Decisions, Decisions, Decisions


Here we are, less than a week before the big kick-off on 17 August. Soon the seemingly interminable 3-month wait for Premiership football to return will be over.

By now every FPL manager who has registered a team will have spent time thinking, nay agonising, about which 15 players to splash their £100m transfer kitty on. And after managers have finally decided on a squad, there is the other big task of deciding a best 11 plus 3 substitutes before the first gameweek deadline at 11.30am on 17 August.

This article aims to help managers, whether new to FPL or seasoned campaigners, to make the all-important initial buying decisions translate into points.

Selecting 15 players sounds easy enough, but it never is. Managers serious about building a team capable of getting high up the rankings will weigh up endless information and permutations before finalising their squads. Most managers will now be well into this process.

Buying decisions are complicated by factors such as squad rotation. In recent seasons more and more clubs, not just those in European competitions, have begun to rotate their squads and rest top players. A big challenge to FPL managers is to develop the knack of predicting whether players will be picked by their clubs – it’s so frustrating when your player is named on the bench or fails to make the squad.

The buying process is complicated further because the transfer window remains open until 2 September and several top players including Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez and Wayne Rooney have uncertain futures at their current clubs.

Let’s face it, fantasy football is an inexact science. No matter how hard we try, it’s difficult to predict with certainty. It’s about intelligent guesswork and making well-informed decisions.

Building your squad

Here are my hints and tips for putting together your initial squad.

Strategies to Consider

Every manager will have different ideas about selecting their squad. Although it might seem sensible to spread the £100m budget across a range of mid-priced, good value players, I usually start by identifying 3-4 key ‘must-have’ players. Last season, I bought van Persie, Bale, Mata and, on a lucky hunch, Michu! As a fan of the 3-5-2 formation, I tend to invest a fair chunk of my budget on midfielders who have a good record of goals and assists.

Buy Players Most Likely to Get Points!

Remember you won’t always need your full squad. A big challenge is to have players on the bench who play regularly and, most of all, get points.

In addition, keep an eye out for players who consistently get bonus points. Last season, Gareth Bale got 50 and Robin van Persie 49. Having these players in my squad earned me on average a point and a half extra each game. Not bad, eh?

Forwards

My guess is that most of us start by considering which forwards to buy. This season managers face the perennial dilemma of whether to invest hugely in Manchester United’s van Persie (£14m, currently owned by 36.5% of FPL managers). Van Persie is £3m more expensive than Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero (£11.0m, 7.7% owned), Liverpool’s Luis Suárez (£11m, 1.1%) and Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney (£10.5m, 1.6%). And, of course, it is still uncertain where Suárez and Rooney will be playing next season.

I think we can expect van Persie to deliver again for Manchester United and Aguero to do likewise at Manchester City, providing he stays fit.

Three strikers costing £9.5m, Tottenham’s Roberto Soldado and Manchester City’s Álvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetić are all newcomers to the Premiership and have been bought by relatively few managers (8.2%, 4% and 2% respectively). With good goalscoring and assists records for their previous clubs, these players could all do well this season.

The other top 5 owned forwards after van Persie are Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke (£9.0m, 23.5%), Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku (£8.0m, 21.2%), Southampton’s Rickie Lambert (£7.5m, 16.6%) and West Brom’s Nicolas Anelka (£5.5m, 16.5%). Behind them are Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge (£9.0m, 14.3%) and Fulham’s Dimitar Berbatov (£7.5m, 12%).

Lukaku (£8m, 21.2% owned), back at Chelsea after a successful loan spell at West Brom last season, is a good value option along with Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud (£8.5m, 7.8%), a player with undoubted potential but who often failed to deliver last season. Other good value newcomers to the Premiership include Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony (£8m, 14.7% owned) and three £7m players, Norwich City’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel (14.2% owned), Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore (1.4%) and Liverpool’s young Spaniard Iago Aspas (4.2%). All these players come with good goalscoring records at their previous clubs in Europe.

Three £6m players worth considering are van Wolfswinkel’s Norwich team-mate Gary Hooper (3.5% owned) signed from Celtic after bagging 82 goals in a 138 game career, Jay Rodriguez (2.6%) who seems set for a big season at Southampton, plus the 19-year old Barcelona starlet Gerard Deulofeu (1.8%) on loan at Everton.

There are several potential bargain buys. Cardiff’s new young Danish striker Andreas Cornelius (£5.5m, 0.9% owned) scored 18 times for F.C. Copenhagen last season. Veteran Nicolas Anelka (£5.5m, 16.4%) at West Brom, Everton’s Victor Anichebe (£5.5m, 2.5%), provided he stays fit and Crystal Palace’s Dwight Gayle (£5.0m, 1%).

Midfielders

For me, point-scoring midfielders can make a big difference to your overall points tally each week. I think that attacking midfielders will always be a better bet than defensive midfielders. I look for players who:

  • have the potential to earn points from scoring goals or making assists
  • get goals or make assists from taking corners or free-kicks
  • take penalties

Most managers will find it difficult not to have several of the top 5 owned midfielders. First choice is Chelsea’s Eden Hazard (£9.5m, 32.3% owned), followed by his Chelsea team-mate Juan Mata (£10.5m, 21.6%), just ahead of Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho (£9m, 21.2%). Gareth Bale (£12m, 21%) despite reportedly edging closer to signing for Real Madrid is fourth and last season’s runaway star buy Michu (£9.0, 18.8%) fifth.

