Steve Rothgeb

The Learning Curve

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FPL 101 - Welcome New Students

Friday, July 14, 2017


Sharpen your pencils and break out your notebooks kids, because class is in session. 

 

FPL is back for the 2017/2018 season after its much-anticipated launch earlier this week, and fantasy managers around the globe are already giddy with anticipation, tinkering with their squads, creating graphs and charts to find an edge somewhere, studying the fixture list like it was a newly discovered alien relic. In a summer without a World Cup or the Euros, there was a definite feeling of football withdrawal which is now being attended to.

 

But, this column isn't necessarily designed for the grizzled FPL veteran. On the contrary, this is for the newbies out there. FPL continues to grow season after season, with last year's game ending with a total of 4.5 million managers. If memory serves, that is a bit over a million more managers than the previous season and, to my recollection, not only is the total number of managers rising with each passing year, the actual number of new players, year-to-year, is rising as well. 

 

Many of you reading this may be Rotoworld regulars to NFL, MLB, NBA, etc, and giving fantasy Premier League a try for the first time. Let me start off by saying - "Congratulations". You have entered a new and unique fantasy environment that you will absolutely fall in love with. This column is going to address the basics when it comes to rules and strategy of the game, with columns delving deeper into the strategy side of things to follow as we build up to the opening weekend. But, for beginners, let me point out the biggest difference between the traditional FPL game and the fantasy formats you are used to...there is no draft. Players are not by owned by one specific manager within a league of say 6-20 people. This is a global game. Players are assigned prices based on perceived ability. Managers are given a budget to build a team of any players they want, provided they do not exceed their funds. While you can set up "mini-leagues" to test your score against your buddies, the ultimate target, the top of the fantasy mountain, is your overall rank - how you stack up with the rest of the world.

 

This makes the FPL game quite unique and, in my view, the most fun to interact with. I do not intend to take away from the joy standard draft leagues in other sports provide - I love the banter with the friends I have in all those types of leagues. But FPL feels more like a community, and a global one at that. For instance, let's say that in an NFL league, you are the owner of Drew Brees. No one else in your league owns Drew Brees, obviously, so there is no one to really commiserate with when Brees puts up a dud or celebrate with when he goes for 375 yards and 4 TDs. With FPL, when partnered with social media, you never fall short of finding banter with friends and strangers around the globe. So, long story short, welcome to our community.

 


Follow the entire Rotoworld Premier League team on Twitter: Neal | Steve | Andrew | Sean | Stag | Ben | Galin | Nik


 

Here is your basic objective: To score the most points you can by picking a Starting XI from a 15-man squad that you build using a budget of £100 million. Every week, you are given a free transfer to switch out a player you own for a new one. You can use the free transfer (FT), or save it to give you two for the following week. You can never stock up beyond 2 FTs though. The remaining players not in your XI comprise your bench and, using a priority order, will sub in for players you started if they do not feature in that gameweek for some reason. Your XI must be in one of a select number of formations. You must start at least one goalkeeper, at least three defenders, at least two midfielders and at least one forward.


That is the game in its simplest terms. What people tend to love about FPL though, is that the game is as simple, or complicated, as you want to make it. There are countless nuances in this game and everyone's approach is unique to their own philosophy. Beware - no matter how much time and effort you put into this game, luck still plays a role and decisions that seemed so logical and ironclad when you made them can blow up right in your face. You have to look at it a bit like poker. In any hand, in any tournament or session, someone with very little experience can beat you. You made all the right calculations, you may have made a bet that other, more seasoned opponents would see as a reason to fold. Instead, the newbie calls you, gets a miracle card to make a winning hand, and you are left busted. Hey, it happens, and from time to time, it will happen in this game. The idea though is that, like in poker, you can expect over the course of time for the cream to rise to the top. So, if you want to be in the elite group of consistently high-ranking managers, you are going to have to do your homework on a regular basis. That is what we are here for, to provide information that gives you a competitive edge.


For the sake of organization and aesthetics, I wiil break down the remainder of this column into bullet point segments, to keep this intro column simple and easy to digest. Again, we will have columns coming over the course of the next several weeks getting into some of the more specific aspects of FPL and you can get started on those by checking out two columns addressing the reaction and analysis of player pricing in this season's game here and here

 

 

1) BUILDING A TEAM

 

It has to be said that FPL does a very good job every year in setting up the pricing of players in such a way that makes a manager put his or her thinking cap on. Obviously, in an ideal world, you go out and buy who you believe the strongest XI to be. Playtogga offers a weekly Perfect XI game that allows you to do just that. With FPL though, you will have to strike a balance between star players and budget options who have the potential to significantly out-produce their valuation. Your squad needs to have some semblance of balance among each position. In other words, you do not want to spend too much in one area and too little in another. I have yet to see, in my many years of playing this game, a successful manager who had all premium midfielders mixed in with all budget forwards and defenders. 

