I was in Amsterdam last week. Thankfully, the Dutch capital isn’t just famed for its red light district and copious amounts of the green stuff; it’s also notorious for its humble pie. I tucked into a warm slice – with an accompaniment of cream, of course (I’m not a monster) – whilst sat on the banks of one of the many canals that etch their way through the city.
One mouthful for Arsenal’s woeful performance. Another mouthful for Luke Shaw’s 2-point haul. A particularly large mouthful for Vardy’s no-show in the City game. Despite what I had heard, it all tasted rather bitter.
If the Champions League this week has taught us anything, it’s that football is unpredictable at worst and absolutely ludicrous at best. That’s how we like it.
Could the underlying stats have accounted for Liverpool’s 4-0 win against Barcelona? Would they have predicted a thrilling 3-2 victory for Spurs away at Ajax? Probably not.
Those matches taught me a lesson which I’ll bestow upon you now: though the underlying stats are effective indicators, they will never be capable of forecasting the absurdity of football. As we reach the final gameweek of the season with so much still to play for, I’m more thankful for that than ever.
Nonetheless, they’re a damn sight better than “gut instinct”, right? Let’s crack on and see what they’re saying.
If you go into the Woods tonight
Unless you want to be the subject of a new investigative podcast, I wouldn’t recommend venturing into the woods tonight. But I would recommend considering the services of Chris Wood, the ultimate differential ahead of Gameweek 38.
Let’s not forget that Gameweek 38 is unique. It allows for the kind of frivolity one might experience at something like a pool party (I’ve never been to one, but I hear they can be outrageously wet), where managers aren’t saddled with the usual medium-to-long term considerations that might apply to transfers earlier in a season.
This is a free hit, of sorts, allowing you to be a little more creative with your picks. With that in mind, let’s return to the player least likely to be spotted at a pool party: Chris Wood.
Chris Wood has clawed his way into the top 10 players for xG in recent matches. Unlike the likes of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Wood is actually scoring real goals, too. He faces Arsenal; one of the worst away defences in the entire league, which makes him a tempting proposition to say the least.
Could he be the inspired acquisition to fire you to the top of your league? The underlying stats suggest he might.
Salah back on the menu
Mohamed Salah’s “Never Give Up” t-shirt has become an iconic symbol of Liverpool’s Champions League triumph over Barcelona in midweek. The retailer that sells said t-shirt, incidentally, is selling it for the princely sum of £17.61 – which is about as much as I will win if I can snatch 1st spot in my mini-league. Whether I succeed or fall short may depend on Liverpool’s main man.
As far as underlying stats are concerned, Salah has been a peripheral figure for large parts of the season. Perhaps he has even been mediocre at times, but this is only a fair assessment if we compare his form to last season’s freakish campaign. He is still the top scorer; front of the pack with only the ghost of his former self to compete with.
Despite those dry spells, the Egyptian goes into the final gameweek with great numbers – both in the xG (2.72) and xA (1.78) tables. If Liverpool are to win the Premier League on Sunday, they must score, and if Salah is healthy, it would be fitting that he should be the player to produce the goods when it really matters. He’s been doing that quite a lot lately.
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Howe is this possible?
If I had a pound for every time I’m asked whether Bournemouth is the best attacking side in the league, I’d have about £0.87 (once my Dad started to ask me but realised how stupid he sounded and stopped before he finished the question).
Man City and Liverpool they ain’t, but the fact that Bournemouth players occupy both the number 1 spots in the xG and xA tables is worthy of acknowledgement.
There, I’ve acknowledged it. Expect goals and assists from them in Gameweek 38 against Crystal Palace. Captaincy options? I’ve seen worse.
Team Expected Goals (Last 6 Gameweeks)
Southampton aren’t even risky captaincy choices
What do we talk about when we talk about “risk” in FPL? Google defines risk as exposure to danger. Whilst nobody is losing limbs here (unless your mini-league forfeits have gotten out of control), Google’s definition is applicable to FPL too. We are exposing our FPL success to danger if we decide to captain Diogo Jota or Lewis Dunk this week.
But we are not exposing ourselves to danger by investing faith in a Southampton asset. In fact, we are insisting on wearing a seatbelt and sticking firmly to the speed limit. Southampton have the 2nd highest average xG of any of the home teams in contention this week.
They play the side with the 2nd worst average away xGA in recent matches. In other words: it’s hard to design a safer captaincy choice. The underlying stats – and nearly every other metric – is imploring you to do away with your biases and consider the footballing reality in which we find ourselves: where the likes of Nathan Redmond and Shane Long are prime candidates for captaincy consideration.
Watford primed for goals
If not for the FA Cup final, Watford assets would surely be on the tip of many an FPL managers’ tongue this week. As it is, the whole side has become a big, yellowy rotation doubt.
“Rotation” has entered the common parlance of every FPL manager in recent seasons. Where once clubs lacked sufficient depth to safely rotate their valuable assets, now teams like Man City and Liverpool can comfortably chop and change without fear of any dire consequences. But it’s not just the top teams that wield the rotation blade.
In fact, the likes of Liverpool and Man City have been unerringly consistent in their line-ups over the past few months; it’s the sides that escape the ever-scrutinous gaze of FPL managers that have truly been the experimental ones.
Watford is one such side: a team who still don’t appear to have established a strongest-11. With so little to play for on Sunday, and a season-defining cup final 6 days after, it’s realistic to expect that their key assets might well have limited play time.
But should they play, the underlying stats are predicting big things. West Ham’s average away xGA is the worst in the league: worse, even, than Huddersfield’s. And though Watford’s home xG is nothing to write home about, this fixture gives the Hornets a fantastic opportunity to finish the season in style. If Deulofeu and Deeney do start, they could be excellent differentials.
Robertson out, Laporte in
Man City’s average away xGA is quite ridiculous. 0.28 is limbo-winningly low. 0.28 is lower than T-pain’s 2008 hit “Low”. It’s the lowest average xGA I have ever seen; a reflection of their transition from unruly attackers to calculated controllers as the season gets serious.
The reason their xGA is so low is simply because the teams playing against them are too consumed by preventing them from scoring to actually consider attempting to score themselves. City’s attacking mercilessness is the most effective defensive tactic ever seen in the Premier League.
With Robertson a huge injury doubt, there appears to be little reason not to bring in Aymeric Laporte to replace him. With 21 points in his last two matches, City’s most dependable centre-back even found his way into my captaincy article this week – I’m sure he’s absolutely made up about it.
The fact is, City are not scoring as freely as they once were. It means bonus points – once the exclusive preserve of their prolific attackers – are now accessible to all, a fact that has not passed Laporte by. He’s picked up nine (yes, nine) bonus points in his last 3 games. The expected stats reckon he could make it 4-in-a-row.
Gameweek 38’s xG Dream team:
Trent, Laporte, Shaw (Bednarek, Kiko)
Salah, Sterling, Fraser, Redmond © (Brooks)
Wilson, Vardy, Wood