Blink and you’ll miss it. How are we now a couple of fixtures past the halfway point in the season? No doubt you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to see how your favourite team of Scout writers and experts are getting on in their inaugural season of playing the ultimate form of Fantasy Football that is Fantasy League (FL).
Are Geoff and Ted (Rotation) still fighting it out for top-pot. Is Chris (El Fozzie) still languishing at the bottom of the table? I’ll put you out of your misery:
Let’s just gloss over the fact that the Scout’s ‘FL expert’ (yours truly: there would be multiple laughing emojis here if I could add them…..) is a massive 67 points off the top and move onto David’s meteoric rise to the top of the table with a very significant cushion over everyone else.
How did he do it? I have two words for you: Jamie Vardy. Remember, that’s the beauty of FL: Vardy can only appear in one team. No one else can jump aboard the bandwagon as that ship sailed when David outbid everyone else at the auction, confident, even then, that the Leicester man would have a groundbreaking season.
Despite missing the latter half of the festive chaos, Vardy still sits 12 points above the next best player, Sadio Mané, who is the only player keeping Mat afloat (having accounted for almost a quarter of his total points).
Beneath David, you could throw a relatively small blanket over the rest of us and the positions from two to eight frequently change as someone has a stellar week or one to send you back to bed for a couple of days.
Although points are harder to come by in FL compared to FPL, 30+ points in a week isn’t unheard of (probably on a par with a 100+ point week in FPL) and that could see anyone from Geoff up to Neale overtaking Chris in second spot.
David’s success to date really does highlight how FL is all about the long game as it’s amazing the difference a couple of months can make. Last time out, I looked at the best team which could, in theory, have been acquired at our auction. Of the 15 players in that ultimate squad, only three (Mané, Pukki and Abraham) would still be in the best team as of this point in time, which looks like this:
The original team would still have a very impressive 358 points, 81 more than our own table-topper, David, but 138 fewer than this latest team.
To give that context, you’d have to score 46 unanswered goals to overtake a lead of that magnitude.
However, will this still be the best team as of the end of the season? My money says it won’t be although we could probably safely lock in Vardy and Mané!
If Kevin de Bruyne continues his current form then he will probably feature too but his price at the auction (£27m) means that other midfielders represent better value for money (vfm) for now, as is the case too with Trent Alexander-Arnold who tops the fullbacks chart with 42 points (his partner in crime, Andrew Robertson is next highest with 32 points), who cost £18m.
Given that you’ve only had my view of things up to this point, it’s time for a fresh perspective and fortunately the Scout’s very own Will (aka TopMarx) was kind enough to give me his own take on both the game and the season to date:
The challenge I’ve found with Fantasy League is grasping how it differs from FPL.
For instance, it’s much harder for defenders to score points. They only get three points for a clean sheet and if they concede more than once, each goal costs them minus one. When Southampton lost 9-0 to Leicester their defenders scored minus eight.
So with defenders frequently getting negative points, I’ve decided that non-playing defenders – who are guaranteed zero points – aren’t a bad choice! However, my best transfer this season has undoubtedly been Kasper Schmeichel. The Leicester City ‘keeper has kept six clean sheets since I’ve owned him.
The Super Subs feature means that the concept of a bench is very different in Fantasy League, as most of your squad will play each week. You also aren’t limited to owning just three forwards, as you are in FPL.
Because goals are worth three points irrespective of whether a forward, midfielder or defender scores, it makes sense to me to load up on strikers – the players most likely to score goals. My squad of 15 currently contains six forwards and four midfielders.
How is my season going? Well, fairly average.
At the auction last summer I decided to go for balance and avoided splashing out big money on one player. I spent roughly an equal amount on Paul Pogba, Christian Eriksen, Marcus Rashford and Son Heung-min. The first two have been a big disappointment.
It was a mistake to pick Eriksen. I thought he would stay at Spurs but he still hasn’t re-integrated into the team. I finally got rid of him this week as it has become clear his situation is unlikely to change under Jose Mourinho.
