The aim of 'The Complete Guide to Fantasy Premier League' is to help managers to better understand, enjoy and improve at the game of Fantasy Premier League. Whether you are playing FPL for the first time, or are already an old-hand, this guide includes a multitude of tips, insights and strategies to help you take your fantasy management skills to the next level.
Hub contributor Jon Proudfoot aka @FPLBrain has been playing FPL seriously for 4 years - 19k OR in 20/21, 16k in 19/20, 28k in 18/19, 224k in 17/18 - since shifting his focus across from other fantasy games. He finished in the top 500 in Telegraph Fantasy Football twice prior to that, and had a Diamond rating for Yahoo Fantasy NBA.
Jon has a background in financial research, portfolio management and quantitative analysis, and has played and followed football for over 30 years.
How to Play Fantasy Premier League
Squad and budget: You have a squad of 15 players to select – two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders and three forwards. In each of the season’s 38 Gameweeks you will select 11 players to start, with the other four remaining on the bench unless one or more of your starters do not feature (in which case players will be auto-subbed in depending on the order you’ve selected them in).
Formation: Your starting formation must include one goalkeeper but otherwise is quite flexible (3-5 defenders, 2-5 midfielders, 1-3 forwards). 3-4-3 has traditionally been the most popular formation but any can be used successfully, including a ‘big at the back’ setup heavy on defensive assets.
Scoring: The FPL scoring system is fairly nuanced so it’s best to carefully review the FPL help pages, but essentially all outfield players are rewarded for goals and assists, defenders and goalkeepers (and to a lesser extent midfielders) are rewarded for cleansheets, and goalkeepers also benefit from saves. Forwards are awarded four points for a goal, midfielders get five, defenders get six and everyone gets three points for an assist. Players may also receive up to three bonus points if they perform very well according to the Bonus Points System (BPS).
Captains & VCs: Each week you will also select your captain and vice-captain (VC). This is very important as your captain scores double points and will usually be a major factor in how your team performs in a given Gameweek. Typically it's best to stick with one of the very expensive, elite players such as Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne, but that’s your call and sometimes a less elite player can be a good option if the fixture and form are compelling enough.
It is rarely a factor in practice, but you may want to make sure your captain and VC are not playing in the same fixture, just in case of a surprise postponement or similar, especially in the Covid-19 era.
Transfers: Each Gameweek you will be given one free transfer (FT) to use in order to make changes to your squad. These accumulate if not used but only up to a maximum of two FTs. If you wish to make additional transfers beyond your allotment of FTs then each additional move will cost you a four point deduction (often referred to as ‘taking a hit’).
Chips: You also have some other weapons at your disposal – two Wildcards, one Bench Boost, one Free Hit and one Triple Captain chip. Only one of these chips can be used in a given Gameweek. These chips are valuable and you should give a lot of consideration as to when it is best to use them. Timely and successful use of chips can add meaningfully to your points return and boost your overall rank.
Wildcards: Wildcards give you the opportunity to completely re-design your squad (subject to budget), and as such are the most valuable chips you have. Your first Wildcard can be used only in the first half of the season and the second Wildcard only in the second half. A lot of managers use their first Wildcard in Gameweeks 3-7 once they have seen the lay of the land of the new season and want to adjust accordingly. Other managers whose teams are still in good shape may wait closer to the halfway point to freshen things up.
Second Wildcards are often used to navigate around double Gameweeks (DGWs – two or more teams play twice in one Gameweek) and blank Gameweeks (BGWs – two or more teams don’t have a fixture in that Gameweek), which typically occur later in the season.
Bench Boost: When you choose to deploy your Bench Boost, all 15 of your squad will be active and contribute to your points total, so the idea is to use this in a Gameweek where your whole squad is fit, expected to start and ideally has a good fixture (or preferably two fixtures). Experienced managers often try to use this in a DGW for extra games.
Free Hit: A Free Hit is like a Wildcard that works for one Gameweek before your squad reverts to how it was previously. Again, these are particularly useful when used to help navigate around DGWs and BGWs. For instance, in a Gameweek with only five fixtures (i.e. 10 teams playing) you can change your team to target the best players from that limited pool.
