New Hub contributor Jon Proudfoot aka @FPLBrain has been playing FPL seriously for 3 years - 16k OR in 19/20, 28k in 18/19, 224k in 17/18. 2x Telegraph top 500 prior to that. He wrote 'The Universal Guide to FPL' to help beginners hit the ground running and others to improve their skills. Jon has a background in financial research and quantitative methods, and has played and followed football for 30 years.
Part 1 - Beginner's Guide
- The basics
- Your squad
- Banana skins to avoid
Part 2 - Way's To Improve
- Do your research
- Take a long-term approach
- Transfers are a precious resource
- Search continually for upside
- Player selection
- Target out-of-position players
- Effective ownership and the template
- Don't be too hasty
- Build team value early on
- Save and maximise chips
- Formation selection
- Captaincy decisions
- Learn from the best
- Expected goals
- Manage your emotions
- Know yourself
- Find good sounding boards
Part 1 - Beginner's Guide
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 formation can potentially be used successfully, including a ‘big at the back’ setup heavy on defensive assets, or by going for the increasingly popular ‘power midfield’ approach with a 3-5-2 or 4-5-1 lineup.
Scoring: The FPL scoring system is fairly nuanced so it’s best to carefully review the scoring page of the FPL help, but essentially your outfield players are primarily rewarded for goals, assists and clean sheets (defenders and midfielders only), while your goalkeeper is primarily rewarded for clean sheets, saves and penalty 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, Sadio Mané, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and more recently Bruno Fernandes, 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 very valuable and you should give a lot of consideration as to when is best to use them. Timely and successful use of chips can add substantially to your points return and make all the difference to your overall rank.
Wildcards: Wildcards essentially give you the opportunity to completely re-design your squad (subject to your budget at the time used), 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 typically best used to help capitalise on / navigate smoothly 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 so that it is possible to have up to eight games played by bench players.
Free Hit: A Free Hit is like a Wildcard that works temporarily for one Gameweek before your squad reverts to how it was previously. Again, these are particularly useful when used to help capitalise on or otherwise 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 versus a single Gameweek.
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 seven 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 250k is considered to be an okay season, top 100k is a good season, top 50k is very good, 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, family and wider groups within the FPL community. 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 (these must be organised by the ML organisers outside of the official game).
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), 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 (potential ‘season keepers’) versus players with particularly attractive early fixtures. Some managers will tilt further towards targeting fixtures - perhaps closer to a 50/50 balance - because we often end up using a Wildcard in Gameweeks 3-7 anyway - but I think it’s better to aim for a longer-term setup so that you’re giving yourself the chance to hold onto your Wildcard until the middle of the season. That way you can head into the second half of the season with a fresh, revitalised team.
Captaincy options: You want your team to contain multiple compelling captain options (e.g. Salah, De Bruyne, Aubameyang) 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 (and hence having their points doubled), so you do not want too many of these early on when the budget is tight. Two or at most three elite players is usually a good amount to begin the season with.
Goalkeepers: Typically, one or more of the top-scoring goalkeepers each season are cheap 4.5m options from less glamorous teams, 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, and this can often more than offset the (usually) higher 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 then rotate them according to the easier-looking fixture. This can obviously backfire sometimes, but plenty of managers have been able to use this approach successfully. I would not recommend that you spend much more than 9m of your budget on goalkeepers as you will need every possible penny for the outfield players.
Price points: I would recommend building a squad that includes players across a wide variety of different price points (cheap, moderate, premium, elite), essentially so that it’s easier to switch to other players (in as few moves as possible) 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 available – again, in case a player needs replacing - and to have a range of prices within each position category, again 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.
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 deadline of the next Gameweek deadline and set your team and captain as soon as the new Gameweek opens (in case you forget later)
- 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 biases towards teams / players you like or against teams / players you dislike 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
Part 2 - Ways To Improve
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
I know that not everyone is able or willing to spend several hours each week watching matches, analysing statistics, listening to podcasts, reading team articles or building. 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, if you are not already doing so:
- Listen to FPL podcasts: I would recommend listening to at least one (preferably several) of the many excellent FPL podcasts such as The FPL Podcast by Fantasy Football Hub, 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 there does tend to be significant overlap after a few, so if you listen to your favourite two or three you should be well informed. There are lots of other great pods out there (too many to list), so please give as many a chance 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 cumulative season stats 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 of matches) that are more relevant to FPL / your team. I’m a big believer in the value of stats but ‘the eye-test’ is also additive, 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. I believe this is some of the most powerful data you can track for FPL, but it’s important to know how to interpret and apply this info appropriately. 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 continue to rise month by month. There are a lot of fantastic threads and articles that are well worth your time to read and you’ll soon discover the better FPL accounts including Fantasy Football Hub. If you only have time for one weekly FPL thread then AbuBakar Siddiq’s (@BigManBakar) regular Gameweek review is becoming legendary for good reason - it is somehow both concise and comprehensive, summarising a huge amount of key information in a 10-minute read.
