Predicting the Bandwagon – GW26 Review

In this weekly series, our resident data expert attempts to predict the newest bandwagon according to underlying statistics, formational changes and more. Here, we preview FPL Gameweek 26.

by @FPL_FIDGET

Double Gameweek 26 promises to be one of the most explosive GWs of the season with great fixtures, an array of options and the potential for some massive swings.

Jumping on the right bandwagon has never been more important, so let’s move to this week’s big targets…

In this section, I evaluate the three most popular bandwagons currently being jumped on for GW25, and whether they can come good for their new owners…

As predicted in last week’s article, Barnes has exploded in popularity this week. His 13 points in GW25 has spurred 225,000 managers to bring him into their sides.

Leicester have become arguably the most consistent team apart from Manchester City. Over their last 12 games, Leicester have only lost once; only failed to score once; and only conceded more than one goal once.

Even more encouraging is the consistency of who scores with Barnes and Maddison both being involved in 45% of Leicester’s goals in the last 12 games.

In a season of unpredictability, such consistency is gold, and yet the average FPL manager has fewer than 1 Leicester player, and managers in the top 10K average less than half a Leicester player.

While the success of budget midfielders and forwards may explain why this has been the case, we need to look at whether this should still be the case going forward.

Leicester Performance Last 12 GWs (rank)

Offensive StatsDefensive Stats
G: 20 (3rd)GC: 10 (3rd)
xG: 16.92 (8th)xGC: 12.36 (5th)
xG conversion: +18.2%xGC prevented: 2.36

Leicester have outperformed their xG significantly (+18%), which hints at the quality of finishers at the club, but also of the confidence in the dressing room. They have also outperformed their xGC (preventing 2.36 xGC), which suggests superior pressing of shots, Burnley-like blocking, or opposition strikers not being clinical.

While FPL is often not as simple as picking a player from a team that is doing well, the success of Leicester, and the points on offer for their players mark a significant opportunity for managers looking to get ahead of the crowd.

Sub-Premium Midfielders Attacking Threat – Last 6 matches

Many midfielders have recently outperformed their xG. The last few GWs has already seen a regression on Soucek’s numbers, but he has still outperformed his xG by 114%. Barnes’ conversion of xG sits at the seemingly unsustainable heights of +99%.

Even James Rodriguez with his incredible propensity for long shots has only outperformed his xG by 71% across his career (according to Understat) despite outperforming his xG by over 600% over the last 6 games.

Should a potential regression in finishing worry owners? Not really.

The table shows that, in this group of viable FPL options, Barnes is second for xG (1.51), has had the joint most Big Chances (2), and can often be found causing havoc in the opponent’s penalty boxes (27 penalty area touches).

Sub-Premium Midfielders Creativity – Last 6 Games

Unlike many of those explored above for goal threat, Barnes also has significant assist potential – not least because of how favourably FPL rewards fantasy assists to players who force rebounds.

Barnes is one of the only three midfield options that do well in both goal threat and chance creation: alongside Raphinha and Saka. While Raphinha undeniably looks the best of the lot with an xG of 1.8 and an xA of 1.95, Barnes is the only one of these three options to have a DGW coming up.

Upcoming Fixtures

DGW26 is a difficult one to gauge. Arsenal and Burnley are both capable of producing robust defensive performances, but it’s worth returning once more to Leicester’s consistency. They seem to always find a way, and Barnes is often involved when they do.

GW27 is not appealing at all from my point of view. Brighton look a different prospect altogether than they did a month ago as explored in my recent article.

GW28 is a very attractive prospective, but is followed by a blank in GW29 and an extremely tough fixture in GW30. A downgrade to Raphinha or Saka in GW29 would seem entirely appropriate, and would free up funds to upgrade elsewhere to the few premiums of that GW.

Verdict – Jump

Last week, I predicted Barnes to return, but I wasn’t inclined to anticipate it by jumping. The evidence is growing for Barnes however, and the opportunity gain of a Leicester asset when others are missing out is enticing.

