FPL Differential XI

In this article, we assemble a starting 11 of differential assets ahead of FPL Gameweek 27. We explore key underlying numbers and form to identify those low owned assets that can potentially compete with the game’s highest owned players over the coming weeks.

A high performing differential is perhaps the holy grail for FPL managers. Sometimes they come in the form of a one week punt, or being first to pick a low owned player about to hit top form. No matter what fashion they are discovered in, their impact can be enormous, a haul of ten or more points by a player under 5% owned can be enough to turn a red arrow into a solid green one.

Diamond in the rough or a needle in a haystack, pick your term, finding a legitimate differential is as difficult a task as they come in FPL. It’s a way of playing that is laced with as much risk as reward too, opting for low owned players usually means parting with someone higher owned and as such the point swing both good and bad can be huge.

Consider also that well-owned players are that way for a reason, and low owned players the same. The very best FPL managers are often risk adverse, they don’t fight the template but merely find ways to work alongside it by accepting that there are some players not worth going against.

The key is to remain flexible, using your eye and the data available to spot when opportunities arise to differentiate. Those subtle changes, the odd transfer here or there that replaces a popular pick with a low owned one that ends up performing better can be season defining.

This is especially important this season, where we have a template that seemingly won’t break, and the few differentials that have emerged have quickly been absorbed into most teams. Captaincy has been the difference maker of late, with so many teams made up of largely the same players a green or red arrow has usually been decided by how successful our skipper has been. There must be another way?

The Template

Above is the current top 10k template, the lowest owned of the 15 is Matt Targett (£4.9m) at 26%, meaning even the least popular player is in more than a quarter of the highest ranking teams. The ownership of some of these players is so colossal that even owning them isn’t enough sometimes.

Harry Kane (£11.1m), Mo Salah (£12.6m), Bruno Fernandes (£11.6m), Ilkay Gundogan (£6.2m) and Heung-Min Son (£9.5m) are all so highly owned and frequently captained that there will have been plenty of times this season where you will also have needed to captain to avoid a rank drop.

We are starting to see signs of a shift, talk this week has centred around the return of Kevin De Bruyne (£11.8m) and his inclusion would not only require the removal of Gundogan or the break up of a Man City defensive double up, but also likely a downgrade of the aforementioned Salah, Fernandes or Son.

Anyone that moves for the Belgian will be in need of a new defender and likely a new low cost midfielder as well. Consider also that Leeds assets feature so heavily in part due to their match in blank gameweek 29, it’s very possible that their place in the template may be in doubt given their subsequent fixture swing.

Fixtures play a big part for Aston Villa, they are currently in the midst of a fairly decent run of games but post gameweek 29 they too see a shift in the difficulty of their opponents. West Ham have a lot of assets just outside of the template, they are about to embark on a more difficult run that doesn’t subside until near the end of the campaign.

There will be both need and opportunity to shift away from the current template in the next few weeks, choosing the right assets to substitute can still have an enormous impact on your final rank.

The Team

I will start by laying out the criteria. I have only considered players based on their top 10k ownership as I believe this best reflects the trends among engaged managers, the way to gain rank quickest is to successfully differentiate from those above you so it is important to find gaps in what the best are doing.

If your aim is in fact a top 100k finish, the ownership of these players does not differ to drastically around this overall rank.

Secondly, I have excluded players already covered in my ‘Hot or Not’ article from Monday, so if you would like more analysis of Mason Mount, Pedro Neto or Kevin De Bruyne then please give it a read. All three are great differentials and would have been included here if I hadn’t have covered them in detail already.

Thirdly, the team is setup in a 3-4-3 formation as this is typically the most popular layout in the game. I also found that the players I looked at naturally lead me in this direction as there is a fairly even spread of options across all positions.

Finally, I have drawn the line at 10% ownership. Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes a ‘differential’, but for the purpose of this article I think looking at players selected by a maximum of 1/10 managers is sufficient.

I will go over my rationale for each player shortly, but I will start by listing a few honourable mentions and omissions. I did consider Liverpool duo Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.4m) and Andrew Robertson (£7.2m), as both fit the criteria. While both are obviously great players I have concerns about their prices, and although I expect them to do well during Liverpool’s favourable run, I don’t think they represent better value than those included.

The whole idea behind my selections is to look at players who can fit into our existing team structures, options who are close in price to their template counterparts. I’m not advising that this squad be copied in full, but I hope that you may find a useful option or two that fills a gap or fights a fire in your own team.

Not every pick will be immediately relevant, I will discuss the best time to focus on certain assets as some will be more useful in a few weeks rather than right now.

Everyone has different goals and there are a lot of ways to play the game, so by selecting a full XI I hope to cover enough ground that most managers will find it useful.

The Players

Rui Patricio (£5.3m) – Top 10k ownership 0.07%

A popular pick in seasons gone by, his ownership has been low all season due to Wolves’ inconsistent form. Despite keeping only seven clean sheets, Patricio has 93 points and is still in the mix for ‘best of the rest’ among keepers this season. He is also the second highest scoring Wolves asset, only behind Pedro Neto, and his nine bonus points is tied second best in his team.

