While Saturday’s FA Cup final offered little as a spectacle, the Fantasy Premier League’s own cup showpiece was the most dramatic in its history.
Nick Smith triumphed in the most unlikely fashion as he and his opponent were only separated by goals scored.
Tied with Serbian manager Djole Isailovic on 78 points, Smith won the title in the end because his side included six goals, while Djole – who ended ranked 510 in the world – had just five.
Nick’s achievement was made all the more impressive by the fact that he snubbed Mohamed Salah, while Djole did have the Egyptian and used his Triple Captain chip on Harry Kane for the final match.
We caught up with Nick to look back on his season and, in particular, the emotion of his FPL Cup final experience.
How did you follow the games on the final day? Were you constantly refreshing Djole’s team to see how he was getting on? I imagine Salah getting an early goal had you petrified…
Nick: My friends and I were away for the weekend and we were watching the Liverpool game, as well as receiving notifications on the other key games. Myself and Djole had more or less the same team for the final. I think it was six or seven of the same players, so it wasn’t too difficult to follow.
What was it like waiting around for confirmation of the result? I imagine it was a longer wait than you expected considering it was so close in the end. Could you quite believe that you both finished on the same points?
Nick: With Salah and Kane both doing well, I thought it was game over for me. I thought I’d lost. So I was disappointed, but happy that I’d managed to reach the final. I then received a message from a friend saying: “I think you’ve miscalculated, you may not have lost after all!”
Once the bonus points were in I realised that it had ended a tie and quickly checked the tiebreak rule. Even then, having read it, I still wasn’t sure that I’d won until I saw the tweet from Fantasy Premier League. I have to say a big thank you to Andrew Robertson. It was his goal that won it for me.
Clearly, Djole is an accomplished Fantasy Football manager, given his overall position, so I always knew it would be a tough battle and it turn out incredibly close.
How much did you celebrate after your title was confirmed?
Nick: It was a really big night. I treated myself to a nice cold glass of Ribena and was in bed by 10:30. Milner style.
2017/18 has been an interesting journey for you and you ended ranked an impressive 4058 alongside your Cup win. How much thought did you put into your Gameweek 1 side and how did you spread your budget across the positions?
Nick: I gave my team quite a lot in the days leading up to the Gameweek 1 deadline. The majority of my budget was used in the forward areas with Romelu Lukaku and Kane up front. In midfield, I started with Dele Alli, Kevin De Bruyne and Cesc Fabregas, supported by a few gambles on Trent Alexander-Arnold and Luka Milivojevic.
Did you make a good start?
Nick: Absolutely not. With Kane not scoring in August and picking Alexander-Arnold and Milivojevic before they hit form, I found myself bottom of my work league, to the great amusement of everyone involved. I have politely reminded these individuals of their comments after ending up top of that one.
What were some of your best decisions across the campaign? Were there any big hauls in particular Gameweeks that you have fond memories of?
Nick: The turning point in my season was when I lost out in ‘Pep Roulette’, having captained Sterling (who didn’t make it onto the pitch) but vice-captained Kane in Spurs’ 4-1 victory over Liverpool, netting 32 points in total.
My best decision was saving all of my chips until late in the season, including the bench boost chip in GW34, which delivered a 100+ point haul.
Did you make a conscious decision at some point in the season to shift your focus on to winning the FPL Cup? At which point did you realise you had a good chance of winning it?
Nick: The first time the FPL Cup came to my attention was when there were around 1,000 players left, but I didn’t focus on it until the last 64 or 32 really. I think I had my Wildcard and all of my chips left at this point, so thought I was in good shape to progress if luck was on my side.
What was your strategy in each round? Did you start analysing the team of your next opponent and work out how you could best out-manoeuvre them?
Nick: My strategy was simply to get as many Double Gameweek players with good fixtures and good form as possible into my team for the closing weeks of the season, hoping the cup wins would follow.
I didn’t look too in-depth at the opponents until the semi-final and final. In the semi-final I was fairly confident due to my Triple Captain chip, but knew I needed to pick some different players for the final as I was on the receiving end of that chip.
I was debating Aaron Cresswell, Patrick van Aanholt and Alexander-Arnold as my defensive options and went with the West Ham man – and missed out on Van Aaholt’s 18-point haul. Wilfried Zaha and Marko Arnautovic were the two attacking players I was considering, and I went with the latter, which was a good decision, less so with Cresswell.
I saw that you changed your team name from Bare Ham Rolls Fam to ‘FPL Cup Finalist!!’ once you had won your semi-final. I take it you were over the moon to make it to the showdown.
Nick: I was definitely excited to have reached the final and as many players in my leagues were asking me about it, I thought it would be the easiest way of letting my friends know how it was going. I also just felt proud of the accomplishment as I’ve never made it more than about four weeks deep in the cup before.
You went into the final day without Mohamed Salah in your team. What was the thinking behind that?
Nick: The decision to drop Salah in Gameweek 37 was a fairly simple one on paper, given that his replacement, Leroy Sane, had two nice fixtures, against Liverpool’s difficult away game at Chelsea. It worked out well for me with Sane’s 17 points.
Ideally I’d have brought Salah back in the final Gameweek, but unfortunately, the budget wouldn’t stretch that far. Arnautovic did the job for me in the end so luckily it wasn’t an issue.
Were you particularly worried about your opponent having the Triple Captain chip available?
Nick: I was definitely worried. I used mine in Gameweek 37 to try and assure my place in the final, but Djole showed serious ‘cojones’, to quote Troy Deeney, in saving it for the final. It was a great strategy that would have paid off nine times out of 10. Thankfully for me, it happened to be the one time out of 10 where it didn’t.