Like last week, my reservation isn’t in Barnes’ credentials, it’s in a general feeling that there are some big moves to be made this week that could explode our ranks, and I’m personally a little reluctant to use up a transfer too readily.

That said, if you’re happy with your team or you’re wildcarding, I don’t think there is a better sub-premium (non-City) midfielder for GW26.

In the lead up to GW24, I was full of praise for DCL and encouraged readers to jump on his bandwagon. Unfortunately, injury stole his DGW glory. In GW25, owners were further disgruntled when he started the game on the bench, and in the end only features for 28 minutes.

Other owners saw those 28 minutes as an opportunity for fitness, and more than sufficient time to punish a desperate Liverpool side. While his penalty was contentious, his quality was not. He looked sharp from the off, held up the ball beautifully, and but for Ancelotti’s game plan, may have led further forages into the Liverpool box.

A fit DCL for a DGW… let’s look at why many will be considering him as an outside captaincy choice.

DCL’s Growth as a Striker – 19/20 vs 20/21 Per 90

FPL interest surged in DCL last season in a wave of praise for his development as a player. His improvement this year is marked. In a season where his service has been disrupted by a list of injuries and suspensions, DCL has still managed to exceed almost every standard he set last year.

His conversion rates have increased significantly, going from an underperformance of his xG last year (by 16%!) to an overperformance this year (by 11%), and converting shots to goals at 23.5% (up from 15.3% last year).

DCL has made improvements in his positioning, runs and decision-making. These improvements are highlighted in the following graphics. The first shows DCL’s shots in the first 25 GWs of the 2019/20 season and the second shows his shots this season (green dots are on target).

While the number of shots are roughly the same, a cursory glance reveals two things:

  1. DCL has registered a greater proportion of shots on target this season (as corroborated in the statistics above).
  2. DCL is taking a significantly higher proportion of shots in the box.

Such are DCL’s improvements that they cannot be covered within the scope of this article. Sufficient to say a striker who, across 25 games, has averaged 1.01 Big Chances, 2.64 shots and a conversion rate of 23.6%, is a striker worth targeting for a DGW.

Upcoming Opponents

GWs27-29 look less appealing, but DGW26 is definitely one to target, and GW30 is also a good GW.

Southampton vs West Brom Defence Last 6 matches (rank)

GC: 19 (20th) vs 12 (18th)

xGC: 10.54 (20th) vs 6.99 (9th)

Shots on target Conceded: 33 (19th) vs 33 (19th)

Shots in the Box Conceded: 44 (12th) vs 48 (14th)

Big Chances Conceded: 17 (20th) vs 11 (14th)

Southampton and West Brom are vulnerable at the back, and although both teams will have a point to prove, DCL is not an easy opponent to prove it against.

Verdict – Jump

Beyond the scope of this article is whether DCL is a captaincy shout for GW26, but I definitely think he is among the top forwards for this GW (alongside Kane and Vardy).

I would prioritise DCL above almost any other asset for this GW, and for those with DCL, I would resist the temptation to upgrade to Kane, who we move onto below.

Kane has his second mini bandwagon in 3 GWs having had over 125,000 managers bring in the player for GW26 already. In my GW24 article, I encouraged readers to swerve Kane until GW26, and that advice has been vindicated by his subsequent double-whammy of blanks.

However, Kane with easy fixtures and a DGW is a different prospect. For many, he will be the go-to captain and even triple captain. At first sight it isn’t clear whether these managers are playing it safe with an ultra-reliable pick or being bold backing someone who has just suffered two blanks.

The Collapse of Spurs

Despite a blistering start to the season, Spurs have fallen away entirely. 5 loses in 6 games is dire reading for a relegation side, but for a team that once dreamt of top 4, it is just cruel.

Rather than go over similar Spurs comparison numbers to the GW24 article, let’s look at the effect Spurs’ collapse has had on Kane.

