I am highly selective when it comes to defenders.
Members will have noticed that the majority of the players I review as good fits for FI scoring will be midfielders and forwards.
This is for good reason, and to understand why, I’ll discuss my predictions from the original analysis of the changes to the FI scoring matrix last Summer which, looking back, have stood up to reality pretty damn well.
However, there is always some really good value in defenders if you know what to look for and you can time your buy and sell right.
I just tend to be lazer focused on the very best 5-8 defensive targets at any one time rather than going for anything mediocre or worse.
I’ve had a number of requests for more on my approach to defenders and some specific analysis of some individual players. Let’s get to that!
*note – As I got halfway down this I realised I had more to say on strategy for defenders and how our July 2019 performance changes analysis helped us, so I’ll make this into a two parter with the individual player analysis coming tomorrow.
Pre-Season Performance Changes
Last Summer brought the biggest update yet to performance scoring changes. This was exciting but also caused a lot of worry for many. Lots of people were understandably concerned about what this would mean for their existing holds etc.
But for me, and by extension site members, performance scoring changes should be a great opportunity.
There will always be fluctation.
From wherever we are, fast forward even 5 games and the picture about who is looking good and bad can be very different. So certainly between seasons, there is always going to be big variations.
That’s why I run through the matches every week through Scouting in pre-season and all season to monitor this.
But change the scoring system significantly and who is good or not has been completely thrown up in the air.
If you are on the ball this is great for you. If you lack the skills or time to work out the implications, it’s a nightmare and it is why many people dread it.
In the days after the performance scoring changes were announced in July 2019, I published two main breakdown articles Part 1 and Part 2. For anyone with too much time on their hands, I think they are fun/interesting to look back on knowing what we know now.
But let’s focus on what I said about defenders here.
The two main points were:
– It should give certain creative defenders more room to dominate, particularly where they have high number of passes that are frequently converted into key passes and assists, particularly from dominant sides who kept clean sheets and where they can score an occasional goal. (Basically, the “flying fullback”).
– It should hurt the high baseline defender who does a lot but does not regularly score or assist.
Flying Fullbacks (And the importance of timing)
The first point I made about creative defenders is essentially what would later become known as “flying fullbacks”.
This phrase was popularised in October/early November after Alexander-Arnold’s incredible burst of form that month. That’s a full 3 months after my July analysis.
In October, you saw lots of “analysis” starting to appear on social media suggesting a huge change in strategy or a renewed focus on this “revelation” of flying fullbacks as if it was something new. “If TAA can do this, who else can!?”
But that is a very bad time for analysis.
The difference between what I did and that is timing – I can work out what is very likely to happen by using the new matrix, match data, and my own judgement from thousands of hours of experience.
By contrast, if you are waiting for the FI performance scores to highlight who is looking strong – it’s too late.
If someone thinks they are doing well by picking up flying fullbacks in October, imagine how well the guy who had a 3 month headstart will have done.
And this form of analysis has a second trap that keeps traders into an overpriced trade longer than necessary or leads them in to paying too much for a decent player – anyone relying on historic scores and dividend yields is also by extension assuming that TAA’s outstanding October performance is normal.
To this day, you still see justifications of his price based on his historic “dividend yield” that they attempt to project forward over his career.
This is absolute garbage and an overreliance on these historic metrics will lose us money and possibly some brain cells.
In October (and early November actually) TAA’s numbers were through the roof not just for himself but he was streets ahead of any full back in the big 5 leagues.
It was so good, it felt a little too good to be true as covered in Scouting at the time. Things that look too good to be true generally are (See Haaland’s recent goals tally). And it has dipped on and off throughout the season as we might expect. Maintaining that level or even close to it was a near impossible ask.
And, there is a huge slice of luck in dividend wins anyway. Your boy can score 250 and lose to a random Metz Centre Back who has the best game of his life. He can score 190 and get extremely lucky and win a dividend. And then the randomness of game winning goal too obviously.
