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Fantasy football round 9: In-form midfielders


In last week’s post we looked at ways of selecting the right strikers for your squad, depending on whether you wanted to pursue a conservative ‘follower’ strategy (what I call ‘Shaun the Sheep’) or a more aggressive but risky one (‘Dora the Explorer’) by means of looking at how popular players are among other fantasy managers.

This week, we will use a different analytical method to look for top midfield performers.

What constitutes a good midfielder?

There are a number of key aspects that make up a high-scoring fantasy football midfielder, which are subtly different from the skills required for real life success. Most top midfield players possess one or both of the following characteristics:

  • They are regular goalscorers (each goal being worth five points), which may also involve being their team’s nominated penalty-taker.
  • They are regular providers of assists (three points each), which means they are likely to be ‘creative’ midfielders who will often take free kicks and corners too.

Cesc Fabregas (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Being one or both of the above also means they are more likely to be the recipient of bonus points (up to three) for being nominated as one of the best players in the match.

Players in strong defensive teams also earn one point for a clean sheet, while midfield enforcers and tough tacklers will often be penalised for yellow (minus one point) and red (minus three) cards. But these are relatively minor factors when compared with those outlined above.

For instance, Arsenal captain Cesc Fàbregas scored three-quarters of his 214 points last season from his 15 goals (75 points), 15 assists (45) and extra bonuses (41), with the bulk of the remainder being his basic appearance points.

Fluctuating form

However, perhaps more so than in any other position, a midfielder’s form can fluctuate wildly over the course of a season. Injuries, loss of form, suspensions and the effects of squad rotation during busy spells – particularly for players of clubs in European competition or enjoying long cup runs – mean that a midfielder’s scoring rate can vary dramatically over the course of the season.

In situations like this, merely looking at the total points rankings can give fantasy managers a misleading picture of who the current ‘form’ players are in the game. This applies to all positions, but more so to midfielders (and also forwards) than their defensive counterparts.

The Fantasy Premier League game allows you to analyse every player’s form – which it defines as points per game over the past 30 days – quickly and easily. In the ‘Transfers’ screen, simply sort a list of players using the ‘Form’ filter, and you will instantly see who the last month’s ‘best’ performers are.

Here is a simple piece of analysis which can be done in five minutes to help you dig a little deeper beneath all the data.

Start by scribbling down the top 20 (or more, if you like) midfielders based on total points. This will give you an instant view of the entire season. Now do the same thing, but sorting midfielders using the ‘Form’ filter. Even at this relatively early stage, just two months into the season, you will see marked differences between the two lists. Of the top 20 midfielders in terms of total points after week eight, only 12 remain in the top 20 when you sort by form. And 11 new names emerge which did not feature in the total points ranking. (This adds up to a total of 23 because there were five players tied for joint-19th when I sorted by form, so I included all of them.)

Next, I drop the 31 names generated by these two lists into the matrix below, depending on how much they currently cost and whether they are in the top 20 overall (left column), the top 20 by form (middle) or both (right).

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

How does this help me? Well, at a glance I can see from the right hand column those players who have performed consistently well throughout the season to date. Some – Florent Malouda and Nani, for instance – should come as little surprise. But, interestingly, there are four sub-£7m midfielders who are also demonstrating consistent point-scoring ability. Blackpool‘s Charlie Adam will be a familiar name to readers of these posts, but what about West Brom‘s Chris Brunt, Stoke‘s Matthew Etherington or Wigan‘s Charles N’Zogbia?

Chris Brunt - cheap and a consistent high performer

All four are surely worth a look, with the reassurance of having featured consistently among the top midfield scorers. Brunt in particular is an undiscovered gem, being the seventh-highest scoring midfielder overall and a bargain at £5.5m, and yet featuring in just 2% of teams.

If you are feeling a bit more bullish, you might want to consider a player from the middle column. These are players who do not feature among the top 20 scorers overall, but whose form over the past month puts them in the top 20 over this more recent period.

Most notably, there is Arsenal’s Samir Nasri, who is averaging more than seven points a game since assuming a greater share of creative, set-piece and penalty duties in the absence of Fabregas. He has scored five goals in his last five league appearances – but with Fabregas now back in the side, perhaps his recent points rush will tail off.

Then there is David Silva, who is being introduced gradually into the Manchester City side, but came off the bench to register a goal and an assist at Blackpool on Sunday. Others, such as Matt Jarvis (a consistent point-scorer for Wolves last season), Martin Petrov and Clint Dempsey started the season slowly, but have run into more of a purple patch recently. All are worth considering in the hope that you catch them on the up-swing before other managers notice them and their value starts to rise.

The left-hand column is more problematical. This consists of players who are in the top 20 overall, but whose form has dropped off in the past month. It is worth investigating the causes of this on a case-by-case basis.

Some are easy to explain. Theo Walcott, for instance, scored four times in the first three games before missing the next five through injury. (He returned to action with a cameo appearance in the Champions League on Tuesday.) Injury also accounts for Salomon Kalou, who is yet to return after three games out.

Is age catching up with Paul Scholes already? His recent form suggests it's possible

At first glance, Paul Scholes looks like a decent bet, lying just one point off a top ten place. However, a closer look at his form shows that while he certainly started the season like his pants were on fire – scoring 30 points in the first four games – he has only scored six in the four matches since. Is old age catching up with the veteran midfielder? Or are you willing to take a punt on him regaining his form of the first month, particularly with Wayne Rooney unlikely to ever pull on a Manchester United shirt again?

Other cases are trickier to judge. There is a perception that Gareth Bale is central to much of Tottenham‘s attacking threat, and yet his fantasy performances suggest otherwise. Bale scored both his goals to date – and 15 of his 36 points – in gameweek two against Stoke. Excluding that one performance, he would not merit a place among the top 50 midfielders, and his form over the past month has been mediocre. But then he is probably due a resurgence of form, particularly in the light of his remarkable Champions League hat-trick in the 4-3 defeat at Inter Milan last night.

As with any decision, there are no hard and fast answers. But hopefully this straightforward analysis demonstrates the danger of basing transfer decisions based on total scores alone, or on the evidence of subjective observations, and has provided you with some options you might not otherwise have considered.

Next week we’ll take a look at defenders. See you then!

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

The top 20 forwards

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