Fresh from an overall rank of 389 in 2019/20, Seb Wassell has finished in the top 5k three times in his FPL career with a total of five top 15k ranks since 2012/13. A Leeds fan and a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa at heart, Seb can be found on both the Scoutcast and Scoutcast Matchday on our YouTube channel, as well as writing two articles a month for the site.
‘Would you rather your team won the title or you won FPL?’ A classic question in the Fantasy Premier League sphere. Perhaps just a bit of fun, perhaps a test of your loyalties.
For me, the answer has always been simple: I’d rather my team won the title. This isn’t just because it is a nonsensical conundrum not based in reality – one doesn’t affect the other, I can have both, or more likely, neither – but because the two have always been completely separate for me. I support Leeds United.
The Premier League hasn’t had to cross the Leeds supporting side of my brain in a very long time. The closest to overlapping Leeds and FPL has gotten for me was trying to refresh the official app with frozen hands and no signal at a wintery Elland Road. That is, until this season.
As a long-time FPL player, I would like to think I have a decent grasp of the common pitfalls we can all fall into when chasing that elusive mini-league win. Possibly the most common of these is being unable to act dispassionately when considering our own sides and their FPL prospects.
Going into a Sunday afternoon hoping for both your team’s star striker to score and the opposition goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet seems a contradiction. Many may justify decisions on this basis, from “Well, at least if we lose I’ll have done well in FPL” and “I watch him every week, he’s going to score, trust me” to “I can’t captain him against my own team!”.
Some may even see the ghosts of superstition in acting for or against your team by means of FPL decisions. My cousin, when his beloved Fulham are in the Premier League, insists on selecting three Fulham players in his side no matter what. He’s never won our mini league, by the way. For the first time in my FPL career, this was going to be my problem too. But I had a plan.
If I couldn’t trust myself to avoid a Leeds bias, I would simply avoid Leeds altogether. I understood our strengths, weaknesses and style of player ahead of the season, hopefully better than most, but I did not believe I would be able to act on this objectively.
Even if I thought Patrick Bamford (£6.6m) would defy his previously poor conversion rate (I didn’t), no problem, Che Adams (£5.9m) is here for me with his similarly frustrating relationship with expected goals (xG).
While everyone else was debating Stuart Dallas (£4.8m) vs Luke Ayling (£4.5m), I was comfortably settling into my James Justin (£5.1m) pick. What I didn’t account for is Leeds doing quite so well and our players being quite so popular amongst my fellow FPL managers. This was a mistake.
Bamford was, converse to all previous evidence, tearing it up and Dallas had found himself both in more favourable positions due to injuries and producing impressive, if sometimes fortunate, output from them. Eventually, I re-evaluated my thinking and on the Gameweek 5 Wildcard and brought in Ayling. But neither Bamford nor Dallas you ask? Correct. This was my second mistake.
Prior to Gameweek 5, Dallas and Ayling were relatively even in terms of potential. Ayling came out on top for me due to Dallas’ historic numbers at left-back, all else being equal the position he would play, being significantly weaker than at right-back.
Bamford had still not convinced me. This bit was the Leeds fan winning over the FPL manager: Bamford was performing well, but not unsustainably given the numbers. However, a fateful mix of my knowledge of Bamford’s previous chronic underperformance and my textbook Leeds pessimism that comes complimentary with 15 years of Elland Road season tickets, led me to denounce him a second time.
It took me until Gameweek 11 to succumb and bring Bamford in for the injured Michail Antonio (£6.5m). Bamford delivered for me, but this was a move that others without white, yellow and blue in their veins had profited from weeks ago.
Fast-forward to Gameweek 21 and I have since transferred out both Ayling and, in my most recent move, Bamford. Ayling for obvious reasons – playing centre back all but removing his attacking threat and, due to massive injury issues in defence and our unique man-marking system coming up against players of considerably higher quality than in the Championship, Leeds’ well-documented poor record at the back.
Bamford for less obvious reasons. Let’s have a look at why and see how a combination of my unintentional bias and an eagerness to grow my FPL rank have potentially backfired.
From Gameweeks 1 to 20, Leeds scored 32 goals from an xG of 29.24 (61.5 mins/xG), having created a chance every 6.5 minutes. A slight overperformance but not too significant. Bamford had 10 goals from an xG of 11.16 (144.2 mins/xG).
However, when we look at the two fixtures prior to Leicester in Gameweek 21, there is a stark drop off. Leeds scored two goals against Brighton (Gameweek 19) and Newcastle (Gameweek 20) from an xG of 1.01, with Bamford himself scoring zero goals from an xG of 0.05 That’s a single off target shot across two Gameweeks.
While this is far from an acceptable sample size and includes the match on an almost unplayable (but now re-laid) pitch against Brighton, it could indicate the start of a trend. At a rank of ~270k, identifying the start of a trend before others is something that interests me. So out he went for Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.6m).
Those of you reading this will know that Bamford scored once and assisted twice against Leicester (from an xGI of 1.02) in GW21. His goal was a brilliant, if low probability, strike. He also created one further chance (for a total of 3, all considered “big”) and hit the woodwork. Mistake number three.
Realistically, I do not believe my error was in interpreting the stats this way or that – plenty of people will have seen those and made their own, well-reasoned decisions – but rather in the fact that I am seemingly still looking for reasons to avoid Leeds, even now.
I acted hastily not only because there was a potential edge to be found, but because it gave me a chance to return to my no-Leeds happy state. Interestingly, in researching this piece, I discovered I have not captained a player against Leeds once this season. That has not been deliberate, but clearly suggests that I also have some sort of subconscious aversion to hoping against us.
The solution seems clear. Dispassionate objectivity. But this is football, one of the most passionate, subjective things out there. Can we successfully combine the two?
Going forwards, this is something I need to address. The advice I would give to others is to lean into and act on your club knowledge, it should be an advantage not a hindrance, but to give equal weighting to the research you do on other teams. The experience of others can be invaluable here. Most of us probably support a Premier League team, and so most of us probably face this issue. If we work together, I can balance my biased knowledge with your biased knowledge and together we can likely find the truth in the middle.
I am confident in my ability to assess other teams objectively and to the advantage of my FPL prospects, we need to treat our supported teams the same. Ask yourself what you would do if that overlapping fullback or goal-scoring striker was playing for another club? We also need to be aware of the availability heuristic here.
Simply, this is the fact that we are naturally biased towards information that we see or can recall easily over equally valid information that we are not regularly aware of. We all see much more of our own team than any other, and so will naturally be more exposed to the information that concerns them.
This can lead us to placing too much value in the actions of our team, positive or negative, over that of others. For example, if two players are taking an identical number of equal quality shots, we are likely to favour the one that plays for our team. This is because we are probably seeing every single one of their shots from the stands (or television these days) each week, meaning it is both fresh in our mind and constantly reinforced. Whereas as we only intermittently see the goals the other player scores on Match of the Day, meaning it is easier to discount. However, both players are equally valid as FPL options.
If I can make peace between these two sides of myself, the Leeds fan and the FPL manager, perhaps Bamford will forgive me and I can avoid a fourth mistake. After all, as revealed in his Sunday post-match interview, if Patrick has himself in his fantasy team who am I to argue?
Or maybe the very fact that I am thinking about this is the problem. I don’t give Man City nearly as much thought and yet I own three of their players. Maybe what I should really be asking is ‘would I rather my team got relegated or I never win FPL?
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