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In Search Of The Best Fantasy Football Formation

BenCrabtree was crowned Fantasy Premier League champion for e 2016/17 season, with an impressive score of 2564  by mainly using a 3-4-3 formation. Often this involved rotating the third defender spot between a trio of low priced centre backs and full backs.

This was a popular strategy among last season’s top managers, who also were flexible enough to opt for 3-5-2 when strong third striker options dried up.

This analysis will explore to what extent 3-4-3 is essential to a successful FPL season, with a goal of finding the best formation that can get closest to Ben’s title winning average  Gameweek score of 67.5.

Method

To do this I calculated every players’ average points per game (PPG). Then excluded anyone with less than 15 games as an attempt to avoid outliers.

Next I focused on creating price brackets. I ended up with three levels for Goal Keepers (Low, Medium, High), and five for the other positions (Bargain, Low, Medium, High, Elite)

I then looked at the prices by position, to come up with an even spread across the price brackets.  Once I had the brackets defined I used several players with prices immediately above and below the bracket price, ensuring that the average price of the selected players was close to my bracket price.

For example with goalkeepers the brackets are 4.5, 5 and 5.5.   To determine the average points for the 4.5 position I used players with prices from 4.3 (Hennessey) all the way up to 4.8 (Mignolet). The average price was 4.55 which was close enough. In total 14 players fell within that price range and the average of their PPG was of 3.6

Goalkeepers

BracketPricePoints Per Game
Low£4.53.6
Medium£53.7
High£5.54.0

Defenders

BracketPricePoints Per Game
Bargain£4.52.6
Low£53.1
Medium£5.53.6
High£63.9
Elite£6.54.5

Admittedly there was a very small sample size at the 6.5 range, just 6 players.

Midfielders

BracketPricePoints Per Game
Bargain£4.52.8
Low£63.3
Medium£7.54.0
High£94.5
Elite£10.55.9

Forwards

BracketPricePoints Per Game
Bargain£52.6
Low£6.53.7
Medium£83.9
High£9.54.2
Elite£115.9

Finding The Optimal Line Up

I tried to come up with a mathematical formula that would give me the optimal line up, but my maths is not up to that level of sophistication, so I decided to crack it with a sledge hammer instead. After a few Google searches I managed to teach myself enough Visual Basic to enable me to write some script that did the following:

For each valid starting line-up, determine every possible permutation of player positions and price, ensure the total of the player prices are within the budget and sum up the team points, save the line up which has the most points. I varied the budgets based on the types of players that would be on the bench.

The assumption being that benched GK are 4.5, Def and Mid are 4.75 and Forwards are 6.0   I also included an additional formations where the third forward was classed as bench fodder at 5.0   I also limited the number of elite defenders to a maximum of four players due to there being so few of them.

The code also takes into account the captaincy, it takes the player position with the highest PPG and captains that position, so basically just doubles his points. It does not take into account any other game chips.

The Caveats

There several caveats that I’m already aware of

  1. I’m using the end of season prices for players. Generally the better performing players will have higher prices at the end of the season than they had at the start of the season, but I’m using the start of the season budget amount of £100m. I’m trying to achieve a score close to the winning teams but in all likelihood they will have better total points because they picked up players before their prices increased and they have a significantly higher end of season budget.

What this analysis should do though, is give the best overall formation regardless of whether it can compare with the overall winner’s score.

  1. There is no rotation taken into account. For example when using the 3-4-3 formation last season’s winner managed to garner significant points from his low budget defenders by correctly picking the player who would excel on each given week. Turning three budget defenders into the equivalent of an elite defender requires a lot of skill and a fair amount of luck. With a large sample size of four million Fantasy Premier League managers  it’s not unthinkable that a few people get it right for a high percentage of the season.  It’s probably a prerequisite for making the top 1,000 in the rankings.
  2. Form. With all the players used in the analysis I took their average points per game. It’s an average of their good weeks and their bad weeks. However, a Fantasy manager has the ability to guess when a player’s form will take a hit, due to knowing the upcoming schedule, transferring him out for another player with a better schedule and hopefully better form to come. Similar to the rotation comment above the more successful managers will be the ones that correctly predict a change in form and transfer in players about to go on a good run of games whilst transferring out players before a bad run starts.

With a  four million sample size there are going to be some managers who optimise points by correctly predicting form. This analysis does not cater for form

  1. The average points are used for the price bracket, not the highest points, managers correctly selecting the top performers in the price bracket will optimise their scores above and beyond the scores produced by this analysis.
  2. This analysis assumes that you can field a full team every week with the positions that are identified. For example if the formation states you need an elite midfielder that will score on average 5.9 PPG, then you need to field an elite midfielder in that position for 38 GWs. If that elite midfielder misses games and has to be replaced by your bench guy who only scores 2.8 PPG then you’re not going to be able to maintain a season long average. Of course if a player gets an injury then you can replace them with another similar elite player, it’s more an issue relating to random weekly benching, as we often see with the teams playing in Europe.

