The Complete Guide to Fantasy Premier League - 2021/22 Edition
The aim of 'The Complete Guide to FPL' 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.
Part 1 - How to Play FPL
- The Basics
- Your Squad
- Banana Skins to Avoid
Part 2 - How to Improve at FPL
- 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
- Save and Maximise Chips
- Formation Selection
- Captaincy Decisions
- Learn from the Best
- Expected Goals
- Manage Your Emotions
- Know Yourself
- Quality not Quantity
- Mavericks and Dullards
Part 1 - How to Play FPL
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.
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
Part 2 - How to Improve at FPL
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 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 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 FTs 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 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)
- 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.
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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, 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.