Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Spieth follows in Rory's footsteps as Augusta bites

At the end of the second round at Augusta, Rory Mcilroy had clung onto the coat tails of Jordan Spieth, with just one shot separating the two most exciting prospects in golf. Spieth, who had looked as comfortable on the Georgia course as one would look in an armchair at home, was suddenly under pressure having dropped three shots on the 17th and 18th holes.

Mcilroy fell to +2 when paired with Spieth on day three

This was the moment many had anticipated – could Rory get close enough to exert some pressure and really see what the 22-year-old Spieth was made of? Could his Dennis Bergkamp-like cool be unsettled?

The answer was yes, but not by Rory.

Danny Willett’s victory came as a result of patience and mastery of timing. From rounds one to three the Yorkshire man was -2, even and even again. Spieth had led him by four, four and three across those rounds, but Willett had kept himself well positioned.

Despite his collapse on the 12th hole, golf looks to be Spieth's
to dominate for years to come

Meanwhile Rory missed his chance to assert his authority. Having been paired together ‘mano a mano’ as Hazel Irvine superbly put it, the more experienced Mcilroy's challenge was to wrest the narrative from Spieth's nerve-less hands. The opposite transpired, as Rory fell to +2.

Willett was one of a small group whose patience and incremental pressure on Spieth eventually told. When Spieth teed off on the fateful 12th, he led on -5 with Willett -4 and Johnson -2. The small chasing pack had made sure there was at least a question or two to be asked of Jordan going into the back nine, and eventually Spieth ran out of answers.

Spieth v Mcilroy however looks to have plenty of legs in it, and the narrative potentially is richer for Sunday’s events. Rory himself knows all too well the emotional scars Augusta’s manicured menace can leave; having thrown away a four shot lead going into the final round in 2011, the lasting image of Rory's ball striking a building and the cameras kindly leaving him to it will be something he now has in common with Spieth.

The difference remains that Jordan already has A) a Masters title and B) multiple majors, but he might do well to seek Rory out for a few tips on recovering. We got a glimpse of Spieth v Mcilroy this weekend– here’s hoping it was merely a footnote in a rich sporting rivalry.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

League Cup winners... Premier League Champions?

I love a stat, so I had a look at who had completed the Premier League/League Cup double and got to thinking about the effect of the League Cup.

Points per game
Chelsea 2015
1st to 1st
Man City 2014
4th to 1st
Man United 2010
2nd to 2nd
Man United 2009
1st to 1st
Chelsea 2007
2nd to 2nd
Man United 2006
2nd to 2nd

There’s been a lot of talk about the League Cup’s place in the calendar. As one of the only leagues with two domestic cup competitions, it seems practical to scrap it. It would enhance the prestige of the FA Cup, reduce the ire-inducing fixture congestion, and perhaps offer England’s players a bit of respite in a tournament year.

Someone made the excellent point however that the League Cup final marks the beginning of the business end of the season, and as such, the crucial third or so of the season where the cream rises to the top. Manchester City take on Liverpool this Sunday, with one eye on an achievable Premier League title.

With this in mind I have taken a look at the form of sides who have won the League Cup while also in a title race. Over the last ten years, six occasions have produced a winner with an eye on the title, and their form is excellent.

Manchester United’s win in 2010 preceded the finest form, with the Red Devils yielding an average of 2.5 points per game, conceding just four goals in ten games. However, they failed to overhaul Chelsea, who matched their form over the final 10 games to pip United to the title by a point.

Sir Alex was no stranger to a League Cup

The Chelsea of 2014/15 followed their League Cup victory with 2.25 points per game, also yielding the lowest average goals scored of any of the six examples, achieving just 1.42 goals per game in the final fixtures. They were however already five points clear with a game in hand, and managed to lose only one game in the process.

The Manchester City 2013/14 example is an interesting one. Having beaten Sunderland in the League Cup final, the Citizens managed an impressive 2.42 points per game over their final 12 league fixtures, but rather more impressively scored 33 goals at 2.75 per game. It’s worth noting they had to keep up with the free-scoring Liverpool in one of the most goal-laden Premier League title chases in history.

So like I said, a bit of fun. But, if you want to take anything from this in terms of 2015/16, there is a little more. The average points per game from all six examples is 2.3 – this translates to 27.6 points, which if we round up to 28 would give Manchester City 75 points. Enough? It would leave Leicester needing 23 points from 12 (1.92 points per game) and Tottenham and Arsenal needing 25 points at 2.083 points per game.

Does it mean anything? We’ll see.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Fantasy Football and Unsustainable Form.

It’s been a largely enjoyable fantasy football season so far, but then that’s probably because you have had to be incredibly cavalier not to go along with what has been a frighteningly reliable formbook.

Here are some stats for the top 5 players to date:

%selected by
Points (goals/assists)
Points Per Gameweek
Consistency stat
Riyad Mahrez
153 (13/7)
Before last 3 games, his longest run without a goal/assist was one game
Romelu Lukaku
135 (15/5)
Scored in 7 games in a row
Mesut Ozil
131 (3/16)
In last 16 games, has only failed to score/assist in 3 games
Odion Ighalo
129 (14/5)
In last 16 games, has only failed to score/assist in 4 games
Jamie Vardy
128 (15/4)
Scored in 11 consecutive games, and scores or assisted in 15 consecutive games

I’ve played fantasy football for long enough to know that those ‘%selected by’ stats are unbelievable. To have four players selected by over 50% of managers is in my experience unheard of, and largely down to one thing: the rise of the middle-tier club.

West Ham, Leicester, Crystal Palace and Watford have all been performing incredibly this season, with the likes of Payet, Mahrez, Scott Dann, Ighalo and Deeney all arguably exceeding expectations.

Odion Ighalo mixing it with the big boys.

Combine this with the poor form of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, three of the Premier League’s traditional top 4, and it’s easy to see why rival FPL teams are so indistinguishable from one another. If the expensive players are the form guys, then you have to make some difficult choices. 

This looked set to be the case when Aguero scored 5 and it seemed as if those who could afford him would be the only ones who could compete. If the cheap players are the ones in form, it’s fairly easy to acquire them. Ighalo, Mahrez, Vardy etc represent crazy value, explaining their popularity.

This would explain my result this week. Although I scored poorly, I lost few places as it was likely that those at the top end with me had a similar looking team.

Despite a poor week I only dropped from 27,094th to 29,121st

The question on many managers’ minds then will have been this: how long can the formbook last? Well the Christmas period looks to be hinting that it may be coming to a close.

A glance at some of the over-performing middle-tier clubs suggests as much. Leicester have failed to score in their last 3 games, picking up two draws and a loss in the process. Likewise, Palace have accrued two draws and a loss with no goals, and Watford succumbed to Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City, picking up just one point.

Meanwhile there are rumblings from the sleeping giants. Manchester City earned a foreboding 1-2 win at Vicarage Road, ending their dreadful run of away games without a win since September, with goals from Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero.

Please don't hit form Sergio, I can't afford you.

Chelsea are now undefeated in four (WDDW) after four losses in their previous six league games, and ended an even worse away run with their first win on the road since August.

And Manchester United, after their encouraging 0-0 draw against Chelsea, won their first league game since November with Rooney and Martial netting against Swansea.

If the formbook falls apart it could make for an interesting second half of the fantasy football season. It’s all about picking the next in-form player before anybody else, and they might come at a bit more of a premium in 2016.