Pro Pundit Teams

Ex-FPL champion Simon March: How to avoid the correlation-causation fallacy

The 2014/15 overall winner of Fantasy Premier League, Simon March, discusses the spurious correlations between data sets that we FPL managers often pounce upon.


There’s an early episode of the TV show Cheers where Sam Malone, the lovable lothario bar owner, is given a tip by an MIT professor that, whenever the Van Allen radiation belt is in a state of flux, the Boston Celtics always lose so, he suggests, Sam should bet on their opponents in that night’s game.

Although (spoiler) Sam does actually win the bet, this storyline is a good demonstration of the ‘correlation/causation fallacy’ by which, essentially, we spot a correlation between two sets of data and assume (often incorrectly) one must therefore be the cause of the other.

This fallacy manifests itself all the time in the FPL community and often to our detriment. This article will look at why this fallacy exists, how it affects our FPL decisions and how we can try to avoid it.

Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

If you are among that rare breed of FPL manager who is still invited to parties, a fun topic of conversation might be the spurious correlations between data sets. For example, for a decade between 1999 and 2009, the number of movies the actor Nicholas Cage appeared in each year corresponded almost perfectly to the number of people who drowned in puddles when plotted on a graph. During this same period, the number of people who died after being wrapped in their bedsheets fluctuated precisely alongside the per capita cheese consumption in the USA.

That, while reading these correlations, there’s a good chance that you instinctively tried to come up with a reason why these things might actually be related explains a lot about why the correlation/causation fallacy exists. We humans have evolved to quickly spot patterns as a survival mechanism; ‘more lions on the plain than normal? Probably time to move on’. ‘Somebody dies every time we eat these berries, maybe we shouldn’t eat them any more’, and so on.

The problem comes when we try to apply this basic, heuristic-based model of pattern-matching to more complex subjects, such as trying to predict who might score in the next Gameweek, because there’s a good chance it will be insufficiently accurate to be reliable.

As I said, we do this all the time in FPL; ‘Suarez always hauls against Norwich’, ‘Sterling never scores against Man United’, ‘Kane can’t score without Dembele in midfield’, ‘Callum Wilson never scores when he’s in my team’, the list goes on. While many perceived correlations are eventually debunked, many persist for a long time and are acted upon.

The causal direction between two data sets can also throw us off. For example, in Joe’s ‘Meet the Manager’ series, we consistently see that elite FPL managers tend to take fewer hits than average, thus, we might draw the conclusion that doing well in FPL requires being stingy with hits. Of course, this may be the case but it might also be the case that elite FPL managers take fewer hits because they are elite FPL managers, their skill and planning abilities (or persistent luck) mean that they don’t need to.

None of this is to say that none of these correlations exist, I mean, Suarez really did seem to always haul against Norwich. What we should be mindful of, however, is that we are almost always dealing with very small sample sizes, small enough for any correlation to be simply a matter of coincidence. Had Suarez played Norwich twice a season for 10 years, he might still have scored well (he is, after all, Suarez and they are, after all, Norwich) but his returns would almost certainly have normalised into something less dramatic than they were after just a handful of meetings.

The key lesson from all of this is not to be casual about causality and to really question why an apparent relationship between data sets might exist. It is also important to try and be objective about how robust that relationship might be when it comes to determining the cause of something happening. The more vague the relationship, the more sceptical we should be in trusting its predictive value. 

Equally, we should be wary that the relationship might exist, but its causal direction might be the opposite to what you think. This alone would likely be very significant in determining the veracity of any data-driven strategy.

As mentioned, a big factor in determining how meaningful the relationship between data sets might be is how much data there actually is available. The classic rule of thumb is that, the more data there is available, the more reliable an indicator of any trends it is likely to be. However, there is rarely any substitute for good ol’ common sense and, if you can’t think of a sensible reason why ‘X’ would realistically cause ‘B’, then chances are it probably didn’t.

As always, this is easier said than done as these spurious correlations can be quite pervasive and, indeed, persuasive. Spurs failed to win in Gareth Bale’s first 24 appearances and there actually have been over 20 high-profile deaths on or around the days on which Aaron Ramsey has scored yet, in a large-enough data set, each of these spurious correlations dissolved, as will most of the ones we use to dictate our FPL strategies. Thus, while they’re sometimes interesting to point out or debate, vague or superficial relationships should never be relied upon as a legitimate basis for FPL decision-making.

