FPL 2018/19: Initial Thoughts

In what was a surprise move, FPL was launched today after a leaked price list made the rounds on Twitter on Thursday morning in the US. As I was in the middle of converting the PDF found at Who Got The Assist, I happen to refresh my Twitter feed and saw FPL_Fly posting his ID number. Needless to say, I quickly pulled Premier League, registered for the upcoming season, auto drafted a squad and was given number, 446. While the ID is irrelevant, it seems to hold some bragging rights among some managers, where lower is better. Here I always thought, bigger was better. At any rate, about 80000 managers welcomed the league with open arms and Twitter was filled with managers getting back into the FPL swing of things.

On Thursday I posted an article called, Keys to FPL Success. While the fantasy game offers no guarantees, following some basics, as an experienced managers with years of fantasy in the bag or as a green manager playing your first season. It seems the article will hold something for everyone. With basic keys out of the way, I felt I would provide my insight and opinion on what the upcoming FPL season holds, as I have spent the better part of the day, at work, reviewing players and prices as I look to build a competitive fantasy squad.

Formation

FPL_Guidance was quick out of the box with an article titled, Fantasy Football Formations: The End of the 3-4-3 as he looks at the FPL value (season) table, “which revealed the chronic lack of value in owning strikers during the 2017/18 season.” It was interesting to note that last season, manager did have a run with a “big three” up front, while sacrificing elsewhere on the pitch. Success was really dependent on the three forwards you decided to run out. This season we see five forwards that will cost £10.5 or more but it appears we viable third forward options that won’t break the bank.

However, the value could be in the midfield, which makes a strong case for the £6.5-£7.0 midfielder versus their counterparts up top of the formation. It’s a fairly comprehensive group of mid-priced play makers that could have managers moving to a 3-5-2 to take advantage of the cut rate prices in order to field five across the middle. Like the forwards, there are five players listed at £10.0 and above that will have managers juggling their preseason lineups in order to find that formation that works for them.

Last year the 3-4-3 formation was used by 45.8% of FPL managers, compared to the 3-5-2 formation at just 21.7%, based on figures from Fantasy Football Fix. But is this statistic really telling? It depends. Last season, I was very flexible when it comes to my formations, but the 3-5-2 scored me 62/PPW, post that average over 38 gameweeks and you are near the top of the OR with 2356 points. Formation will play a key role in the success fantasy managers have this season. However, I don’t feel compelled to run with a single formation in mind, decisions will be based on in form players and viable fixtures at home or versus lesser teams in the EPL.

Prices

Based on a single, successful season, Liverpool’s, Mohamed Salah carries a £13.0 price tag into the lauch of FPL with the Spurs, Harry Kane, £12.5 trailing him. Familiar place for Harry, after losing the Golden Boot, but let’s look forward to this season, not back on last. Defensively, David De Gea is the only £6.0 goalkeeper, as a set and forget option for Manchester United. It’s the Chelsea duo of César Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso, coupled with Manchester City’s Nicolás Otamendi and Kyle Walker, as well as Antonio Valencia of Manchester United priced at £6.5. Only Walker finished outside the top five in defender scoring last season by 5-points to Ben Davies (143 points).

In the midfield, Mohamed Salah is £13.0, that’s £2.0 more than City’s Raheem Sterling and £1.5 more than Chelsea’s, Eden Hazard and United’s, Alex Sanchez. There will be considerable competition for inclusion in the midfield when it comes to how managers set their formations (3-4-3 vs. 3-5-2). This position will be key, do you play four or five midfielders? It seems there are some well round price points for midfielders to include in your squad. Three premium midfielders will set you back and limit what you do up front, even if you go with an all budget defense.

Midfielders, Heung-min Son (£8.0) and Paul Pogba (£8.5) lead the second tier of midfielders, while both present excellent options, it’s the £7.5-7.0 that could represent even better value. Players such as Aaron ramey, Willian, Glyfi Sigurdsson, Henrikh Mkhitaryan jump to the forefront, while Pascal Groß seems a bit out of favor at that price point. Take nothing away from his point total last season, the value seems to lying in teams that have a stronger attack; Arsenal, Man United and Man City.

Up front there are many more options this season than we saw last season, when you take into consideration that Wilfried Zaha and Marco Arnautovic had their position in the FPL game changed from midfielder to forward, No sure to see Harry Kane at £12.5 but more importantly Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Agüero and Romelu Lukaku all at £11.0. Fantasy managers will be challenged to two premium forwards along with Salah, which will represent in excess of 30% of your £100 budget.