Triple Captain: The Triple Captain chip gives your captain 3x points for the week instead of 2x. Obviously you want to save this for a particularly enticing fixture or fixtures, with the Triple Captain chip often preserved for a DGW. This can obviously still go wrong (see Sane-gate 18/19, Mane-gate 19/20 and the Duffy-dud of 18/19). But as with Bench Boost usage, in addition to simply having ‘two cracks at the coconut’ a DGW also gives you a slightly larger sample and hence some reduction in the variance (luck) factor.
Overall Rank (OR): Your team’s cumulative score across the season results in your overall rank - your position versus every other team in the game. Last season there were over eight million teams in the game, and estimates vary but of those perhaps two to four million of those remain active to some degree across the whole season. This should not be applied to managers playing more casually, but for a rough gauge of OR for experienced managers - finishing in the top 100k is a good season, top 10k is a great season and top 1k is a fantastic achievement.
Mini Leagues (ML): While only a select few managers will ever win the overall game, most of us compete in several mini leagues (MLs) against friends and family. You can set up your own ML or join existing ones, public or private. You’ll need to receive a code from the league’s administrator to join a private league. This is a really fun way to compete in smaller groups for prestige, bragging rights and sometimes prizes.
Your FPL Squad
Squad Selection: Squad selection - both initially and when using your Wildcards - is probably my favourite part of the game. The feeling of a blank slate, of a shiny new team with the potential to be the best possible combination of players. Tinkering away trying to find that elusive perfect squad is pure gold as far as I’m concerned.
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just identifying and picking all the best players – those are never going to fit within your 100m budget. You’ll be able to select perhaps five or six of the very best players and then you’ll need to combine them with some mid-priced players and some cheap ‘enablers’ to fit inside your budget.
Below are some guidelines to help with your initial team build:
Value vs Upside: Goalkeepers and defenders consistently offer the strongest value in terms of points/£, followed by midfielders, followed by forwards. The implications of this are less clear than might be immediately obvious. If you focus only on the best value players then you will not use your whole budget. If you use it all but with an emphasis on defence (perhaps in a 5-4-1) then you will typically have either a weak or expensive bench and perhaps a lack of strong captaincy options.
What you are really looking for is a squad with an optimal combination of value and upside (players with the highest points ceiling irrespective of value, particularly as captaincy options), and I typically include a mixture of premium players and cheaper enablers in defence, midfield and up front.
Long-term vs Near-term: I would suggest aiming to balance your squad circa 70/30 as far as picking reliable players for the long-term versus players with attractive upcoming fixtures. This gives you flexibility betweem using your first Wildcard early or late. The former can help correct a bad start, the latter allows you to freshen up your team around the halfway mark in the season.
Captaincy options: You want your team to contain multiple compelling captain options (e.g. Salah, Kane, Fernandes) so that you have a strong captaincy fixture in most Gameweeks. As such, I would suggest including at least two elite players (typically costing over 10m). However, on a points/£ basis, very few of these players are actually good value unless they are being captained (double points), so you do not want too many of these early on when the budget is tight - two or three is enough.
Goalkeepers: Typically some of the top-scoring goalkeepers each season are cheap 4.5m options, so it’s usually an inefficient use of funds to spend 5.5-6.0m here. This is because goalkeepers from weaker teams tend to receive more save and bonus points than goalkeepers from stronger teams, which can offset cleansheet points from the premium options.
If you find a goalkeeper that you’re happy to start in any fixture, you can go ‘set and forget’ and only spend 4.0m on a non-playing backup for the bench. Another popular approach is to have two 4.5m goalkeepers and to rotate them according to the easier-looking fixture. I would not recommend that you spend much more than 9m of your budget on goalkeepers.
Price points: I would recommend building a squad that includes players across a wide variety of different price points, so that it’s easier to switch players if and when you want to make changes. Ideally you want most of your players to be at prices where there are multiple viable options, and to have a range of prices within each position category, for added flexibility.
Taking into account the above advice, something along the lines of the following structure should make for a robust, flexible squad to get your season off to a solid start: From that squad you have some flexibility to play 4-4-2, 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 depending on how your cheaper players begin the season, you have a wide range of price points including 2-3 players of captaincy quality and you’re not wasting much money on the bench. You can then begin making upgrades to your squad as the best players and cheap enablers of the new season emerge.
