As the Brazil 2014 World Cup edges towards its conclusion, our focus shifts towards domestic matters once again. With just over a month left until the 2014/15 season gets underway on Saturday August 16, Fantasy managers have already begun to analyse the schedule in order to ascertain the most efficient, cheap rotation options on offer.
While we’re aware that most of our community are already familiar with such a concept – Portsmouth Bubblejet’s excellent Home and Away Rotation article in our community section offers further insight – we nevertheless begin our series of articles on fixture rotation with a look at the basics involved and cast an eye back over the previous campaign as means of illustration.
Fixture rotation only applies to squad-based Fantasy games and is utilised best with goalkeepers and defenders. At its most basic level, the principle is simply finding a pair of cut-price players whose home and away matches dovetail perfectly, allowing us to select the home option each time and benching the other player. Our rotation policies normally have us searching for budget pairings – mainly because most will baulk at the idea of benching an asset in or above the mid-price value bracket.
Stoke’s first season under Mark Hughes is a fine example of just why rotation is key. The Potters conceded just 17 times at the Britannia, the fourth best home defence in 2013/14 behind Chelsea, Arsenal and City – three of the top four in the league. On the road, however, it’s a different matter altogether – 35 goals conceded was the fourth worst backline on their travels, with only relegated trio Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham shipping more.
Those playing starting XI games such as Sky Sports or The Sun need not worry about such strategies but for Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers or the Ultimate FPL game, fixture rotation can be a significant part of our preparation and one of the keys to success. Shuffling resources at the back and selecting cut-price regulars with guaranteed game time allows us to free up cash to splash further up the field.
The Security of Keepers
In some cases, geographical proximity plays a part in two teams’ ability to rotate. Arsenal/Tottenham and Man United/Man City, for example, alternate from one home game to the next but their goalkeeper assets are anything but budget friendly – Joe Hart and David De Gea started at 6.5 and 6.0 in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game last term and few, if any, Fantasy managers will be willing to bench such a costly asset for 19 of the 38 Gameweeks. Finding cheap backline partnerships is vital to a successful rotation pairing and, as last season showed, there’s plenty of value on offer between the sticks – Palace’s Julian Speroni and Sunderland’s Vito Mannone were the top two players for value in the FPL game.
A fundamental reason for this is the FPL rule set. While clean sheets are the bread and butter of goalkeepers in most games, the FPL decision to award an extra point for every three saves is crucial to our thinking when assessing our preferred stoppers. Mannone’s heroics between the posts for the Black Cats are a case in point – he earned a total of 33 extra points from saves alone and delivered at least one save point in 22 of his 29 league appearances.
Assured game time is another factor in goalkeepers’ favour. Three of the four players to feature in every minute of the 2013/14 season were stoppers – Brad Guzan, Simon Mignolet and John Ruddy – with Steven Caulker the only outfield player to make the cut. The risk of rest and rotation is significantly reduced, while the chances of a keeper being subbed off due to a tactical tweak are more or less non-existent.
The Case for the Defence
In any given season, though, there will always be cut-price defenders who perform way beyond their initial valuation. Southampton’s Jose Fonte started with a 4.5 price tag in FPL last term and proceeded to serve up three goals, 15 clean sheets and 21 bonus points – rising to a high of 5.5, the centre-half was second only to Laurent Koscielny amongst outfield players for value over the season and finished 25 points ahead of team-mate Artur Boruc between the sticks. Similarly, Palace’s Joel Ward began at 4.0 and racked up 123 points – a season value of 27.3 is just behind Fonte’s 27.6.
When forming our goalkeeper pairings, it’s vital to also consider what’s on offer from their respective defences. Take West Ham, for example. Big Sam’s side served up 14 clean sheets last season – only Chelsea, Arsenal, City, Everton and Southampton managed more – and with the Upton Park club quick to splash the cash and strengthen over the summer, their chances of maintaining that resilience looks strong. Whilst Spanish stopper Adrian will offer save points (23 from 20 starts in the campaign gone by), new left-back Aaron Cresswell looks one to monitor – handed set-pieces and corners by former club Ipswich, he served up two goals and 14 assists in the Championship last season.
While our 15 man FPL squads comprise of five defenders, the vast majority of Fantasy managers favour a three-man backline. Some prefer to plan a little more elaborately – utilising a variety of approaches including two, three and even four-way rotation in accordance with each team’s schedule. Initially, though, selecting the correct defensive options beyond a two-man rotation plan carries a degree of risk as Premier League managers fine-tune their preferred set-ups.
