table by just 9 points – fine margins decided who won out of the duopoly.
  • There’s a chasm between those two and the rest. Chelsea scored a staggering 341 points less than City (350 less than Liverpool). This is a huge gap compared to last season, where the gap between 2nd and 3rd (Liverpool to Man United) was just 60 points.
  • The space again between the top 4 and the rest is also considerable – 156 points separate Everton from Spurs in 4th.
  • What’s really interesting is the downfall of Man Utd, who finished 3rd in 2017/18 but 8th last campaign, banking a shocking 468 fewer points.
  • This allows Crystal Palace (fuelled by 10 Milivojevic penalties, no doubt) to leapfrog them and be this year’s surprise high performers relative to their league position.
  • Things begin to look more straightforward towards the bottom of the table, though Bournemouth as usual slightly outperform their real league position.

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

Step Two: Lesser Talisman

Having collated the team data, we move to a simple look at which player scored the most points from each team.

We call this “Lesser Talisman” as it’s a more intermediate level look at who the Talismans are. This gives you a good feel for it, yet it could be taken further.

Here’s the outcome:

You can see immediately why I’m not too satisfied with this Lesser Talisman measure.

Players are rather bunched up around the 10-12% mark, and it’s often only small increments that separate them. However this nonetheless does give you a good idea of who the Talismans were.

Some summary notes:

  • The now departed Eden Hazard (we’ll miss you!) is top of the vanilla Lesser Talisman rankings as his heroics yet again dragged Chelsea out of mediocrity.
  • He’s followed closely by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal, who outscored (and out missed!) fellow forward Alexandre Lacazette on his way to sharing the golden boot with Liverpool duo Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.
  • Speaking of Salah, his % of Liverpool’s overall points has declined year on year – last season, he scored 15% of their total points with 303, but that has dropped to 11.6% this time around. This is mainly due to the uptick in his team mate Mane’s fortunes – the Senegalese forward scored 10.3% of the Red’s points last season.
  • Keep an eye on where Jamie Vardy is here.
  • Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser is perhaps the pick of the bunch in terms of players who were undervalued (he was 5.5m at the start of last season, and has seen a 2m hike this year) but performed well – however, he benefited from a relatively injury free campaign; if Callum Wilson (who outperformed WeeMan in terms of PPG) had been fit all year, you’d imagine he’d have been the “Lesser Talisman”. We’ll come back to this later.
  • After being beaten out by Jordan Pickford last season, Gylfi Sigurdsson makes his return to the Talisman rankings (he’d have been top for Swansea year after year) after great season at Everton for which he made the FPL Team of the Year.
  • Neil Etheridge and Jonas Lossl are the key men for their respective clubs despite being in the sticks – fuelled by penalty saves, no doubt.

This is all well and good, but I always ask myself: how can we take this further?

Well, in the context of Talisman Theory, our focus is squarely on identifying key individuals rather than good teams. 

This means that the next step is to ask our statistician friend Mitchell Stirling to run some code to remove “team based points” to allow us to home in on the individual measures like goals scored, assists and bonus points.

This means things like appearance points and clean sheet points are removed from consideration.

This tends to be a slight bone of contention for some. Appearance points are a useful way of understanding how good a player is. Of course, it goes without saying (but sadly these days you have to say it) that the fact someone is playing regularly should count strongly for them when weighing them up versus a riskier pick like Leeroy Sane.

However, for the purposes of this analysis, understanding what players added beyond appearance – the “added value” – is what’s important. For example, if a player plays 38/38 games for 90 mins (a Jack Cork, for example), they score 76 points by default as a base line which skews the data.

I am also well aware that this penalises defenders and goalkeepers at first glance. 

Remember that the point of this analysis is not to uncover the players who provide value for money in terms of their overall performance (which will, shockingly, be covered in our upcoming Value analysis) but those players who make the difference for their teams in terms of end product.

Let’s elevate this basic b analysis, then, and move to the next stage.

(nb, we’ve slightly tweaked the methodology this year here, which means that I’m refraining from making too many comparisons with 2017/18 as it’s not quite comparing apples with apples. This is because you get some nonsense results with the way we did it last year, such as Huddersfield players on negative integers: we’ll replicate this analysis going forward, though.)

