In this FPL review series, the brilliant AbuBakar shares his data-driven observations to help us make decisions for the upcoming Gameweeks.

Hi everyone! Having a tough time deciding on your FPL team? Here I address the most common dilemmas in the FPL community right now, hours before we head into Gameweek 1:

(1) Who is the best captain this week and what is the route to get to Man United/Man City assets? For me, the captaincy is fairly straight forward this week. I’m only considering Mohamed Salah as his numbers are head and shoulders above his rivals. Salah had the best minutes per expected goal involvement ratio of all midfielders last season and averaged ∼9.33 points at home against the promoted sides last year. Liverpool created ∼3.21 big chances per game at home as compared to Arsenal’s ∼1.42 per game away (under Arteta) and Salah has an expected minutes per goal involvement of 96 minutes at home vs 200 minutes for Pierre Emerick Aubameyang away under Arteta. The difference is as stark as it can get.

If I was looking for a differential captain, I would pick Sadio Mané instead as he looked sharper than Salah in pre-season and registered more big chances than the Egyptian albeit in the friendlies. I expect Leeds to have a go, so Liverpool’s attackers should do well. Here is why in general, I prefer Salah to Mane:

Salah vs Mané over the 19/20 season

Mins per shot in the box: 26 v 43
Mins per big chance: 96 v 95
Mins per big chance created: 206 v 275
Mins per expected involvement: 64 v 81

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The plan to get a Man United asset is perhaps to sell Salah for Fernandes in Gameweek 2, as I think that might be the play to make given that I don’t think I’ll be captaining Salah in any of the next four fixtures (che ARS avl shu). Three of the four games are away and history suggests that Salah isn’t as prolific away from home when playing with Mané. The plan for a City asset is to ignore them for the first two fixtures, and then to swap Aubameyang to a City midfielder to catch the fixture swing:

Arsenal Gameweek 3 onwards: liv SHU mci LEI
Man City Gameweek 3 onwards: LEI lee ARS whu

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2) I would highly recommend owning a Southampton striker this week. Only City, Chelsea and Man United registered more big chances away from home than Southampton post restart. During this period, Palace were ranked second worst for big chances conceded per game. Expect Southampton to start strongly – this is a game that has a Che Adams or a Danny Ings haul written all over it. I know it’s important not to read too much into pre-season but what was nice to see in the friendly vs Swansea was that both looked full of confidence and bagged a brace each. In the games that both have started together post lockdown, Ings scored 21 points at an average of 5.25 points per game while Adams accumulated 26 points at 6.50 points per game. Post restart, in the games that they started together, their underlying numbers are as follows:

Adams vs Ings

Shots in the box: 12 v 13
Big chances: 2 v 4
Mins per expected involvement post restart: 127 v 142

This tells me that while both are on the pitch, there is not much between them but Ings is the better option to own because Ings is likely to play 90 minutes while Adams is likely to get hooked earlier. The burning question now is that given that Ings is £8.5m and Adams £6m, is it worth the saving the £2.5m? I think it might be, because that £2.5m saving could go a long way. Having said that, I like to view picks in isolation and I really like Ings as a pick too. I’m even open to the idea of a double up.

3) I think a team that are a bit over-rated offensively in the FPL community is Spurs. Post restart, only three Premier League sides created fewer big chances away from home than Spurs did. Overall, during this period, they were still in the bottom five for big chances created. I think Harry Kane is their best asset and the one to own, but he’s questionable at £10.5 million if I am not going to captain. Post restart, no forward accumulated more big chances than he did and he was involved in 85% of Spurs’ big chances post restart so he is clearly the one to have if you are going for a Spurs asset. Talking about Spurs, I have also run a comparison comparing the likes of Son, Alli and Kane when all three of them start together under Mourinho because that hasn’t happened too often and this data might be reflective of what might happen as all three are expected to start at the beginning of the season:

Kane vs Son vs Alli

Shots in the box: 12 v 9 v 8
Big chances: 5 v 2 v 4
Big chances created: 1 v 7 v 3

For me, the value lies in the Spurs defence. Lloris is a top keeper and he had the highest xG prevented last season. Pre restart, under Mourinho, Spurs were fifth worst for xGc. Post restart, they were more of a Mourinho-esque defence where they conceded the second fewest big chances. At home they conceded just three big chances in five games. EVE NEW WHM BHA is a great run for what in my opinion, is an under-valued defence.

