With a plethora of theories for FPL success set to arrive in the build-up to the start of the 2020/21 season, this article will take a slightly different approach. Rather than trying to ‘solve’ the game ahead of Gameweek 1 and create a supposedly winning strategy, the intention is to use what we do not know about FPL to consider how best to formulate a starting squad using ownership. The aim of this and subsequent articles is to make you think, as I nor anyone else has all the answers.
The Dunning-Kruger effect provides an interesting interpretation of knowledge compared to confidence, certainly from my perspective since being an active FPL Twitter user since July 2016. In my first season posting about the game on social media, I achieved my best rank to date, finishing 2304th overall after an excellent post-Christmas run. What I did not realise at the time was every decision was based on instinct not logic. There were a lot of points hits involved, taking random punts like bringing Stoke’s Arnautovic in for a double gameweek, who returned 16 points to outscore every Manchester City asset who faced the Potters and the soon to be relegated Sunderland that week. At the end of the 2016/17 season, you could say I was at the peak of ‘Mount Stupid’ on the graph, thinking I knew more than I did because of a run of fortunate decisions. Within a season, I crashed down to the valley of despair following a 575k finish in 2017/18 as my decisions based on instinct rather than logic had the opposite effect. The decision-making process or lack of it had not changed, only my luck had run out.
One particularly shocking decision that season came in Gameweek 11 of that season. Mohamed Salah was in fantastic form and I had one free transfer to replace an injured Philippe Coutinho. But rather than a simple sideways switch ahead of a plum fixture away to West Ham, I opted for Dele Alli, in turn requiring a -4 to bring my Spurs contingent back down to three players. Ben Davies departed for Phil Jones, who got injured days later in the international break, while Alli didn’t feature in Spurs’ fixture as Salah scored 15 points. There were so many errors of judgement in this decision from an unnecessary points hit, ignoring the form and underlying data, buying Alli purely because of his performances in my team the previous season and ignoring Salah’s ever increasing ownership. I thought I knew better than the overwhelming evidence against my hunch; the simple matter in such situations is that you rarely do.
So how does this all connect to the current season as we begin to prepare our teams for Gameweek 1? In the absence of knowing how players will perform in the new season, form and underlying statistics at the end of 2019/20 can be considered. A sometimes forgotten factor though is player ownership. In the Alli vs Salah example, it was the fact that Salah’s 15 points were received by so many FPL managers that the decision was all the more damaging. Had I opted for Salah and he blanked with Alli scoring big instead, the damage would have been minimal. In that instance, there was an array of evidence that should have led me to picking Salah; knowing either player’s ownership was not actually necessary. The difference in pre-season is that there are a lot of unknowns as a pattern of performances from teams and players in the new campaign cannot be judged. We can look at form and underlying statistics from 2019/20 and speculate on fixture difficulty, but nobody quite knows who will be this season’s breakout picks. It is far easier to pick the wrong players at the start of the season in the absence of information specific to that season.
Acknowledging the level of doubt that exists and seeking elements of near certainty can inform our Gameweek 1 decision-making. For example, everyone knows the qualities of Trent Alexander-Arnold as a player and FPL asset; he has proven it for two years straight and is only getting better. But even beyond that is another almost certainty in the form of his very high ownership, which is unlikely to plummet any time soon (56.2% at the time of writing). If Alexander-Arnold delivers as we all know he can and you don’t own him, you put yourself at an immediate and unnecessary disadvantage compared to half of the field. Even though I have my own views on the value of defenders (possibly the subject of a future article), owning him is not even a decision. He is in my team. Quite simply, the risk of avoiding him greatly outweighs the potential reward of an alternative pick. Players, especially well-known ones like Alexander-Arnold are highly owned for a reason and thinking you know better by selecting an alternative is a dangerous game. It is also why one of Timo Werner or Anthony Martial would be in my Gameweek 1 team if the deadline was today. Not only do you two excellent players that are highly owned here, but at a highly owned price point, with Jimenez and Ings likely to remain in a lot of teams too following stellar campaigns last term. The lower owned trio of Kane, Aguero and Vardy can be easily reached too, should the evidence point towards them being better picks once the season is underway. Having players and a team structure similar to other players avoids being exposed to emerging bandwagons.
Importance of Ownership
Since adopting this ownership-focused strategy at the start of the season from 2018/19, I have avoided another horror start that can become almost impossible to recover from. Sitting at 465k after ten gameweeks of 2019/20 by making very similar decisions to the crowd was far from spectacular, but it is a position that leaves you within striking distance of the upper echelons. Once the pattern of the season could be observed, a few calculated lower ownership moves left me 95k overall within three weeks. Ten weeks after that, I was in the top 7k. 2018/19 was very similar, sitting at 365k after six weeks and rising to 24k just five weeks later. As mentioned, the key to those mediocre starts followed by surges up the rankings was player ownership. I began by picking very similar players to everyone else until there was enough evidence to suggest there were differential opportunities to exploit around six weeks into the season. There is plenty of time for upside chasing differential moves. Is that time Gameweek 1, when so much uncertainty exists? Probably not.
It is with this in mind that even after the fixtures are released by Friday, I will not be much closer to putting together a squad for Gameweek 1. I will be waiting until ownership numbers become clearer, using those to build a core alongside one or two lower owned selections. Therefore, the team shown below has been pulled together merely to indicate the importance of popular price points rather than particular players, as the players will certainly change before 12th September.
Even as a proponent of high ownership players in the early weeks, picking the highest owned players you can afford in every positions as this team demonstrates is far too simplistic. Focus on the price points not the players in this example. In the low ceiling goalkeeper position, a set and forget £8.5m starter and backup pair from Brighton needs little attention. But in defence, any player is within reach by making a £0.5m upgrade or downgrade, rising to £1.5m in midfield and attack due to the wider range of prices. Beyond the highly owned visible players, a team like this would carry straightforward exit and entry routes everywhere, something which an often popular pre-season ‘big at the back’ idea neglects.
However, this is not a one size fits all guide to picking your Gameweek 1 squad. As I said, the goal of these articles is to make you, the reader, think rather than copy. FPL is a game of different interpretations, opinions and strategies; these ideas on player and price point ownership are merely ones to consider and crucially, are centred around the start rather than the duration of the season. Like a football team not wanting to go a goal down in the first 15 minutes, a conservative approach early on is intended to keep you in the game; an adventurous one thereafter on can win you it.
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Another excellent article on ownership written by @NickTriggerlips that inspired elements of this piece can be found here.