Now that six rounds of games have been played in the Premier League this season, we have enough data at our disposal to start making some solid interpretations.
Given that matches are still being played behind closed doors and pre-season was considerably shorter than usual, it shouldn’t be too great a surprise that teams are struggling for consistency in the early weeks; every team has lost at least one game so far.
One of the biggest challenges in FPL is trying to identify players who are going to perform consistently over a long period of time. However, inconsistency in team and individual performances have made this a tough obstacle to overcome so far.
With many experienced managers around the FPL community struggling to thrive so far, where are the players who are going to return regularly in the coming weeks? Lets take a look at how the first six weeks compare with the 2019-20 season to help answer that question.
2019-20: Cream always rises to the top
Let us reflect on the first six weeks of the 2019-20 FPL season where there were just nine players who provided returns in at least four games.
Returns can be any outcome that leads to 3+ points, such as goals, assists, clean sheets and penalty saves.
In this article, bonus points are not considered as returns.
The table below shows how many returns these players recorded in each of their first six games, with points scored alongside.
Looking down the list from 2019-20, it is glaringly obvious there was a core group of players from teams who were performing well and continued to do so throughout the season.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it was safe to assume that players like De Bruyne (MCI), Salah (LIV) and Alexander-Arnold (LIV) would be top performers in teams that would dominate opponents.
As the season went on, De Bruyne, Alexander-Arnold and Salah performed consistently and all finished in the top four point scorers in 2019-20. The early signs pointed towards this as both Liverpool and Man City topped the charts for underlying attacking data, particularly in City’s case as they tried to overcompensate for a very fragile defence.
Last season also saw a run of consistent returns from two players who ended up being relegated with their respective teams – Pukki (NOR) and Callum Wilson (BOU).
Wilson looked the more consistent of the two, returning in each of his first six games, but a surprising dip in form saw him finish as the 77th highest scoring player last season; level with Lindelof and Jordan Henderson.
What the graphic doesn’t show is a group of players who went on to finish among the top FPL point scorers.
Ings (SOU), Jimenez (WOL) and Vardy (LEI) each only returned in two of their first six games, yet all finished in the top 10 scorers last season. Each of these players emerged and settled as consistently returning assets at different stages of the season.
2020-21: A new era of FPL talent?
Unless you’ve had a particularly strong start to this season, you may feel like there are less consistent players to choose from this season than last.
Of course, the Spurs pair of Kane and Son have been exceptional in these early weeks, while Calvert-Lewin (EVE) followed up his ‘project restart’ goal drought with a remarkable spell of scoring in a much improved Everton side.
In actual fact, there have been 15 players who have returned in at least four of the first six games this season; six more than 2019-20!
This is even before you account for players from Villa, Burnley, Man City and Man Utd who have only played five games. There are currently six Villa players sat on three returns who could join this list with one more in their next game.
What is most interesting about this list is the spread of teams and positions. Last season only six teams were represented, four of which were from the traditional ‘big 6’ clubs. This season we’ve already seen nine clubs represented, but only two (Liverpool & Spurs) from the ‘big 6’.
Given the volume of goals and generally poor defending so far, it is also surprising to see five defenders make the list of the most consistent FPL point scorers.
This is a significant increase on the 2019-20 season where Alexander-Arnold was the only defender to return in at least four games.
So, given there have been so many consistent FPL players so far this season, should we be filling our squads with them?
Long-term vs Short-term
As anyone who joined the ‘Pukki Party’ last season will know, it became more a question of when to jump off than if.
Not every player who shows early season form has the ability to sustain it for the season. You only have to look at Callum Wilson last season who very quickly joined the scrapheap and was never thought of again.
One of the real difficulties for an FPL manager is timing transfers, both in and out, to maximise these opportunities.
Players who are providing regular FPL returns can often be grouped into two categories; long or short term picks. To help visualise this for the 15 players showing consistent form this season, they have been split into two camps below.
When you look down this list, each of these players have shown before how great they can be as FPL assets. They can be trusted. Barring injury, you could probably leave any of these guys in your team for a long period of time and be confident the returns will come.
What we also know is that many of these players can excel even if their team isn’t playing great. You only have to look at Jimenez who has been taking up some very clever positions to score because the team around him haven’t been providing yet.
Likewise, Danny Ings is the focal point of Southampton and can score goals even when he’s having the quietest of matches.
As an FPL manager you need a core of players you can trust over a long period of time, which often means being patient through spells of low point scoring. This approach can allow you to focus on the areas in the team where form is much more patchy and erratic – the short-term players.
To clarify, this grouping doesn’t suggest that any of these players have no long-term value; some of them could be sustainable picks. They are simply in this group because they are currently in a consistent run of FPL form but have little or no history of performing regularly at these levels.
This is a little harsh on Calvert-Lewin who keeps improving as a player under Ancelotti, but he perhaps lacks that ability to create something out of nothing when the team around him is struggling, as demonstrated against Southampton on Sunday.
As we know, Everton can be extremely inconsistent and will rely heavily on the fitness and form of Rodriguez this season.
Despite Southampton conceding 8 goals to Spurs and Chelsea combined so far this season, two of their defenders have made the list. With three clean sheets and an attacking return each, Vestergaard and Walker-Peters have both provided consistent point scoring ability during an unpredictable run of form.
The same could be said of Castagne, whose attacking returns have seen him become an FPL favourite in his debut season.
Bamford is certainly the surprise package here as his previous Premier League record indicated he would struggle to score goals at this level, but Leeds’ brand of attacking football is certainly suiting him so far.
Wilson and Zaha, however, have had a number of Premier League seasons behind them but have only been able to hit form in shorter bursts. Can they keep it up despite playing for less attacking teams?
Who can we trust?
One of the most difficult challenges for FPL managers so far this season is identifying those players, and team, that can be relied upon. Yes, technically there have been many more consistent players at this stage of the season than 2019-20, but how many of them can be trusted to continue?
A quick glance at the Premier League table tells you that some of the bigger clubs have yet to really turn up yet. Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal and arguably Wolves have struggled for form so far, but you can’t imagine them staying out of the picture for too much longer.
Everton and Aston Villa have both started the season very strongly, but have just suffered their first defeat of the season against Southampton and Leeds respectively. Will they prove to just be a blip, or a sign of normality returning?
At this stage of the season, it would be foolish to try and draw too many conclusions about the long-term fate of the sides who find themselves in unfamiliar territory. From an FPL perspective, this does make transfers particularly challenging.
For example, should we be rethinking Villa’s defensive credentials following a 3-0 defeat when their previous four games looked strong?
In this scenario, patience has to be the defining factor. If you currently own players in these teams who are performing well, there’s certainly no need to panic after one poor performance.
Unless you’re moving Zaha to Son or Calvert-Lewin to Kane, gambling on players or teams who might start performing could well backfire.
On the flip-side, if you own players who aren’t performing consistently for you, be cautious about transferring in a player on a hot streak who doesn’t have the record to back it up. Those who brought in Callum Wilson ahead of Norwich last season will know exactly why this doesn’t always pan out!
There’s no doubt that after a frantic few weeks, things will eventually settle down.
The teams and players to target over the longer term will emerge if they haven’t already, so be patient and prepare to move quickly when the situation arises. Will Wilson do a Wilson? Will Bamford outscore Werner? Only time will tell!