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Fantasy football round 3: Improving your squad

So, you picked your squad for the start of the season brimming with optimism. You dreamed of being the best fantasy football manager in the country come May. And then reality kicked in. You discovered that putting in Wigan‘s Hugo Rodallega and Charles N’Zogbia instead of Newcastle‘s Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan was not such a great idea. You picked Cesc Fabregas (who has made just one substitute appearance) instead of Florent Malouda (who has scored in both games) in midfield. And how were you supposed to know that Wayne Rooney would be stricken down with a mysterious tummy bug last weekend?

The big question is: now what do you do?

Unless you have been skilful/lucky enough to be at or near the top of the rankings, you will probably be considering how you can make your team more competitive as quickly as possible. So here are five tips for managing your squad over the next few weeks.

1. Who should I transfer out?

There are four types of players you should transfer out. In decreasing order of importance: the inactive, the long-term injured, non-starters and the under-performing. Let’s look at each in turn:

Man City have moved Craig Bellamy out - you should too

Inactive: Transferred or loaned out to a non-Premier League club. These may not always be obvious, as the player’s ‘info’ button on the team screen will not be red-flagged. But if you have, for instance, Craig Bellamy (loan to Cardiff), Alberto Aquilani (loan to Juventus) or Alessandro Diamanti (sold to Brescia) in your squad, then get rid of them immediately – they are dead weight!

Long-term injured: If the ‘i’ button next to a player’s name is red, it means they are unavailable through injury or suspension. Clicking on it will provide more detail about the issue and their predicted return date. For instance, we are unlikely to see West Ham‘s Jack Collison until at least early 2011. If the injury is likely to keep a player out for more than 2-3 weeks and/or the player is expensive, you may want to swap them for someone who will earn you points this week.

Non-starters: Ideally, every member of your squad should be a starter because you never know when they will be called upon. This becomes more critical the more expensive your player is: having a £4.5m midfielder who tends to sit on the bench is not the end of the world, but is Ryan Babel good value for money at £7m given how rarely he starts? I made the mistake of selecting Bolton‘s Matt Taylor, but a quick look at his player profile reveals he has played only 15 minutes in two games – and last week his single-point scoring appearance late on cost me a clean sheet off my subs’ bench – so he is now top of my hit-list to get rid of.

Under-performing: We’re two weeks into the game. Unless a player falls into one of the above three categories, can you really tell if they are under-performing, or did they just have a couple of solid games and have a big one around the corner? If you can find a better value player for the same price, then by all means make the swap. But don’t panic just because your £5m midfielder hasn’t scored a hat-trick yet.

2. Who should I transfer in?

From watching TV and reading match reports, you will probably already have some ideas, but the Fantasy Premier League website is also a great resource to help you come up with ideas.

Only five midfielders have more points than Kevin Nolan - a bargain at £5.5m?

Use the various sorting and filtering capabilities on your ‘Transfers’ screen to assess your options, and you will find that many of the top-scoring players throughout the season are relatively inexpensive. For instance, a quick scan of the top-scoring midfielders this morning throws up names such as Sebastian Larsson and Kevin Nolan, both available for less than £6m. Granted, you should be careful not to put too much weight into one outstanding points-scoring performance by a player at this stage, it is a quick and easy way to generate options you might not otherwise consider.

One other option, particularly for seeking out good medium and low-priced players, is to look at a few teams of top managers, either overall or in any private leagues you have joined, and see who they have picked. You can also click on an individual player’s profile to see what percentage of teams include him. West Brom‘s Roman Bednar is in just 0.2% of teams, whereas the similarly-priced Andy Carroll has been selected by 15.5% of managers – that tells a story. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: don’t be afraid to copy other people’s good decisions!

Finally, you can always keep an eye on players you’re interested in but don’t necessarily want to transfer in straight away by clicking on ‘Add to watchlist’ on their profile screen.

