Here is the eagerly anticipated article by last season's Fantasy Premier League champion, Matthew Martyniak - a look at strategy, tactics & tips based on his title winning season experience
This article I have written is about my Fantasy Premier League (FPL) strategy and tactics that I utilised for my title winning FPL season 2012/13. I have also included some FPL tips and advice, which is aimed at all different levels of FPL managers – from the beginner player, through to the more advanced player. I hope you find this article useful in helping improve your FPL game.
By no means is this article exhaustive, or describes the only way to play FPL - there are many more strategies and tactics out there that can work well.
I hope you enjoy the read!
Play the fantasy football game the way it is set up to play - and in relation to the Premier League itself:
There are many fantasy football games out there - and while they all have the same overall aim, which is to get as many points as you possibly can - they are all mainly set up differently to one another.
The Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game format last season, and also in previous seasons, was set up to favour the attacking players - such as forwards and midfielders, rather than the defenders and goalkeepers.
The ‘front seven’ - which is either four midfielders and three forwards, or five midfielders and two forwards, is where the most points are to be gained each Gameweek (GW). Therefore, setting up your FPL team to the game format will maximise your potential points return each GW - which it did for me last season.
Reasoning behind this game plan:
- The front seven are the players mainly involved in the attacking play – and therefore they are the most likely players to get the goals and assists - and by getting points for the goals and assists, the bonus points more often than not will then follow to these players
- The past few English Premier League (EPL) seasons have seen a significant increase in goals scored. On average - around 2.8 EPL goals have been scored per game over the past four EPL seasons - this is compared to approximately 2.5 and under EPL goals scored per game for the five EPL seasons prior to the goal increase. Therefore, this information tells us that if there are more EPL goals scored, then there are more FPL points potentially to be gained – and these points to be gained are most likely to come from the attacking front seven FPL players.
- Vice-versa to more Premier League goals scored recently – the clean sheets have been hard to come by. The days of the ‘big teams’ getting potential ‘guaranteed’ clean sheets are not as predictable as they used to be. This is because most of the PL teams nowadays, including the newly promoted clubs, play a more ‘expansive’ type of football, with the emphasis being on attack, rather than defence - so relying on defenders and goalkeepers to get you clean sheet points has not been a good strategy of late - so save your money here and invest mainly in the areas that will attract the most points, such as a strong front seven.
Note - this season has a new bonus point allocation system:
This season the bonus point allocation system has changed slightly. For example; bonus points are now awarded for tackles, completed passes, or even creating a ‘big chance’ where the receiving player ‘should score’ etc - these are just to name a few ways of how players can now attract FPL bonus points.
However, I still feel the FPL game is set up for the attacking players over the defensive players - providing the EPL continues in its more attacking style of play - as the goal scoring bonus of 8pts for forwards, and 6pts for midfielders, may still heavily outweigh the new ways of getting bonus points through tackles and passes etc.
Pick guaranteed starters:
- These are players who are most likely to start week-in, week-out.
- Pick players who should play for more than 60 minutes each match - as a 59th minute sub for a +1pt is not a great feeling! There are certain players in each team that usually always play 75-90 minutes each week - and then there are those players that for one reason or another never complete 75-90 minutes - it is probably best to stay away from these players.
Therefore, in having all your starting eleven players playing 75-90 minutes each GW would be most preferable as this should increases the likelihood of earning the most points possible as they simply have more minutes on the pitch to do so. There are some exceptions to this rule - where a defender comes off the pitch after 60+ minutes with his clean sheet points intact and then his team goes on to concede a goal - this is a nice feeling, but a rare one! And it is difficult to anticipate this scenario occurring prior to the start of the match each GW.
Do not take gambles on rotational players:
There is no need to take a gamble on players who may or may not start - Though if you have a good bench you may get away with it, now and again. I would only consider taking a gamble like this if you are playing ‘catch up’ and the rewards are greater than the risk.
Pick players most likely to attract points - including bonus points:
- Pick good quality players who are most likely to get goals and assists each GW - some players have an eye for a goal, or a key pass, more than others.
- Picking players on set pieces - such as penalties, free-kicks, and corners is ideal - this gives your team more potential to earn points each GW.
- Picking players who take more shots on goal than others – and also those players who hit the target more than others are not only likely to get goals and assists - but will attract the bonus points also - players such as RvP, Bale, Suarez, Lambert, and Michu are some examples from last season.
