Luke Wilkins gets you ready for Fantasy EPL Gameweek 8 with a look at the Underlying Numbers that make the difference in Togga scoring.
A big difference between traditional Fantasy Premier League (FPL) Football and the new draft format championed here at Fantrax is the scoring system. Fantrax offers a much more intelligent way of scoring points, such as through the adoption of the widely regarded “Togga Scoring”. The reason I mention this is because, in traditional FPL, focusing on the big three – goals, assists, and clean sheets – is absolutely essential to success. But in Togga Scoring, you can maneuver your way to victory through other means: the underlying numbers.
The underlying numbers include key passes, shots on target, successful dribbles, accurate crosses, aerials won, interceptions, clearances, and tackles. The beauty of this scoring system is that it favors defenders just as much as it favors attackers, which makes sorting your team based purely on matchups a lot more difficult (but that’s the way it should be!). For instance, I saw a discussion on Twitter last weekend where it was claimed that Oliver Norwood wouldn’t pick up many ghost points (underlying numbers) because Sheffield United would have very little of the ball at home to Liverpool. Now, Norwood did only get 5.5 points, but it made me wonder whether there was any truth to this. Does team possession correlate with ghost points accrued from the underlying numbers?
In short, the answer is no. It’s a nice theory, but it seems to forget a couple of things. First, even at the lowest ends of the possession spectrum, players will still get the opportunity to build points. Newcastle has just 37.6% of the ball on average, but Christian Atsu (zero goals and just two assists) has an FP/G of 10.1. Jonjo Shelvey (one goal, zero assists) has a respectable 7.6 FP/G. Secondly, whilst not having the ball is slightly detrimental to the chances of making any key passes, taking any shots, or putting in any accurate crosses, it is quite handy when it comes to winning tackles, making interceptions, and racking up clearances. Even without his three assists, Erik Pieters (of the 42.1% average possession Burnley) has become a top-10 defender by dominating in these areas. Now that’s been cleared up, let’s move on…
Last Time Out in the Underlying Numbers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
I should take a second to enjoy this moment because it almost certainly won’t happen again! So close to a clean sweep! Just one bad call from the12 players identified last time out is pretty decent going if I do say so myself. Deulofeu’s 4.5 points away at City wasn’t surprising, but the 1 point at Molineux was very disappointing. I didn’t get to see the game, but by all accounts, he was very poor. Elsewhere, owners of Auba probably won’t be disappointed if he keeps getting 13.8 each week, however, it was still a dip from his first five games – as I suggested it could be. His case actually highlights the value of the underlying numbers nicely. The Arsenal forward scored in both Gameweek 6 and 7, which – excluding any lost points for dispossessions, cards, etc – should give him 11 points per game straight away. So to end up with an FP/G of “just” 13.8 indicates he doesn’t pick up many ghost points from the underlying numbers.
Gameweeks 8 and 9: Targets and Tales of Caution…
…Underlying Numbers in the Defenders
A short disclaimer before we begin this section: Underlying Numbers, EPL Points Against, PP90s, xGAs Bookends Removed…all of these are (in my opinion) nice tools to help guide decisions in Fantrax. But there is one tool, or more aptly, one rule, that trumps all of this. It is the following: PICK UP DEFENDERS FACING NEWCASTLE UNITED. Now I don’t mean to disparage Newcastle unfairly. They are my second team after all (yes, you can have second teams people). But they are – right now at least – deserving of this dishonor. They are on course for an xG of 23.3 FOR THE SEASON. Manchester City has more than that already. Understand records go back to the 2014/15 season, and in that time, the lowest seasonal xG was the 2015/16 Aston Villa team who had a total of 26.5. Unless something drastic changes on Tyneside, we’re looking at a very depressing year for the Toon Army.
