With just over five weeks remaining until the 2016/17 Premier League season kicks off, we’re stepping up our preparations ahead of the new domestic campaign.
First up, our coverage gets underway by looking at the basic principles involved in fixture rotation. In particular, we assess those sides that are likely to supply us with budget-friendly options for our 15-man squads before delving into last year’s data for examples.
Essentially, the concept of fixture rotation only applies to squad-based Fantasy games and is utilised best with keepers and defenders. The idea is to simply find a couple of budget players whose home and away matches dovetail perfectly, allowing us to select the home option each time and bench the other player. Our rotation policies normally have us seeking out cut-price pairings – mainly because most will baulk at the idea of benching an asset in or above the mid-price value bracket.
Those playing games limited to just a starting XI or a smaller squad, such as Sky Sports or DraftKings, won’t need to worry about such strategies. But for Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers, rotation can be a significant element of our preparation and provide one of the keys to success. Shuffling resources at the back and selecting cut-price regulars with guaranteed pitch time allows us to free up funds for heavy investment further up the field.
Last term, Swansea offered a fine example of the benefits of a rotation pairing, with eight of their nine clean sheets arriving at the Liberty. The Welsh outfit conceded just 20 times in front of their own fans – only five teams shipped fewer home goals – though on the road it was a different story altogether. Swansea mustered just a single shut-out away from home (the joint-worst record along with relegated Norwich) and were breached 32 times – only the bottom four and Bournemouth were more porous.
On the other hand, Everton and West Brom bucked the trend. The Toffees managed just three of their ten clean sheets at Goodison, whilst the Baggies were surprisingly less resilient than many expected from a Tony Pulis team at home, with just five of their 11 shut-outs harvested at the Hawthorns.
Those statistics highlight some of the frustration involved in sticking rigidly to home and away rotation. While we endeavour to find budget options with friendly home fixtures, it is worth remembering that some sides fare better defensively away from home, particularly those who like to get men behind the ball and counter-attack – a tactic that could be more prominent in the forthcoming campaign.
Indeed, the defensive data reveals a definite trend developed last term. In 2014/15, as many as 17 teams conceded more goals away than at home but in 2015/16, just 12 sides were more porous on the road.
Somewhat surprisingly, this affected five of the top ten – champions Leicester conceded 18 times home and away, whilst Man City (21 home goals against to 20 away), West Ham (26 to 25), Southampton (22 to 19) and Chelsea (30 to 23) were also more culpable in front of their own supporters.
This pattern occurred less often in the bottom half of the table, with Everton (30 home goals against to 25 away), West Brom (26 to 22) and Bournemouth (34 to 33) the three teams in question.
Despite this recent pattern, then, it seems that the budget teams are still more likely to be relied upon in front of their own fans, suggesting that backing home defences will remain the default stance. Developing on from that, though, assessing the fixture difficulty of our pairings in any given Gameweek is likely to make our rotation pairings more robust.
Home and Away Rotation
The most obvious rotation pairings are created as a result of geographical proximity and the need to spread police resourcing.
Arsenal/Tottenham, Everton/Liverpool and Man United/Man City are examples of neighbours who rotate perfectly home and away over any given season, though the relegation of Newcastle and Aston Villa means that traditional rotation pairs of Villa/West Brom and Newcastle/Sunderland are no longer in play this year.
The other pairings – as mentioned in a hot topic by Balders – are sometimes less obvious. We’ve listed these and this season’s “couples”, in the table below:
|Team 1||Team 2|
|Manchester City||Manchester United|
|Manchester United||Manchester City|
These relationships can provide the foundation for any rotation strategy, although, as we’ve mentioned, it pays to look beyond the simple concept of home and away rotation and start considering fixture difficulty to see whether even stronger rotation pairings begin to present themselves.
Start With the Stoppers
The goalkeepers are the obvious starting point for Fantasy managers considering rotation. This is mainly due to the fact that many tend to overlook the option of the expensive “one-stop shop” option in goal, seeking out mid-price and budget solutions that can work in tandem.