In the 21/22 pre-season, the emerging template looks much like the above but with a second 12m elite player instead of either the 9.5-10.5m midfielder or forward, and another mid-priced forward or midfielder to balance the budget. Of course this could easily still change by the time the season kicks off (particularly if any of Sancho, Son, Mahrez or Aubameyang were to have an eye-catching pre-season).
Banana Skins to Avoid
In addition to the above basic guidelines, there are quite a few classic pitfalls in FPL that can trip up inexperienced managers, and in doing so discourage people from staying the course:
- Don't miss deadlines: Make at least a mental note of the next Gameweek deadline and set your starting lineup and captain as soon as the new Gameweek opens
- Don't waste money on the bench: It’s good to have at least one or two capable bench players but you don’t need three - in practice you'll rarely use more than your one best bench player
- Avoid defensive midfielders: This type of player is simply not rewarded by FPL's scoring system since they usually lack attacking returns and only get one point for a CS
- Don’t waste transfers on low impact players: There can be a temptation to use transfers to address issues with any of your 15 squad members, but it is better to focus your moves on higher price, higher impact players
- Be objective in your player selection: Don’t allow player or team biases to meaningfully impact your squad selection
- Stick at it: Even if you have a bad start to the season, don't throw in the towel or start making 'fun picks' - it's usually not too late to turn things around and green arrows are more fun than wacky decisions that will often just make matters worse
How to Improve at Fantasy Premier League
In this section we will look at ways in which managers can take their FPL skills to the next level and improve their overall ranks and mini league fortunes in the process.
Do Your Research
Not everyone is able or willing to spend several hours each week watching matches, analysing statistics or listening to podcasts. However, you do need to do a bit of homework, otherwise your FPL approach is going to be some degree of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. Fortunately, there have never been so many excellent (and largely free) resources in this regard. Here are some of the FPL information sources I recommend you utilise on a regular basis:
- Listen to FPL podcasts: I would recommend listening to at least one (preferably several) of the many excellent FPL podcasts such as The Green Arrow, Who Got the Assist?, FPL Surgery, Always Cheating!, Planet FPL, The 59th Minute or FML FPL. As an FPL obsessive I listen to many of these on a weekly basis, but if you listen to your favourite two or three you should be very well informed. There are lots of other great pods out there, so please try out as many as possible!
- Review key statistics: I would recommend you take a look at the key player and team stats from the previous Gameweek along with stats from the whole season and/or the last 6 games. These are available as part of a Fantasy Football Hub membership and from various other sources.
- Watch as many games as possible: It’s useful to watch at least a few of the matches (or highlights) that are more relevant to FPL. I’m a big believer in the value of stats but ‘the eye-test’ is also important, especially when used in conjunction with the numbers.
- Learn a bit about expected goals: Expected goals (xG), Expected Assists (xA), Expected Goal Involvement (xGI, which equals xG plus xA) and Expected Goals Conceded (xGC, largely a team stat) figures give a crucial insight into what is happening beneath the surface of the headline numbers. You’ll find a section on this later in the guide to help give you a better understanding of these figures. As above, the Hub's powerful OPTA stats tool gives all this data and much much more.
- Join the FPL Twitter community: The FPL Twitter community produces a plethora of FPL content on a daily basis, and the quantity and quality rise every year. There are a lot of fantastic threads and articles, but if you only have time for one weekly FPL thread then AbuBakar Siddiq’s (@BigManBakar)'s regular Gameweek review is very comprehensive, as is Colm Haye's (@ColmVHayes) press conference summary.
- Keep an eye on upcoming fixtures: As discussed elsewhere, we don’t have enough free transfers to manoeuvre all of our players into kind fixtures every Gameweek, but if you have expensive players heading into difficult stretches of games then you may want to transfer one or more of these out in exchange for players with favourable fixture runs. The Hub's brilliant Fixture Ticker highlights all this and more.
- Scan through the press conference highlights: It is well worth looking over the highlights of manager press conferences the day before a new Gameweek in case of unexpected injury concerns or similar. This will not save you from every nasty surprise, particularly as not all managers are particularly transparent, but it will help avoid some landmines. The Hub highlight these weekly with Ben Dinnery's article being published around 5pm every Friday.
