Category Archives: Transfers

Kevin de Bruyne Would Upset City’s Balance

I wrote the other day about the importance of balance, and I think Manchester City signing Kevin de Bruyne is a great example of this concept. De Bruyne is a great player who seems to have a huge upside and no one seems to balk at his huge price tag (and the huge profit they’re sending to Wolfsburg after just one year). My prediction model doesn’t like him – making him a couple point decrease in expected value over both Navas and Nasri.

Right Wing Options City

I’m in the minority, but I think a big part of the problem is that Navas and Nasri are better creators, stay out on the right wing, and most importantly stay out of David Silva’s (and to a lesser extent, Yaya Toure when he comes forward) way. They give City needed width, and create more than they shoot. They give City the balance they need and fit the system, and I think my model is picking up on that in a lot of ways. He’s a couple point loss so it’s a small shift in any given game, but over the course of the season, if City wants to compete for the title, those points could be huge.

Spurs Have Done Great Transfer Business

I was looking at Spurs’ signings this fall, and individually they’re a mixed bag (N’Jie is both good cover for Kane and decent replacement for Chadli, Son is decent cover but I’m less than impressed by him). Together though, with a little shift in philosophy to a 4-3-3 with Eriksen moving deeper they could make a serious difference in Spurs’ fortunes (roughly a 5 point gain). Not bad at all for Spurs, and the rumors are they might still be in the market for another striker in Berahino.

Spurs Strikers

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Importance of Balance: The Zlindex~!

With my transfer evaluator finished, and no real interesting transfer rumors the last few days, I wanted to play with the algorithm and see how many points each EPL team would gain by signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a replacement for their main striker. Borrowing from Dirty Tackle‘s love of Zlatan, I named it the Zlindex~!

I applied my SVM to each of the 20 EPL teams, figuring how many points they would be expected to earn over the EPL season. Then I removed their main striker’s stats 1 and substituted  Zlatan’s statistics. I added his stats into the team stats, and re-calculated the results, Finally, I subtracted the expected points from the regular striker from the expected points if Zlatan was the team’s striker to calculate his added value.

Expected Points(Zlatan) – Expected Points(Regular Striker)

The unsurprising news is that Zlatan would improve 16/20 EPL teams, and would improve West Ham by somewhere around 7-8 points (enough to let them challenge for a Europa League spot according to my predictions). He’d also be a fairly significant upgrade for most of the top 6 teams.2 The full table is in the figure below.



However, as Brooks Peck pointed out, it doesn’t make sense that he doesn’t improve the teams at the bottom.3 My first hypothesis is that these are teams that would suffer if they had too many karate kicks and ponytail related assaults, but the model doesn’t account for those so I’m probably wrong there. I did some quick exploration of the data, and found a consistent pattern for three of the four teams (Man City, Norwich City, and Crystal Palace). He doesn’t tackle as much as their current striker, he takes too many shots outside the area and too few inside the area.4

Zlatan Comparison


The two that stood out to me the most were “tackles” and “Shots inside the area”, and those are the two that seem to correlate most highly with points lost. Interestingly, this also fits what I see as a bigger pattern for Zlatan, having watched him a lot when he was with Milan5: he’s often lazy and uninterested on defense, and takes a lot of odd shots outside the area. To his credit, he can make those long distance shots work as well as anyone, but most teams prefer their striker operating a little closer to goal.

Newcastle United still remains a mystery to me – looking at the data for Papiss Demba Cisse, the big area where Zlatan differs is in passing: he passes the ball quite a lot more than most of the strikers in this list, and that may make the model think negatively of him. He might look more like a #10 than a #9, which fits the deep-lying forward style he was used in at Milan (holding up the ball, transitioning from defense to attack). This may be a latent variable the numbers are measuring, and that his style doesn’t fit the few teams he wouldn’t improve.

