Whether you're a Fantasy Premier League veteran or a newcomer, we all need some advice to improve our game. Here are some of the Golden Rules of FPL, from the FPL Community.
Cutting straight to the chase, last year was a struggle. What started off so brightly for the Last Stand ended with a monumental collapse, as we attempted to transfer our way out of trouble and saw our ranking fall with each eight and twelve point hit. We’ll not talk about where we ended up after gameweek 38.
In an attempt to get ahead of the game, and to have the best chance of success, a tweet was sent out requesting advice from superior FPL managers. The question was, what are your golden rules when it comes to FPL? There were dozens of responses, so I thought I’d list them all here, with a few thoughts, and hope that the wisdom of the crowd can be a benefit to me, and maybe to you, the reader, too.
With a week to go until the big kick-off, here were the FPL Golden Rules, as determined by some of the finest managers in the game. If you want to see the original thread, and the discussion that came about, you can see it by clicking HERE.
Initial Squad Selection.
1 – Prioritise Defenders and Midfielders.
The thinking behind this rule is simple – defenders and midfielders have greater potential for points. Compare, for example, Sterling and Aguero. For the same price, you can have Aguero, who gets four points a goal, and has less opportunity for bonus points, or you can have Sterling, who gets five points a goal in addition to a point for a clean sheet, with a more forgiving bonus points system. As if to confirm the point, in last season’s game, the five top-scorers were defenders and midfielders.
2 – Sign the most expensive player in each position.
If you have the most expensive player in each position, and you decide you want to transfer them out, it will only cost you one transfer. If you go for a cheaper option, like Mane, then decide after two weeks you need Salah, it’s going to cost two transfers in order to free up the funds.
3 – Sign defenders with attacking threat.
Defenders, generally, will not contribute as many attacking returns as midfielders and strikers. If they do, while keeping a clean sheet, you are nailed-on for a double-figure return that week, especially once bonus points are factored in. Someone like Alderweireld looks appealing – £5.5m, in the Spurs defence – but he has just one attacking return in three seasons. You could get Chilwell for the same price, who had five attacking returns last season, and is now playing under a much more adventurous manager. For a bit of a gamble, Ritchie is now classified as a defender, had ten attacking returns last season and ten clean sheets, and is Newcastle’s penalty taker. Should Bruce retain the stability forged under Benitez, Ritchie could end up a must-have – especially if Bruce plays him further forward.
4 – Only one defensive and attacking player per team (exceptions apply).
If you load up your defence with two or three players from the same team, it only takes one goal to render your defence ineffective for the gameweek. Likewise, having multiple attackers from one team leaves you one great goalkeeping performance from having your points return severely stunted. By having one defensive and one attacking player per team, you limit the risk of this happening, and the most successful FPL managers are the ones that minimise the risks, rather than chasing rewards.
The exception to this rule, of course, is when there are teams as dominant as Manchester City and Liverpool were last season. When Liverpool are keeping 21 clean sheets while having defenders offering 14, 12 and 8 attacking returns, it’s a no-brainer to have two of their defenders. Likewise, when Man City are sticking goals past teams left, right and centre, the risk of having Sterling and Aguero is severely diminished. For the other eighteen teams in the league, it’s best to stick to the one-and-one rule.
5 – Invest in penalty takers.
We still don’t know the effect the introduction of VAR will have on the Premier League. Research from the Economist says that, while VAR reduces refereeing mistakes by 80%, it has little impact on the amount of penalties awarded. That being said, there’s every chance that we’ll see an initial spate of penalties awarded in the opening weeks, while defenders adjust to the new system. By investing in penalty takers – especially ones who are defenders, like Ritchie, or midfielders, like Milivojevic, you increase the chances of getting extra points from these players. Indeed, Milivojevic has scored 22 goals in two seasons, the vast majority being penalties. Not bad for a holding midfielder.
6 – Avoid wasting Defender slots.
The temptation, especially in the early weeks of the season, is to pick three defenders who play every week, then bring in one or two £4m defenders to enable squad strengthening elsewhere. This is short-sighted for two reasons. The first is that, should you wish to upgrade one of these £4m defenders, it will cost two transfers to free up the funds. The second is that you are limiting your opportunity for rotation. Unless there’s a player like last season’s Wan-Bissaka or Bennett – a £4m defender playing every week – you are better off stretching an extra half-million and giving yourself a playing option from your bench.
Remember, attacking defenders offer great points potential, both from clean sheets (four points), attacking returns (five and three points) and bonus points (up to three points). Throwing away that potential, for the sake of 0.5m reinvested, seems short-sighted.
7 – Only plan for the opening eight to ten weeks.
You have a wildcard for a reason. Building a team for a season isn’t easy – you don’t know which players will suffer from second-season syndrome, who will get injured, who will go on a bad run, which teams will over-and-under-perform. By planning for the opening eight to ten weeks, you can build a squad around the opening fixtures, you can mitigate panic transfers, and then you can wildcard when you have more information on how the season is panning out. My preference is to wildcard during one of the autumn international breaks, but with good planning, you may even be able to retain yours in case of emergency.
