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FPL Gameweek 1 Q&A

Your FPL questions and dilemmas have been answered ahead of tomorrow’s Gameweek 1 deadline. This article provides an in-depth discussion concerning squad structure, Bournemouth attackers, premium defenders, mid-priced midfielders and budget enablers.

Topic 1: Squad Structure

Question 1 from @GriftersUnited: What’s your opinion on having a useful bench? I myself like playing options throughout my squad but bench fodder is a fad of many teams every season.

Investing in four good playable bench options undoubtedly increases an FPL team’s flexibility. Transfers and hits become less necessary, team value is protected, injuries can be covered and cheap emerging bandwagons are purchased more easily because you have an additional playable slot or two.

However, a balance must be struck between cost and probable output. For example, Jurgen Locadia is perhaps the only forward option under £6.0m that is expected to start in Gameweek 1. For those not convinced by the Brighton attack, an argument could be made for opting for a £4.5m forward as a non-playing sub and investing that £1.5m elsewhere, rather than spending £6.0m on a playable alternative.

The smaller the price difference between playable and non-playable players, the less worthwhile non-playing assets become. This is perhaps most true of £4.5m goalkeepers and defenders, who provide the potential of 140+ point returns, as Lukasz Fabianski and Matt Doherty showed in 2018/19. This is at such a limited additional cost than the £4.0m bracket, which mainly consists of non-playing options.

The extent to which you invest on your bench really depends on the individual. FPL is a case of finding the most efficient way to use your budget, either by focusing almost entirely on the starting XI or by having a few rotation options.

In either case, at least two playing outfield subs is recommended to be able to avoid some bad fixtures, injuries, suspensions or otherwise unexpected absences, without needing to make a transfer.

Question 2 from @Mister_WP: This year’s optimal spread of cash over the positions?

This is best answered in two parts: captain options and the rest. The only way premium assets (£9.0-10.0m+) can provide value for money is if they are captained regularly. Aubameyang, Aguero and Kane are of course excellent options but for those who have no intention on captaining them during the first four to five weeks, there is no need to budget for a premium forward.

However, if this was your preference, opting for two premium midfielders provides the flexibility to switch to one of those forwards in just two transfers. Therefore, a spend of around £22.0-24.5m on two premium assets, be it two midfielder, a midfielder and forward or two forwards is a good starting point.

Looking at the remaining positions, spending more than £10.0m on goalkeepers is difficult to justify. If you own Ederson or Alisson, the probability of ever using a backup is extremely low. A £1.5m range is on offer here given that the cheapest possible spend is £8.5m.

Last season’s points and current ownership point towards investing in three or four premium defenders. Of players still in the game, nine defenders scored 150 points last season compared to 13 midfielders and eight forwards, with the former category having a significantly lower average price.

The value in defence is clear and has been noticed by the masses as five of the top ten owned players (excluding Button) are defenders in the £5.5-7.0m bracket. A spend somewhere just either side of £30.0m on defenders will help take advantage of this value.

This then leaves around £35.0-40.0m to spend on a further six attacking players (midfielders and forwards). Further flexibility can be achieved by directing a greater proportion of that cash towards the position you are deficient in more expensive players. Essentially, Salah and Sterling owners could benefit from Wilson or Vardy, whilst those with premium forwards might look at De Bruyne to provide balance.

Question 3 from @Sturdys29: Is a 5-4-1 formation flexible enough when you have 2 non playing forwards?

Once again, this is a balance between value and flexibility. Expensive defenders certainly provide great value compared to midfielders and forwards at the same price. On the other hand, accessing the budget defender bracket is difficult as they would have to start every week in a 5-4-1 with no good bench options. Furthermore, if your forward does not play for whatever reason, a maximum of ten players will be fielded which is never ideal.

Making a minor sacrifice by swapping one of those defenders for a £4.5m bench option and using that money to buy another playable forward is definitely beneficial in the long-term, for flexibility purposes.

In the short-term, a 5-4-1 formation does carry some appeal for two reasons. There is a wildcard available if it does indeed go wrong and significant squad structure alterations are required. In addition, predicting clean sheets for teams like Manchester City and Liverpool is a more straightforward task than identifying this season’s Wilson and Jimenez at the same price. Therefore, short-term – maybe, but long-term, 5-4-1 is unlikely to exploit the value picks that emerge in the budget defender and budget forward brackets.