- Check the bookmakers’ odds: It is useful to take a look at the bookies’ odds for goalscorers, clean sheets and match results for the upcoming Gameweek. The bookies’ have serious money at stake in getting these things right and very substantial resources at their disposal, so take note of the odds. The Hub's @FPL_Salah tweets this out every week.
- Check major captaincy polls: Captaincy polls are run on the major FPL websites as well as on Twitter, on various Slack channels, and so on. You don’t need to go with the favourite every time - he may not be in your team for one - but it’s useful info, particularly if you may be overlooking someone that’s going to be an extremely popular captain. The Hub's Chris Tan writes a detailed weekly article highlighting all of the above which will help you determine the best captain choice, example here.
There is not really a silver-bullet shortcut for this research but if you are a very busy person and you still want to do well in FPL then I’d try to at least hit these marks at a minimum:
- Listen to one good podcast (I recommend The Green Arrow FPL Podcast which comes as a YouTube video and audio podcast)
- Spend 10 mins on key stats including xG (look for volume rather than over/underperformance)
- Check out @BigManBakar’s Gameweek review thread
- Read @ColmVHaye's press conference highlights thread
That is down to an hour or so now – and you can’t expect to do particularly well at something if you’re not willing to invest at least a little bit of time to do some learning and to keep informed. All this information and much much more is available on the Hub website and app.
If you are interested in joining the fastest growing digital fantasy football company around, click here.
Take a Long-Term Approach
An FPL season is a marathon not a sprint - 38 Gameweeks spread typically across nine months. We all enjoy immediate rewards, but it's important to take a long-term view with almost every decision in FPL. From building your initial squad, to the transfers you make, how and when you use your chips, there should always be a keen awareness on how these decisions will impact your squad and performance over the long-term.
We must be especially careful to maintain this longer-term perspective when things go against us in the short term. If you have a bad Gameweek (possibly just negative variance) and your response is to 'fix' your team with short-sighted moves, you can quickly dig a hole for yourself. Ill-judged transfers followed by more hits to correct them can quickly get you into a vicious spiral of 'rage transfers'.
By contrast, a long-term perspective - patience and focus on process over results - will facilitate more effective use of FTs, typically improve your results over time, make you feel better about the game and can drive a virtuous circle of FPL play. As with so many things in life, this is easier said than done, but I believe it is perhaps the single most important aspect of FPL - something we should constantly strive to improve at.
Transfers Are a Precious Resource
Each week we see our players' fixtures and usually we wish they were easier than they are, and we get the urge to improve that situation. However, by the time you take away Gameweek 1, the Wildcards and Free Hit weeks, you have just 34 free transfers to use across a whole season of twists and turns. As such, free transfers should not be wasted on minor tweaks to the squad, to chase perceived easy fixtures every week, to jump on every bandwagon player or to transfer out every player that we think has let us down. There simply aren’t enough, and even if you don’t have more important fires to put out now, you probably soon will.
Beyond those 34 free transfers and three chips each season, every transfer is costing you four points (the equivalent of a clean sheet, a forward’s goal or an assist plus a bonus point). Returns are not easy to come by and they should not be burned away frivolously, so every transfer should be very carefully considered.
Unless your squad is already close to what you consider to be ideal, then you should be very discerning with your transfers. There will be injuries, suspensions, players that get dropped, and so on, so a decent portion of your free transfers will be needed to address these situations, leaving very few spare FTs. Of course, we do want to also maximise our team for each of the 38 Gameweeks, so you want to combine moves that improve your situation for the long term with moves that improve your situation in the near term.
So where should we set the bar for using a transfer, and if necessary, taking a hit? I believe you want to set the bar quite high – using transfers (and occasionally also hits) to do the following:
- Switch between premium assets to target attractive fixture runs
- Replace players with medium to long-term injuries
- Target excellent single fixtures if there is a standout captain candidate
- Gradually upgrade your team towards whatever is currently optimal
Wherever possible you want your moves to combine as many of the above benefits as possible.
The bar for free transfers and hits will not be the same for every manager as we all have different personalities, risk appetite and style of play, but this is a rough guide. More aggressive players who find they have regular success in jumping between premium assets (especially for captaincy) according to form and/or fixtures, may be able to do so profitably, facilitating more hits in turn. The most conservative, risk-averse managers will typically avoid hits almost entirely.
