FPL BlackBox co-host and three-time top 10k finisher Az discusses thinking with a clear head, the move away from ‘big at the back’ and form over fixtures in his latest Pro Pundits article.
What is happening? Why is football broken? That’s what I keep asking myself week after week as new, crazy things keep occurring.
As it stands, I’m having my worst start to a season ever but given all that’s been going on, I’m trying to take it in my stride. Trying to get to grips with this season is proving to be an impossible task and if you’ve managed it, well hats off to you. But if you are like me and haven’t quite got a handle on it yet, well, there’s plenty of time to go.
I’m having an even worse start to the season than I did last year.
My last article called for patience and calm amongst the madness, but it’s hard to stay cool and collected when Aston Villa are putting seven goals past Liverpool and Son Heung-Min (£9.0m) is plundering another mega-haul.
It’s typical that Mark and I started FPL BlackBox this season, attempting to scrutinise our decision-making process when everything is so turbulent. It feels that patience often goes unrewarded, but equally, acting bravely and decisively can cause similar problems. I really feel for the people who took out Son this week based on Jose Mourinho’s comments – or for those who, like me, have stuck with Timo Werner (£9.3m) hoping that he will deliver on all of his promises when he signed for Chelsea.
The roughs on the Scoutcast’s ‘Rough with the Smooth’ have never been rougher. I’ve seen a multitude of people losing 30+ points on seemingly perfectly fine transfers on paper.
So what can we take from this crazy start? Should we be changing the way we play the game to compensate for the madness or will things start to settle down? What can we, as FPL managers, do to fight back against the madness of the 2020/21 season?
Analyse the decisions not the outcome
It was key when I started up FPL BlackBox that I wouldn’t just be looking at decisions purely in hindsight and would instead be assessing whether the actual decision and thought process that went into it was sound – or whether there were flaws to make a note of.
The fact is, there have been decisions made this season which, whatever way you look at it, were good decisions with an awful end result.
The main example for me is this week, with managers taking out Son due to a half-time substitution and a ‘confirmed’ hamstring injury that would rule him out for weeks.
For those that didn’t want to hold a £9.0m asset in their team, and instead wanted to try their luck with the likes of Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m), Marcus Rashford (£9.5m) or Harvey Barnes (£7.1m), I applaud the decision. I would absolutely have made the same move if I had him; I couldn’t be benching a premium asset like that with so much potential for points in the players in the price bracket around him.
But then, I am equally impressed by those who decided to hold. If you saw through Mourinho’s apparent deception and kept the South Korean, you were richly rewarded.
This is quite simply, the kind of decision that makes FPL such a wonderful, yet excruciating game. You can’t expect the level of punishment/reward for those who made the ‘wrong’ decision.
On the other hand, separate horror stories I feel do have some learnings for us to take. I’ve read about people who transferred out Jack Grealish (£7.1m) for James Maddison (£7.0m) for a hit. Or others who sold Ollie Watkins (£5.9m) for Raul Jimenez (£8.6m). Of course, a hit comes with an inherent set of risks but I do appreciate that one single transfer costing managers around 20 points of damage is tough to take.
But looking at things logically: if you weren’t on a Wildcard, did Grealish really need to leave your team so urgently despite not really putting a foot wrong so far? Were there really no other fires you had to put out before making that move? Watkins hadn’t scored leading up to the win over Liverpool but had looked lively. Underlying stats also didn’t indicate that Wolves would maul Fulham. Watkins had only had two games to prove his worth so perhaps losing patience with him immediately was a little short-sighted.
Similarly, for those, like me, who kept Werner. Why were his lack of goals, out-of-position tag and fairly laborious play up to now not enough to convince you to move him on? And if you are intent on keeping him for another week, ask yourself: are your reasons for this sound or are you just refusing to accept a mistake?
Of course, there’s an element of hindsight here (as there is when any decision doesn’t go your way) but it’s the repeated mistakes we are looking for. When you keep making these decisions and they keep backfiring, well… did I ever tell you the definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing… over and over again… and expecting different results (thanks, Vaas).
