I’m going to go off script this week. Rather than discussing a series of players and their suitability on the Waiver Wire or as trade targets, I’m going to use the occasion of Riyad Mahrez’s big scoring weekend in Week 6 to underscore the point about why I tend to rate players like Mahrez, Leroy Sane, Willian, Pedro, Kieran Trippier, or Ben Davies lower than most pundits would in pre-season ranking and draft preview columns.
If you go back and look at the end fantasy product from the players I listed in the first paragraph last season, they are among the most productive at their respective positions. Logic would dictate that they should be drafted accordingly despite their status as rotational players who will likely start somewhere closer to 28-30 matches at the most rather than the 34+ that you’d hope for from high fantasy draft choices.
As it turns out, there’s a problem taking these overall production numbers at face value and Riyad Mahrez’s substitute brace is the case that proves this particular point. If you look back to your draft, you’ll likely find that Mahrez, buoyed by his obvious talent and the tantalizing prospect of that talent being deployed even semi-regularly in Pep’s record-breaking attack, was probably drafted in the 3rd or 4th round of most 8-team leagues. His fantasy output while at Leicester City translated to City’s free-scoring ways gave managers hope that he could be a bargain being picked between overall picks 20 and 30 or so. The overall output of guys like Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling at City last season despite a similar rotational issue made the downside seem pretty limited.
What this, and the other calculations that fantasy managers do based entirely on total output from the previous season or seasons, fails to account for is the points that you were unlikely to ever see because of when and how they were scored.
Perhaps, Riyad Mahrez’s mother and a few childhood friends were still starting him in their fantasy leagues coming into Week 6. On the back of only two starts (and three substitute appearances) which yielded zero goals and zero assists over the first five weeks of the season, my hope would be that MOST Mahrez owners who didn’t know him as a child had him planted firmly on their bench in Week 6.
If you predicted that he’d get a start against a weak opponent with City coming off of a Champions League match in mid-week, good on you. I suspect most Mahrez owners were frustrated and had him on the bench in favor of someone more likely to start. I expect the evolution looked something like this over the first six weeks of the season:
Week 1: Woohoo! Mahrez is starting against an Arsenal side who are clearly still figuring things out, this is going to be GREAT! Wait, what? Only one point? Not what I was hoping for but OK, he’s still starting for City!
Week 2: Damn! He didn’t get the start at home against a crap Huddersfield Town side who City are clearly going to demolish. OK, he’s coming in as a substitute in a drubbing, maybe he’ll get a garbage goal or two! No? Nothing? Just the one point that kept my bench player (who likely picked up at least two points, if not more) from being activated? Damn Damn! Well, that’s OK, I knew there would be rotation, he’ll get ‘em next week.
Week 3: Really? Not starting for a second weekend on the trot? I have to say I’m getting a little nervous now. At least this one looks like it will be tighter. Hopefully, he just won’t come in at all and I’ll get the points from the first guy off my bench. Wait, what? A five minute cameo almost guaranteeing me nothing more than a single point? That’s a grand total of three points in three matches from my [3rd/4th] round pick. This is not a good sign.
Week 4: OK, time to send Mahrez to the bench in favor of someone who may not be as talented but might actually play. Wait, now Mahrez is starting again now that I have him on my bench? Should I be rooting for him not to score because it is going to drive me crazy or do I want him to score and then pray that one of my starters doesn’t play at all so I get the points. I guess that’s what I’ll root for. What? Nothing again? Well, at least he put up two points this time around. Maybe this will be the start of a string of starts after the international break.
Week 5: SEROUSLY! I put Mahrez back in after he got the Week 4 start and there he is on the bench again for a tasty home fixture against a team in Fulham who couldn’t defend my pub side. And there it is again! He not only doesn’t start but he comes in for only 15 minutes and keeps my bench in check. I’m now on four points from my [3rd/4th] round pick after five weeks. He’s freakin dead to me.
Week 6: OK, I’ve benched Mahrez for the match-up against Cardiff and I’m feeling great because he starts yet another match against a bottom half team on the bench. At least his fruitless substitute appearance won’t prevent more points from my bench! WHAT!!! Now he’s coming off the bench and scoring two against the Bluebirds? Any chance that one of my starters isn’t going to play? I need those 12 points!
Because this is a family site, I’ve left out all of the cursing that I would have added to the above thought bubbles if I had drafted Mahrez (or Sane or Davies or Willian or Pedro) and was going through scenarios like these over multiple weeks.
The point in all of this is that while Mahrez’s aggregate point total for the first six weeks of the season isn’t abject – he’s the 42nd ranked midfielder in fantasy scoring. As a stand-alone piece of information, that wouldn’t be any more scary than other slow-starting premium midfielders like Mesut Ozil, Dele Alli, and Christen Eriksen to name three who probably went in similar draft positions. What separates Mahrez and other members of job-share situations from their premium midfield compatriots is the fact that you’re going experience this matches. One week, a super-talented player like Mahrez is going to get significant points when you’re not starting him. In other weeks, you’re going to start that player but his manager isn’t going to and not only aren’t you going to get much from him but you’re going to block points from coming in off your bench as Mahrez did in Weeks 2, 3, and 5 if you started him.
At the end of the season, guys like Mahrez who I’ve listed will get their points. I’d put money on the fact that Mahrez will finish the season in the top 20 overall in fantasy points among Premier League midfielders. The question you should be asking yourself is how many of those points will you actually get and how many will you give back in the form of points lost on your bench when your premium rotational player is jamming up your starting line-up.
Waiver Wire Quick Hits
I’ve gone off script but here are a few quick thoughts on players who unexpectedly went off in Week 6 and may be available on Week 7 Waivers:
- Joel Matip – I’m still leaning toward the notion that Joe Gomez is the long-term starter as VVD’s partner so I wouldn’t be particularly inclined to pick up Matip despite his breakout week.
- Aaron Lennon – Feels like we’ve been waiting for this sort of end product from Lennon for 20 years. Hard to imagine at this age that the light has come on and that Lennon will become a productive goal-scorer or assist-getter.
- Petr Cech – Cech was spectacular against the Toffees in Arsenal’s first clean sheet of the season and Lucas Torreira’s presence helped once he got settled but there are still some fundamental flaws at the back for the Gunners so Cech is still no more than a spot starter for me in all but the deepest leagues.
- Fred – Yes, he came in for a big transfer fee. Yes, he plays for Manchester United. Yes, he had a nice week. Don’t expect it to continue (at least not the fantasy production part)
- Joao Moutinho – He has been given a ton of opportunity by virtue of taking kicks and at least some set pieces. Up to Week 6 he hadn’t done much with them but if he ends up being even average with those opportunities he should be a strong low level starter.
- Ilkay Gundogan – Unlike Mahrez who hasn’t started much so far for City, Gundogan has started more than not and his 13 point effort in Week 6 was his second big outing in four starts. Definitely not a bad option in deeper leagues.
If I didn’t cover a player or trend you’re interested in knowing about, you can always find me on Twitter @nealjthurman and ask or put the question to the entire Rotoworld Premier League team @Rotoworld_PL.