As we touched on earlier in a previous lesson on key stats, opportunity is everything in soccer. There are different ways to look at opportunities that develop to benefit a player or a team. A team’s formation can be influential on whether a striker is in a good spot or not. The strategy the team deploys in the midfield can be essential in figuring out whether a midfielder will be a constant supply of crosses and key passes, or whether a defender will be venturing forward constantly in order to supply the forwards with crosses. All of these different tactical decisions affect the flow of the game, as well as the opportunities a player can have presented to them to score, cross, or assist.
Just like every other sport in DFS, if you don’t get on the field, you won’t have the potential to score fantasy points. Soccer is no different in that you want to target players that are in the starting XI. Here’s where soccer differs: each team is only allowed three substitutions throughout the whole game, and once a player is subbed off, he’s done for the day. This makes selecting a starting player very influential in the quality of your team and its chances of earning you some cash. Of course, there are opportunities for subs to come on and accrue some stats off the bench, but that strategy carries with it an inherent risk that will, more often than not, fail to pay off.
Some attacking formations such as the 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 (and all their variations) can lead to a more attacking sense for a team. This in itself is logical, as the more players a team pushes into the final third, the more likely it is put pressure on the opponent and threaten to score. You don’t always have to see the visual formation in order to ascertain whether a team is in a 5-3-2 or a 4-3-2-1, as you can determine the specific formation by looking at the roster. If you are not familiar with a player, some sites show where a player typically plays on the field. It’s also good to note that, typically, a lone striker will see more opportunities on goal and more goal scoring chances (also known as Big Chances).
Another way that formation can impact the opportunities presented is when a team plays a middle diamond with one player as a defensive midfielder, two as wingers, and one as a Center Attacking Mid (CAM). Some managers tends to move players around in that diamond to give his forwards the best chance at success. This formation depends heavily on forward thinking midfielders to succeed, and when those players are on their games, they can be very useful players to target on DraftKings.
It’s also important to note how formations affect defenders. In a four-defender set, the full backs (the defenders on the outside) will tend to venture forward and assist the attack. These can be steady supplies of crosses for their teams, and these crosses can increase the chances of a key pass, which can lead to a score.
Since it’s not always easy to find the details of a teams’ formations in a readily usable manner, another statistic that I’ve touched on plenty of times is touches. Touches is the equivalent of usage percentage in the NBA, workload for NFL, and at-bats in baseball. A player can’t score any fantasy points if he never touches the ball. For that reason alone, touches are a very real and accurate measure of a player’s contribution. On DraftKings, our scoring really depends on touches that lead to opportunities and scoring goals. Therefore, the opportunities to focus on are the touches in the final third of the field. Final third touches are highly predictive of several key stats such as shots, crosses, Key Passes, and assists.
With a correlation of 85% (R2 =0.8504), this leads us to believe that touches in the final third is very predictive of chances created. The opportunities created by a player when he gets the ball in the final third can lead to crosses, or they can allow the player to be creative and create a chance for a teammate that leads to a score or even a shot on goal.