We meet a Fantasy Premier League (FPL) manager who has had a very successful 2021 and hear about the strategy behind their success.
He also posted finishes of 141st in last season’s UCL Fantasy and 668th in Euro 2020 Fantasy, having finished 2nd in the world in the 2016 edition of that tournament.
Our thanks go to Obay for taking the time to answer our questions.
You’ve had three other top 10k finishes and three further top 20k ranks in the past but you’ve soared to new heights recently with a finish of 473rd in 2020/21 and a current rank of 90th. Have you adopted a new approach or made tweaks to your game over the last 12 months or so?
There are a couple of factors that helped me break into the top 500 last season and into the top 100 this time, most importantly being the scenario creation approach that I’ve started to implement as soon as the pandemic hit the world. To briefly explain this approach, I created a spreadsheet that has a variety of affordable sequential moves planned (scenarios) that I continuously evaluate and amend based on team/player form, injuries, price changes, etc.
My point here is that I’ve always planned ahead, but I took this step to a new level given all the uncertainties we had with Covid-related postponements and sudden isolation rules. This step was very useful in avoiding unnecessary hits that managers were taking to solve their team issues.
One other key aspect that I changed in my game is captaincy punts, where I started to control my emotions of getting over-excited on weird captaincy choices and limit that to just getting that player into my team. From experience, I’ve learned that such a punt will fail most of the time and is so demoralizing especially if the bigger hitters go berserk in that round.
Given that you finished in the top 500 last season, is it a case of first or bust (and risk losing your current lofty rank) or would you settle for finishing exactly where you are now at the end of 2021/22?
That’s a good question and in fact, I got asked a similar one before the season kicked off as to whether I’ll accept another top 1k finish or not. It’s now a better rank you are offering me, but my answer wouldn’t change as I still believe that if you are doing something and spending good time on it then you certainly must aim for the best result possible and that is finishing first. I’ve managed to finish second and fourth in other highly competitive fantasy platforms from years gone by, so I hope it’s time to go one better on FPL this time.
How do you approach things from here? Do you continue to ‘play your own game’, become more aggressive with moves or do you look to just consolidate that good start initially?
I’ve always played my own game and I’ll continue with that. However, Fantasy Football, like any other strategy game, has a lot of mental interferences and by having such a good rank at this stage, I’d say the mind will automatically adjust and start prioritizing steps that aren’t too risky. Nevertheless, I’ll be looking ahead at some opportunities that might go unnoticed but will reap huge rewards if they work out.
You played your Wildcard in Gameweek 5 and you have risen from 7,000th to 90th as a result. Do you generally play the chip that early and what was the reason for doing so this season?
Yes, I always tend to play my first wildcard early, and this season was no different. My initial plan was to play it in Gameweek 8 when the fixtures of the big clubs have that noticeable swing, however, I did an exercise of comparing my potential Gameweek 8 wildcard team with what I’d go for in Gameweek 5 and noticed a very similar team structure with only Romelu Lukaku (£11.7m) and another Chelsea or Manchester City asset making the difference.
The upside of targeting the likes of Wolves and Leeds players too, as Ismaila Sarr (£6.3m) was too good to ignore with those fixtures plus the fact that I had two of my forwards out – Michail Antonio (£8.0m) suspended and Callum Wilson (£7.3m) injured – which further encouraged me towards pushing the wildcard button.
What is your general approach to chips: have you ever played, or would you ever consider playing, a Bench Boost or Triple Captain in the first half of the season, for example?
Alright, so for bench boost and triple captain particularly, I always prefer to use them in Double Gameweeks as many others do and that is simply because logically you will get the better chance of a big haul over two games. Double Gameweeks usually occur in the second half of the season, but if for any reason one is scheduled earlier this time, I wouldn’t mind using a chip there. As for the free hit chip, I do believe that it is ideally used in the big Blank Gameweek, but it will also depend on the team structure once those doubles and blanks are announced.
How much attention do you give to team value, especially in a season when there are multiple heavy hitters vying for our attention?
Not too much. Although I truly understand that team value is important but for me, it is not as essential as some people make it sound. There will be some struggle if you were on a very low team value especially in the second half of the season when that second wildcard is being played, but if you are playing the game right you shouldn’t be faced with such a problem. I don’t think the difference between a £107 million and a £106 million team for example is too apparent, especially if the former suffered a lot of unnecessary point hits in the process of reaching there.
You have a fairly cheap defence, with two budget assets and another (Nelson Semedo) under £5.0m. Are you looking towards bolstering that backline with a City defender or another Chelsea asset?
Well, I’m fairly satisfied with my current defence and, although I’d like a Manchester City defender for their good run, I’m not rushing into getting one especially when there is no easy route for me. Meanwhile, I’m still undecided on my Gameweek 8 transfer, needing to know more about the injury status of both Antonio Rudiger (£5.8m) and Diogo Jota (£7.6m). As for the budget assets you mentioned, I’m happy I went with Tino Livramento (£4.4m) and Shane Duffy (£4.2m) and I think I’d still pick them both if I was wildcarding now.