Not an immediate pick, but given Wolves’ incredible run after gameweek 29 he represents a great option for those on wildcard or looking to switch keepers. His shot stopping ability and preference for passing out from the back make him great for bonus, when Wolves do keep a clean sheet he is usually ahead of his defenders for BPS, giving him a higher than average points ceiling.

Wolves’ defence has improved of late, keeping three clean sheets in seven, and with their defensive injuries subsiding they stand a real chance of continuing their improvement. Their good run coincides with a comparatively difficult spell for the popular Emi Martinez (£5.3m), making the goalkeeper position a great area to differentiate in.

Antonio Rudiger (£4.6m) – Top 10k ownership 6.54%

Having been a virtual outcast under Frank Lampard, Rudiger has played every minute under new manager Thomas Tuchel. In fact, only his more expensive defensive colleague Cesar Azpilicueta (£5.7m) can match Rudiger’s game time since the German took over, making the centre back a low cost and low risk route into the improving Chelsea defence.

Rudiger is not an exciting pick, he carries virtually no goal threat or creativity, although he does have some potential for bonus points. He is simply an easy route into a defence that has only conceded twice in seven games under Tuchel, posting a league best expected goals conceded (xGC) total of 3.53 in that time.

With favourable fixtures against the inconsistent attacks of Everton, Crystal Palace, West Brom and Brighton in their next five matches, Rudiger is an ideal enabler for those looking to step away from double City defence to facilitate a move for KDB.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles (£4.6m) – Top 10k ownership 0.39%

A defender from the side with the worst defensive record in the league this season? Hear me out. A bit part player for most of the season, AMN has played 90 minutes in West Brom’s last four and has been involved in back-to-back clean sheets and a three match unbeaten run.

In that time he has averaged 0.48 shots in the box (SiTB) per 90 and his 0.24 big chances per 90 is among the best of all defenders. His appeal lies in his position, in as much as he is mostly out of position, his recent heatmap is very un-defender like and his number of touches in the opposition half and final third are comparable to other attack-minded players such as Marcos Alonso (£5.7m) and Aaron Cresswell (£5.8m).

West Brom have improved as a defence of late, they sit mid table for xGC over the last six games having been bottom for the season as a whole. With favourable fixtures versus the blunt attacks and leaky defences of Newcastle, Palace and Southampton in their next six, it is very possible WBA will be able to continue this upward trend. AMN’s advanced position means he has the potential to haul should his side win and keep a clean sheet, definitely a player worth considering.

Ricardo Pereira (£5.9m) – Top 10k ownership 4.41%

Recently back from injury, Pereira has found has way back into Leicester’s starting lineup and has recently played as a right winger. I don’t expect this to continue given Luke Thomas’ inconsistency at left back, but Ricardo amassed 123 points from right back last season despite missing close to 1000 minutes. His appeal at full back is still strong.

Leicester have proven themselves to be one of the league’s better defences in recent seasons, their nine clean sheets is joint fourth best in the league and they are in the top six for least goals conceded. With Wesley Fofana’s (£5.0m) imminent return they have almost all of their first choice defenders back and have arguably the best fixtures of any side between now and the end of the season.

With injuries further forward, Leicester are likely to put more emphasis on keeping clean sheets in order to win matches, great fixtures against Brighton and Sheffield United up next look very favourable for defensive returns. Pereira is known for his attacking threat, with 15 goals/assists in his last two seasons. Rarely this low owned, I believe he’s a pick with tremendous upside for the rest of the campaign.

Jesse Lingard (£6.0m) – Top 10k ownership 0.51%

Once a forgotten man, now having a career renaissance, Lingard is most transferred in player ahead of GW27 at the time of writing. There is good reason for this, the eye test alone is enough to tell us that Lingard is in a rich vein of form.

The stats back up what we see on the pitch as well, Lingard is a mile ahead of his fellow West Ham mids for goal threat and creativity over the last six gameweeks. His 27.5 minutes per chance and 55 minutes per SiTB puts him well clear of his colleagues and on par with premium assets Salah and Fernandes.

With such interest he is unlikely to be a differential for long, especially given West Ham’s great fixture against Leeds this week and the fact they don’t blank in GW29. Personally, I will have my eye on Lingard around GW34 when they have an incredibly good run of fixtures. In the short term, they are too mixed for me but if he is able to maintain his level of performance then the points will still come.

If you would like to see a more detailed look at Lingard’s form, in comparison to his previous best 2017/18 season, see this article here.

Bukayo Saka (£5.2m) – Top 10k ownership 2.9%

Saka is having a breakout season, his nine attacking returns make him Arsenal’s third highest points scorer with 92 (Aubameyang 96, Leno 94) and there’s a very good chance he emerges as their highest by the end of the season.

The secret to his success is high shot volume, his 51.4 minutes per SiTB over the last six is among the best of all midfielders. Over the season his 49 goal attempts ranks just outside the top ten and his 202 minutes per xGI is third best of budget mids with regular minutes, only behind Gundogan and Raphinha (£5.4m).

