Can players be judged to be wildly over-performing after one week?

Without a doubt, at least from the point of view of this armchair critic. What better time and place, really. What’s most recent is most real. Even if commentary were forbidden, points hauls from the league’s least-likely naturally trigger disparaging comments by reflex. Opening weekend contains the entirety of the known universe of the new season, which means everything. These results foretell the season ahead. Just derive blanket conclusions based on the sample size of one, take a bold binary stance and it’s easy as you like. Back up ’til you hear glass.

Extrapolating from GW1 and populating results forward for 37 game weeks, it’s glaringly apparent that Erik Pieters is the best fantasy defender to ever walk the planet. Two assists and a clean sheet, and that was just week one, except, as stated, that’s everything, because it’s the known universe of all that exists and it gets mentally multiplied by 38.  

The data also tells us Riyad Mahrez is impervious to rotation. Based on exhaustive week one analysis, he plays every match and assists like crazy, always in the same multiple of three. Speaking of trinities, you may consider Raheem Sterling’s rate of three goals a match unsustainable. A golden boot tally of 114 in a Premier League season, by this logic, seems “unrealistic.” Harry Kane at two goals a match for the rest of the season sounds incrementally less preposterous, but with Burnley’s Ashley Barnes also ending the game week with two goals, should we expect an amicable custody agreement of the metal shoe, or a pair of silver boots?

Flukes are a thing. But then, statistically improbable streaks do happen–cast the mind back to players like Étienne Capoue in seasons past. It’s part of what makes the fantasy game so compelling and infuriating. To be clear: when Sterling scores a hat trick, not a fluke. Harry Kane scores in August, a brace at the death? It was just a matter of time. Tanguy Ndombele scores in his debut? The eyebrows move, but only because of his goalscoring numbers at Lyon (1 goal in 66 appearances), not because anyone considered him a talentless hack. These are not what’s meant by the league’s least-likely. Likewise, Mahrez will assist. It’s mainly a matter of whether he plays.

Bournemouth’s Chris Mepham may fit the profile of an over-performer. Definitely getting warmer. The near-range shot was his second-ever senior goal, resulting from a scrum after a dead ball outside of the opposition box. But if getting a goal is wrong, who wants to be right?

Any mention of defenders scoring notable points naturally brings the discussion to the best fantasy defender to walk the planet, Erik Pieters. One potential warning is that he wasn’t a lock for a starting position, stepping in as a late replacement for Charlie Taylor, who hadn’t had a full preseason. A double assist and clean sheet later, the pecking order may have changed. It should be pointed out that the first of the two Pieters assists was really a long, sideways-sliced defensive clearance before Barnes latched on to the high bounce and made the goal on his own. (The second, another Pieters-Barnes production, was great from both.) The points still count, of course, but something to consider in gauging future points. Pieters will be a good pick if he nails down his role, no doubt. It’s more a question of expectations. Is he a great pick? Does he definitely keep the position long-term?

Divock Origi is the eternal question mark wildcard with a great name. Origi netted a goal and an assist against Norwich, The assist was a bit generous, as the deflection for the Hanley own goal was sizable and significant. However, a consistent body of over-performing work threatens to suggest Origi may actually be the genuine article—the man did score two against Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League and then the goal over Spurs that put Liverpool in the clear in the Champions League final. So, either he’s quality or it’s a case of “any Liverpool attacking slot is guaranteed golden opportunities.” Both could of course be true. His header against Norwich was solid enough. If Origi enjoyed a guaranteed starting spot and Sadio Mané weren’t returning to the fray, it might be a go-er. But the former doesn’t and the latter is. Mané even specifically replaced Origi in the 74th minute for his triumphant post-Africa Cup of Nations return, which he followed up with a fresh new brace in the Super Cup victory over Chelsea on Wednesday. All that to say that actually Mané may need a rest after 120 minutes in Europe after all, so maybe Origi enjoys a longer stay, if a precarious one. A returned Mané inserts directly back into the attacking trident.

Leander Dendoncker’s nearly goal for Wolves against Leicester would have stood as a massive statistical outlier, had it stood. The defensive midfielder’s name itself possesses both the sound of an almighty thump and a mouthfeel of pure disbelief. So, Dendoncker struck, but then VAR struck back. The goal was ruled out through the evil auspices of technology, so nothing to see here.

Perhaps, like so many masked villains in Scooby-Doobefore him, he would have gotten away with it, too, if not for the meddling kids and their meddling VAR. (Dendoncker is not a villain, but Velma, Daphne and Fred really are somewhat insufferable killjoys.) VAR may of course itself become a hyper-performing entity, gobbling up all the ill gotten gains of other, more actual, human players. The meddling could engulf everything. Until it gets registered into the player pool and makes itself pertinent to the fantasy game as an actual entrant, however, it remains largely meaningless. Unless it truly does rise up to become a supervillain, in which case the throwaway insult to cartoon crimefighting’s finest wasn’t the world’s best move. We’re going to need them.

And with that…

If freak-luck merchants are wreaking havoc in your league, or if one of the smug Scooby-Doo 3 has ever caused you personal harm, too, give a shout to @The_Wormburner at your earliest Twitter convenience.

The Wormburner is a column that plays the draft format on Real Fantasy Football (realff.co.uk). It drafted poorly but is trying to look on the bright side: early picks in inverse-standings waiver priorities.