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164 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Fit_to_drop
    • 1 Year
    3 months, 1 day ago

    Any users car to post their FH team to give me a headstart on mine?

    thanks.

    1. Wild Rover
      • 10 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      Jeez

      1. Fit_to_drop
        • 1 Year
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Whats the problem. 2 posts down a guy posted his and wanted feedback. I dont see an issue in asking to see some?

        1. Wild Rover
          • 10 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          There's a big difference between posting your idea's and asking for feedback, and asking others to pick for you.

        2. Shineonme
          • 4 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          Are you a peeping Tom 😉

    2. Zen Arcade
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 3 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      Much more fun when you just come up with it yourself.

      1. Fit_to_drop
        • 1 Year
        3 months, 1 day ago

        No point in reinventing the wheel either. I am capable of looking at a team, see some changes, then go with it. Its no big deal and I don't impose my preferences on how others should set up their teams.

        1. Zen Arcade
          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
          • 3 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          Yeah, I guess "the wheel" AKA "the template" is one of the things that makes FF boring now the so-called community so huge.

          I reckon someone clever could write a script to farm information from all these sites and forums then run their FPL team for them. Probably finish in the top 100,000.

    3. bitm2007
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 7 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      Should be a Scout Picks article today. That will point you in the right direction.

      1. Fit_to_drop
        • 1 Year
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Thanks BITM. Havent been able to spend as much time on here due to work and home pressures.

    4. Black Knights
      • 9 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      Make an effort, at least.

      1. Fit_to_drop
        • 1 Year
        3 months, 1 day ago

        My wife unwell ATM and Im keeping my job going and when i get home in the evening i have 4 kids to mind. This is my only sideline. Ill take all the help i can get TBH.

        #Don't judge

        1. George James
          • 6 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          The time you have taken to reply to your original posts you could have researched and posted your own team.

          And then made a cup of tea

    5. MightyGar
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Here you go (assuming Liv double)

        Martinez
        TAA Digne Shaw
        Salah Bruno JWP Zaha
        Nacho DCL Watkins

        Forster Jota Holding Mitchell

    6. bitars
      • 3 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      I have the exact amount to do Raphina and Semedo to Zaha and Coleman but Raphina looks to drop in price soon. Would you do the transfer or should i wait and instead get Zaha to JWP or Coleman to Ward?
      I also have the FH so could just use that if something else gets weird.

      2FT 1,3m itb
      Martinez, (Pope)
      Digne, Azpi, Trent, (Dallas, Semedo)
      Son, Bruno, Lingard, Jota (Raphina)
      Nacho, Kane, Watkins

      Thanks

      1. SuperG
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 3 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        I really would wait. Euro matches tomorrow (and tonight) plus potential fixtures changes for clubs.

    7. HashAttack
      • 4 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      Not seeing many FH examples - thoughts on the following?

      Guaita
      Castagne, Shaw, Digne
      Rashford, Auba, Bruno, Zaha, Havertz
      Nacho, DCL

      Martinez, Watkins, Chillwell, Bellerin

      1. Dark Side Of The Loon!
        • 5 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Everybody is waiting on Pool DGW news, Zaha injury status, CL line ups, EL lineups maybe?

        1. HashAttack
          • 4 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          There's a few things to keep an eye on! - Haven't activated the chip yet but hope Liverpool's double is in gw36

      2. bitars
        • 3 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Would go Maguire over Shaw because of rotation risk on the later.

        Great team, only misses Vardy.

        1. HashAttack
          • 4 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          Thanks - Hopefully Telles plays EL ... Don't fancy both Nacho and Vardy but could stretch to Vardy instead

      3. Fit_to_drop
        • 1 Year
        3 months, 1 day ago

        I think thats a decent stab as of now. Id look for a bit of southampton representation in the form of JWP. I think they may have turned a corner. Id go watkins ahead of DCL i think but understand the DCL pick.

        1. HashAttack
          • 4 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          Between Zaha and JWP ... and whether it's one of them or DCL/Watkins that get's benched

          1. Baps hunter
            • Fantasy Football Scout Member
            • 3 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Coin tossing. Even if Zaha is declared fit, he has still higher than normal injury risk.

