In this guide, FPL Matthew talks in depth about his four key principles of FPL Success – Planning, Research, Team Management and Risk Management.
He is arguably the best FPL manager in the world with three top 500 finishes and a further six top 10k finishes. Every week Matthew writes his FPL Team Reveal article detailing his team, captain and plans for the coming Gameweek exclusively for Fantasy Football Hub members.
Once you have finished reading this masterpiece, don't forget to check out our Ultimate FPL 2021/22 Guide which has everything you could ever need be a successful FPL manager including guides, team previews, player picks, strategy articles, tools, stats, expert team reveals and much much more…
Principle 1: Planning
Think like Kasparov (or Carlsen!)
They say that the top chess players think several moves ahead - its no coincidence that Magnus Carlsen has been doing so well at FPL recently!
OK, FPL is not chess but I almost always look beyond the current Gameweek when planning transfers and rarely do what would be considered the “optimum” move for that particular week.
I often think that this leads to me rarely having a massive Gameweek score, because that normally requires getting the potential big scorers that week, at almost any cost, and I’m usually trying to build my team for the longer term.
There are, however, always exceptions to any rule and, in this case, there may be occasions where you want to take short-term opportunities for points - more on this below.
The staple tool for any planner is, of course, the humble Fixture Ticker. This very website has an excellent one, with various options available to help planning.
When planning transfers, I tend to look mainly around four-to-six Gameweeks ahead, with a particular eye on the next three. This is because, in reality, three blanks and people will be itching to sell a player, meaning price pressure if nothing else. Obviously, this is particularly true the more expensive the player.
Depending on team structure, you may also want to look at players in pairs, or threes. I have often done this with cheaper defenders, where I am looking to rotate, trying to cover one defender’s bad fixtures with another’s good ones.
But with attackers, or premium defenders, I rarely do that, just look to get the best possible player in each slot.
Keeping your Options Open
I also look ahead in terms of other players I might want to bring in, to keep my options open.
To keep things simple, I usually only consider a few different players and a fairly short-term outlook. An example of this could be where you are undecided between a couple of ‘premium players’ and may look to use a transfer to free up cash, meaning that you can afford either the following week or even both, depending on who you sell, keeping your options open. Remember to factor in potential price changes when looking ahead in this way.
Essential Planning…or not…
All this said, there are times when I don’t look ahead much, if at all. That is in the special case of the “essential” player who for whom form, fixtures and perhaps price all come together in a perfect storm, presenting an irresistible.
Here I am looking much more short term – it is more a case of “when can I get him in?”, “can I get away with not having him one more week?” and even “is it worth a hit?”
Wildcards are another consideration in planning. With the first wildcard, I have often used it either the first or second International Break, however in recent years I have also used it late, around Christmas. There is a balance here.
Earlier wildcards usually help to build team value whilst holding on later gives you more information to base decisions on, making it more likely that you’ll pick a better long-term team.
I’ve also had good success saving the first wildcard until much later – you can get a boost against the majority of teams who have long used theirs, but you have to balance this off against the ground you may already have lost by that point, trying to ‘chase the new template’ with free transfers whilst others are resetting their teams with an early wildcard, as well as foregoing the team value boost offered by the early wildcard.
I think that having your first wildcard still intact can put a slightly different spin on planning, as you could make shorter-term moves, knowing that you’ll probably wildcard soon anyway, it can also give you some insurance of having the "get out of jail free" card still in your pocket.
However, I don’t like to back myself into a corner like this, so tend to look further ahead, unless I pretty much “know” that I’m wildcarding next week.
The second wildcard is another matter altogether as I tend to use that in conjunction with other chips, around the “double Gameweeks”. Which brings me to…
Double Gameweeks are a special time for FPL players, and you should be starting to plan for these weeks in advance.
Although there will be uncertainties, depending on who gets through in the cups, etc, you can make educated guesses and plan accordingly, adjusting as more information is revealed.
One thing I have liked to do is try, through early planning, to get through the first double Gameweek (assuming there are two) without using the second wildcard.
This gives a potential boost in the second double Gameweek versus people who had to use theirs in the first one. The caveat to this is don’t go ruining your team, taking out quality players for substandard ones, just because they have an extra game in a few weeks' time. It’s a real balancing act.
Once the Double Gameweeks arrive, that can often be a good time to deploy your remaining chips - for example, the Triple Captain can be used in a ‘smaller Double’ whilst the Bench Boost may be better suited to using in a larger Double Gameweek where there are more options available in terms of teams.
With doubles, come blanks and like many, I have found the “Free Hit” chip to be tailor-made for that particular week. It almost guarantees a decent green arrow and allows you to have some fun picking some different players or punts that you wouldn’t normally look twice at.
Principle 2: Research
Do your homework!