This alone makes dividend yields and “overs” (number of scores over X) unreliable. Especially since a good “over” still seems to be considered 200+ in many circles. This is a mental hangover from the old scoring system – a 180-200 doesn’t mean much at all anymore.
We at least want to be into the 220’s now. Traders are, on the whole, too easily impressed.
Then, factor in all the footballing reasons why our player’s output might change over a career and even 5-10 games from now. New tactical instructions. New coach. New team. Maybe other coaches figure out TAA is a weapon too dangerous to be ignored and find a way to shut him down.
The main point here is that recent match data is the best primary source when conducting analysis.
Historic performance scores are very much secondary. I look at them to see whether what I have learned from match data is appearing in the actual scores. This is interesting but is very much influenced by luck. I never look at historic scores as a way of judging ability.
Things like dividend yields? I do find them of interest but only because a certain type of trader will over use them and I can predict what people will buy when they use this data.
I may for example buy an off trend player with a high dividend yield whilst they are cheap in off-season, knowing that when dividend returners eventually come in fashion again when football is back, people will tend to buy the high returner and become less sensitive to whatever reason they are off trend (i.e age).
But because I have a better idea of the players current real ability using match data I have an advantage. I can choose to sell at the higher price if I know they have won more dividends than they really have a right to, for example.
Bear in mind too that I am actually a TAA fan believe it or not.
Go to my July 2019 analysis of the most likely to benefit from the scoring changes and TAA is there. Or my player ratings tables where TAA is the only defender on there.
But you can pay too much for good players.
Look at TAA’s price chart below. If your analysis is on point in July from the new scoring system, you’ve seen evidence that creative fullbacks are going to do well and you’ve pinpointed TAA as one of them.
If you want to make that bet, July to mid October at a push is your moment. When it’s something you know is very likely, but it hasn’t been proven yet.
Once he starts winning regularly in October and November and social media has blown up with it’s “Flying Fullback” phase – that’s too late to buy. That is when I would suggest selling. Why? Because we know he is good but we know he is likely not £6+ good.
A good analyst got a 3 month advantage here and didn’t have to wait for matches to tell them creative fullbacks would do well.
We could not predict the October hotstreak in an individual at all, clearly. But we could buy up a selection of 5-6 promising full backs based on our July research and then let them run.
Chances are, one of them would probably put a good run together. And then the rest may get pulled up too once the search for “the next…” starts.
Eventually, TAA’s performance will have to increase or his price will have to come down. Either of those is possible but given what we know from match data, we know he isn’t likely to get much better because he’s been outperforming every full back on the continent as it is, and we know he’s had a few lucky wins with relatively low scores.
It is far more likely therefore that the market is overvaluing him than not.
Of course, it is possible that he goes on another hot streak and that tantalising possibility is what keeps people in. More likely though, he’ll keep performing well but not quite justify the huge price tag and eventually slide down to a more sensible value.
In my view, we want to play the percentages here and put ourselves on the right side of probability. Especially considering that we should have much juicier targets in the £1-£3 range who are much more likely to increase by a greater percentage value from here.
Centre Backs (And the always goals centric scoring system)
The other defenders observation in my July analysis was that the elite ball playing CB was going to struggle.
Casting minds back to the 18/19 season, players like Otamendi were cleaning up in performance scoring. They barely had to do anything except tip tap the ball in defence and maybe keep a clean sheet.
But the new scoring system has savaged that sort of player, and it was clear this would happen as soon as we got to grips with the new matrix.
Tweaks to things like aerial duels and low frequency events like Last Man Tackles were never going to be enough.
This caught out traders who didn’t spot this change. This could have led them to sticking into Van Dijk at £3+ in pre-season (£2.60 by December) or worse Jonathan Tah (£1.54 in July then 96p in December).