Topic 2: Bournemouth Attackers

Question 1 from @jonb4g: Jimenez and King or Wilson and Jota?

Although £0.5m more expensive, Wilson and Jota look most worthy of investment as a duo. Amongst all forwards, only Aguero, Aubameyang and Kane had a better points per match than Wilson in 2018/19, which was key to his him being priced higher than Jimenez despite scoring fewer points.

In addition, Wilson’s rate of goal attempts, shots in the box, penalty box chances, big chances and xG were all superior to King’s in 2018/19 despite King having a greater total in some of these categories, having played more minutes.

Meanwhile, Jota thrived just as much as Jimenez after Wolves’ formation change from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 in early December. Jimenez scored ten goals and managed four assists compared to Jota’s nine and seven between Gameweek 15 and 38. If that continues, exploiting the £1.0m price difference between Jimenez and Jota will be worthwhile.

The expected data of the two strikers in that 24 game period is almost identical. Jimenez managed a per game xG and xA of 0.41 and 0.11, compared to Jota’s 0.37 and 0.13, by virtue of the Portuguese missing four matches with a hamstring injury. This confirms that it is extremely difficult to look beyond Jota out of him and Jimenez and it makes him and excellent partner for Wilson in FPL attacks.

Question 2 from @SilentBats: Would you double on Bournemouth attacking assets?

Like the 5-4-1 question: short-term, possibly; long-term, no. Heading into Gameweek 1, it is difficult to predict which players will perform well, especially in the mid-priced and budget category. This makes players like Wilson, Fraser and King, who have excellent FPL credentials, extremely attractive because they stand out compared to a more limited understanding of their competition’s prospects.

Heading into fixtures against newly promoted Sheffield United and Aston Villa, a low-risk two week punt is certainly worth considering, especially as all three are highly owned. Transfers are there for a reason and will then allow those dissatisfied with their duo to dump both ahead of the Manchester City fixture in Gameweek 3, using two free transfers.

It is these circumstances that have created the conditions for a viable short-term punt on a Bournemouth double-up. And as you will see in tomorrow’s Gameweek 1 team reveal article, I plan to adopt this strategy.

Topic 3: Premium Defenders

Question 1 from @_FPLFox: Thoughts on Zinchenko/TAA “rotation” fears?

It is fairly safe to say that neither Alexander-Arnold or Zinchenko will start every Premier League game this season. Zinchenko faces particularly stiff competition for his place, with Angelino and particularly Mendy threatening his starting spot when available.

However, Zinchenko was given the nod in 11 of Manchester City’s final 12 Premier League outings, with his only absence occurring after he picked up a thigh injury against Cardiff. The Ukrainian currently has the shirt and will not be up against a player of Mohamed Salah’s quality until, well… Liverpool play City in November.

It is up to Zinchenko to impress enough to keep his place in the team beyond the first few fixtures that he looks set to start in Mendy’s absence. For those looking at an early wildcard, Zinchenko is potentially an excellent short-term punt to start the season, saving £1.0m on Laporte and £0.5m on Ederson in the process.

As for Alexander-Arnold, he will also be a victim of squad strength – this time thanks to Joe Gomez’s versatility. This will be particularly prevalent either side of big midweek Champions League games that are very physically demanding and push Klopp into freshening up his first choice team.

Both Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are vital in the way Liverpool play, creating an abundance of opportunities from wide areas in a side that lacks midfield creators of the quality that Manchester City possess. Essentially, Alexander-Arnold plays when fully fit – there is no need for concern here.

However, that is not to stop anyone from opting for the cheaper, guaranteed starter that is Virgil Van Dijk, who also happens to be the highest owned player in the game.

Question 2 from @mbison22: What is the cheapest, most secure route into the Manchester City defence?

Short-term, Zinchenko looks set to be the cheap, secure route into the Manchester City defence, based on his game time and performances at the back end of last season. The issue here is that he is a transfer waiting to happen and will be a constant concern for those lacking many playable substitutes.