Along similar lines, there is a lot of value in saving a transfer when you don’t really need to use one. With two free transfers at your disposal the following week and with additional info from the events in the meanwhile, there are many more potential moves now available to you which you can hopefully also use more effectively. At this point there is also the option to make three moves, taking one hit (commonly known as a ‘mini wildcard’), and to give your squad a more meaningful redesign in the process.
Search Continually for Upside
Right from initial squad selection you should always have upside in mind. What exactly do we mean by upside in this context? What I want from my players is a realistic potential to score significantly more points than the common consensus or that we would expect from a player at their price. Ideally this will be combined with a solid floor (how they do in a bear case scenario). Let’s use a fairly recent example and a possible 21/22 gem to illustrate:
- Anthony Martial 19/20 - 7.5m midfielder
- Floor: His points run-rate from previous seasons was ~200 points for a ‘full season’ (/per 3000 mins is what I tend to use). To be comfortably worth the 7.5m he only needed to play his usual allotment of minutes or around two-thirds of the season.
- Upside case: Martial was starting the season healthy and apparently in the first team (position was TBC), so he only needed to stay healthy and in favour to make the 7.5m a serious bargain.
- Blue sky case: His manager had talked him up as a number nine and he was largely expected to start the season as such. A Manchester United starting striker priced as an oft injured / rotated winger? If this case came through the upside was substantial, and it did – he played up front all season, missed very few games and scored 200 points in the process.
- Phil Foden 21/22 - 8.0m midfielder
- Floor: Foden was able to return 135 points from just 1607 minutes in 20/21, placing him in truly elite points/90 territory. Having won the starting left wing/forward berth during the season, and a rapidly improving player, it's hard to see him playing fewer minutes this season, giving him a solid floor.
- Upside case: There's every chance that Foden will be a regular starter in one of the league's most potent attacks in 21/22, and if he is then it should be easy for him to justify his 8.0m price tag.
- Blue sky case: Foden is just 21 years old and is almost certainly still improving, with an extremely high-upside skillset. If he's a regular starter all season and takes another step forward in terms of attacking output then he could return over 200 points for a very affordable price. Time will tell!
Now let’s look at this another way. To win FPL you typically need ~2500 points. To do extremely well (to finish in the top 1k) you typically need ~2400 points. Here’s how that could realistically be broken down:
- Two super elite players - 240 points each 480 points
- Captaincy (including Triple Captain chip) 280 points
- Goalkeeper 150 points
- One elite defender 200 points
- Bench Boost and Free Hit 40 points
- Two cheap but effective outfield players 250 points
At this point we have six players (plus captaincy) and we are at 1400 points, requiring another 1000 points to make our 2400 points target for a fantastic season. I think all the above figures are realistically achievable. That leaves us needing five other starting players that average 200 points each! That is where things get tricky as the budget will not stretch to these five all being premium assets.
- Five remaining players 1000 points
To achieve this then, we need to identify some cheaper upside picks (e.g. Stuart Dallas 20/21, Raúl Jiménez 18/19, Danny Ings 19/20, Andrew Robertson 18/19, Riyad Mahrez 15/16 etc.) That sounds extremely difficult without the hindsight, but we don’t necessarily need to nail these picks first time, we just need to hit the ground running with our initial selections and then to shift to better assets as and when they emerge.
What I’m circling back around to is that if you pick five safe players who should be worth their prices, but don’t really have an upside case in which they get close to 180-200 points, you are almost locking yourself into a moderate season. To give a few more examples, at 10.5m and 34 years old, is there any upside in a Jamie Vardy selection, even if he has a good season? I'm not sure there is. Whereas if Ollie Watkins, Michail Antonio or Kelechi Iheanacho were to come out of the gate flying this season, then there could be significant upside versus our return expectations at the 7.5m level.
