Fantasy football round 8: The top 20 forwards

Over the course of the next four posts, I am going to explore potential player options with you, starting with strikers and finishing with goalkeepers. I will show you a few simple data-driven methods for evaluating the top players in each position, allowing you to choose the right individual based on your budget and chosen strategy. Hopefully you will find it helpful, and it may even spark off some ideas of your own for analysing the data available within the game’s own resources. Shall we begin?

Dora the Explorer

In my previous post in this series, I talked about the importance of deciding whether you wanted to be a trend-follower (Shaun the Sheep) or a trend-setter (Dora the Explorer) when it comes to your player selection strategy in fantasy football, and gave you some quick tips to pursue your chosen strategy. Do you want to play safe and follow the crowd? Or are you a risk-taker looking to get one step ahead of the chasing pack?

Similarly, I have repeatedly talked about the value of having a balanced squad of star players, squad fillers and good medium-priced performers in between, and of the importance of seeking out bargains, irrespective of your club allegiance or other personal biases.

And I have also referred to the value of tapping in to the wisdom of crowds, on the assumption that if lots of other fantasy managers are doing something, there is probably some merit in it.

With all these principles in mind, let’s do some number crunching!

Data – your eyes and ears on every minute of every match

As you have probably gathered from previous posts, I am a great believer in using the wealth of data provided on the Fantasy Premier League website. Unless you have reviewed every minute of every game so far this season in the utmost detail, it is impossible to have a complete and objective view of the season to date. That’s why real-life managers like Arsène Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti have access to gigabytes’ worth of data analysis via systems like Opta to help them analyse their teams’ and individual players’ performances in every way imaginable.

Data analysis can never completely take over from human judgement and instinct – if it could, clubs would simply replace their manager with a computer. But can it be an extremely helpful management aid? Of course it can.

In the early stages of the season, relying too much on week-by-week data is fraught with danger, because there are too many variables involved and freak performances have a disproportionate impact. There is always an element of randomness in all sport – there wouldn’t be much point watching otherwise – so while the best team in the league might beat the worst team nine times out of ten, every now and then the underdog will secure a draw or a win. For instance, who would have predicted that Wigan, having lost their first two games this season – both at home – by a combined score of 10-0, would then go to Tottenham (who finished fourth last year) and win 1-0 in their next game?

However, now that we are almost 20% of the way through the season, it is possible to start doing some serious analysis of patterns of data within the game. No analysis can ever be perfect, of course – there is no one definitive answer to any given question – and there are always many different ways of looking at the data, but a quick slice-and-dice can be very helpful in highlighting little insights you might never otherwise spot.

So, let’s start at the front of our team and take a look at the top 20 strikers (okay, 21 actually) in the game.

All change up front

Here is my hypothetical quandary. I am unhappy with my team, and want to use my wild card to change all three of my strikers before the next gameweek begins on Saturday. I have decided I would like to buy one expensive, top-class striker, a bargain one to sit on my bench and play occasionally, and one somewhere in between – and I want to depart from the crowd and go for less obvious players (i.e. the Dora strategy), but preferably ones which have already shown some form and accumulated a decent number of points.

I draw up the following with the aid of a bit of paper and data that is easily available by applying various filters on the Transfers screen. Starting out by listing the top 20 forwards (those currently with 20 or more points), I drop names into the matrix below based on how expensive the player is (y-axis) and what percentage of teams they have been selected by (x-axis). The number in brackets after each player’s name is their current points total, as of the end of gameweek seven:

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

As I am pursuing the Dora strategy, reading across my matrix I am looking primarily for players in the two columns to the left – these are forwards selected by less than one in ten fantasy managers. This immediately tells me that Fernando Torres is the best fit for my Dora strategy among the highest performing top-price strikers, and certainly a better bet than the out-of-form Wayne Rooney. Stepping back for a minute and applying a bit of common sense – something you should always do – that doesn’t seem unreasonable. Liverpool have started the season poorly, but (at the time of writing) now appear to be on the point of being sold, which can only be a good thing for morale at the club. Is Torres worth a punt? It seems like a reasonable idea, and with a bit of luck the timing might just be perfect.

Blackpool's Luke Varney. No relation to Reg from On The Buses

What about cheap strikers? Newcastle‘s Andy Carroll is the one who has caught the eye in the season’s early weeks, although nearly half his 37 points came in his hat-trick game against Aston Villa. But he is currently in 36% of teams, so I want to look for something a bit more left-field. How about Blackpool‘s Luke Varney – joint-13th among forwards and a bargain at £4.5m, yet appearing in just 1% of teams? Thank you very much, just sign on the dotted line.

Now let’s pick my final, medium-priced striker. The obvious – and therefore popular candidates – include the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Peter Crouch and Darren Bent – but, again, straying a little off the beaten path, how about less glamorous but no less effective (and cheaper!) alternatives such as Bolton‘s Johan Elmander or West Brom‘s Peter Odemwingie? (Note that the latter is an injury doubt for this weekend, though.)

With five minutes, a bit of scribbling and some rudimentary analysis, I have already come up with a very different – and probably better – list than I would have done if I had just plucked three names off the top of my head, and by laying out the data the way I have, it is easy for me to ensure I go for the less obvious/popular selections too, in line with my strategy.

Equally, if I wanted to plump for the best popular choices (i.e. the Shaun strategy), looking at the right-hand side of my matrix could easily point me straight at, say, Carlos Tevez, Bent and Carroll. Job done!

Obviously, you can explore your options using any combination of the many criteria the game makes freely available to you, and you can be as complex or simple as you like in any analysis you do. Hopefully I’ve stimulated some ideas as to how you can use this to your own advantage – do please feel free to share any techniques you come up with. In the meantime, I’ll be back next week looking at ways to sift through the top fantasy football midfielders. Good luck this weekend!

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

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