Given all the caveats it’s fair to assume there are more factors influencing my results being a lower score than a higher score.

380 million permutations were evaluated. (3x5x5x5x5x5x5x5x5x5x5x13). Taking 4 hours to process.

The Best and Worst Formations Are…

Here are the results in highest PPG order

FormationTeam PPG
532x56.5
52356.2
442x55.9
43355.8
53255.7
541x55.7
44255.5
54155.3
352x55.1
34355.1
45154.9
35254.6

(where x signifies the benched forward is £5m compared to £6m)

There is only a two point difference between the best formation 5-3-2x and the worst formation 3-5-2.   It’s interesting to see that the worst formation was 3-5-2, which was used by many successful managers at the end of last season, whilst 3-4-3, the most successful formation overall, was third from bottom on the list.

This tells me that the bench (rotation) must play a significant part in the overall score.

The optimal line up for 532x was:

PositionBracketPricePPG
GKLow£4.53.6
DEF1Elite£6.54.5
DEF2Elite£6.54.5
DEF3Elite£6.54.5
DEF4Elite£6.54.5
DEF5High£6.03.9
MID1 ©Elite£10.55.9 + 5.9
MID2Elite£10.55.9
MID3Elite£10.55.9
FWD1Low£6.53.7
FWD2Low£6.53.7
Total£8156.5

In terms of the objective, which was to try and determine an optimal lineup that compared favourably with the winning score these results are 11 points too low. But these based on average players at the price range. When we substitute in actual players with high PPG in the price ranges, you get this a more comparable figure

PositionBracketPlayerPricePPG
GKLowJakupovic HUL£4.33.9
DEF1EliteAlonso CHE£6.95.7
DEF2EliteCahill CHE£6.74.8
DEF3EliteKompany MCI£6.05.2
DEF4EliteRose TOT£5.84.7
DEF5HighValencia MUN£5.84.3
MID1 ©EliteSánchez ARS£11.76.9 + 6.9
MID2EliteHazard CHE£10.56.2
MID3EliteEriksen TOT£8.96.1
FWD1LowDefoe SUN£7.44.5
FWD2LowLlorente SWA£6.34.4
Total£80.363.6

The recommended 532x formation was based on the average PPG across several players, but there were two players last season that were outliers, Junior Stanislas of Bournemouth and Spurs striker Harry Kane. If we switch the formation by replacing an elite mid with a bargain mid and a low forward with an elite forward we get this.

PositionBracketPlayerPricePPG
GKLowJakupovic HUL£4.33.9
DEF1EliteAlonso CHE£6.95.7
DEF2EliteCahill CHE£6.74.8
DEF3EliteKompany MCI£6.05.2
DEF4EliteRose TOT£5.84.7
DEF5HighValencia MUN£5.84.3
MID1EliteSánchez ARS£11.76.9
MID2EliteHazard CHE£10.56.2
MID3LowStanislas BOU£4.65.1
FWD1©EliteKane TOT£11.97.5 + 7.5
FWD2LowLlorente SWA£6.34.4
Total£80.566.2

66.2 PPG gives 2516 points per season, which would be fifth in the FPL Overall Ranking.

The flaw is that this uses average weekly points and assumes the players will play for 38 games.

Looking at players in similar prices ranges to the recommended 5-3-2x formation, who played a lot of games and use their total season’s points we get this.

PositionBracketPlayerPriceSeason PtsWeeks
GKLowBoruc BOU£4.512035
DEF1EliteCahill CHE£6.717837
DEF2EliteAlonso CHE£6.917731
DEF3EliteColeman EVE£5.613326
DEF4EliteWalker TOT£6.214233
DEF5HighBaines EVE£5.813532
MID1 ©EliteSánchez ARS£11.7264 + 26438
MID2EliteHazard CHE£10.522437
MID3LowAlli TOT£9.122537
FWD1EliteDefoe SUN£7.416633
FWD2LowLlorente SWA£6.314637
Total£80.7

Assuming that when a player doesn’t play, a bench player will contribute 2.5 points.

Total Points = 2174 + 108 bench points = 2282

This team if left unattended for the season, with decent bench, would have finished in the top 17,000.

Conclusion

I don’t think that the formation is a key differentiator, success is more dependent on player selection and timing, transferring in players as they are about to hit form, getting lucky with captaincy and the making good bench rotation decisions.

What I’m taking from this analysis is that you can really use any formation you like the look of and still be successful, as long as you utilise your bench correctly.

So for the start of the season I’m going with the following line-up, my rotation will be concentrated around all the defenders and the four 6.0 priced midfielders. The aim is to rotate the best seven players from the nine focusing on home fixtures and weak opponents.

