The opening five gameweeks of the 2020/21 Premier League season have been as enthralling as any start to the season in recent memory.
We’ve had goals, upsets, red cards, VAR drama and stunning comebacks that have provided plenty of much-needed entertainment in these strange times.
However, all of these factors have combined to make FPL extremely unpredictable in the opening weeks. In this article I will explore 5 things we have learned so far, and how they can help FPL managers moving forward.
Number 1 – There will be goals
West Brom’s stalemate with Burnley at the Hawthorns on Monday was the first and only 0-0 draw of the Premier League season so far. It was the 49th game. Attacks have very much been on top thus far, with 172 goals being scored in the first five gameweeks at a staggering 3.44 goals per game.
These numbers have meant that clean sheets aren’t as common as they have been in previous years, especially amongst the bigger clubs. Indeed, the so called “big six” have only kept 4 clean sheets between them in the opening 5 gameweeks. This highlights the fact that defences are more vulnerable this year.
These numbers suggest that taking money out of defence and pumping it into attack is the optimal strategy moving forward. However, I believe that the numbers are pretty unsustainable and I expect there to be more clean sheets in the coming weeks as defences settle down and work out their best partnerships.
In the meantime, I think that having defenders that carry attacking threat will be important, because the current data tells us that we cannot solely rely on clean sheets.
I present Timothy Castange as a prime example. The Belgian full-back has been part of a Leicester defence that has kept just 1 clean sheet in 5 games, but he has recorded 4 attacking returns in that time, making him the 3rd highest scoring defender in the game.
Number 2 – The Captaincy is crucial
The importance of nailing your captaincy picks has been laid bare for all to see in FPL this season.
In many gameweeks, having a high scoring captain has allowed you to keep pace with the rest of the pack despite the rest of your team scoring poorly.
A good example of this is those who chose Harry Kane as their GW4 captain for Spurs’ trip to Manchester United. Kane (C) would have netted you 32 points. The GW average was 48, meaning you would have beaten the average by 4 points if the rest of your team scored just 2 points.
These sort of statistics prove just how important captaincy is in FPL, and show that having a good captain can turn a poor week into a good one.
The start to the season has also shown us that the old fashioned strategy of “permanent captain” is still very much viable in FPL.
You would be looking at a very rosy captain total if you had left the armband on Mo Salah or Harry Kane from GW1-GW5, but might have missed a haul if you had chopped and changed each week.
For the rest of the season I am planning for captaincy in 3 or 4 week blocks, based on upcoming fixtures and the form a player is displaying. For example, Kane’s next 3 fixtures (Burnley away, Brighton home, West Brom away) are very appealing, so I will probably keep the captaincy on him for every one of those 3 games.
Number 3 – Aston Villa could be a force to be reckoned with
Villa stayed up by the skin of their teeth last season, but the early evidence suggests that they will have no such problems this time around. Their summer business looked impressive on paper, but few could have predicted that it would translate into a 100% record heading into GW6.
Villa’s defensive solidity has been the foundation for their impressive form thus far. The Birmingham club have conceded just 2 goals in their first 4 games, both of which were scored by Mo Salah.
They have kept an impressive 3 clean sheets in their opening 4 games, thanks to a formidable centre-back partnership between Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, and Emiliano Martinez’ heroics between the sticks.
The Villans underlying defensive stats show that their early season solidity has been no fluke. They have conceded just 5 big chances so far this campaign (the fewest in the league), although they have played a game less than most other teams.
Their xGC (expected goals conceded) is also the lowest in the league at just 4.04. These numbers are very encouraging as Villa enter a lovely run of fixtures that sees them play just one “big six” team between now and GW16.
Further forward, the additions of Ross Barkley and Ollie Watkins have given Jack Grealish some real support in attack and meant that Villa have goal threat against anyone, as shown by their stunning 7-2 victory over Liverpool in GW4.
Grealish has been noticeably more advanced so far this season, operating as an inside left-forward to great effect. He has 38 penalty box touches so far this campaign, only Mo Salah has registered more penalty area touches and he’s played 1 more game than Grealish.
Barkley has scored in both of his first two Villa games, and has the most goal attempts amongst all midfielders in that time (8). The English midfielder has built a reputation for being somewhat of an “FPL troll” in recent seasons, so it will be interesting to see if he can sustain this form in the coming weeks.
Number 4 – Harry Kane is back
When Jose Mourinho came to Tottenham last season, many questioned whether Harry Kane was finished as an FPL asset, and more broadly, as an elite striker full-stop. The Englishman was playing deep in a Spurs side that looked devoid of creativity or any kind of excitement at times last season.
A few months down the line, Kane is one of the in-form players in the league and is putting on clinics in both masterful passing and clinical finishing. He looks very much back to his best, and has been a joy to watch in the opening weeks of the season.
The 27 year old has added an exquisite range of passing to his game, which has massively boosted his assist potential and his overall appeal as an FPL asset. His link up with Heung-Min Son is telepathic and has been a reliable source of points in the early weeks of the season, including against West Ham in GW5, when they combined for 29 FPL points.
Kane’s substantial goal threat has not been limited because of his new-found creativity. He leads all forwards for penalty box touches, shots inside the box, shots on target and xG so far this season.
He is passing the eye test with flying colours, his underlying stats are nothing short of phenomenal and with Burnely, Brighton and West Brom in his next 3 fixtures, it would take a very brave soul to go without him.
Number 5 – Target West Brom
West Brom kept their first cleansheet of the season in GW5, but have still conceded 13 goals at an average of 2.6 goals per game.
The Baggies’ underlying defensive stats don’t make for pretty reading, and suggest that they are likely to be one of the Premier League’s whipping boys this season. They have conceded 14 big chances in their first 5 games, the joint worst in the league. They have also given up 35 shots on target so far and have an xGC of 11.16, by far the worst in the league.
It’s interesting to note that Leicester, Everton and Chelsea all had no problem scoring against the Baggies.
These are teams that you would expect to be challenging for European places, whereas Burnely, who are likely to be near the bottom of the table, drew a blank against West Brom. This suggests that West Brom have struggled to make the step up against the league’s more potent attacks, but can be defensively competent against team’s in the lower half of the table.
Their next opponents, Brighton, sit in the middle of those two groups, so it will be interesting to see how Slaven Bilic’s men fare when they visit the AMEX in GW6. Although there were signs of promise against Burnley, the early signs are that if you have a premium asset who’s playing West Brom, you should probably captain him.