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Fantasy football round 18: Five tips for the rest of the season

With the league season fast approaching its halfway point, this week’s post will be the final entry in my series of fantasy football tips for the 2010/11 season. To provide you with some succour during the long winter months ahead, in addition to all the advice I have previously offered, here are five specific tips for managing your way through the rest of the season.

1. If you still have it, don’t waste your first wildcard

If you haven’t yet played your transfer wildcard – which allows you to make unlimited changes to your squad without penalty for one week only – then think carefully before playing it in the next few weeks. It is a precious commodity, and one whose use should be timed to have maximum impact. Obviously, you do not want to play it too late in the season, but unless you absolutely need to utilise it in the next week or two, I would strongly advise considering saving it for later use. But why should you wait? Here’s why …

2. Use your extra wildcard

This season, there is an ‘extra’ wildcard, which can only be used between gameweeks 23 and 27. It will be available for use after the start of gameweek 22 (January 4th, 19:30) up until the gameweek 27 deadline (February 12th, 11:30). Use it or lose it!

Consequently, there is probably not much point using your first wildcard in weeks 21 or 22, with the time-limited extra one coming up shortly thereafter. Better to hang on for another week or two, play your extra wildcard in gameweek 23, and then save your main one to use whenever you like. And don’t forget about any players you may have who will be involved in the Asian Cup, which runs through most of January – the likes of Tim Cahill and Ji-Sung Park will be absent during this period.

3. Beware the Christmas programme

As is traditional in England, the festive season sees a congested schedule, with teams typically facing four matches in the space of just ten days. Consequently many teams – particularly the bigger clubs who have deeper squads – will look to rotate their players to keep them fresh.

Of course, you will not be able to completely predict what managers will do. But it will help to be aware who those critical, high stamina players are who are more likely to play no matter what, versus those who are more likely to play one game and then be rested for the next. Teams with small squads (e.g. Aston Villa) or those with multiple injuries in certain positions are less likely to rotate heavily, providing additional opportunities for points (although, of course, fatigue may count against them).

4. Postponements

You may remember the weekend last season when only three matches survived the extreme snowy and icy conditions. We may well experience similar periods this winter. (And it is worth remembering that Blackpool have no undersoil heating, so their home matches are more likely than any other to be called off.) For canny managers who have a wildcard up their sleeve, this can provide opportunities to tailor your squad to the demands of a particular week and pick up valuable extra points.

Also, remember that if a match is postponed it will have to be rescheduled, meaning that having no match in one gameweek will correspond with two in another somewhere down the line. Keep a careful eye on how the fixture lists evolve from week to week as postponed games are rescheduled. Planning your transfers around certain rescheduled games a couple of weeks ahead can give you opportunities to slant the make-up of your squad towards players who can give you a double game bonus.

5. Cup ties

There are two gameweeks which coincide with cup fixtures, where a number of teams will have their league fixtures postponed and rescheduled, creating more situations where teams do not play in one gameweek but then play twice in a subsequent week.

The two weeks to take note of are:

Gameweek 28: Carling Cup final. Tottenham vs Arsenal may be affected (if Arsenal beat Ipswich in their semi-final), and either Chelsea vs Birmingham or West Ham vs Liverpool will have to be rescheduled, depending on the result of the other semi.

Gameweek 33: FA Cup semi-finals. Depending on who progresses to this stage, as many as four fixtures (i.e. eight teams) may be postponed to accommodate the semis.

———-

And that’s it from me. I hope you have found this series useful over the past four months, and that some of the principles and analytical techniques I have shared with you have proven to be useful in helping you build and develop a successful fantasy football team. As I have said throughout the series, there is no one definitive ‘best’ way to play the game, but the more effort you are willing to put into the game and the more comfortable you are understanding what all the available data can tell you, the more likely you are to enjoy success.

I will be the first to admit that I do not always stick by all my own guidelines – rules are made to be broken! – but they do provide a basic set of principles which I apply 95% of the time. And when I do go against my own advice it is generally a conscious decision based on an educated hunch. After all, despite all the numbers that can be crunched, fantasy football is still very much a human game – which is what makes it so much fun to play.

Do my rules and techniques work? Well, I’m not normally one to blow my own trumpet, but I will leave you with the screen capture to the right, which shows my overall ranking within the game – I am currently in the top 1% of managers – and the five private leagues I am a member of. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

Thanks for reading, and good luck with the rest of the game!

