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Neal Thurman

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FPL Draft Preview Week 22

Thursday, January 10, 2019


December was a huge month.  Not only did we have the festive period where matches came so fast and furious that all we could really do was hope as managers rotated squads with little or no warning.  As the dust settles, squads should settle down some in Janaury and then even more so in February after the transfer window closes.  With that said, there were some big changes in the Premier League in December that will carry through beyond the festive period and, given the congestion of the fixture list, we are starting to have enough data to start to get a sense of what the impact of those changes might be.  

 

What changes am I talking about? Mostly, they are of the managerial variety.  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho.  Claudio Ranieri took the reins at Craven Cottage, and Ralph Hasenhuttl was brought in to improve on Mark Hughes troubled tenure at Southampton.  In order to get a sense of how these moves might be impacting fantasy fortunes, I calculated Average Fantasy Points For and Average Fantasy Points Against both in aggregate and by position group before the potentially transformative event and after.  Clearly, there is more data from before those changes than there has been after so there could well be some small sample size bias in these results.  When you have a season that is only 38 matches long, that's just something you're going to have to live with and do your best to apply some logic to what numbers to believe and what numbers not to believe. 

 

[NOTE: I also looked at the same information about Arsenal before and after the loss of Rob Holding which many in the press are pointing to as a key to the change in their fortunes.  While that may be true for actual results in the Premier League, in our fantasy universe Arsenal are earning and conceding fantasy points in almost the exact same way before and after the Holding injury.  It is odd to think about but apparently struggling Arsenal in December/January looks very similar to months-in-a-row unbeaten Arsenal when it comes to fantasy points]

 

Solskjaer Replaces Mourinho (December 18)

You don't need my statistical analysis to tell you that things have gotten a lot better at Manchester United since they ended their ill-conceived relationship with Jose Mourinho.  The Red Devils are scoring with abandon and winning matches like, well, like you'd expect from Manchester United.  They have been playing the dregs of the Premier League over Solskjaer's tenure so far so the upcoming match-up with Spurs will be a fascinating test of extent of their revival but even bottom-half clubs were giving them trouble before so even winning decisively and with flair over mediocre clubs is a big improvement.  If they can conquer big opponents as well then it is truly revolution rather than just rescue.

 

I said that it only takes the eye test to recognize that Manchester United are playing better, what the analysis pre- and post- Mourinho firing shows is exactly where the change has been benefitting fantasy players both on the Red Devils and those presenting the opposition.  Here is a table comparing Fantasy Points For and Fantasy Points Against total and by position under Mourinho and Solskjaer: 

 

      FOR         AGN    
Manager TOT For Mid Def GK TOT For Mid Def GK
Mourinho 37.88 6.41 19.29 9.29 2.88 38.88 6.29 18.94 9.82 3.82
Solskjaer 59.75 10.25 35.00 11.25 3.25 23.00 4.5 11.25 5.5 1.75

 

This table should illustrate the extent to which fantasy fortunes in Manchester United matches have changed.  They have gone from scoring fantasy points at a league-average level to a top six level.  They have gone from conceding fantasy points at an average-to-below-average level to actually surpassing Liverpool as the stingiest club when it comes to allowing opponents to earn fantasy points (albeit over a much smaller sample size).  

 

What we see, though, is that the changes aren't evenly spread among position groups.  The attackers have improved anywhere from substantially (forwards) to extraordinarily (midfielders) while the defense and goalkeepers have barely seen an improvement at all.  Everyone who was thinking that their path to fantasy benefits from the Ole Revolution might be from readily-availabile guys like Eric Bailly or Antonio Valencia might want to hold off on that waiver wire claim.  Instead, look at that improvement in midfield scoring and cast your eyes on Ander Herrera, Juan Mata or Jesse Lingard.  Sure, Paul Pogba has been the breakout turnaround story but he's certainly not available.  The trio of midfielders who might be available have been productive and, while none are likely to be sure-fire starters, picking up one or pairing two of them might be a great strategy for trying to make up ground for an unproductive spot in your starting line-up. 

 

The other player to consider is Alexis Sanchez.  He looks to be fit or at least returning to fitness.  Before we write Alexis off, let's remember Jose Mourinho's awe-inspiring ability to depress the productivity of wide attackers on his sides.  He is perhaps the only person capable of consistently stopping all of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Mo Salah, Anthony Martial, and Alexis Sanchez (I'm sure I'm missing a few others) from being fantasy (and reality) stars.  WIth Mourinho gone, don't be surprised if Sanchez finally looks like the guy that United paid money to Arsenal to bring to town. Would you want to face a Solskjaer-managed front line with Alexis and Martial flanking Marcus Rashford with Romelu Lukaku supplanting Marouane Fellaini as "Plan B"?  Nope, me either. 