Kane Rest of Season vs last 6 GWs per 90

G: 0.64 vs 0.52

xG: 0.51 vs 0.36

xG conversion: +25.5% vs +44.4%

Shots: 3.69 vs 3.66

Big Chances Total: 0.7 vs 0.7

Big Chance Conversion: 61% vs 50%

Penalty Area Touches: 4.76 vs 5.92

A: 0.59 vs 0

xA: 0.10 vs 0.06

Big Chances Created: 0.64 vs 0.35

It’s clear that Kane’s numbers have dropped across the board. A large part of this was inevitable in that Kane’s early points-tally was significantly boosted by assisting Son’s world-class shots (0.59 assists per 90 dropped to 0).

Kane hasn’t been able to carve out those quality chances (0.64 Big Chances created dropped to 0.35) for Son recently, and Son hasn’t been able to sustain his incredible numbers from earlier in the season.

However, Kane’s own threat remains strong. His penalty area touches have increased (from 4.76 per 90 to 5.92) and his numbers of shots has remained roughly the same (3.69 vs 3.66). He is finding a way to score, converting his xG at a higher rate than earlier in the season (25.5% has risen to 44.4%).

While his xG per 90 is not at the level I’d like to see in a forward, especially a premium one, it is encouraging that other underlying numbers have not dropped, and that Kane is overcompensating in a way that world-class players often do when their teams struggle (see Salah’s early-season heroics).

Kane Top 14 teams vs Bottom 6 teams

G: 0.54 vs 0.68

xG: 0.37 vs 0.71

xG conversion: +45.9% vs -4.3%

Shots: 3.21 vs 4.59

Big Chances Total: 0.4 vs 1.22

Big Chance Conversion: 83% vs 44%

Penalty Area Touches: 3.61 vs 7.16

A: 0.6 vs 0.27

xA: 0.05 vs 0.16

Big Chances Created: 0.54 vs 0.54

Against the bottom 6 teams, Kane’s threat is exploited and he gathers significant xG, shots, touches and Big Chances. However, against the top 14 teams, Kane has benefitted from ridiculous assist numbers by feeding Son, who has dazzled expectations with his finishing.

Interestingly, Kane has performed better against his underlying numbers when he has played the big teams than the smaller ones. His xG performance drops from a worldie +45.9% against the top 14 to a middling -4.3% against smaller teams, and his Big Chance Conversion drops from a ruthless 83% to a below par 44%.

While the above is encouraging, not least Kane’s G 90 of 0.68, the potential of the underlying numbers has yet to be realised against weaker opposition this season. Mind you, those set on Kane Triple Captain will point to the potential of an explosively ‘due’ return.

Upcoming Fixtures

A DGW of Burnley and Fulham is the stuff dreams are made of, especially when you have an asset who boasts the numbers Kane does against such sides. However, Burnley are the King of blocking xG to pieces, and Fulham have significantly improved in recent weeks.

The two games are still likely to yield returns for Kane, and his fixtures continue to be appealing – particularly the games against Palace and Newcastle, and the fact that he plays in BGW29.

Verdict – Jump (Just)

I’m unusually hesitant this GW about giving definitive advice. As I’ve said elsewhere in this article, this will be a really big week for movement in the ranks, and it’s crucial to be fully comfortable with the choice you make this week.

I personally won’t be going for Kane. There is plenty in his numbers and his pedigree to suggest he will deliver big in DGW26, and, in my opinion, he is the premium pick for BGW29.

My reservation in Kane is the opportunity cost of a transfer I can’t afford to misspend. I prefer DCL and the extra funds in midfield.

That said, the numbers are there, and Kane remains an excellent pick. For anyone who doesn’t need the funds in midfield, or prefers Kane to DCL, this is a good jump.

If you do jump, all the best and keep a seat warm for me, because I’ll be joining you before GW29.

