FPL – The Captain and Ten-Nil

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With the passing of the last Great Big Double Gameweek of the 2020/21 season, the best hope for most of us to make a big leap in the standings between now and May is a few really good captaincy choices and this leaves every engaged FPL manager with exactly the same question as that posed by @FFScout_Joe 45 minutes in to the GW27 ScoutCast:

“Who can hammer another team 5-0?…Which team, when they’re on form, can absolutely take another team to the cleaners?”

Little did he know that for some time now I’ve been keeping an eye on some statistics which may help all of us to identify not only the teams capable of a big haul but also the opposition most likely to let them do it. And, at it’s heart, it’s really simple (but does take a fair bit of typing and arranging). When you list all the scores for and against all the teams, home and away, which teams are the most likely to score, or concede, a hatful? And, while we’re at it, which teams are most likely to keep a clean sheet, especially if aided and abetted by a hapless attack?

SECTION ONE – DO THAT TO THEM THREE (OR MORE) TIMES
Big Hauls – HOME

The received FPL wisdom is that we should always captain an attacker playing at home. But do the team statistics for home attacks so far this season bear that out? Here is the table for how often a given team has scored 3 or more goals in a home match this season and, alongside that, how often teams have conceded 3 or more goals in an away match:

Now, once upon a time I was running an undergraduate project about features of a certain English accent and was trying to show that speakers of that accent could be relied upon to say a sound a certain way while speakers of other English accents could be relied upon NOT to say it that way. Being a humble student I was relying on people to give their time for free so I wanted to use as few speakers as possible. It turned out that statistically the fewest I could get away with was eight – four with the accent and four without – and only then it only worked if ALL of the accent group said it the expected way and NONE of the other group did. The reason for mentioning this is that any statistic dealing with fewer than four occurrences of something is likely to be so ‘contaminated’ by luck or co-incidence that it wouldn’t be worth putting too much faith in it. And so, as you can see above, we have to get two thirds of the way through a season before we have numbers really worth looking at. 

Actually, this isn’t so much of an obstacle for us FPL managers because the reason we’re interested in the numbers at all is to find the extremes – which teams are very likely, or very unlikely, to score or concede a lot of goals in one game. So, for home attacks, we can see that comparatively the clubs from Manchester City upwards (or maybe Aston Villa if you want to take into account they’ve played fewer games) are the most likely to score a lot of goals at home while everybody from Brighton downwards is very unlikely to do that and everybody else is ‘normal’. Where visiting defences are concerned Leeds, Southampton, Burnley and Wolves look like the ones to target while we shouldn’t expect anybody from Arsenal on down, and especially the two Manchester clubs, to be generous on the road. 

Looking at the percentages, even the extremes show that we’re dealing with something that’s only likely to happen one third of the time (unless Leeds United are coming to town). But, given that we have to chose SOME attackers and that we have to pick a captain each week, it’s worthwhile looking at the matchups that give us the highest likelihoods of selection success. With that in mind, let’s contrast these numbers with those for away attacks and home defences to see if the patterns are different.

Big Hauls – AWAY

Looking at the extremes here tells us an interesting story. 

• More teams have scored 3+ goals four or more times on the road than at home

• Fewer have failed ever to do it

• No home team has managed to avoid conceding 3 or more at least once at home

• The most likely rearguard to give up a hatful is a home defence

Saying all this, the spread of outcomes for teams scoring three or more goals is, strikingly, almost exactly the same for home and away attacks – four or five clubs standing out at the top, two or three never doing it and the remaining thirteen managing it occasionally.

There’s quite a difference in terms of giving away a big score, though. Pretty much every home defence has been turned over exactly two or three times. It seems that’s just something that happens once in every four or five games to any given home defence. It’s normal and very hard to predict unless we’re talking about the Baggies, where so far it’s been just as likely to happen as not, or looking at Arsenal, Burnley or Manchester City who have only had one bad day at the office each.

