Class is in session kids. Now that we are well into this year's fantasy season, I think it is a good time to review a few things and reflect on our assignment....to reign supreme in the world of fantasy Premier League. There have been changes to the Yahoo game since last year, and it has significantly altered one's strategical approach. During the international break, I thought I would refrain from the usual lesson plan and present a syllabus catered toward addressing these changes. Pay attention class and take notes when needed.....
The 5 things to have learned so far this season
1.) Money is no object - This season, Yahoo introduced a fantasy bench, allowing for substitutions for players in your starting XI, who for one reason or another, failed to make an appearance during that gameweek. To compensate for the additional four roster spots this creates, the Yahoo game increased a manager's budget from 100m to 150m. With the old budget and eleven positions, you were looking at an average of just over 9m per player to spend(x 11 to get 99m). With 15 spots to fill this season, and 150m to spend, that increases the average price available per player to exactly 10m. While the increase in budget per player is only about a million more, there is no need to have 4 bench players costing an average of 10m each. My current bench costs a total of 5.57m, which includes a usable 5th midfielder in Jake Livermore and a currently viable backup defender in Phil Bardsley. There is no reason to spend on more than that for your bench. A backup keeper is irrelevant with unlimited weekly transfers and the extreme likelihood that the keeper you've chosen to start that week will feature, unless perhaps a fluke injury during warmups. Long story short, with a budget of around 5m spent on the bench, you are now looking at just over 13m to spend per player on average in your starting XI versus 9m in previous seasons....a massive difference.
2.) The essentials are always affordable - Because of this increase in available cash to spend, unlike in previous seasons where you could only afford one or two of the very best, you can now have every essential player for every gameweek. Every week, based on form and fixtures, there are usually 4 or 5 essential, must-have players that would be dangerous not to include in your squad. Before this year, you had to make a decision. "Do I pay for van Persie at the expense of not including Bale?" or "Can I squeeze Drogba, Fabregas and Baines in the same team? Someone has to go!" That is not the case anymore. You have free reign to choose pretty much any five players you want and still have enough cash left to fill out your XI with legitimate options. In Week 10, I had a forward line of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero, arguably the three top strikers in the game, and the most expensive. It didn't hamper the rest of my squad at all, as I still had a midfield of Ozil, Yaya Toure, Michu and Oscar. That is an attack no one should be able to afford.......but we can.
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3.) The strategy of "holding" a player is now virtually extinct - In season's past, one of the more important strategies in playing the game is deciding when to sell a player that you have bought cheap, and has now risen in price. Player "A" may have been bought at 6m, had a great couple of weeks, and is now at 11.5m but is playing away to Chelsea and you don't like the matchup. Do you sell, knowing if you wanted the player back in a couple weeks, you will need to spend almost double the dough? Tough decision. Then there are players who are transferred into the Premier League available for a dirt cheap starting price. Last year, Michu and Santi Cazorla were such players. Because I bought them so cheap, I held them all year long as their prices exploded, even in weeks when I knew they wouldn't play, such as a blank week due to inclement weather or a cup commitment or injury. I was OK with taking a 0, (remember, no bench players then) with the logic that it was more beneficial overall to take that zero to keep a strong team intact. This season, with the exception of a couple of players, (in my opinion Ozil and Suarez) there just isn't a need to worry about that aspect of the game anymore due to the budget available. Last week, I brought Lallana in, and enjoyed his 22 point return, and watched his price jump a few million for next gameweek. In the past, I would have thought about keeping him, despite the upcoming fixture--away to Arsenal. This year, I did not hesitate to drop him. If I want him down the road, I will figure out a way to afford him.
4.) The trick is to stash players with a bad week - The bullet point is rather self-explanatory but allow me to drive the point home. Monitor the cheapest players at the bottom of the price list immediately after the end of a gameweek. Odds are, there will be a player or two who had a terrible score, and whose price has now plummeted to rock bottom bargain bin fodder. Take advantage of this and stash them on your bench as possible options to use in the future. Think of it as putting a player on layaway. An example of this, which makes my heart gush with joy, would be Sunderland's Phil Bardsley. Bardsley had a disaster game when Sunderland lost to Swansea City 4-0, highlighted by a yellow card and an own goal, for a return of -3 points. That saw his price drop to a measly 1.47m, a price cheaper than players you nor I have ever heard of that stand no chance of stepping one foot onto the pitch this season. So why not stash him? Well, Professor Rothgeb here bought and stashed immediately, and wouldn't you know it, with Kolo Toure not featuring last week for Liverpool in my starting XI, Bardsley and his 27 POINTS!!!!......were subbed into my score. Now don't get me wrong, that worked out better than anything in my wildest dreams--certainly not planned, but the point is, don't waste those bench spots on irrelevant players just because they are cheap....wait, and plug in the Bardsleys of the game when the opportunity arises. If you are paying attention to this coming week, you know there is a starting keeper with a favorable matchup priced at just 1.16m, simply due to a bad previous week. My intent is to start him this week, then stash as my new backup keeper to replace Rob Elliot, purchased, like most of you at the start of the season, at just 1m flat.
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5.) Low ownership is the key - As mentioned, you now have a ton of money to spend, and can afford virtually any dream team that you want. So the question is, how do you separate yourself from the rest of the managers out there? It would seem difficult to gain ground on your opponent, or create more distance between you and your opponent if every team has Ozil, and Baines, and Aguero, and Yaya Toure. The key to this game is what you choose with those last 2 or 3 spots that are not blatantly obvious selections. This is where you win. Do your research and come up with a list of potential prospects to fill that fifth midfield spot or that third defender spot. With all other things being equal, opt for the prospect with the lowest ownership. For better or for worse, this is what will cause the most separation from you and your rivals. Were you aware that Cardiff's Steven Caulker was a top 5 defender on the year at this time? We have all seen a large enough sample size of Cardiff's defense to know that they are no Southampton. Yet only the Saints' Dejan Lovren can boast a better fantasy year at this juncture, and that is by a paltry two additional points to Caulker. Caulker is owned by just 1.62% of managers. Players like this, when chosen at the optimum times, will be the difference between a respectable, safe ranking, and a boom or bust, go for the glory ranking.
Now pencils down class. I expect to see you back here again during the next international break, though I assume some of you will call in sick with World Cup fever. I completely understand.