Fantasy football is a simple game that is difficult to master. Here I will share the principles and strategies I have successfully used to finish in the top 5k and top 1k of FPL managers in the last two seasons. If you implement this approach you will have a great chance of challenging towards the top 0.1% of the overall standings. You might even beat that smug work colleague who always finishes at the top of your mini league too!
The below strategy advice assumes you know the rules of FPL and have a basic knowledge of the premier league.
Before selecting your team you need to consider the structure of your side. By structure I mean the price points of the players you will look to select. When selecting my team I always make sure that I can transfer in any player in the game in two transfers. This gives your team flexibility and ensures you will be able to react to bring in the form players whoever they may be, with a maximum of a -4 hit if needed. This is often referred to as the balance of your team.
An example of the structure I like to go for at the start of the season is shown in the image below.
Ignore the players and look at the prices. Each price point in the game is covered, meaning when a player hits form, and is being transferred in by everyone else in the game I can easily transfer them into my team. In general I will look to have:
GKs: Two rotating 4.5 keepers. Or a 4.5 and a 4.0 backup keeper from the same team if the fixtures are good enough. The right 4.5 keeper often offers better value due to save points than the more expensive premium options.
Defence: 1-2 premiums priced between 5.5 – 6.5. For GW1 I like to pick 1 premium and then find a 5.0 with good fixtures I can play every week. Then pick two at 4.5 that rotate well. One will start, while the other is benched. Finally choose a 4.0 to be your 3rd bench player. This player will unlikely come into your team so it doesn’t really matter if they start or not, just choose the one you think is most likely to play.
Midfield: Choose two expensive midfielders 9.0+, then cover the following price points for your other 3 slots: 7.0 – 8.5; 5.5 – 6.5; and 4.5. The 4.5 will be on your bench and should be nailed on, ready to come off your bench if one of your first XI doesn’t feature. Choose the one you think has the most attacking threat.
Strikers: Select 1-2 premium strikers 10.0+, with one in the 5.5 – 7.0 range. Or one premium, one mid price 8.0 – 9.5, and one 5.5 -7.0. This will depend on how much you spend on your premium midfielders.
The balanced team structure outlined above is important in giving your team the flexibility needed to navigate the opening weeks of the season when form and starting XIs are still uncertain. For example if you were playing a 3-4-3 with three premium strikers, and an expensive midfielder becomes a must have, you are going to have to spend two, maybe even three transfers to restructure your side to bring that midfielder in.
The Bench: I like to have as much money invested in my starting XI as possible (especially at the start when budget is tight), which is why for GW1 my bench will have the lowest value possible. If you follow the team selection advice below and choose nailed on players, you should only occasionally need to call on your bench. Having two cheap bench players that will start and come in for a valuable 2 points when called upon is fine. Don’t waste money sitting on your bench!
Formation: I prefer to start the season with a 3-4-3, as this allows me to own a budget midfielder and striker in my team structure. This means if a cheap mid or striker becomes a must have I can easily transfer them in without having to sacrifice a more expensive option, or have to change formation (which will likely cost me a hit).
For example if you’re playing a 3-5-2 with two premium strikers and Tosun at 7.0 is scoring for fun, you will need to downgrade one of your premium strikers or change formation (which will likely cost you 2 transfers) to fit him in.
The last thing to do before selecting your side is to create a shortlist of players you may want to own. Look through each team in turn and select players for your shortlist based on fixture difficulty and if you think a player has been underpriced. Then divide your shortlist up into the price points outlined above and choose players at each price point based on the following.
Fixtures: Select players with the best fixtures for the first 4-6 GWs of the season. You are not picking a team for the season. Your chances of having a good start to the season are greatly increased if you choose players with easier rather than difficult opening fixtures.
Captain Options: Look through the first 4-6 GWs and think who you would want to captain for each GW. These are usually the reliable, nailed on, expensive, heavy hitters who are capable of hitting double digit hauls. Using the team structure outlined above you will be able to afford two of these.
Nailed on: Make sure your selections are nailed on and not at risk from rotation. When the season starts you will need to use your transfers to transfer in form players, and transfer out injuries. You do not want to be having to deal with players that may or may not start as well.
Proven fantasy football assets: It’s usually best to select players that have proven they can score points in FPL. This means not selecting too many new signings to the league.
The Key Men: Look out for players who are the key men at their respective clubs. For example Zaha at Palace and Arnautivic at West Ham. These type of players are usually mid priced and have a high goal involvement. If they have a good run of fixtures it’s a good idea to choose them as a mid priced asset.
Rotation: To get the maximum value out of your low price (4.5) goalkeepers and defenders, it’s a good idea to choose two that rotate well. By this I mean combine the fixtures of the two players, select the best fixture for that week, and play the player with the best fixture, benching the other. The easier the fixtures in the rotation the better.
For example consider the fixtures below for Fabianski and Begovic:
Fabianski: liv | BOU | ars | WOL |eve
Begovic: CAR | whm | EVE | che | LEI
Rotation: CAR | BOU | EVE | WOL | LEI
The rotation means you can play a keeper in a good home fixture for the first 5 GWs of the season, benching them for their more difficult fixtures, therefore maximising your points potential.
