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Welcome Back FPL | Gameweek 1 Preview

The 2021/22 Premier League season has arrived and with it, the return of this blog. It has certainly been a while since the last posts on here and Twitter as I prioritised dealing with a couple of issues in my personal life. Since making improvements on that front, I feel refreshed and ready to return to the FPL arena and am looking forward to this season more than any other for some time. Now let’s dive into some early season strategy!

Starting Strategy

I always feel it is important to head into the season with a basic plan. Along with the two wildcards, this is one of just three opportunities to build a squad from scratch. If you enjoy delving deep into the FPL decision-making process like me, it makes sense to take advantage of having a clean slate.

Ownership

Something I have done in each of the last three seasons is to start with a fairly template team. This safe initial strategy began in 2018/19, following a disastrous start the previous season that I never recovered from. In 2017/18, I kept falling further and further behind as a result of backing against highly owned and more importantly, high points potential picks. It just so happened that Mohamed Salah went and scored 300+ points that season and I failed to buy him until around Gameweek 14. Languishing around 3 million in the world at the time, I could only recover to a top 600k spot by Gameweek 38. Lesson learned. A solid start with early template picks in the following two seasons provided the platform to finish either side of the 30k mark. The difference is clear.

My previous FPL seasons

Having indulged in some content over the last couple of weeks from Planet FPL, The Wire, Hub, Scout and others, there seems to be a general consensus to follow a similar strategy at the start of the season. I am happy to follow suit until the season settles down. Now let’s talk specifics.

Probable GW1 Team

As you can see, there aren’t any great surprises here. In goal, I have only really considered Daniel Bachmann as an alternative to Robert Sanchez. Brighton’s fixtures are such that a 4.5 investment made sense to me, even if Ben White’s departure proves to weaken the Seagulls’ defence. Joel Veltman was in the frame too and a reluctance to double up was the reason for my interest in Bachmann. But following the emergence of Kostas Tsimikas as a viable Gameweek 1 starting option, there was no need for Veltman as my main budget starting defender, facilitating Sanchez’s return. Elsewhere in defence, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Luke Shaw pick themselves. If it was Chelsea and Man City with the favourable early fixtures rather than Liverpool and Man United, we may have been looking at Chilwell and Cancelo/Dias instead. But as it is, I see no reason to opt against last season’s two most creative defenders and this season’s two most owned ones.

Stats via Fantasy Football Scout Members Area

Ben White and Luke Ayling have been included with an eye on Arsenal (GW4) and Leeds’ (GW5) fixture swings. By then, Andrew Robertson may be back from injury, providing four solid defensive options and leaving Tsimikas as bench fodder until wildcard time. Going with Tsimikas does block a Liverpool attacking double-up, but I am hoping that there continues to be enough midfield and forward alternatives to justify picking the Greek defender.

What I like about this defensive set up is the budget distribution. Spending as little as possible in goal is always a popular strategy because we can obviously only field one goalkeeper each gameweek. An 8.5 total spend with a starter and backup from the same club in the absence of a 4.0 starter is simple and straightforward. Kjell Scherpen’s ankle injury reopened this possibility with Brighton goalkeepers. In defence, I like having a premium, mid-priced and budget pick with the option of rotating two or three players based on fixtures for that cheap spot. With only 34.5 spent on goalkeepers and defenders, nearly two-thirds of the budget is left for the attack. Flexibility and high impact transfers galore (hopefully).

The remaining 65.5 in the budget ensures that even with the heavy investment in Mohamed Salah and Bruno Fernandes, I still feel confident in the other five attacking starters. Going without Fernandes has been a consideration, but once I built a team with a strong set of five attacking players alongside him and Salah, that was no longer an option for me. Gameweek 1-6 captaincy requires next to no thought with a Salah x2, Fernandes x2, Salah x2 pattern likely between the two premiums.

With favourable early fixtures, I knew I wanted a bit of Villa and Danny Ings‘ arrival, start and goal in a recent friendly against Salernitana made that choice a little bit easier. Ings will probably be a GW4 transfer out so I hope to exit the first international break with two free transfers intact in case another issue arises. Elsewhere in attack, Mason Greenwood, Michail Antonio and Ivan Toney‘s credentials have probably been talked about enough by now. But I’ll give Harvey Barnes a quick mention. I put him in my team on Saturday morning and found myself willing him to play well in the Community Shield because I wanted to own him. It is always nice when a player gives you a reason to support an initial differential hunch, although Barnes’ rising ownership suggests he may have played a little too well!

And let’s not forget players 14 and 15. Billy Gilmour and Jason Steele, welcome to the squad. Keep that bench warm please.

Wildcard Plans?

Planning when to wildcard has never been a major part of my starting strategy but a couple of pieces of content have made me rethink that. On BlackBox, Luke mentioned the Chelsea fixture swing being a key factor in his plan to wildcard in GW7. I like that idea, but for me the Liverpool vs Man City fixture that week complicates things a bit. My personal preference is to wildcard in GW8 at the moment, perhaps with an eye on using two free transfers on Chelsea players in GW7 and reducing my Liverpool exposure in the process. Ahead of GW8, I could then add a third Chelsea player and attack Man City’s fixture swing as they play Burnley, Brighton and Crystal Palace in the subsequent three gameweeks. A Liverpool asset or two could also return for GW8 but I’m getting ahead of myself – these are decisions for October time!

I have always played the first wildcard early around GW4 and have generally found the team value boost to be valuable. What has been lacking with that strategy is enough information to make informed choices that a few more gameweeks could have provided. For several seasons in a row, I have wished that I had the wildcard available during the second international break, not to chase lots of price rises, but to have 7-8 weeks of data to go on and two weeks to plan a team. After all, a wildcard is just one of three opportunities to build a squad from scratch. Using it a few days before a deadline and rushing to put a squad together has never worked out too well for me.

One factor which may delay my GW8 wildcard plan was outlined by Planet FPL in their S5E1 episode. James highlighted that there is the potential for GW36 to be the best bench boost option, as a result of rearranged league fixtures due to cup matches creating a large double gameweek. If the second wildcard was used to set up ahead of GW36 and the first used fairly early, there would be a large portion of the season to navigate without being able to refresh my whole team. So GW15 is my backup wildcard option if things are going well after the first seven gameweeks, ahead of Man United’s extended run of favourable fixtures from December.

Summary

  • Safe, template GW1 team selection including triple Liverpool and Man United.
  • I aim to exit the first international break with two free transfers intact but with a flexible approach in mind.
  • Preference to use the first wildcard in GW8 with GW15 as a backup option.

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