 

I would start putting my first team together by looking at each position and asking myself, "Who must I have regardless how expensive he is?", then adding those players as a base to build my team around. I then go to the other end of the spectrum. When it comes to my second GK and my 5th DEF, I always plug in a 4.0m, minimum priced option. I do not expect these players to carry any value as starters, but they act as enablers. Some managers like to have a second GK that plays so they can rotate with the other GK based on matchups (more on rotation later), but I like to pick one keeper I am happy to start every week and a 4.0m option. I then look for the best cheap midfielder who I think will have some playing time and a bit of potential. Last season, I started off with Etienne Capoue in that spot and the rest was history.

 

My next step would be to build the rest of my squad with a combination of factors in mind. The two factors managers tend to look at the most when choosing a player is form and fixtures. Your very expensive players are the ones you rely on to produce every week and you tend to stick with them as long as they are healthy. It is the mid-priced options that can make or break your season. Expect more transfer activity in this area of your squad and use form and fixtures as a simple guide. If a player is in bad form and a rough schedule ahead, they are on the chopping block. Scour the list of players who cost the same or less, check their form and fixtures, and if all looks good, make the switch. The casual fan and manager does not pay too much attention to preseason results and individual performances, but preseason form should be considered when building your initial squad.

 

 

2) FIXTURES AND TRANSFERS

 

Nothing carries more weight than a player's form when deciding on whether a player is worth owning or not. However, studying the fixtures and planning around them is a very important strategy, especially in areas of defense. It is crucial to understand how valuable your free transfers are. They are sacred. There will be so many weeks where you wish you could make seven or eight changes, but you can't (without the help of chips anyway, more on that later). So when looking for a player to bring in, you are hoping to hold on to them and get production for as long as possible. If a player has several weeks of playing clubs normally found in the bottom half of the table, it gives you reason to spend a transfer on him and not panic if he has a week or two without returning big points.

 

The reason fixtures are extra-important in defense is because it allows managers to adopt one of the more famous strategies in the FPL game - rotation. The idea of rotation is simple. Find two clubs who are in the lower tier that have schedules that offset and thus compliment each other, and you can start the player with the positive fixture and bench the player with the negative one, flipping between the two based on that week's matchup. Theoretically, over the course of the season, you can equal or surpass the production of a premium defender that you would have started every week by using the rotation system. The added benefit of it all, is that the strategy frees up a bit of extra cash, and you can never have too much cash.

 

A general rule of mine is to concentrate most of my transfers on the midfield and forward positions. Between the unpredictable nature of the position and the least amount of variation in production compared to other positions, transfers spent on keepers should be reserved for emergencies only. So when buying a keeper, go for the long haul. When buying a defender, I would look at the player's next six gameweeks before deciding I want him. The less movement in the back, the more transfers you will have ready to use on attacking players who are just finding form and that is where the gold is at.

 

Again, check out the new columns we have on pricing but one more rule-related topic to cover when making transfers over the course of the season. Players prices will rise and fall based on movement in the market by all fantasy managers. Though you start the season with £100 million, your team's overall monetary value can rise millions above that, giving you more money to play with, which "should" be to one's advantage. Team value is not crucially important, but it certainly doesn't hurt. Especially early in the season, it is a good idea to jump on a player or two's bandwagon and earn a profit off of when you sell them down the road.  Typically, my team value is above 105.0m by season's end. That extra 5m goes a long way. It turns a Glenn Whelan into a Dele Alli.

 

Finally, you are not trapped by a set limit of transfers. You can make transfers beyond the FTs provided. But understand each hit comes at a price of 4 points off of your total score. Taking points hits is something of an art form and is another area of the game where the philiosphy varies. I've seen some managers be among the very best in the world taking -4 or -8 hits virtually every week. I have seen others just as succesful without ever taking hits unless in extreme emergency. Ive had weeks where my round score was in the top 5k in the world and I took an eight point hit, Ive had other weeks with a round rank of 3.5million when I thought my team was so strong, I didn't need to make any moves. It's a like a carnival ride. Spending points walks a fine line between having a blast and making you sick to your stomach.

 

 

Follow the entire Rotoworld Premier League team on Twitter: Neal | Steve | Andrew | Sean | Stag | Ben | Galin | Nik

 

 

3) CAPTAINCY

 

With each passing year, it is becoming more and more apparent that the biggest factor between having a respectable rank and having a rank to brag to everyone about is one's captaincy success rate. Every week, you designate one of your starting players as a captain, and that player will provide double the points that they otherwise would have. Nothing will see you climb or drop the ranks faster than getting the captaincy totally right or totally wrong. The sad thing is, there is so much luck in this area. Most weeks, you will find that you have more than one legit captaincy option and it is your job to weigh the pros and cons of each choice. You can make all the arguments you want, use all the logic in the world, but still get burned badly in this area of the game. Remember, FPL is kind of an all-or-nothing scoring system. Either you put up a crooked number or you just collect your appearance points.