The important lesson here I think is balance: not every player’s style improves every team. Zlatan is one of the best pure strikers on the planet, but he’s a tall, strong, physical striker who can wear down defenders as good as anyone out there. This doesn’t necessarily fit with what teams are looking for, and even some mid-table teams wouldn’t benefit from his addition to the squad.6

  1. In cases where teams play with two strikers, I picked one at random
  2. Re: Chelsea, he’s basically breakeven with Costa, but is a big upgrade over Pedro
  3. Brooks pointed out that it’s not necessarily surprising Zlatan is a downgrade over Sergio Aguero for Man City, and I’d agree. I’ve been a fan of his since before he was at City because he won several Golden Boots for me in an FM2012 save
  4. The method here is fairly simple: I took the team’s current striker’s stats and subtracted Zlatan’s stats to see the difference between the two
  5. Forza Milan~!
  6. Someone mentioned on Twitter that teams can change styles based on new players, which is a real possibility the model can’t account for, but that leads to other issues in terms of team chemistry and whatnot so I’m not too concerned about that honestly

EPL Transfer News for August 17: Manchester Edition and the Value of John Stones

Today’s big news seems to be that Pedro to Manchester United is official, and that they’re still in for Thomas Muller as well, while Manchester City should be announcing the signing of Nicolas Otamendi today. The SVM seems to think that Pedro will be good cover in United’s attacking 4 (a ~1 point loss), while it likes Thomas Muller’s potential a little less (~4 points down).

The other news is disappointing to me for a couple of reasons. Nicolas Otamendi anchored my Mantova back line for a few seasons in FM 2014, and while he was always a little disappointing I became a big fan. The SVM seems to agree with Football Manager – Otamendi replacing Mangala is the biggest gain or loss I’ve seen so far in a player, with a ~14 point drop. That seems really high to me, but after watching Kompany and Mangala against Chelsea yesterday I’m less excited about a replacement. I’m also a big City supported, and surely Otamendi isn’t the long-term replacement for Kompany when he retires. Take a look at the graph to see the effects of the three players on their respective teams, but Chelsea should consider themselves lucky to have missed out on Otamendi (and to have bought Zouma last year who I’ve been a fan of for a couple of years).

Transfer Rumors 0817

My big point from today’s transfer round-up is that when you get up into the level that Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, etc. are, there aren’t a lot of players that can significantly improve the team, especially given how even good players can upset the balance of the stats in a team. You see this a lot with Barcelona – they don’t buy a ton of players, but when they do, they buy elite players who are an improvement over the already elite team they have (Suarez and Neymar over Pedro and David Villa for example, or ter Stegen over Victor Valdes). The EPL has so much money that they panic/hype buy, and the teams are often worse off because of it.

The one guy we’ve been hearing rumblings about is John Stones from Everton. He’s 21 years old, so he has plenty of room to grow (especially if he’s mentored by a veteran like Vincent Kompany or John Terry), and had a world class season last year. I know Everton isn’t looking to sell him, but you think they could be convinced to sell for the prices we’re hearing for Otamendi (Otamendi’s listed at $25 million, Stones is only at $13 million). He’s a small improvement for City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, and is a significant (~4 points) for United.

John Stones Transfer Value 0817

The moral of the story is to improve where you’re weakest (instead of buying all the attackers), and be more selective in your buys. Too many EPL teams do the opposite, and it’s one reason why they’re struggling in Europe despite having an embarrassment of riches.




Transfer Roundup 8/14

There isn’t anything too earth-shattering in today’s transfer roundup – the biggest news was Leicester City making a move for Napoli’s Gokhan Inler, but my model thinks that’s a slight net loss for Leicester City. The other news was out of Sunderland with rumors of Man United’s Adnan Januzaj and former striker Fabio Borini potentially moving back to the Stadium of Light. Borini would be a decent upgrade, while Januzaj would basically be break-even this year (obviously a potential signing for the future).

Check back later for Transfer Rumors – Manchester Rivals edition~!

Transfer Rumors 0814

Transfer Roundup 8/13: Man United Special Edition

Today’s transfer rumors seemed to focus on major moves by Manchester United – for some reason the papers think they’re in the market for more attacking talent, but my analysis shows that they’re pretty much maxed out there. Both Gotze and Thomas Muller would be slight downgrades over what they have now, which is already one of the strongest attacking lineups in the Premier League. The rumors are reminiscent of Chelsea’s buying spree last year where they attempted to purchase all of the attacking midfielders, apparently hoping to leave none for anyone else.

