One of the biggest talking points amongst fantasy football managers this week is whether or not Southampton can maintain their crazy-good form. Many FPL teams will be fully loaded on Saints players, with Pelle, Clyne, Forster, Bertrand and Tadic all very popular and profitable players so far this season.
Southampton’s fixtures do take a very evil turn for the worse once the GW12 clash with Aston Villa is out of the way. From therein and over the subsequent 10 gameweeks they’ll face City, Chelsea, Everton and both Arsenal and United twice.
What’s more, the Saints were in an almost identical position this time last season, at least from a defensive standpoint; after the first 11games last season they’d scored 15 goals and conceded 5. This year it’s 23 scored and 5 against. But last season, after an equally favourable opening fixture list, things didn’t follow on nicely from there and the Saints ended up with what could be best be described as an average attack and defence.
In this post we are going to use a series of graphics to do some comparisons of Southampton this season compared to last with a narrative with each graphic to try and infer what’s going on and what may be.
Last Season’s Strong Start
The radars above describe Southampton’s key attacking and defensive stats from the first 11 games of the 2013/14 season, and compares these to the average club in each stat over the season. WE can see Southampton’s attack on the left is pretty much on par with the average side. Their defence was very good though, better then an average side in all respects, and exceptional in terms of Goals Against (GA). The GA “spike” however is a clear indication that Southampton’s defence was getting away with a few things and/or their ‘keeper had been in the mood for heroics. Still, they were very good.
Note that on both radars bigger is better. A higher value on the defensive charts means less shots/goals conceded.
Last Season's End of Season
In this next graphic we’ve added Southampton’s stats for the remainder of the 2013/14 season, from GW12-38. It’s the yellow line. There’s practically no change in their attack. They carried on as they were and were average all around. The defence sees the big shift though, and this is what people are obviously worried about with their FPL teams. We saw from the Goals Against (GA) spike in the first graphic that Southampton’s goals against tally was unsustainable so had to come down to earth. Southampton’s defence remained better-than-average but did detoriate in general throughout the remainder of the season. Their shots and SIB (shots in box) conceded remained the same but a negative shift in xG (expected goals) and SOT (shots on target) suggest Southampton started giving up more dangerous chances and that their opposition started finding the target with these. Goalkeeper heroics were thin on the ground too, indicated by an above average xG and SOT value but an only average GA value.
What went wrong? It has to be assumed that a tide-change in fixtures will mean Southampton will have started to face some of the very best teams in the division and come up against some of the most highly prized strikers in the world. These guys make a living out of scoring goals. But it’s also worth noting that at this same time both defensive midfielder Wanyama and goalkeeper Artur Boruc were out injured. Schneiderlin missed 3 of their next 5 games, Clyne missed 4. Lovren and Fonte also missed games. In GW14 they played a back 4 of Daniel Fox, Hoovield, Lovren and midfielder Jack Cork in front of Gazzinga in goal with neither Wanyama nor Schneiderlin available to screen the back 4. They lost 2-3 at home to Villa.
This Season's Start vs Last Season's
This final graphic compares Southampton’s early season form last year to their performances in the 2014/15 campaign to date. this is the orange line. Southampton are a considerably better side than they were last season. They’ve improved a little bit in attack. Their goals tally flatters them a tad with respect to their shooting stats but they are now punching above the average. But it’s their defensive improvement that is most striking. They have performed even better this year than they did than over last year’s impressive start. The Goals Against part of the radar admittedly is still spiky, suggesting they will start to concede more than they have so far, but in all regards their defensive displays have been exceptional.
The conclusions here are simple. Last season the defence was Southampton’s best asset throughout the season and in particular prized by fantasy football managers over the first quarter of the season. A double whammy of key defensive injuries and a turn in the fixtures meant they couldn’t maintain that exceptional start but still finished as an above average defensive side. This season so far they’ve been beyond exceptional defensively. Despite a similar turn in the fixtures approaching, Koeman's team are looking so good right now that, without a spate of injuries, they should be able to continue picking up clean sheets at a rate at least comparable rate to the other top defensive teams in the division.
From a fantasy football perspective we don't recommned a firesale of your Southampton players. Sure, it'll be hard for Southampton to keep clean sheets against Arsenal, Man CIty and Chelsea - but don't be surprised if they do. Games against Everton and Mancheter Unted pose less of a challenge. Southampton's key players in FPL in both defence and attack remain well-priced consdiering their form and the form of alternatives,