I’ll keep this bit short, do not take risks with the captaincy. Yes you will hear stories about how someone captained Javier Hernandez for a hatrick away to Stoke, but that move is likely to fail 99 times out of 100. It’s usually best to choose one of the proven heavy hitting fantasy assets like Kane or Salah with an easy fixture.
Keep an eye on the captain poll over at fantasyfootballscout. If there is a run away leader it likely means they are the most obvious option and it’s probably best to captain them. So if Kane / Salah is on form and at home to a team in the bottom three, just captain him. You don’t need to captain differentials to move up the standings, and it usually does more harm to your rank than good.
If you want to be different and take a risk, wait until there is a split decision on the captain poll and go for a differential captain then.
Transfers are a precious commodity in any fantasy football game. In FPL you get 1FT a week, with every additional transfer costing 4 precious points.
Firstly I would advise you create and maintain a watchlist of players that you would want to transfer into your side. Update this watchlist after each GW. Try to keep it fairly short, with a maximum of 10-15 players. Now create a rule for yourself that you will only ever transfer in a player if they are on your watchlist, this will avoid knee jerk decisions later in the week as the deadline approaches.
Ideally you want to transfer in players based on the following criteria:
- The transfer should be for the long term. Aim to keep the player for at least 5 GWs.
- The player should have good long term fixtures. Transferring in a player with difficult fixtures makes little sense.
- The player should be in good form and have the stats to back their form up (e.g. a striker scoring goals who also has lots of shots on target, or a defender keeping clean sheets for a team not conceding chances).
- Ideally the player should be a proven fantasy point scorer. This makes it more likely they will keep scoring points after you’ve bought them in
It’s not possible for all transfers to fit the above criteria, but the more boxes the player ticks the better.
Here are a couple of transfers decisions to avoid:
- Don’t bring in players for 1-2 GW punts. You’ll end up having to deal with them along with the other fires (injuries, suspensions, rotation) you’ll inevitably have to put out with throughout the season.
- Avoid bringing in a player off the back of one good performance, otherwise known as chasing points. This is an easy trap to fall into with the cheaper 4th mids and 3rd strikers. In reality these players hit a big score once or twice a season, so are unlikely to do it two GWs in a row. Don’t waste transfers chasing these points. Choose a 4th mid / 3rd striker with good fixtures and stick with them. Obviously if a cheaper player keeps scoring big then transfer them in.
In FPL if you don’t use your free transfer for the week, it will roll over so you have 2FT the week after. I would strongly recommend rolling over your free transfer as often as possible. A lot can happen in a week of fantasy football, and having 2FT will give you greater flexibility in your transfers the week after. This can be very powerful as it means you can restructure your team easier than with 1FT. You can even make 3 transfers for a -4 hit, which can feel like a mini WC to get the form players into your team. You will often need to use that 1FT, but if your team looks okay, and you have the main captain option for the week, save the transfer.
Lastly, a turning point for me was when I stopped looking at my team thinking who do I want to transfer out (the exception being if a player is injured or suspended) and started looking at who I wanted to transfer in. It’s very easy to look at your team and think player x isn’t performing I need to transfer him out, this often results in shoehorning in another player you don’t really want who you’ll want rid of in a few weeks anyway. Look at who you want to bring in, based on form, fixtures and stats, and see how they might fit into your team, and if they’d improve on what you already own.
During the course of the season player value will change depending on the number of transfers in or out of that player. Price changes occur at around 2.30 – 3 am GMT and can be tracked at www.fplstatistics.co.uk. The site will give you an idea of if a player is likely to rise or fall in value on that day.
Firstly it is vital that you don’t lose too much team value by owning players who are falling in price. Having a low team value will mean you may not be able to afford the players a rival with a high team value can afford later in the season.
A couple of 0.1 drops in value here and there are fine (especially if you think the player has good form and fixtures), however it is usually a good idea to move a player on before they fall in price if you’re going to make that transfer anyway. It is usually a bad idea to hold on to a player who looks like they will decline more than 0.3 in value (e.g. if they are injured, suspended, or the rest of the game is transferring them out).
Depending on who you speak to it is also a good idea to build your team value up as much as possible, with the idea that you will be able to afford better players later in the season. Do this by transferring in players you want to own before they rise in price, all those 0.1 and 0.2 price rises really add up over the course of the season.
Saying that I finished in the top 5k in the 2017-18 season ending on a team value of £100.6, only £0.6 above the starting squad value, so it’s not the primary factor in determining a good season.
You will usually build a good team value by transferring in players with good form and fixtures, and making sure you don’t have too many players falling in value (these will usually be players injured, suspended or out of form, so you should be looking to transfer them out anyway).
This is a nuance of the game that maybe should be ignored, however I like to monitor the top 10k player ownership levels. This data can be found at fpldiscovery.wordpress.com.