The reason I held onto Eriksen for so long is that he has the potential to do well and there aren’t a huge amount of alternatives. It’s the same reason I still have an injured Pogba in my team.
Nonetheless, I remain hopeful players like Wilfried Zaha, Neal Maupay, Sébastien Haller, and Joshua King will score a few goals to propel me up the table. Although with David running away with it, I’ll be happy to finish second.
Will makes some interesting points, the most significant of which is the situation with defenders this season; I’ll come onto this in a minute.
However, I’d like to start with what he says about Eriksen. Will is a Spurs fan (boo/yay/meh/haha: delete as necessary) and so he knew as well as anyone that the Danish international was looking for a move abroad last summer having refused to sign a new contract. Picking up Eriksen at the auction was still a perfectly reasonable thing to do because until a player has actually signed a contract elsewhere, there is always the possibility that they will stay put.
In Eriksen’s case, that turned out to be the case, albeit with severely limited playing time, particularly for a player of his supreme ability. Taking a calculated punt is often what Fantasy Football in any guise is all about as that’s what enables you to steal a march on your opponents, and pick up players who are undervalued and have sneaked under the radar.
Unfortunately, the key word there is ‘calculated’. Not to pick on Will at all but this example is too good not to use: Will paid £15m out of his £100m budget for a player who was, ultimately, a massive punt. To put that in context, Will is also the proud owner of Son, for whom he paid £13m.
A couple of seasons ago, that pricing would probably have been roughly spot on, but what has to be factored into the equation is the likelihood that the whole sum could be wasted on a player who leaves the Premier League or rots in the reserves all season.
I’m not suggesting that you build spreadsheets to model a fair price for such players (although I’m sure that there will be people who have done precisely that!), but if you think a player who is 99% certain to stay put is worth £15m, then the same player with a 50% chance of leaving should only be worth £7.5m (and before some pedant points it out, I’ve rounded down to the nearest half million). Fantasy football, be it FL or FPL, is all about risk/reward. There are no certainties but using some simple maths can help maximise the risk/reward balance.
Will’s observation about defensive points in FL cuts to the heart of one of the biggest differences between FL and FPL. Last season, seven of the top 20 highest scoring players in both FL and FPL were defenders/goalkeepers. The table below shows the current top 20 players for each game and their respective points:
|Rank||FL||FL Points||Rank||FPL||FPL Points|
Predictably, there is a lot of overlap between the two lists even if the players’ ranks vary slightly. The FL list has three defenders (the big three from Liverpool’s back line), and the FPL list five.
Lundstram is listed as a midfielder in FL and so doesn’t make the list but, if he had been classified as a defender, he’d have pushed Virgil van Dijk into the 21st spot (who, strictly speaking, makes the FPL list in 20th equal position with Baldock and Firmino).
What’s more telling, and cuts to Will’s point, is at the opposite end of the points-scoring table. At present, there isn’t a single player in FPL who has a score below zero and whilst I haven’t had the time to go through every single player currently on zero, I’d wager that there won’t be more than a handful of them who have actually made it onto the pitch this season.
In FL, there are 75 (yes, seventy-five!) players with a minus score, ranging from -1 to -16. Unsurprisingly, the eight players with double digits’ worth of minus points come from Norwich, Southampton and Watford.
For anyone ‘unfortunate’ (I’m being kind here!) enough to own one of these players, they would need one of their other players to score at least a brace of goals and assists (10 points) to cancel out the negative impact of each of these defenders. I often see the word ‘assets’ used to describe players in FPL but, in FL, defenders can also very much be ‘liabilities’.
Of course, this season has been highly unusual. It would have been a very brave manager who, at their auction (or when selecting their initial FPL team), would have loaded up on Leicester, Sheffield United and Palace defenders. Is there anyone who went into their auction not wanting both Liverpool fullbacks?
Yet Watford only have one fewer cleansheet than Liverpool (albeit Liverpool tend not to ship eight goals when losing their cleansheet!). Do I expect that to be the case come the end of the season? Of course not. Even if normal service isn’t fully resumed in terms of the ‘big’ teams keeping their anticipated level of clean sheets, I suspect that the teams listed above will keep fewer (relatively) than they have to date.