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

The top 20 forwards

In-form midfielders

Defenders’ goals are vanity, clean sheets are sanity

Goalkeepers make saves – and savings?

Following the form book

Looking ahead

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

30 not-so-random questions

Selecting your captain is not down to luck

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Fantasy football round 17: Selecting your captain is not down to luck

While there is a degree of randomness and good fortune in any fantasy sports game, there is also a significant element of skill and judgement. Which is why every year, as the season progresses, you typically see the same names gravitating towards the top of any leagues you are a member of. Good managers make their own luck – as the golfer Gary Player once said:

The harder I practice, the luckier I get.

(I say this with the smugness of someone who moved to the top of all five leagues he is a member of last week. Hey, let me enjoy it while I can!)

In some respects, it is easy to see where the skilful application of thorough knowledge and research can be applied. Swapping injured, suspended or out-of-form players for those who are available and playing well, for instance. Or a good knowledge of who each team’s creative midfielders or set-piece takers are. Yes, there is still an element of luck involved, but a little knowledge can go a long way in terms of making your own luck.

In other parts of the game, though, there does appear to be a much more random element at play. For instance, why is it you always seem to end up picking the wrong player as your captain every week when the manager at the top of your league more often than not has a high-scorer as their skipper? That’s just bad luck, right?

Wrong. Of course, there is a degree of pot luck, just as there is in every other part of the game. But by applying a little bit of science, you can certainly improve your chances of earning a significant double-score bonus from your captain more often.

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s do a quick bit of analysis looking at the highest-scoring player(s) in each of the 16 gameweeks so far, and see if we can spot any patterns in terms of who your ideal captain would have been in any given round of matches.

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

The first thing to note is that, of the 21 players who have been the highest or joint-highest scorer in a gameweek, all but two have been forwards or midfielders. Unless you have a very good reason for doing so, you should never make a goalkeeper or defender your captain – and even if you do have a good reason, you should seriously reconsider.

In terms of which team the top points-scorer plays for, it should come as little surprise that the only two teams who have provided at least three ‘top scorers’ are also the top two in the league – Arsenal and Manchester United. Indeed, more often than not – 12 out of 21 times, or 57% – the highest-scoring player in a gameweek will play for one of the top five clubs.

Conversely, the opponent against whom the top scorer accumulates their points is most likely to come from a team in the bottom half of the table – this has been true on 71% (15 of 21) of occasions.

Finally – and perhaps most significantly – home advantage is a significant factor in high scoring. Again, 71% of a gameweek’s highest scorers have had the benefit of playing at home.

So the basic principles you should apply when selecting your captain each week are as follows:

  • Ignore your defenders and goalkeeper – always select one of your forwards or midfielders.
  • Examine the fixture list. If possible, find a suitable match-up where a top five side is playing a team from the lower reaches of the table.
  • Prioritise players whose teams are playing at home over those who have an away match, even if that means nominating what would otherwise be your second or third-choice option as your captain.

Finally, you should also pay attention to who would become your captain in the event that they do not play for some reason. Be aware of who would be selected according to your ’emergency captain strategy’, as denoted in the drop-down box below the captain selection box. Your back-up captain will be selected on the basis of either their current transfer value or form (you can check this quickly by selecting the ‘data view’ tab at the top of your team screen). Using the same principles above, toggle between these two options to give you the best possible alternative.

Of course, the chances are you are probably already using many of these principles instinctively just by applying common sense – mostly, they are fairly obvious, except perhaps for the degree to which playing at home matters. But if you adhere to these rules consciously, you will maximise your ‘luck’ in picking up extra captaincy points more consistently, which could easily result in an extra 50 points or more over the course of a season.

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

The top 20 forwards

In-form midfielders

Defenders’ goals are vanity, clean sheets are sanity

Goalkeepers make saves – and savings?

Following the form book

Looking ahead

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

30 not-so-random questions

Fantasy football round 16: 30 not-so-random questions

A change of pace this week. Instead of providing tips on a specific theme, I have scoured the Fantasy Premier League statistics database to provide you with a veritable pot pourri of relevant facts and figures about some of the very best (and worst) options available to you in the game. These statistics are presented in quiz format for your enjoyment and information.

Have fun, and hopefully these questions and answers will provide you with some helpful pointers for your own team selections.

