Pro Pundits - Simon

What is the best strategy for defending a Fantasy Premier League mini-league lead?

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’

Thoughts on Mourinho's first Spurs match 1

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.

FPL lessons learned as Martial and Rashford outscore Fernandes

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.

Conclusion

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+

Become a Member and get unrestricted access to our data and articles

Full-year memberships are now available for the price of £17.50. Monthly subscriptions also cost just £2.99.

Join now to get the following:

  • Plot your transfer strategies using the fully interactive Season Ticker.
  • Get projections for every Premier League player provided by the Rate My Team statistical model.
  • Use Rate My Team throughout the season to guide your selections and transfers.
  • Get access to over 150+ exclusive members articles over the season.
  • Analyse our OPTA-powered statistic tables specifically tailored for Fantasy Football Managers.
  • Use our exclusive tool to build custom stats tables from over 100 OPTA player and team stats.
  • Enjoy our brand NEW Flat-Track Bully feature which introduces an opposition filter to your tables.
  • View heatmaps and expected goals data for every player.
  • Use our powerful comparison tool to analyse players head-to-head.

ALREADY A USER? CLICK HERE TO UPGRADE YOUR FREE ACCOUNT

NEW TO SCOUT? CLICK HERE TO START A MEMBERSHIP ACCOUNT

1,940 Comments Post a Comment
  1. bluetiger
    • 7 Years
    18 days, 4 hours ago

    My main ML rival is about 30 points behind me. I really need to get Martial to cover him (and possibly even captain next week) but would need to get rid of AWB. Worth a -4, or better to have 2 FTs for GW 38? Currently 40k:

    Foster (ugh)
    TAA / Doherty / AWB
    Pulisic / KDB / Mahrez / Sterling / Bruno
    Jiminez / Greenwood

    1. Eugeniekwh
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 4 hours ago

      nah i think its fine. Man Utd has the shortest rest time of all FA Cup games. Which might come into play in the west ham game.

      1. bluetiger
        • 7 Years
        18 days, 4 hours ago

        I hope you’re right, but think they’ll play their strongest team (I hope they don’t - I’m a Leicester City fan!)

    2. Saro0808
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      dont go for a hit at this point of the season,ur team looks solid.you man utd covers too.under 50k is great.
      pretty sure he wont be able to cover up those 30 points over two weeks,its huge (fa cup games will play a huge toll on the players specially utd,as they wont be getting rested much,fatigue.)
      before the restart I was around 37k.dropped down to 167k over the weeks.now I m around 63k and reovering.

  2. ZoumasBloomers
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • Has Moderation Rights
    • 3 Years
    18 days, 4 hours ago

    Think Jonny gets his place back? Tempted to go in with Jonny/Doherty double up to hunt attacking returns

    1. The Suspended One
      • 7 Years
      18 days, 4 hours ago

      Wasn’t he just rested?

      1. SpagBol
        • 3 Years
        18 days, 4 hours ago

        Yeah

      2. ZoumasBloomers
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • Has Moderation Rights
        • 3 Years
        18 days, 4 hours ago

        Hoping so, just checking that Vinagre didn’t have a worldy

    2. Mondeo
      • 5 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      now I'm tempted also...could be a go!

  3. SpagBol
    • 3 Years
    18 days, 4 hours ago

    Bottomed ! Sorry 🙁

    What would you do with this team?

    1FT and 0M in the bank...

    Pope
    TAA AWB Saiss
    Salah KDB Fernandes Mahrez
    Jesus Ings Greenwood

    Reina | Willian Aurier Taylor

    Cheers

    1. Top Lad Dakes.
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 4 hours ago

      Tough one bro that’s a strong side. Maybe DSilva in for the run-in to finish off his city career in style if anything. Playing Pep roulette a bit though, cos would probably only lose Mahrez for him (unless fine to go without Salah?)

  4. Top Lad Dakes.
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 3 Years
    18 days, 4 hours ago

    Where would you go from here? No bench cover but feels boring using transfers on that at this point. 1FT 1.1m ITB and not sure what to do.

    A bit worried about City player minutes and Pool player forms

    Pope (3.9)
    TAA Doherty Aurier (Lascelles 3.9)
    Mane KDB Bruno Mahrez (Guendouzi)
    Vardy Rashford(c) Greenwood

    1. The Suspended One
      • 7 Years
      18 days, 4 hours ago

      Lescelles to tark serge probs out

      1. Top Lad Dakes.
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 3 Years
        18 days, 4 hours ago

        Why probs out? He played this week despite the situation. Also not sure on doubling defence, would you get anyone else?

