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BPL fantasy versus reality

Would you buy a car without doing a little homework first? I suspect not. Surely you’d want to know how the car compared to others; you’d pore over its performance data, consider its value for money and seek out the opinions of other buyers.

So, why not do something similar when it comes to choosing your Fantasy Football team, forecasting who’ll win the league this season, or even expressing an opinion on the television?

When it comes to the latter, there really is no excuse for any of us to go in front of the camera these days without having the relevant facts or information. Thanks to our data supplier, Opta, we can put up a virtual heat-map on screen to show exactly which part of the pitch a player or a team occupies the most and least during a game, my Fantasy League game tells me which players are performing best and who are the most and least valued by gamers. Heck, there’s even an organisation that’s prepared to tell me who will win the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League title, who will be relegated and which manager will be sacked first.

Play supersport.com’s very own BPL fantasy league and stand a chance to win. .

That organisation, by the way, is Football Manager, the computer game giants, who last week were asked by Britain’s Evening Standard newspaper to run a simulation of the league season ahead. Their conclusions: Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea will be crowned champions, all three newly-promoted clubs will go straight back down and Fulham will sack Martin Jol before Christmas.

Football Manager has assembled a database compiled by some 1 000 researchers around the world (including real-life professional scouts) and its management simulation game has 500 000 players. Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas has previously admitted to scouting footballers on the game and real-life stars ranging from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to Paul Pogba play it.

Apparently Football Manager took into account all the results in the season so far as well as the fact that all 20 teams’ squads have now been finalised before it made its forecasts. Those forecasts also included the prediction that Tottenham will finally finish above Arsenal, that Samuel Eto’o will score 21 goals in 33 games for Chelsea as the Blues beat Manchester United to the title by four points.

Football Manager also anticipated Harry Redknapp taking over from Martin Jol at Fulham and masterminding a “Houdini” escape act in the last three games of the season to see Hull, Crystal Palace and Cardiff relegated.

All good fun, I suppose, unless you’re a fan of United, Manchester City, Arsenal, the promoted trio or if you are Martin Jol. Still, Football Manager was commissioned to come up with some findings and that’s what they delivered. Those of us who still have 35 more rounds of games to deliver before we find out the answers to the title, relegation and sack-race issues probably won’t be quoting the Football Manager findings too often once this blog has been digested.

However I will be turning to other sources of data to help inform on-air and online discussions.

Take the Fantasy Premier League (fantasy.premierleague.com) game that I and 2 992 614 other people play. At the end of three rounds of games, with me placed 660 000th in the world, I decided this weekend to refresh my squad. But who to buy? By dipping into the game’s data pool, I swiftly learned that Liverpool’s fine start to the season has hugely impacted other gamers’ choices: ’Pool boast three of the five most popular players with goalie Simon Mignolet chosen by a massive 38.2 per cent of all managers (the next most popular ‘keepers are Petr Cech at 13.7 per cent, David De

Gea at 12.2 per cent and Joe Hart with 12 per cent).

Of course the game (and therefore its points-scoring) is so far based on just three games played by the league’s 20 clubs. By the time we are, say, halfway through the season will Robin van Persie (by far the game’s most expensive player) still be the choice of 45.9 [per cent of managers? Will Everton wing-back Seamus Coleman still be in 24.2 per cent of the teams and will the likes of Steven Whittaker of Norwich, Southampton’s Jose Fonte and Hull City’s Allan McGregor still be in the top six for best value? I doubt it. However, I do suspect that two of my current defenders (Branislav Ivanovic and Pablo Zabaleta) will still be among the most popular players.

The thing about Fantasy Football data is that it is specific to a game in which players tend to balance player value against performance while often staying true to their own deep-seated loyalties and even prejudices. A neutral observer such as myself has to be careful not to read too much into the game’s data.

However, I am happy to admit that I would gladly look at something like Fantasy Football League’s dramatic drop in the value of seven Chelsea-registered players (Demba Ba, Juan Mata, Romelu Lukaku, Cesar Azpilicueta, Andre Schurrle, Michael Essien and Fernando Torres have all lost between 0.6 million and 0.4 million off their starting prices) and draw conclusions about Jose Mourinho’s real-life preferences.

Similarly, the league reinforced my belief in Mourinho’s desire for a stable side when it told me that Chelsea, along with Stoke and Everton, lead the way in terms of players who have completed every minute their side has played so far. The Stamford Bridge outfit have eight ever-presents while Everton actually have nine including the now-departed Marouane Fellaini.

Does the above tell me something I can use on air when discussing Chelsea, Everton, Stoke, Mourinho, Roberto Martinez, Mark Hughes or Fellaini. Absolutely! Does the fact that Stevan Jovetic of Manchester City has dropped in Fantasy League value tell me anything? Yes, it probably does.

Do I want to even consider discussing the possibility of Martin Jol losing his job? Of course not -- that would be distasteful and disrespectful. However I am grateful to Football Manager for providing the simulation. In my job, as in life, there is no such thing as too much information.

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