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Premier League Fantasy Football Strategy: When to play wildcard, who to make captain, and more

Ahead of the 2015/16 season, Fantasy Premier League (FPL) announced the introduction of ‘chips’. They are now such a big part of the game that it’s hard to remember a time when Bench Boost, Triple Captain and Free Hit weren’t around (although the latter replaced the original All Out Attack chip). Alongside the two seasonal Wildcards, these have transformed how the FPL community plays, with spreadsheets and deep thinking helping to strategise future plans.

These are ideally used to maximise the points of blank and double gameweeks, with weekly dilemmas as to whether your captain should be a safe option or a calculated risk. Early use of the first Wildcard is a popular tactic even amongst the most experienced FPL managers, so there is no shame in using it early. It is proactive and clinical. However, by nailing the players and structure of your initial Gameweek 1 line-up, most bandwagons can be quickly pounced on just using the weekly transfers.

Fantasy Football Strategy: PRICE POINTS

It’s difficult to know whether to aggressively attack the first gameweek and progress from a (hopefully) strong position, or to construct a sensible team which has great early fixtures but also long-term structure. FPL is about balance. With the way Mohamed Salah (£12.5m), Bruno Fernandes (£12.0m), Harry Kane (£12.5m), Kevin de Bruyne (£12.0m) and Sadio Mane (£12.0m) have been priced, it will be tough to fit three premium assets in your team without being too lopsided. 

For every premium selection, there needs to be a cheap team mate elsewhere. This year, they could be supplemented with Ben White (£4.5m), Ivan Toney (£6.5m), Ismaila Sarr (£6.0m) or Emile Smith Rowe (£5.5m). It’s also useful to identify certain price points where a lot of your shortlist is clustered around. For example, the £7.5m to £8m striker category is full of strong options – Danny IngsDominic Calvert-LewinCallum WilsonMichail AntonioOllie Watkins and Patrick Bamford. Anticipate wanting to buy them by choosing a squad with at least two of these, so a sideways transfer is simple.

There is also a promising collection of midfielders priced between £6.5m and £7.5m. Yet the main problem with early price changes is that a £0.1m rise or drop is essentially worth £0.5m, until the game is several weeks in and enough movement has occurred in both directions. That’s why quickly grabbing the latest hotshot is important and therefore you need to have the right range of squad prices to do so.

Fantasy Football Strategy: WILDCARD

If too many initial squad decisions backfired and the shiny new toys are elsewhere, it’s perfectly fine to use the first Wildcard early on. In fact, some see this as a top-level strategy. Although it’s a myth that the two-week September international break has a volatile market for price changes and is a great chance to boost squad value, it is reasonable to suggest that trends have already formed by Gameweek 4 and uncertainties about certain players have been shaken off. Pre-season isn’t quite the same.

The transfer window has fully closed by then. Whilst new signings like Romelu LukakuJadon Sancho (£9.5m) and Raphael Varane aren’t expected to feature during the opening weekend as they embed themselves into their team and gain match fitness, they will be ready by Gameweek 4. Players with no pre-season minutes because they went deep into Euro 2020, Copa America or the Olympics will miss the start but be back by then. Flops and bargains emerge early on, with fixture swings about to happen. So there is logic in early usage, it would just be nicer to be both successful and already at the forefront.  

The second Wildcard is to be deployed from Gameweek 21 onwards, often used in conjunction with the other chips near the blank and double gameweeks of latter months.

Fantasy Football Strategy: OTHER CHIPS

This season should hopefully be less chaotic that 2020/21, which was crammed into 36 weeks due to the pandemic. Four teams missed Gameweek 1 because both Manchester sides had gone far in last August’s European competitions, then Gameweek 16 had two matches called off because of the coronavirus. Alongside the usual blanks that affect FA Cup quarter finalists, semi-finalists and teams in the Carabao Cup climax, Manchester United v Liverpool was postponed in Gameweek 34 because of fans protesting against the Glazer family and led to a Triple Gameweek for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.

Congestion meant the winter break of Gameweek 18 was split into two and placed around Gameweek 19, so that ten teams blanked the first but played twice in the latter. This was hard to navigate without the Free Hit chip and luckily it won’t be a problem this time.

The upcoming campaign is 40 weeks long, with latter cup rounds causing emptier gameweeks for rounds 27, 30 and 33. The midweek following Gameweek 36 is blank, so it’s safe to assume that many will be re-arranged to create a double. Additionally, European champions Chelsea will be away at the Club World Cup for some of December.

Free Hits should be aimed at these unique weeks, either making the most of the few remaining fixtures or stacking up on those who play twice. Logically, the Triple Captain chip would be best with a player about to appear twice, although Bench Boost is harder at accommodating this. Playing all 15 players one week will mean the next round has four decent options on the bench, which isn’t budget-friendly.

So save the chips for later, if you can.

Fantasy Football Strategy: CAPTAINCY

‘Effective Ownership’ (EO) is a term that counts not just how highly-chosen a player is but how often they’ve been trusted with captaincy. This number will often rise above 100%. For example, an in-form Salah could have 120% EO because 80% of teams include him and half of those managers also gave him that week’s armband. 

Knowing this is useful for measuring whether to safely alternate between Salah, Fernandes and Kane or whether to choose more maverick options in an attempt to jump significantly in rankings. You either pull off a masterstroke, or fall further behind the masses. Deciding each week’s captain is usually a combination of good form, a brilliant fixture and an established trust in that player – a mixture of logic and gut instinct.

Or just keep giving it to Salah.

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