In this section I am not going to recommend particular players (there's a lot of great content of that kind on Fantasy Football Hub and elsewhere), but I will try to offer some guidance as to what you’re ideally looking for when the game goes live again and across the whole season. I believe we’re essentially looking for the best combination of the following attributes as possible:
Upside - A high points ceiling per the player’s history or reasonable forward-looking projection (e.g. better team, in more attacking position, more attacking manager, young improving player, and so on) on an absolute basis (not thinking about price as much here). This could be judged on either a season-long basis or on a per minute basis where you believe it’s reasonable to extrapolate. It’s typically best to enforce a reasonable minutes minimum (circa 500 mins) to have a viable sample.
Value – How a player rates on a points/£ basis, either based upon his historical points and new price, or using a realistic points projection (in your judgement) going forward. Note again that the better goalkeepers and defenders tend to score very well for value (but fewer will reach upside thresholds), followed by cheaper midfielders and forwards, followed by expensive midfielders and forwards (but typically with stronger upside).
Dependability - How confident can we be that the player will start and play big minutes in upcoming games? Do they have a strong track record of producing compelling FPL returns? Are they clear of any significant injury doubts? Do they play for a good team or at least a decent one?
Below I have displayed the player selection process visually:
If we sacrifice too much dependability in pursuit of upside and/or value then our team is likely to be compromised by a series of frustrating and costly benchings (and worse still, cameo appearances) and injuries. If we sacrifice too much upside/value because we want every player in the squad to be extremely dependable, then that could put a cap on our teams' scoring potential, and so on. So in summary we're looking for a healthy balance where in aggregate the team - or at least the starting eleven - is starting regularly and not injury prone, and is good value in terms of points potential relative to price, with enough high-ceiling players to have very strong captaincy options most Gameweeks.
Target Out-of-Position Players
An out-of-position (OOP) player is one who in reality is regularly playing meaningfully further forward on the pitch than their position designation. The reason we like OOP players and try to fill our teams with them is the point scoring advantage of this (refer back to scoring section and FPL rules page). Always be on the lookout for 'OOPs' - it’s not impossible to build a team where most of the defenders are playing in midfield and most of the midfielders are playing up front (e.g. in 20/21 notable OOP examples included Salah, Son, Dallas and Jota).
You can easily see just how big an advantage you are getting via OOP players by looking at the heatmaps of some prominent recent OOP examples:
Effective Ownership and the Template
For me these are not the most fun aspects of FPL but they can certainly be impactful, so you should at least understand them properly. So first - what exactly is ‘effective ownership’? Effective ownership (as opposed to just ownership percentage) considers not just how many teams within the game that a player is on, but factors in how many teams that player has been started in, how many times he’s been captained, triple captained and benched. This gives you their live effective ownership (EO).
For example, if 50% of teams own Kevin De Bruyne, none bench him, half of those managers captain him (2x points) and none use the Triple Captain chip on him, then his EO will be 75% (50% x 1.5). Let’s quickly look at how his returns will impact you in different scenarios, assuming for simplicity that he scores 10 points:
The second scenario is a little counterintuitive because your alternative player scored the same points as De Bruyne and yet you get a positive impact. That’s because you have 100% EO of your player and the pack has only 75% EO of De Bruyne.
The ‘template’ that we refer to so often in FPL is effectively a team constructed out of the highest EO players at a given time. Ownership percentage and EO can vary quite widely across different ranks, with top 10k EO often used as a proxy for active ownership. LiveFPL.net (which has some excellent tools including live ranks) can quickly show you EO for the top 10k, top 100k and overall.
Part of the reason EO can become an area of frustration is that when it’s high enough (as in the above example) you can own a player but scarcely benefit when they do well, unless you captained them. There will be times during the season when an extremely popular player has EO > 100% and at that point you’re actually negatively impacted (since you have a 100% exposure) if you did not captain them.
While I don’t like to advocate blindly following the herd, if a very good player is reaching towards 100% EO then in many cases it will be better to take the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach, and to fight your battles elsewhere. I faced this problem with Bruno Fernandes in the latter stages of the 19/20 season, and unfortunately as I already had three Man United players it was difficult to bring him in. Man United kept winning penalties, Fernandes kept scoring them and this was a real headwind to me in the run-in.
Even if you have 3-4 players who are more or less owned by everyone, such that their returns are a wash, you still have 7-8 starters plus captaincy with which to still set yourself apart, without the risk of one of those ‘essential’ players hauling and giving you a big red arrow in the process.