At £0.5m more, Ederson is as safe as can be, but as the goalkeeper in a team that spends relatively little time out of possession, the onus on clean sheets is enormous in the absence of many save points. Meanwhile, Laporte’s three goals and three assists last season demonstrate his attacking potential, but at a premium price tag.

In essence, you get what you pay for in the City defence, but there is an opportunity to exploit short-term value by buying Zinchenko for just £5.5m.

Question 3 from @SilentBats: Do you trust Everton defensively?

As discussed in the Everton team preview, the departure of ball-winning midfielder Idrissa Gueye is a major blow for their clean sheet prospects. New arrival Jean-Phillippe Gbamin was statistically inferior for tackles and interceptions at Bundesliga club Mainz last season and may need time to acclimatise to a new club and country.

With Kurt Zouma also unlikely to return to the club on loan, the defensive solidity that brought eight clean sheets during their final 11 matches will take time to redevelop and relies on both Yerry Mina and the aforementioned Gbamin stepping up as their predecessors did.

This is not to say Everton should not be trusted defensively – they have some favourable matches during August and September and the defensive contribution of players still at the club cannot be ignored. However, it will be a tall order for them to continue in the same vein as last season to provide consistent clean sheets to accompany the no doubt frequent direct goal involvements from Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne.

Topic 4: Mid-priced Midfielders

Question 1 from @FPLencyclopedia: Is Barkley worth the risk?

There is certainly an element of perceived risk with owning Ross Barkley based on last season. Maurizio Sarri opted for a midfield trio of N’Golo Kante, Jorginho and one of Barkley or Mateo Kovacic, resulting in the Englishman playing just 1231 minutes in 2018/19.

However, Kovacic does not possess the goalscoring knack of Barkley, Mason Mount or the injured Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Manager Frank Lampard’s tenure at Derby suggests that he will line up with a player of this style in his midfield, potentially even two at times, which should result in Barkley being a more regular starter in 2019/20. The risk of owning Barkley is reduced further by his cheap price of £6.0m, with relatively few viable alternatives in that price bracket.

But with fixtures against Manchester United and Leicester to start the season, there is unlikely to be a huge amount of harm done by taking in 180 minutes of football, before making a more informed decision heading into the Norwich-Sheffield Utd double header in Gameweek 3 and 4.

It is Chelsea’ opening two fixtures that push Barkley towards watchlist rather than instant-buy status, although an argument could be made for the fixtures being less relevant for attacking players, especially at top six sides.

Question 2 from @Gooner_fpl: Thoughts on Martial?

When Martial has played in the last two seasons, goals and assists have followed in FPL. With one coming every 109.8 minutes since August 2017, a price of just £7.5m is certainly enticing during a period of regular starts.

But similarly to Barkley, the first two fixtures could provide a perfect opportunity to assess whether Solskjaer’s side are more reminiscent of the 12 game magnificence after his appointment or the subsequent slump to sixth place during the final two months of the season.

This is especially relevant when considering his price tag. At the same price as Martial is Ryan Fraser, who topped the xA and big chances created charts last season and who allows matches against Chelsea and Wolves to be swapped for Sheffield Utd and Aston Villa. Therefore, a place on the watchlist is as far as my interest in Martial would go at this stage, unless you plan to purchase multiple midfielders in that price bracket.

Question 3 from @FantasianPL: Wait and see or take the punt on – a) Maddison, Tielemans or Perez? and b) Pogba or Martial?

The Leicester team preview provides a more detailed explanation of Maddison, Tielemans and Perez’ FPL prospects. As a synopsis, Maddison is the creator, Perez is the goalscorer and Tielemans is more difficult to quantify as a stat out-performer during his loan spell, aside from justifying this discrepancy with his obvious footballing ability.

The fixtures, affordable price and Brendan Rodgers’ impact have aligned well, which makes a potential punt on one of the trio even more tempting. If pressed for a decision, Perez is my choice after his positional reclassification, move to a more attacking team and Rodgers’ conscious attempt to increase the number of goals in his team. The latter statement was made evident as early as March as Rodgers said ‘I know where we need to improve, we don’t have enough goals in the team, simple as that’.

