FPL: Top tips for picking your Fantasy Premier League team
Fantasy Premier League is back upon us for the 2016/17 season.
The highly-addictive game is one that any Premier League fan will enjoy.
However, the stressful fantasy offering can easily turn sour if managers don't properly plan ahead of the first couple of gameweeks.
With that in mind, here are our tips on the areas of FPL to focus on to make sure your team begins well, while standing a chance of making it through the gruelling fantasy season.
The £100million fantasy budget looks generous but can be eaten into extremely quickly. The likes of Sergio Aguero (£13.0m), Harry Kane (£11.0m), Jamie Vardy (£10.0m), Riyad Mahrez (£9.5m) and Alexis Sanchez (£11.0m) will all take significant chunks out of the bank balance.
A canny pre-season tactic can be to leave some money in the bank going into Gameweek (GW) 1. Most managers will find that they have picked a player who quickly loses his place in the starting XI, something that tends to happen particularly in promoted teams.
Furthermore, injuries, the emergence of form players and countless other factors beyond our control can be mitigated by keeping even 0.5m in the pocket for a rainy day.
It certainly isn't easy, given the glut of expensive attacking options that we all want to cram into our team, but it is something that may help over the first few GWs of the season.
Every season, fantasy managers debate between form and fixtures.
The previous campaign certainly argued that form trumps fixtures – we need look no further than Leicester's players as evidence of this.
However, at the beginning of the season, form is more or less impossible to nail down.
Fixtures, on the other hand, are freely available to be used to a fantasy manager's advantage from the moment you start picking your team.
Everyone has their own opinion on how the season will begin but should a player who you think will do well begin with a tough set of fixtures, it can be wise to gauge their performance in those games before investing.
There is definitely merit to considering the pre-season form of players but this must be considered in conjunction with the strength of the opposition they have faced.
If Sadio Mane, for example, hits double figures in pre-season friendlies against Tranmere and assorted lower-league teams, he's certainly going on the watchlist but it shouldn't make him an automatic pick – particularly if Liverpool face a difficult early run of fixtures (incidentally, Jurgen Klopp's team play Arsenal (a), Spurs (a), Leicester (H) and Chelsea (a) over the first five gameweeks of the season).
The player price list is initially a joyous thing to ponder for a fantasy manager before the inevitable realisation that you cannot afford everybody you want.
An interesting concept in fantasy football, known as Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), suggests that managers must consider the opportunity cost of buying a player (particularly expensive players).
The concept is explained in detail (from previous seasons) here but the basic principle is considering the opportunity cost of who you could buy in place of those premium targets.
It is potentially a better system of figuring out the best value players, as opposed to the standard points per million equation.
In particular, it suggests that having a very dear player (such as Sergio Aguero) in your team but not captaining him is a waste of limited resources.
Squad (15 vs 11)
Fantasy football, over the course of the season, is very much about squad strength.
It is very tempting, particularly at the beginning, to splurge on a quality XI while throwing any old cheap option on the bench.
However, having 15 players that play week in, week out is another great way of offsetting the risk of injuries and suspensions, as well as the whims of Premier League managers.
These bench options will still be players that do not use up significant funds, but ensuring that your fourth defender/fifth midfielder/third striker (depending on your preferred formation) is a 90-minute man is key to success.
Plan ahead (6 weeks/10 weeks)
In conjunction with making sure your squad is full of guaranteed starters, ensuring that you plan your team for at least six gameweeks is critical.
If you think your team will score heavily in GW1 but might be in trouble thereafter, it's probably a good idea to do another draft.
For example, if you're playing the conventional 3-4-3 fantasy formation, having three defenders with home fixtures every gameweek between 1 and 6 should greatly help your chances of clean sheets (this may be a slightly unattainable scenario but aim to get as close to 18 home games for defenders in this period as possible).
Players that are new to the Premier League can be difficult fantasy options to call. Last year, Dmitri Payet set the league alight from the off but when Alexis Sanchez first arrived at Arsenal, he took a while to get going.
A player's previous league form or reputation can also mean they are overpriced coming into the league - Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of FPL's most expensive players at £11.5m.
One way to protect yourself from new signings' potential need to settle in to the league is mixing them with players that have the experience, form (from the prior season) and fixtures to score well from the off.
Picking out at least two defenders priced at £4.5m or under, who are likely to collect 90 minutes every week, is an excellent way to free up funds for expensive attacking players.
If you are among the fantasy masses who regularly play three at the back, finding three budget options with at least one having a decent shot of a clean sheet each week can be a viable tactic.
Pairing one of your budget backs with two other, more expensive, defenders in either a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 will allow you to have greater freedom in choosing your front seven.
Once each cheap backline option is more or less a certain starter, you can be satisfied with your bench options too.
A popular tactic among fantasy players is to choose two cheap goalkeepers whose fixtures dovetail perfectly home and away each gameweek.
Obvious options of this scenario are Liverpool and Everton, and Manchester City and Manchester United. However, either of these rotations would set managers back a minimum of £10.0m.
Finding two keepers with a combined cost of £9.0m, or lower if possible, again frees up valuable funds for attackers – the players likelier to score more points and the ones who will almost definitely be getting the captain's armband every week.
It also should mean that you have a keeper playing at home every week. This is no guarantee of clean sheets, something we saw with West Brom last season [more clean sheets away (6) than at home (5)], but it is at least more reassuring to see your stopper with a home fixture more often than not.
Other routes to go down here include buying one expensive 'fire and forget' keeper who you play every week regardless, with the cheapest possible option as back-up (regardless of minutes).
Some managers prefer to even buy one club's keeper and sub-keeper, ensuring that you will have an option from that team no matter what.
This season, the most expensive keepers are priced at £5.5m, which may well mean the latter options become more popular in FPL.
Simply put, you cannot let your allegiance to the club you support deter you from buying a certain player – or trick you into buying players from your team who are unlikely to score well in fantasy terms.
The Aguero conundrum
Sergio Aguero is a player that can make or break fantasy seasons.
Once again the most expensive option in the game at £13.0m, he will one way or the other be very significant in how you set your squad up.
Buy him and be hamstrung by an already heavily-weakened budget, or go without and try to find cheaper option that will match his likely large points haul.
With Aguero, if you buy him he should probably be your captain more often than not (see Price above).
However, there is solid evidence from last season that this is not a surefire approach to getting points.
Having been involved in Argentina's run to the Copa America final this summer, the striker may not be immediately firing on all cylinders.
However, the nail-biting experience of not having him in your team on matchdays can be too much for some managers.
One thing is for sure – at that price, it is certainly easier to dump the Argentine than re-model your entire squad just to get him in a couple of gameweeks later.
Definite starters v cheap options
A much-expressed idea through these tips already – make sure all your players are starters.
This is particularly important at the beginning of the season, as players who find themselves on the bench have a habit of dropping in value quickly.
The Sunday World will be running an FPL league for the 2016/17 season, which will feature prizes for the winner and those who come close to the top spot. Check our Facebook, Twitter and Sport section soon for more details and further FPL articles.
Anything you feel that should be added to this article, or any FPL-related questions before the season begins? Tweet @ColmVHayes