Fantasy Premier League

Why inverted role under Maresca can boost James’ FPL appeal

By The Scout 3 Jun 2024
Maresca, James

The Scout looks at how tactics of Chelsea's new head coach could affect Blues' key picks

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The tactics of Chelsea's new head coach Enzo Maresca can help Reece James re-establish himself as a popular pick in Fantasy Premier League.

Maresca made an immediate impact in his only season in charge of Leicester City this campaign, steering the club back to the Premier League at the first attempt, as the top team in the Championship.

Although the Italian's favoured 4-3-3 formation is similar to that of his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino, his preference for inverted full-backs is significantly different.

Maresca mainly utilised right-back Ricardo Pereira in this role for Leicester in 2023/24, with the Portuguese moving into central midfield when his side were in possession.

Pereira’s distribution proved a key weapon for the Foxes over the course of the campaign. He made 45 key passes, a total bettered by only three team-mates.

By contrast, James Justin, the first-choice left-back, made only 16 key passes – just over a third of Pereira’s tally. 

Pereira also boasted a far greater goal threat, producing 18 shots in the box to the nine of Justin. Essentially, 66.7 per cent of Pereira’s shots – or 18 of 27 – came from inside the box, compared with the 50 per cent of Justin.

Maresca's Leicester full-backs, 23/24
Player Key passes Shots Shots in box
Pereira 45 27 18
Justin 16 18 9

James endured an injury-hit 2023/24 in Pochettino’s sole season in charge at Stamford Bridge, making only 10 appearances and supplying two assists.

His spells on the sidelines allowed Malo Gusto to secure a regular role, with the Frenchman earning six assists across his 27 outings.

Nonetheless, the underlying numbers shows why James could prove a better fit for Maresca’s Chelsea.

James's average of 37 minutes per key pass this season ranks fourth-quickest among all defenders in Fantasy with 200+ minutes to their name in 2023/24.

That frequency is almost 50 per cent faster than Gusto, whose average of 56 minutes per key pass places joint-ninth among defenders, alongside Blues left-back Ben Chilwell.

James’ ability to provide gilt-edged scoring opportunities for his team-mates has been even more impressive.

Despite playing over 1,300 fewer minutes than Gusto, the England star created seven big chances compared with his rival’s eight. That equates to an average of 63.3 minutes per big chance created, more than three times faster than the 222.1 minutes of Gusto.

However, it’s worth noting that James is suspended for the first three matches of next season, which could allow Gusto the chance to make a quick impact for the new head coach.

James vs Gusto 23/24
Stat James Gusto
Key passes 12 32
Mins/key pass 37 56
Big chances created 7 8
Mins/big chance created 63.3 222.1

In attack, Cole Palmer is expected to occupy a central playmaking berth as one of two “No 8s” in Maresca’s midfield.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall had great success in that same role for Maresca's Leicester side this season. The 25-year-old was involved in a team-high 26 goals in the Championship, scoring 12 and assisting a further 14.

As the underlying statistics show, Leicester relied heavily on the all-round style of play of Dewsbury-Hall, along with wingers Stephy Mavididi and Abdul Fatawu.

The trio occupied the top three spots for both shots and chances created in the Foxes' title-winning campaign.

Maresca's top goal threats and creators, 23/24
Player Position Shots Key passes
Dewsbury-Hall CM 88 109
Mavididi LW 90 72
Fatawu RW 75 66

That could also be good news for Chelsea’s right-winger Noni Madueke, who stepped up his output as 2023/24 progressed.

The 22-year-old produced three of his five goals this season, and all three of his assists, across their final 10 league matches.

Elsewhere in attack, it will be interesting to see Christopher Nkunku’s role under Maresca after he suffered an injury-hit debut campaign. The versatile Frenchman could replace Mykhailo Mudryk on the left wing, while also providing an alternative to Nicolas Jackson as the Blues' lone forward.

Certainly, Jackson’s improved displays towards the end of his own debut season suggest he would be hard done by if he drops to the bench.

He averaged 5.3 points per match over the final 14 Gameweeks of 2023/24 Fantasy and amassed 74 points in that run, just six fewer than Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins, who was the top-scoring forward over the season.

Ultimately, Palmer's outstanding breakout season means he will be the go-to Chelsea pick in Fantasy next season. Nonetheless, managers will be hoping that Maresca's impact at both ends of the pitch can add to their options when 2024/25 gets under way. 

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