Everyone has a player that they love and trust implicitly – mine is KDB. Last season, I backed him from the beginning, predicting him to challenge Salah for FPL top scorer in the 19/20 season in my annual pre-season point projections.

He did exactly that, taking a massive 251 points.

This season has cemented his place as a world-class player; he has averaged a higher xG90 than most strikers (0.44), and collected 10 assists in less than 1500 minutes.

However, his extraordinary goal-scoring feats of last year have regressed to just one goal in open play this season, and worse still a hamstring injury has seen him fail to complete any of City’s last 8 games.

Now, however, KDB is back, and we can expect him to have a point to prove after City’s heroics in his absence.

KDB’s Creativity Per 90 vs 2nd best midfielder

A: 0.59 vs 0.43 (Grealish)

xA: 0.29 vs 0.27 (Bruno)

Big Chances Created: 0.82 vs 0.70 (Bruno)

Chances Created: 3.4 vs 3.25 (Grealish)

The joy of looking up KDB statistics is that you just sort by metric, because KDB invariably comes up at, or close to, the top.

These four major metrics for creativity are all topped by KDB (of midfielders to start over 4 games). While Bruno and Grealish are having exceptional seasons, KDB still stands out because of the sheer quality of the chances he creates (0.82 Big Chances per game vs Bruno’s 0.7).

KDB’s Threat vs Salah vs Bruno

G: 0.18 vs 0.73 vs 0.61

xG: 0.44 vs 0.54 vs 0.48

Big Chances Total: 0.65 vs 0.86 vs 0.61

Penalties: 2 vs 6 vs 8

Shots: 3.7 vs 3.31 vs 3.4

Like Bruno, and increasingly Grealish, KDB also has a significant goal threat. While KDB’s finishing has left something to be desired, his underlying numbers are excellent.

Excluding penalties, KDB would exceed both Salah and Bruno for xG, and come close to Salah for Big Chances. Obviously penalties are a big part of FPL, and there’s no reason to think Bruno and Salah are going to stop having penalties. However, it is odd that City have won so few while KDB is on the pitch.

In fact, they won 3 penalties in their first 17 GWs and 4 in the subsequent 8 GWs. It would be reasonable to expect City’s season average of a penalty every 3-4 games to continue which would suggest KDB could match Salah’s xG over the rest of the season.

KDB’s Finishing

Yet another oddity of this season is that, for all his heart’s endeavour, KDB has only 1 goal from open play in the league this season.

In his career, this is the only season KDB has underperformed his xG by more than 1 goal. In fact, in half of the seasons xG has been recorded on Understat for KDB, he has overperformed his xG by at least 2 goals.

Last season, it seemed that he had significantly improved his finishing with a much higher xG 90 and a much higher conversion of xG.

KDB first 6 seasons vs last season vs this season*

G: 33 vs 14 vs 3

xG: 26.54 vs 8.11 vs 8.12

xG performance: +24% vs +72% vs -63%

xG per shot: 0.07 vs 0.08 vs 0.13

*Statistics taken from Understat.

The statistics only muddle the picture further. The drop in finishing is horrifying and bares no resemblance to KDB’s past.

Although the conversion of xG has dropped, KDB is accumulating xG much quicker than ever before (8.12 already this season), and is even shooting from better-quality positions – the increase to 0.13 xG per shot is much more significant than it may appear.

Many who have watched KDB this season will attribute a large amount of the drop to lack of confidence and / or conviction, which seems evident from his body language. It’s also possible that KDB is more of a long shot (and therefore low xG) specialist or that opponents have started to do a better job of closing him down and / or blocking his shots.

Upcoming Fixtures

City’s upcoming DGW is exciting, and I am actually expecting KDB to play both games to build his fitness back up (although I wouldn’t expect him to complete the full 90). West Ham and Wolves will be difficult opponents for City to break down, but KDB should come into his own in these kind of games.

While West Ham and Wolves both boast top 10 defensive records this season, and even better defensive form records, it’s worth noting that both have been repeatedly undone by elite opponents.

