With less than 48 hours to go until the Gameweek 1 deadline, it’s time to starting locking in our Fantasy Premier League squads for the new season. After some deliberation, my final team will be revealed below, providing individual strategy and justifications for those choices.
Approach to Manchester City and Manchester United assets
Deciding how to navigate the Gameweek 1 blank for Aston Villa, Burnley and particularly the Manchester clubs has been one of the major talking points of pre-season. My viewpoint has stayed fairly constant throughout, as being open to benching a Manchester United asset in Gameweek 1 if the compromises made were small. Ultimately, it became too challenging to invest at least £7.5m on an attacker only for them to sit on the bench in Gameweek 1, while the defenders do not stand out above other £5.0m and £5.5m options. Therefore, the plan is to revisit United players ahead of Gameweek 2 and limit exposure to the other three clubs to budget bench picks.
A commitment to avoid starting with a Manchester City or Manchester United player may indicate an early wildcard is in the offing, but that is not the case. As mentioned in a tweet a few weeks ago, the idea of using it during the second international break looked appealing for a number of reasons. The initial attraction was the position of Manchester City’s clash with Liverpool in Gameweek 8. By selling one or two of their assets prior to that fixture and then re-buying on wildcard straight after, I can reduce exposure from the top two without worrying about the impact in future gameweeks. Manchester City’s fixtures begin to turn around the same period, as do those of West Ham (although who knows what state they will be in then), which may provide opportunities to get ahead of the curve. Beginning on 21st November, Gameweek 9 is also the first of nine deadlines in 43 days heading through the busy Christmas period, which may require a stronger bench or at least a removal of any lingering unavailable or out of favour players. There is also the possible movement of five Gameweek 18 fixtures into Gameweek 19 to be aware of; if my team is looking strong ahead of Gameweek 9, it may be worth holding the wildcard even longer. At this stage, the intention is simply to use it no earlier than the second international break, but with a flexible approach in mind.
The final strategic element to consider before moving on to discuss individual player picks is the starting formation. It is always useful to have at least two solid substitutes that can be called upon if needed and this made it a straight choice between 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. None of the £4.5m midfielders or forwards look particularly promising at the present moment, so having two or three of them in a four or five at the back system was never an option for me. In the end, I have settled on 3-5-2, as there is the possibility of Rhian Brewster (£4.5m) moving to a Premier League club in this transfer window. His potential upside looks far greater than any of the £4.5m midfielders and even if he stayed at Liverpool or moved to a club outside the Premier League, this would not be a major issue. I have no intention of tripling up on Liverpool while their fixtures remain mixed (they turn in time for the proposed Gameweek 9 wildcard) and will still have two playable defenders to come off the bench if needed. However, the decision to start with a 3-5-2 formation is not just about Brewster’s potential, but the abundance of midfield options. It is the most populated positional category with 212 to choose from, compared to just 64 forwards. A 5:2 ratio compared to 4:3 seems better suited to take advantage of the players available, particularly those priced at £7.5m or higher, where there are at least a dozen superb options.
Importance of ownership
With a formation and structure decided, I can now move on to apply the principles of ‘The Importance of Ownership‘ article posted earlier in pre-season. The general idea behind that piece was to have a core of highly owned players at the start of the season and then gradually play a more individual game once viable opportunities to do so emerge. This is certainly not a strategy for everyone, but I have found it useful in avoiding a poor start during the opening six to eight gameweeks of the last two seasons. Ownership will therefore be in the back of my mind until the planned Gameweek 9 wildcard. All brilliant players and high points potential FPL assets in their own right, Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£12.0m) and Timo Werner (£9.5m) were straightforward choices. I expect all three to do well and given that over 40% of players have backed them, it becomes even more of a no-brainer. Other moderate to high ownership players will feature in other categories, but it is important to distinguish between them and the above trio, who, as a percentage, have a greater ownership-driven element.