4) A stat that might surprise you all is that Chelsea had the second highest xG and big chances to Man City post the Premier League restart. I think the Chelsea attack is under-priced and I think I’m likely to double up initially. Brighton conceded 12 goals in three games at home to Man United, Man City and Liverpool post restart and I’m expecting a similar game here too. Timo Werner at £9.5m is an absolute steal given his pedigree and the amount of chances Chelsea create. An xG per game of 0.75 in the Bundesliga is very impressive and the fact that his numbers are backed up by a high volume of shots/big chances means that he could be a recipe for success. Lewandowski and Ciro Immobile were the only players across the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 to record a better score for xG per game.

I also like the look of Kai Havertz. With Pulisic looking unlikely to start and Ziyech unfit, he is the one I am looking to start with. Over his last three seasons, his non-penalty xG+xA per 90 numbers have been getting better every year. He averages a goal involvement almost every game, and has consistently outperformed his xG over the past three seasons. A few of you wanted me to compare him to Alli and Son under Mourinho, so here it goes:

Havertz (in Bundesliga) vs Alli (under Mourinho) vs Son (under Mourinho)

Mins per shot: 42 v 34 v 39
Mins per chance created: 41 v 82 v 63

5) Three defenders I also want to talk about are Lucas Digne, Reece James and Ruben Vinagre. Digne unfortunately I think this year is half a million overpriced. I like Everton’s fixtures from Gameweek 2 onwards but it’s important to note that Digne’s numbers, pretty much like Everton’s, have fallen off a cliff post restart. Digne created just one big chance for his team-mates post restart, which is very concerning for someone of his pedigree. Reece James I think is the defender this season who has the biggest potential out of all defenders to make a mockery out of his price tag. Priced at just £5.0m, he was second only to Robertson for big chances created post the restart. His numbers whenever he plays are very encouraging and he’s an explosive defender to own – don’t be fooled by the price tag.

The third one I want to talk about is Ruben Vinagre, who has been in and out of my drafts. Wolves conceded the fewest big chances post restart so a starting Wolves wingback, who has been very attacking in the little he has played, at just £4.5 million is a no brainer. What has complicated things though, is the arrival of Marcel from Lyon and rumors that Vinagre is going to be sold to Porto. I’m not convinced whether Marcel is direct competition to Vinagre, as he has been playing left centre back for Lyon over the recent times. I have seen quite a few FPL managers swap Vinagre to Saiss for “security” but I don’t like the idea, as I think there is every chance Marcel could displace Saiss in the Wolves 11 – if at all. Vinagre has become a risk to own for sure, but it’s important to keep all the facts in mind when you are to make a decision whether or not to own him in FPL.

6) Only City, Chelsea and Man Utd recorded more big chances than West Ham post restart. No player registered more big chances than Michail Antonio during this spell. Numbers suggest that there is every chance he starts strongly versus Newcastle and Arsenal if he continues to play up front. Only two teams conceded more big chances away from home than Newcastle all season, while Arsenal were in fact second only to Watford and Sheffield Utd for most big chances conceded post restart having the second worst xGc during this run too, despite word going around about their new found defensive solidity these days. What worries me with Antonio is that his numbers were much better without Haller, as reflected below:

Antonio with Haller under Moyes v Antonio without Haller under Moyes

Mins per shot in the box: ∼40 v ∼26
Mins per big chance: ∼101 v ∼62

“We have seen it before [playing together]. It was only through injury that changed it around. You stumble across something and it works. We lost Seb for the last nine games but Michail found a way.” These comments from Moyes indicate that he is likely to pair the two of them together, which might prove detrimental for Antonio.

