Over the last five months 11 of Fantasy Premier League’s best competitors have given up their time to reveal their key strategies for success in our Meet the Manager series.
The FA Cup break in the Premier League schedule this month provides us with a perfect time to take stock of their advice as we navigate the rest of the season.
Each of our interviewees has their own unique way of dealing with issues such as captaincy, value, hits and formation.
However, the series reveals a number of similarities in style.
They all are keen followers of the season ticker, with a kind set of matches on the horizon often driving their decisions.
Another common theme is that they perform best when they stick to their own tried and tested plan. In most cases rare bad seasons are caused by an attempt to try a different management style.
How they react to these poor campaigns also proves to be particularly illuminating.
In addition, they have also given an insight into how the game has changed over the last decade, including its surge in popularity, the introduction of chips and incredible rise in the wealth of online information and advice.
My thanks go to all those who have taken part. In particular I want to thank Kenneth Tang, who was recently diagnosed with sino-nasal cancer. Our thoughts are with him at this difficult time. His good nature and sense of optimism shine through in this series as well as in an interview he gave to his local paper in Hong Kong last month, shortly after his diagnosis.
Dealing with the noise
FPL becomes more popular each year, with six million managers signed up so far in 2018/19. A product of this has been the explosion of information and advice, from increasingly accurate price change prediction sites to statistical analysis across social media. At times this barrage of information can be overbearing and presents this elite group of veterans with fresh challenges to overcome each year.
Dealing with this social media “noise” is an issue that Richard Clarke in particular deals with in his October interview.
He uses the example of how social media helped fuel a Gameweek 8 bandwagon for Harry Kane, who had an enticing home tie with Cardiff but only scored one point. Instead of following the “momentum” generated by the crowd, savvy managers blanked this out and instead calmly analysed evidence to show how Spurs tend to struggle after tricky Champions League ties, on this occasion against Barcelona.
As one of those who followed the crowd on this occasion, Richard knows first hand how important it is to edit out the “noise”.
Build up a watchlist
Mark McGettigan, aka FPL General, is another that has sought to block out the information assault. He often completely ignores price prediction sites and ownership data and instead focuses his transfer moves on his own watchlist.
He is among a minority of FPL managers to use this function in the game, which offers a quick and easy way to pinpoint potential transfer targets based on form and fixtures. It also helps him to swerve the crowd and focus his thoughts on the players he has pinpointed as key to a rankings surge.
His three top 500 finishes in three of his last four seasons show the benefits of utlilising this often overlooked tool.
Creating your own luck
Often it is said that FPL is a luck-based game. But with so many high overall ranks this group of managers have clearly found ways to create their own fortune.
Marc Rubinstein’s interview best exemplifies this as he details how he uses 20 years experience in the financial sector to ensure his arrows are green each week.
His strategy involves careful risk management by drafting in well-owned players with the potential to score well and damage his rank if he continues to shun them. This is becoming increasingly important in recent years as the number of savvy managers playing FPL continues to grow.
This luck creation strategy also involves diversifying his “portfolio of player assets” to ensure he is not too exposed to a team’s dip in form.
He also looks for budget gems that can perform above their price tag and generate income and points for his squad.
Importance of team value
Wealth creation is an important factor behind the success of our very own Mark Sutherns, especially in recent years with the introduction of chips.
He quickly ditches players whose price and form is tumbling and pounces on strong value options to ensure he can get the most out of his chips later in the season, around double and blank Gameweeks.
He has found that this strategy has helped him create a stronger squad than his rivals when using both the Free Hit and second Wildcard chips.
To move swiftly in the market Mark must occasionally make early transfers. This risky approach is aided this season by the larger than usual array of good budget options. They have helped him create a strong bench that can be deployed should an early transfer be scuppered through injury or surprise team news.
Nick, aka Triggerlips, pays close attention to team structure to ensure he is another elite manager who can swiftly tap into the transfer market. He ensures he can do this adopting a “plug and play strategy” that looks at creating a balanced team with player price points, which can be used to quickly swap in form assets.
This tactic also ensures his team has a good balance in all outfield positions enabling Nick to field good quality premium and budget assets across his team.
At the start of each season he allocates a budget for defence, midfield and attack to achieve this, which can be tailored based on initial player valuation and real life football trends.
For example at the start of the current campaign he allocated more money than usual in defence due to the increasing array of attacking backline options. He also only opted for one premium midfielder, due to the high price tag of Mohamed Salah and value centre of the park options such as Everton’s Richarlison.