- Keep an eye on upcoming fixtures: As discussed elsewhere, we don’t have enough FTs to manoeuvre all of our players into kind fixtures every Gameweek, but if you have several players – especially expensive players - heading into difficult stretch 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 (hello Eddie Howe), 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. I think these are particularly handy when you have several defenders competing for starting spots and you are trying to decide between them, and also for captaincy decisions. 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 with effective ownership (more on this later) potentially over 100%. 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.
That might already seem like a lot of work, but excluding watching the games (because that’s pleasure surely?) you can cover a lot of the above in around two or three hours per week. You can hopefully also fit the podcasts into your commute, while you’re walking the dog, working out, cooking or some other time in your routine that allows for some multi-tasking!
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 Hub's 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)
- Read @BigManBakar’s Gameweek review thread – seriously it’s that good
- Quickly scan the press conference highlights
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.
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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 and to be doing well at something right from the start, 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 (and choose not to make), how and when you use your Free Hit, Bench Boost and Wildcards, there should always be a keen awareness on how these decisions will impact your squad and your performance over the long-term as well as in the near-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 (which may only be due to unfortunate negative variance) and your response is to 'fix' your team with short-sighted moves, you can quickly begin to build a psychological and points hole for yourself. For instance, if you make an impulsive double transfer for a hit - which in reality is a sideways move – then you’ve essentially wasted one precious FT and four precious points. If this is followed by another bad Gameweek (and even worse, if you see that your team would have done better without the 'fix'), you're just going to get more aggravated and be more likely to take subsequent hits in 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, 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 will soon.
Beyond those 34 free transfers and three chips every transfer is costing you four points, or 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 whenever we make a transfer we should consider whether it is worthwhile not just for how it (hopefully) improves our team in the short term, but also how / whether it improves our team over the medium and long-term.
Unless your squad is already close to what you consider to be ideal, then you should largely restrict yourself to moves that bring in a player who you expect to want in your team for the foreseeable future. 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 (particularly if this happens with your intended starters - it is much less of a priority if this happens with bench players).
Of course, we do want to also maximise our team for each of the 38 Gameweeks – subject to our available cache of free transfers - 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 (unless these are only to one or two subs)
- Target excellent single fixtures if there is a standout captain candidate with the potential to haul
- Gradually upgrade your team towards whatever is currently optimal (what you would Wildcard to)
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 and hence are not doing as much of this.
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 (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 am looking for with as many of my players as possible is for a realistic case in which they score significantly more points than the common consensus or that we would expect from a player at their price. Ideally this will be combined by a solid floor (a high probability of still getting a reasonable points return even if the upside case doesn’t materialise). Let’s use a couple of examples from the 19/20 season (one more successful than the other) to try and illustrate this:
- Anthony Martial 19/20 - priced as a 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.
- Ayoze Pérez 19/20 - priced as a 6.5m midfielder
- Floor: Based on Pérez’s history with Newcastle, if he played most of the season as an attacking midfielder in an attacking (under Brendan Rodgers) Leicester side then he should comfortably be worthy of his 6.5m price tag.
- Upside case: Pérez was still young and improving - he had finished the 18/19 season in strong form - and could perhaps be playing further forward than previously.
- Blue sky case: There was talk that he might play up front behind Jamie Vardy. He’d come in for a large fee and could possibly be a regular out-of-position starter. If this case had come through then he could have outperformed his 6.5m price by a huge margin. Instead he played in a variety of positions and was rotated more than expected on his way to 129 points, but there was still a realistic chance that this could have happened.
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. Raúl Jiménez 18/19, Danny Ings 19/20, Andrew Robertson 18/19, Riyad Mahrez 15/16 etc.) That sounds extremely difficult, 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 in a timely fashion 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.