But if you’d done your analysis (or cheated and been a site member) you’d have known that selling these players whilst they were hot was a good idea.
If we have these kinds of information advantages, we have to exploit them before it becomes common knowledge. Which is probably why I so rarely agree with the current social media consensus.
FI has always been a goals centric game. It probably always will be because FI are trying to create an entertainment product – it’s not meant to be a perfect simulation of a players overall contribution. FI think that people want to be cheering in goals rather than worrying too much about who got that second assist.
With the changes last Summer, the headline was that assists became a much bigger part of it. This makes sense – people intuitively understand why this matters and are used to it from Fantasy Football.
So, our unsung heroes like defenders or deep lying midfielders stay unsung and likely always will unless FI hugely change their goals centric approach. With the current team at the helm of FI, I would bet on hell to freeze over before I bet on goals not always being the key to performance scoring.
Baseline scores, particularly average baseline scores, are often overused and misused. This is how you end up with the social media pushed abominations of logic like Teji Savanier at £2.50 in October. (For newer traders – to me a baseline score is everything that isn’t a goal or an assist).
You need far more than high baselines for success. You need regular goals, probably match winning goals. Assists might cut it, just. But most of the time they tend to be in addition to a goal or you might need to assist twice.
High baselines are really important. They are the foundation of a winning score. But that’s it. A high baseline is a platform on which a goalscorer or heavy assister can stand on but they will still need that goal for a winning team (and no small amount of luck) to get them over the line.
So, dig out a player like Teji Savanier when they are relatively unknown at say 80p to £1.50 and you can say “Yep, if Savanier has a really good day he could, in theory, win a Gold Day dividend and I have a decent chance to win that dividend and then sell him for a profit to bad traders who buy after the win or big score thinking it will happen again next week.”
That’s probably a good decision. You might need patience because he might take 10 games to get his big score. But it can happen.
Now, say he gets that first win and is pushed north of £2 and someone on social media is saying: “Look at his average baseline, and look at the 275 he got last week! He’s a performance God!” This person either has poor analysis skills or is a conman – possibly both.
I will touch on goalkeepers briefly. Members will have noticed the absence of goalkeepers from the site almost all the time, unless there is a very specific reason why it matters.
The reason is they are next to irrelevant for performance scoring as they can only credibly win with a freak penalty save or on an extremely quiet day like a single match day.
There are two main reasons you might buy a goalkeeper but they are both fairly niche fetishes. Personally, I don’t recall ever having bought a goalkeeper in my entire time on FI.
The first is IPD, and this really isn’t that bad these days. Match up a cut price keeper from a decent defensive side who have a kind run of fixtures against weak attacking teams and it can be as easy as that. The IPD yield at super low prices on a run of clean sheets can be high.
I don’t really cover this because I don’t really add any value here. All you need is a fixture calculator – I try to stick to content where I provide something you can’t find elsewhere.
It’s also not without dangers. Obviously, you are competing against lots of traders trying to do the same thing and as keepers tend to be cheap – it only takes one big trader to dump on you and drop the price by 5-10%. It’s risky, and a fairly high maintenance way of trading. Not really my bag, but I can see how a small number of people would find this quite fun and possibly rewarding.
The second reason is as a long term investment in the hope that, one day, FI make goalkeepers more relevant for FI scoring.
This is possible. In fact, they tried it last Summer introducing 3 new metrics to try to bring them into contention. This sparked a wave of goalkeeper buying at the time. If you look back at my analysis from July – I said this wasn’t going make goalkeepers relevant.
I said this for the same reason ball playing centrebacks don’t do that well, goalkeepers do not score or assist (typically!). It’s no different to anything else – they might end up with a decent baseline but without a goal it’s going to count for zilch. Except on very rare occasions.
Should we bet on keepers in the hope of further tweaks that do make them relevant? I’d say no. I fundamentally believe FI will remain goals centric and goalkeepers will stay a peculiar fascination of a small number of people.
