This guide was written by Norman (@FPLbraveheart). Norman is ranked inside the top 200 FPL managers of all time. Here, he shares his approach on not only how to play FPL, but how to win! Norman explains how he sets up his team and how he picks players. As wll as a wealth of general strategy advice, you’ll get the inside scoop on transfers, captains and chip usage. There is a wealth of information here from one of the games most consistent performers. If you like this guide, please show your appreciation to Norman by leaving a comment or sharing. Thank you!Del, Editor.
There are many ways to play Fantasy Premier League. Some people will be more aggressive in their approach, while others will be more conservative. I’ve been playing this game for well over ten years and I’m firmly in the latter category.
That is not to say that I don’t, on occasion, make moves that may seem punty. For example, last season I bought Xeridan Shaqiri before his scoring run. The season before last I made a similar move with Josh King. My mini-league rivals were convinced that it was mere luck that I brought them in at the right time. It wasn’t. It was researching their underlying stats, in particular their shots taken inside the box and expected goals.
Setting up a team
How do I set up my team?
Gameweek 5, the time of writing, is perhaps too late in the season for information on how to set up a team to be useful to managers as many may already have used their first wildcard. However, when I am setting up my team I do so in a way to maximise flexibility. It is highly unlikely that managers will select the optimum squad when setting up their team initially or when wildcarding. We have to accept that. The key is to build in flexibility to your teams so that you can transfer in the early performers quickly (either by making a downgrade or sideways move). My philosophy is: adapt to thrive.
To do this, I make sure I sign a premium player, a mid-price player (or two) and a bargain player for each position. The premium player can always be downgraded to an excellent mid-price option that is looking like he is on good form. For example, at the start of the 2018/19, many may have went for Kevin De Bruyne or Christian Eriksen. The former suffered an injury while the latter had poor returns. There was a plethora of excellent options in the 6-7m price bracket and so some may have went for Pedro, etc.
What do I look for in a player?
A lot of managers in the FPL Community will reference “underlying stats”. Each manager will differ in what they consider an important statistic. For me, as I mentioned, I like to look at shots taken per game, shots taken from inside the box per game and expected goals and assists (ideally from the last four GWs). I try not to place as much emphasis on goals actually scored as that does not always tell the whole story. A goalkeeping error may mask a poor shot which ought not have been a goal.
For the last season, I have prepared a spreadsheet setting out the aggregate expected FPL points from expected goals (xG), assists (xA) and clean sheets (xCS). As a shameless plug, you can access the spreadsheet, which I update weekly, using this link.
In every player I consider signing, I look for three things:
- is he nailed?
- does he have favourable upcoming fixtures?
- does he have a good chance of goals, assists or clean sheets?
The first two ought to be self-explanatory. The third question can be answered by looking at xG, xA and xCS. Using this data, I am able to piece together a list of players who I will be considering bringing into my team should the opportunity arise.
For players who are priced between 4.0m and 7.0m, I ask a further question: does this player represent value? It is all well and good building a team full of some of the big guns and then the rest of your team is fodder. Balance is key. In my view, there is no greater feeling in FPL than identifying a value player who is about to hit a run. The value tab in my xFPL spreadsheet has been very helpful for me to identify those players.
How do I manage my transfers?
I’m a conservative player and so I try to avoid hits unless necessary. To profit from a hit immediately, you need the players you are bringing in to bag two returns more than the players you are ditching. My exception is injured or suspended players or where a long term plan could be scuppered by waiting to make a transfer without a deduction.
To use an example of patience paying off immediately, I wanted to transfer Ings and Kane in for Firmino and King in GW4. However, I had doubts over whether the former pair would score more than two returns than the latter. I also had doubts over Ings’ fitness due to a blister so decided to wait a week. From being patient, I earned +3 points and I had two transfers going into the international break – something very valuable!
One of my mantras when it comes to transfers is: if in doubt, do nothing! A two-week transfer is more flexible, plus you will have more knowledge at your disposal. Any missed price rises should be considered an investment in flexibility and knowledge.
When deciding transfers, having prepared a watch list as discussed above, I ask the question: in three weeks’ time, what would I like my team to be? I’m then in a position to make it happen. Fantasy Football Fix’s Assistant Manager is an invaluable resource here as it lets me see expected points for my proposed transfers. Subject to any necessary downgrades, I can prioritise my transfers by expected points. Three weeks is a good period to look at as you are less susceptible to a change of plans (e.g., a Richarlison sending off). In that time, you are able to change a quarter of your starting eleven!
I like to keep a watch list of players I find attractive (as FPL options!). I try to keep on top of fixture swings to identify players who have decent underlying stats and are due to an easier run of fixtures. It may be overkill but I like to have a watch list which comprises:
- 3 defenders (one premium, one mid-price and one bargain);
- 3 midfielders (one premium, one mid-price and one bargain); and
- 3 forwards (one premium, one mid-price and one bargain).
By building a watch list of players, and having it noted on Fantasy Football Fix, I can keep up to date with the potential price rises of the players I’m considering signing.
I don’t like to keep a big watch list as I think it makes it more difficult, on Friday evening or Saturday morning, to make my transfer decision. I’m often quite busy and so like making my watch list decisions early in the week and sitting on my team until nearer the deadline. If, for example, my premium striker is ruled out through injury, I can bring in the player I have earmarked as the premium striker on my watch list. You’ll notice that I also don’t have any goalkeepers on my watch list. I very rarely transfer my goalkeepers. If one is needed, or I have no other improvements to make, I can do a bit of research that week to find out who has the best clean sheet probability in the upcoming weeks.
