It’s said that you have to have knowledge of the past to gain a better understanding of the present (or future). This may well be the case, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that this knowledge is infallible, or that history will repeat itself.
With Fantasy Premier League (FPL) wildcards offering the opportunity for a full squad face-lift, the performances of players to this point will likely play a major part in the selection process. The wildcard offers the chance to complete a team of season “All Stars” without too much thought, but does such a strategy really guarantee success?
Casting our memories back a season, there’s evidence to suggest we should be cautious when it comes to putting too much stock in player performance at the halfway stage. Indeed, it seems that identifying those players on the verge of an upturn in fortunes following a faltering first half of the season, could be just as significant.
To explore the theory further, we started by examining a selection of top Fantasy performers in the first half of the 2010/11 and compared this to their respective totals for the remainder of the campaign…
|MD||Mortern Gamst Pedersen||82||4.8|
|MD||Rafael Van der Vaart||92||8.8|
* P90 is the points scored per 90 minutes, which eliminates some of the distortion you get when using a straight ‘points per appearance’.
If you were making transfers at this time last season, how could you not be attracted to the above squad of players? The front three had a combined 32 goals, the midfield provided consistent returns despite only holding one expensive player (Bale, remember, was just 7.0m last year) and the defence and keepers had amassed 50 clean sheets. What could possibly go wrong?
|MD||Morten Gamst Pedersen||37||3.4|
|MD||Rafael Van der Vaart||73||5.1|
Fast forwarding to the end of the season, and the fortunes of this squad dip considerably. Leighton Baines was able to show some moderate improvement and Joe Hart stayed at the same level, but every other member of the team showed decline in the second half of the season. The less established Fantasy names predictably saw some of the biggest slumps, with Nedum Onuoha and Johan Elmander losing 2.6 and 2.9 points per 90 minutes respectively, although the heralded Rafael Van der Vaart was worst affected – the Dutchman fell a shocking 3.7 points per 90 minutes.
There are some players, of course, who enjoy good production throughout the season but, overall, this is the exception. It’s more common that a player’s productivity will decline after a strong opening to the season, or that we’ll see a player rise from relative obscurity to enjoy success and strong returns. It’s this second group of players who could hold the key to success via our wildcard selections.
For varying reasons the below pool of players have a chance to be “game changers” in the second half of the season and should be at least be considered, alongside some of the more likely candidates found atop the Fantasy rankings.
Out of the treatment room…
Last season we saw players like Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard return from long spells on the sidelines to help their respective teams, and Fantasy managers alike. All three went on to appear in the second half Fantasy team of the year. We don’t quite have the same calibre of players returning from injury this term, but there’s still potential value to be found.
Jack Wilshere (6.2 – 3% ownerhsip)
There is a danger of overvaluing players who have been out of sight for a prolonged period, as we tend to embellish their talents somewhat. Wilshere is an excellent player, there’s no doubt, but his Fantasy impact is still questionable. Last season he managed just a single goal and three assists in 31 appearances, so we perhaps shouldn’t expect fireworks when he finally returns to the Arsenal side. However, his Opta performance stats show that he was one of the more influential midfielders in the league last season, and with Van Persie in otherworldly form, there’s reason to believe that Wilshere’s assist potential is high for a player in his price range.
There’s obviously risk here and with Arsene Wenger admitting the player has suffered a “little setback” in training this week, we may have to wait a longer longer before considering Wilshere. The lack of consistent talent in the FPL 6.0 range means we need to widen the search and a 10-12 week cameo for Wilshere could represent an excellent differential opportunity. Much could be dependent on Arsene Wenger’s tactics; if Wilshere is afforded the role currently occupied by Aaron Ramsey, as the furthest forward of the midfield three, his potential would rise considerably.
Steven Gerrard (10.6 – 4%)
A mere mention of Gerrard’s name in some Fantasy quarters produces nostalgic memories; thoughts of simple times when the Liverpool captain was joined by Frank Lampard and Cristiano Ronaldo in the ‘holy trinity’ – a trio capable of consistently great returns and 200 point seasons. Injuries have ended Gerrard’s previous dominance, but we have at least seen flashes of his ability in his brief cameos this season, and he already has a couple of goals and six bonus points to his name. Without European commitments, Liverpool’s fixture list doesn’t look too crowded, which could see Gerrard coping with stresses and strains. The biggest problem, then, is his price tag which, at 10.6, remains the second highest among all midfielders in the FPL. He’s unlikely to deliver comparable value to some of his peers, but in terms of pure points production, his upside remains high and for a brief window in Liverpool’s season, he could well prove a profitable investment.
