Premier League: Look beyond Liverpool, Man City and Vardy


Nov 7, 2019

  • Kieran DarcyESPN Staff Writer


      Kieran Darcy is an staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.

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The biggest game of the Premier League season thus far is on Sunday. League leaders Liverpool will host second-place Manchester City, in a match that could make a huge impact on the title race, despite it being only November.

With a win, Liverpool would go nine points clear of the defending champs – a very big deficit to overcome considering Liverpool lost only one game last season, and have gone unbeaten so far this season. If Manchester City win, they would close the gap to only three points.

The bookmakers have made this a pick ’em game, and it’s must-see TV for any Premier League fan. But the outcome is simply too hard to predict. Last season this fixture finished in a scoreless draw, with only 13 shots between the two teams combined. For me at least, this is a week to steer clear of Liverpool and Man City players when building your fantasy lineup.

The teams currently in third and fourth places, Leicester City and Chelsea– both on 23 points, two behind Man City — are where I’m starting when constructing my lineup this week. Leicester’s Jamie Vardy is the league leader in goals, with 10 in 11 games. That’s pretty remarkable, given Vardy will turn 33 in January.

That being said, Vardy has scored those 10 goals on only 22 shots – so he’s averaging just two shots per game. And in terms of xG (expected goals), according to TruMedia’s model, Vardy is ranked only 17th in the league, at 4.17.

It’s also worth noting that five of Vardy’s 10 goals have come when Leicester’s opponents were down a man due to a red card. In fact, nearly half of Leicester’s goals this season — 12 of 27 — have come after a red card (four in their 5-0 win over Newcastle, eight in their 9-0 win over Southampton). And Leicester are also wildly outperforming in comparison to xG; they’ve scored 27 goals despite having an xG total of only 16.45, which ranks them 11th in the league.

One more thing. Leicester have a relatively tough matchup this week, at home but against fifth-place Arsenal. I’m not saying Vardy is a bad choice at Tier 1 forward this week: he did score two goals in this same fixture late last season, and equaled a season-high with seven shots. I just think there’s a better option this week.

Tammy Abraham has scored nine goals this season, one behind Vardy, and has played 166 fewer minutes than Vardy. Abraham is also fourth in the league in shots with 35, two behind leaders Sergio Aguero and Mohamed Salah. And he’s second in the league in xG at 6.69, behind only Aguero (8.14).

Abraham did not score in Chelsea’s wild 4-4 draw against Ajax in the Champions League on Tuesday, but he had an assist and took eight shots. He also had a goal and an assist against Watford last weekend.

Chelsea are much stronger favorites than Leicester this week, at home against Crystal Palace. Abraham will be my Tier 1 forward, and my captain as well.

However, I do want a Leicester player at Tier 1 midfielder. James Maddison has only three goals and two assists, but he’s also taken 29 shots. The only midfielder in the league who has taken more shots is Aston Villa’s John McGinn (32).

Maddison’s creative production is admittedly down from last season. Last year he led the league in chances created with 100 (2.8 per game), but so far this year he only has 21 chances created (2.1 per game).

That being said, Maddison had eight chances created last week against Crystal Palace. And Arsenal have conceded 179 shots this season; only Aston Villa (212) and Norwich City (196) have conceded more. This looks like a matchup in which Maddison is likely to rack up shots and chances created at least, if not goals and assists as well.

North Americans!

I just mentioned that Aston Villa have conceded the most shots in the league, 16 more than any other team. They’ve conceded only 18 goals, but that’s rather fortunate. Villa have an xG conceded total of 23.58, second-worst in the league, ahead of only Norwich (26.80).

Wolves will host Villa this weekend, and I think this is a good spot to pick Raul Jimenez as your Tier 2 forward.

Jimenez scored his fourth goal of the season (and second in three games) in Wolves’ 1-1 draw with Arsenal last week, and took eight shots. He’s also taken 29 shots on the season, putting him level with Maddison, and tied for 12th in the league overall. And Jimenez is on penalties as well.

Speaking of penalties, Christian Pulisic drew one for Chelsea against Ajax on Tuesday. That doesn’t earn you points in ESPN’s fantasy format, but it does show that he wasn’t a completely peripheral figure in that game, despite not taking a shot.

Pulisic did follow up his hat trick against Burnley two weeks ago with another goal (and three shots) against Watford last week. I think he’s worth sticking with at Tier 2 midfielder.

Other picks

Harry Wilson, Bournemouth (Tier 3 midfielder): Wilson has three goals in 10 appearances (eight starts) this season. He hasn’t scored since Sept. 20, but Wilson did take five shots last week against Manchester United, and this week he’ll be up against 15th place Newcastle.

Fikayo Tomori, Chelsea (Tier 1 defender): Tomori is 15th in the league in passes completed despite not playing the first three games of the season, averaging 67.5 per game. And Chelsea are third in the league in possession (58.2 percent), at home against Crystal Palace, who are 17th in that category (42.9 percent).

Lucas Digne, Everton (Tier 2 defender): Digne picked up his third assist of the season in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham last week. He’s also tied for fourth in the league in chances created with 27 (2.5 per game), and is averaging better than one shot per game. Everton are away this week, but at Southampton, who have conceded a league-worst 27 goals.

Paulo Gazzaniga, Tottenham (Goalkeeper): Gazzaniga is yet to keep a clean sheet in his three Premier League starts since replacing the injured Hugo Llloris. But he has conceded multiple goals only once in that span, against Liverpool, a game in which he made 12 saves. Gazzaniga does have consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League, albeit both games were against Red Star Belgrade. Still, I think he has a decent chance of getting his first Premier League shutout of the season at home against Sheffield United, who have scored only 12 goals in 11 games and are fifth-worst in the league in terms of xG.


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