The best for 2017/18 could be a mixture of 5-3-2 and 4-4-2.

GKLow£4.53.6
DEF1Elite£6.54.5
DEF2Elite£6.54.5
DEF3Medium£5.53.6
DEF4Medium£5.53.6
DEF5Medium£5.53.6
MID1Elite£10.55.9
MID2Low£63.3
MID3Low£63.3
FWD1Elite£115.9
FWD2Elite£115.9
Bench
GKLow£4.53.6
MID2Low£63.3
MID2Low£63.3
FWDBargain£50.0

After some quick analysis of the defenders and midfields schedules, I believe I can attain 60% home fixture for the defenders and an 80% home fixture for the midfielders, with most fixtures being against teams in the bottom half of the table.

firetog At least 25 years experience with Fantasy Football dating back to FantasyLeague in the Sunday paper. Continued playing FantasyLeague up until their last season 16/17. Managed to win £1000 too. Now shifty my attention to FPL and trying to get a handle on all the differences. Also 20 years experience in Fantasy NFL Draft and Auctions. I'm a British expat living in paradise (Bermuda) and doing model photoshoots in my spare time. (and why not ?)”

86 Comments Post a Comment
  1. TRIGGERLIPS
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    15 days, 19 hours ago

    Great article but have a nagging feeling it not quite right but cant put my finger on why, I think it has something to do with forwards and midfielders returns being more predictable than defenders, but I may be wrong.

    But having seen David Slades 5 at the back team do so well it is easy to see any formation is possible.

    What do you mean by properly utilising the bench?

  2. Invincibles
      15 days, 9 hours ago

      Really great article, seems to show the importance of having playing defenders; its always so tempting to put 1/2 4/4.5 options in there

      These are my first drafts;
      Heaton/Begovic
      Lindelof, Bertrand, Trippier, Holgate, Tomkins
      Alli, Coutinho, Zaha, Knockaert, Ritchie
      Lukaku, Jesus, Abraham

      Begovic/Foster
      Lindelof, Bertrand, Trippier, Holgate, Tomkins
      KDB, Coutinho, Zaha, Stanislas, Knockaert
      Kane, Lacazette, Fletcher(4.5)

      Both look underwhelming to me but im leaning to the second as it covers more of the top teams in some form (apart from chelsea)

      Any thoughts on either of those squads?

      1. Andy_Social
          15 days, 9 hours ago

          Will Holgate and Tomkins start? If they don't you have no active subs in squad b (and prolly a too)

        • LFC4EVER
            15 days, 7 hours ago

            Same here, 2nd option seems better, with same concerns about tomkins and holgate...

        • LFC4EVER
            15 days, 7 hours ago

            RMT Please

            GK: Hennesey - Foster (WBA)
            D: Cédric - Davies - Holebas - Daniels - Yedlin
            M: Sánchez - Coutinho - Ali - Tadic - Loftus-Cheek
            F:King - Jesus - Gayle

            To much spent on M? Not strong enough D or F?

            1. firetog
              • Fantasy Football Scout Member
              13 days, 20 hours ago

              might want to switch davies for trippier if walker leaves. im not certain, but is davies guaranteed a start?

              1. Andy_Social
                  13 days, 20 hours ago

                  I think he's behind first-pick Rose, who will probably be fit for the start of the season. Got to be Trippier.

              2. Andy_Social
                  13 days, 20 hours ago

                  I'm not a fan of this draft; one point is I don't think Daniels at 5.5 is value when Ake is 5.0 and Francis 4.5

                  1. firetog
                    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                    13 days, 20 hours ago

                    daniels and ake are both 5. ake is a bit of an unknown though. good stats in his limited appearances but not enough to know whether those were outlier performances or his norm.

                    1. Andy_Social
                        13 days, 20 hours ago

                        Oh right, well I've saved 0.5 and gone for Francis.

                • Tekkers3773
                  • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                  15 days, 5 hours ago

                  Excellent article. I love stats and this is very informative so thank you for that!

                • Danvers82
                    14 days, 15 hours ago

                    Great article, I thought I had my squad nailed but I've completely changed it reading this and i think it's a lot stronger:
                    Before:
                    GK: Foster - Lloris
                    DEF: McAuley - Ake - Lowe - Azpilicueta - Mee
                    MID: Alli - Sarah - Ritchie - RLC - Walters
                    ATT: Lukaku - Lacazette - Gayle

                    After:
                    GK: Foster - Hennessey
                    DEF: Cahill - Vertonghen - Bertrand - Baines - Clyne
                    MID: Coutinho - Ritchie - Redmond - Fabregas - Snodgrass
                    ATT: Lukaku - Lacazette - Mitrovic

                    Thoughts? I've never gone with a strong defense before but it could be the difference

                    1. firetog
                      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                      13 days, 20 hours ago

                      also consider the fixtures. everton and chelsea have a tough start to the season. you might want to hold off on those guys until their good schedule starts around week 8 or 9. instead look to Man u and may be arsenal who both have easier starts. you could also double on southampton with cedric since they have an easy start and a extra home game due to the whu fixture switch.