- Players who obtained the most completed dribbles attracted bonus points last season - players such as Bale, Enrique, Hazard, Mata, Shaw, and Baines, were prime examples of this. However, this season no bonus points are awarded for completed dribbles - though it still maybe worth considering players who like to dribble as goals and assists often come from this type of player after they have ‘opened up’ the opposition.
- Pick ‘out of position’ (OOP) players, or players who play advanced up the pitch - Michu and Coutinho are classic examples of OOP midfielders who play virtually as forwards, or in behind the forwards directly - or from the wing - therefore, will increase the likelihood of these players getting in on the goals and assists.
- Study the bonus point allocation section on the FPL website, or on the many FPL forums - this is so you can see how every single bonus point is potentially awarded. Don’t miss out here! As every single GW point may count significantly at the end of the season.
Where possible pick players who do not play against each other:
For example; having some of your front seven playing against your defence and goalkeeper is not the best way to maximise your GW potential points return. Try to use your squad to prevent this happening, or even your free transfer (FT) if needed.
Last season this tactic worked very well for me - if it was an attacking front seven player on form, then I would try to bench, or transfer out, the opposing defender - and vice-versa, I was not afraid to bench an out-of-form front seven player against my in-form opposing defenders and goalkeeper.
Also utilising this tactic to avoid your players playing against each other maximises the potential to ‘clean up’ on bonus points - as usually only three players per fixture get the bonus points. Furthermore - if your defence has ‘taken a hammering’ against one of your front seven, they will most likely get no bonus points in this same fixture, as well as getting potential minus points for conceding the goals.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket:
Although some teams have more than one good FPL player, try to limit your players to just one pick from each team (unless it is a double GW that is).
As a general rule I did this last season and it worked well. This is because again, like the previous tactic mentioned above, you maximise your potential GW points return, especially when it comes to bonus points, as usually only one player per fixture is able to get the maximum three bonus points allocation.
Also - if you have more than one player per team and the fixture ends poorly, you have doubled or trebled your chance of a poor points return for these two or three players that GW.
Therefore, utilise every bit of your front seven to its maximum potential by picking the one main FPL player from that team that suits the GW.
My own game plan….
I played the FPL game in blocks of three gameweeks:
As well as utilising all the tactics mentioned above - last season I just kept it simple and played to get as many points as I possibly could in the very next GW - I didn’t think too far ahead. I decided from GW2 (after the double GW1) to play and base my tactics in blocks of three GWs. It was completely my own strategy from the start and I stuck with this strategy until the final weekend, where it was then a one off GW38 decider.
In other words, my team was always set up to its near maximum potential for the very next GW - but also with the following two GWs in mind. I only looked ahead past three GWs when there were double GWs to consider, for obvious reasons.
My reasoning behind this strategy was that personally I consider it to be difficult to pick or predict who will be fit or in form beyond three GWs. FPL, like real football and life in general, is dynamic, not static - and things change daily, not just over the GW weekend - so picking a player with an eye on a fixture greater than three or four weeks down the line was not my game plan.
Do not ‘chase the points’:
Unless you are convinced that the haul of points you have just missed out on the previous GW will be likely to occur again, like from Michu and Hazard early last season, then don’t ‘chase the points’.
Last season I decided not to chase the points after a poor, average, or sometimes good FPL player, brought in a surprise GW haul. In the main, the likelihood of them repeating this haul in the following week, or weeks, is often very low.
For me, based on last season’s form - only exceptional players like Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, and possibly Theo Walcott, were the most likely players to get ‘back-to-back hauls’ due to their individual and team qualities, form, position on the field, and set pieces duties.
Try not to ‘spend points’ on transfer hits:
Another of my key strategies last season was not to waste hard earned points on transfer hits. Last season I took only four -4pt hits, which I felt were absolutely necessary at the time – mainly due to getting the ‘must have’ player I needed for that GW, or due to having injuries or suspensions.
However, taking hits, or not taking hits, is a tricky one - as a good hit can work out very well. Though I do feel that the majority of hits FPL managers make do not work out - whether it’s in the short-term, or the long-term.
If I want a player in my team - instead of taking a -4pt hit, I will try to work them into my team within the next one to three GWs via the free transfer route - which I achieved most often than not last season.
Form over fixtures - or fixtures over form?
My strategy last season was to pick the players most likely to get me the most points each GW, irrespective of the fixtures. Therefore, where possible, I preferred picking players with form over fixtures every time.
