There's no real doubting that Diego Costa is the number one player in Fantasy Premier League at the moment. He's the top scorer in FPL with 42 points from 5 games and 8.4 Points Per Game. The more pertinent question for fantasy managers is not if Costa is the best elite forward in the FPL this season, it's if he's good enough to replicate what Luis Suarez did last year and offer a season-long solution to your weekly captain decision.
Below is a Player Comparison Radar where we've looked at the kind of player stats that are important to top strikers.
Looking toward the right hand side of the radar first, you can see the player's key shooting stats and goal threat. Suarez was a shot monster. He averaged a league-leading 5.5 shots per game compared to Costa's more modest 3.2. Costa's shot count is perfectly fine, Van Persie averaged 3.4 in 2012/13, it's just Suarez's shooting was monstrous. Looking further around the radar though you can see Costa starts to catch up with Shots in the Box (SIB) and Shots on Target (SOT) much closer to Suarez. Tellingly, Costa's average xG per game is better than Suarez - this is the Expected Goals per game based on all shooting opportunities weighted by the quality of the shot. This is all points to Diego Costa being a much more efficient penalty-box striker and in a team that thrives on creating high quality chances for him (say Hello, Cesc!). All things considered though there is probably little difference between the pair when it comes to their goal-scoring potential based on shooting opportunites.
Looking next at Expected Assists (xA) and Key Passes (KP) it's surprising to see Costa edge Suarez out in both categories - so far Costa has created a very decent number of chances for teammates and more than Suarez did so far. An assist for Costa is overdue. But this doesn't sound right does it? Suarez had 23 assists last season and so far Costa has zero; what gives? It has to be pointed out that xA does not do as good a job at estimating assists as xG does with goals. This is because xA is based on key passes and there's not always a key pass for a goal. Many goals are scored from rebounds or after a half-clearance by a defender. Or from a free kick, or a penalty or own goal. In these instances FPL review the goal and will award an assist where they feel there was sufficient contribution from the player (e.g. winning a penalty) but no key pass will be recorded, which leads us on to the next part of the radar...
We've included Fouls Won, Dribbles and Solo Efforts (shooting attempts created individually) to try and capture the 'X-Factor' and what was so special about Luis Suarez last season. He led the league in two of these categories, and was behind only Hazard, Snodgrass and Lallana for Fouls Won. It's these extra qualities to his game that made Suarez an extra-special player on your fantasy football team; the ability to regularly win penalties and free-kicks, and to create something from out of nothing for himself when perhaps Liverpool were otherwise having an off-day. It’s this ‘X-Factor’ which Costa has not shown so far and what may keep him from matching Suarez long-term this season.
Our reseach has shown that, in the presence of a bona fide fantasy legend like Suarez last season or Van Persie the season before, one heavy hitter elite forward is all you need. If you can reliably captain this player >80% of the time and pick up 250+ points or so from this, then this is the optimum set-up. Having another elite striker (£10M+) playing second-fiddle alongside him who you don't captain regularly is actually wasting your budget.
We of course do have Diego Costa in our FPL team, and don’t imagine we’ll have cause to sell him for the rest of the season, barring inury. But is he so good that can we rely on him as our sole heavy-hitting forward and as a de facto captain choice? To be sure, he’s probably good enough this season that you could just leave the armband on him and pick an extra 200 points from now to the end of the season, but we don't think he can be labelled as "this year’s Suarez" quite yet, so will continue to hedge our bets with 2 elite forwards as the regular captain contenders for our team.