Cast your mind back to August, a time when Fernando Torres was still a vastly relevant Fantasy asset and Swansea were set become the next piñata, ready for weekly abuse from the Premier League elite.
As we selected our initial squads we put less emphasis on the difficulty presented by the fixture list. With no form guide available, our selections were likely to be based on price and pedigree with a few hunches thrown in. It’s unlikely that long-term rotation strategies or planned Gameweek transfers were at play.
Jump to mid-March and the situation has changed considerably. Torres is the 44th ranked forward for the season to date with the same number of league goals (2) as Gary Caldwell, while Swansea have transformed into an outstanding budget bracket defence, catapulting Michel Vorm and company into the Fantasy spotlight.
This marks a period in our Fantasy season where planning becomes key. A player’s performance to date and long term prospects start to take a backseat as we assess the fixture list more closely, with the aim to shuffle and rotate our squads in order to squeeze every last point out of the diminishing Fantasy season.
While we’re likely to go into the run-in with a band of favoured players locked into our squads – Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, Jonny Evans, perhaps Clint Dempsey – around these ‘fixed’ assets, we should look to plan our rotation options to maximise favourable fixtures.
In this article we’ll discuss some of the available strategies to achieve this:
- Find mid-priced assets whose fixtures gel well together, thus forming a rotation pair who can exploit a favourable run-in.
- Highlight the best ‘runs’ of fixtures for the elite players to identify potential transfers and when they should be made.
- Identify ‘super subs’ whose fixtures match favourably with the elite ‘fixed’ assets’ tougher games, therefore providing value off the bench.
This strategy looks to identify teams that “marry up” and work well as a combination – ideally offering a straight run of favourable fixtures from now, right to Gameweek 38. By fetching assets from these teams, we’re setting up rotation opions in our squads to cover the gaps around our fixed heavy-hitting players.
Aston Villa and Sunderland Defenders
These two units have been useful but unspectacular all season, generally struggling to find the kind of consistency to make them weekly starters, while still showing enough promise to keep them relevant. Together though, they might finally become the reliable (and reasonably priced) options we hoped for.
Playing the fixtures would see this pair enjoy home games against Bolton twice, QPR, Stoke and Wolves, with the only difficult fixtures being Chelsea at home (Gameweek 31) and a trip to Liverpool in Gameweek 32. Playing the optimal fixture from Gameweek 30 to Gameweek 36 will see you face opponents who average just 1.03 goals per game and given Villa’s, and particularly Sunderland’s home form, that should be a recipe for defensive success in the final stages of the season.
The FA Cup throws up a potential issue for this pair as Sunderland could be otherwise engaged at Wembley in Gameweek 34, while Villa face the unenviable task of a trip to Old Trafford. Given the strength of their other fixtures, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, especially with budget teams like Swansea, West Brom and Stoke facing strong fixtures in Gameweek 34 and thus serving as reliable one week options as backup.
With Wes Brown and Titus Bramble currently sidelined, Michael Turner (4.2) looks like a sneakily cheap and undervalued option here. Phil Bardsley (4.8) is safer and comes with some offensive potential while you would probably give the edge to Alan Hutton (4.9) at Villa, who has shown more offensive potential of late than equally priced teammate Stephen Warnock. Carlos Cuellar (4.9) has proven to be an able deputy for Richard Dunne at the heart of defence, averaging 8 points per game over the last three Gameweeks, and could prove to be another option, though the Irishman is expected to return from a collarbone injury at some point next month.
Fulham and Sunderland Midfielders/Forwards
When we consider rotating players, it is generally in defence, and perhaps between the sticks, where it’s practiced. Rotating your attacking options can be just as valuable, however, and they needn’t even play the same position, as long as you have sufficient flexibility in your squad.
Fulham and Sunderland present an example of how this can work. Using these two teams in such a system appears to have little downside, as you take advantage of a fixture list which would include five games against teams in the bottom five, a trio of mid table sides (Norwich, Everton and Sunderland) and just a single match in Gameweek 38 against one of the current top four. Again, Sunderland’s potential off-week in Gameweek 34 is a concern, though Fulham’s trip to Liverpool wouldn’t be the worst fixture in the world to play. Alternatively, you could surely find some value on your bench with favourable fixtures for Swansea and West Brom.
Both Fulham and Sunderland offer good options for any budget. You could pair Clint Dempsey (9.4) with James McClean (4.9), thus protecting yourself against Dempsey’s struggles on the road. The other intriguing combination would involve a shuffle of formation to incorporate the recently impressive Pavel Pogrebnyak (6.4), teaming him up with Stephane Sessegnon who returns from his ban this weekend. This pairing would afford solid attacking coverage in the mid-price, freeing up cash for investment elsewhere.
