Fantasy Premier League of the English Premiership, in which any football fan with an email address and more ego than football knowledge, can pick an imaginary 15-member squad comprising two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders and three forwards, all drawn from the real-life Premiership, no more than three players from any one club, one free transfer each game-week.
The fantasy — or, more honestly, “pretend” — mangers have a £100m budget and fantasy players’ costs reflect their real-life value: Spurs’ striker, Harry Kane, is £10.5m, but Southampton’s Shane Long is £5.5m. Arsenal midfielder Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will run you £12m, but you can get Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante for £5m. Wolves’ defender Ruben Vinagre is £4.5m, but you have to fork out £7.5m if you want Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold. And would you pay £6m for Manchester City’s Ederson when you could get Brighton’s Mat Ryan for £4.5m?
Every week, managers pick a goalie, three defenders and any seven others. Fantasy players are awarded points based on their real-life counterparts’ performance that game-week, whether in saving or scoring goals, scoring or conceding penalties, completing or flubbing passes or tackles etc. In game-week 33 this year, West Ham’s Michail Antonio scored four goals against Norwich for a record 26 points in a single game. Most players will finish with two points, for playing 60 minutes of a game and not being booked. Every week, the player appointed captain has his points doubled.
One Joshua Bull, an Ipswich supporter, won the 2019/20 FPL with his team, the Bulldozers, amassing 2,557 points.
My team, BC FC, got 2,100-odd points, putting me in the top 700K finishers, I think.
And this is the thing about fantasy football.
Every pound-shop Sir Alex Ferguson and his fantasy dog fantasises about a top 10K finish. Many knockoff Pep Guardiolas pay real money, £20-30, for memberships in advice sites, of which there are so many that someone set up a unifying one (allfantasytips.com).
My advice, though, is not for those who dream of the top 10K of the 7.6m, but for the 7,599,990,000 realists who know they’ll never make it.
And my advice is free.
Not that anyone with any sense would pay for it.
My shtick is that, since almost all of us are never going to get close to the top 10K, no matter how lucky we get, we should have as much fun as we can before we end up bottom of the FPL itself, as well as bottom of our country and club leagues and all the private mini-leagues we enter, made up of our family, neighbours and co-workers. (After finishing bottom of all the leagues I was deemed to have entered in my first two years, I did win, last year, two of my mini-leagues and finished in the top 500 in Barbados — a misleadingly successful result, until you discover there are barely 1,100 FPL managers in Bim; I peaked at middling.)
So, here is my first advice, on picking your squad.
Most websites suggest three or four sensible approaches. 1. Pay for premium: one expensive goalkeeper, two premium defenders and midfielders, one expensive forward and spend whatever’s left on budget players; 2. Balance: one premium player in goal, defence, midfield and forward line, and as many more mid-price than cheap players in the other slots as your personal arithmetic allows. 3. Top, middle or bottom heavy: spend heaviest in attack, defence or midfield because that’s where the big points are. And, 4. A permutation or combination of 1, 2 and/or 3.
I’m here to tell you it makes not one firetruck of a difference how you pick a squad because the only rule that applies to the 7,599,990,000 FPL managers not in the top 10K states that, no matter what you do, FPL will conspire to deny you. Sergio Aguero will score 21 points every week for three weeks, until you pick him, when he will miss a penalty; and, if you’ve captained him, he will get sent off.
In any given week, a backline of Trent, Doherty, Azpi, Robertson and Digne, no man cheaper than £6m, could turn in fewer points than Taylor, Bednarek, Diop, Lascelles and Ward, no man more than 4.5m.
So pick the 15 players you like best who have a reasonable chance of not screwing up for the first three weeks and put on your horse trainer’s cap.
You have the same odds in FPL as almost everybody.
For all except 10,000.
BC Pires has pulled a mental hamstring, return date unknown. If you get into it, this FPL advice may become a semi-regular feature of this TGIF space; if enough of you get into it, it may become a spinoff. Who knows? (Answer: when it comes to FPL, almost no one.)