Team statistics

1. Which two teams currently have the Premier League’s best attack and defence (in terms of goals scored/conceded)?

Manchester United have scored 35 goals, while Blackpool have conceded 29.

2. Which team has the most clean sheets?

Chelsea (eight) – although they have only kept one clean sheet in their last six games.

3. Which team has yet to keep a clean sheet?

Wolves. (Note also Tottenham, who drew 0-0 with Manchester City on opening day, and have failed to keep a clean sheet since.)

4. Manchester United have the best home record so far this season, but who has the best away record?

Arsenal, with 17 points from eight games.

5. Which team has the worst disciplinary record?

Arsenal – four red cards and 31 yellows. West Brom, however, are only just behind and have a division-high five red cards.

Forwards

Dimitar Berbatov

6. Dimitar Berbatov leads the Premier League scoring chart with 11 goals. Which two strikers are tied for second, with nine apiece?

Andy Carroll (Newcastle) and Carlos Tevez (Manchester City).

7. Who is the only forward to have played every minute of every game so far?

Bolton’s Kevin Davies.

8. Name the five strikers who have five or more assists so far this season.

Chelsea’s Didier Drogba has six assists. Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal), Johan Elmander (Bolton), Fernando Torres (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Peter Crouch (Tottenham) each have five.

9. Three of the top seven points-scoring forwards cost £6.6m or less. Who are they?

Andy Carroll (£6.1m) is tied with Berbatov on 89 points as the highest-scoring forward. Johan Elmander (£6.5m) is just one point behind. Kevin Davies (£6.6m) has 77 points.

Midfielders

Tim Cahill

10. Who is the top goalscoring midfield player so far?

Everton’s Tim Cahill, with eight goals. Florent Malouda (Chelsea) and Kevin Nolan (Newcastle) have seven apiece.

11. Which midfield player currently has ten assists, two more than any other player in the Premier League?

Manchester United’s Nani.

12. And who, surprisingly, is second in the assists chart, with eight?

Chris Brunt of West Brom.

13. Two of the top eight points scorers in midfield cost £6.2m or less. Who are they?

Blackpool’s Charlie Adam (£5.7m) and Kevin Nolan (£6.2m) are ranked seventh and eighth respectively. Overall, eight of the top 20 midfielders cost less than £6m.

Defenders

Liam Ridgewell

14. Who are the only two defenders to have scored three league goals so far?

Liam Ridgewell (Birmingham) and Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd) have three each.

15. Name the defender who already has an impressive six assists this season.

Everton’s Leighton Baines. Chelsea’s Ashley Cole (three) is the only other defender to have more than two.

16. Which team can boast three of the eight highest points-scoring defenders?

Birmingham, with Roger Johnson, Scott Dann and Liam Ridgewell. None costs more than £5.8m – Dann remains a bargain at £4.8m.

17. Which defender has received more yellow cards than any other player?

Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock has had seven bookings.

Goalkeepers

Paul Robinson

18. Seven goalkeepers have scored 50 or more points so far. Petr Cech, unsurprisingly, is the most expensive at £6.7m. Who is the cheapest?

Blackburn’s Paul Robinson (£4.6m).

19. Which goalkeeper has made the most saves?

West Ham’s Robert Green has made 60, one more than Birmingham’s Ben Foster.

20. Which three goalkeepers have been credited with an assist?

Paul Robinson has two, while Joe Hart (Man City) and Lukasz Fabiański (Arsenal) have one apiece.

21. Who is the only goalkeeper to have been sent off so far this season?

Bolton’s Jussi Jaaskelainen, who saw red against Birmingham in late August.

Miscellaneous

Gareth Bale

22. Who is currently the most selected player in the Fantasy Premier League game?

Tottenham’s Gareth Bale is in 53% of teams. Andy Carroll is just behind on 49%. No other player features in more than 40% of squads.

23. Since the start of the game, which player has been transferred in by the highest number of teams?

Andy Carroll, who has been added in by 1,015,053 managers since the start of the season. Nani (864,466) is the only other player to have been subsequently drafted in by at least 750,000 teams.

24. Conversely, which player has been transferred out most often?

Dimitar Berbatov (546,091). The 886 managers who transferred him out last week must be really kicking themselves!

25. Who are the only three players to have scored 20 or more points in a single gameweek?

Arsenal’s Theo Walcott (21 points, gameweek 2), Kevin Nolan (20, week 10) and Dimitar Berbatov (25, week 15).

