There’s nothing better than the English Premier League over the festive period. Seven game-weeks crammed into 26 days; what more could you ask for? Well, it may be great for the fans, but for the managers it brings non-stop concern over player-fitness and team selection headaches. Who can be rested? Who has to play? How much will the team be impacted if the star man is given the day off in the big derby match? This, of course, has implications for Togga too…checking team line-ups to make sure Kane, Coutinho, or De Bruyne is starting isn’t normally necessary, but now it’s essential.Which begs the question: which teams are reliant on their star man the most? Who can and who can’t afford to rest big players in this busy period? On to the data…
WhoScored ratings were analysed, with each Premier League team’s best-performing player compared with their respective team average. Only players who had started at least 9 games were included in order to ensure that it was regular first-team players who were analysed, and not one-hit wonders (like Tottenham third-string goalkeeper Paul Gazzaniga who scored a 7.52 in his one and only appearance this season). WhoScored ratings correlate very highly with Togga scoring, therefore the data may be useful from a fantasy football perspective too.
And the winner is…
Tottenham Hotspur and Harry Kane! By 0.01, ahead of the Coutinho-led Liverpool and the De Bruyne-driven Manchester City in second and third, respectively. This is interesting, because in some ways it shouldn’t be surprising that the top teams are being carried by their superstar player – because the players just mentioned are some of the best in the world. But on the other hand, pretty much all of the starting 11 for these teams would be considered world class too, and therefore there shouldn’t be any greater a difference here than between Lemina and the Southampton average, or any other team; the data is all relative. So what we’re finding is that even compared to “their own kind”, De Bruyne and co are producing performances that go beyond anything else found in the league.
Arsenal and Manchester United are the only “big teams” that this doesn’t apply to, though an asterisks should be placed with United. With the nine-game minimum criteria in place, Pogba is excluded (he’s only played eight). As anyone who has watched United this season can tell you, the team runs through the Frenchman, and the data backs this up. If we are lenient with the criteria, and include Pogba, his 7.91 average WhoScored rating jumps Manchester United’s difference score to 0.86 – tied with Coutinho/Liverpool. No such exceptions are necessary for Arsenal, though a fun little fact for all the Oxlade-Chamberlain-hating Gooners out there (of which there are many); in his three matches for Arsenal at the start of the season, he averaged 7.81 – far ahead of Mustafi, and into the Coutinho/Kane category.
Out of interest I decided to analyse the worst-performing, and 2nd/3rd best performing players for each team too. The results follow similar lines to the ones above, so I won’t show another graph. I will include them in a table though, so that you can see who really is carrying their team, and also who is holding their team back!
As mentioned, whilst this analysis is (hopefully!!) quite interesting, it also has some relevance to fantasy football. For instance, if Kane or Coutinho start on the bench for their respective teams, you should expect their replacements to come in and do a like-for-like job. This has already been proven in Liverpool’s draw against Everton, in which Oxlade-Chamberlain was given Coutinho’s usual job and only managed a 6.4 rating. Llorente, yet to start a league game for Tottenham, is likely to provide a similar level of “replacement” if he’s ever given the nod over Kane (he averages 6.09 from his 10 substitute appearances).
On the other hand, switches in the West Ham, Swansea, and Bournemouth line-ups are likely to be more equal. The best players in these teams aren’t performing that much better than the average player, meaning that if any of the top guys do get given a rest, it might be worth picking up the incoming player off the waiver wire (which presumably he will be on, being a back-up in a non-big-6 team). The Bournemouth and Swansea second string defenders may be particularly applicable here, given that these teams have a surprisingly strong defence for their league position. For West Ham it may be a case of keeping an eye on the attacking roles. With lots of apparently equal alternatives (Lanzini, Antonio, Carroll, Chicharito, Ayew, Arnautovic) vying for limited places, there could be the opportunity to pick up a bargain on a week-by-week basis.
And if these differences aren’t really your thing, then hopefully the table will put some things into perspective; such as Calvert-Lewin’s criminal under-appreciation, a Leicester-team that doesn’t rely on Vardy, and a few big name goalkeepers who just aren’t performing. Oh, and for anyone questioning the use of statistics and data, just take a look at the Liverpool row…never has data and conventional wisdom aligned so perfectly.
If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy the book “The Inner Geek of Football” available from Amazon.co.uk for £3.99 (or Amazon.com for $5.24). All of Luke’s Togga articles can also be found here.
Follow Luke Wilkins on Twitter using @the_innergeek