On the road there’s more variation. Four teams are pretty likely to let the roof cave in if they go a couple behind while virtually half the league has either had only the one drubbing on the road or none at all.

Big Hauls – SUMMARY

Here are the teams you should seriously consider for attacking captaincy choices if they are playing at home:

and especially if they are playing against any of these teams:

As we have seen, away attacks could be an equally strong source of attacking captaincy options, focusing on these teams in particular:

Though only one home club can enhance that appeal with the generosity of their backline:

SECTION TWO – GLOVES WILL KEEP US TOGETHER
Clean Sheets – HOME

In an earlier article we showed that, over any span of a few gameweeks, it is virtually always an attacker who proves the best captaincy option even when one or two teams have a dominant defence. Nevertheless, FPL requires us to have five defenders and two goalkeepers in our squads and in any gameweek we must play at least four of those. They pick up a goal and an assist here and there, but their main currency is clean sheets so, as with hauls for attackers, it would be useful to look at which teams over the season so far have most reliably produced them and also which attacks are likely to help by failing to get a goal. Here are the relevant tables for home defences and away attacks:

What immediately leaps off the page is that clean sheets are much more common than drubbings. The reason why this makes for reliable, but rarely optimal, captaincy is that, unlike scoring and assisting, a defensive asset can only achieve a clean sheet once per game. If they want to go into double figures they’ll have to score or assist as well and each season only two or three defenders do that with any regularity. These stats do make you think in terms of double gameweek captaincy, though, where there could be (and often are) players with two clean sheets and a decent chance of augmenting that with an attacking contribution. The double gameweek 26 just gone shows how hard it can be for even elite attackers to reliably match that.

In terms of teams, the difference between the best and the worst here is much clearer than in the high scoring tables. Nevertheless, given that we’re looking to identify the most promising options we find ourselves again with four clubs that really stand out in terms of clean sheets at home: Manchester City, Chelsea, Southampton and Aston Villa. At the foot of the table, hoping for home defensive returns from Everton, Sheffield United or Newcastle United looks particularly optimistic.

Those two Uniteds also feature in the group of six visiting teams least likely to trouble the vidiprinter while Everton contrast an almost pathological weakness for conceding at Goodison Park with an almost infallible knack for putting the ball in the net away from it.

Clean Sheets – AWAY

As we can see from these tables, the one fixture absolutely certain to feature a goal for the away team is surely Manchester City visiting Bramall Lane and the reader will be relieved to learn that back in gameweek 7 this did indeed come to pass as Sheffield United duly succumbed to the inevitable, though the final result was only 0-1 which goes to emphasise that we’re just talking about scoring (or not) AT ALL here, not about how many goals might be scored (dealt with above).

We can see here that one reason for Emiliano Martinez’s runaway success as an FPL asset is that Aston Villa are even better at keeping clean sheets away from Villa Park (62%) than their already excellent record when at home (45%). Nobody should be surprised to see Chelsea and Manchester City near the top of both clean sheet tables, but it is notable that Burnley’s defence appears much more resilient on their travels in contrast to Southampton’s which much prefers to be at St Mary’s.

Attackers relish a trip to the Hawthorns, but we can see here that their defensive team-mates might be even more enthusiastic to get off the bus, expecting the sort of comfortable afternoon they can only find elsewhere at Craven Cottage. Meanwhile, any FPL manager not captaining a Manchester City asset in GW27 might care to note that West Ham virtually always score at home while visitors Leeds concede three or more goals away almost half the time. At Molineux, Wolves have only failed to find the net twice. It’s just that they’ve never scored more than 2 either.

Clean Sheets – SUMMARY

Here are the teams most likely to keep a clean sheet at home:

and the teams most likely to let them:

The following teams are regularly good for a clean sheet in away matches:

especially if they’re visiting any of these:

In my next article, I’ll be taking these tables and using them to predict strong captaincy options between now and the end of the season…

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