Now then FFUKers, the opening Premier League fixture might still be five weeks away, but the player list was released last week so it’s time to start thinking about who should be in your initial squad.
You obviously want to pick the players you think will score you the most points – simple, eh? But which factors are most important? Should you just pick players from the best teams? Or should you try and take advantage of the teams with the best opening fixtures? Tough call.
Two years ago I wrote an analysis-based article that attempted to come up with a single measure that combined both fixtures and the overall quality of each team. I did ok that particular season so thought I’d revisit that analysis to see if it helps me again this time around.
In summary, I’ll rank the 20 Premier League teams based on their overall quality. And then I’ll rank them again based on their opening fixtures. And then I’ll combine those two rankings into a single ranking that considers both factors. Try and bear with me. And if you can’t manage that then just skip to the end of the article!!
Let’s start with ‘overall quality’ (as it’s easier!). Whilst everyone will have their own views on who’s going to win the Premier League and who’ll get relegated, I’ve tried to remove personal subjectivity or bias, so I’ve referred to the bookmakers and ranked teams broadly based on their title odds. I’ve used a little artistic licence as I think the bookies are considering a few other factors to protect themselves e.g. when I started writing this article Newcastle were joint 7th favourites for the title with SkyBet, presumably in case the UAE takeover goes through. I’ve taken a slightly less optimistic view and shunted them down the pecking order a bit.
Anyway, I’ve ended up with the ranking below for ‘overall quality’. If you strongly disagree with this rank order then you might as well stop reading now!
Man City are favourites to win the league and so they’re top of the list, and have been awarded 20 ‘overall quality’ ranking points. Sheffield United are generally the longest odds to win the title and so they’ve been awarded just a single ‘overall quality’ ranking point.
Right, that was the easy bit!! Now onto the fixtures. Again, I’m keen to eliminate personal bias, so I’ve reverted to the odds again. We could just say that a fixture against Man City has a ‘difficulty rating’ of 20 and a fixture against Sheffield United has a ‘difficulty rating’ of only a single point. But I think we need to take home advantage into account.
In order to assess home advantage I looked at last season’s final Premier League table and looked specifically at two metrics:
- the number of wins (home vs away)
- the number of points gained (home vs away)
There were 181 home wins vs 128 away wins last season. Applying that ratio of 181:128 means that you’re 1.414 times more likely to win a home game compared to an away game.
There were 614 points gained at home vs 455 points gained away last season. Applying that ratio of 614:455 means that you’re 1.349 times more likely to gain a point in a home game compared to an away game.
I wasn’t sure which of these two metrics to use to assess home advantage, so I just took an average of the two, which gives a ‘home advantage co-efficient’ of 1.382. If you’ve totally lost me by now, then this table of ‘difficulty ratings’ might help to simplify things:
So playing Man City at home has a ‘difficulty rating’ of 20.0. But if you play them away then the ‘difficulty rating’ is 27.6 (i.e. 20 x 1.382).
As a bit of a sense check, this suggests that playing Spurs at home is as difficult a fixture as playing Wolves away. I reckon that’s not too far off the mark.
For the statisticians amongst you, the ‘home advantage co-efficient’ when I wrote the equivalent article two years ago was 1.642 (vs 1.349 last season), i.e. playing at home last season didn’t appear to provide as big an advantage as it did in the 2016/17 season.
Anyway, back to this article. I then had the joyful task of working through the opening fixtures for each team and tallying up the ‘difficulty rating’ points. I thought I’d look at the first six fixtures as I doubt people tend to plan much further in advance (plus I got bored!). Below are the results:
So this analysis of fixtures suggests that it might be wise to include a few Southampton players in your squads – they play three of the bottom four ranked teams in their first six games. It also implies that you should leave Villa players well alone in the early weeks – they don’t play any of the seven lowest ranked teams in their first six games.
With Spurs lying towards the bottom of this table (their first three away fixtures are City, Arsenal and Leicester) you might decide to avoid Spurs players. However, this is where the ‘overall quality’ vs fixtures question rears its head. Would you really leave Harry Kane out in favour of Shane Long? Sounds a bit dangerous to me. So that’s why I wanted to combine the two rankings. Here are the combined results:
So, if nothing else, this article gives you further confirmation that you should all load your squads with Man City and Liverpool players, and ignore players from the three promoted teams. I know what you’re all thinking… “I didn’t need to read all this codswallop to come to that conclusion”.
However, looking a little deeper, can we glean anything else from this analysis? Sites such as Fantasy Football Scout have been bigging Everton up and this analysis gives further strength to the argument for starting with a Toffee or two. Chelsea have generally been written off already, but their players are relatively cheap and according to these calculations they could be good picks in the first few weeks. And could there even be an argument for taking a punt on one of West Ham’s assets Bakes…??
One school of thought (that I’ve been known to adopt on occasions) is to set your team up for the first few weeks until the first international break, with a view to wielding an early Wildcard at that point. This season the international break is slightly later than in recent years, coming after GW4. Therefore, just in case any of you were considering this tactic, I thought it would be worth checking the outputs from my calculations for just the first four weeks:
Not a great deal of difference from the first six weeks table is there. However, if you’re planning an early Wildcard then this suggests that Chelsea and Everton players could be even more attractive. Chelsea play both Norwich and Sheffield United in the first four weeks, whereas Everton’s toughest game in that period is probably Wolves at home.
How about FPL darling Gylfi Sigurdsson? Last season he sneaked under the radar somewhat and ended up the fourth highest scoring midfielder in FPL – at £8.0 he could be great value in the first few weeks. And as it stands, Olivier Giroud is Chelsea’s sole forward option in the FPL game – could he be worth a punt for the first few weeks at just £7.0? In fact… Ross Barkley anyone…??