Jason Barlow’s debut Sky Fantasy Football campaign proved to be one most managers can only dream of, as he took the title and grabbed the game’s £50,000 top prize at the first time of asking.
This achievement was particularly impressive given that he managed to hold on to the lead since the end of last year.
Going into the final day he also had to fend off stiff competition from one of Fantasy Football’s most experienced managers, Pascal Evans, who was leading the chasing pack in second spot.
Pascal has a fifth-place finish already across his seven-year Sky Fantasy career and also has five top 1,000 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) seasons under his belt.
In the latest of our post-season interviews, we ask Jason about his incredible Sky Sports campaign, his battle to hang onto the top spot and his tips for success in this limited transfers format.
Congratulations on the win. Take us through your emotions on the final day as you attempted to keep Pascal and others at bay.
Jason: The final day and the entire last two or three weeks were incredibly nerve-racking. On the day itself, I was at home with my partner, trying to keep myself distracted as I knew I had no decisions left to make – I was always going to captain Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and I was out of transfers.
Going into the day I was 22 points clear of Pascal and 37 clear of third place. Over the previous weeks I had managed to work out what Pascal’s team was and I knew he didn’t have any transfers left as well.
The only meaningful differences were that Pascal had Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk, Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Manchester City midfielder Raheem Sterling versus my key differentials, Spurs’ Davinson Sanchez, Sterling’s team-mate Kevin De Bruyne and Everton striker Cenk Tosun. I thought his three were better than mine, but not 22 points better. As long as captains didn’t swing things too much then I knew I was well placed, but that didn’t stop the nerves.
In the end, we both captained Salah and I was fortunate that his three differentials didn’t do enough to close the gap. I got calmer as the matches went on, but it wasn’t until De Bruyne got the assist at the end that I really believed I might have done it.
By 5 pm I was sure I’d beaten Pascal and reasonably confident that I must have held off the third-placed manager. Thankfully once the tables updated that night, I saw that I’d done enough. The main feeling at the time was relief. Having been top since the end of 2017, it would have been devastating not to hang on.
Pascal is a really nice guy; it was great to see him claim second and earn a very well deserved payout (the runner-up wins £5,000).
What does your partner as well as family and friends think of your achievement? Have they been supportive over the campaign? Or do they see it as an unwelcome distraction for you?
Jason: They’ve all been incredibly supportive. My partner bore the brunt of the stresses as the season wore on, but she was always there to keep me calm. I think once everyone found out how much money was at stake they realised it had become more than just a hobby or meaningless distraction!
This season has been different with the addition of two Overhauls (similar to FPL’s wildcards). What is your opinion of them? Do they add to the game or hinder managers?
Jason: As this was my first season playing the Sky Sports game I don’t know what it was like without the Overhauls, but I thought they added an interesting dimension.
I think the first one, during the late summer international break, was well placed as it was just after the transfer window had closed and we had enough information to make some informed selections; to be honest I’ve always Wildcarded around that time in FPL anyway. It will be interesting to see what they do next season, as the transfer window closes before the season starts.
I found the second one, around the January window, helpful in setting up for the blank Gameweeks ahead. There is an argument that it punishes those that have saved their transfers, but I took the opportunity to load up on Liverpool players knowing that I had the luxury of removing them for players with a Double Gameweek once the postponements had passed. So even though it helped those with fewer transfers, I think there were still ways to gain an edge.
Who have been your key players and what have been your best decisions over the season?
Jason: My best move has to have been bringing in Alexis Sanchez while he was at Arsenal as captain at the end of December for the Gunners’ match with Crystal Palace, which was the only game that day. His brace and man of the match award took me to the top of the rankings for the first time, and I managed to hang on to that position for the remainder of the season.
Elsewhere, I had Salah for the entire season and for much of the campaign I had four or five Manchester City players as well. I also came out of the first Overhaul with double, and then within a few weeks, triple Burnley defence, which was very helpful during their flurry of clean sheets in the first third of the season.
Who have been your villains?
Jason: It would have to be Chelsea centre-back Andreas Christensen. Like many, I got sucked into the trap of believing he was a nailed-on, cheap route into the Blues defence. We all know how that turned out and I ended up keeping him from the second Overhaul all the way to the bitter end.
There weren’t too many other villains. I’m tempted to include Davinson Sanchez as I had him for a while in the first half of the season when Spurs stopped keeping clean sheets and then he got sent off against Watford. However, he atoned for his sins recently, getting me a very handy 22 points across the last three Gameweeks, although the most recent rotation with Toby Alderweireld was less welcome.
With limited transfers and no price changes, the Sky Sports game requires different skills to FPL. What is your general advice to other managers in terms of strategy?
Jason: It does require some different skills. I’d say you need a bit more patience and to anticipate holding players for longer. That’s easier said than done and, of course, a lot of my players performed well given my rank, but it needs to be into any long or mid-term plans.
On that note, I’d say planning is incredibly important. In FPL you can afford to knee-jerk players in and out for a hit, but with limited transfers, you can’t do that in Sky Sports. You need to plan a few weeks ahead and have transfers in mind, not only to maximise their impact but also to ensure you have captains every match day.
Finally, bonus points have to be taken into account. The members’ area on FFScout is very helpful in this regard as it has all the data. Defenders who regularly get passing bonus are worth their weight in gold.
Is Sky now your preferred Fantasy game?
Jason: My record in FPL is fairly mixed. A few decent seasons interspersed with some rubbish ones. This season was one of my worst in FPL, so although there are parallels, success in one certainly doesn’t guarantee success in the other.
I’d probably say Sky Sports is the one for me now, which I never thought I’d say before this season. Although FPL is fun and I’ll always take part, the Sky Sports game suits my style more given the extra planning needed, which sometimes I feel doesn’t get rewarded in FPL.
Finally, what will you do with your prize money?
Jason: I haven’t fully decided yet. It’ll start with a nice holiday with my partner, and then I’m sure most of it will end up on something boring like a deposit for a house.