The real difficulty can be knowing when to get aboard an unexpectedly good defence and, equally importantly, when to know that the run is over. Most seasons, at least one of the promoted teams will surprise everyone. They will have some standout players who make exceptional Fantasy players (particularly from a vfm perspective) and one of the teams will have a defence which is as watertight as the proverbial duck’s rear orifice.
In part, I suspect it’s the surprise factor, given that 17 of the 19 teams against whom they play won’t have had recent first-hand experience of playing them. But it’s rare that the clean sheets last the full season.
Lots of people climbed onto the Wolves defensive bandwagon last season and whilst the likes of Matt Doherty and Willy Boly offered good attacking threats too, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men only kept nine clean sheets all season, with four coming in the first eight games of the season.
That’s 30 games with only five shutouts and from December to May it was literally just one a month with the exception of March. Surprising? It certainly surprised me because I had it in my head that Wolves were a good defensive shout for this season, yet at this latest rate they’ll struggle to match last season’s tally (four in 21 to date).
Everton kept 14 clean sheets last season. 10 of these came in their last 17 matches of the season. If they’d had that form in the first half of the last season, they’d have surpassed Liverpool’s table-topping defensive form of 21 shutouts.
Remember before the start of this season when the Everton defence was ‘essential’ in FPL circles, and the only question was Lucas Digne or Seamus Coleman or both? How did that work out? I remember it all too well because as well as my FPL team (which kicked off with Coleman), both my FL teams started out with an Everton defender (Yerry Mina and Michael Keane: both freebies).
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that all three teams are currently devoid of Everton defenders, but only after taking too many minus points in my FL teams.
It’s very easy to live in the past in Fantasy Football. Historically, Arsenal were one of the best teams defensively. Even long after their Invicibles season, they still had a number of defenders who regularly topped the defensive charts or scored the sorts of points you’d expect from a premium defender. I’m talking about Thomas Vermaelen. Laurent Koscielny. Hector Bellerin.
Those days are gone. Long gone.
Arsenal managed eight shutouts last season. That was two fewer than Cardiff, who got relegated. This season I could make the same point about Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United, another three teams you’d have previously put your house on keeping plenty of clean sheets and having high-scoring defenders.
This leads me into the final point I’d like to make: the worst thing about living in the past is that nostalgia can creep in. Nostalgia is probably the worst emotion of them all when it comes to Fantasy Football in any guise.
That player you loved watching at your club for numerous seasons. Or that player who singlehandedly won you your FL or FPL league years ago. You know the guy. He now needs a walking stick to make it from the subs bench to the pitch but you’ll include him in your team anyway in the way that you hate sprouts but still stick them on your plate every Christmas. Because it’s what you do. And when you pick him up at your auction, other managers will hide their smirks or smile at you with pity. Many years ago, a fellow FL manager was a Leeds fan and built his team every auction by acquiring every former Leeds player he could lay his hands on. He never won.
Trying to remove emotion is a reason I’m so pleased I don’t support a Premier League team. For those of you who do, I honestly don’t know how you do it. For me, it would make my brain crash. It would be like asking a calculator to divide by zero. Huge ‘error’ message.
The worst conundrum I face when watching a match is when I have an attacker playing against a goalkeeper, so I know that, barring a freak assist from the goalie, I’m not going to be scoring points from both players.
If I had my Fantasy player scoring against my real-life team, which caused the latter to lose, I suspect I’d spontaneously self-combust. Ditto seeing my team win courtesy of goals by players owned by my closest Fantasy rivals. Seriously, I don’t know how you stay sane. That said, I very much hope that you do all stay sane.
Simon March wrote an excellent piece last month on the impact Fantasy Football can have on your mental health. It is just a game but it can be a big determinant for many of us, myself included, of our mood on any given weekend or matchday. So I hope you all had a very successful festive period from an FL/FPL perspective and will take some of the cheer into the short January days ahead. Happy New Year!
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