Players I consider to be good value options include Everton’s Kevin Mirallas (£7.5m, 5.6% owned), as much a striker as a midfielder, and West Ham’s goalscoring captain Kevin Nolan (£7m, 12.7%). Sunderland’s new Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini (£7m, 3.8%) signed for a bargain £6.6m from Italian champions Juventus, and could be a revelation. Robert Snodgrass (£6.5m, 16.1%) may shine again this season in a much-strengthened Norwich City side. Manchester United’s Wilfried Zaha (£6.5m, 6.5%), if he plays regularly, could get goals and assists. Southampton’s Adam Lallana (£6m, 1.2%) could be set for a big season as well as his goalscoring team-mate Jason Puncheon (£5.5m, 4.4%).

My bargain options include Hull City pair Robert Koren and Robbie Brady (both £5m, owned 0.9% and 0.8% respectively) who got plenty of goals and assists in the Championship last season. Others to consider include Aston Villa’s new young Bulgarian Aleksandar Tonev (£5m, 0.5%), who came highly recommended by Stiliyan Petrov and Cardiff City’s Peter Whittingham (£5m, 2.4%). A real bargain could be Everton’s Ross Barkley (£4.5m, 0.9%) if he establishes himself in the first team.

Defenders

I wrack my brains searching for point-scoring cheap defenders after allocating the bulk of my transfer budget on ‘must-have’ midfielders and forwards. I look for defenders playing for teams likely to keep clean sheets but also who:

  • earn extra points from scoring or making goals
  • get goals or make assists from taking corners and free-kicks
  • take penalties

The current top 5 defenders are Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker (£5.5m, 25.9% owned), closely followed by Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea (£6.5m, 25.5%) and Everton’s Leighton Baines (£7.5m, 24.4%). Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta (£6m, 21.2%) and, perhaps surprisingly, Aston Villa’s Nathan Baker (£4.0m, 19.7%), are fourth and fifth.

Two of the current top 5, Zabaleta and Mertesacker represent good value at £5.5m. My other recommended option is Mertesacker’s likely defensive partner Laurent Koscielny (£5.5m, 8.5% owned).

The potential bargain options include Liverpool’s new signing Kolo Toure (£5m, 5.9% owned) and Everton’s attacking full-back Seamus Coleman (£5m, 5.4%). Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has strengthened his defence and captain Ron Vlaar (£4.5m, 2.2%) and new signing Jores Okore (£4.5m, 1%) look cheap. West Ham’s James Collins (£4.5m, 7.4%), Norwich’s Michael Turner (£4.5m, 4.5%) and Southampton’s highly promising pair Nathaniel Clyne (£4.5m, 7.9%) and Luke Shaw (£4.5m, 6.5%) are also bargains who look likely to start regularly. Two highly-regarded cheapies from the newly-promoted teams are Cardiff City’s new right-back John Brayford (£4m, 1.5%) and Hull City’s former Manchester United youngster James Chester (£4m, 1.6%).

Goalkeepers

Remember, although you preferably want a goalkeeper who keeps clean sheets, cheap keepers can get good points (and bonus points) if they make a lot of saves.

The runaway most-owned goalkeeper to date is Liverpool’s new signing Simon Mignolet (£5.5, 27.2%), followed, surprisingly by Southampton’s Kelvin Davis (£4m, 16.5%). The two top-priced keepers at £6.5m, Manchester City’s Joe Hart (12.9% owned) and Chelsea’s Petr Cech (13.9%) are currently 3rd and 5th. Manchester United’s David De Gea (£6m, 13.4%) is 4th.

My good value £5.5m options include Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic (12%), Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny (4.5%) and Everton’s Tim Howard (3.8%). And, at £5m, Swansea’s Michel Vorm (8.5%) seems very well-priced.

Two potential £4.5m bargain goalkeepers are Southampton’s Artur Boruc (£4.5m, 9.6%) and Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni (2.1%).

General Tips

1. Use Information Sources

Spending time gathering information and doing homework about Premiership players, teams and managers can really improve the chances of your team getting off to a good start.

Making decisions after careful thought seems to pay off in the long run. Looking back over several seasons, my biggest mistakes happened when my decisions were impulsive or made at the last minute before the gameweek deadline.

There are multiple sources of information available on the internet, including the FPL Dugout. The sources I use frequently include:

  • fantasy.premierleague.com – most managers will already be familiar with the FPL site. It is a mine of information that can really help managers to make important decisions.
  • twitter.com – following the right people (e.g. especially top sports journalists from newspapers and TV) can get you really up-to-the-minute valuable information.
  • physioroom.com – this site has up-to-date information on injuries and suspensions.
  • newspapers and newspapers online – paying a relatively small subscription charge can be money well spent. I find the Telegraph and Guardian sites especially useful.
  • Premiership managers TV press conferences – here you can get information ‘from the horse’s mouth’ and reported on various internet sites, including BBC and Sky.
  • BBC Sport Football and Sky Sports Football – worth keeping an eye on during the week.

2. Plan For Future Fixtures

Thinking several gameweeks ahead, knowing which fixtures your players are likely to be playing in, is a useful strategy. It can help you to plan future transfer options and decide whether your squad needs adjustment.

For example, this season in Gameweek 1 Chelsea and Aston Villa play twice (‘Double Gameweek’) but have no game in Gameweek 3. The temptation is to buy lots of Double Gameweek players because of the potential extra points. However, the possible pitfall is that in Gameweek 3 you won’t have 11 players available without making several transfers.

3. Don’t Panic!

Should the worst case scenario happen and you get off to a bad start, try to keep calm and level-headed and resist the temptation to make wholesale changes without giving yourself time to think it all through. Players who flop one week can be world-beaters the next. Try not to make a bad situation worse!

Finally, fellow managers, I wish you luck and good fortune for the exciting new season in prospect. Please feel free to feedback your responses to the information in this article and to share your own ideas about how to get those all-important decisions right in the quest to be a successful fantasy manager.