Target: Cesar Azpilicueta (10.7 FP/G; 100% owned; 8.0% clean sheet reliance)
I don’t usually advocate trading for defenders, but Azpi is someone you should try to package into a bigger deal. He hasn’t got the star power of a TAA or Digne, so you could try and sneak him in under the radar as part of a multiple-player trade. Regardless of how you do it, if you can get hold of him without paying over the odds, I think he’ll improve on his current FP/G – which is already very good. Chelsea’s defense is improving week-by-week, and the right back has already shown with his underlying numbers that he can survive without the clean sheets…imagine if he starts getting a few!
Target: Ryan Bertrand (6.4 FP/G; 13% owned; 0.0% clean sheet reliance)
Bertrand played well in yet another unfortunate defeat for Southampton (that’s four games now where they could easily have picked up points from a defeat). Attacking fullbacks from decent teams are often valuable commodities, and even though they have Chelsea up next, back him to get some points from it. Ownership is lower than I’d expect, though perhaps that points to the fact that Hasenhuttl doesn’t seem to completely trust him yet (so keep an eye out when the lineups are announced).
Caution: Patrick van Aanholt (4.4 FP/G; 88% owned; 59.0% clean sheet reliance)
PVA has always been a strangely popular figure in fantasy football, but you have to go back to 2015-16 to find numbers to justify this. I can’t quite put my finger on it. He’s won just two tackles and six headers in seven games this season. And whilst he has scored one goal, it’s not like he’s getting forward that much (two accurate crosses, zero successful dribbles). He just isn’t doing much…at all.
Caution: Michael Keane (5.4 FP/G; 92% owned; 31.6% clean sheet reliance)
A massive 76% of Keane’s points have come from aerials won (excludes ‘lost points’). This is a ridiculous number and one that may actually stand him in good stead against the second-highest long-ball team in the league this weekend. But other than that, his underlying numbers are very low. Which makes him very reliant on clean sheets. Only three teams have stopped Burnley scoring at Turf Moor in the league in the 12 months, and they are City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. If you really want an Everton defender, Mina is arguably a better bet (5.8 FP/G, 64% owned, 29.8% reliance).
…Underlying Numbers in the Midfielders
Target: Abdoulaye Doucoure (5.7 FP/G; 77% owned; 0.0% goal/assist reliance)
The Watford man has had an underwhelming start to the season and is coming off a zero pointer against City and just 4.5 points against Wolves. But this could just be the trough before the peak, which makes jumping on him now a very wise move. This is essentially the same Watford side that finished 11th last year (when Doucoure had a 7.9 FP/G). Doucoure has 10 key passes (tied for 17th among midfielders) and eight aerials won (tied 16th)…he just needs to get involved in some goals, and a home fixture against Sheffield United in Gameweek 8 might be just the opportunity to do that.
Target: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (4.9 FP/G; 38% owned; 0.0% goal/assist reliance)
Southampton has the 4th best xG (Bookends Removed) in the league, yet they’ve scored the sixth-fewest. I mentioned earlier how the stats suggest Southampton have been unlucky, well, if you believe that luck evens itself out, then picking up a Saints attacker might be the go. Of those, Hojbjerg might be the best target. Only owned in 38% of leagues, the midfielder has played the full 90 minutes in each of his last six games. He’s also racking up the shots (admittedly, not that many on target) whilst also having respectable tackling (7), dribbling (5), interception (9), and aerial (8) numbers.
Caution: Tanguy Ndombele (11.5 FP/G; 98% owned; 41.7% goal/assist reliance)
In 66 league games for Lyon, Ndombele scored one goal. In five league games for Tottenham, Ndombele has scored two goals. To his credit, he also had an impressive 13 assists for the French side, and just the one for Spurs, so where he may slow down on one stat, perhaps he will speed up in the other. Owners will be hoping so, because if not, his underlying numbers aren’t that great. His FP/G is 11th best among midfielders but he doesn’t crack the top 50 for aerials won key passes, or accurate crosses. He only has two shots on target (tied for 42nd) and even in tackles won he is only tied for 13th.