Long-term fixtures in defence
Alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold in defence are players who have a favourable run of fixtures in the longer-term, more specifically Gameweek 1-8 or pre-wildcard. After identifying Southampton, Spurs and Wolves as good quality sides with particularly promising starts to the season, it became a case of finding the most cost-effective way of including one player from each. Alex McCarthy (£4.5m) was a simple choice in goal, at a £1.0m saving on either Hugo Lloris or Rui Patricio. Those two goalkeepers also come in more expensive than Eric Dier (£5.0m) and Romain Saiss (£5.0m), both of whom are expected to start at centre-back in their respective teams. After considering rotating goalkeepers, I decided to just back McCarthy, as the potential upside of a rotation with Mat Ryan or Illan Meslier was not enough to justify the £0.5m additional outlay. Jed Steer (£4.0m) will sit on the bench until wildcard time comes around. Hopefully the Southampton stopper can go through the first eight gameweeks without picking up an injury or suspension. While McCarthy will start every week until wildcarding, there will be one or two occasions when Saiss and Dier drop out of the starting lineup. Clean sheets for the former in Gameweek 2 and latter in Gameweek 4 look particularly unlikely as Manchester City visit Molineux and Spurs travel to Old Trafford. Stuart Dallas and Charlie Taylor (both £4.5m) have been included to cover those games, facing Fulham (H) and Newcastle (A) respectively. They may also be used in place of a budget midfielder or forward who faces a tricky fixture and give adequate bench cover should players in the starting XI miss out for unforeseen circumstances. Hopefully the seven defensive picks can be set and forgotten about until I wildcard, freeing up transfers to be used on more attacking, higher points potential players.
Short-term fixtures in attack
The plan to switch between attacking players more frequently means that just the first four gameweeks will be focused on when selecting them. Spurs again stood out here, particularly the opening three as they avoid facing any team that finished in the top half last season. Heung-Min Son (£9.0m) enters the midfield, selected ahead of the equally viable Harry Kane due to the £1.5m saving and with the added shield of being the sixth most owned player at the time of writing. Spurs’ Gameweek 1 opponents Everton also have a promising run from of matches from Gameweek 2-4. Bolstered by an exciting new midfield of Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez, the already fantasy relevant Toffees forwards have become even more intriguing. Similarly to the Son vs Kane decision, I have opted for the cheaper Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.0m), as funds could not stretch to adding an £8.0m forward alongside Werner.
Gameweek 1-8 Fixtures
Below are the fixtures for the first eight gameweeks, colour coded using the official FPL fixture difficulty ratings. The colours should only be used as a guide, not a definitive answer to how favourable or unfavourable a game is.
Following the inclusion of the aforementioned 12 players in bold, only three slots remain, all for midfielders with a combined cost of £23.0m. Blanks for the Manchester clubs and a wait and see approach on new arrivals at Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton limited the pool of midfielders priced at £7.5m or more to Dele Alli and the Liverpool duo. Two Spurs players in the team already and uncertainty about his ongoing credentials as an FPL asset ruled out Alli, leaving a straight choice between the two £12.0m picks. Although the gap between the two in FPL is closing, as pointed out in FPL Connect’s team reveal, past performance, underlying stats and my ownership preference all point the way of picking Mohamed Salah ahead of Sadio Mane. The rest of the midfield is then hampered by spending over half of the remaining budget on one player. This can be addressed in Gameweek 3 when Aubameyang is likely downgraded, but for now, Allan Saint-Maximin and Stuart Armstrong (both £5.5m) complete the squad. Bukayo Saka was an alternative option at the same price, but will ultimately become a transfer waiting to happen, due to a combination of squad rotation and Arsenal’s tricky Gameweek 3-7 fixtures. Expectations are not too high for the two budget midfielders selected, but at the very least they will start and have reasonable short-term fixtures. In addition, Dallas and Taylor provide alternatives for the starting team if required.
Team in full
The above justifications have led to the following Gameweek 1 team.
Future transfer plans
As of right now, my transfer plans are flexible and vague. In an ideal world, I would reach Gameweek 3 with 120+ points and two free transfers available to downgrade Aubameyang and invest in an area that needed strengthening. So many possibilities are opened up by having that additional free move available; the only negative being that I would not be able to benefit from Manchester United’s plum home fixture against Crystal Palace. There is the comfort of knowing that any one of their front four could come in for Gameweek 2 without a hit, but that would make Gameweek 3 more challenging. Like a lot of FPL decisions, it is not clear cut and will be a problem to solve in eight days time. Right now, I am just going to look forward to another absorbing and enjoyable Premier League and FPL season and I hope you are too.
Just finally, I wanted to mention two things ahead of kick-off. Firstly, new articles will switch from being posted randomly and sporadically to every Thursday, so be sure to check back each week if you want to read my latest thoughts. These will range from occasional team selections like this, especially around wildcards and the free hit chip, to discussing more general topics applicable to all FPL managers and hopefully a few unique pieces in there too. The FPL Guidance mini-league is also back for the 2020/21 season, which you can auto-join by clicking here or by entering code ljqww3. It will close to new entries after the Gameweek 1 deadline so be sure to join now. That’s all for now, I’ll be back next Thursday with a look ahead to Gameweek 2.