At the time of writing, my watch list is:
|Player||Team||Value||xFPL||Average FDR (Next 4 GWs)|
|D. Silva||Man City||8.5m||11.70||2.75|
A word of warning: this is my personal watch list. If someone isn’t on the list, I either already have them or I don’t think they are the best option for their price. Aguero isn’t listed here, not because I don’t think he is an option, but because I already have him!
Who to captain?
One of my biggest weaknesses in FPL is an over-reliance on home captaincy picks. This is completely understandable as, typically, players perform better at home than away.
I never captain goalkeepers, defenders or any player who is a rotation risk that week. I always have a preference towards the premium players. They are premium for a reason and, if you are going to pay a hefty price tag for them, you ought to feel comfortable giving that player the armband. This season I have rotated the captaincy between my two most expensive players in Mohammed Salah and Sergio Aguero. Both players have returned at least one goal or assist when I’ve given them the armband so my bias seems to be working this season. At the time of writing, the player at home (or at home with the easiest fixture) has returned the highest number of points. Long may that trend continue!
Using 2017/2018 season as a benchmark, let’s see how the top captaincy suspects would fare:
|Player||Team||Home (goals pg)||Away (goals pg)|
As you can see, almost all of the players perform better at home than they would do away from home. Home captaincy bias isn’t necessarily a terrible weakness to have.
However, the difficulty comes if you were trying to decide between Salah (away) and Lukaku (home) one week. This is where you may need to set aside your home bias and go for the more prolific player despite the fact that he is away from home. I started last season poorly because I was captaining Kane almost every week he was at home. It meant missing out on a number of excellent Salah and Aguero returns. My fortunes turned when I stopped captaining Kane at home by default and started considering my captaincy more carefully. I started captaining Salah away from home and against other top six teams. I was low down in the rankings and needed to be more aggressive as a way of catapulting up the rankings. At Christmas, I was languishing around 1.8m. By the end of the season, I had managed to bag myself a far more respectable overall rank.
I always have two or three captaincy options in my team.
I decide my captaincy based on form, fixture and risk. The bigger the reward, the more I am willing to risk. It was for that reason that I kept faith with Aguero v Huddersfield last season despite articles tipping him for some rotation that week. My reward was a captain’s hat trick. However, if that fixture was at home to Everton, for example, I would not have considered the risk to be worth it and would have given Salah the armband instead. If in doubt, go with the easiest home fixture but always remember fortune favours the brave!
How to play chips?
As a conservative player, I always save my chips for the doubles! This is a tried and tested approach which has won my cash mini leagues every season we’ve had chips!
Last season there was a lot of talk about playing the free hit chip in a blank week for a lot of teams. I subscribed to that idea at the start of the season, however, as we got closer to the blank week, I realised I was in a decent position to have a full team using only free transfers in the preceding four weeks. I crunched the numbers and worked out how I could maximise the number of players with fixtures over the blanks and doubles. This is my advice: no plan should be set in stone with the doubles, always think: how can I maximise the number of games my players will play between now and the end of season?
Having worked that out, I decided: (i) to plan for the big blank using my free transfers in the four or so weeks leading up to it; (ii) to use my free hit in the smaller of the two double gameweeks at the end of the season; and (iii) to pair my wildcard and my bench boost to maximise my players in the biggest double gameweek at the end of the season.
This meant that I had the following games for my players when using my chips:
- GW34 (small double) – 21 games – Free Hit used
- GW35 (blank week) – 11 games
- GW36 (normal week) – 11 games – Wildcard used
- GW37 (bigger double) – 29 games – Bench boost used
This was a different approach to the majority of the FPL online community. However, it worked for me and helped me climb into the top 1% in what was a frustrating season.
For triple captaincy, I agree that it is best used in a double gameweek.
A player will have a greater chance of scoring a number of goals in 180 minutes than 90. In the last two seasons, Aguero and Kane have been in teams which have had a double around GW27. This turned out to be the smallest double and so was a good opportunity to use triple captaincy, even if the use of that chip didn’t turn out as successfully as we might have wanted.
A similar opportunity should arise this year and hopefully it falls to one of the in-form premium players. An Aguero or Salah double when the majority of the other teams have only one match, would be excellent news so fingers crossed for that.
My advice for using chips would be:
- Free hit – consider your free transfers and use this chip when it can help you maximise your total number of players playing in the small double and blanks;
- Bench boost – use in the big double and closely linked to your second wildcard;
- Triple captain – in the smallest double gameweek for a premium/in-form player.
When to use the first wildcard?
There are a lot of managers in FPL who like to wildcard early. Some think there is merit in this as it lets you jump on the early form players and build up some value. However, early bandwagons may not have staying power – looking at you Aaron Mooy in 17/18!
I like to hold my first wildcard as long as possible. I think of it as a bit of insurance in case my team succumbs to an injury crisis or horrible turn of form. Without your wildcard, you’ll be scrambling and taking points hits to chip out the deadwood.
My wildcard strategy is also linked to my season goal – winning my cash mini-league.
I hold on to my wildcard until I am the last competitor with theirs left. This means I can wildcard and tailor my squad to capitalise on my rivals’ weaknesses. If they have a big player who they cannot afford without ripping apart their team, then I get that player.
Often this means coming strong during the Christmas period and having a sizable lead by March (by which time I have moved my focus on to the top 10k players in FPL).
When to use the second wildcard?
For me, this is the easiest chip decision. I will only ever use my second wildcard in the week preceding the big double in which I intend on using my Bench Boost.
If you wildcarded around three weeks before you planned on Bench Boosting, a lot can happen in that time. Form can be lost, injuries suffered and suspensions earned. To minimise the risk of having your Bench Boost plans ruined, it makes sense to me to use your second wildcard in as close proximity to your Bench Boost as is possible. For any newbies, please note you cannot use a wildcard and another chip in the same week!
I hope this strategy guide has been useful and may your arrows be green!Follow @fplbet