I always prefer form over fixtures - as it is often demonstrated like last season that players such as van Persie, Bale, Suarez, Mata, Hazard, Michu, Rickie Lambert and Leighton Baines etc can score points regardless who they face - To me, these players who can score points against any team are what I call; ‘fixture proof’.
Conversely, if going with fixtures over form, it has been seen many times that lesser teams can hold out against the odds against the ‘big’ teams – such as Reading away at Man United, or QPR away at Liverpool, last season.
Therefore, form over fixtures, where possible, was the best way for me to go throughout my campaign last season. Though - if you have both the form and the fixture, then this is the ideal scenario to maximise the potential GW points.
Don’t knee jerk:
I was also mindful last season not to ‘knee jerk’ and get rid of the quality players - I believed in the players I picked based on my strategy and tactics - and I had to trust them - even after a run of poor returns.
Players such as Bale, Van Persie, Lambert, Michu, Mata and Suarez all had barren spells at some point last season - but not all your players can possibly score well every GW!
I knew that my quality players would always be in the mix when their teams are attacking - and that they would come good again, sooner rather than later - it was just a matter of time - or they were ‘due’ a goal - due to the Law of Probability.
Delay gameweek transfers until late as possible:
If possible, I tried not to make any transfers before the latest team news, which is usually around 24-48 hours before the GW deadline.
I was not concerned about price rises, or price drops, unless it affected my three GW transfer plan. Transferring a player in or out prior to team news just to make or save 0.1m or 0.2m in cash or team value is, in my opinion, not the best strategy, as players can get injured during the week in training, or in midweek cup matches.
When you are on a wildcard, it’s different - as it is then beneficial to jump on the price rises, whilst letting go of the price falls, as soon as possible to increase your team value.
Don’t worry too much about team value:
My final team value was not that high by the end of the my title winning season - I think it was only around 106m - it was one of the lowest team values of the all the top managers around me - but I still had most of players I wanted throughout the campaign by using my overall strategy and weekly tactics.
Captain picks - keep it simple and pick a solid reliable captain each GW:
In other words, pick a top quality big player in form - and preferably with the ‘nice fixture’ to add. This will maximise your potential GW points return.
I never took a captain risk - I just gave the armband to one of the main big form players each GW. I applied this theory throughout the season and it worked very well right up to the very end - as an 89th minute winner from my captain Bale in GW38 was extremely significant in my title win.
Reasoning behind picking a solid captain each week:
- You don’t need to take a gamble on captain picks - unless you are playing some serious catch up. The reasoning behind me not taking risky captain pick risks last season was that if I went with my tried and tested captain, then I realised from the captain polls out there that my choice was either the favourite captain, or 2nd favourite, that particular GW.
- This worked well for me because if my captain had a bad week, then there was ‘damage limitation’ as just about everyone else had mainly captained the same player. It was only the minority that may have ‘got lucky’ with an alternative differential captain pick - which in the main did not ‘hurt’ me too much.
- Also I felt that if I did not keep it simple and go with the best captain pick each GW, and that popular GW captain ran riot, then I would be sure to be left behind before you know it. I did see this happen almost every week to some of my rivals - who eventually faded away as title contenders.
Research, research, research!!!
I did lots and lots of research - not just statistics, but opinions from individual FPL websites such as FISO and Fantasy Football Scout. There are also many more very good FPL websites out there that I have only recently noticed.
I also looked regularly at EPL fans forums. I liked to get a feel of what the local fans were saying about players and their team each week - and I looked out for other things such as the ‘bib theory’ for each GW. I also watched as many EPL games as possible on television – and I also talked to friends who go to watch the EPL games live. I found this research added greatly to help me make an overall decision on certain players, teams, and their fixtures, prior to each GW deadline.
In reading and analysing statistics, I have found it can be very useful at times – but there are lots of them – and some are easy to understand, where some are not - some are good, where some are not so good. Statistics on their own do not really tell you much about how a player will do for that particular GW, and the GWs beyond.
There are many fantasy football websites, blogs, and mathematical boffins out there, who are using numerical data to help predict how good or bad a player may perform at FPL. My experience of statistics – is that while it can help determine a good picture of what the player has done - they can also over-complicate things - as they can be too objective and can miss the whole picture.
Sometimes in FPL, it is useful to have your own, or your peers, subjective views as well - such as – which player looks the most likely to score or assist based on their actual form, ability, match sharpness, confidence, and body language etc - there are many more ‘subjective markers’ that make a footballer perform at the top of his game at a particular moment in time.