Charlie Adam

26. Which player has received the most bonus points?

Charlie Adam has 19, one more than Kevin Davies. Four players are tied with 15 (Nani, Tevez, Berbatov, Carroll). No defensive player has more than 11.

27. Which four players have seen their transfer value rise by at least £1m so far?

Nani (£8.0m to £9.3m), Andy Carroll (£5.0m to £6.1m), Johan Elmander (£5.5m to £6.5m) and Tottenham’s Rafael van der Vaart (£7.5m to £8.5m).

28. Conversely, who is the only player to have seen his transfer value fall by at least £1m?

Wigan’s Argentinian forward Mauro Boselli (£6.0m to £4.8m).

29. Name the three players who have been sent off twice each so far this season.

Lee Cattermole (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) and Youssouf Mulumbu (West Brom).

30. There have been 16 credited own goals this season, but only one has been attributed to a non-defensive player. Who?

It’s that man Charlie Adam again, who scored into his own net against Blackburn in September.

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

The top 20 forwards

In-form midfielders

Defenders’ goals are vanity, clean sheets are sanity

Goalkeepers make saves – and savings?

Following the form book

Looking ahead

Scraping the bottom of the barrel

Fantasy football round 15: Scraping the bottom of the barrel

It seems counter-intuitive, but a vital ingredient of many successful Fantasy Premier League teams is the presence of one or more players from teams in the lower reaches of the table. It is by no means essential, but you should not discount out of hand the merits of players from teams in, say, the bottom five – which at the time of writing means West Ham, Wolves, Wigan, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion.

Don’t believe me? Well, if you look at the 15-man squads of the top ten teams in the entire game, you will find that seven of them contain at least one player from a bottom-five club – and three have two each. Selecting relegation fodder has done these teams no harm at all.

Indeed, the benefits of getting such a selection right are obvious and not inconsiderable. Good players at poor clubs are frequently under-valued, freeing up cash to spend elsewhere. And, as less obvious choices, they will set your team apart from the crowd, with the potential upside of grabbing a bargain before less observant fantasy managers jump on the bandwagon.

Charles N'Zogbia

Of course, the trick is to choose your players judiciously. As a rule, this generally means looking for a poor team’s top goalscorer or most creative player rather than a defender – teams at the bottom of the table tend to be synonymous with leaking goals.

Some names are obvious and well-known to many football fans. Wigan’s Charles N’Zogbia, for instance, features in 10% of fantasy teams. And no wonder, as he is the tenth-highest scoring midfielder overall, and no other player in the top ten in this position is cheaper than him. Why wouldn’t you pick him, even if his side are currently in the relegation zone?

Frederic Piquionne

Others are less well-known. West Ham’s Frederic Piquionne – who played under manager Avram Grant at Portsmouth last season – has been selected by just 2.4% of managers, but only eight strikers have scored more points, and only one of the top ten forwards (Blackpool‘s Luke Varney) is cheaper.

Below you will find a quick overview of potential bargains to be found among the current bottom five clubs. Here I have listed the highest points scorer at each position, and then indicated players from each team who register among the top 10 goalkeepers, top 25 defenders/midfielders or top 15 forwards. (These cut-off points aren’t random – they are proportional to the 2-5-5-3 make-up of your 15-man squad.)

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

(Note that the Wigan pair of Antolin Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega are currently serving one and three-game suspensions respectively, having been sent off last weekend.)

Obviously, there is no obligation to pick such lowly ranked players – there are plenty of cheap high-scorers out there from higher-ranked teams such as Newcastle and Blackpool – but it is worth bearing in mind that those representing teams near the bottom of the table are only ever likely to appreciate in value, so if you are motivated by increasing the value of your team as well as accumulating points, this may factor into your team selection.

There is certainly a lot of rubbish at the bottom of the Premier League barrel – I wouldn’t be in a rush to put in any defenders from Wolves, for instance, as the only team yet to record a clean sheet – but in among all the detritus are some real gems. You just need to be willing to look.

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

The top 20 forwards

In-form midfielders

Defenders’ goals are vanity, clean sheets are sanity

Goalkeepers make saves – and savings?

Following the form book

Looking ahead

Fantasy football round 14: Looking ahead

Over the course of an entire season the Premier League fixture schedule evens out, with all 20 teams playing each other home and away. However, at any given point in time certain teams will face an easier run of upcoming matches, while others face up to the prospect of the month from hell.

