Fantasy and Destiny – Assessing the invariable inevitabilities of football |

Watching the Burnley v. Southampton match on the 27th September, I remember discussing with my step-dad in advance how we thought the game would play out; we are both lifelong fans of Sean Dyche’s claret and blue army and naturally were holding out for a Chris Wood masterclass (even with my Saint’s double-up in defence of McCarthy and Walker-Peters). One thing we could both agree on, however, was that we were effectively starting the game from 0-1 down. Of course. Danny Ings was going to score at some point.

In the world of FPL analysis, there is an immeasurable depth of statistics, an endless swamp of Expected X’s, their murky waters often clouding judgements and enticing us into punts we inevitably lament. The beauty of football, and FPL by proxy, to me, is in the unavoidability of certain acts; those seemingly coincidental yet assured anomalies which you just know will be splashed all over the back pages the next day. This article aims to explore a different side to fantasy, one steeped in poetic inevitability rather than statistical scrutiny.  

Player versus old club

Notable Examples

Currently playing: Danny Ings (£8.3m) vs. Burnley and Liverpool, Harry Kane (£11.0m) vs. Leicester, Wilfried Zaha (£7.1m) vs. Man Utd, Patrick Bamford (£6.7m) vs. Burnley and Crystal Palace, Mohamed Salah (£12.7m) vs. Chelsea.

Historic: Van Persie and Adebayor vs. Arsenal, Shearer vs. Southampton.

A classic. As mentioned earlier, Danny Ings did, naturally, score the winner in a 0-1 defeat of Burnley: the Saints play them again at home on the 3rd April, certainly a fixture to keep in mind not just because of Ings’ record vs. the Clarets but also because it comes in the middle of a six-game green patch of fixtures also including SHU (A), BHA (H), WBA (A) and CRY (H). With at least one *guaranteed* goal, surely the marksman is worth a punt?

You can see the logic behind this trend. Often it’s the case that players will see an opportunity to demonstrate exactly what their former employers are missing having let them go; providing them with that additional boost of motivation, especially if it’s for a team lower down the pecking order, such as Wilfried Zaha putting Man Utd to the sword with 2 goals earlier this season. 

In other instances, it may be that the former club didn’t provide the player with any opportunity to express their talents or hadn’t treated the player with respect. Harry Kane had, by his lofty standards, a torrid time at Leicester, having only 5 starts and only twice playing the full 90 minutes in his time with the Foxes. Since realising his potential at Spurs, he is the leading scorer against Leicester in Premier League history, with 14 goals in 11 games. Patrick Bamford famously clashed with Sean Dyche during a loan spell at Burnley, telling the Mail in 2017 they had ‘different ideas of football’. Additionally, in the same interview, he talked about how ‘it hadn’t worked at Palace’. He has scored against both clubs in the league this year and with Leeds’ exemplary attacking you wouldn’t bet against him doing it again.

Occasionally, the pressure of playing against old employers can seem the opposite effect. Despite suffering a venomous reception from opposition fans, Raheem Sterling (£11.6m) has only managed a single goal in ten Premier League matches against Liverpool, even that coming in the 4-0 loss the Reds suffered while hungover from winning the Premier League title last season.  Another acrimonious departure, Romelu Lukaku has also only scored once in ten games against former side Chelsea. Finally, some players simply have too much respect for their old clubs. After Denis Wise scored an infamous backheel goal against Manchester Utd, a club he enjoys legendary status, he was quoted by a 2010 interview with the Mail saying “I was inconsolable. I didn’t want it to happen. How long did the feeling last? How long ago was the game? Thirty-odd years. There is your answer”.

The bogey team

Notable examples: Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace/ Sam Allardyce/ Burnley, Pep Guardiola vs. Klopp, Spurs vs. Chelsea, Chelsea vs. Everton (at Goodison Park), Wolves vs. Huddersfield, Burnley vs. Arsenal/City, Chelsea vs. West Brom, Derby matches et. al.

In the same way that some players simply can’t seem to break a duck against certain teams, so too can teams often come up against opponents that continually defy form, precedent and logic to defeat them.