Playing the fixtures with either of those two pairings would mean you would face an opponent who, on average, has conceded around 1.7 goals per game, equivalent to playing QPR every week. Maximising home fixtures is particularly important for Fulham – the Cottagers have managed over two goals per game at Craven Cottage but just 0.6 a game on their travels.
Stoke and Newcastle Midfielders/Defenders/Goalkeepers
Like Fulham, the Potters are another side how can offer strong potential in home matches but stutter on their travels. Tony Pulis’ side do benefit from a favourable run of opponents at the Britannia but Fantasy managers will rightly be concerned on the consistency of options like Jon Walters and the injury prone Matt Etherington. A combination with Newcastle might offer a solution. From now until the end of the season you can ensure a run of nine home matches with a Stoke/Newcastle combination. That would allow you to consider Walters working in tandem with Hatem Ben Arfa, for example, in the mid-price bracket. Defensively, the Danny Simpson/Andy Wilkinson rotation also looks to have good potential, with Tim Krul and Asmir Begovic rotating effectively in goal.
Liverpool and Tottenham – Defenders/Midfielders/Forwards
These two sides boast mid-price Fantasy assets that rotate home matches perfectly until the end of the season. As a result, we can create pairings all over our squads – Jose Enrique or Martin Skrtel combine with Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Younas Kaboul, equally Steven Gerrard and Gareth Bale gel, while Emmanuel Adebayor and Luis Suarez offer a rotating strike pairing. With Bale offering potential home and away, and Suarez and Adebayor leaving no room for a Van Persie/Rooney combination, it’s likely that this marriage is best used at the back, offering a run of straight home matches right to the season climax. Tha major issue here, of course, is form. Neither Liverpool nor Spurs are displaying any confidence right now – we’d need this to return before considering setting up such a rotation.
With only a handful of games to play, we can start to identify ‘runs’ of fixtures to exploit, even if it costs a transfer or two to harvest the potential value. Here’s just a couple of examples of teams and player combinations that look worthy of investigation:
Juan Mata and Theo Walcott
While Fantasy managers clamour for Antonio Valencia, the qualities offered by both Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and Chelsea’s Juan Mata shouldn’t be ignored. Chelsea seem revived under Roberto Di Matteo and Mata has been handed the role tucked in behind a lone striker in recent matches. Walcott has shown signs of a new level of consistency and will be looking to end the season with a flourish to book his starting role in the England 2012 squad. Both combine perfectly as assets throughout the last nine Gameweeks, making it possible to have one of them at home from now until the end of the season. You’ll need to absorb any price rises and reserve your free transfer regularly for the swap but, if you can manage it, this pairing could blend beautifully with 7% and 6% ownership handing a strong differential.
Man United and Man City
Not surprisingly, United and City swap home matches right to the end of the season and this is something we can look to exploit. If we accept Wayne Rooney as a fixed asset, the potential for rotation seems to lie amongst the fringe players on offer. While Antonio Valencia is rightly a popular target following his haul at Molineux, he could yet be prone to rotation with Ashley Young, Nani and Danny Welbeck. The possibility of rotating Valencia with City’s Yaya Toure in our squads – ensuring that you have one of them at home across all nine Gameweeks, looks an option, then. Similarly, we could apply the same principle for the third striker role. If you’ve got a United slot spare, Javier Hernandez in rotation with Mario Balotelli or even Carlos Tevez, would give you a proven goalscorer at home over the nine Gameweeks. That’s as long as Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini play ball with their team selection.
Sometimes we don’t want to setup a ‘rotation’ strategy but rather carry a budget asset to slot in for just one or two weeks. The below listing highlights which cut-price players could be targeted to back-up the elite options during their rare off-weeks:
For Midfield/Attack….Hardest games: 32(MCI), 35 (CHE), 36 (sto)
Super sub: Fulham (bol, WIG, eve) or Swansea (NEW, bol, WOL)
Fulham and Swansea present good value across the board and look particularly useful alternatives. Robin Van Persie is, of course, rotation proof, but the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain perhaps need some backup. The consistent pair of spot-kick takers Danny Murphy and Scott Sinclair would appear to be nice fits here if your budget can stretch that far, though it’s more likely that Gylfi Sigurdsson fits with your budget constraints.