7) I never thought I would live to see the day where I’d write that Trent Alexander Arnold has been outdone by another FPL defender in terms of underlying stats. But that is what his team-mate, Andy Robertson has done post restart. Below I run some comparisons to truly emphasise and put into context the second coming of Robertson:

Robertson pre restart vs post restart

Mins per touch in final 3rd: 2.8 v 2.1
Mins per chance created: 57 v 39
Mins per big chance created: 272 v 133
Mins per baseline bonus: 5.6 v 5.3

Trent all season vs Robertson post restart:

Mins per touch in final 3rd: 2.5 v 2.1
Mins per chance created: 37 v 39
Mins per big chance created: 167 v 133
Mins per baseline bonus: 5.7 v 5.3

On set pieces now too, Robertson has become a completely different beast which was helped by the fact that he took 24 of Liverpool’s 72 corners post restart (one third). If Trent is in every team, it makes me wonder why isn’t Robertson for £0.5m less? A popular strategy at this point last season was to double up on Robertson and Trent but that strangely seems to have gone one of fashion now!

Liverpool pre-restart were conceding ∼5.93 shots in the box (vs ∼5.67 post restart) and ∼1.52 big chances per game (vs ∼2.23 post restart). This is the worrying part though, where Liverpool of late have been giving up far more big chances than they did pre-restart. Nearly 32% of the big chances they conceded all season were conceded post restart.

8) Newcastle attack pre restart vs post restart:

Big chances per game: ∼1.38 v ∼1.78
Shots in the box per game: ∼5.89 v 9

You can witness definite signs of resurgence there. New signings Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser will bring fresh attacking impetus. There are doubts whether Fraser will be able to play straight away, but Wilson might be thrown straight in – particularly given his record against West Ham. He has scored seven in his previous eight appearances against the Hammers, and also now has an upcoming favourable fixture run that includes whm, BHA and BUR in three of the next four. Wilson might thrive at Newcastle, given his familiarity with Ritchie and Fraser, and also because Newcastle seem to be a good fit for him. Post restart, seven out of Newcastle’s 16 big chances fell to their forwards (∼44%) so that makes me think there’s a good chance Wilson can be central to whatever they do.

9) Who is the best budget midfielder to get?

Saint Maximin v Podence v Saka v Soucek Post restart

Mins per shot in the box: 200 v 41 v 116 v 58
Mins per big chance: 300 v 244 v 579 v 270

Saint Maximin has the fixtures, but Daniel Podence if he starts might be the best of a bad bunch. As you can see the numbers there are really poor, which is why I think you’ll be lucky if you end up getting consistent returns from your £5.5m midfielder. If your structure is such that it requires a budget midfielder, I think you might be better off looking at defensive rotations for £4.5m defenders – as I think that provides more value and offers a greater chance of consistent points, albeit with lower upside. More on defensive rotations given below.

10) Who are the best £4.5m defenders to get and who do they rotate with?

Arsenal/Burnley: ful WHU SOU SHU wba LEI

Southampton/Brighton: cry new bur WBA cry WBA

Leicester/Leeds: wba BUR/FUL shu WHU AVL ful

These are the three that I really like, particularly the Leicester/Leeds one. In my own draft I have James Justin and Luke Ayling as of now. Justin because I expect him to do a job for the first four to five weeks until Pereira is back – particularly in the home fixtures. Post restart, Leicester conceded around a big chance per game at home but greater than two big chances a game away so there was quite a huge disparity between their home and away statistics. Ayling I really like because of his attacking potential, and because of Leeds’ defensive solidity. I spoke about it at length in my piece about promoted sides yesterday (link given at the end of the article).

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