The FPL scoring system fuels this tactic. While clean sheets are the bread and butter of goalkeepers in most Fantasy games, the FPL’s decision to award an extra point for every three saves is crucial to our thinking when assessing our preferred stoppers. Watford number one Heurelho Gomes, for example, earned a total of 30 extra points from saves alone (outwith penalty stops) and delivered at least one save point on 27 occasions last term.
Assured pitch time is another factor that promotes the use of rotation options in goal: barring unfortunate injuries, there is every chance of forming a rotation pairing that can see us through a long period of the season; that’s not necessarily true elsewhere in our squads.
Immediately, FPL managers will be considering a budget rotation pairing that could exploit the Hull/Middlesbrough home and away relationship listed in our table above. Both teams should offer up 4.5 first choice options and both will surely guarantee ample save point returns to compensate for the perceived lack of clean sheets.
While we’ve talked up the strategy of rotating keepers, it’s worth noting that there is an alternative approach that has proved fruitful in recent seasons: the option of selecting a single team and backing both first choice and reserve stoppers.
This can work when either injury or lack of form plays a part in the respective team’s number one. Last season, for example, West Brom deputy Boaz Myhill started the season before Ben Foster recovered from injury, whilst Sunderland’s Costel Pantilimon began as first-choice before making way for Vito Mannone between the posts.
The Case for the Defence
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, there are nearly always one or two budget defensive options that take us by surprise and emerge as favourites to disrupt our starting squads.
Leicester’s entire defence are a perfect case in point under Claudio Ranieri. Three of the Italian’s first-choice back-four – Danny Simpson, Robert Huth and Wes Morgan – began last season in the budget bracket, with Simpson the cheapest of the lot at 4.0. Along with Christian Fuchs – who opened the season at 5.0 – that quartet were top for value amongst defenders in FPL.
Toby Alderweireld started the season at just 5.0 after moving to Spurs but, thanks to four goals and three assists, the Belgian rose as high as 6.5 in price after establishing himself as a mainstay in Mauricio Pochettino’s back-four. Keeping an eye on Tottenham’s defence could again be a worthwhile tactic at the beginning of the season – if Jan Vertonghen is ruled out for the first few matches due to his ankle ligament injury, Kevin Wimmer could prove a handy temporary replacement.
Before deciding on goalkeeper pairings, it is vital to also consider what’s on offer from their respective defences. While you may decide that budget and mid-price keepers is the way to go, there may be defensive options in those defences that have stronger appeal, offering a semblance of attacking threat for a similar price point.
For example, although Mannone will clearly be one to watch after earning 19 save points in as many matches for Sunderland, Patrick van Aanholt could be the one to pinpoint from the Wearsiders’ defensive regulars. From the point of Sam Allardyce’s arrival last year, the Dutchman racked up six goals, four assists, 11 bonus points and six clean sheets in 25 appearances – that’s 4.6 points per game under the new manager.
In many ways, it’s best to settle on your defensive selections first: find those who can fit a rotation strategy who may also offer up the potential of attacking returns. At that point, revisit the goalkeeping spots and scan the coverage options that remain.
Using the Fixture Ticker
To construct truly robust rotation pairings, though, we must strive to look beyond simple home and away rotation and delve into the midst of fixture difficulty.
As mentioned late last month, we’ve added a new feature for Members to our Fixture Ticker that should aid your quest.
By selecting any team on the and hitting “Sort by Rotation”, the ticker now ranks those teams most appropriate for rotation with the highlighted team over the Gameweek range you choose to display. You can apply this using both the attacking and defence filters to analyse rotation pairings in attack and defence. Be sure to check out this chapter of our recent preview movie to see the rotation feature in action.
The first five 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 bottom 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 they go along.
In terms of defence, you can immediately see that Championship winners Burnley dovetail best with West Ham over the first eight Gameweeks, giving you seven very favourable fixtures (SWA, BOU, HUL, wba, WAT, MID, cpl). Elsewhere, a Crystal Palace/West Ham partnership over the opening nine Gameweeks (WBA, BOU, BOU, WAT, STO, SOT, MID, cpl, SUN) would hand you eight favourable home matches and a trip to Palace.
These are just a couple of very brief examples – over the next few weeks we’re going to present our guides to some of the strongest rotation pairings on offer, discussing the potential assets available when considering the keeper slots, defensive set-up and options in the final third.