Jamie O’Hara (5.5 – 1%)
O’Hara was quietly having a fine season before the injury bug struck. Like Fulham’s Clint Dempsey, O’Hara’s performance statistics are hugely impressive and suggest that he has yet to fulfill the Fantasy potential that his displays have promised. Wolves aren’t an elite team by any stretch, but they rarely get shut out and with Steven Fletcher up top, they have a striker on form who can convert the chances provided. If O’Hara is granted the role behind Fletcher in a 4-5-1 on his return, then the prospects look good. Throw in O’Hara’s set piece duties and you have a definite “sleeper” who could wake to some effect in 2012.
Hatem Ben Arfa (5.4 – 2%)
It’s been an odd season to date for Ben Arfa, as he’s fought a combination of injuries and a desire from Alan Pardew to avoid tampering with a winning side. You get the feeling that the Magpies boss will not keep Ben Afra’s talent shackled for much longer. A goal and assist return at Fulham may have paved the way for a prolonged spell in the side, even once Demba Ba returns alongside new signing Papiss Demba Cisse. Ben Arfa is averaging a very promising 6.0 points per 90 minutes and if that can be maintained to any real degree over a series of regular starts, the Frenchman may yet deliver exceptional value as a midfield prospect.
One of the key pitfalls of Fantasy managers is judging value based on talent alone, without looking at the other vital ingredient for Fantasy success: opportunity. It doesn’t matter how talented a player is, if his manager doesn’t play him, or decides that his star winger is best suited as an emergency right-back, Fantasy returns will dry up. We can therefore highlight a few players whose situation has recently changed, or is forecast to change, thus providing the catalyst for improved output.
Edin Dzeko (8.0 – 13%)
Having failed to settle in at Eastlands last season, Dzeko appears to have turned the proverbial corner, both in real and Fantasy terms. So far this season, he’s averaged 8.9 points per 90 minutes, a level not even the great Robin Van Persie (7.5) can match. The problem, of course, has been his inconsistent and unpredictable playing time, mired in a six-into-three-position battle with Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Mario Balotelli, Samir Nasri and Adam Johnson. Aguero has often been lined up at the apex of a front three, but Mancini has also shown a willingness to play him behind Dzeko, most notably during the last three Gameweeks. With Balotelli sidelined for four games, Dzeko’s first team place looks all but assured, and, given Mancini’s hints at a lack of trust for Balotelli in the past, that could continue for a more sustained period, making Dzeko one of the hottest prospects around.
Luis Suarez (9.2 – 17%)
He may not be the most popular player around these days, but you don’t get any points for winning friends. Despite missing the last four Gameweeks, Suarez still ranks second among all players in total shots taken, and while his finishing has tended to lack composure, history suggests he will start to convert his chances at a better rate as time goes on. He still has one more Gameweek to sit out yet, and returns to line up against (TOT, mun) before facing a blank Gameweek 26 due to Carling Cup Final commitments, but Suarez has promise of a double Gameweek in the future, in addition to a relatively kind run of fixtures from Gameweek 28 onwards. With convergence among the top teams owning the likes of Aguero, Rooney and Van Persie, Suarez is one of the few remaining differential options with a chance to hit the highest returns, if you’re willing to take a risk.
Bobby Zamora (6.6 – 3%)
Zamora has struggled for consistency this year, with every promising run (see Gameweeks 4-7) being promptly followed by a spell on the sidelines. A return to fitness has coincided with an immediate return to form, however, evident with a goal and three assist return in the thrashing of Newcastle last time out. Indeed, one of Zamora’s key attributes is his ability to contribute assists as well as goals, which keeps his points ticking over even when he fails to hit the back of the net. His 5.9 points per 90 minutes compares favourably to some highly sought after Fantasy assets like Gareth Bale (6.0), Steven Fletcher (5.8) and Emmanuel Adebayor (5.6), while his performance stats suggest his recent production is sustainable. Fulham’s next five home opponents are West Brom, Stoke, Wolves, Swansea and Norwich, who all rank in the bottom half of defences away from home. If he can stay fit, Zamora could be an excellent third striker option.
