Can Project Restart Give Us Clues About the 2020/21 Season?
When the Premier League took its COVID-induced hiatus back on March 10th it meant no football – and more importantly, no Fantrax – for exactly 100 days. This is almost certainly a longer break from training and match play than any player would have experienced throughout their career. By comparison, the gap between the final game of the 2018/19 season and the first game of 2019/20 season was 91 days. COVID had essentially split the season into two: a stage one, which consisted of gameweeks 1 to 29*, and a stage two, Project Restart, which consisted of gameweeks 30 to 38.
Seasonal splits in performance, and therefore data, often present interesting narratives. An injury in December may cause a player to slump in the second half of the season; a managerial sacking in January may cause a player to shine down the stretch; and a million other personal circumstances may cause various other fluctuations in form. These, however, tend not to be uniform across all players at the same time, and mean that a mass comparison of statistics would be pointless. The COVID-induced suspension of the league – like the natural off-season that occurs every summer – was a uniform situation though. And as a result, a comparison of performance pre- and post-Project Restart may be able to give us an indication about the direction a player is heading. Or at least as much of an indication that we can usually take when looking at a player’s season-on-season changes.
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What Project Restart Tells Us About the Coming Season
This article takes a look at the 20 players who improved their PP90 most from stage one (gameweeks 1 to 29) to stage two (gameweeks 30-38) – termed “Coming Good” – and the 20 players whose PP90 declined the most from stage one to stage two – termed “Fading Away”. Exploring these numbers may give us clues about who will excel and who will underwhelm in the 2020/21 season.
Note: Only players who had played at least 400 minutes in stage one and at least 200 minutes in stage two were included in the analysis. When players are discussed in terms of round to be drafted in, it is generally done so with a 12-team format in mind.
*1 to 28 and 29 to 38 for Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester City, and Sheffield United
One player from the “Coming Good” top 20 was omitted because they are part of a relegated team as of this writing (Dominic Solanke, #20), whilst seven players from the “Fading Away” top 20 were omitted for the same reason (Teemu Pukki, #4; Adrian Mariappa, #5; Todd Cantwell, #6; Emiliano Buendia, #12; Ismaila Sarr, #15; Adam Masina, #16; Christian Kabasele, #17). Only players who had played a minimum of 200 league minutes at all three stages were included in the analysis.
Analyzing the Above in 30 words or Less…
The Players Coming Good
Raheem Sterling: Greater consistency could make Raz the legit number 2 fantasy option in the league. He’s almost immune to Pep Roulette as well.
Che Adams: You know the saying: you wait ages for a bus to arrive… But could this be a sign of a regular service at Southampton?
Ahmed El Mohamady: He won’t be the first choice RB at Villa next season so don’t worry about his good end to this one.
Theo Walcott: Might be more a sign of the desperate times at Everton towards the end of this season…still, the youngster is showing a lot of potential.
Jannik Vestergaard: A monster in the air, this guy is a viable streaming option against long-ball teams next season (Fantrax scoring, of course).
Kevin De Bruyne: He can’t actually be getting better, surely? Is that even possible?!? Looks like first pick of the draft just got even more important.
Kyle Walker: Ending with a clean sheet and assist in games against Norwich and Watford have been SUPER flattering…this is still not the Spurs version of Walker.
Anthony Martial: Got to be high on Martial as the spearhead in this new-look United side. His stage two PP90 (17.61) won’t be far off his seasonal one in 2020/21.
Michail Antonio: Injuries have hurt Antonio’s FP/G in the past, but his PP90 has always been good. If he’s fit, he’s a solid round 2 draft pick…maybe higher.
Stuart Armstrong: 35th highest scoring outfielder post-restart, but also 28th highest in the calendar year. The last 8 games were not a fluke.
Willian: Willian has fought off better competition than Pepe for a starting spot in the past. He’ll do so again and continue to be a valuable fantasy asset.
Cedric Soares: 17 points in 13 substitute appearance minutes against Norwich have badly manipulated the PP90. At best, he’ll be sharing game-time with Bellerin. Not draft worthy.
Leander Dendoncker: May have seen a big increase but the stage one was incredibly low. A midfielder that covers in defence is the opposite of a fantasy manager wish-list.
Miguel Almiron: Not quite reached the highs of doppelganger Santiago Munez, but perhaps 2020-21 is the real climax to the movie. Some promising signs, but don’t get too carried away.
Mark Noble: Had Guardiola converted his defensive midfielder into a number 10 at age 33, we’d be reveling in his genius. Alas, Moyes may only receive the plaudits of fantasy managers.
Matt Ritchie: Earlier in the season the midfielder had been playing at left-back but Rose’s arrival pushed him back up field. Monitor this before drafting him.
James Tarkowski: Here’s what you do: see when VVD gets drafted, then draft Tarkowski two rounds later. Same payout, cheaper price. (Caveat: Dyche must stay).