All of City’s subsequent games including the one against Leicester are unproblematic for KDB. The GW29 blank is a problem, and he’d need to be benched or switched out. The Son and Kane double up might be appealing there if you were to save a FT from GW28.

Verdict – Jump

You probably guessed where this was going from the start. But this is much more than just a KDB appreciation prediction.

The stats shows KDB to be an excellent option in terms of creativity and threat. He has the fixtures and he has a fully-functioning City team to deliver in.

Without goals, KDB will be out-paced by other premiums such as Bruno and Salah. However, I trust the numbers and what my eyes see in KDB. The big number assets – Antonio, Bruno, Salah and Gundogan continue to deliver. KDB has some of the biggest numbers of them all*.

*0.73 xGI per 90 joint second most (with Salah), behind only Bruno (0.76)

What is happening to one of the greatest finishers the Premier League have ever known?

Considering Vardy’s incredibly consistent underlying numbers, it is a marvel that he continues to underperform, and in doing so, continues to go under the radar.

Before GW24, I made the case for Vardy, claiming he would come good any day now. Since then he has a goal and an assist in 2 GWs, but still the feelings remains: he is underperforming. He is due a mega haul.

Vardy vs 5 Major Forward Options Per 90 – Last 6 Matches

Of the numerous forward options, these 6 are particularly interesting in either their potential for attacking GW26 or their potential moving towards BGW29. It is essentially a shopping list for the next few GWs.

Antonio is incredible, and I was pleased he scored in GW25 to vindicate the faith many showed in him after his fitness concerns in GWs23-24. He continues to dwarf all other forwards when it comes to xG, but is followed most closely by Vardy, who actually slightly exceeds him for Big Chances Total (1.09 vs Antonio’s 1.06).

Of the DGW players, Vardy is averaging the highest xG per 90 (0.5) by some way, and across the season, he has actually averaged the highest among all forwards (0.74), which demonstrates both his consistency and his pedigree.

You may wonder at the drop in Vardy’s xG, and it relates almost entirely to penalties. Vardy scored 8 penalties (of 9) in his first 14 games, but hasn’t had any in his last 8.

Vardy’s Pedigree

I highlighted two weeks ago that Vardy has some serious pedigree when it comes to finishing. His current efforts are well below his usual standards. He has 1 goal in 8 games, which makes for bleak reading (even if he does have 3 assists in that time).

However, his consecutive returns in GWs 24 and 25 are encouraging, and it is hard to imagine Vardy continuing to miss the excellent chances he has been getting.

Upcoming Fixtures

Vardy’s DGW enhances his appeal. Arsenal should suit his style of play, as will Brighton and to some extent City. Sheffield United and Burnley will shut up shop, but the former are unlikely to be able to do it effectively.

Overall, the fixtures are excellent and offer a fantastic opportunity to attack a double with a player who is only 18.2% owned.

Verdict – Jump

I considered going for Watkins in my final Bandwagon prediction as I expect him to do well in the double, and he has the fixtures to generate interest post GW26. However, that would have detracted away from what I consider to be one of the biggest decisions of DGW26.

DCL, Vardy and Kane are not highly owned – the risk of having your rank hit is relatively low compared to, for example, if Bruno or Salah haul in GW26. However, the potential upside of each player is massive, and while it’s possible all return, it’s unlikely they all return equally.

There are nuances to each player – DCL has just come back from injury but is finally in a team with all its creative flair; Kane is posting great numbers against weaker teams despite being in a struggling team himself; Vardy has averaged the highest xG this season, but is converting xG at a (Premier League) career low.

A big call is needed to choose between these massive options, but it is moments like this that make FPL so exciting.

Thank you for reading!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the third article in this new Weekly Series on Bandwagons. Please retweet, follow and join the discussion.

If I get calls wrong, let me know about it!

All statistics are taken from FFScout (which I have a paid subscription to) unless indicated otherwise.

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