Recently I read the book ‘American Sniper’ (bear with me here) which, if you’re not familiar with it, is the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a former US Navy SEAL sniper who totalled a record 150 confirmed kills during his two tours in Iraq.
Reading it, I was surprised to learn that, despite being such a prolific sniper, Kyle was, in fact, considered a fairly mediocre marksman and the reason that he claimed so many kills was actually less to do with his skill and more to do with the number of shooting opportunities he had as a result of being so frequently located in dangerous environments.
Obviously my mind is usually (at least) half on Fantasy Football so, while I was reading this, I started to wonder if a similar principle might be true for top Premier League strikers; whether accuracy is the most important thing when it comes to scoring goals, or is goalscoring more a product of the volume of opportunities that a player has to score.
It occurred to me that the answer to this question might be significant not only for predicting which players will score the most but also for judging form sustainability and true player value.
To try and figure this out I took the average number of goal attempts (a measure of scoring opportunity) and the average shot accuracy of the Premier League’s five top-scoring forwards and compared these to the same statistics for the 10 top-scoring forwards over the last four full seasons.
The idea was that, if there was a notable difference between the two groups, it could help identify which attribute was most important.
What I found was that accuracy between the top five group and the top 10 one was identical. Both groups on average, were on target with 43.5% of their shots.
However, comparing the volume of attempts, the average for the Top five was 21% higher than the Top 10 group.
So what does this all mean for FPL? Well, it suggests that the number of opportunities a striker has to score is, on average, a more important factor than accuracy in distinguishing the very best strikers.
Admittedly, the idea that more chances equals more goals seems fairly obvious. That said, what I do think is interesting is how this evidence illustrates the conditional nature of skill with respect to goalscoring.
If opportunity effectively trumps ability, we need to put greater emphasis on the context in which the striker is operating as this may significantly influence their returns.
For example, when we think of Harry Kane (£10.8m), we may think of a striker capable of scoring 30 league goals, as he did in the 2017/18 season, and we might believe that it’s only a matter of time until he does it again, such is his reputation.
But when you look at Kane’s goal attempt statistics (adjusted for minutes played) last season and this current season so far, you can see that they have declined significantly since 2017/18, as has his goal output. Yes, he’s scoring goals, but arguably not at a rate to justify his current cost.
Kane’s shot accuracy has not changed dramatically season over season and there is little to suggest he has become an inherently less skillful player.
Instead, the implication is that negative changes have occurred to the context in which he operates. Spurs and Kane no longer play in a way that is as conducive to maximising his scoring returns, yet he is valued and generally perceived as a premium striker.
Of course, this decline occurred under Mauricio Pochettino and the introduction of Jose Mourinho as manager may well have a positive influence on Kane’s returns though, it’s worth highlighting, that another notable victim of the effects of diminishing opportunities over recent seasons was Romelu Lukaku, who experienced this downturn at Manchester United under Mourinho.
The significance of opportunity volume for goal scoring may, potentially, also be used to predict the sustainability of current goalscoring form and, maybe, even when goals might come.
Often, doing well in FPL relies not being overly influenced by the past or present and successfully predicting what will happen next. Goals scored to date can be misleading as to a striker’s prospects if they are not accompanied by a sustainable supply of opportunities.
Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson (£7.7m), who scored five goals in his opening seven Gameweeks is an example of unsustainable scoring overperformance compared to scoring opportunities.
So far he has registered just 17 attempts on goal in 13 matches so it’s not all that surprising, therefore, that he has not scored since Gameweek 7, yet his early scoring record would have painted a picture of a player who would be expected to continue to score consistently.
Again, context is important. Changes in team strategy, personnel, motivation, confidence, stage of the season and, of course, opposition can all help to create an environment that either stymies or invigorates the number of opportunities that a striker will receive and, it follows, their scoring prospects.
Looking out for potential variations in key factors affecting scoring opportunities can help FPL managers make positive, forward-thinking decisions.
There are some necessary caveats to be made, of course. I’ve looked at a relatively small sample size and, although the trend is apparent and fairly consistent over the time period, it’s probably too limited to be considered conclusive.
Furthermore, while there does appear to be a stronger correlation between goal scoring opportunities and goals scored than between accuracy and goals scored, this will inevitably be one of many factors at play here and, thus, may only be indicative of the apparent trend.
Naturally, for every rule, there are also exceptions, the most notable example in recent seasons being Jamie Vardy (£9.7m). The Leicester man has somehow managed to consistently score lots of goals despite having had a fraction of the opportunities that other top scorers receive, although rather ominously, his volume of shots is actually on the up in recent weeks.
In the opposite direction, you have the likes of Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic who had more attempts than anybody last season (131) and shot accuracy akin to Sergio Aguero’s (36.4) and yet managed only 11 goals, joint 14th for strikers.
Applying all this to my own forwards, I’m reasonably happy with Tammy Abraham (£8.0m) and Danny Ings (£6.0m) who both offer a high rate of attempts per their minutes played (40 and 29 respectively) with good fixtures to come.
Vardy on the other hand has only managed 31 chances, despite playing by far the most minutes of the three. For reasons given, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise and, to some extent, I’m inclined to ignore it.
What is concerning however, is that his shot accuracy does look unsustainably high, even by his standards (64.5%), which would suggest that at least some regression is imminent.
However, with his coming fixtures, I’m unlikely to be ditching Vardy any time soon, though Wolves’ Raul Jiménez (£7.5m) appears to offer the ideal balance of attempts (41) and fixtures and so offers a strong alternative should I need one.
Finally, it must be said that the easiest way to test this theory and apply it to your own Fantasy team is to use the Fantasy Football Scout Members Area. The tables and comparison tools available there can help you conduct research on the aforementioned statistics with ease each and every Gameweek.
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