Playing Time In Fantasy Football Explained

Why do game minutes matter so much to fantasy football managers?

The vast majority of fantasy football scoring systems reward selected players with a bonus point or two once they complete a stipulated number of minutes. This might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things but when you add them all up for your full roster it can easily prove pivotal to the outcome of any contest.

However, it’s not just about bonus points and there are couple of other reasons why playing time matters so much.

The first thing to consider is the distribution of goal timings and more specifically the period of games in which most goals are scored. These tend to follow a similar pattern year on year and the following chart from SoccerStats highlights when most goals are scored.

Goal Timings Distribution - Premier League

Approximately 40% of all goals are scored in the last 30 minutes of matches, so it is clearly in your interest to select players that get the maximum amount of playing time. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Theo Walcott scored 65 goals in 270 Premier League appearances for Arsenal, yet he only averaged 58 minutes per match. Data from Transfermarkt reveals that he came on as a substitute 100 times, while he was actually replaced after starting the match on 106 occasions. This tells us that he completed the 90 minutes in less than 24% of the Premier League matches he featured in for the Gunners, although he will always be fondly remembered by the Arsenal faithful for trolling the Spurs’ supporters as he was leaving the pitch during a FA Cup encounter in January 2014.

Theo Walcott - MInutes

Walcott played the full 90 minutes for Everton on his debut for the club and he is clearly an interesting prospect going forward. However, it is worth bearing in mind that Everton are expected to score around 0.45 goals less than Arsenal per game as a team based on the historical averages of both sides, so it becomes a question of whether the added minutes will enable Walcott to make up for the shortfall in his contribution (goals/assists) to his side’s anticipated goals. There is no guarantee that he will play the full 90 minutes on a week to week basis either.

Another player that has really struggled for game minutes is Walcott’s former Arsenal team-mate Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman equalled Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s record (17) for most substitute goals scored by a Premier League player when he netted against Southampton in December and he actually boasts a better xG90 figure (expected goals per 90 minutes) than all of the top strikers in the first half of the 2017/18 Premier League season according to Understat.

14 of Giroud’s first 15 appearances have come as a substitute though, meaning that he averages less than 24 minutes per game. His big advantage is that he tends to be on the pitch in the time frame when most goals are scored but unless you are participating in a contest where you have the luxury of seeing the starting elevens before confirming your entry, only the most foolhardy of managers would risk including him in their line-ups.

Now this is by no means dismissing the value of underlying stats – they are an essential part of the fantasy football manager’s armoury and we encourage all managers to use them whenever possible. However, we’ll save that analysis for another article!

Many fantasy football scoring systems, especially in daily games, reward points for a plethora of actions. These can range from points per pass, cross or tackle to a defensive block, so it soon becomes obvious that the more game minutes a player gets under his belt, the better chance he has of keeping his own personal fantasy scoreboard ticking. This is another area in which the aforementioned Walcott could benefit, helping him to match or better fantasy points per game targets that he has achieved in the past.

Such actions will also contribute to bonus points that are allocated to the best performing players within a match in seasonal games such as the Official Fantasy Premier League game.

Determining which players are at risk of reduced game minutes

Football managers tend to be a stubborn bunch and this quote from Albert Einstein probably strikes a few chords.

Madness Quote

You will see the same patterns repeated, whether it be team selection, playing formations or the use of substitutes. Fortunately, for the men in question, the variance in football results means that it often goes unnoticed.

Fantasy football managers should try to identify what patterns individual managers repeat. Laurie Shaw produced an in-depth study of this for StatsBomb at the end of the 2016/17 Premier League season and it provides plenty of insight into all the factors that affect a manager’s thinking.

It might need rejigging a bit based on Jürgen Klopp’s antics this season though – the Liverpool boss made a remarkable 69 changes to his starting line-up before the Christmas festivities had even begun, a marked increase on the 54 changes he instigated over all of last season.

Try to calculate which formation a team is likely to play, who are the core players that he will build his side around and which players are most at risk of being left out of the side or being substituted early in the fixture.

Eden Hazard certainly fits into the latter category. When Chelsea clinched the title in 2016/17, Antonio Conte didn’t have any European distractions to worry about, however, the Blues have a much tougher schedule this time around and Hazard’s game minutes are suffering as a result as Conte looks to protect his star asset. Of course, such is his brilliance, that the Belgium international is still likely to produce great fantasy returns making him something of an exception to the rule!

Watch out for players that have been bit-part performers in the past who suddenly seize an opportunity that comes their way. If they maintain their form, they may make it very difficult for their club manager to leave them out and these could easily be great differentials if you latch on to them early enough.

Maximising the amount of game minutes each player on your roster benefits from should certainly be an integral part of any fantasy football strategy.