If you managed to finish above our regular contributor Lateriser in Fantasy Premier League in 2019/20, then you would have had a very fine season indeed.
Only one FPL manager managed to do that in our Fantasy Football Scout Members league: Nathan Woollaston.
Nathan, who goes by the user name TheWoollyOnes on our site, finished 27th in the world last season in what was his fourth year as an FPL manager.
He has made big strides since posting a 1m+ overall rank in his debut campaign, ending 2018/19 just outside the top 10k.
First breaking into the top 1,000 in Gameweek 17 of the season just gone, Nathan then managed to crack the top 100 in Gameweek 33+ and was only 14 points off a top 10 finish.
We spoke to him this week to assess his superb season.
Scout: You’re a relative newbie at FPL but have improved dramatically in the four seasons you have been playing. Has your managerial style evolved over that time?
Nathan: Yeah, with the trajectory I’m on winning next season is inevitable!
I didn’t have a clue my first season, it’s a steep learning curve for sure. Cutting out mistakes and learning patience.
Scout: Did your strategy change the better your overall rank? For example, once you were in the top 1k, did you look to consolidate that position or push on?
Nathan: I got into the top 1k by Gameweek 17 and it was quite enjoyable! I knew I had more chips than most so just enjoyed it for a while and kept on keeping on. I was seeing the gap to the 10k mark was getting bigger and bigger so I could relax more and more.
But, I did feel a lot of pressure approaching and during the restart as I moved into the top 100. I did not want to go backwards having got there, and my approach did stiffen up quite dramatically – very, very stressful!
Scout: You only took four hits all season and none after the restart. Do you tend to preach patience with your FPL players?
Nathan: I would guess three or four of those were mini-Wildcards too. I am conservative, I guess, looking at that stat. I trust my picks. Too many times I see others making quick sideways transfers after only one or two weeks and I try to avoid sideways moves at all costs.
After the restart, when I was just outside the top 100, a minus four would have cost me about 25-40 places. It was a gamble I wasn’t going to take – and didn’t. The risk versus reward made no sense to me. The margins were so fine towards the end and I needed a ‘very good’ Gameweek score not to lose rank. I couldn’t afford minus fours that weren’t a near-certain thing. For example, I refused Christian Pulisic v Norwich (6), I stuck with Son Heung-min (8) and I didn’t change the balance of my squad.
Magnus Carlsen made some really big moves six weeks out and still managed to push on, which I think is very impressive. Selling Mohamed Salah was as far as I got I think. I didn’t turn the screw enough in hindsight but I wanted to stick to my slow-and-steady game and see how far I could go.
Scout: You have a relatively low-key presence on Twitter. Do you avoid social media and all the ‘noise’ that comes with it?
Nathan: FPL Rockstar was why I’ve returned to my Twitter account. It was a necessity – for better or worse. And I follow a few dozen key accounts. But there is far too much FPL noise! The FPL Twitter rabbit hole has far too many voices and parrots parroting and it certainly doesn’t need me as well. As for following the hivemind whims week to week, you could change your whole team every other week. I would want to win playing my game, not lose playing someone else’s – where’s the fun in that!
Scout: How do you go about your captaincy picks? 23.31% of your points came from your captains, which was an even bigger percentage than the eventual FPL winner.
Nathan: I always have the ‘anytime scorer’ at any bookies in the back of my mind. Go with the most likely pick, coupled with an even weight of the most popular pick in the captaincy poll – from the players I already own, of course.
Gambling on a differential captain may work for a week or two, but over 38 weeks you will be found out. Go with the odds. I did bring Raheem Sterling in for Gameweek 34 to captain in Gameweek 35. A few friends thought it was ‘brave’ – and he was very low in the polls at that time – but I thought he was the standout option. I went with the plan and was rewarded handsomely, effectively getting ahead of the game by a few weeks. But overall I have played the percentages.
Scout: How did you settle on your chip strategy this season? I notice you played three in a row (Bench Boost, Free Hit, Wildcard) in Gameweek 30+ to 32+.
Nathan: There was plenty of time to think in lockdown and I heard a throwaway comment on WGTA of that particular strategy. I latched onto it and the more I thought of it, my mind was made up. The extra week’s worth of data by playing Free Hit in Gameweek 31+, I thought, would be far more advantageous than any other permutation.
Scout: How much preparation did you do in pre-season and do you think it’s worth putting much effort in at that early stage given how much can change in the first few Gameweeks?
Nathan: I was very ‘Twitter template’ in the first few weeks. A solid foundation is very important and there should be no need to make any transfers in Gameweek 2, in my opinion. Using free transfers as a mini-Wildcard in Gameweek 3 is something I like. In the first six Gameweks especially, there are many changing team dynamics. A Gameweek 3 Wildcard can look terrible by Gameweek 5.
Scout: Who have been your best buys of the year?
Nathan: I’m most proud of my low-key picks, my enablers and getting on players early.
