FPL

6 months ago

FPL Midfielders Statistical Head-to-Head Battles

As I prepare for the new FPL season, nearly every player has been on my radar. Unfortunately, we only have a budget of £100m and 15 spots available on our team. So we have to pick and leave out some players we still dearly want. The midfield, in particular, this year is causing major headaches. To help alleviate this pain, I have looked at the numbers of numerous key battles to help you pick the right men for your fantasy squad. To save you time, I am looking at four midfield dilemmas causing the most debate in one article. No more going through multiple sources, this piece will help you decide once and for all who to choose between:

  • Salah v Mane v Aubameyang
  • Kevin de Bruyne (KdB) v Sterling
  • Son v Dele Alli
  • Allan Saint-Maximin (ASM) v Armstrong

Data is not a be-all and end-all when choosing between two fantasy options. For instance, if you tip Southampton for a top 10 this season and Newcastle to be fighting relegation, then you should pick Armstrong over ASM. Data comparisons like this come to the fore when you really can’t decipher who is the better pick between two or more options. Especially now, with so many assets having the same price.

 

Salah v Mane v Aubameyang

FPL – all £12m 

FanTeam £12.5m, £12m and £11m respectively

Out of the three, Aubameyang grossly outperformed his xG of 14.75, scoring 22 goals. 

To clarify, xG considers the positioning of the shot and the likelihood of a goal (i.e. shot in the 6-yard box – high xG, shot from halfway line – low xG).

xG Shots on Target (xGSOT) takes this a step further and measures the quality of the strike

So if Aubameyang is cutting in from the left and shooting just outside the box, the xG will be relatively low. If each shot hits the bottom corner and is forcing saves, then the xGSOT will be high. Indicative of a quality finisher.

Salah’s output was in line with his xG. Personally, this an underperformance in my eyes for a top-quality player like Salah. He was off the pace at times this year, and I expect him improving on that this year – that means more goals.

Firstly, I will compare the two Liverpool boys. Salah outperforms Mane on every single metric besides goal conversion (14.4% v 23.4%), hence why Mane nearly matched his goals. Even taking away penalties, Salah has a higher xG. So this duel is simple – pick Salah. He has better stats and penalties. You can be different and get Mane as he has lower ownership, but why wouldn’t you simply pick the better player? 

Comparing Salah to Aubameyang, we see the same story.

Salah outperforms the Gabonese international on every metric except for goal conversion and big chances scored

So if you had to pick between the two, Salah is better statistically. However, keep in mind Aubameyang has two fantastic opening fixtures. It is also worth calling out that Aubameyang’s finishing is formidable – scoring 50% (7) more goals than the data suggests he should.

For those of you who like graphical presentations, I have grabbed the below ploys via understat.com. It is highly useful for player comparisons over 90mins. If you like numbers, this again confirms Salah is the easy choice.

   

Read more: FPL&FanTeam Premium Assets for Opening Gameweeks

De Bruyne v Sterling

FPL –both £11.5m

FanTeam £12.5m and £11m respectively

Similarly to Salah, Sterling had a fantastic season but should have done better as a top-class professional. He minimally outperformed his xG (19.09) but if you compare this with his xGSOT, (18.46) it indicates Sterling’s finishing was sub-par. Conversely, KdB nearly doubled his xG. If he holds onto penalties, this may make the decision easier for us.

Sterling also grossly underperformed when it comes to assists with 1 (non-fantasy) assist from an expected 6.25. Can I possibly blame Jesus’s woeful finishing here? It is evident that KdB is by far the more creative of the 2, creating 136 chances to Sterling’s 48.

Sterling is the better shout for goals but not by such a wide margin as KdB is creatively. Both had 99 shots but 83 of these came in the box for Sterling compared to KdB’s 41. The visual below also evidences this creator v finisher dynamic between the duo.

Interestingly, Sterling’s xGI is greater than KdB’s (25.4 v 21.97)

 Yet KdB returned much more frequently. I put this down to KdB’s world-class talent and ability the score worldies from a distance. This won’t be an anomaly, he will outperform his xG again as a result of his talent. The question is whether Sterling can follow suit.