In Jose Mourinho’s first season back at the Bridge, for example, Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta played just 29 minutes of the opening 10 Gameweeks – a run which delivered just three clean sheets. Dropping from 6.0 to 5.3 in price, the Spaniard then went on to start 26 of the remaining 28 league matches as the Blues served up a further 15 shut-outs and hand Fantasy managers a steady source of defensive returns.
Steven Caulker began the campaign as a 5.0 option at Tottenham but with question marks raised over his likely game time under Andre Villas-Boas, few gave his a second thought. As mentioned above, a late summer move to Cardiff cemented a security of game time greater than any outfield player and, with five goals to his name, he ended on 122 points – Ben Turner was the nearest Bluebirds defender on 69 points.
Crystal Palace looked dead and buried under former boss Ian Holloway – they’d conceded at least twice in eight of the first 10 league matches and had failed to produce a single clean sheet. The installation of Tony Pulis in Gameweek 13 sparked a dramatic turnaround which persuaded many to invest in the Eagles’ main men at the back – Palace conceded just 27 goals from that point onwards, the fourth most resilient record in the league.
Whether it’s a change of manager, a late move in the transfer window, an unfortunate injury to a first-team rival or a shift in the pecking order, then, all our best-laid plans can be quickly undone – there is always one or two budget defensive options that take us by surprise and emerge as favourites to disrupt our initial squads. An early wildcard, once first choice line-ups are clearer, may afford more security and lessen the likelihood of unnecessary mistakes for those intent on three or even four way rotation in defence.
Typically, midfield or forward rotation is far trickier to achieve as we look to balance the books. The player list rarely affords us the option of a genuine Fantasy midfield force under 5.0 in FPL – Cardiff’s Jordan Mutch and Everton’s Ross Barkley were the two exceptions last term with 123 points and 112 points respectively, though with just five minutes’ game time in the first five fixture, Mutch was slow to stake a claim for our consideration.
For those favouring a 3-5-2 over a 3-4-3 formation, alternating two midfielders and a cheap third striker – picking two of the trio from one week to the next – may also be an option. Predicting attacking returns can prove far more frustrating and makes the idea of benching these assets a riskier tactic, though – Mutch scored in only two of the Bluebirds’ home fixtures all season and found the net away to Chelsea and Liverpool; matches that many owners would have happily benched him for.
Last season, Cardiff’s Fraizer Campbell was the only striker with a starting price of less than 6.0 to manage more than 100 points. Initially costing 5.5, he delivered 108 points for the relegated Welsh outfit but, when you consider that as many as 24 sub-6.0 defenders produced 100+ points, there is clearly far more margin for error when relying on cheap attackers. At times, rotating a third striker with a fifth midfielder can be a thankless task but, even so, if you can get attacking rotation working for you, the funds liberated by two or three effective budget options can make the difference when it comes to heavy-hitter selections up front.
Using the Season Ticker
As most of you will have noticed by now, we’ve implemented the brand new season tickers in light of the newly-released schedules. The first six fixtures for all clubs are listed in the sidebar, though members can expand or restrict this by using the plus or minus buttons at the top right of the ticker. They can also view this in accordance with each team’s overall potential as well as by clean sheet and attacking prospects, sorting by difficulty as you go along.
Another of the useful features offered by the members version is the ability to drag and drop rows, moving teams up and down the ticker to help identify rotation pairings – already, there are some noticeable couples over the first few matches that appear to offer potential.
Looking at the schedules, both Southampton and Stoke have six excellent home fixtures to kick off their respective campaigns, whilst all but one of Swansea’s first seven at the Liberty looks enticing. Palace, Hull, Newcastle and QPR have three strong home games in the first four in front of their own fans and finding a rotation partner for these sides looks key.
Pairing up Swansea and Stoke, for example, would give you a run of 13 very favourable home fixtures in the first 14 Gameweeks (AVL, BUR, WBA, LEI, SOT, NEW, NEW, SWA, LEI, WHM, BUR, CPL, QPR) to kick off the season. A Palace and QPR partnership would result in eight eye-catching home fixtures in the first 10 (HUL, WHM, SUN, BUR, STO, LEI, AVL, SUN), while West Ham and Southampton give us nine home games in the opening 11 Gameweeks (TOT, WBA, SOT, NEW, QPR, QPR, SUN, STO, LEI).
Obviously, these are just a trio of brief examples – as always, you can expect us to delve into the data in far more depth in our forthcoming articles.