Question 4 from @WilliamjMc: Martial or Sigurdsson?

After declaring Martial as being merely one for the watchlist, it would be wrong to contradict that assertion in this answer. Not only that, but Sigurdsson’s 2018/19 statistical performance and opening fixtures ensure that there are few, if any better short-term options at his price and position in the game.

Even including Eden Hazard in this data set, the Icelander finished fifth for goal attempts, sixth for xG, seventh for chances created and eighth for points per match amongst all midfielders last season. During a run of six fixtures that does not feature any top six opposition, the only case against Sigurdsson is that he swallows up £8.0m of your budget.

With the pros of owning Sigurdsson in mind, the same answer would be given to @Arnoldmisan’s question on whether to pick him or Bernardo Silva. This is even despite the unrivalled ability in Guardiola’s team to score goals as Bernardo is often on the periphery of activity in and around the penalty area as he unselfishly allows others to take centre stage in front of goal.

Topic 5: Budget Enablers

Question 1 from @JoeHansonPDX: Any nailed £4.0m defenders and/or £4.5m midfielders?

In terms of the £4.0m defenders, both @FPLStag and @StatOnScout have already done the work on this, with both pointing towards Sheffield United’s John Lundstram as the standout option, albeit with starts likely to be scarce.

FPL Stag’s thread
Stat on Scout’s article

Looking at the £4.5m midfielders, Leander Dendoncker and Isaac Hayden are the most worthy of consideration. Like Diogo Jota, Dendoncker was a beneficiary of Nuno Espirito Santo’s formation change to 3-5-2 in December, as the Belgian became a regular starter in a midfield three alongside Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.

Of players priced at £4.5m this season, his xGI of 4.43 from this point onwards was significantly more than anyone else with Hayden a distant second on 2.63. The ability to score and assist goals is neither expected, nor a major priority at this price point. However, these two do at least carry the possibility of providing an unlikely goal or assist off the bench if required.

In addition, Dendoncker has established himself as a first-team regular as mentioned, as did Hayden under former manager Rafa Benitez, starting the final 20 matches of the season. Doubts do remain over whether Hayden will remain at the club due to family reasons despite Steve Bruce’s admiration of the player, who he signed on loan in 2015, during his time as Hull manager.

Question 2 from @AbdulSKyari: Who is a confirmed starting defender for £4.5m or £4.0m?

With the £4.0m bracket mentioned in the previous question, the focus here is purely on those priced at £4.5m.

Crystal Palace (12) kept the most clean sheets last season out of sides with £4.5m starting defenders, but have lost influential right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United, reducing the appeal of new signing Gary Cahill.

Just below the Eagles were Newcastle (11), but they will again have to cope with a significant departure, this time managerially as Rafa Benitez decided against renewing his contract. The result of these uncertainties coupled with the rest of the teams being clustered between seven and ten shut-outs is that there is no obvious standout £4.5m defender option from a defensive perspective.

In a position that relies heavily on clean sheets to return FPL points, it is difficult to point towards an obvious candidate at this price. The same applies to goal threat as Calum Chambers had the most goal attempts (35) of any player at that price but he now plays for a different team and is unlikely to start many matches if Arsenal secure the services of a centre-back on deadline day as expected. Additionally, over half of Chambers’ attempts came outside the box as a midfield role gave him licence to join attacks from deep at Fulham.

With no obvious candidates from a defensive or offensive perspective, patience is required in the search for this season’s Matt Doherty. For the time being, there are two options. You could ignore the £4.5m defenders given the lack of options and save £500k by opting for £4.0m option instead. Alternatively, identifying tough fixtures in your starting XI may point towards an option that could be used in rotation.

For example, Leicester face Chelsea away in Gameweek 2 and Bournemouth host Manchester City in Gameweek 3. Those opting for an attacker from each side could do worse than Lewis Dunk (assuming that he stays at Brighton), as the Seagulls host West Ham and Southampton in those gameweeks.

Finding creative solutions like this, in ways that other FPL managers are unwilling to can be vital in giving you an edge in the overall rankings, especially as the game is getting more competitive every year.

Stats from Fantasy Football Scout and Transfermarkt

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