 

So, let's say you own Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku. Both have a home game. Both have scored three goals over their last two games. Both are playing sides in the relegation zone. You begin to whittle away at who has the advantage over the other and it can get to the point where you get silly. "Well, Tottenham have the earlier kickoff, so if I go Lukaku, at least I have some ammo if Kane does well. If I go Kane and he blanks, then I have to hide behind the couch while Lukaku owners salivate." It can definitely get a little silly. At the end of the day though, you have to be smart about your captain. Get an idea from around the community about who the top candidates are. It may prove useful, depending on your rank at the time, to "follow the herd" and sort of "protect" your rank or to go against the grain with the less popular option, because that has the potential to make more of an impact on your rank (for better or worse).

 

 

4) CHIPS

 

There is another element to the FPL game that can make a huge impact on the success of your season, and we are only entering the third year of its use - the FPL Chips. Chips are specialized "weapons" to enhance your team in a given gameweek. First, and I am not sure if they count as chips, you have two Wildcards at your disposal. One you can use only in the first half of the season, the other, the second half. The wildcard allows you to make unlimited transfers in a gameweek and, if used with the thought of other chips in mind, can set up some massive scores.

 

While the only constraint with the use of the wildcard being that one is used in the first 19 weeks, the other, the final 19 weeks, it seems clear to me that both wildcards have a distinct role to play. The first half wildcard should be used by most somewhere between Week 3-Week 6 of the season. In other words early. This allows you to build a very strong squad for those first few weeks. Then, you Wildcard early enough to not be too late on bandwagon players whose prices are shooting up fast. Now, you build a side that will at least look good on paper for another 5 weeks or so, putting you around Week 10-12, which, by then, you should have a clear idea of who is having a good fantasy season and who isn't. The second half wildcard is even more easy to play with. During the PL season, fixtures get moved to a later date because of scheduling conflicts with cup games or European tournaments. This creates weeks where clubs play twice in a single round and they always occur in the second half of the season. If you play your wildcard in one of these "Double Gameweeks", you have the potential to put up crazy points.

 

There are three other chips in the game, and one of them is brand new this season. The two we have become familiar with, Bench Boost and Triple Captain, are chips you will want to keep locked away for several months. They will prove to be beneficial during the double gameweeks. The chips sort of speak for themselves - with Bench Boost, you add the points your bench players got to your round score, with Triple Captain, take the score of whoever has the armband and triple it rather than double it. Imagine playing that during a Harry Kane double gameweek. 

 

Then, there is a new chip, the "Free Hit" chip, which I personally get a kick out of because I had joked a couple of times during last season on Twitter that it would be nice to have a "Mulligan Chip" or something of that nature when you knew going into a gameweek that things were going to be bad. What the Free Hit chip allows you to do is to "transform" your squad for 1 week, building whatever team you can afford, and then the squad reverts back to its former self for the following gameweek. This almost seems like a chip that was created to address, not the double gameweeks, but the blank gameweeks that lead to double gameweeks. There is a particular week every season. usually around February or so, when many clubs do not play because the FA Cup has caused rescheduling, a couple of clubs may still be in the League Cup, and moved around, etc, etc. Last season, there was one gameweek where I believe only 8 of the 20 clubs were playing, and most of them were mediocre-to-poor fantasy clubs (hence why they aren't cup tied). So, what this chip can do, is allow you to keep a team intact ahead of one of these big blank weeks, build a special one-week side to handle that gamweek, then return to normal. It should make things all the more exciting.

 


Follow the entire Rotoworld Premier League team on Twitter: Neal | Steve | Andrew | Sean | Stag | Ben | Galin | Nik

 

 

Folks, I am already over 3,000 words. I am not sure if this column can support the weight of more content.  No worries though, I am confident there is enough information for you novice FPL managers to digest. Remember, this is just the intro course. We will be rolling out more and more FPL-centric columns in the coming weeks. If you have any specific questions in the meantime, you can always contact me on Twitter: @FuzzyWarbles. Until then, enjoy your summer and try not pick up an acute case of "tinkeritus", an illness picked up when you tinker with your team too much. Player movement, preseason performances and injuries yet to take place are just a few of the factors that will surely have you moving players around until the last possible moment.



Steve Rothgeb is a contributor for Rotoworld.com and WorldSoccerTalk.com, a self-proclaimed fantasy sports oracle, and Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. He can be found on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles.
Email :Steve Rothgeb





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