Jan Bednarek: Southampton could/should be the “under-the-radar” team for next season. Fantasy assets will be ripe, but there are better ones than Bednarek.
Joao Cancelo: Guardiola gave him a lot of love post-restart, but it’s still not convincing enough to warrant a draft pick just yet. He’ll be a great 2pm player though*.
Ezri Konsa Ngoyo: The Villa centre-back has merely gone from terrible fantasy option to slightly-below-average fantasy option. You’d need a deep, deep league to consider this.
*A 2pm player is a player that should almost always remain on the free agent list because they are too often on the bench. When you do see them start though – i.e. when the lineups are announced at 2pm on a Saturday – they are a must grab. Also see Callum Hudson-Odoi, Erik Lamela, Christian Benteke, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, etc.
The Players Fading Away
Dominic Calvert-Lewin: Keep the faith. He’s still relatively young and had played a lot of minutes pre-COVID. Tiredness likely (hopefully!?) played a factor in his hugely disappointing restart.
Marcos Alonso: Nobody contradicts fantasy value and real world ability quite like Alonso (or maybe Mustafi). Lampard clearly wants a better left back, but until one steps up, he’ll remain valuable.
Nicolas Pepe: Worrying times for Arsenal’s record signing. Arteta clearly doesn’t rate him. If Auba goes (looking unlikely), maybe he steps up – and warrants a 3rd round pick – if not…6th round??
Scott Dann: Dann started 7 games pre-COVID and had 5 clean sheets – this was never sustainable. Unless 2020/21 brings another Norwich-strategy**, the Palace defender should always remain on the free-agent list.
Federico Fernandez: The 5-0 loss to City in which he scored an own-goal doesn’t help the post-restart PP90, but it’s probably a closer projection of 2020/21 than the pre-COVID, high-flying Newcastle.
N’Golo Kante: Three goals pre-Christmas but returned to his more defensive role at the back-end of the season. With Jorginho likely to leave, Kante’s brief days venturing forward may be over.
Richarlison: Richarlison couldn’t keep carrying the team all season. Needs Everton to bring in a top-tier midfielder to go from a 4th round pick to a 3rd rounder.
Pascal Gross: Gross looks to be getting phased out by Potter, and his fantasy returns reflect that. Lallana’s arrival further diminishes his prospects to the point of being undraftable.
Harry Wilson: Post-restart Wilson was confined to 7 sub appearances and exceeded 2 points just once. If he finds a place to start (Leeds??), he may be worth a throw-away draft pick.
Ross Barkley: Mr All-or-Nothing. When Barkley scores big, it tends to be very big. Everything else is generally poor. That kind of unpredictability is not helpful in Fantrax (unless Autosubbing…).
Pablo Fornals: To produce so little in a rejuvenated West Ham team whilst starting every game post-restart is actually pretty impressive. The Hammers seem set on finding an upgrade.
Diogo Jota: Benched for the big Olympiakos game could be a sign of things to come. 3rd to 5th rounder last year…anything in the first 10 would be a risk this year.
Anwar El Ghazi: Didn’t start the final four games (where Villa went unbeaten) and had been declining throughout 2020. If Villa sign a winger, he could be on the way out.
Lys Mousset: The 6-game stretch from October 21st was the only thing Mousset did all season, and his PP90 decline here reflects that. Not draft worthy.
Joao Moutinho: Tempting to suggest that Father Time is catching up with Wolves’ midfield genius…it may be the case, but if he falls to the 5th/6th round, it’s a safe pick.
Bernard: Richarlison, Sigurdsson, Baines, Iwobi, and Gordon were all used by Ancelotti at left-midfield post-restart. Would need a helluva pre-season to warrant being drafted.
Shane Long: A very workable PP90 in stage one helped Long become a surprisingly decent option in deep leagues, but Adams’ rise may bring an end to this.
Enda Stevens: The eye-test was not kind on Stevens post-restart, and the PP90 mirrored this. The blades have been found out, and the value of many players will reflect that this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold: TAA’s “poor” restart meant he dropped from 8th to 12th on the PP90 ladder. He’ll still be the first defender off the board, and should be in the 1st round.
John Fleck: The injury led to missed games post-restart but probably affected the ones he did play too. Will remain a decent option with a high floor. 10th round?
**The Norwich strategy is when you bring in a defender because they are facing a team whose likelihood of scoring is on par with Roy Keane’s chances of cracking a smile on TV. Relying on clean sheets can be risky, but not so in this case.
So there you have it. The PP90 numbers (generally better to use than FP/G or even total points) have hopefully identified some players that may excel or underwhelm when the 2020/21 season kicks off in just over a month’s time. A forward line of Sterling, Martial, and Adams could fire you to a title challenge, whilst reaching in the draft for the likes of Richarlison, Pepe, and Jota could leave you battling to avoid the wooden spoon. Not long to wait now!
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