For Defence…..Tough Gameweeks: 30 (TOT), 33 (ful) 35 (ars)
Super sub: Newcastle (wba, BOL, STO)
It’s arguable whether or not Chelsea are indeed an elite defence these days. Gary Cahill has picked up some interest of late and, if he can cement a starting role, he presents value at 5.4. The Newcastle defence work well in tandem here, with a couple of great looking home fixtures and reasonable trip to West Brom, making Danny Simpson and Mike Williamson the perfect backup for the Blues backline.
For Midfield/ Attack……Hardest games: 35 (ars), 37 (liv)
Super sub: Blackburn (NOR, WIG)
Blackburn haven’t given us much to get excited about this season but for these two games they look as good as anyone. Their 22 home goals are actually as good as Newcastle, suggesting 14 goal Yakubu may be worth a punt, with spot-kicks also in the bag. and Junior Hoilett is another to consider, with three goals since a move to “the hole” behind the Nigerian in the last couple of matches indicative of his upturn in form.
For Defence….Hardest games: 31 (new), 33 (bla), 36 (nor), 38 (swa)
Super sub: Everton (WBA, SUN, FUL, NEW)
Trips to Newcastle, Norwich and Blackburn appear to offer the biggest threat to the Reds’ chances of collecting clean sheets, with a visit to Swansea also set to rigorously test the rearguard. You don’t have to look too far to find the best complement, with David Moyes’ Everton looking a strong alternative. Until last week’s Merseyside derby, the Toffees had produced three clean sheets and shipped just four goals in the previous seven games. Tony Hibbert is the first name to highlight, given his price tag, but he does come with some risk, having dropped in and out of the side over the past couple of months. This leaves Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin as your best options- both have recovered from recent injuries and look likely starters from here on in.
Hardest games: 32 (ars), 36 (MUN), 37 (new)
Super sub: West Brom (BLA, AVL, bol)
With five home clean sheets already in the bag – including Chelsea and City – the Baggies have been fairly resilient at the Hawthorns. Blackburn and Aston Villa, meanwhile, have struggled to average barely over a goal a game on their travels, thus giving Roy Hodgson’s side a great couple of chances to add to their clean sheet haul. Their cheapest regular is Gareth McAuley, who also happens to be one of their most consistent, making him a perfect choice to back-up the likes of Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards.
From a more attacking perspective, we’re excluding Peter Odemwingie here, as, with a price tag of 7.3, he is obviously too pricey to be a mere bench player. Instead we’ve opted for James Morrison. Over the last six gameweeks, the Scot ranks amongst the top five in our ICT Index among midfielders- with a price of 5.3 and a more advanced role in the first-team of late, he’s a strong mid-price alternative.
Hardest games: 36 (mci), 38 (sun)
Super sub: Swansea (WOL, LIV) or Wigan (NEW, WOL)
United’s exceptional run in means you’re unlikely to be rotating any of them too often but a trip to the Etihad may prove tricky, while Sunderland have been particularly strong at home in the second half of the season.
Swansea are, of course, a good enough unit to warrant owning by their own right, but they present added value for anyone needing backup for their United assets. The Swans’ opponents in the highlighted games have averaged just a touch over a goal per game, and, considering his price tag, Steven Caulker makes the most sense for a spot at the back, while Scott Sinclair and Gylfi Sigurdsson offer alternatives should you consider benching midfield options.
For Wigan, a couple of home games against some shaky away defences leads us back to the old Fantasy kryptonite: Victor Moses. The much-maligned Latics wide man still leads all outfielders in points scored in the 5.0 or less bracket, with a total of 96, and is almost guaranteed to have something to play for come the end of the season.
For Defence… Hardest games: 30 (che), 34 (no game at present)
Super sub: Sunderland (QPR, WOL)
Again, Sunderland’s defensive assets have sufficient value of their own under Martin O’Neill, so consider this another string to their bow. Tottenham have one of the biggest home/away defensive splits in the league (0.9 goals per game conceded at home, 1.5 away from home) so avoiding a trip to Chelsea, in addition to a possible blank Gameweek, is a big plus to your team’s fortunes. Michael Turner looks like a great value pickup at just 4.2, while playing it safer would lead one to Phil Bardsley, who also brings some decent offensive potential.
For Midfield/Forwards… Hardest games: 30 (che), 32 (sun), 34 (no game at present)
Super subs: Swansea (EVE, NEW, BLA) or West Brom (NEW, BLA, QPR)
Tottenham’s home games are sufficiently strong to warrant owning their players despite the couple of tricky away games, but their form away from White Hart Lane suggests some cover should be considered. The same options apply here as mentioned above, with Gylfi Sigurdsson and James Morrison standing out as candidates.