James Tarkowski in Gameweek 8 turned an average week into a good week. Patience with James Maddison until Gameweek 19 when many were flip-flopping to Mason Mount, Christian Pulisic, Adama Traore et al. James Ward-Prowse did well for me in Gameweeks 12-16, scoring 22 points – which doesn’t sound much but I was fighting other fires at the time and he ticked over nicely compared to his peers. Harvey Barnes for Gameweeks 28 and 29, too.
I tend to get players for three, four or five-week blocks, though. Sometimes they outstay their welcome but that approach has worked very well. Be patient and trust your choice. If you aren’t sure you probably shouldn’t have picked them in the first place, however.
Scout: Can you think of anything that went wrong and how you went about remedying it?
Nathan: I made the exact same mistake this season as I did last. I got rid of (and was immediately punished by) Raul Jimenez ahead of the Liverpool game, when he scored. I corrected it the week after next and he did well for me again for a number of weeks. I’m a Wolves season ticket holder and I’m very conscious that I’m overly harsh when looking at Wolves assets.
I also got Paul Pogba for his false-dawn return in Gameweeks 19 and 20. I got on far too early. I was badly punished last season when I didn’t have Pogba at all for his crazy scoring run; it’s the ‘fear of missing out’.
Generally, I do feel I’m good at moving away from players quickly and decisively when I need to though – and without being punished – which is the other side of a very important coin.
Scout: You played double Liverpool defence for a big chunk of the season. Do you think you’d repeat that policy again next year?
Nathan: Yes, that was horrible wasn’t it? I was very prepared to die on my hill owning Andrew Robertson and Virgil van Dijk until Gameweek 9. I can’t put into words my contempt for Adrian. I’m a big subscriber to chaos theory though: I wouldn’t have ended up where I did if I’d made all the ‘right’ moves early on. Having said, that double defence/attack is a very strong sword – as long as it works.
Scout: You barely played five across the middle all season, at least until after the restart. What was your thinking there?
Nathan: It seemed the obvious move to me after the restart to move towards a five-man midfield. There was a wealth of midfield talent and unreliable and/or expensive forwards. A few weeks later everyone seemed to be talking about a ‘power five’ and I was already there.
Scout: The only Gameweek in which you didn’t own Kevin De Bruyne was on your Free Hit in Gameweek 31+. Did you effectively build a team around him and is he a must-own next season too, do you think?
Nathan: He was my first pick and I never considered dropping him. Watching him and not owning him is awful and sucks all the fun from the game. He is the best player and I want him to do well. I had loads of value tied up in him, sure, but I’m also very much in love with him. And that’s important too.
Scout: Would you define yourself as a stats-based manager or one who prefers the eye test – or a bit of both?
Nathan: I watch far too many live games, as my missus would confirm. I lived in Dubai until a few years ago and realised how watching 3pm games can tremendously help with FPL. You are gaining at least 20/25% more info than many rival managers in doing so. Far too many FPL players (and pundits) rely on bare stats or three-minute Match of the Day highlights packages – which do more harm than good most of the time. So eye test for me.
Stats can flag and signal but I would confirm with my own eyes. The only exceptions I can think of was the Teemu Pukki bandwagon (which I was late to in any case) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who I bought unseen, although he did quite well – at a no-brainer price – for a number of weeks.
Scout: How long have you been an FFS member? As an FFS user, which parts of the site have been of most use to you?
Nathan: Two seasons. I read the Members articles, I look around the tables, and, on occasion, check out the player data and Rate My Team, especially early season.
My main resources have been the Members Area, Reddit, Twitter (a few dozen accounts only), Fantasy Football Scout and Let’s Talk FPL videos, and the WGTA podcast on my 45-minute each-way commute. I’m able to digest and process ‘community info’ quite well in this time.
Scout: Which players have you got your eye on for 2020/21?
Nathan: Even though I didn’t own him at any time this season, Pulisic looks the real deal and should be value at, say, £8m-£10m? It might not matter the price, just start with him.
Son could be priced kindly and if he starts the season up the middle – where he should be – he could be a monster, as he’s so much better than his fellow Spurs midfielders.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka should have got so many more points for me the last six Gameweeks; I’m still sore about it. These three are likely in my Gameweek 1 squad.
Scout: Have you got any wider strategy advice as we approach the new season?
Nathan: Understand you can’t own everyone and there are no essentials. Just look at the top teams. When I was ranked 400th, I hadn’t owned Sadio Mane, Sergio Aguero, Danny Ings, Son Heung-min, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jack Grealish or Todd Cantwell at any time, which many people found to be very strange indeed. There are many ways to skin a cat. Play your own game.
Choose your battles. FPL is a tough boxing match. It’s hard and you will have to take a few punches and you’ll probably get bloodied and likely even lose a few rounds but grind it out, stay consistent in your application and you’re far more likely to get to the result you want.