Following Friday’s 7pm Fantasy Premier League deadline for Gameweek 19, we will be handed a second “Winter Wildcard” chip as a means of shaking up our squads.
This also means that, if you’re yet to play your first Wildcard, you only have until Friday 7pm to make it active.
The first Wildcard cannot be carried over beyond Friday’s deadline, so, in the unlikely event that it’s still burning away in your pocket, you’d best get busy.
I’d wager that many of us are not in that position. I’d also hazard a guess that the majority of us will be unmoved by the possibilities presented by the second Wildcard being available from Friday evening.
Although there is a school of thought that argues against preserving the “Winter” or second Wildcard to use around Double Gameweeks, following last season’s experience, this appears to be an accepted and almost preferred strategy.
Certainly, having used this tactic with last season’s chips, that will likely be the route explored by many who visit these pages.
However, let’s examine the Wildcard strategies on offer and attempt to weigh up the merits of the options available.
Playing It Early
The urgency to instigate a refresh of our squads will, of course, be dictated by current rank, injuries and doubts and a general lack of so-called “essential” assets.
Certainly, with the Africa Cup of Nations imminent, there could be some FPL squads hit hard who now face a run of transfer hits.
Couple that with talk of Jordan Pickford’s long-term injury, Sergio Aguero’s return, and a relentless shift in midfield heavy-hitters and there are clearly factors at play that could influence our decision.
The Aguero situation, in particular, is intriguing in this respect.
Currently owned by just 17.9% of FPL managers, those who can bring him in and effectively model their squad around his hefty price tag could reap big rewards should the City striker explode and outpace rival forwards. Arguably, that’s a big ‘if” given recent form from Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But for some, there could be overwhelming evidence to take the plunge and put this second Wildcard to immediate use.
While we can’t categorically write this off as a bad strategy, in previous seasons we’ve made the statement that “there’s no strict right or wrong time to play the Wildcard”.
However, the addition of the Triple Captain and Bench Boost chips for last season did change the landscape and cast doubts over such a statement. More on that to come.
Even so, if your squad and rank are floundering to the extent that you feel there is little hope of making up ground without major surgery, the Wildcard obviously allows for this to take place without the cost of transfer hits.
The ability to completely reconstruct your squad without cost certainly affords the opportunity to gain ground on rivals and, by also playing to the upcoming fixtures, there’s a good chance that you can close a mini-league gap.
As a rule, if you are able to deploy an effective Wildcard, targeting players that come into form and rise in price, you will gain an advantage by playing it early since the positive impact of the chip will have longer to take effect over the coming Gameweeks.
It’s a principle argued by those who throw in the first Wildcard in the opening month and, to a lesser extent, this still rings true for this second chip. But, of course, it relies on acquiring the most effective targets.
In addition, it may also be possible to use the extended gap between Gameweek 20 and the January 14 deadline for Gameweek 21, to play the market and reap some extra funds.
By activating the Wildcard early, you can transfer in assets that are likely to rise in price over this 12-day period, in an attempt to gain from 0.2 rises.
This relies on committing to the Wildcard as early as possible after the Gameweek 20 deadline on January 2, and also demands some extreme diligence when it comes to timing transfers and monitoring rises.
That’s no easy task and, in all honesty, there is no guarantee that it can be effective.
Much depends on the extent of the bandwagons created by the Gameweek 19 results and activity in the market over the FA Cup break. Based on previous international breaks, the transfer numbers have slowed dramatically heading into the second week.
One major downside to deploying early, aside from the possibilities around Double Gameweeks, is the potential of missing out on new arrivals in the Premier League January transfer window.
If you’re trailing your rivals and therefore considering differentials, this could be key.
The January 31 transfer deadline may well deliver a whole batch of differentials and, by playing your Wildcard now, you could be restricting your ability to reshuffle should new attractive assets arrive on the scene.
More significantly, you have to consider that any ground you make up now by deploying the Wildcard, could be eaten up by rivals who bank theirs and preserve them for the Double Gameweeks.
Finally, if you’re considering an early Winter Wildcard, try to commit to it.
If you can be certain on activating the chip in Gameweek 21, for example, you can use your transfer for Gameweek 20 to acquire a risky differential which can then be cleared using the Wildcard. In this way, you could eke out a further advantage.
It can provide an instant boost for those suffering red arrows.
You can catch the current market trends and jump on the Aguero “differential”.
You can avoid the AFCON fall-out.
You can make a risky differential transfer prior to the Gameweek of activation.
It’s easy to fixate on bandwagons.
You lose the ability to build around new player list additions.
You potentially gain ground now to lose it later.
You miss out on exploiting the potential Double Gameweeks.
Playing it Late
Arguably, the later you leave your winter Wildcard, the more data you have available to shape your decisions and, with new arrivals due at the end of January, the landscape could change dramatically.
But having more information extends beyond team and player form – it’s inevitable that we will see Premier League postponements that could then lead to potential Double Gameweeks.
The EFL Cup semi-finals in January will reveal the clubs involved in the Wembley showpiece on February 26.
This will create two postponements in Gameweek 26 which could then create a Double Gameweek to follow. At present, Southampton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Hull City are in the last four.
Should Manchester United overcome Hull in their semi-final, they could bring Manchester City into a double Gameweek situation since they are due to meet on February 26. That may give us four sides supplying some major assets in a Double Gameweek scenario.
Then there are the FA Cup Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals to come. These will clash with Gameweeks 28 and 34, potentially causing multiple postponements and further Double Gameweeks.
For the last two seasons, we have seen Double Gameweeks scheduled in 34 and 37 as a result of domestic cup postponements.
In the previous campaign, with the chips introduced, this put even greater emphasis on these events.
One popular strategy was to utilise the Winter Wildcard prior to using the Bench Boost chip for a Double Gameweek.
This enables FPL managers to stock their squad with assets that enjoy two fixtures, before deploying the chip which can also bring four substitutes into the equation. Do this effectively and you can feasibly have a 15-man squad each with two fixtures in a single Gameweek.
There are many arguments surrounding the effectiveness of this tactic.
Clearly, if used in this way, a squad is entirely warped and shifted to accommodate those teams granted two fixtures. However, to counter this, the theory is that if this is carried out for Gameweek 37, then there remains only a single Gameweek to absorb any potential damage.
It is assumed that the positives vastly outweigh the negatives involved and, in general, last season’s experience provided enough evidence to suggest that this is indeed the case.
However, we have just that one season to go on and the configuration of the Double Gameweek fixtures, plus the teams involved, could certainly adjust the balance somewhat.
You give yourself the opportunity to pair the Wildcard with other chips around potential Double Gameweeks.
You will have more data and information at your disposal.
You can exploit any new players that arrive in the Premier League window.
You may be able to react to your rivals’ Wildcards should they play it early.
You forgo the potential to immediately revive your squad.
You are reliant on the Double Gameweeks delivering fixtures that create major profits.