        1. The Suspended One
          • 7 Years
          18 days, 3 hours ago

          He flew to France after the match to see his mother, not sure his status

          1. Top Lad Dakes.
            • Fantasy Football Scout Member
            • 3 Years
            18 days, 3 hours ago

            Ahh okay damn, bless. Horrible situation

      2. Top Lad Dakes.
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 3 Years
        18 days, 3 hours ago

        Also, is Mahrez to DSilva too sideways? And would you keep Vardy then?

        1. My heart goes Salalalalah
          • 3 Years
          18 days, 3 hours ago

          Scotty B? 😉

          1. Top Lad Dakes.
            • Fantasy Football Scout Member
            • 3 Years
            18 days, 3 hours ago

            Oi 😆 not that bad. Just a lot of things to consider, and I’ve not had much time recently to watch games or look at stats

            1. My heart goes Salalalalah
              • 3 Years
              18 days, 3 hours ago

              Hahaha! Ings was good imo. Keep for sure. Almost exact same questions I have, and I have to decide in the next few hours.

              Should I lose Azpi or TAA for a Burnley defender, to afford Vardy to Auba?
              Should I rather lose Maguire and 1 of Mahrez/Willian for Martial for a -4?
              Should I lose Foden/Mahrez for Vardy to Jesus?

              ...to name a few 😆

    2. Saro0808
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      solid team,proly aurier seems to be out,he headed to France after the game.

  5. HUATSHOOTER
    • 3 Years
    18 days, 4 hours ago

    pope
    vvd doherty awb
    pulisic sterling dsilva bruno saka
    rash(C) ings

    subs: button,aurier,dcl,lascelles

    sell dcl for? is jimmy gonna play?

    1. Top Lad Dakes.
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      DCL to wood?

      1. HUATSHOOTER
        • 3 Years
        18 days, 3 hours ago

        nah totally not gonna consider burnley upfront assets..

        1. Top Lad Dakes.
          • Fantasy Football Scout Member
          • 3 Years
          18 days, 3 hours ago

          They do play nor BHA last 2... and he scored last game

  6. Uncle John from Jamaica
    • 7 Years
    18 days, 3 hours ago

    Morning

    From the next round of fixtures which side would you say is least likely to concede. Going for a free hit defence.

    Thanks

    1. Top Lad Dakes.
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      Burnley gotta be up there

    2. Saro0808
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      Burnley, pope the saviour.

  7. Top Lad Dakes.
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 3 Years
    18 days, 3 hours ago

    How was Ings today? Lucky to score, unlucky not to get more???

    Would you replace Vardy with him?

    1. Saro0808
      • 3 Years
      18 days, 3 hours ago

      No way. Ings got fixtures whereas vardy have Tottenham and united.i think lie wont qualify for the champions league,they will loose both the games.vardy will score 1-2 goals at most or even blank

      1. Top Lad Dakes.
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • 3 Years
        18 days, 3 hours ago

        So what’re you saying? Do Vardy to Ings? My team is above.

        Was Ings good yesterday?

        1. Saro0808
          • 3 Years
          18 days, 3 hours ago

          Ings was decent.he could have got another one.he hits barpost like bruno.u don't except him to score a hattrick.he is like a staedy horse machine.he gonna fetch you 7-9 points per gw like he did all the season.far better choice than vardy.
          i personally think vardy is done for the season (he won the golden boot,auba being the outside chance only)lie gonna loose both the games,I don't see him scoring much.if you feel he is better choice go ahead bro (definitely he is more explosive,on his day he can fetch you a hattrick)

        2. Devo-McDuff
          • 2 Years
          18 days, 2 hours ago

          He was really good. Unlucky not to get an extra goal and could have had an assist or 2 as well. In great form.

          Vardy also played really well too though and Leicester as a whole played great, didn't give Sheff a sniff.

  8. Bishopool
    • 8 Years
    18 days, 45 mins ago

    WOULD you BenchBoost? With..

    Foden (awayWAT), Saka (awayAVL), Targett (HomeARS), Martinez (awayAVL)

    1. Kane Lane
      • 5 Years
      17 days, 10 hours ago

      no

  9. Kane Lane
    • 5 Years
    17 days, 10 hours ago

    Giroud Pulisic to Wood Martial -4