Back form over fixture
I think now might be the time for us to consider that in the current climate, form trumps fixtures. It appears to me that teams are perhaps feeling less pressure without crowds to grind out hard-fought scrappy wins, and are throwing caution to the wind a bit more and really trying to get at teams.
At the moment, it’s almost impossible to really put your finger on what is a good or bad fixture. Teams like Manchester United and Liverpool are suddenly leaking six and seven goals, West Brom are putting three past Chelsea after 20 minutes, and Wolves and Leicester have both just been thrashed by West Ham.
Caveats to this may be seen in Burnley and Fulham – and West Brom defensively – who really do look to be struggling due to the personnel at their disposal. But aside from perhaps targeting players who play for these three teams, I’m much more inclined than in previous seasons to be looking at the underlying stats and form of players, while paying less attention to what games they have coming up.
A good example of this is Neal Maupay (£6.6m), who I have brought in this week. In his last three games, he’s scored 30 points despite tricky visits to St James Park and Goodison Park and hosting Manchester United at home.
Equally, Michael Antonio (£6.3m) may be a shrewd pick despite playing Spurs, Liverpool and City in his next three games as he looks absolutely electric.
I’ve also made a move for Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.6m), who faces Liverpool next but is the in-form striker in the league. It just doesn’t seem sensible to wait, when it feels like any team (even Liverpool!) can capitulate at any moment.
Essentially, I wouldn’t be put off by a player who faces a tricky run at the moment, because I simply don’t know what a tricky fixture looks like anymore. I think we can work this to our advantage. Bring in players who pass the eye test, who have strong underlying stats and are playing for teams with an air of confidence about them, and I reckon you’ll do just fine.
Move away from four at the back?
Another decision I’ve made this week is to abandon my 4-4-2 formation and rejig the structure of my squad.
With Allison (£6.0m) out for a prolonged period, I do wonder about the impact this will have on Liverpool defensive assets – as we saw last season (and even against Aston Villa), Adrian (£4.5m) can’t hold a candle to his illustrious Brazilian counterpart.
With the attacking threat of Andy Robertson (£7.0m) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m), keeping one does still seem sensible. But I feel like anyone with the double-up must surely be considering moving one on for pastures new.
Similarly, the likes of Lucas Digne (£6.1m), Ben Chilwell (£5.6m), Nelson Semedo (£5.5m) all still look fine players, due to the quality of both the chances they both have and create – but really, given the carnage that is currently happening in the Premier League, my money is on more goals. And surely this means that backing attacking players in midfield and up front is the most sensible way to go.
With affordable strikers such as Antonio, Watkins, Maupay, Patrick Bamford (£5.8m) and Callum Wilson (£6.4m), not to mention mid-priced midfield assets such as Jarrod Bowen (£6.3m), Matheus Pereira (£6.0m) and Grealish, in my opinion, anyone still playing four at the back should be looking to make the switch to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation. I’d advocate keeping Alexander-Arnold or Robertson, grabbing a £6.0m/£5.5m defender with attacking potential and pair with one of Kyle Walker-Peters (£4.5m), Tariq Lamptey (£4.7m) or Luke Ayling/Stuart Dallas (£4.5m). This, coupled with a £4.5m goalkeeper, allows you to really maximise your other slots to get the most attacking players possible.
Things will get better
If you’re like me and struggling, my final message is one of hope. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably quite into Fantasy Football. You probably spend a fair bit of time scrutinising stats, listening to podcasts, weighing up whether Luke Ayling (£4.5m) is a better option than Stuart Dallas (£4.5m) (I think it’s pretty damn close, by the way).
Eventually, the effort we put in will win out and we will start to ascend the ranks. Whether this happens due to us adapting to the chaos or the Premier League settling down into more familiar territory remains to be seen, of course.
But surely, this can’t go on for another 34 weeks… can it?
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