When you are thinking about your transfers, it is well worth looking beyond the imminent gameweek to check whether your potential new signing’s team is about to embark on a relatively easy or relatively difficult stretch of the season.

With that in mind, here is a quick piece of analysis looking at each team’s schedule through to mid-December, covering the next four gameweeks.

Using data to supplement judgement

Obviously, it is possible to ‘eyeball’ each team’s fixture list and make a subjective judgement about whether their upcoming matches are easy or tough. Armed with a copy of the league table and your own knowledge of each team’s results and performances, you will come no doubt come to some sensible conclusions yourself. But if you want to use data to validate your conclusions or to provide an objective view of the schedule, you will find a quantitative analysis of the next four weeks below.

I have chosen a four-round period as a happy medium. There is little point looking just one or two weeks ahead – with just one free transfer available per week, you do not want to be constantly chopping and changing players in pursuit of a fleeting short-term advantage. Conversely, if you extend any analysis over too long a period, things quickly start to even out to the point of meaningless. Hence four weeks represents a reasonable middle ground.

Here’s how my analysis works.

To begin with, I have ranked every team from 1 to 20 based on their current league position. I have then allocated a points value to each of their next four fixtures as follows:

  • Firstly, take the league position of each opponent. Therefore, when Chelsea (1st) play Birmingham (18th) next weekend, this produces a raw score of 18 for Chelsea and 1 for Birmingham.
  • Secondly, I take into account whether the fixture is home or away. I have arbitrarily conferred an advantage of +5 points upon the home team, with the away team receiving a -5 point penalty. Therefore, Chelsea receive a score of 13 points for their away match at Birmingham, while the Blues are -4. Overall, this makes an allowance for home advantage, and also means that a team with three home games and one away receives a boost over one who has to play three out of four on the road.
  • Finally, I add up the individual scores for each team’s four matches to give an overall ‘ease of schedule’ total for the upcoming month. I then convert this to a 1-20 ranking.

In theory, if everyone’s fixtures were equally difficult, each club’s ‘ease of schedule’ would be identical. Over a relatively short period such as four gameweeks, however, there are some marked variations, as the table below shows:

Analysis © Tim Liew, from Fantasy Premier League data. Any errors are my own

Interestingly, this shows that the Premier League’s top two – Chelsea and Arsenal – are about to enter a relatively tough run of matches while the four teams below them – Manchester United, Manchester City, Bolton and Sunderland – face relatively easy games. Arsenal face the third-trickiest schedule, with three of their four games against teams in the top nine, whereas Chelsea, who will be missing central defenders John Terry and Alex for an extended period, must play three games on the road, including trips to top eight sides Newcastle and Tottenham.

Speaking of whom, my data suggests that Newcastle and Tottenham face the hardest month of all. Newcastle’s next two games are against top five sides (Bolton and Chelsea), and they do not face any teams in the bottom eight, while Spurs face difficult trips to Arsenal and Birmingham, and play Liverpool and Chelsea at home.

Matt Jarvis has a good chance of racking up points as Wolves face a relatively easy schedule over the next four weeks

Conversely, Sunderland have the least challenging schedule – their next four games are all against teams in the bottom eight – with winnable away trips to Wolves and Fulham mixed in with home games against Everton and West Ham. Manchester United have the next easiest set of fixtures, with three out of four matches at home and games against Wigan, Blackburn and Blackpool preceding a tough home match against Arsenal. And, interestingly, Wolves have the third easiest schedule – insofar that any schedule can be ‘easy’ when you are second from bottom – with three games against other teams in the bottom seven.

So would I be in a hurry to put lots of Spurs or Newcastle players in my team right now? No. But would I consider a Sunderland defender or Wolves’ flying winger Matt Jarvis? You bet.

As in real life, timing is everything. It may not be possible to accurately predict the future, but looking ahead at the next few weeks can certainly help you play the percentages and catch players and teams before they come into a decent run, rather than afterwards.

Previous posts in the Fantasy Football series:

Ten tips to boost your score

Don’t panic!

Improving your squad

The importance of formations

A question of rotation

Following and bucking trends

The top 20 forwards

In-form midfielders

Defenders’ goals are vanity, clean sheets are sanity

Goalkeepers make saves – and savings?

Following the form book

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