During the season.
8 – Break the season into chunks.
This follows on from the previous rule. Some people like to plan per month, others over a longer period. Some prefer going by milestones – international breaks, Christmas period, build-up to double-gameweeks etc. However you choose to do so, break your season up and have a plan for each chunk. This will minimise the need for panic hits, and give you a chance to adapt your squad ready for each particular period of the season.
9 – Trust your big players.
When we see our Aubameyang return two weeks of blanks, while their Kane produces two double-figure returns in the same fortnight, the natural desire is to swap our low-scorer for the one who’s bagged the points. The problem is, when you do so, you’re just as likely to see the man you got rid of get the next week’s points as the one you’ve brought in. The big players are big players for a reason – over the course of the season, they will get you the points. Avoid missing out on them through playing big-player roulette.
10 – Safe captaincy choices.
We all have someone in our mini-league who raked home a thirty-point haul through captaining a random defender who kept a clean sheet and scored his only goal of the season – they never let us forget it. As a rule, though, gambling on risky captaincy choices is going to leave you behind your rivals. Salah has scored 562 points in the last two seasons – if you captained him every week, that’s 1,124 points from one player. If you have him, captain him. The regret over chancing an unheralded captain and watching the obvious choice score twice and assist is doubled by knowing all your rivals had the sense to leave him as captain. If you have two premiums then, by all means, rotate your captain based on form and fixtures. But if you have a £12m+ player and you’re captaining a £7.5m player, you’re just asking for trouble.
11 – Form over fixtures.
When it comes to which player to start over which player to bench, always, always, always go with the man in form. So many people stuck with Manchester United players towards the end of last season, despite them being on a horrendous run of form. “Look at the fixtures,” they cried, desperate to convince themselves that a team of shirkers was just waiting until they had Huddersfield and Cardiff in the same week to suddenly become Keegan’s Newcastle reincarnate. Football doesn’t work that way, especially with goals. A confident striker doesn’t care who they are playing, which is why Jimenez got so many attacking returns against the top six. A player shorn of belief will snatch at chances, will let their head drop and will let you down. This also applies to captaincy choices – go with the man banging in points, not the one with the ‘best’ fixture.
12 – No hits unless you can’t field a team.
If you can get eleven players on the pitch, there is simply no point in taking a hit. If your sub gets 2 points, and your subs should really be steady two-pointers, it means the player you bring in has to get six points just to break even on the hit. If your sub gets an attacking return or a clean sheet, then your hit-transfer needs to get nine or more points to be worthwhile. FPL is about managing the risks – taking hits just increases the chances of those risks blowing up in your face.
Last season, after 34 gameweeks, the average transfers of those in the top 100 was 35.77. In the top 1,000, it was 37.02. In the top 10,000, it was 39.82. In the top 100,000, it was 45.69. The pattern is clear – the most successful players, on average, take the least hits.
13 – Only take a hit if you will captain the player.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes, you need to take a hit to get an in-form premium player in, ahead of an easy fixture. Those players who took a hit for Sterling, then captained him when he returned 21 points, would think a no-hits policy is a fallacy. The key question to ask, ahead of any hit, is ‘Will I captain this man?’ If the answer is no, is the gamble really worth it, when it’s already going to cost you four points?
14 – Avoid hits on like-for-like transfers.
If you’re taking a hit to transfer Mane for Sterling, is it really worth it? If Sterling was to bang that week, then of course. The thing is, even the big players have quiet weeks. No player returns every week. If you take a hit to bring in a Sterling for a Mane, there’s every chance Mane will equal or better Sterling’s score, especially with a four-point head-start. You’re better off banking the transfer, waiting a week then making the switch with no points penalty. This applies to mid-range players as well – if the likes of Fraser, Perez and Willian were returning every week, they’d be valued much higher.
Remember – the most successful players are those who manage the risks best.
15 – No transfers before press conferences.
There’s an argument that the early bird catches the worm, and that by transferring early in the week, you get to maximise value increases while minimising value decreases. While this can be true, team value doesn’t necessarily translate into FPL success. The most valuable teams towards the end of the season are always nowhere in the overall rankings. Often, injuries or rotation intentions aren’t revealed by managers until the Friday press conferences. There are few worse feelings in FPL than bringing in a player at the start of the week, only for their manager to reveal they’ve picked up a knock in training, or they are going to give their understudy a game. By waiting until after the press conferences, you ensure you have the maximum available information with which to base your transfer decisions. The more information you have, the better decisions you make – at least, in theory.
16 – Operate a 0-2-0-2 transfer policy.
If you make your transfers on a weekly basis, you are limited to either players of an equal or lesser value, or you will need to take a hit to get the player you want. If you make your transfers once every two gameweeks, you have two free transfers to play with. This gives much greater flexibility, giving you the option to swap two mid-range players for a lower value and a higher value player, with no points penalty. It can be hard to stick to such a formula, so plan ahead! The 0-2-0-2 transfer policy gives you an advantage over your rival who transfers every week, and allows you to take advantage of injuries and form fluctuations without losing points.