How much time do you devote to captaincy decisions?
I have already mentioned that one of the things that I’ve changed in my playing style over the last two seasons is taking no punts on captaincy, so I can say that this part of the game no longer consumes much time from me. I’m always a fan of fixtures over form when talking about captaincy, and by following such a strategy I tend to select my captain for the next four to five rounds in my scenarios spreadsheet and barely pull away from that. However, it is worth mentioning that I’ve been struggling with captain points so far and have had four blanks in the first seven weeks!
Having eschewed the ‘threemium’ approach so far, do you have any short-term plans to juggle three heavy hitters or do you feel that imbalances the squad?
That’s true, I still prefer the balance of teams that have only two premiums plus Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) and, in my opinion, this approach offers a lot more transfer flexibility going forward. For my team, I have no plans to switch to the ‘threemium’ in the short term. Cristiano Ronaldo’s (£12.6m) fixtures are far from ideal so a switch to Lukaku is on its way soon while Trent is undroppable and offers the best value across all lines in my opinion. I do like Heung-Min-Son (£10.1m) as a third expensive asset in a team though and I must admit that I did try to accommodate the South Korean into my side.
Who is on your short-term watchlist over the next six Gameweeks or so?
All my scenarios are now focused on Lukaku who must find a way to my team before that Norwich game in Gameweek 9, whereas adding a second Chelsea defender or a Manchester City one, particularly Joao Cancelo (£6.2m), is also on my mind. I really liked what I saw from Brentford over the first 7 weeks so both Bryan Mbeumo (£5.5m) and Ivan Toney (£6.4m) are high on my watchlist for when their fixtures get easier beyond Gameweek 8.
Jota’s injury update will be vital for me as I’m assessing a replacement that could be either of the Manchester City midfielders or Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka (£6.3m). Of course, I’d like to upgrade to Son who I just talked about a while ago but that will need a lot of sacrifices in the team. Lastly, it’s Southampton that are sitting on top of the fixtures ticker so Adam Armstrong (£6.0m) is one I’ll monitor closely and could be an option that I revert to if funds were needed elsewhere.
You’ve said previously that you watch a lot of Premier League games before looking at stats. For anyone that perhaps can’t watch as many matches as they’d like, which stats would you prioritise in order to get the best ‘feel’ of a player’s performance or FPL potential?
I do perhaps watch a lot of football and that is basically because I’m passionate about the sport itself. Playing FPL or any other fantasy game has added that new aspect of a person looking at every small detail in a football game while his/her mind subconsciously assesses future moves. Stats are always supportive and, in a way, illustrate all the actions that happened during 90 minutes in numbers, and for someone like me who is very involved with numbers in his professional life, the development of such stats is remarkable and truly helpful.
Now to answer your question, the stats I tend to focus on more than others are expected data (xG, xA, xGI) as well as supportive key attacking metrics like goal attempts (total and inside the box), shots on target, penalty area touches, big chances, chances created, and big chances created. My view on defensive decisions is that the fixtures are what matters most. For example, I don’t get influenced by a defender whose team is putting impressive defensive stats (xGC, shots conceded, big chances allowed etc) if they are going to face Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea in the next run of games.
How much attention to you pay to the Twitter bubble, Scout comments and general FPL community group-think before making your transfers/strategy decisions?
It truly is amazing to see how the FPL community has grown over the past few years and that in return has resulted in fierce competition as access to data and stats is now too easy. I do spend good time on Twitter and the Scout site, but I don’t get too distracted with ideas that I’m not too comfortable with. Again, planning ahead is too important if you want to succeed in FPL and so priorities will differ from one team to another. Believe me, the last thing you’d want is to ignore your plan (or gut) and follow the bubble, just for it to fail afterwards. This is exactly the incident that would most likely get into your mind, where you will then overreact and make rush decisions that you regret soon after.
You’ve had a hat-trick of top 1k finishes (FPL, UCL Fantasy, Euro 2020) in 2021 plus two top-five finishes in UCL/Euro 2016. What main bits of advice could you give to those managers playing shorter-form Fantasy games?
Shorter-form Fantasy games have a completely different set-up and so have different strategies and styles of play. My main piece of advice would be to always capitalise on the group stages phase as that’s where most of the fantasy points are, so play your chips, be aggressive, and target those juicy fixtures early on. In those games, we benefit from manual substitutions and captain changes so you need to initially sort out the best combination of 15 players that you can get while including the ‘best’ captaincy option for each day.
Moving on to the knockout phases, you will need to make your educated guess as to who qualifies and primarily focus on players from those teams as you don’t want to end up with a lot of eliminated players and fail to field a team, as hits should be avoided in such games. Lastly, in the final stages of the competition, games start to be played over just one or two days so that lessens the appeal of having a squad of 15 active players.