3. Monitor the market

One of my key strategies for a number of years has been to watch the fluctuating transfer value of players. It’s very much a long-term strategy and it may not seem very interesting, but ask yourself this: how often have you been stymied late in the season because you were £0.1m or £0.2m short of affording the player you desperately need?

One of the key discriminators between a good and a bad team is to see what happens to the value of their team over the course of the season. A poorly managed team is unlikely to be worth significantly more than £100m; a top fantasy manager will add at least £3-4m to their team’s value, a proportion of which can be ploughed back into the transfer market.

Here’s how this two-pronged strategy works – fundamentally, it’s the old stock market maxim of ‘buy low, sell high’.

Firstly, I keep an eye on useful players who are going through a poor run of form or have missed a number of games through injury. Generally, their value will start to drop over a number of weeks, at which point I may be tempted to take a punt on them in the hope of grabbing a cheap bargain, and who may make me a profit if I sell them later on. Mikel Arteta is a good example of this: injured for the early part of last season, he was under-valued and scored heavily on his return.

Darren Bent generated both points and profits for astute managers last season

Conversely, judging when to sell a player whose form has peaked is also a key decision for fantasy managers. Darren Bent was on of the success stories of the first half of last season, a glut of goals inflating his value from an initial £7m to closer to £9m. But he went through a barren spell later on which saw his value start to slide. I was fortunate enough – I would say skilful, of course – to sell him at the top of the market, netting a handy profit of £0.7m which I reinvested into a midfield five which was the foundation of my strong late-season run to the top 10,000 overall.

One thing to watch out for, though, is that you only net half the profit (rounded down to the nearest £0.1m) on any sales. So once you have sold someone like Bent at a decent profit, if you buy them back again soon after you will make a big loss. Sell in haste, repent at leisure.

4. Who should I have as my starting XI and captain?

Another critical decision that many managers overlook. Even if you are happy with your squad, every week is different – at the very least, you should make a conscious decision before you leave your team and formation unchanged.

Look at the fixture list: who in your squad has home games, or matches against lower-ranked teams? Is anyone playing twice in this gameweek? Should you stick with 4-5-1 if your three strikers all have easy-looking home games this week?

Play the percentages and pick your formation, 11 and captain accordingly, then give a moment’s consideration to what order you want your substitutes to appear in. You won’t always get these decisions right, but with a little care you will make the right call more often.

5. You don’t have to use your wild card to make multiple transfers!

I touched on this in last week’s tips. My personal rule of thumb is to use the wild card only in emergencies, by which I mean at least four or five ‘must-have’ transfers. It can only be used once, so think carefully before employing it.

If, however, you only need to make two or three transfers, you still have plenty of options.

Can you fill in with substitutes – you did pick subs who are regular starters, didn’t you? – while you spend a couple of weeks rejigging your squad?

Is it worth biting the bullet and accepting the four-point penalty for making an extra substitution? Unless you get lucky or the player you are planning to put in is playing more than once in the gameweek, you will probably lose out in points terms, but sometimes it is better to accept a small amount of short-term pain for the sake of accelerating your changes, or else you will always be playing catch-up. (My advice would be that it is okay to do this occasionally, but if you’re making ‘extra’ transfers more often than not, then you are probably burning points in a trigger-happy fashion.)

Finally, did you know that if you didn’t make a transfer last week that the unused change carries over so you can make two this week without penalty? (Note that carry-overs only apply for one week, so use it or lose it.)

———-

As in real-life, if you choose to stand still, you will end up going backwards relative to everyone else. The squad you selected before the season only represents a starting point, from which you have the opportunity to build and make adjustments going forward. Follow the five steps above, and you will be well on the way to fine-tuning your squad and improving your chances of climbing the rankings. Good luck!

More tips before the next round of matches, which is in two weeks’ time after the international break.

Previous entries in my series of Fantasy Football tips:

Fantasy football round 1: Ten tips to boost your score

Fantasy football round 2: Don’t panic! (Five top tips)

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