Step 3: Greater Talisman

Now we’re talking.

Let’s take out all those “team points” and see what we’re finally left with in terms of individual contributions (apologies – the graphic should also state that clean sheets and penalties for lost clean sheets have also been removed):

We’re up to two decimal places now, and for good reason.

It’s very close this year, as Eden Hazard beats out Raul Jimenez by just 0.05% to take the Talisman crown, with Leicester’s Jamie Vardy just behind him by a Rizla thin 0.01%!

  • In the March update, “Jimmy” was leading comfortably, but a slight drop off as the season reached its conclusion, plus Hazard engaging Beast Mode, meant that the mercurial Belgian’s valedictory season ended up in triumph for the “Greater Talisman” metric. Nonetheless, the Mexican striker should only get better as he embarks on his sophomore season in the Premier League.
  • If we take the March update into consideration, one man who emerges as a true hero of Talisman Theory is Vardy. I’ve long been disparaging about Vardy, but this has caused me to rethink. His explosive form as Brendan Rodgers’ imprint began to be felt by the Foxes is not to be underestimated, as he scored a noteworthy 36 individual points in the final part of the season. He’s a proper Talisman for Leicester, and one whose performance last year by this metric has certainly thrust him into consideration for me.
  • This highlights the size of the boots that need filling at Chelsea – can the likes of Willian, Christian Pulisic (Prospecting The Prospects here) or even the forgotten man Ross Barkley step up?
  • Aleksander Mitrovic provides a strong example of a player whose performance epitomises talisman theory – his impact on Fulham could be replicated by AN Other at the newly promoted sides if fixtures look decent.
  • We mentioned Fraser earlier, but doing this further step clarifies the data and installs Callum Wilson as the actual “greater talisman” for Bournemouth; he outscores the Scot by 11 “personal points” (109 to 98), perhaps exemplifying how appearance points can slightly impact the data in this kind of context.
  • Aubameyang drops off slightly from 2nd down to 8th highlighting that, despite being the highest scoring forward, he wasn’t as clear a talisman for Arsenal as could have been expected.
  • Etheridge and Lossl remain their teams’ Talismans, showing how with the lower reaches the keeper is key and how awful they were going forward – this is all based on penalty saves and bonus points basically.
  • Would Gerard Deulofeu still be Watford’s Talisman post reclassification? Similarly, I wonder if Ayoze Perez may have been in a shout for Newcastle in his new midfield classification, too.

Normally, we’d end here. However, it’s worth a couple of tangents to try to couch this data in further context and ensure we’ve investigated every angle like good researchers.

Extra Analysis: Exit Velocity and Jamie Vardy

Piqued by how far Vardy had progressed from the March update, I had a look at how players had performed from our March update to the end of the season. This looks like so:

I’ve been lazy here and only looked at March > End. Time. Sozlol.

Key points here are:

  • Vardy: dayum. What an end of the season as mentioned; incredible stuff. The Rodgers effect has clearly been an acutely positive one for the striker, who really took off towards the end and provided a real captaincy choice for many of the final Gameweeks.
  • Mo Salah’s pursuit of the Golden Boot also seems to have provided a motivational factor despite Champions League considerations – he really is a force of nature when he’s in the mood.
  • This also shows how for some teams, the Talisman’s work was basically done during the early parts of the season – a small raw points or % increase for the likes of Jimenez shows how they lost momentum as the season reached its end.
  • Kane holding on to the Talismanic status for Spurs shows how other priorities such as the Champions League took precedence for them.
  • Wilson returned to prominence, especially fuelled by a top performance versus Huddersfield. In the context of the new price lists, this may build the case for Bournemouth’s no13 over his cheaper alternative Josh King as well. Could we have been too hasty in dismissing Wilson due to his 1.5m extra price? Certainly cause to stop and think.
  • In the case of Burnley and Southampton, a new Talisman emerged as the season reached its conclusion, but they’re only small increments and don’t need further investigation in terms of those two clubs.

These new emergent Talisman for those clubs does, however, spark a segue into the second tangential analysis here: Sloppy Seconds.