Fixture planning plus
All our interviewees look at fixtures to influence their transfer plans, with Adam Hopcroft no exception.
He takes such analysis to a higher level by breaking down fixtures into a variety of categories. This involves looking at home and away form, as well as team’s performances against top six sides and lesser teams.
He looks at underlying statistics and performances over the last six matches in each category to gather a wealth of information on team and player performances, which is also used to influence his captaincy decisions.
Other factors can then be filtered into such decisions, in particular the history of players and whether their underlying data may be misleading. For example some strikers are consistently able to score from limited shots, while others need a number of attempts to register returns.
Focus on the wheat not the chaff
Kenneth Tang is another to look closely at fixtures but his weekly analysis is firmly focused on players from top six sides.
For Kenneth it is his selection of premium assets from such sides that will dictate his performance. With nine top 10,000 finishes, this has proved to be consistently successful.
Before constructing his Gameweek 1 squad he looks at the next six to eight fixtures for sides such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Cheaper players from lesser sides are then deployed to fit around them.
His rationale is that top teams are far more likely score a high number of goals when against lesser teams.
For example at the start of this season he doubled up on assets from both Liverpool and Manchester City due to their strong fixtures. This ensured he reached the edge of the top 10,000 by Gameweek 4.
Learning from other Fantasy games
Playing other Fantasy formats can also help with FPL management, with many top managers excelling across a number of games.
Will Thomas is among this elite group of Fantasy polymaths, with ranks of 753 and 82 in FPL and four top 100 finishes in Sky Fantasy Football.
Sky’s limited transfers have helped Will to think twice before transferring out good players in FPL.
Also Sky’s matchday captaincy selections help FPL managers pay particular attention to fixture swings.
However, playing multiple games is not without problems.
Will warns against ‘hedging’ transfers and captains across formats as this distracts from the core reason for selecting players – accumulating points.
Patience is a virtue
Matthew Jones is among the most patient of our interviewees with the bulk of his Gameweek 1 team still in place when I interviewed him in October.
Good planning, avoiding too many punts and basing decisions on strong research of form and fixtures minimises the risk of Matthew making a bad transfer. It also lessens the need to take a hit, with none taken so far this campaign. With each hit costing four points this already puts him at an advantage over less patient managers.
Matthew even waited until Gameweek 19 to use his Wildcard. This proved savvy as by focusing this chip on the festive fixtures he was able to rocket from 40,275 to the top 10,000 within just two Gameweeks.
Don’t be Afraid
In contrast to Matthew, Jay Egersdorff has found a way to achieve success by making bold moves, often involving multiple hits. Across his career he has not been shy to spend points to get in the players he hopes will take him up the rankings.
This boldness can prove costly, with a disastrous three-hit move last Christmas seeing Harry Kane jettisoned ahead of back-to-back hat-tricks. But with three top 1,000 finishes and top 10,000 overall ranks in all but two of his previous 12 seasons his gung-ho style clearly works more often than not.
His confidence in making bold moves has also helped Jay cope with the pressure that comes with being a top manager in the public eye.
Despite struggling for periods of this season, he appears on YouTube each week to discuss his latest score. His optimism in these videos is proving inspirational to those who, like him, have found themselves tumbling down the rankings this season.
Learn from mistakes
One of the most interesting aspects of this group’s FPL management is how they cope with adversity and are able to learn from their mistakes.
When a rare poor season occurs this group spend the summer analysing where it went wrong and how they can improve next time around.
In Phil Ampleford’s interview he explains in detail the reasons why in 2017/18 he struggled to make the top 100,000 after six successive top 10,000 finishes.
A key factor in this mini-slump was an attempt to try a different management style. He eschewed his tried and test strategies of limiting the number of risky punts and building team value early on. Instead he looked to be more maverick with player selection and ignore prices.
His subsequent learning exercise paid off, with Phil back to his best this season, with an overall rank in and around the top 10,000 since Gameweek 5.
Mark is another to back this learning tactic.
Each season he looks back at the previous campaign and searches for ways he can improve. Perhaps the best example of this was after the 2013/14 season when he struggled to make it into the top 200,000. A reluctance to draft in players such as Aaron Ramsey because he’d already missed a number of points hauls was identified as a key weakness that he has not repeated since. His next season finish of 42 clearly shows the importance of this post-season analysis.
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