The top 10k is where I aim to finish every season and this gives me an idea of how dangerous it is to not own a player, or if there is an opportunity to own an explosive player who is not well owned.
For example if Kane is owned by 70% of the top 10k then it is very dangerous for me not to have him in my team. If he scores well and is also captained by many I will be looking at a significant drop in rank and I will lose ground on the top 10k.
If Hazard is owned by 5% of the top 10k due to poor form, but has three favourable fixtures coming up. I may choose to take a gamble and bring Hazard in, in an attempt to make up ground on the top 10k.
Finally let’s say Aguero is owned by 15% of the top 10k and has a plum fixture at home to a team in poor form, but I don’t own him. I’m not going to suffer a significant drop in rank, even if he does score well, due to his relatively low ownership, so I probably wouldn’t look to bring him in if it meant restructuring my team. However if we was owned by 70% of the top 10k I would have to seriously consider getting him in.
When asked “when should I wildcard” the advice will often be “when you need to”, for example when you have a lot of injuries or suspensions. However I disagree, I think the wildcards should be strategically planned for specific GWs in order to take full advantage of the opening fixtures (wildcard 1) or the bench boost chip (wildcard 2).
First Wildcard: I like to play my first wildcard during the second international break, which is usually around GW8. By planning to play my WC that week I can set my initial team up purely based on the opening 7-8 fixtures. This is especially advantageous when planning defensive and goalkeeper rotations. I will now also have a good idea of player and team form than if I had wildcarded earlier.
By playing the WC in an international break it also gives me two weeks to play the transfer market to try to get some price rises, and allows me to react to any international injuries.
Second Wildcard: I will always play the second wildcard the GW, or two GWs, before playing my bench boost chip. This enables me to WC in 15 players with an upcoming DGW, which is the week I’ll be playing my bench boost.
I can’t see past playing the chips in double or blank GWs. You will get the odd success story where someone plays their bench boost in a single GW and their bench scores 30+ points, or they triple captain Salah at home to Watford and he scores 4 (sound familiar?).
However for every success story there are far more failures, where benches scores zero and triple captains blank. Playing your bench boost and triple captain chips in DGWs statistically improves your chances of scoring points as the player(s) you select will have two games to score points from.
Bench Boost: I like to wildcard the week before the DGW I plan to play my bench boost, enabling me to load up on 15 players that have two games. Even if my bench players only score appearance points that’s still 16 extra points, and there’s usually the odd clean sheet or assist thrown in by someone.
Aim to bench boost in GW37. Your team will likely become unbalanced by trying to get decent bench players in. Which is fine if played in GW37, as there will only be one more GW to go before the end of the season.
Triple Captain: Play this chip on a nailed on heavy hitter such as Kane or Salah in a DGW. Ideally the heavy hitter will be in form and have kind fixtures, although that’s not always the case.
Free Hit: This chip has only been around for one season. I played it to good effect in the blank GW that came about due to the FA cup semi finals and halved my rank. I will likely do the same next season.
I would save the second wildcard until after you’ve played the free hit chip. This is because the week after your free hit you will get the squad of players back from the week before. A lot can change in a week of fantasy football, and the players you get back in may have lost form, got injured, or now have bad fixtures.
It is very easy to look at your rivals team, see that they have Aguero playing at home to Huddersfield next GW, and take a hit to bring him into your team out of fear that he will score a hatrick.
Obviously Aguero is a good option at home to Huddersfield, so if you had planned for that move then fine. However, if you start basing your decisions on your rivals team, you will struggle to keep pace with them, as they are making decisions that are best for them, whereas you are making decisions that aren’t necessarily best for you.
I prefer not to look at my rivals team until I have made my decision on what to do next. Then the challenge is not changing your mind!
One thing humans don’t tend to be is patient, and fantasy football managers are no different. All too often we see that our £6.0 mid hasn’t scored in a few weeks and take him out for another average mid that happened to score a brace for the first time in two years the week before.
If you are making transfers with a long term view, bringing a player in for a certain set of fixtures, stick to the plan and let him play out those fixtures. Especially if he is a mid price enabler such as the 4th / 5th mid or 3rd striker.
This goes back to making transfers based on who you want to bring in, not who you want to take out. So if you want to bring a player in based on good form and fixtures, then taking out your underperforming player makes sense. Just don’t make transfers because you lose patience with a player not scoring points, when there is not a strong option to replace them with.
Have you ever been reading the fantasy football forums and seen people posting teams that look way better than yours for that GW, and ended up taking a -8 hit to get a similar team. Team envy, wishing you had someones else’s team, is an easy trap to fall in to.
Just remember they are either only posting because their team happens to be very good that week, or they have taken a lot of hits to get to that team. Don’t let team envy cloud the long term plan you have put in place. Your team doesn’t need to be the best every week, it just needs to score consistently above average throughout the season.
Again I like to have made my decision for the week before browsing the forums and looking at other peoples teams.
Thank you for reading, I hope the above FPL advice was useful, and I wish you the best of luck with your season!