However, the major improvement in the rumor mill would be signing John Stones from Everton. Signing him and moving Blind into Fellaini’s spot as holding midfielder would give United a 5 point boost, making him the best signing for them of the mooted possibilities today. United’s at a point where they need to improve their weak spots rather than building on strengths, and Stones would definitely do that.

Transfer Rumors 0813


Transfer Roundup – Spurs Special Edition 8/12

The biggest rumors in the news today have been Spurs searching for a striker or two, with Javier Hernandez, Clinton N’Jie, and Saido Berahino being the big names in the rumor mill.

I ran an analysis of the three against the current roster, figuring Spurs would move Harry Kane back to the #10 spot and Christian Eriksen over to the left win, leaving Chadli on the bench, and found that all three options would be a net improvement over the current situation.

Transfer Rumors 0812

Clinton N’Jie gives Spurs the biggest upside, with a net gain of 3.5 points, Hernandez in second place with a 2.6 point gain, and Berahino only adding 0.8 points to the current predictions.

N’Jie is clearly the best option for Spurs if they can get them, as his asking price is significantly lower than the other two would be, and would have the highest upside given his price and his age if they need to sell him at some point.

Also,  I added Lionel Messi to Spurs as a replacement for Chadli just to see what he would do and as a random curiosity. Turns out he gives Spurs about a 7 point bump, or twice as much as N’Jie will.

(I know this isn’t realistic, but I wanted to post it as a fun curiosity and as a validity check on my measure)

Transfer Rumors 0812 (Plus Messi)


Benzema to Arsenal? Kane to Man United? De Bruyne to City? Transfer Round-Up for August 10

I’m taking a look at today’s  three big transfer rumors : Karim Benzema to Arsenal, Harry Kane to Man United, and Kevin de Bruyne to Manchester City, and seeing if they would help the destination teams. The only one that looks like it’s worth the money would be Harry Kane to Man United, giving them a 5.2 point boost and moving their expected finish above their two major rivals Man City and Liverpool into 3rd place (and into the Champions League places).

Transfer Rumors 0810

To find the scores, I calculate the expected points for each team with the current player in the position (Giroud, Nasri,  and Ashley Young*). Then I calculate the expected points with the new player in the position (Benzema, de Bruyne, and Kane), and take the difference of the two. Positive numbers mean a net gain in points from buying the new player, negative numbers mean a net expected loss.

The graph shows that only one of the three players will improve the current squad: Harry Kane to Manchester United.  The other two players will actually slightly lower the expected points – Benzema being 1.2 points worse than Giroud, and de Bruyne being 2.4 points worse than Samir Nasri. Why Benzema would be a bad move is pretty straightforward – he passes quite a bit more than Giroud and while he holds up the ball well and creates space for Ronaldo at Madrid, but that’s presumably not the role he’d be expected to fill at Arsenal.  This was a bit surprising in terms of star power difference between the two, but not too surprising when you think about the  types of strikers they are.

De Bruyne is a little tougher: he shoots more than Nasri (~1 shot a game) but only adds slightly to the shots on target number. The biggest advantages Nasri have, and what I *think* is generating the extra couple points in the model are Nasri is a little stronger defensively and passes quite a bit better than de Bruyne (13 extra successful passes a game and a higher accuracy percentage). This isn’t too surprising given that he could never really find a home at Chelsea, and City’s attacking mids are of a similar quality to Chelsea’s (especially with the Sterling transfer).

Two caveats: This assumes the same level of performance as last year, and it doesn’t take into account injuries/suspensions/rotation. Presumably with the money being talked about for these players, none of them would be backups to the current starting XI so I’m comfortable with that assumption, but one could easily make the argument that Arsenal need a second top level striker to Benzema may be worth it for different reasons.

* For United the replacement isn’t as straightforward so after doing some significant shifting of last week’s line-up I put Rooney in the #10 spot and Kane up front, Mata on the right and Depay on the left, leaving Ashley Young on the bench