Does Strength of Schedule Really Matter?
“All that matters is strength of schedule!” I’ve heard this phrase too often when discussing FPL with my friends. It’s not complete nonsense; you want to pick up guys who have a relatively easy schedule, because they will be more likely to score. When making transfers, I always look at the player’s upcoming fixtures, and if I see a string of weak opponents, that’s usually enough for me to bring the guy in. After using this strategy almost all season and struggling with inconsistent weekly scores, I decided to evaluate player performance based on strength-of-schedule. In this series, I will look at how strength of schedule affects players’ point totals, starting with strikers. Here are some of the assumptions I made in this analysis:
- I’m using 2016-2017 FPL data for all players through the entire season. In some cases, I have access to one player’s data for the current 17-18 season, but this data is not yet available for all players.
- Opponent strength is determined by their league position at the end of the season. While teams fluctuate in their ranking throughout the season, end-of-season league position provides a fairly stable estimate of the team’s quality.
- Only starting players who played at least 60 minutes. In some cases, subs came on and got some points, but to get a nice robust dataset, I limited the players that were analyzed to those who played at least 60 minutes.
Top Player Example:
Harry Kane – 224 Total Points 16/17
In only 30 games, Harry Kane was the most prolific striker of the season last year. The table below shows Kane’s average total points against each opponent last season. Looking at the games in which most of his points came, we see that he actually had better performances against teams in the middle of the table (compared to top or bottom teams). With such a small sample size for Kane’s performance against each team, it’s hard to draw conclusions from this data alone, but he averaged 3.78 pts/game against top 6 sides, 10.7 pts/game against 7th-14th teams, and 7.56 pts per game against the bottom 6 teams.
This season is confirming this trend as well, Kane has averaged 3.8 pts per game against the top 6, 7.73 pts/game against 7th-14th, and 6.38 pts/game against the bottom 6.
The strength-of-schedule strategy doesn’t quite work for Harry Kane. At least the data show that we should avoid the games against top 6 opponents, but do these stats hold true for other players of lesser quality than Kane?
In the next table, I’ve run the same analysis but for all strikers who played at least 60 minutes in a given gameweek. This data confirms that the top 6 are not good matchups for strikers. On average, starting strikers only score about 2.9 pts/game against these teams. Strikers who faced teams in the middle of the table (7-14) scored 4.22 pts per game, and those who faced the bottom 6 scored 4.33 pts/game. On average, mid- and bottom-table opponents conceded about the same amount of points to strikers, but it looks like some of the most favorable matchups came against teams in the middle of the table, and teams like Stoke and Watford allowed fewer points to strikers compared to Liverpool and Everton.
I guess only relying on strength of schedule to select your strikers is probably not the best idea. Although you’re probably safe to assume your strikers won’t perform as well against the top 6 teams, you’re not guaranteed points when they play the bottomfeeders either. A more reliable stat to look at is opponent’s goals conceded, but you should also consider individual stats of the striker (e.g. key chances created, shots inside the box, etc.). You should use multiple sources of data to choose your strikers. I think we can probably ignore the guy who says, “Bro, just look at strength of schedule!”
– Nick Zupan
– Contributing Columnist
-Yes that is actually a picture of him on the featured image…or not…