International Break: Wild Card?

The first four weeks of the 2018/19 Premier League are in the books and for many teams it’s been an…interesting start to the campaign. For many fantasy managers, this is a time when activation of the first wild card could take place. Don’t be fooled by the “experts” into think there is a perfect time to wild card. There isn’t. You activate the wild card when you feel it’s going to benefit your team. It’s that simple.

In my planning ahead of the season, I tentatively earmarked the first international break as my opportunity to activate the wild card. Headed into the season, I knew I had some deficiencies, namely taking a risk up front without a premium forward, going heavy on premium defenders and taking in midfielder with Alexis Sanchez, Christian Eriksen and Mo Salah. Funds to field these three could have easily been spent to turn Marko Arnautovic or Wilfried Zaha into Sergio Aguero or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

After two weeks of play, my decision making was influenced by Aguero hitting for a hat trick, in a 6-1 win over Huddersfield. Looking at the short term, I felt it was imperative to bring in Aguero for the big potential he carried ahead of wol/NEW/FUL/car/HUD. Owning him for Newcastle alone showed excellent potential on past performances.

Decision made, the wild card was activated, a bit premature, but I made the best of the opportunity ahead of Gameweek 3. Unfortunately, the last two gameweeks have seen my lowest returns on the season; 57 and 45 points, but still finishing above the average week score. The effect of activating my wild card won’t be known for another 4-5 gameweeks. Now with the international break here, I felt it provided me an opportunity to give my opinion on how I would set up out of the international break, if I were wild carding.

FORMATIONS

Based on statistic generated by Fantasy Football Fix, fantasy managers across FPL and in the top 1000 have favored the 3-4-3 formation, with a 4-4-2, a distant alternative. What can fantasy managers take away from these statistics?

In my opinion, there is no correct formation. It’s nice information to review and see how managers are lining up, but if you have good players, who are scoring, formation really becomes irrelevant. Case in point, a possible 5-3-2 formation I was considering ahead of the start of the season.

Had I played the same starting XI in a 5-3-2 formation (with Boruc, Milner, Cairney, Zohone on bench), this team would have scored 285 points over four weeks. Using a captain rotation chart I came up with for the first 8-weeks of the season, alternating between Salah and Aguero and captaining them at home, these two captains would have scored an additional 84 points! This team would be on 369 points, which would be good enough for second place in the overall ranking!

To think you can’t be successful using different lineups isn’t truly the case. The most important thing to remember, “remain flexible.” As I suddenly find myself with two injuries heading into the break. Just one free transfer available, I will need to make some tough decisions.

Over the first four weeks I have used a 4-4-2 (twice), 3-5-2 and a 3-4-3, but my bench allows me that flexibility. So while there is a strategy to using cheap, non-starting players, you could get burned if you succumb to injury or suspension.

Had it not been for the late scratch of Zaha, I would have started a 4-3-3 formation in GW4, each formation providing good returns, as I am just 5 points off the 240 total I was chasing ahead of the season. Don’t get tunnel vision, seeing just one formation as you contemplate your wild card, keep your options open and look at potential bench players you can slot in for a spot start.

GOALKEERPERS

One of the most difficult positions to judge ahead of the season. No surprise, two schools of thought dominated; run out a premium GK, namely David De Gea (£6.0) or go with two, £4.5 goalkeepers in a rotation, based on home fixtures. Neither are considered wrong, but the likes of De Gea and Ederson (£5.5) haven’t been overly impressive to start the season. Only Alisson (£5.5), at Liverpool is near the top in overall points for goalkeepers.

Don’t think many mangers considered the likes of Neil Etheridge (£4.5), Alex McCarthy (£4.5) or Joe Hart (£4.5), ahead of the season. However, these three top the total score for goalkeepers. Hart, who has conceded 9 goals through four games is four points better than Ederson and 10 points better then De Gea, at a cut rate price. This also show the value of saves, as Hart has 21 saves on the season compared to five and seven respectively for Ederson and De Gea.

It’s been the play of Etheridge that has really caught the attention of managers, but realistically, do you want to run him out, based on his two clean sheets, two penalty saves and 17 saves? His next run of six games are challenging; che/MCI/BUR/tot/FUL/liv. Save points I can see, clean sheets, I can’t. Not sure I can back the Cardiff keeper, even though he has played well to start the season.