FPL is a simple game at its heart. 38 Gameweeks. Take out Gameweek 1, the 2 wildcards and the free hit and that leaves 34 free transfers.
Each one is precious. So it makes sense to do your homework, or due diligence if you prefer a business analogy, before committing one of them to a new shiny addition to your squad.
The last thing you want is wasting another transfer to take out a dud. That’s two transfers or 6% of your season’s allocation on one failed player! Do your homework.
I want it all (and I want it now)
A question you often hear in relation to FPL is “form or fixtures?” My answer (usually inside my head) is always the same – “both”.
Ideally, you are looking for that sweet spot – to bring in a player with both amenable fixtures AND the form to enable them to take advantage of them. I guess if I had to choose one, it would be form but, really, as Freddie Mercury once said “I want it all”. In fact, there’s a third factor that I want more than either of these…and that’s “class”.
A player that is, you know, good. In real life. And, ideally, one that is playing for a team that is also half decent.
First of all, you’ll want to make a shortlist – this may be in your head or written down – what positions and price points are you looking at? This will be driven by the current state of your squad (unless its Gameweek 1 or a Wildcard) – where are the weaknesses?
One easy way to quickly identify possible targets is FPL points – who is doing well? Refine this by looking at who they’ve played recently, points per appearance, recent form, etc.
You can also browse FPL related forums (fora?) or Twitter accounts for ideas. Even take a peek at the teams of other good players or watch and listen to FPL podcasts or videos - there's plenty of great content out there (including here on the Hub!). Maybe even watch some football, there’s a novel idea!
So, a player has scored well to date or is on form, but is that sustainable? This is where underlying stats come in. Ideally, you would watch every minute of every game of the player using a “player-cam” but this is not practical – you may actually have a life. Stats are basically a sort of short-cut around this. They distill down the most important parts of the game.
I like to use a few key stats rather than a wide, confusing array of them. Things like Expected FPL points, “shots in the box”, “penalty box touches” and “chances created”. I also like the “ICT Index” figures, available on the FPL website itself, which basically use a combination of the key stats to give an overall view of a player.
If you’re here, then you must be a member of the Hub, so one great place to find all these stats is our very own OPTA Stats Tool – this is probably the easiest-to-use such tool that I’ve come across, so get stuck in!
Stats and Caveats
Shots on target – I often hear things like this is the “one stat to rule them all” but is it really? I think the reason it’s held in such high esteem is that it’s probably the stat that is most closely correlated to goals.
Fair enough, but players don’t tend to have that many shots on target in a match and to score a goal they have to have a “shot on target” – one that isn’t saved! To me, it feels that goals scored drive high shots on target rather than the other way around, I’m not convinced of its predictive value.
Whilst Expected stats (goals, assists, points, etc) are a valuable tool, you need to look at them with intelligence.
I think the key is to use them wisely - in particular to combine it with your knowledge of the particular player. If you're looking at the xG of a proven goalscorer then they may well be expected to match their xG over the longer term, so if they have a good xG then the goals should come.
However, a poor player with good xG may not get the returns that you're hoping for. You should also combine this with the fixtures that the xG was based on and the fixtures that are forthcoming.
Sometimes you will see that a player is “overperforming” against his underlying stats – i.e. they are scoring more FPL points (principally goals and assists) than their underlying stats suggest that they “should” be, e.g. an abnormally high “conversion rate”.
So, if a player is overperforming against his underlying stats – let’s assume they are “fixed” – to me that can only be due to 1) Player quality, 2) player form, 3) luck (OK, you probably could add in the quality / form of the GKs he’s faced).
Sustainability of returns is almost certainly in that order Quality > Form > Luck. Quality (class) is permanent, form is temporary (how long will it last?) and luck is just random.
So, to me, you need to decide which of these factors is behind the over performance and therefore how likely it is to be sustainable. Easy…right?
Compare the Market
Another useful type of research is to compare players against each other once you’ve narrowed down your list to a shortlist. There are some great tools out there to help with this – Fantasy Football Hub (this very website!) has a great Comparison Tool for a quick overview. For a more detailed comparison, the OPTA Stats Tool also allows you to compare selected players on whatever stats you choose.
The Eye Test
And, of course, watching football can help to 'bring to life' all those stats - how threatening does a particular player look? It can also add a qualitative aspect to the largely quantatative nature of statistics - a player may have a lot of touches in the box, for example, but what is the quality of those touches?
And there’s more…
Other valuable sources of research include manager Press Conferences and Fan Forums. Each need to be viewed with a pinch of salt.
Managers don’t always tell the truth (shock horror!) but I think that reading quotes from them you gradually get to know what they (probably) really mean, and start to read between the lines. Fan forums can be useful to get a sense how a certain player has been playing, via the usual “post-match reaction “ threads.
The downside of this is that what the fans think doesn’t always match up with what a manager thinks! But it still has value I think.
Principle 3: Team Management