Hugo Rodallega (5.9 – 2%)
Rodallega has been a strong Fantasy favourite over the past couple of seasons, weighing in with solid totals of 149 and 123 points. He just hasn’t been able to replicate that form this year though, and has largely disappointed for a struggling Wigan side. Or so the story goes. In fact, in terms of points per 90 minutes, the Colombian is enjoying his finest season in the Premier League (4.5) and it’s only been an inexplicable lack of playing time that has held him back. Whatever the motivation for not playing him (perhaps Rodallega’s desire to leave the DW Stadium), Martinez seems to have realised Wigan’s survival is likely tied to Rodallega’s success and the striker has rewarded the boss’ faith with two goals and two assists over the past four Gameweeks. When he plays, most good things Wigan do go through him, meaning he could once again be a very useful budget forward for the remainder of the season.
Jonny Evans (4.5 – 4%) / Anders Lindegaard (4.4m – 2%)
Any time you can access an elite defensive unit for a bargain price you have to be interested. This pairing may come cheap, but the evidence points to the fact that they have been integral to improved defensive form. Indeed, United have kept eight clean sheets in Evans’ 14 starts (57%) and six in eight when Lindegaard plays (75%). This compares favourably to Man United’s overall clean sheet rate of 50%. There’s some risk with both players, as David De Gea could be recalled without notice, while Evans faces competition from Chris Smalling and Phil Jones for that second centre-back spot. Of the two, Evans looks like the safer bet, particularly in light of Jones’ injury. A gamble on both, despite a tough run of fixtures in the short-term, looks incredibly appealing.
Royston Drenthe (5.8 – 1%)
Drenthe has been something of an enigma this year. His production has been great, yet he’s struggled to break into an Everton side lacking in goals and quality going forward. When on the field, the Dutchman has accounted for (scored or assisted) 54% of Everton’s goals, yet he’s been rewarded with just six starts. One look at his performance statistics suggests that he’s unlikely to maintain this incredible per minute production, but given that his current points per 90 minutes (6.5) is close to David Silva’s (6.8), even a 50% decline would keep him in line with the likes of the more popular Jon Walters (4.3) or Seb Larsson (4.6). There’s been signs that Drenthe may yet cement a starting role, although it may well take Landon Donovan’s departure to improve his chances. At 5.8m he’s clearly a risk, particularly with Everton about to enter a testing period of fixtures. Once Moyes’ side emerge from that and perhaps find a cutting edge, Drenthe could yet explode and deliver on his potential.
Stephen Ireland (5.6 – 1%)
There’s an old scouting saying that once a player displays a skill, he owns it. It’s on that basis that Ireland will continue to make lists like this. His 2008/09 season is the stuff of legend and the merest hint of a return to that form will rightfully pique the interest of Fantasy managers. The past three weeks have served as that trigger, with a goal and a couple of assists giving Ireland 31 points over the three Gameweeks prior to missing Gameweek 22 through injury. Having recovered from a hamstring niggle, a first team spot seems to be within his grasp, with or without the on loan Robbie Keane alongside him.
Darren Bent (9.6 – 4.7%)
A single goal in his first five Villa outings quickly dampened any enthusiasm for a striker who had returned 41 league goals in his previous two seasons. Bent has unquestionably struggled to settle in his new surroundings but, of late, the signs have been encouraging and hint at a strong 2012. Bent has notched in three of his last four league outing and another smart finish in yesterday’s FA Cup defeat at the Emirates offered another reminder of his finishing ability. Villa have a strong short-term schedule and, with Robbie Keane and Stephen Ireland providing a new creative spark, Bent could well continue to offer profit and come close to matching his strike rate of previous seasons.
