Despite previously planning to use the first wildcard after 8-12 gameweeks, I elected to activate it on Tuesday night ahead of the Gameweek 4 deadline. The method behind this decision change will be discussed below, alongside some general tips applicable to most teams and wildcard strategies. This is not necessarily to justify my decision, but rather to allude to when it is worth addressing the issues and opportunities within and outside of your team, by making unlimited changes at no cost.
For a wildcard to be activated, there must be several issues with your current squad. It might be a poor team structure, not owning form players or lacking double gameweek players come the second wildcard in the latter weeks of the season. Whatever the issue is, it must exist and several of them too, using the wildcard as a get out of jail free card from a substantial points hit.
As an example, my squad following Gameweek 3 is shown below:
There are some good aspects to the team – two excellent captain options, whilst Teemu Pukki and potentially some of the defenders in the near future represent good value for money.
However, all teams have favourable aspects – what we are looking for are the problems with it. The issues are:
An over reliance on two defences. As good as Liverpool and Manchester City are, this was arguably a step too far.
Underperforming players, who are also set to drop in value – King, Jota and some of the defenders.
No Kevin De Bruyne. Excellent fixtures and form as well as a place in the best attacking team in the Premier League. Enough said.
Team structure. The 4-3-3 setup with significant investment in defence prevents access to an extensive range of budget midfield assets in a single move including Mount, Maddison, Ceballos and McGinn. In addition, the likes of De Bruyne are out of reach as mentioned above.
A very valid point could be made here – how have so many problems emerged just three weeks into the season? My response would be that it is very easy to overlook team structure in favour of what you believe to be the best 11 or 15 players. Being flexible and adaptable is key and remembering that is easier now that three gameweeks are out of the way following none in a ten week spell. Call it rustiness if you will.
Combining the above issues by latching onto several emerging opportunities makes the wildcard an even more powerful chip. These opportunities could be fixture swings or a cluster of bandwagons for example, again leading to the option of reacting to multiple situations at once, without needing to take a large points hit.
So how do these opportunities relate to my squad:
Kevin De Bruyne. Ahead of fixtures against Brighton, Norwich and Watford, De Bruyne is an issue that can be turned into an opportunity by investing in him. One way of doing this would have been to sell Anthony Martial and Aymeric Laporte for a -4, with a £4.6m defender also coming in, keeping the wildcard intact. However, this would have left the team exposed to underperforming players who have dropped or are set to drop in price such as Andy Robertson, Diogo Jota and Josh King.
Team Value. Despite only wildcarding on Tuesday night, a bit of team value can still be built as a result of four nights of price changes. So far, John Lundstram and Lucas Digne have risen in price, whilst a Robertson drop was staved off before he subsequently returned to the team. But given the lateness of the wildcard being activated, any price rises that occurred were mainly a benefit of other opportunities and issues, rather than a major factor in the decision to wildcard this week. A lot of players in the squad are also close to rising in price, so even if they do not before Gameweek 4, there is likely to be swift gains made in the coming days.
Form players. There a number of in-form players that are also showing up in the stats during the early weeks of the season, although it is of course difficult to read too much into three weeks of data. Despite this, a brief discussion of each of the five main newcomers is given below, with the caveat that FPL changes very quickly and remaining adaptable if and when new and better options emerge is key. This is arguably most apt in De Bruyne’s case, who will rarely, if ever, be captained ahead of Salah or Sterling and whose inclusion is based on current form and fixtures compared to others in his price bracket for that rotatable third premium slot. If a premium forward shows their hand, this is where the money will come from.
Player 1: Lucas Digne
Fixtures: Faces just one top six opponent in the next 7 gameweeks. In Gameweek 7 (Everton vs Manchester City), both Tyrone Mings and Caglar Soyuncu can fill in at home to Burnley and Newcastle respectively. In the medium to long-term, Digne could remain in the team or be swapped to Benjamin Mendy when he regains full fitness and Everton’s fixtures turn for the worse.
Form: Returns in two of the first three this season, following on from a stellar end to 2018/19. A run of 11 clean sheets in 14 matches will dry up and could be hampered following Idrissa Gueye’s departure. Even if that rate drops to around two in five, there is still value to be had at £6.1m.
Underlying Statistics: Top for chances created amongst defenders in 2018/19 with 71 and only Alexander-Arnold has more so far this season. Also joint top for goal attempts with Robertson and Emerson in his position. The attacking potential of these four defenders is demonstrated in FPL’s ICT Index as Alexander-Arnold, Emerson, Robertson and Digne are the top four in descending order.
Player 2: Mason Mount
Fixtures: Tricky in the short-term with Wolves (A) and Liverpool (H) in the next three. Aside from those, it is a sea of green until the trip to Manchester City in Gameweek 13. Similar to Digne and Everton’s fixture swing around the same time, we will be a third of the way through the season by then and there will therefore be a lot more information on players by then.
Form: Again, Mount is similar to Digne both in price and form having returned in two of his first three games. A midfielder in one of the top six sides at just £6.2m is a rarity, considering that £10-11.0m has had to be forked out on Eden Hazard in the past. Mount obviously won’t match Hazard but you get the gist.
Underlying Statistics: Mount is joint top for goal attempts and in the top ten for chances created in his position. As a result, he is fourth amongst all players on the ICT Index, behind De Bruyne, Pukki and Sterling. With just three Premier League appearances under his belt, the caveat again has to be made that we cannot read too much into this information. It is a promising start, with the hope that he continues in the same vein in the upcoming gameweeks.