Robert Firmino gets a bump in price to £9.5,  Jesus sits at £10.5 and Aubameyang’s teammate, Alexandre Lacazette comes in at £9.5 There don’t appear to be any budget buys at this time. One could eye Charlie Austin (£6.0) or Chicharito (£6.0) as third forward options, but they didn’t exactly season last season on fire. Players like Glenn Murray, Chris Wood and Christian Benteke could offer good value, it might be more beneficial to find a real cut rate forward (Colin Quaner anyone?) and play a 3-5-2, as there are more bargain midfielders.

While there are a handful of quality £6.5 and £6.0 defenders, there appears to be excellent value at the lower priced tiers. It doesn’t appear there will be any £4.0 starters, but £4.5 offers some great options, especially if you look to rotate a third defender based on fixtures (read Peter Blake’s Three-Way Budget Defender Rotation). It appears managers looking to maximize their attacking options could pay the minimum of  £22.5 for five budget defenders. However, a balanced team could also be a more accepted strategy moving forward. Burnley defenders, who were gold last season all send up at £5.0 this season, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and Sead Kolasinac could provide value at £5.0, IF they start for their respective teams.

No surprise to see David De Gea start at £6.0, the highest and only keeper at that price. He’s the set and forget option, but I do think that Ederson at £5.5 could be in a similar position for Man City this season. A widely accepted strategy is to rotate two £4.5 keepers, playing the hold game or the favorable fixture. Matt Ryan, Wayne Hennessey, Fraser Forester and Lukasz Fabianski all come in at £4.5, with Fabianski being the early favorite, based on being near the top in saves the last few years. I am keeping an eye on Watford recently acquiring Ben Foster from West Brom, his return the Vic could see him priced at £4.5, based on the fact Heurelho Gomes hold that price. It’s a simple rotation at that point for the season.

Positions

There were a handful of players who changed positions; Wilfried Zaha (£7.0) and Marko Arnautovic (£7.0) moved from midfield to forward, while Arthur Masuaku (£4.5) shifted from defender to midfield. Speculation ran wild late last year that FPL could potentially shift players like Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Mohamed Salah to the forward position. We’ve seen Sterling and Salah listed as forward in the McDonald’s World Cup game, however they remained midfielders for the FPL game. Not sure the logic behind these players changing positions, but it appears quite inconsistent. Masaku appears to be a steal as a fifth midfielder, while Zaha and Arnautovic will be a wait and see approach when the season begins.

Players

In a bit over 24 hours, I have already ran a few iterations of my fantasy squad. While still early and the World Cup approaching the semi-finals, it’s difficult to include players for Gameweek 1 who reach the later stages; Kane, Firmino, Lukaku, Hazard, Jesus, just to name a few. I’ve spent much time looking over the midfield in an attempt to maximize potential production with the inclusion of Salah. Players I am watching are Sigurdsson, Milivojevic, Jota, Mkhitaryan and Willian (pending a new manager).

Any decision up front will be based on how I sent my staring formation. Based on early season fixtures, I am leaning Cenk Tosun and Aubameyang, while keeping an eye on Firmino and Kane returning from World Cup duties. Alvaro Morata (£9.0) could be a steal, but his inclusion depends on a managerial change at Chelsea. Doubling up on Arsenal assets with Lacazette could reap some serious rewards if Unai Emery plays a 2-man front line, their schedule looks excellent starting Gameweek 3 .

Defensively it appears I only have room for a single premium price defender, most likely at the £6.0 price.  Options are wide and many from Spurs defenders (Trippier) to Liverpool with Andre Robertson and Virgil van Dijk. Benjamin Mendy, now healthy will be an interesting option when we see how Pep runs out his starting XI.

For me, it’s still about the defenders in the £5.0-£4.5 range that could provide good value. Currently, I am watching players like Charlie Daniels, James Tompkins (Palace has some good early fixtures), Michael Keane, Kiko Femenia, Cedric Soares. Winston Reid, Jan Bednarek and Zanka.

Conclusion

We have just more than a month before the season begins. The surprise launch of the FPL caught many by surprise, but it’s brought the game to the forefront, while making us forget about the McDonald’s World Cup game. Lots to digest and consider before August 11. New players, higher prices and lots of questions to be answered. How will you set your formation? Who will star as your premium players? Where is that diamond in the rough?

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