I have found the best way to help decide my FPL decisions on what players to pick and when to pick them - is to critically analyse a combination of subjective and objective data, which then helps determine an overall conclusion of players based on logic, facts, and sound reasoning - but keep it simple!
When challenging for your FPL mini-league crown, or even for the overall FPL title, which it was in my case last season, I found that using ‘blocking tactics’ was very useful.
A ‘blocking tactic’ is where you transfer a player into your team that your opponents have. This is so you can ‘cover yourself’, or have some ‘insurance’ if that particular player, or players, scored well.
An example of this tactic in practice was when I was positioned in the overall top three in the final third of last season. I was quite a few points behind the top two managers - but also there was a slight gap between myself in third place and the chasing pack behind me.
I studied all the top teams around me who were in contention for the FPL title, not just the two teams above me. I specifically transferred in key players (either the player itself or a player in the same position from the same team as the key player) who the majority of my challengers around me had - and then I made sure that my ‘differential’ players were ‘better’ than those differential players from the opposing teams around me - but more importantly, having better differential players than the two teams above me, which I felt I had.
This tactic worked very well – as I slowly crawled my way little by little each GW closer to the top two due to my differential players scoring greater points most GWs. Also at the same time whilst I was closing in on the top two - the chasing pack found it difficult to overtake me - in fact some started taking gambles and before you knew they were out of contention.
I feel that if I had just transferred in players who I thought was the best player to get me points and without blocking my rivals and focusing on better differentials - I would not have won the overall FPL title.
The big question regarding wildcards (WCs) is - when is the right time to use it?
Before you make the decision on when to use a WC - first you need to ‘break down’ and analyse what impact the WC will actually have on your team/squad at that particular time in the season in relation to your overall strategy or game plan.
A WC is not just a ‘free ticket’ to get in / out lots of players you want / do not want. Use your WC wisely as part of your overall strategy or game plan – for example; to prepare for a double GW - or to ‘clean up’ your team after a DGW - which the latter at times may be more beneficial in the long run.
However, if you get unlucky with injuries, suspensions, and out of form players all at once, then you may be forced to use your WC – which is not a bad thing as fielding eleven good players each GW is extremely important to maximise your potential GW points score.
Therefore - use the WC when you feel you need to use it in conjunction with your overall strategy and game plan.
Pick your own team!
Do not let anyone pick your players, or your captain!
I see it too many times in fantasy football forums where managers will do a RMT (Rate my team) and will ask for an option of who to pick from player A, B or C etc. The answer ‘A’ for example is given, and then this player is then added to their squad.
RMTs are great for advice and help - but my advice if you want to ask for help is to ask for reasoning behind the decision of A, B, or C etc. Also not just discuss the reasoning for the players in question, but ask yourself and your peers, how does this player A, B, or C etc, impact on your starting eleven that particular GW, and even the GWs beyond this. Like mentioned earlier - pick players in context of your team/squad, GW plan, and overall season strategy, along with logic, facts and sound reasoning.
It sounds extra work, yes – but the rewards can be great – not just by the points you’ve accumulated, but in the proud feeling of knowing that it is your own team that you picked that got you the points!
Go with your gut feeling!
Gut feeling is something I applied a lot last season - and more often than not it worked out well, and almost immediately too.
I cannot really explain, or critically analyse gut feeling - it is just a feeling, or a hunch, that you get, that a certain player or tactic you have or not have will do well, or not well.
Whatever it is - just go with it!
Perhaps the most important decision I made throughout my FPL title winning season was - to make my own final decisions each GW and stick to my overall strategy / game plan from the very start - right up until the very end GW38 deadline.
I nearly forget an important FPL successful ingredient....
No matter what strategy, or plan you have, or who you have picked, or what formation you have used, or what captain you have picked - a final significant thing to have on your side once that GW deadline has passed is; luck - or even destiny.....
Thank you for reading my article on my FPL strategy, tactics and tips based on my FPL title winning experience. I hope you found it enjoyable to read as I did to write - and also very useful.
If you want to challenge me at FPL this season, whilst raising money for a great cause, then please click on this link to donate and enter our charity league:
Let’s help save children’s lives while we play FPL!
Kind regards and best wishes for the new season.
Written by Matthew Martyniak - Fantasy Premier League champion 2012/13