Arsenal have a good fixture swing from GW31 onwards, just as Raphinha and Leeds’ games go the opposite way. For me a sideways swap from the popular Brazilian to Saka is a great template busting move and will likely yield immediate results given the Gunners’ fixtures. A transfer I’ve definitely got pencilled in.

Gareth Bale (£9.3m) – Top 10k ownership 0.12%

Currently the talk of the town, Bale took virtually two thirds of the season to get going but there is now strong evidence that he is fully fit and ready to deliver. His three attacking returns and 19 points against Burnley a timely reminder of the quality the Welshman possesses.

Statistically he stacks up well too, his 33.8 minutes per SiTB over the last six gameweeks is on par with shot happy Salah and he is far clear of a number of premium assets for goal threat.

He loses out to colleague Son for creativity, but based on the numbers since Bale has come into the team it’s possible he may be the more attacking of the two, while the South Korean plays the role of provider to him and Harry Kane.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Bale, but if he can stay fit through Spurs’ excellent end of season fixture run then he will be a serious option. With Palace up next it is likely he will be able to continue his strong revival, Spurs have slowly climbed the team xG table over the last four weeks too, suggesting Jose has started to loosen the shackles in an effort to rescue his side’s faltering season.

Anwar El Ghazi (£5.3m) – Top 10k ownership 0.13%

The most conditional pick in the team, El Ghazi is likely only an option for as long as Jack Grealish (£7.6m) remains out. With the status of the Englishman’s injury unknown, a move for the Dutchman comes with a degree of risk attached.

However, his 11 point haul against Leeds showed FPL managers that when in the side he becomes a great pick. Factor in his history as Villa’s primary penalty taker and his propensity for shooting on sight, then you gain a lot for just £5.3m. El Ghazi has it in him to score in streaks, his previous five goals came in as many matches and with Villa’s good run until GW31 he seems perfectly placed to score well again.

Josh Maja (£5.5m) – Top 10k ownership 1.11%

Familiar to fans of the Sunderland Till I Die documentary, Maja has come back into the spotlight of English football having spent time in France. Another pick perhaps for later on, Fulham’s short term fixtures aren’t great but after blank gameweek 29 they improve, with Leeds’ aforementioned fixture swing Maja could be a good downgrade from Patrick Bamford (£6.8m) for those looking to upgrade elsewhere.

Fulham are a team on the rise, their underlying numbers have improved at both ends of the pitch and the Cottagers are currently on a five match unbeaten run that coincides with Maja’s arrival. They in fact rank third for xG over the last four and fourth for SiTB, showing that they are shooting frequently and in quality positions.

Maja’s personal performance has been strong as well, his ten SiTB is near the top for forwards over the last four and his four big chances is joint second in that time. His 35 minutes per chance is only behind Harry Kane of forwards with regular minutes and with a game against the typically generous Leeds defence in GW29 I believe Maja could be one of the best differentials in what is likely to be a low scoring week.

Timo Werner (£9.2m) – Top 10k ownership 0.54%

A truly staggering ownership figure given his virtual essential status in pre season, things haven’t quite worked out for the highly touted German. It’s hard to work out how Werner has only scored one goal since GW8. His season stats are strong, his 6.34 touches in the box per 90 mins is the most of any forward with 1500 minutes or more and he is fifth in the same category for SiTB per 90 (2.21) and big chances per 90 (0.80).

We find clues in his xG, his season per 90 total of 0.38 is okay but there are a good amount of players with better, perhaps dented by playing out wide under Lampard or by the injuries and rotation suffered by some of his creative colleagues.

There are signs that he will improve his fortunes. Under Tuchel he is averaging 0.97 big chances per 90 minutes, a very strong number, and his influence has grown in the attacking areas now he is utilised not just more centrally but also with less defensive responsibility.

His involvement under Tuchel is displayed on the right of the table above, showing improvement in both the number of touches in forward areas per match but also in passes received. His touches in the box has risen from 4.9 to 7 per 90 minutes also, another positive sign that returns are on their way.

Chelsea have a good run till the end of the season, so I believe Werner is a great pick right now and is arguably one of the best captaincy punts for the Blues’ GW28 fixture with Leeds. For most the opportunity will come after GW29 where the German could serve as a Calvert-Lewin (£7.7m) upgrade when Everton’s fixtures worsen.

Richarlison (£7.9m) – Top 10k ownership 4.92%

Another player who has not hit the heights expected of him. After a combined 26 goals over his previous two campaigns, for Richarlison to have only hit five this season is a disappointment. Possibly explained by a lack of fitness and Everton’s own injury issues. However, we have seen a resurgence now that both have subsided.

The Brazilian has scored in three straight matches and over the last four gameweeks he leads all forwards for big chances (5) and also ranks highly for shots and touches in the box. His xG of 2.33 in that time suggests he hasn’t been lucky to have returned so well either, this symmetry between stats and results is usually one of the best indicators of a player in form.

Everton have great fixtures through till GW32 and may still double in GW28. For those on wildcard, or willing to make a sideways move from his much higher owned teammate DCL, Richarlison looks great value at a time where his ownership hasn’t yet started to reflect his form.

*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Scout*

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