Conversely, if you see players with very high EO which you believe could underperform, this can be a great opportunity to ‘chunk rise’ in the rankings if the player you select instead outscores them handily. Just be aware that the downside of doing this is as impactful as the upside and be sure it’s a bet you want to be taking. Such differential moves become more compelling if it’s late season and you are a long way off your rank target or ML prize places and need to take risks to try and make up ground, with little to lose if they don't pay off.
Don't be Too Hasty
With most decisions we make in life it is best to have as much relevant information as possible before acting, and the same applies here. In FPL this largely comes down to waiting until as close to the next Gameweek deadline as possible or convenient before making any transfers and our final captaincy decision. With regard to the former however, there can be a trade-off versus building team value (more in the next section).
Team value aside, time and again when you listen to or read the advice of expert FPL managers, they will emphasise the importance of waiting until close to the deadline before finalising moves. Personally, I’m not someone who is strict about doing this every Gameweek, but I try to do this more often than I don’t. The advantages generally outweigh the disadvantages by some margin – you have more team news, more chance of finding out about relevant injuries before making moves, you have more time to listen to podcasts, to dig into stats, to read articles, and more time to think through all your options. Indeed, by the end of the week there will often be one or two interesting transfer options which you were not considering to begin with.
Build Team Value Early
The one material advantage to making transfers early in a Gameweek is that it does tend to facilitate team value (TV) growth. By looking to move out underperforming players who are due to drop in price, and bringing in players who are due to rise in price because they are performing well, you can grow your TV by a considerable amount across the season, and this can give you a slightly more powerful squad in the second half of the season. I would add by way of caution that the jury is certainly out as to whether this is worth what you are giving up in terms of extra time and information in the decision making process, but at the very least it's an approach that suits some managers and can be used effectively.
I think the main time to go the early moves and TV route is when you have a squad with no current issues at all and when there are not any / many midweek fixtures involving your players. It is also more useful earlier in the season when there are more active buyers and sellers and hence there are more dramatic price changes. This is also when we begin to see the important changes to team lineups, player positions, player development and so on.
However, always keep in mind the ‘points over pounds' mantra, and make sure that you’re not farming TV at the expense of squad quality. You only want to do it when it coincides with moves that also improve the quality of your squad, and ideally when these are the same moves you would want to make irrespective of price changes.
Again, absent price changes or any time when your squad is not close to optimal health, I would suggest you wait until late in the Gameweek to make your moves.
Save and Maximise Chips
Particularly if you're having a bad run, the temptation can creep in to use one of your chips to help give your team a boost. You might start thinking about using your Free Hit to attack a Gameweek where you have a few bad fixtures or injuries, using your Bench Boost because "fixtures look okay" for your subs, or using your Triple Captain in a single Gameweek because you've "never had much luck with double Gameweek captains". I strongly suggest you resist such temptations, which are often fleeting. It's not that these choices don't ever work - sometimes they'll work out okay - but there's almost always going to be a better opportunity which comes along later.
The Free Hit, Bench Boost, Triple Captain and 2nd Wildcard chips will usually be saved by top managers until late in the season, and for good reason. Usually we get a tricky section of fixtures with a BGW (or two), DGW (or two), and if you've already used some or all of your chips then navigating this section (usually around Gameweeks 30 - 36) can become extremely difficult and will usually coincide with a rank drop. If on the other hand you still have your chips at this point, you can:
- Use your Free Hit to have 11 good fixtures even in a BGW
- Use your Bench Boost to have up to four doubles (so potentially eight games) from your bench (the goalkeeper doubles tend to be particularly effective) in a DGW
- Use your Triple Captain in a DGW for a strong team where an elite player has two attractive fixtures
- Use your 2nd Wildcard to arrange your team for maximum effect ahead of the DGW Bench Boost deployment, or to fix the squad afterwards
Obviously, this doesn’t ensure that everything will go to plan, but in aggregate this chip usage tends to result in a useful rank boost. These measures alone could potentially make the difference between going into the final weeks of the season at 20k OR or 200k OR, making all the difference with respect to meeting our rank goals and to our ML chances. So, before you use your chips, ask yourself these kind of questions:
- Bench Boost: Am I confident all 15 players will play and that there won't be a much better opportunity (particularly in DGWs) later in the season?