      4. Baps hunter
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 3 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Compared to my WC team pretty similar. The difference is that you can go all in without Liverpool and worries about future.

        Guaita / Meslier
        TAA, Digne, Shaw / Dallas, Coufal
        Salah, Jota, Bruno, Greenwood / Bale
        DCL, Watkins, Nacho

    8. aleksios
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 5 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      BB this week.Which is best? 1ft 1.4itb.

      --Leno--Forster
      --TAA--Veltman--Holgate--Azpi--Fofana
      --Salah--Bruno--Lingard--Jota--Gundo
      --Kane--Wood--Nacho.

      a) Gundo to JWP
      b) Jota to Zaha.
      c) Both for a hit.

      Thanks.

      1. jimmyharte
        • 3 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Veltman to Ward.

      2. Super Sharpe Shooter
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 4 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        just JWP for me - biggest haul potential

      3. Daghe Munegu
        • 4 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Do you think Leno plays ?

    9. ZAWAd25
      • 4 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      What’s a priority transfer here? 1FT , 0.1itb

      Mendy
      Rudiger Holding TAA
      Son Salah Bruno Lingard Jota
      Kane Ihenacho

      (Forster Coufal Lowton Davis)

      1. Super Sharpe Shooter
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 4 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        i’d lose a Chelsea defender/keeper

    10. Scholes Out Forever
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 7 Years
      3 months, 1 day ago

      Bamford captains himself every week on FPL. What a legend

      1. DA Minnion (In Bielsa we tr…
        • 9 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Time he changed.

      2. jbenny1107
        • 7 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Should be going to Raphinha's house daily and massaging his thigh. Dude is not playing well without him.

      3. Ooh Ah Cantona
          3 months, 16 hours ago

          I remember BamBam doing that post match interview this season after scoring a brace or Hattie, and him saying he was annoyed with himself for not captaining him.
          It was like reality and fantasy blurring into one.

      4. 1team1dream
        • 7 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Is fpl sets working ?

      5. 1team1dream
        • 7 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Fpl stats sorry

        1. Holmes
          • 7 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          Yes

      6. jbenny1107
        • 7 Years
        3 months, 1 day ago

        Now that the Mourinho ego issues are behind us, Bale is a must have for the remainder of the season. He'll outscore all double game week players. Will also affect Kane too.

        2 FT's, should I make these moves?

        Jota to Bale
        Kane to DCL

        1. Holmes
          • 7 Years
          3 months, 1 day ago

          If you are sure about Bale doing well and outscoring Kane, then go for it

          1. jbenny1107
            • 7 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Pretty sure. He's pretty much taking Kane's space in the middle of the field.

        2. jones711
            3 months, 1 day ago

            He'll outscore all double game week players. ..... Really ? Really ?????

            1. jbenny1107
              • 7 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              I think so. He was crushing it before Mourinho decided to show him who was boss and benched him. Now the reigns have been taken off and he's scoring at will just like before.

              1. Super Sharpe Shooter
                • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                • 4 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                agree with this. when fully fit and motivated like right now he looks irresistible. such a deadly finisher.

              2. Ooh Ah Cantona
                  3 months, 16 hours ago

                  Bale is a flat track bully only getting points against the likes of SheffU and Palace and Burnley.
                  Half decent teams and Bale vanishes, it's no wonder Mourinho did what he did.

            2. Alonso The Great Midfielder
              • 9 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Im actually love to see Bale enjoying his football again and hope Spurs can get him again next season. If he stay fit then would be a great asset for Fpl. So jota to Bale is a great transfer

            3. Max City
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 4 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              If you had Son and Kane, would you do Son >> Bale for free?

              1. jbenny1107
                • 7 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                That's tough. Based on last game I would get rid of Kane before Son. Son is coming in from the wing and Kane is being pushed out by Bale.

          • ZoumasBloomers
            • Has Moderation Rights
            • 4 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Jota and Brewster to DCL and ESR for free? Would bench ESR

            1. jbenny1107
              • 7 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Yes

            2. Boxwoods
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 3 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Yes, and thanks for posting. I may do similar.

          • sirmorbach
            • 5 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Meslier
            TAA / Coleman / Holding
            Salah / Bruno (vc) / Son / Zaha
            Kane / Wood /  Iheanacho (c)

            Forster, Lingard, Coufal, Rüdger

            Any changes, any extra hit needed (took one already)? Or good to go?

