The Premier League is drawing to a close and its time to look at who the best players have been. We at Twelve don’t think that numbers alone can’t answer the question, but we can make the best possible answer based on stats. And that is where Twelve comes in.
This is the first full season over which we have applied the Twelve model. Our aim is to be able to give a value to every action that occurs during a match. If you play Premier League Fantasy Football, you will know that you get points for goals, assists, minutes played etc. But you will also know that these points feel rather arbitrary. While the strikers like Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane who get the most points are undoubtably good, other players—in particular defensive midfielders such as Fernandinho and defenders such as Azpilicueta—are not given the appreciation they deserve in fantasy football.
Our model puts this right, because it is based on an underlying statistical model of how each action increases a team’s chance of scoring or decreases the opposition’s chance of scoring. We assign a goal 1000 points and every other action can be evaluated relative to that goal. So if a pass increases the chance of a team scoring by 5%, we give the pass 50 points. If a defender recovers the ball in a position where a goal is scored 23% of the time, he get 230 points. Its as simple and as powerful as that.
If you have heard of expected goals, then Twelve takes expected goals and extends it to every action in every game.
OK. Enough of the technical stuff. Here are Twelve’s top ten players.
Green is attack, red is defence, yellow is off-the-ball and blue is shots (and goals). If you click on the picture you’ll go in to an interactive version.
It is Kevin De Bruyne who takes it this season. Salah scored more goals, of course, but De Bruyne’s contribution to attack edged it for him.
One of the most powerful features of Twelve is you can see exactly why he is best. The widget below shows his attacking contributions, making passes from everywhere in front of the box.
That De Bruyne and Salah top the charts is hardly surprising (although it does also provide evidence that our model works!), but a bigger surprise is Granit Xhaka in third place.
Xhaka has only scored once this season, but has collected points both for his defensive work and his long distance attacking balls. This solves the problem seen in other fantasy football games, despite playing in defensive midfield Xhaka is properly rewarded for his actions.
Actually, Xhaka ranks highly for another reason. He had alot of playing time. If we look at points per minute, he drops to 10th place. De Bruyne and Salah also drop and David Silva jumps to the top.
The Twelve system likes creative midfielders, like Silva, Fabregas, Pogba and Hazard a lot, they make the passes that create better positions for the team. It also ranks defenders, like Otamendi (7th overall) and Azpilicueta (13th overall), highly for both getting the ball back and creating the next opportunity for their teammates.
But Twelve doesn’t forget defenders, for the teams lower down the league table, who have been working hard to keep the ball out their teams net. Best defender this season (in 6th place overall) is Shane Duffy.
Lots of clearances, won arial duels and blocks have put him up there with the stars of the big-six.
When it comes to choosing our season’s favourites there is always room for personal opinions and discussion. But if you just want to know which players contributed most to their teams, from a statistically rigorous model of football, then Twelve is your answer.