17 – Sign players playing out of position, where it benefits their points.
One of the holy grails of FPL is the striker who is classified as a midfielder. They have all the advantages of being up-front, while still scoring five points for a goal, gaining a point for a clean sheet and having a more generous bonus points system. Last season, Jota was a great signing for this reason – once he switched to playing alongside Jimenez, his attacking returns improved, and they were worth more points than his strike partner.
Sadly, Jota has been reclassified as a striker this season, but other options remain. Salah and Sterling are both classed as midfielders, yet essentially operate as forwards. At Leicester, Perez will play alongside Vardy or as a wide forward, yet is a midfielder. When Kane is out, Son and/or Moura play up front for Spurs. You have to pounce on these opportunities.
Likewise, defenders playing in midfield – as Ritchie has the potential to do – or at wing-back offer more opportunity for attacking returns, while retaining four points per clean sheet. Sometimes, these players only play out-of-position for short spells in a season – take advantage when they do
18 – Save your chips.
In FPL, you get three chips: Free Hit, Triple Captain and Bench Boost, in addition to two wildcards a season. The key is to save these for as long as possible. Towards the end of the season, when fixtures get rearranged due to cup competitions, there are always two, sometimes three double-gameweeks. These are the best weeks to work towards with your chips. They enable you to have the strongest possible team for the weeks with the highest points potential. Once you use them, they are gone. By saving them, you give yourself an advantage over your rivals during the key weeks of the season.
Again, we all know a player who Bench Boosts a random week in October and somehow brings in big points. They are the exception, not the rule. Avoid being swayed by their fortune, and give yourself the best possible chance to return the most possible points.
19 – No drunken FPL.
You never make good decisions on a Saturday night when you’re down the pub. You might think you’re showing that low-returning midfielder who the boss is, and you might think that, just once, an eight-point hit will reignite your season. What’s just as likely is that the player you transfer out in a drunken huff will score twice the week after, while you’ll be left trying to download an app that blocks the FPL website when you’re pissed. If you think your drunken management is genius, it’ll still be genius the morning after. Wait until then.
20 – Always be flexible – there are no golden rules.
Ultimately, there are no golden rules to FPL. There’s a lad in my mini-league who averages over two transfers a week, yet he’s always in the top two. There are players that change their captain every week, and somehow get it right. If you’d gone with a triple-Liverpool defence last season, you’d have got 606 points from Robertson, Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold for less than £18m, plus extra points from your sub defender in the weeks Alexander-Arnold was rested. If you’d got the right week, you could’ve triple captained either Aguero, Sterling or Salah to 63 points, outscoring any player in either of the double-gameweeks. There are no golden rules to FPL, because players are human, not robots. The best way to success is to minimise the risks, but sometimes, taking a risk brings a great reward.
The only real Golden Rule of FPL.
21 – Enjoy the game – it’s meant to be fun!
We all take the game too seriously at times. A bad gameweek can ruin our weekend, while a good one can make the world seem better. We can get so wrapped-up in the tiny details that we stop seeing the forest for the trees. Engaging in the FPL Community is great fun, but it can also lead to you feeling like you have to have certain players. Screw it! Back yourself over the crowd. If you want to have your team’s new signing from abroad, ignore everyone saying “you need to have this lad” and bring in your favourite instead! You’ll enjoy the game far more when your ‘maverick’ transfer scores, rather than just getting the same points off the same player as everyone else. If you’re dead against Liverpool players, then sod Salah! Now you have the money for Sterling, Kane, Aguero, Aubameyang and a whole host of other players who will all score big points over the season.
The FPL game is just that, a game, and games are meant to be fun. So go out there, pick your squad for the season ahead, read all the advice you want to read, then do whatever the hell you want to do. Just make sure you don’t end up like us obsessives who end up basing our whole enjoyment of football around how many meaningless points random players who don’t play for our clubs score in a game. The real joy from football comes from watching your team win in real life. This game we call FPL, this is just a bonus, so make sure you bloody well enjoy it.
All the best for the season ahead. As ever, may the FPL Gods be with you, and may fortune be on your side.
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The FPL Nightmare: How to Lose the World's Greatest Mini-League in 38 Simple Steps
The FPL Nightmare II:
The Crying, the Hits and the VAR Probe
The FPL Nightmare III:
The Lawes Rank Redemption
The Complete FPL Nightmare Trilogy:
The Epic Quest From A 4.8m Rank To A Top 0.1% Finish
on Kindle: £3.99
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Having completed the FPL Nightmare book trilogy, Lawes no longer provides weekly updates on his progress. Instead, he occasionally offers advice to his fellow FPL managers.
Of course, the FPL Gods remain bastards, and they conspire to make his advice look foolish.