Who was the nearly man in terms of being the Talisman, and what can that tell us?

Extra Analysis: Sloppy Seconds – which teams are the most Talismanic?

This is the final layer of data to provide, which is finding out who came second in terms of the “Greater Talisman” metric.

I’ve made some references above already, but here it is in its entirety:

A key benefit of this further analysis is that it allows us to identify which teams were really Talismanic versus those which were more of a group effort by looking at the difference between the Talisman and the Sloppy Second.

I’ve been lazy here and just done (x-y) to accentuate these differences, but it shows you what you need to see.

Looking at this, we see the following:

  • Brighton, Cardiff (depressingly for Bluebirds, their ‘keeper was far and away their talisman), Chelsea, Leicester and Wolves are the teams who really stand out as Talismanic sides.
  • In contrast, Wilfried Zaha is unlucky to lose out to Milivojevic by just 3 points for Palace, as is Kun to Sterling by just 13 – this might be explained by positional impacts (i.e. one more point for a goal for midfielders), though I’d expect (if he stays) the former situation to be sorted by Zaha’s reclassification.
  • Ayoze Perez‘s move to Leicester, as well as James Maddison being more settled in the Foxes’ set up under attacking manager Brendan Rodgers, will be interesting in terms of how it impacts Jamie Vardy’s huge Talismanic output from last year. I wonder if there will be a slight dilution of his Talisman margin with more players able to provide end product there (also reinforced by the permanent signing of Youri Tielemans), though it remains to be seen how big a dilution this will be.
  • On the Wilson/King point from the “Exit Velocity” analysis, Fraser is the Riker to Wilson’s Picard, not Josh King. In fact, the difference was quite stark between the two English strikers, as King scored 72 individual points to Wilson’s 109. This is a significant difference, and could fuel a bit of anxiety in terms of the near ubiquity of King being selected over his more expensive strike partner, though of course Value For Money plays a role.
  • Kane and Son also jostled for Spurs’ Talisman role. The two Spurs stars effectively traded blows during the course of the season – when one was unavailable, the other took the mantle – which led to just a 1.46% difference between the duo. Son is suspended for the first two games, but Kane is now back fit and has had a full summer off for the first time in yonks. I wonder if that will herald the return of the Kane who was such a Must Own in seasons past?
  • Fulham and Huddersfield were utterly dire, as underlined by the fact that January arrivals Ryan Babel and Karlan Grant were the Sloppy Seconds for those sides.

Evaluation

Caveats first:

  • There are lots of ways to analyse this kind of data. You may disagree, and have a different approach: if so, you do the work and show how you can do it better.
  • Context is key. Mitrovic scored 24% of the points in a team which barely did anything. I know that, you know that. But it’s still valid that he’s there, and if you apply brain we’re not saying that Mitro would have been a better pick than Auba throughout the season.

…Right, so what have we learnt?

Value forwards were great last season in terms of this measure (NOT VALUE). The season before last, midfielders ruled the roost with the top 5 (Shaqiri, Mahrez, Salah, Gross and Arnautovic (then a mid)) all in the midfield spot. Despite not offering value per se (we’ll discuss this in another article), they do nonetheless represent strong options for many of the mid sized clubs, with Leicester’s Vardy a hero of this analysis in providing a great example of how this kind of individual can be key to both a side’s fortunes and scoring FPL points.

Leicester and Wolves were therefore classic Talismanic sides. Both relied heavily on one individual at the sharp end to create the end product to score them points. Chelsea (considered below) are more of an anomaly, having an A* player within a generally B+ attack. Things may of course change with extra firepower being added to both teams, so there’s a case to consider not quite focusing on those two once more (i.e. don’t plan for last season), but trying to identify when other teams provide this Talismanic individual.

Vardy and Jimenez were therefore last year’s Talisman heroes. Both were so close to Eden Hazard and rightfully had their feet on the figurative podium. It’s worth considering context, though. Jimenez may be superseded by the Europa League and Jota’s (who performed better in H2 last season on many metrics) emergence as his strike partner. However, you’d imagine Vardy – despite being no spring chicken – mostly occupying the lone forward role for a Leicester side free of European concerns; if anything, this analysis shows me that Vardy should be strongly considered despite the awkward 9.0 price point.