 

Claudio Ranieri To The Rescue (November 24)

Fulham were historically bad both on the pitch and in terms of fantasy points for and points against under deposed nanager Sasha Jokanovic.  Just look at that average points for defenders number. 3.33! If you're playing four defenders that means that between points deductions for goals against and yellow cards they're not even averaging the single point you get for starting a match.  That's insanely bad.

 

      FOR         AGN    
Manager TOT For Mid Def GK TOT For Mid Def GK
Jokanovic 26.58 7.17 13.75 3.33 2.33 58.50 9.75 22.00 22.33 4.42
Ranieri 32.67 7.00 9.89 12.22 3.56 50.44 7.00 20.33 17.56 5.56

 

Certainly, the transformation hasn't been from abject to what we expected from the Cottagers over the summer which was a Wolves-like run at mid-table respectability vs. a relegation battle.  What Ranieri has shown so far has been the ability to at least claw the Cottagers back to the levels you'd expect from a typical team at the bottom of the table. As far as scoring points go, the big change that you'll notice is a modest uptick in total average points for per match driven by a substantial improvement in points for defenders.  Looking at what actually happened, we can see that Fulham logged their first two clean sheets of the season.  Does that make Fulham defenders must-have players going forward? Certainly not. What it does mean is that, when the match-ups are favorable, Fulham defenders can be solid one-week rotational options off of waivers whereas under Jokanovic they were unfit for even the end of a draft fantasy squad.  That is of particular interest this week with struggling Burnley the opposition.  Guys like Denis Odoi who have started almost every match for the Cottagers this season have put up half or more of their admittedly paltry fantasy totals over the past four match weeks which have included matches against Newcastle and Huddersfield Town.  At such margins are draft fantasy matches won.  

 

The other thing to note since Ranieri took over is that Fulham aren't shipping points at quite the same historic rate.  Whereas under Jokanovic it was uncommon for opponents to score fewer than 50 fantasy points per match against Fulham, Ranieri's Fulham have kept opponents under 40 fantasy points as a team four times in nine matches.  That isn't to say that you should avoid playing good fantasy players against Fulham the way you might when they travel to Anfield but it should certainly be a signal that you might want to adjust the "vs Fulham" strategy that many were using to great effect when Jokanovic was in charge. 

 

This weekend again provides a solid example.  Under Jokanovic, Chris Wood would certainly have been a high priority target for managers in need of a third forward.  Based on the early returns from the Ranieri era (even with Wood's recent resurgence factored in), I'd suggest that he is no more than an okay option.  This is just one of those situations where it is difficult to change your perception of a team mid-season.  Good managers will recognize the subtle change in performance and adjust their fringe acquisitions accordingly. 

 

Ralph Hasenhuttl Replaces Mark Hughes (December 5)

One more big managerial change and, so far, the tangible returns here have been pretty specific.  Despite a schedule that has included Spurs, Arsenal, City, and Chelsea since his appointment (welcome to the Premier League, Ralph!), Nathan Redmond has been revived.  Perhaps part of it has been the return of Danny Ings who has been extremely efficient when healthy.  Here's the points breakdown between Hughes' part of the season and what we've seen from Hasenhuttl's Saints so far: 

 

      FOR         AGN    
Manager TOT For Mid Def GK TOT For Mid Def GK
Hughes 32.72 7.00 12.00 10.40 3.33 51.73 7.33 21.13 18.00 5.27
Hasenhuttl 34.5 7.83 12.83 10.17 3.67 44.00 4.00 23.67 12.17 4.17

 

When it comes to earning fantasy points, the Saints are virtually unchanged from Mark Hughes to Ralph Hasenhuttl thus far...until you consider that schedule.  Given the brutal nature of the schedule under the new manager - four of the seven matches the Saints have played under Hasenhuttl have been against the Big Six - you'd actually expect that in this particular sample that they'd be scoring fewer fantasy points and conceding more.  What we've actually seen is marginal upticks in both categories DESPITE a brutal schedule.  That's good news for managers interested in investing ahead of a potential improvement.  With a January and early February scheduled populated entirely with mid-table and below opposition, it is reasonable to expect that Southampton will consolidate their improvements and start delivering better results for fantasy managers invested in them. 

 

If we were talking about my fantasy team, certainly guys like Ings and Redmond would have a place. I'd also be considering guys like Alex McCarthy, Ryan Bertrand, and Cedric as additions at the fringes of my squad with the potential to be starting-worthy over the next five or six match weeks. 

 

To be clear, none of the above changes are going to push anyone who was available on the waiver wire (except maybe Alexis) from being unworthy of being on your team to being a star.  At this stage of the season, the only way you're gonig to get a star is in the form of a player who comes in during the transfer window.  What these suggestions might do is help you find someone who can help by producing when starting over the course of a week, two weeks, or maybe a month.   



Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.
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