                  • LangerznMash
                      14 days, 14 hours ago

                      Great article thanks.
                      I was dead set on 3-4-3 but now im seriously reconsidering.

                    • hogfan58
                      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                      14 days, 11 hours ago

                      I'm somewhat new to EPL fantasy and did pretty well last year, but this article is very interesting. I was wondering if you could go into how you would decide when to switch from the 5-3-2 to the 4-4-2 and what you mean by "I can attain 60% home fixture for the defenders and an 80% home fixture for the midfielders...."

                      Thanks.

                      1. firetog
                        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                        13 days, 20 hours ago

                        Generally the intention is to have a solid back 5. However, if one of those players is playing away to a strong attacking team you would bench him and switch to 442.

                        In terms of getting 60 % home fixtures for defense its all about following the good fixtures and transferring in players with a good run a fixtures to come. teams tend to play home away home away most of the time. but quite often they will have 2 away games in a row followed by 2 home games or visa versa. With some smart transfers you can use this to you advantage. Study the fixtures for good runs against easy teams and with more home fixtures

                        for Example if you may be eyeing up up a player about to go on a good run of fixtures. ideally he has two away games before the run starts, giving you 2 home games to start H H a H a H if you transfer him out after the last home game and pick up another player about to start a similar run. H H a H a H you have played 75% H games 25% a. and all against weak opponents. its not possible to do that for every player as those double home games runs are less common. but overall a few of those runs can help you achieve 60% home fixtures. For midfielders because i'm only selecting 3 from 5 most of the time and again with some smart transfers i managed to get a schedule where 80% of the time the 3 players i picked from the 5 were at home.

                    • SetantaL
                        14 days, 10 hours ago

                        Great Article

                        The following team is possible

                        Lossl

                        Lindelof Milner Azpil Alonso Walker

                        Hazard Ali Ozil Loftus Cheek

                        Lukaku

                        Bench is muck though

                      • TimothyJS
                        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                        14 days, 6 hours ago

                        I like articles like this, mostly because the theory always seems to differ so much from the reality and it's interesting trying to think about the reasons why.

                        No doubt I'll take hours and hours to devise my GW1 squad, but I'm trying to ask myself, where do the points come from?

                        Firstly, CAPTAINCY - When players were posting their Gargatron stats towards the back end of last season, most peoples' captains contributed to ~25% of their total points. That is huge. That is why you need good captaincy options - the ability to choose form + fixture means your "average" in this situation is far higher than the player's overall average PPG.

                        Think about the way points are distributed. A midfielder like Alli will score the odd 2, sometimes a 3, a very rare 5 (single assist), some 8-10s (goal + 1bap or CS), and some hauls (13+). We have to option of transferring him in when it's more favourable for him to achieve the higher scores, and transfer him out when he doesn't have form &/or fixtures, where it's more likely he'll score the 2s/3s. He'll still average ~5ppg total but we get the advantage of putting the odds in our favour, so our "Alli ownership PPG" might be much higher.

                        In reality it's nearly always the top heavy sides who score more, so we should be thinking why that is, not what is supposedly optimal unless we can model the game in its entirety.

                        1. firetog
                          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                          13 days, 20 hours ago

                          i agree. my conclusion was that its way more important to hit the form streaks and avoid the slumps than using a set formation.

                      • High Costa Living
                          11 days, 13 hours ago

                          This is great stuff, Firetog: I have considered something similar myself, but gave up at the point of having to programme the permutations. 🙂

                        • scootadee
                          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                          11 days, 10 hours ago

                          Was leaning towards going 5 defenders at 5.0 or more, switching between 5-3-2 and 4-4-2. This has absolutely helped that along 🙂

                        • Stephen T
                          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                          11 days, 7 hours ago

                          Outstanding work on the article Firetog, your time and effort is much appreciated. I haven't been all that successful over the previous 4 years I have played, but still learning what does and does not work. This article helps me as we approach this season.

                        • SBronz
                          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                          10 days, 9 hours ago

                          Great read and thanks for positing.
                          I'd be interested to see the script and data ouput 🙂

                        • Karibu
                          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
                          2 days, 22 hours ago

                          Nice article and i think we should start discuss and hear everyone's suggestions for 4 midfielders who can cost total 24M (6x4)

                        • ItsaKnockaert
                            3 hours, 28 mins ago

                            Why are you using 4 low midfielders instead of 2 elite/high and 2 bargains because surely the elite/high players will still get more points, even with rotation? Great article by the way