Is Wilson worth the money? A big outtake here is how much better Wilson fared than his cheaper counterpart Josh King. Despite playing 435 fewer minutes (i.e. almost 5 games) less than his fellow Englishman, Wilson’s productivity at the sharp end pings on the radar throughout this analysis. This should be food for thought for those (including me) who have defaulted to King due to cheaper price point as this analysis does not necessarily support that – maybe one for Value to examine.

If one emerges, the Talisman is the man to own. We said it last year, but it remains true: pinpointing these individuals in certain teams should probably be our priority in terms of our team composition when it comes to spots on our roster, because they are the likeliest to return you points week in, week out. In terms of sides like Leicester and Wolves, the power of owning the Talisman is clear: you have the player who will score those “added value” points within those sides clearly identified, who should be high in your consideration set if form and fixtures align. This is also worth keeping an eye on if a player from a newly promoted or lower reaches side seems to be hauling in winnable games – Mitrovic is another example of a type of Talisman you should consider purchasing if fixtures are good (Wesley? Teemu Pukki?).

Talisman theory again wasn’t as relevant to the bigger clubs. Though Mo Salah was undeniably the Talisman at Liverpool, points were shared far more given the breadth of quality in the frontline that could contribute and cannibalise points from our Egyptian King as you can see in the “Sloppy Seconds” data. The proportionally lower points percentages for the Talisman (with defensive points removed) for clubs like Man United, Man City and Arsenal should also be noted. The spread of points at the bigger clubs shows how we need to take a more case-by-case approach to their key men: where some (like Salah) are perhaps an auto-include due to ownership and/or performance, in other instances (e.g. which City man/men you buy) it’s who you judge will score you the most points in the current context.

The exception to this big clubs point was Chelsea: what happens there will be very interesting indeed. Their numbers look an anomaly based on the fact that they had one exceptional individual. Could the points disperse to a wider range of players chipping in, such as we see happening at the likes of Manchester City? In terms of Eden Hazard’s departure, the shoes that need to be filled are positively ginormous: without him, they could have really struggled. With the transfer ban in place for them, they’ll have to make do with what they’ve got for a “season in transition” under Frank Lampard. I wonder who will emerge there, but my money is on it being a “group effort” rather than a case of the Talisman mantle being passed onward to a standout option – maybe someone like Pulisic could prove me wrong though, and at the cheap prices that would be amazing in terms of the Talisman analysis.

Not all clubs have a Talisman. Season on season, this changes – where in 2017/18 the now Shanghai-based Marko Arnautovic scored 17% of West Ham’s individual points and was the Talisman, his replacement as Talisman last season, arch troll Felipe Anderson, had a much less effective performance by this metric. This points to how this can shift year on year – last season’s Talisman isn’t necessary the next’s.

Conclusion

The Talismen should continue to be our prime targets for purchase, although this emphasis on individuals is less important for the bigger clubs.

In the case of clubs outside of the traditional “top 6”, whose players will probably occupy one spot in our starting elevens, it seems a good strategy to focus on acquiring the Talisman. It’s all well and good to own a James Maddison-type and save money, and I understand if you have to in order to fit in firing premiums elsewhere; but if you have a chance to own a Vardy-type Talisman then prioritise it.

As per last year, this opens up all sorts of interesting questions surrounding its natural counterpart Value in the context of player price.

For example: is Talismanic status more important than Value in terms of making player v player or team structure decisions?

We tackled these in our article on price’s relationship with cost – see the article here.

But the key takeaway remains that Talismen should be high on our agenda when deciding who to buy in at any point.

This seems is particularly true when looking to maximise value for the price you pay in the non-premium bracket, meaning Talisman Theory should be top of mind when you’re deciding whether to buy in a Talisman or gamble on a differential.

Many thanks to Mitchell Stirling for his expertise in helping us get to our Talisman data, Matt Brewer for the design work (find his behance here if you want to get in contact) and Neil Murray for proof reading this article.