Stephen Kelly (3.9 – 3%) / Mark Schwarzer (4.8 – 3%)
Fulham have managed just a single clean sheet without Mark Schwarzer, which is a concern, but this remains a good defensive unit if you can get in at the right price. Unfortunately, through the first half of the season, this was almost impossible to achieve. Phillipe Senderos, Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes and Zdenek Grygera were all given a time in the starting lineup, but none of them seemed able to make those spots alongside Brede Hangeland and John Arne Riise their own. After drifting in and out of the team in the early part of the season, Kelly was afforded a chance in Gameweek 14 and has played the majority of minutes ever since. At 3.9, he is cheap enough to be a fifth defender yet contribute regularly, even if Fulham have been maddeningly inconsistent of late. Schwarzer could return next week and make an excellent pick between the sticks, though with his fitness still in doubt, and a trip to Man City on the horizon, it might be worth waiting a couple of weeks before bringing this pair in.
Window of Opportunity…
Last season’s transfer window provided a useful influx of Fantasy talent with Luis Suarez, Dembe Ba, David Luiz, Stephane Sessegnon and Edin Dzeko all arriving in the Premier League and proceeding to have useful second half contributions. The window has been opened this year but, while very few have so much as peeked through, there are some names to consider….
Gary Cahill (5.2 – 21%)
Cahill is one of the more widely owned defenders in the game, but whereas the previous rationale appeared to be dubiously based on his excellent 2009/10 campaign, we now have a reason to be legitimately excited. Cahill leaves the league’s worst defense to join up with a top-five club, which has historically been one of the best units around. Ironically, Chelsea have kept two clean sheets in a row, having failed to do so for the previous six games, but with a somewhat hefty transfer fee paid, one would imagine Cahill will slot into the back line sooner rather than later. With a visit from the Champions sandwiched between a couple of away games (swa, MUN, eve) it might be worth waiting to pull the trigger here until we know for sure that Cahill will start for the remainder of the year. His potential value is unquestionable, though.
Papiss Demba Cisse (7.0 – 0.0%)
One of the best things about modern day transfers is the ability to instantly know at least a bit about the incoming player (as opposed to just looking him up on Championship Manager – we’ve all done it). We can quickly find a player’s stats along with highlight clips, usually enough to persuade some that the newest arrival is the next best thing. These videos helpfully allowed us to identify that the likes of Mateja Kezman, Massimo Maccarone and Albert Luque would be unmitigated successes. Ok, maybe not, but there’s more to Cisse than a couple of nice clips. The list of players who have come to the Premier League with a similar goal scoring record in the Bundesliga is short, headlined by recent success stories like Dzeko, Ba and Van der Vaart. Cisse has been ruthlessly clinical in three seasons at Freiburg (37 goals from 79 shots on target), more so in fact than his new teammate Ba (25 goals from 86 shots on target). It’s always tough to predict if, and when, new arrivals will succeed, but Cisse clearly has the pedigree and skill, so his situation is one to monitor. Priced at 7.0, he’s an affordable third forward option, with a high upside and differential potential.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (5.0 – 0.1%)
It didn’t take Sigurdsson long to have an impact on his return to English football, notching an assist for Danny Graham’s winner against Arsenal, having been on the field for just 25 minutes. Sigurdsson will be familiar to some from his time at Reading in the Championship, where he was extremely successful in 2009-10 before moving to Hoffenheim. He enjoyed a good first season in Germany (outscoring teammate Demba Ba) but slipped from the first team last season, thus becoming expendable this year. The Swansea midfield looks a bit crowded, but Sigurdsson looks well-placed to secure a starting role in the centre of the park, surrounded by sufficient talent to make his 5.0m price extremely interesting. He’s also assumed the vast majority of set pieces, notching 10 corners and a couple of direct free kick attempts in just 110 minutes of action. There’s quantity, but not great quality in the 5.5m and below range, so Sigurdsson should be considered early on, especially given Swansea’s short-term fixtures after next week (wba, NOR, sto, wig).
Taye Taiwo (4.5 – 0%)
Last week’s Watchlist article brought the explosive left-back to your attention but his potential his worth stressing again. Starved of opportunities at AC Milan, Taiwo will arrive at Loftus Road hungry for success, at a time when the R’s are on the ascent following the arrival of Mark Hughes. With a very healthy short-term fixture list and a need to tighten the defence, Taiwo could be in line for immediate returns. If he can demonstrate his pace and power and get in range of the goal, Taiwo could prove to be an outstdanding prospect at just 4.5 in the FPL.