Even though it’s only early June, I’ve already begun thinking about how to approach the 2019/20 FPL season. Here are a few musings on some general strategies in relation to captaincy, squad structure, ownership and hits to consider once the fixtures and player prices are released.
The only players that currently look appealing for the captaincy are premium midfielders. In 2018/19, only six players exceeded six points per match: Sterling (6.9), Salah (6.8), Hazard (6.4), Alexander-Arnold (6.4), Mane (6.4) and Aguero (6.1). The overall points standings were even more favourable with Mane joining Salah, Hazard and Sterling in the top four. In 2017/18 it was Salah and Sterling, whilst Sanchez and Alli came out on top the year before. This is a result of FPL’s scoring system rewarding midfielders with an extra point for goals and clean sheets compared to forwards, giving wide forwards like Sterling and Salah a huge advantage.
It is indicative of the changing nature of football that we saw Salah and Mane, wingers a few years ago, share the golden boot with a traditional number 9 in Aubameyang. Gary Neville touched on this during Sky’s coverage of Watford vs Arsenal:
“They’re the most devastating when it comes to goals scored. I used to think if a wide player got a chance he wouldn’t always take it, but these are finishers, these are goalscorers, so for me, the game’s changed a lot in the last ten years. Wide players are not wingers anymore, more often than not they’re wide forwards.”
Until FPL catches up by reclassifying these players to forwards or making them comparatively more expensive, their goal output and the extra point for scoring or gaining a clean sheet will continue to make it difficult for forwards to match them. The days of two heavy hitters up front are gone and identifying the best two midfielders in the game is vital for the captaincy on current evidence.
The captaincy discussion feeds into this with the two standout options providing the basis for how the rest of the squad should be structured.
However, another idea emerged having looked back at my own team from last season as it became apparent that a good first sub would have been useful more often than not. An auto-sub was required on eight occasions, whilst 19 starting players blanked against either Liverpool or Manchester City across the season. Spending slightly more on a good bench option provides added flexibility to cover unexpected absences and tough fixtures. It is of course a fine balance between wise bench investment and significantly weakening your starting XI. I’ll use the prices of my starter squad from last season as an example to illustrate why this may or may not be beneficial:
GK: 6.0, 4.0
DEF: 6.0, 6.0, 4.5, 4.5, 4.0
MID: 13.0, 9.5, 7.5, 5.5, 4.5
FWD: 11.0, 7.0, 7.0
As mentioned in the captaincy section, having the two best options is important. Let’s say these were the 13.0 and 11.0 players. The 9.5 midfielder is the next most expensive despite not being a captain option – perhaps there are better ways of distributing funds, especially with five players costing 4.5 and below. For example, an alternative to a 9.5 midfielder, 4.5 defender and 4.0 defender could be three 6.0 assets.
However, whether either strategy is successful largely depends on how that player performs as the first four gameweeks of last season proved. Eriksen owners were left scratching their heads whilst those that backed Mane rejoiced at his goal-a-game ratio. The point is it’s important to be careful when selecting high priced assets and be aware of what you may miss out on by opting to spend more in a given position.
Heading into Gameweek 1, nobody really knows who will perform well so it is far safer to stick with the crowd and pick a number of high ownership players until we have more clarity four to six weeks in. I did this for the first time last season and managed to end Gameweek 6 ranked 356k overall, despite not nailing many initial picks. The points gap between myself and those in a loftier position remained small enough to swiftly make up ground over the next five gameweeks.
I’d also like to think that most FPL managers have a reasonable knowledge of the Premier League so if a player is in a lot of teams, there is usually a reason. Don’t always think you know better, it’s a risk if a good overall rank is your aim. The same goes for mini-leagues – your rivals are more likely to select a highly owned asset than a similarly priced, lower owned alternative.
I’ve gradually come to the opinion that they should be used as a last resort or if an appealing opportunity emerges, similarly to the chips. For example, if you had four players that decided to get injured and suspended at the same time, clearing them out in one go makes sense. This happened to my team in Gameweek 17, and selling three of them for a -4 ended up being the only of my nine hits last season that really felt worthwhile. In terms of opportunities, Man Utd’s sudden upturn in form over Christmas rewarded those who were prepared to spend points on the likes of Pogba and Rashford. Selectively identifying these situations is the challenge.