Elite Midfielder Goal and Assist Threat

Assessing the Goal and Assist Threat of Elite Midfielders in Fantasy Premier League

The raft of extreme high quality elite midfielders in Fantasy Premier League this season gave us one of the biggest headaches picking our GW1 team last week. Players featured in our ‘Nailed On’ series like Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson were much easier to select. There’s little competition for these guys in comparison to the elite midfielders whose potential you’d need a razor blade to split.

Very predictably, a handful of these elite mids scored some points over the opening weekend. Ramsey, Sterling and Silva all scored a goal a piece and last night Fabregas picked up two assists to set people scrambling. The only surprise was perhaps Manchester United and Juan Mata playing so badly.

Expected Goals & Assists

To analyse this in more detail we’ve put some stats together for the cream of this season’s FPL midfielders. The table below shows your basic shots and shots on target stats, etc. We’ve also included Shot Distribution (the blue squares) – this is the location the shots were taken from and looking from left to right represent shots outside the box, shots from wide areas, and shots from the centre of the box. Shot location is key to the likelihood of scoring goals. The closer and more central you are to the goal the easier it is to score. Other factors are important too – what type of shot it was (header/foot), and the type of pass. Throughballs, for examples, are pure gold compared to crosses. These additional factors are combined with the shot locations to weight each individual shot by the likelihood of a goal being scored. We’ve got a database of over 30,000 shots from the last few seasons and believe us this kind of analysis is cutting edge and the most accurate you can find in football these days. It’s known as Expected Goals. Google it and see.

Anyway, we’ve taken the ‘Expected Goal weighting’ for each player’s shot taking location, pass type, etc. into account to build a Goal Threat metric.  And have done the exact same things using key passes to create Assist Threat.

Take a look. Click on the column headers to sort the table by Goal Threat and by Assist Threat. 

Goal Threat

Ramsey and Sterling are way out in the Goal Threat stakes. Not only by total shots but also the only two to get shooting opportunities centrally in their opposition’s box (what’s known as the Danger Zone and where most goals are scored). It’s no real surprise they scored. After these two comes Eriksen, but some way behind.

Assist Threat

Fabregas tops the assist threat table. His 3 key passes may be less than Sanchez’s 5 for Arsenal against Palace but this is a case where less is most certainly more and ‘Expected Goal’s data really comes into it’s own.

Fabregas vs Hazard

It’s notable that neither Hazard or Fabregas actually had a shot at all against Burnley. Instead it was Schurrle who posed the most threat with 5 shots ahead of Costa with 2. Nevertheless, Fabregas is the big talking point today, and let’s be honest, is pure class. He’ll score a lot of points from assists through the season – but is he really a candidate to be the top scoring midfielder this year? 

His performance against Burnley reminded us of Ozil’s 3 assists on his home debut for Arsenal last season. Ultimately, Ozil’s fantasy performance lacked a goal threat to be really significant Similarly, Fabregas will have to convince us he’s a significant goal threat before we declare him as essential. Eden Hazard will have to do the same to be worth £10M. 

"The Best"

It’s extremely early days to be making snap-judgments about the potential of one elite midfielder over another. Sterling and Ramsey look in great in the above table with their shot profile and goals but both had home games in GW1 so it’s only to be expected they’d get some chances. Eriksen and Hazard will both get their chance to shine with tempting home games to come this weekend. Long-term, we are going to be extremely focused on this blog of identifying the midfielders with the greatest goal threat. This is what influenced our decision for Sterling, Ramsey and Hazard in the first place.

Playing The Market

Saying all that though, we’re still tempted to make a straight swap in our team from Hazard to Fabregas because of, well... the hype. Fabregas will go up in price tonight. He may rise by £0.3M before GW2. Another goal or assist against Leicester this weekend and a blank for Hazard/Mata etc. will no doubt trigger another stampede and he could be £9.6M come GW3. As we said at the start and reiterated above, the actual long-term potential between all these players is too close to call, in fact it's impossible to call without some kind of witchcraft. And with only one game behind us we can’t make an accurate evaluation either, despite how fancy the stats are.

Instead, rather than trying to guess or argue who’s best, a viable strategy would be treat these top 5 or 6 elite mids as equal in terms of their potential, and then play the market, as it were, to make sure that when “the one” does emerge, with more games and stats to go off, you’ve not been caught out by a succession of price rises. It’s not something we’ve tried before with the InsideFPL team so we’d love to hear your feedback if you have any in the comments section below.

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