Hello there old chaps. Sorry for the lengthy absence recently. To be blunt, I have not had any enlightening FPL thoughts recently; scheduling uncertainty blocked all real planning and team management. Even my goalkeeping rotation plan was thrown out the window with the suspension of Bunn and the potential return of John Ruddy a bit earlier than expected (more on that in a bit). So, rather than spew a bunch of inane nonsense, I kept quietly on the sidelines and watched a shitload of college basketball (I am in the States, remember?).
I sit in silence no longer! Now that the FA semis are finally set we can begin to formulate a plan for the next seven game weeks. While the season feels like it is almost over, nearly twenty percent remains and we have multiple double gameweeks for which to prepare. Let’s get on with it!
I have broken this article into two sections. The first is general notes and comments, essentially my treatise on the current state of FPL focused on highlighting concepts that may go against the standard train of thought. The second part is dedicated to focused strategies for FPL managers in three separate mini-league scenarios: leading comfortably, virtually tied, chasing the leaders. The article will be delivered in two chunks with the second part coming Sunday (given my usual verbosity there is no way I could manage all in a single article). Combined you should have a valuable set of strategies to position yourself for the best possible finish this season. Hope you enjoy!
State of the FPL
1. The budget defensive rotation you may not have considered.
I have been sitting on a budget goalkeeper strategy article forever. So long, in fact, that much of the content has gone stale. That is unfortunate, but procrastination is a tosser. Nevertheless, I do want to highlight one particularly attractive budget rotation that offers affordable potential differentials: Norwich City and Southampton.
I feel that both these clubs are criminally underrated defensively. Southampton is up to eighth in my team ratings (new ratings can be found here). The Saints have risen above both Everton and Swansea and find themselves within shouting distance of Arsenal. Norwich sits eleventh, bettering Swansea City and West Ham, among others. Yet, the appeal of this pairing is not just about their defensive performance, it is also about how the fixtures align. To wit, here is the remaining schedule of a Saints-Canary defensive rotation:
SWA (H), WHM (H), RDG (H), WBA (H), AVL (H), WBA (H), STO (H)
Sign me up please! My score predictions for these weeks suggest this combination would allow just 0.86 goals per game the remainder of the season, substantially better than any single defense other than Manchester City (don’t ask for details on score predictions as it’s not yet ready for public consumption). This prediction doesn’t account for Norwich’s home defense advantage that has been about ten percent better than average, meaning the pairing could be even better than suggested. This is an incredible alignment of skill and fixtures, with numerous assets available for bargain bin prices (Bunn/Ruddy, Boruc, Clyne, Martin, Turner and potentially Shaw, Fonte and Hooveldi are all super buys). If you currently own West Ham, Reading, QPR or other cheap defensive players I implore you to check out this pairing for yourself. I think you’ll like what you see!
2. Arsenal is in the middle of a run
Not long ago (Gameweek 26, in fact), I predicted the Gunners had no way of catching the Spurs or Chelsea for UCL qualification. I opined that Arsenal was simply not good enough and faced too large a deficit. Soon after, I perused the remaining schedule for Wenger’s boys and thought, “Holy shit, they may only drop nine points the rest of the season!” Since then, Arsenal has won four and lost once, climbing within two points of Chelsea and five of Tottenham (with a game in hand). Moreover, the remaining schedule has several juicy fixtures with home clashes with Norwich and Wigan and trips to Fulham, QPR, and Newcastle. While I suspect away clean sheets may be difficult to come by, I do expect substantial attacking returns in nearly all games remaining on the schedule. Given the upcoming double gameweek, it would behoove you to invest heavily in Arsenal assets for at least the near term.
3. Manchester United’s attack (and RVP’s value) ain’t what it used to be
Fact: Robin Van Persie has cored just once in his last seven EPL appearances.
Fact: Manchester United has just one clear-cut chance over the past two matches (against Sunderland and Reading).
Fact: Robin Van Persie has played 95 competitive matches the past 22 months. His previous high for a two-year period was less than 70.
Fact: Manchester United needs just ten points to clinch the EPL title this season. They have no other active competitions ongoing.
Fact: Robin Van Persie costs over two million pounds more than any other non-United player.
Fact: Manchester United face top ten defenses five times in the last eight fixtures.
Fact: Manchester United’s recent attack form is down over fifteen percent off their full season total.
Look, I am not going to convince some people that United’s attackers are overvalued; it is simply not happening. All I can do is provide the facts. To me, the facts indicate that you should be selling RVP as soon as possible, even with the upcoming double gameweek.
4. Look out for mid-table teams on the downturn
The standard refrain is that mid-table teams typically stumble down the stretch. While I question the analysis I’ve read on the topic, I do think it’s clear that mid-table teams with no European ambitions are prone to rest and rotation, especially for players nursing minor injuries. This season, I would be very concerned with all Swansea assets (even Michu) as their form has been poor and the remaining fixtures are dificult. Other teams that could suffer similar fates include Fulham, West Brom, and West Ham. A special word of caution for Romelu Lukaku owners as he is loan with no guarantee of being at the Hawthorns next season; rotation could be in the offing.
