Former FPL winner Simon March provides advice on how to preserve a mini-league lead.
As we enter the final few Gameweeks of the season, much attention is given to how to make up ground on those ahead of us but, for some, the priority will be defending what they already have. If you’re currently lucky enough to be winning your mini-league, your focus may well be on how to stay there, so this article will discuss a few different strategies for defending a lead in FPL.
‘Follow the Follower’
I’ve never been on a yacht, let alone raced one, but I have in my time absorbed a bit of yacht racing strategy and there’s one particular approach which is quite relevant for defending a lead in FPL known as ‘Follow the Follower.’
The basic premise of ‘Follow the Follower’ is that, once in front, the leading yacht in a race replicates the strategy of the yacht behind it, even if that strategy is sub-optimal. The logic is that, by doing whatever the follower does, there’s no strategy that follower can adopt that will allow them to make ground on the leader.
In FPL, this strategy is sometimes referred to as ‘shadowing’ or ‘covering’ and it is essentially the FPL equivalent of ‘parking the bus’. In practice, shadowing involves ensuring that your team resembles your chasing rival’s as much as possible and thus reducing the potential that a differential player or captain might help them to catch you.
You can, of course, extrapolate the principles of shadowing to help defend a general overall league position (e.g. staying in the top 10k) by identifying and owning as many of the highest-owned and most threatening players. Though, it has to be said, it is much more of a mini-league strategy for reasons I’ll go into shortly.
Shadowing is somewhat derided on FPL forums given its utilitarian and borderline-unsporting nature. However, when you absolutely positively must win your mini-league, it’s a perfectly viable strategy. By reducing the impact of differentials, shadowing will mitigate the only real weapon a chasing rival has. How easy it is to pull off, however, depends on a few factors.
Firstly, it works best when there are only a short number of Gameweeks left and/or when you have a big lead. Shadowing with, say, 10 Gameweeks left will be difficult to achieve and may well result in you inadvertently ceding your lead due to inefficiencies in the strategy. Unless you can perfectly predict your rival’s team and captain, there will be an element of error and, in all likelihood, your moves will usually be one Gameweek behind theirs. Over time, therefore, your rival may well gain ground on you. The art of shadowing, therefore, is often in the timing.
Another issue with shadowing is that it may well involve selecting players who perform worse than the players you would have chosen otherwise. It’s an entirely ‘safety first’ strategy, it’s definitely not one for maximising scores or overall rank.
Finally, shadowing is almost certainly inadvisable in a mini-league scenario if you have several close rivals as it becomes exponentially more difficult to effectively ‘cover’ your opponents the more of them there are. You might know your opponents well enough to make an educated guess as to who the genuine threats are but, even in these circumstances, you are relying on a lot of luck, which rather defeats the point.
Playing it Safe
The biggest advantage of being in front is that you don’t need to take the risks that the people chasing you do. You can, therefore, afford to ‘play it safe’ and pick the players who objectively offer the highest prospect of returns. That means no crazy differentials, solid, reliable captain choices and as few hits as possible. Naturally FPL is not an exact science, but this method does tend to put the odds in your favour which is really all we can ask for. ‘Playing it safe’ is, in my eyes, the FPL-version of ‘hitting them on the break’.
This was largely my strategy after I reached the number 1 spot in 2015. In order to win, I needed to defend my lead for another 14 Gameweeks against, maybe, up to 100,000 other managers with a feasible chance of catching me. With this in mind, shadowing wasn’t an option but I also didn’t care about breaking any scoring records, just winning was more than enough.
‘Playing it safe’ isn’t as easy as it sounds however. Firstly, it relies on there being ‘objectively best’ options each week and it becomes more difficult the more options there are. It also requires a fair amount of discipline to avoid the temptation to try and win it all in one week with a wild punt. This also means that you will likely miss out on the unexpected hauls and you’ll have to cope mentally with other people getting them.
This discipline becomes ever more difficult when you have to cope with the managers chasing you making all sorts of ever more crazy moves to try and catch you (one guy chasing me actually captained Martin Skrtel in one match and he scored… twice!). You can’t avoid this but, at the same time, you are forcing your opponents into taking greater risks which, probability dictates, should pay off less the bigger they are.
Playing Your Own Game
If you ask anybody how to defend a lead in FPL, the most common answer you’ll get is ‘just keep playing your own game’ or, in other words; don’t do anything different, just do whatever you were doing before. This is the more romantic or ‘purist’ approach to defending a lead, I’d say it’s the FPL equivalent of Tiki-Taka; if the plan works, stick to the plan.
There is of course some logic to this; if you’re good enough to be top of your mini-league towards the end of the season then there’s no reason to think that you’re not good enough to stay there. This strategy maintains consistency in your approach, whatever that might be. If you take hits, continue to take hits. If you like picking differentials, keep picking differentials etc…
The problem with this strategy, however, is that it doesn’t account for the likelihood that those chasing you may well change their strategy as they get closer to the end of the season. When you’ve got nothing to lose your approach to risk-taking changes a great deal and, like I said, this can translate into ever-more dramatic punts. By maintaining the ‘play your own game’ strategy, you may not be utilising the advantage that being in the lead offers you and, meanwhile, those chasing you may well be taking advantage of the fact that they have nothing to lose.
Furthermore, much as it might pain us to admit it, luck can take you a long way in FPL but it almost always runs out eventually. Just because a strategy has been working until now doesn’t necessarily mean that it will continue to do so. So, in our own interests, when leading a league, it’s important to be painfully honest with ourselves about exactly how we got there in the first place and whether that approach is sustainable.
Which strategy you should adopt for defending a lead will depend a great deal on your own specific circumstances.
Obviously I’m a believer in doing what you need to do to get in front and then playing it relatively safe once you’re there because that’s the strategy that has worked for me in the past, but every circumstance is different.
While a few potential scenarios have been discussed here and these are hopefully useful as a guide to the pros and cons of using different strategies in such contexts, every manager will ultimately have to decide what method will work best for their specific situation.
Simon March is a member of our Pro Pundits initiative, a team of Fantasy managers here to bring you regular advice and updates on their teams. Simon won the FPL title in 2014/15 and has become a fixture on the punditry circuit ever since.
FPL Lessons Learned From Gameweek 36+
- Chelsea 1-0 Norwich City
- Burnley 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Manchester City 2-1 Bournemouth
- Newcastle United 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
- Everton 1-1 Aston Villa
- Leicester City 2-0 Sheffield United
- Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester United
- Southampton 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion
- West Ham United 3-1 Watford
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