            1. jbenny1107
              • 7 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              I'd be nervous not to have DCL or Watkins for the double.

              1. sirmorbach
                • 5 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                Do you think it's worth making it a -8?

                1. jbenny1107
                  • 7 Years
                  3 months, 1 day ago

                  Probably not.

              2. HashAttack
                • 4 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                I'm nervous about dropping Kane, Son, Salah and TAA on my FH ... I expect between 8 and 12 points each for DCL and Watkins, which all 4 of those could easily get in just one match

                1. Max City
                  • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                  • 4 Years
                  3 months, 1 day ago

                  Which one will score more?
                  DCL
                  Zaha

          • ZoumasBloomers
            • Has Moderation Rights
            • 4 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Anyone thinking of getting rid of Lingard? Looked utterly peripheral with Antonio abs Benrahma in the side

            1. jbenny1107
              • 7 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Was playing really well and linking up with Antonio before Antonio was injured. Not sure I would dump.

            2. WE GO FOR IT
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 5 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              I'm probably just removing for DGW players. Still think he's a decent option. Fixtures are good. He and West Ham have a lot to play for.

            3. Super Sharpe Shooter
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 4 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              yes he’s not fully fit (muscle issues) so i’d jump off now

              1. Zen Arcade
                • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                • 3 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                Didn't he play the '90?

                Think I stopped paying much attention by about '85.

                1. Super Sharpe Shooter
                  • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                  • 4 Years
                  3 months, 1 day ago

                  he did but since Newcastle game i haven’t seen the same fizz in his play so i reckon that over-performing bubble has burst

            4. Zen Arcade
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 3 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              I only heard the match on the radio but I thought he played OK. Think Pope made a good stop from one of his efforts.

              Its a weakness of mine holding on to players for too long, though. I kept Bamford despite him not scoring since Guy Fawkes was polishing his rocket.

            5. dbeck
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 3 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              those looking to chase i think getting rid is actually a good move, and hope those protecting rank hold and you can steal a march. I dont have anything useful to back up these feels

            6. potatoace
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 10 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Not so sure. He was still in the mix. Wasn't far off a goal. There are more stupid things that doubling up on WHM for this run in. They look hungry.

          • Bury94
            • Fantasy Football Scout Member
            • 3 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Latest FH draft, thoughts appreciated!

            Guaita
            TAA, Castagne, Shaw
            Salah, Bruno, Greenwood, Martinelli, Jota
            DCL, Iheanacho

            Still have 8.4 ITB. Want a couple of differentials in there as I try to push for the top 10k, hence Martinelli who's got really good stats when he plays. Cheers all

            1. Max City
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              • 4 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Will Liverpool have DGW35?

            2. HashAttack
              • 4 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Don't know whether to have a sgw players - two matches for e.g. Digne seems a better option than one match for TAA
              If I was going to punt on a sgw player, it would probably be Bale

          • Max City
            • Fantasy Football Scout Member
            • 4 Years
            3 months, 1 day ago

            Still have FH chip and not sure when to use it..
            DGW35
            BGW36
            GW37
            GW38

            Martinez Areola
            TAA Dunk Dallas Castagne Shaw
            Salah Son Greenwood Lingard Raphinha
            Kane Nacho Bamford

            Cheers!

            1. jbenny1107
              • 7 Years
              3 months, 1 day ago

              DGW. Get 11 players with 2 games.

          • richarlison2348
              3 months, 1 day ago

              Will Leno play for the run in?

              1. jbenny1107
                • 7 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                Depends on tomorrow's match. My guess is no either way. Arteta seems to really like Ryan's work ethic.

                1. richarlison2348
                    3 months, 1 day ago

                    Which goalie would you replace him with? Meslier potentially?

              2. MadeinIreland
                • 12 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                Do we think Saka and Keane will play two games by any chance?

                I have them in my squad and not sure whether to start them or not compared to Lingard in the case of Saka or Dunk/ Saiss in the case of Keane.

                Thanks...

              3. Pep Roulette
                • 3 Years
                3 months, 1 day ago

                Play one

                A. Targett vs MUN & EVE
                B. Lingard vs EVE
                C. Dunk vs wol

                1. dbeck
                  • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                  • 3 Years
                  3 months, 1 day ago

                  a