- Free Hit: If I use the FH chip now am I giving myself a good chance of scoring 20-30 points more than I otherwise would have that week?
- Triple Captain: Is that game against the whipping boys du jour really as compelling as a potential DGW later? Is there enough time between games in a DGW that I'm confident my TC will start both? FPL algorithms typically project ~8 points for the absolute best fixtures for elite players, versus 5-6 points for a tougher fixture for that same player, which gives you a sense of the math you're up against if using the TC in a single Gameweek (partly offset by greater rotation risk in a DGW).
- Wildcard: Is your squad in such a bad state that it couldn't be rectified with 3-4 transfers over the next 2-3 weeks? Is it really that urgent to get to the sexy new template or is your squad that much of a hospital ward that you're likely to tank your rank if you don't fix it now? If you're actually just hankering for that feeling of picking a shiny new team (when your current team is fine) try instead to be patient and to just patch it up with a transfer or two.
The great Ben Crellin (@BenCrellin) is in my opinion the very best in the business in when it comes to the ability to map out FPL fixtures in advance and to devise the most optimal chip strategies ahead of time. He’s an absolutely crucial follow on Twitter and if you sign up for a Fantasy Football Hub membership you’ll also receive a copy of his famous spreadsheet to help you navigate the FPL schedule more smoothly.
Your starting formations should largely be a product of who the best (value) players are and what positions they play - it is best to stay flexible and to take what the game gives you. That being said, there are a few pros and cons of the various formations, some of which aren't immediately apparent, so I've quickly outlined these below.
'The classic' 3-4-3
- Facilitates the strongest and cheapest bench, since the best options at 4.5 are in defence and then midfield (in the vast majority of seasons) and the only players at 4.0 are in defence
- The most attacking formation which means you are largely pulling for attacking returns not cleansheets
- You are taking least possible advantage of the more generous scoring for defenders > midfielders > forwards
- With fewer strong options in the forward category in recent years (due to the real life shift away from 4-4-2, towards 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 etc.), even if you find 3 strong forward options to begin with, there may be a lack of adequate replacements if one disappoints or gets injured / suspended (however this does not appear to be a problem in 21/22, with plenty of strong forward options)
'The swiss army knife' 4-4-2
- This is a really flexible formation in FPL because this means you have one defender, one midfielder and one forward on the bench and it's easy from 4-4-2 to shift to other formations depending on how those subs are performing vs your starters, and as new enablers emerge
- As you move away from 3-4-3 and towards starting more defenders or midfielders, you're taking advantage of the scoring benefits, particularly with more OOP defenders and midfielders available in recent years (due to more use of three-at-the-back, wingbacks and wide forwards)
'Big at the back' - 5-4-1, 5-3-2
- These formations take the most advantage of the scoring benefits for defenders, with half of your team’s outfield potentially earning 4 pts for a cleansheet and 6 points for a goal
- You're putting most of your players and budget in the best pts/£ positions, so you’re getting the most possible ‘bang for your buck’ from as much of your starting eleven as possible
- These formations are particularly effective in years when there are a lot of great defenders that are actually playing OOP or otherwise have a lot of attacking threat
- These approaches can leave you with a weak or expensive bench since credible options at 4.5m in midfield and forward positions are typically very limited, and there are none at 4.0
- By this point on the spectrum you're pulling primarily for cleansheets, which if you like to watch and follow a lot of the games in real time, is perhaps not the most enjoyable
'Power midfield' - 3-5-2, 4-5-1
- I will strongly consider starting the season with 3-5-2 as I like the combination of having 2 viable bench options in defence at just 4.5 or even 4.0, and then 5 of your 7 more attacking players getting 5 pts for a goal plus 1 for a cleansheet. Particularly with so many OOP midfield options in recent seasons, at times you can almost have 6 or 7 forwards with most of those getting extra points as midfielders
- Unlike the ‘big at the back’ formations, the more popular ‘power midfield’ lineup of 3-5-2 does not result in a weak bench situation – we can typically find two effective defs at 4.5m or below and a 4.5m forward who will at least get some game time and can be stashed at the 3rd bench spot
- 4-5-1 is terrible for bench options as decent 4.5m forwards are few and far between, and for that reason I would not recommend it
FPL Captaincy Decisions