In this FPL article, our resident data expert will assess the newest bandwagons according to underlying statistics, formational changes and more. Here, we preview Gameweek 35 of Fantasy Premier League.
Ahead of a major DGW, there is plenty of scope for big gains still to come this season, but based on this round of transfers, FPL managers aren’t sure where those gains are going to come from. Over 20 players have been transferred in by 10,000 or more managers, but no single player has been brought in by more than 60,000 managers. This spread of preferences is unlike any I’ve seen since writing this bandwagon article.
The need to balance attacking the DGW and being weary of BGW36 has led to divergent transfer strategies. All of this nicely sets up a delicious GW of opportunity.
Here, I evaluate two popular bandwagons currently being jumped on for GW35, and whether they can come good for their new owners…
JWP is having by far his best season in FPL, largely from set piece success that is boarding on the ridiculous. He’s been a league-leading set-piece specialist for some time, but this season has been an incredible meeting of the fates – JWP has set a personal best for both direct freekick goals (4) and assists (6); and Southampton have never had more penalties in a Premier League season (6).
This begs the question though – is Ward-Prowse in the form of his life or has he lifted his game to a whole new level?
JWP – career average vs 20/21 Season*
NPxG 90: 0.12 vs 0.06
xA90: 0.17 vs 0.09
Shots per 90: 1.51 vs 1.06
Key Passes per 90: 1.82 vs 1.45
Penalties scored per season: 1 vs 3
Direct freekick attempts per season: 10.4 vs 17
Direct freekick attempts per goal: 7.3 vs 4.3
Key Passes from set pieces per season: 26 vs 34
Assists from set pieces per season: 2.3 vs 6
*data taken from understat
Key passes per 90 are down (1.82 down to 1.45), as are Shots per 90 (1.51 vs 1.06) and NPxG 90 (0.12 vs 0.06). This indicates that JWP’s goal involvement from open play has actually reduced this season – no doubt as a direct result of playing almost exclusively as centre midfield as opposed to previous seasons when he’s been asked to play higher up the pitch on occasions.
However, as expected, JWP’s goal involvement from set pieces has significantly increased. He has scored 3 penalties this season (from 4 attempts), taken more direct freekicks (17 compared to an average of 10.4), and is scoring direct freekicks more frequently (taking a meagre 4.3 attempts to score this season). For Ward-Prowse this season, a direct freekick has been worth one third of a penalty, which is a stupendous return-rate.
Not only this, but JWP is producing more key passes from set pieces (34 compared to 26), and more assists (6 vs 2.3). The suggestion here is that Ward-Prowse owes some of his assists to the finishing of his teammates, and a further look into the numbers reinforces this: JWP’s Key Passes this season have averaged 0.05 xA per cross from a corner, compared to the 0.09 his Key Passes have averaged across his career.
Despite each corner producing a lower xA value, more than ever have been converted. Watching Southampton, it’s clear that the team are set up to maximise the height of their centre backs in set piece situations. Vestergaard has been particularly successful at converting JWP deliveries.
Vestergaard Set Piece Conversion Attempts
Almost all of the above attempts are either assisted by JWP or a knock-on from a JWP delivery. All bar 3 shots are headers, which explains the low xG of most of these shots – headers from that distance are rarely converted. The spread of shots would make a marksman proud and are a testimony to the quality of Ward-Prowse’s set-pieces. The focus of shots away from the goalkeeper, but still central to the goal is clearly part of a well-practised routine.
Top Midfielders Goal Threat – Last 6 Matches
JWP features prominently in the Goal Threat table above. This is almost entirely down to taking more penalties than any other player over this period (3). Despite this, no player has fewer shots inside the box than JWP (4) or touches in the penalty area (9).
In fact, JWP is among the worst for almost every metric. Without penalties, he wouldn’t have been near this table.
A promising run-in bar the Liverpool game. JWP is also one of the few players to have a DGW in 35, followed by a game in 36. GW37 against Leeds is encouraging given their set-piece problems.
VERDICT – SWERVE
Given the frequency of penalties and direct freekicks Southampton have had this season, there’s a good chance JWP will have a couple of opportunities to add to his set-piece extravaganza, especially with Ings unlikely to return this season.
That said, I’m not a fan of having a player whose sole impact is on the variance of set pieces. With few transfers left this season, I would be looking for more explosive, but also more reliable sources of points.
Like JWP, Zaha has had an immense season that has underscored his importance to Palace, even as a few other players have stepped up when he has been injured. 10 goals equal his best return for a Premier League season, which has been made possible by his immense xG90, which sits at 0.33 for the season (compared to his career xG 90 of 0.2 according to Understat).
A lot has been made about Zaha being a flat-track bully. People point to Zaha’s supposed struggle against ‘top 6’ teams, but this relies on historic rankings of teams. This season, Zaha has 2 goals against the historic top 6 but 5 goals against this season’s top 6.
Personally, I think the flat-track bully theory is exaggerated by a statistical misreading, but we’ll see below that it does hold some water.
Midfielders – xGI against ‘bottom 14’
Zaha is among the best performing against the ‘bottom 14’, but actually nothing stands out in this table. If it were a table of the top performers against all opponents, the list of names would be largely the same. In fact, all of the above feature in the top 20 against all opponents.
Zaha Per 90 – ‘Top 6’ vs ‘Bottom 14’ vs Current Top 6
xG: 0.17 vs 0.35 vs 0.25
G: 0.26 vs 0.46 vs 0.5
Big Chances: 0.13 vs 0.58 vs 0.3
Shots on Target: 0.38 vs 0.81 vs 0.7
Shots in Box: 1.15 vs 1.67 vs 1.2
Zaha has scored goals against this year’s current top 6 at a faster rate than he has against the bottom 14. It’s hard to reconcile the idea that Zaha would struggle to score against Arsenal and Spurs when he has managed to against Leicester and West Ham.
However, the underlying numbers show that Zaha does perform considerably better against the ‘Bottom 14’ than he does against the ‘Top 6’ or the current Top 6. This is natural given that top teams concede fewer chances, but even so the drop off in Big Chances is steep – 0.58 per 90 against the ‘Bottom 14’ compared to 0.13 against the ‘Top 6’. Not only that but Zaha also takes more shots in the box (1.67) and has more shots on target (0.81).
The flat-track Bully narrative becomes more interesting when Zaha’s immediate fixtures are considered – a DGW against Sheffield United and Southampton, followed by a GW36 fixture against Villa. 3 fixtures in a time when most teams will only play 2… and these fixtures are very favourable.
VERDICT – JUMP
The reality of Zaha is that he fails to post good numbers regularly against any team. The question for FPL managers is whether Zaha’s middling numbers across 3 good fixtures justify a transfer.
The stats suggest he’ll score between 1 and 2 goals over the next 2 GWs – hardly explosive, and yet, the extra fixture is half a return already and he is reasonably cheap. This one comes down to how much you need to attack, because Zaha is unlikely to deliver major gains. However, of the teams with 3 fixtures in the next 2 GWs, he is one of the very best options.
It is also worth keeping an eye out for Hodgson’s press conference later this week. Zaha was said to be suffering from a minor injury. That being said, it did not look too serious, and he has been known to continue playing despite some minor discomfort. If he is passed fit, he could be a brilliant option.
Thank you for reading!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the latest 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.
Total Assists includes Assists and Fantasy Assists
Graphics taken from Fantasy Premier League’s site.