Caution: Todd Cantwell (8.9 FP/G; 85% owned; 48.4% goal/assist reliance)
Has the Norwich bubble burst? Three blanks in their last four games isn’t a good sign, but to be fair, those misfires were all on the road, and the Canaries seem to be a different beast at home. Cantwell’s Fantrax value mirrors his teams nicely (check out his home/away and win/loss splits), so owners will hope Norwich can capitalize against a defensively poor Villa side this weekend (and Bournemouth in gameweek 9). We wouldn’t expect much from any defensive underlying numbers, but the midfielder has slowed down offensively too, with 80% of his key passes coming in the first two games of the season.
…Underlying Numbers in the Forwards
Target: Wilfried Zaha (7.5 FP/G; 99% owned; 11.4% goal/assist reliance)
As with Milivojevic and Ricardo Pereira last week, I think the time is right to test the patience of Zaha owners. One assist and zero goals in seven games is not the return that they would have been hoping for when they (probably) drafted him inside the first three rounds. But the returns will arrive soon, and in the meantime, owners will have to settle for the most successful dribbles in the league. Amazingly, Zaha has made zero accurate crosses this season, which is probably more of a reflection on who he’d be crossing to, than his inability to actually cross. If Hodgson can sort out his forward line then Palace could surprise people during the brutal stretch that they have coming up…and Zaha will be central to that.
Target: Dominic Solanke (3.6 FP/G; 8% owned; 0.0% goal/assist reliance)
It’s tough to highlight a decent, low-owned forward who isn’t reliant on goals or assists. I guess because their primary responsibility is to get goals and assists. Nevertheless, Solanke may fall into that category. He’s made three starts in a row and faces two of the worst defenses in the league next. His underlying numbers are not great, but the 3.6 FP/G is perhaps a tad harsh. His PP90 is a more respectable 7.2 and if he can play a more integral role in what is a good Bournemouth attack, then we should surely see this increase.
Caution: Chris Wood (6.1 FP/G; 46% owned; 63.5% goal/assist reliance)
Two weeks ago, Wood had four total fantasy points from his opening five games. It was so low that he didn’t even meet the inclusion criteria when I analyzed the data for this article last time out. Fast-forward a couple of games and he’s everyone’s favorite Burnley forward, scoring three goals and bringing in half a point shy of 40 over that time. But I’ve got some bad news. Burnley won’t be facing Norwich City or Aston Villa every week. In fact, their next four fixtures are all against teams in the top 11 for xGA (Bookends Removed). As shown by the first five weeks, if he’s not scoring goals, he’s not scoring points. And for that reason, I’m out.
Caution: Jamie Vardy (11.1 FP/G; 100% owned; 65.4% goal/assist reliance)
Let’s end on a controversial one. I like Vardy, and I like Leicester. But don’t kid yourself, the strength of this team lies in its defensive abilities – at least right now anyway. And yes, I do know they just scored five on the weekend, but that was against Newcastle. I could score five past Newcastle. Vardy’s FP/G with goals and assists removed is just 3.86. They go to Anfield next to take on Liverpool (3rd best defense in the league), before hosting Burnley (6th best defense) after the international break. I’m not saying trade him (Leicester’s attack will click eventually – they have too many good players going forward not too); I’m just saying to temper your expectations. There’s a lot of talk about jumping aboard the Vardy train, but these next two games will be tough, and his underlying numbers right now won’t save him if he doesn’t get on the scoresheet.
The Final Whistle
So that’s your lot for this week’s underlying numbers. Try to get your hands on Azpi, Bertrand, Doucoure, Hoj, Ayoze, and Solanke. Jump off or steer clear of the bandwagons for PVA, Keane, Ndombele, Cantwell, and Wood. And temper expectations for Vardy. Next week the EPL Points Against returns. Note, all fantasy points numbers are based on the Togga-scoring format, whilst % ownership was correct as of Tuesday 1st of October. Predominant sources used include www.premierleague.com, www.understat.com, www.sofascore.com, and www.whoscored.com.
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Good luck in Gameweek 8!
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