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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

Bracket Price Points Per Game
Low £4.5 3.6
Medium £5 3.7
High £5.5 4.0

Defenders

Bracket Price Points Per Game
Bargain £4.5 2.6
Low £5 3.1
Medium £5.5 3.6
High £6 3.9
Elite £6.5 4.5

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

Midfielders

Bracket Price Points Per Game
Bargain £4.5 2.8
Low £6 3.3
Medium £7.5 4.0
High £9 4.5
Elite £10.5 5.9

Forwards

Bracket Price Points Per Game
Bargain £5 2.6
Low £6.5 3.7
Medium £8 3.9
High £9.5 4.2
Elite £11 5.9

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

Formation Team PPG
532x 56.5
523 56.2
442x 55.9
433 55.8
532 55.7
541x 55.7
442 55.5
541 55.3
352x 55.1
343 55.1
451 54.9
352 54.6

(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:

Position Bracket Price PPG
GK Low £4.5 3.6
DEF1 Elite £6.5 4.5
DEF2 Elite £6.5 4.5
DEF3 Elite £6.5 4.5
DEF4 Elite £6.5 4.5
DEF5 High £6.0 3.9
MID1 © Elite £10.5 5.9 + 5.9
MID2 Elite £10.5 5.9
MID3 Elite £10.5 5.9
FWD1 Low £6.5 3.7
FWD2 Low £6.5 3.7
Total £81 56.5

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

Position Bracket Player Price PPG
GK Low Jakupovic HUL £4.3 3.9
DEF1 Elite Alonso CHE £6.9 5.7
DEF2 Elite Cahill CHE £6.7 4.8
DEF3 Elite Kompany MCI £6.0 5.2
DEF4 Elite Rose TOT £5.8 4.7
DEF5 High Valencia MUN £5.8 4.3
MID1 © Elite Sánchez ARS £11.7 6.9 + 6.9
MID2 Elite Hazard CHE £10.5 6.2
MID3 Elite Eriksen TOT £8.9 6.1
FWD1 Low Defoe SUN £7.4 4.5
FWD2 Low Llorente SWA £6.3 4.4
Total £80.3 63.6

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.

Position Bracket Player Price PPG
GK Low Jakupovic HUL £4.3 3.9
DEF1 Elite Alonso CHE £6.9 5.7
DEF2 Elite Cahill CHE £6.7 4.8
DEF3 Elite Kompany MCI £6.0 5.2
DEF4 Elite Rose TOT £5.8 4.7
DEF5 High Valencia MUN £5.8 4.3
MID1 Elite Sánchez ARS £11.7 6.9
MID2 Elite Hazard CHE £10.5 6.2
MID3 Low Stanislas BOU £4.6 5.1
FWD1© Elite Kane TOT £11.9 7.5 + 7.5
FWD2 Low Llorente SWA £6.3 4.4
Total £80.5 66.2

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.

Position Bracket Player Price Season Pts Weeks
GK Low Boruc BOU £4.5 120 35
DEF1 Elite Cahill CHE £6.7 178 37
DEF2 Elite Alonso CHE £6.9 177 31
DEF3 Elite Coleman EVE £5.6 133 26
DEF4 Elite Walker TOT £6.2 142 33
DEF5 High Baines EVE £5.8 135 32
MID1 © Elite Sánchez ARS £11.7 264 + 264 38
MID2 Elite Hazard CHE £10.5 224 37
MID3 Low Alli TOT £9.1 225 37
FWD1 Elite Defoe SUN £7.4 166 33
FWD2 Low Llorente SWA £6.3 146 37
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.

GK Low £4.5 3.6
DEF1 Elite £6.5 4.5
DEF2 Elite £6.5 4.5
DEF3 Medium £5.5 3.6
DEF4 Medium £5.5 3.6
DEF5 Medium £5.5 3.6
MID1 Elite £10.5 5.9
MID2 Low £6 3.3
MID3 Low £6 3.3
FWD1 Elite £11 5.9
FWD2 Elite £11 5.9
Bench
GK Low £4.5 3.6
MID2 Low £6 3.3
MID2 Low £6 3.3
FWD Bargain £5 0.0

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 Telegraph. Continued playing FantasyLeague via their website, up until their final season in 16/17 where I managed to win £1000. Now shifting 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 Bermuda, when I can pull myself away from fantasy FPL/NFL you\'ll find me at the beach doing bikini photoshoots.”

88 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Make mine a pint
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 12 days 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
    4 months, 12 days 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
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 months, 12 days ago

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

    2. LFC4EVER
      4 months, 12 days ago

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

  3. LFC4EVER
    4 months, 12 days 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
      4 months, 10 days ago

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

      1. Andy_Social
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        4 months, 10 days 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
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      4 months, 10 days 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
        4 months, 10 days 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
          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
          4 months, 10 days ago

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

  4. Tekkers3773
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 12 days ago

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

  5. Danvers82
    4 months, 11 days 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
      4 months, 10 days 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.

  6. LangerznMash
    4 months, 11 days ago

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

  7. hogfan58
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 11 days 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
      4 months, 10 days 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.

  8. SetantaL
    4 months, 11 days ago

    Great Article

    The following team is possible

    Lossl

    Lindelof Milner Azpil Alonso Walker

    Hazard Ali Ozil Loftus Cheek

    Lukaku

    Bench is muck though

  9. TimothyJS
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 11 days 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
      4 months, 10 days 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.

  10. High Costa Living
    4 months, 8 days ago

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

  11. scootadee
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 8 days 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 🙂

  12. Stephen T
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 8 days 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.

  13. SBronz
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 7 days ago

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

  14. Karibu
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    4 months, 54 mins ago

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

  15. ItsaKnockaert
    3 months, 27 days 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

  16. ItsaKnockaert
    3 months, 25 days ago

    I'm writing my own article but did you use this season's prices or somehow find last season's?

  17. ludaslol
    3 months, 16 days ago

    A)
    Foster
    5.5 def Hegazi Yoshida
    Willian Alli KDB Zaha Pogba
    Lukaku Jesus

    Elliot, Mee (rotate with hegazi) quaner

    B)
    Foster
    Stones Kolasniac Yoshida
    Willian Ritchie KDB Zaha Pogba
    Lukaku Kane

    so will Kane+Ritchie (+ better D) outscore Jesus+ Alli pretty much