However. Could you wait until well known good Goalkeepers were cheap, buy, then wait patiently (6 months+?) for some kind of social media hubbub to whip up about goalkeepers being relevant?
Sure, why not. It does happen from time to time. All it takes is for the scoring system to get a tweak in their favour and some people would start talking them up.
But I doubt I would actually hold the keeper hoping it would come to much. Goalkeepers are fundamentally quite boring. It’s an entertainment product and I expect any changes to be in favour of attacking play.
Media for Defenders
The media potential of defenders often seems to be overestimated, particularly for English ones.
It is just a fact that the media dividend wins overwhelmingly go to the forwards and it isn’t even close. Midfielders are somewhere in between.
For a big transfer move for a high profile defender (like a Harry Maguire to Manchester United) it can have a big short term impact. But in normal times, it’s going to be an extremely mild factor at best, even for popular players.
Outside of occasional articles or a huge story, journalists write about big goalscoring forwards and don’t really care about the unsung heroes.
You get some exceptions particularly in midfield and very occasionally in defence.
Pogba and Fernandes and Sancho have, historically at least, done much better than many big name forwards but will they do that longer term outside of their individual dramas? Probably not.
Which is why using their historic “yield” to justify value is all kinds of crazy.
During a transfer, a VVD or Maguire can pull in decent media but it will settle.
There can be a low level of it. VVD during a Champions League run and on the way to captain the EPL Champions you can see getting some.
TAA as a young English talent who is making some waves, sure, but it’s never going to be boatloads, maybe 10-20p over a season realistically. Unless he moves club or something.
We just need to be careful not to over estimate this. A young, English attacking player might do it or if we think we have the EPL’s next Rooney or Thierry Henry, sure.
An English fullback like Reece James or TAA or Chilwell? Unless there is an expected transfer media should not generally be a huge factor in our valuations of defenders.
In the context of the on-going media review, we also have to be aware that if media is opened up to foreign news sources as expected, this is going to seriously cut into the premium that English and EPL players currently enjoy. That applies to all players not just defenders.
Final Thoughts for today
Once we’ve analysed the scoring system and the other softer factors above, we know what we want and we know what we don’t want.
That’s when I start the search for the players.
We’re clearly looking for real performance quality in defence. Eventually, we’ll need big scores to keep the price pushing upwards.
Which in this context, means we need highly creative defenders who can assist regularly and also get a few goals per season.
They also need a large amount of involvement in play to get high baselines, or those goals or assists won’t count for much.
We also have to note that that kind of high threat defender can look like a midfielder and get reclassified, like Hakimi was.
Being shifted from defence to midfield is generally considered to be a bad thing (and for good reason). We can buy such players early and expect them to smash it in defence, but we don’t want to hold them too long if they are clearly playing as a midfielder and are at risk of reclassification.
We can also buy promising high baseline centre backs like an Upamecano but we typically need the prospect of a big transfer too to sweeten the deal.
And with all the above, we need to be getting them cheap before they are overpriced.
The main benefit with defenders is that they generally start cheap.
This season it has frequently been possible to find a good defender at the 75p mark. If you can get them to even £1 that’s a big 33% win and most people won’t even noticed it happened.
These days, people are even willing to pay £1.50 to £1.70 for a good defender and that can be a huge relatively under the radar percentage gain of 100% or more.
Meanwhile, much of Social media will be tunnel visioned on the 20-50p rise some £5+ player got this week (for a ~4% to 10% gain, by the way).
We just have to be highly selective because there are only a limited number of defenders who can really fit this criteria.
The way the scoring system is right now really only allows a handful to be consistent challengers, with lots of decent but unspectacular players trading wins between each other and never really stacking them up.
If I look at my defender ratings table, it’s no surprise to me how many players there are with only a handful getting into or more.
Tomorrow, I’ll review some players and show how I use all of the above theory in practice.