Player 3: James Maddison
Fixtures: Short-term, very mixed. Home matches against Bournemouth and Newcastle in the next five are mixed in with trips to Old Trafford and Anfield as well as Tottenham visiting the King Power. Although from an attacking standpoint, especially in a team that are set up to score goals wherever they place (as the Gameweek 2 fixture against Chelsea demonstrates), the fixtures are arguably more favourable than they first appear. Beyond Gameweek 8, there is then an excellent run of games until a Christmas double header against the top two. It is perhaps a few weeks too early to be buying Maddison, but with first choice Anthony Martial out injured, it was difficult to look elsewhere.
Form: A theme seems to be forming here – two returns in three. Maddison also ended last season fairly strongly, with two goals and three assists in 11 matches following Claude Puel’s departure.
Underlying Statistics: Much was made of Maddison’s 100 chances created in 2018/19 and that has continued into the new season as he has already racked up seven in three matches. A total of ten goal attempts puts him joint third with Mohamed Salah amongst midfielders, one of which should have been converted from close range in the draw against Chelsea.
Player 4: Kevin De Bruyne
Fixtures: They could not be any better in the short to medium-term with Brighton, Norwich and Watford up next and no top six rivals in sight until they face title rivals Liverpool in Gameweek 12.
Form: An assist or two in each of his first three. He should have also scored at least one goal, particularly the shot wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s left hand post at Bournemouth last week. De Bruyne has also admitted that he has not yet completely found his rhythm – if that is the case then his already impressive form will soon be off the charts.
Underlying Statistics: The chance creator machine has certainly shaken the injury problems that troubled him for much of last season. With 14 chances created so far, he tops the metric and is well clear of anyone else in FPL’s creativity table. Six big chances as well as four assists have followed, such is the quality of both his deliveries and his teammates abilities to get into excellent goalscoring positions.
Player 5: Ashley Barnes
Fixtures: After the visit of Liverpool tomorrow, Burnley have just one more top six opponent (Chelsea at home) until December. Even so, goals in three consecutive appearances against Arsenal as well as in games with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United in 2018/19, show that Barnes has proven that he can deliver the goods against the very best.
Form: Like De Bruyne, he has three returns in three. A total four goals so far has brought him to 12 in the Premier League in 2019.
Underlying Statistics: Top for goal attempts and only behind Teemu Pukki for shots in the box amongst players in his position. Considering their respective prices, both players have made an outstanding start to the season. Long may it continue.
With all of the above in mind, here is a reminder of the common features of a team that could benefit from a wildcard – not just this week but in later this season or in future years.
Identify issues: Poor team structure, an unfavourable formation, injuries, underperforming players and an over reliance on certain teams.
Identify opportunities: Fixture swings, players in form who you expect to continue in that vein or those with favourable underlying statistics, and later on in the season for the second wildcard – under the radar differentials and double gameweek assets.
Formulate a plan: This is the most crucial. We are only awarded two wildcards a season so make the most of them and plan for the medium to long-term. This is not in terms of specific players as fluctuating form and fixture difficulty require us to be dynamic in switching between assets at the most opportune times. However, setting up a team structure that can stand the test of time is important, in order to cope with the rigours of a long season using free transfers and the occasional points hit. A range of price points helps to retain flexibility, a point that can be forgotten as the ‘best’ players are prioritised over structure. I would be the first to admit that following the swift unravelling of what proved to be a slightly disappointing Gameweek 1 team selection.
To provide an example of having a plan in place, here are a few contingency plans within my Gameweek 4 wildcard team, which is revealed in full below.
James Maddison can become Anthony Martial when fit, by freeing up £0.7m elsewhere.
Kevin De Bruyne can help fund a premium forward or allow a swap to a different premium midfielder. Injuries to Mohamed Salah or Raheem Sterling allow the same switch.
The third defender slot. This may appear one of the weaker areas of the team but Soyuncu, Lundstram and Mings can be rotated for that position so that the starting player never faces a top six opponent until the end of the season. If Lundstram loses his place, this can be achieved between Soyuncu and Mings every week aside from Gameweeks 6, 34 and 37. Those are both too short-term (Lundstram unlikely to drop out immediately) and too long-term (the second wildcard will be used) to be in any way concerning. This may seem like too much planning in advance, but it is more a case that there are three good cheap defender options, who also happen to rotate well with each other.
A range of price points, especially in defence and midfield where there are five available slots. Aside from defenders priced between £5.1m and £5.4m, there is a defender just £0.5m either side of an existing squad member. Equally in midfield, a downgrade to sub £6.0-7.0m options is straightforward by selling either Mount or Maddison, whilst De Bruyne sits perfectly between the mid-priced and premium options such as Martial and Mane. And as mentioned, he also provides a route to a premium forward if deemed necessary. In all, any defender or midfielder can be afforded in one transfer and any goalkeeper or forward in just two moves.
My Final Gameweek 4 Wildcard Squad In Full
Goalkeepers: Nick Pope and David Button
Defenders: Andy Robertson, Lucas Digne, Caglar Soyuncu, Tyrone Mings and John Lundstram
Midfielders: Mohamed Salah, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, James Maddison and *Mason Mount
Forwards: Teemu Pukki, Ashley Barnes and Mason Greenwood
*If Mason Mount was confirmed as injured in the press conferences, Dani Ceballos or John McGinn would replace him.
In Gameweek 4, the team will line up as follows:
Overall Rank: 547k
Team Value: £100.5m
Money in the bank: £0.1m
Whether you are wildcarding this week or plan to hold onto it for a while longer, considering some of these general wildcard strategy ideas should hopefully make it easier to decide when to use yours. This was certainly the case for my team, as despite not planning to use it this week, it became apparent on Tuesday that it was probably the right time, after writing down the issues and opportunities that had presented themselves. I would wholeheartedly recommend carrying out this exercise with your own team and if there are several points listed in each side in Gameweek 4, 12 or otherwise, that is the right time to wildcard.