Looking at the above data and chart makes it look straightforward. It must be KdB, right? Wrong! Using the eye-test, it was evident Sterling was a different beast post-restart. To see if the data backs this up, I looked at his stats per appearance pre and post restart below.

Now we are seeing a world-class player, outperforming his xG like KdB did last season. What really sticks out is his goal conversion. 
Sterling converted 32.1% of his shots into goals, 1 in 3! The highest out of all midfielders who played at least 300mins post-restart.

If he can carry in this form, he is a worthy match for KdB and makes this selection dilemma extremely difficult.

 

Son v Alli

FPL - £9m & £8m respectively

FanTeam - £10m & £8m respectively

Son played over 600mins more than Alli, who missed spells due to numerous injuries last season, yet his xG of 9.22 is not convincingly more than Alli’s 8.13. Again, it comes to the quality of the strikes with Son obtaining an xGSOT of 11.47 from this, a 24% bump. Alli managed 8.29, a 2% increase.

This shows Son was more clinical and in form last season. However, Alli looked riveting in spells under Mourinho in particular soon after he got the job. Mourinho has huge faith in Alli’s capabilities, and if Alli steps up to the plate, he could outscore the South Korean this season.

Son does have the potential for more assists with an expected assist every 581mins compared to Alli’s 647mins.

But looking at the mins per xGI, which is useful given Son played 600mins more, it is Alli who is expected to provide an attacking return more often (every 169mins) than Son (184mins). He could be a powerful differential given their kind opening fixtures.

Looking at their expected data per appearance (table below) and 90mins (per chart), we can see Alli matches Son but he is just not converting his chances as well. While Son bests him for assist potential.

Read more: FPL Midfielders: Understanding Points per Million

ASM v Armstrong

FPL – both £5.5m

FanTeam - £6.5m & £6m respectively

This pair have come to our attention given their strong performances post-restart. As a result, I have broken down their numbers by:

  • The whole season
  • Post-restart

xG wise there is little between the two. Armstrong’s 5 goals indicates he is a better finisher, but AMS’s high xGSOT (5.55) is a 68% increase on his xG which bests Armstrong. It may be the case that some spectacular saves prevented ASM from scoring more.

ASM gets in the box substantially more, with 88 touches in the box over the season compared to 44 for Armstrong. Post-restart, Armstrong started to get in the box more, with 16 of his 44 penalty box touches arriving in these fixtures. Nevertheless, their shooting records are remarkably identical. Armstrong just finished more of the big chances presented to him and had a higher conversion rate, hence why he scored 2 more goals than AMS.

Assists are again very close. Post-restart, there is nothing between the pair. Over the course of the season, ASM has better numbers but Armstrong post-restart form makes this a wide-open debate. The xGI evidences this. 

For the season,  ASM was expected to get an attacking return every 294mins while Armstrong was every (399mins) – a whole game more.
Post-restart, Armstrong trumps ASM with an expect return every 319mins compared to 344mins.
So on form, Armstrong is the better of the two.

The chart below also illustrates there’s not much between the two. With Armstrong providing more goal potential while ASM is more likely to deliver assists.

 

Wrap-Up

So there you have it. I hope this helps you with any decisions you are having difficulty with. To summarise:

  • Salah has more potential than Mane and Aubameyang
  • De Bruyne is a better pick than Sterling, but if we focus on recent form, this debate is blown wide open. It comes down to whether you prefer the explosive Sterling or the consistent Belgian
  • Alli is a close match to Son, and if he picks up his performances, he can easily match Son or even outperform him, coming at a lower price
  • There’s little between ASM and Armstrong. I believe you should pick the player who you think has better fixtures and plays in a stronger team. So, for now, I prefer Armstrong, but a few signings for Newcastle (like Wilson) could easily change that

In my next article, I will be doing the same analysis for strikers, so keep an eye out and hit me with any suggestions you may have.

As always, if you want to reach out to me with any questions DM me on Twitter or create a thread on the forums. 

FPL_Pup
Author

FPL_Pup

Sports fan and FPL addict from Ireland (still has not forgiven Thierry Henry). Loves numbers in both studies & profession and has incorporated this into FPL in recent seasons. Has played FPL for 8 seasons, finishing in the top 40k 5 times, with the best finish of 8k. Find on Twitter @FplPup if you have any questions

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