5. Relegation candidates will protbably go all out to score
On the flip side, we have QPR, Wigan, Aston Villa, and Sunderland. These teams are fighting for their premier league lives and will be looking for wins rather than draws down the stretch. Given how poorly each have defended, I would expect a majority of fixtures involving this quartet to be open affairs with fantasy points abound. The likes of Benteke, Koné, Maloney, Rémy, and even Taarabt/Sessègnon could be solid differentials down the stretch.
Note that I did not include Reading in this list as they are simply too poor to offer any viable fantasy alternatives. If you own Reading players, you should be looking to sell as soon as reasonably possible.
End of Season Strategies
Leading by a Comfortable Margin
First off, give yourself a standing ovation for leading your league comfortably at such a late stage in the game. Crack open a beer, sit back, take a few sips and reminisce on your genius while chuckling at your foe’s incompetence. You’ve earned it dammit!
In your case, the name of the game is risk management. You need to ensure that you are doing all you can to minimize risk, combating differentials and cutting off your opponents opportunities before they take advantage for substantial point gains. While your overall rank is a source of pride, your real goal should be beating your challengers, even if it means making a move or two that may not be ideal. You are in it to win, right?
Areas of focus for those with a big lead include:
1. Minimize risk of Double Gameweeks
DGWs are the best opportunities for large point hauls in FPL. You know it and so do all your rivals. Thus, it is imperative that you ensure you have a large contingent of doubles when they occur even if it means taking hits. That may be controversial, but take a second to think through the situation. With a hit, you have minimized he risk of loss; it’s going to cost you four points which you may or may not make back. Yet, that is the absolute most you can lose. Your opportunity cost is minimized. On the other hand, avoiding the player with a double could result in huge outputs for your challengers. Given you lead comfortably, you should be more than happy to accept the minor expense to minimize the larger opportunity cost. Take the hit and make the move.
2. Predict your competitor’s moves before he makes them
You should spend some time looking at your opponent’s team to try to project what he/she will do before you ever make a transfer or select a lineup. Look at his/her past transfers; does he/she knee jerk for recent scorers? Does he/she look for value in players coming off injuries? Does he/she focus on fixtures or form? Doing so should give you some idea of what you will be facing and allow you to counter effectively.
A quick example of said strategy: coming into Gameweek 30, I was blessed with about a 50 point lead in my money league. My forwards at the time were Suárez, Sturridge, and Benteke. While content with that trio, I was intrigued by Arouna Koné. Wigan would be looking to score and his attacking numbers had been solid, if unspectacular. The fixture list was scintillating though and I wanted to bring him in very, very badly. Unfortunately, Manchester United was facing Reading that week. I knew, without a doubt, that my chief competitor would be acquiring RVP and giving him the armband. While I wanted nothing to do with RVP, I had no choice but to counter that move as the risk was too much for me given my lead. I passed on Koné and went safe with RVP. Koné proceeded to rack up fifteen points over the next two fixtures while RVP scored just two before being dropped for Berbatov the very next week.
In retrospect I would have changed nothing. Even if I were 80% confident in the Koné move the risk was too great. Given our two respective teams, my chief rival is going to struggle to make up 50 points over eleven gameweeks. I had to swallow the injustice of a lower overall rank to ensure my position in the only league the really matters. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Make sure you do as well.
3. Forget about losing value
I firmly believe that attaining and preserving value is a key to successful fantasy management early in the season. However, once the gameweeks wind down you simply cannot worry about value and instead must focus on the immediate needs of your team. I dropped Gareth Bale this week for that very reason; I stand to lose up to £ 0.7 before I pick him up again but I cannot risk three weeks with only four healthy midfielders. If you are leading you should not worry about price changes and lost value moving forward; simply do what needs to be done.
4. Minimize rotation risk where you can
End of the season rotation is inevitable. Players are tired and sore from long, arduous campaigns. Teams lock in safety and European qualification (or the lack thereof) and are content to play out the string. Managers begin planning for the Summer transfer window and want closer looks at young players. No fantasy gaffer enjoys rotation but we all have to deal with it.
Clearly, the optimal strategy is to minimize risk where possible. Focus on assets from teams fighting off relegation or gunning for European qualification. Look for managers who may be on the hot seat or players who may be showcased to drive up prices for a transfer. Avoid those with active domestic and continental cup competitions. Remember, risk management, not maximum points, is the goal for you now. When in doubt, select the player who is guaranteed to start.
I feel the following are rotation risks the remainder of the season: Lukaku, Van Persie, Rooney, Evra, Rafael, Mata, Hazard, Michu, Routledge, Davies, and, in time, Rickie Lambert. Proceed with caution with these and any other assets you feel are not guaranteed to start.
Come back Sunday for Part Two…