This can be for tactical reasons, for instance Burnley, usually with a watertight defence that even in defeat will rarely concede more than the one goal, completely go to pieces against the slick passing of Manchester City. In the last 10 matches between the two, the Clarets have shipped 35 goals, with their last four matches at the Etihad all ending 5-0.

Other times results garnered by these ‘bogey teams’ seem to be earned purely from a psychological battle before the game has even been played. Spurs always seem to falter against Chelsea, with the team not winning a game at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League until 2016. Even in Chelsea’s disastrous 2015/16 campaign they found a way to win against then title-chasing Tottenham, to hand the league to Leicester. Chelsea themselves have similar misfortune at Goodison Park (just 2 wins in their last 9 games there) and The Hawthorns, where both Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto di Matteo were sacked shortly after losses at West Brom and a crazy 3-3 draw in which the Blues had to battle back from 3-0 down. Huddersfield had just 3 wins in the 2018/19 season and they were both against 7th placed Wolves. Inexplicably, Huddersfield have won their last 5 meetings together.

This effect is often seen most prominently in derby games. It is often said how ‘form goes out the window’ in these situations, with the hot-blooded nature of a, pre-Covid, derby crowd giving a different intensity to the players. Most notably in recent seasons saw an all-conquering Liverpool side that took 196 points from 2 seasons of football have stuttered to mediocre draws against both Everton and Manchester Utd who were misfiring at the time. Paradoxically, Everton’s record over the Premier League era has been dreadful, with just 9 wins in 57 games. City centurions bottling vs. Utd. When they were both in the Premier League, despite being similarly average over most of the last two decades, Sunderland v. Newcastle was one that would also often throw form out the window, often in favour of the Black Cats. In fact, Sunderland’s last defeat at the hands of their Tyne-Weir neighbours came way back in 2011 and they went on a six-match winning streak against Newcastle in the Premier League from 2013 to 2015.

New Manager Bounce

Notable examples: Sam Allardyce (Everton, Palace), José Mourinho (Spurs), Brendan Rogers (Leicester), Ole Gunnar Solskjær (Man Utd), Claude Puel (Leicester), Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace and West Brom), Alan Pardew (Crystal Palace), Darren Moore (West Brom) 

There are often two angles to the New Manager bounce from an FPL perspective. Firstly, lower-level clubs that may previously have been considered whipping boys and prime candidates to captain your premium assets against, can be sparked into life with a change of Manager. Record-setting poor performances (losing their first 7 games) from bottom of the table Crystal Palace ended when Roy Hodgson was appointed and he ended up guiding the Eagles to 11th. He performed similar miracles at West Brom who were 17th when he took over in 2011. In 2018, bottom of the table West Brom (shortly after Darren Moore became caretaker manager with the club essentially relegated) even managed to beat Man Utd at Old Trafford.

According to an article from Reuters, so much of this is down to luck: but it is in the half-moments where a team need that additional infusion of hope that these negligible things make a difference.

Secondly, an under-performing ‘big club’ can suddenly have their top stars become essential FPL assets. A bad run of form can often be incredibly stifling, with no clear way out and morale, so crucial for the best players, often taking a major hit. An injection of fresh perspective can help shore up defences and breath new life into top attackers. When Brendan Rodgers was appointed at Leicester, he spoke about building the team around Jamie Vardy. After only scoring 2 goals in his previous nine games, Vardy went on to bag 10 goals in his next nine. Previously criticized stars Dele Alli and Paul Pogba enjoyed similar renaissances after the appointments of Mourinho and Solskjær respectively.

It remains to be seen what effect new Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel will have on the squad. Signs are good so far with 3 clean sheets from 3 games and with inches coming between glory and anguish so often this season for the Blue’s big hitters (Timo Werner (£9.2m) has hit the woodwork the joint-most of any player this season at 5 times), he could that key differential to make Chelsea players must-own once again.

In summary, so many of these phenomena are inexplicable, at best. You shouldn’t be rushing to transfer out Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son (£9.6m) just because they have Chelsea coming up. But, Premier League football is a game of inches, absolutely elite athletes in an incredibly intense, physical 90 minutes. These factors are semi-consistent and just having this knowledge in the back of your mind when deciding on that 50/50 captaincy decision can be the difference between you and your mini-league rival come the end of the season.

#Fantasy #Destiny #Assessing #invariable #inevitabilities #football

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