It does appear value lies in the rotation when it comes to goalkeepers. As long as you can pair £4.5 players together and correctly pick the higher scoring starter, they should outscore what a premium GK is posting weekly. Looking ahead, WAT/WOL, WOL/BUR, CRY/WOL, BOU/CRY, all appear to be GK pairs that could benefit fantasy managers out of the international break through GW10.

DEFENDERS

To start the season, this is the position that has generated excellent returns for fantasy managers. Had you started the season with Marcos Alonso (£6.7), Benjamin Mendy (£6.2) and Andrew Robertson (£6.0), this trio would have scored 108 points! Looking at fixtures out of the break, managers are considering moving away from  Robertson and his teammate, Virgil van Dijk (£6.0), as Liverpool play tot/SOU/che/MCI. For my starting XI, I don’t have any immediate intentions of transferring Robertson, as he continues to look dangerous down the left side. The addition of Alisson over the summer has improved the Reds defense.

No reason to think Alonso and Mendy aren’t “must own” players at this point. This duo is owned by 16.3% managers across all FPL squads, while the number jumps to 56.4% of the top 1000 managers! If you can afford to own one or both, it could benefit your squad at both ends of the pitch.

While it’s been the premium options living up their price, there have been budget options that have posted excellent statistics to start the season. We need to look no further than Watford, as Jose Holebas (£4.8) has seen a £0.3 increase with 34 points on the back of one goal and four assists. Bournemouth’s Steve Cook (£4.6) has been another option, scoring 22 points, however 14-points came from his second game, since then it’s been a series of 1-point returns. Don’t always go with the total points, as with this case its misleading. The Cherries do have a favorable run out of the break, so a case could be made to keep Cook.

There are a fair amount of players at the £4.5 price point that have started the season well, some of the have goals to their name, such as Craig Cathcart, Wily Boly, DeAndre Yedlin, Shane Duffy and Jeffrey Schlupp. Clean sheets have been difficult to come by. If you sort the defenders, it’s Cardiff that head the list with two clean sheets, but at this point, I could not see owning a Cardiff asset in my defense, not even as as non-playing bench fodder.

Out of the international break, Bournemouth, Arsenal, Wolves, Crystal Palace and Man United have some of the best run of fixtures to GW10. Using the data we have now, I couldn’t recommend Arsenal or Man United defenders, as their team have impressed early on in the season. There has been some banter about Luke Shaw (£5.1) whose scored a goal, assist and one clean sheet on the season. The fact still remains, the Red Devils have problems in their central defense.

Wolves didn’t look good until they played last place, West Ham in GW4. Rui Patricio was the unsung hero of the game. That’s not to say the defense wan’ts good, but Patricio jumped to their rescue a few times. They do have fixtures to their advantage, but I do think this is a club that could be used on a rotation basis, providing Wolves the best opportunity to secure a clean sheet.

Bournemouth has just a single CS to start the season and Eddie Howe seems to stress the high octane game of pushing forward on the attack, rather than sitting back and playing defense. Again, we give Steve Cook a shout out, possibly Nathan Ake (£5.0) but his price is a bit restrictive.

That brings us full circle to Palace, who, on paper had the best fixtures to start the season. An unfortunately suspension to Wilfried Zaha and the loss of James Tompkins (£4.4) and the Eagles have just one CS, much like the Cherries. They fixtures are still favorable through GW9 and if Tompkins returns ahead of GW5, then Crystal Palace could be the key needed to lock down the defense.

MIDFIELDERS

This is one of the most difficult areas for FPL this season and we are just four weeks in. The big question that is constantly being debated, “Mo Salah or no Salah?” Depending on conclusions from your own research, there are cases being made to keep the Egyptian or drop him, save millions and spend it through out the rest of your fantasy team.

Coming from the #AlwaysCaptainSalah point of view, when using Fantasy Football Scout’s comparison tool, the number support keeping Salah in your starting XI. He’s played one more game this year, than last. This year his xG, 2.84 (compared to 2.99), xA 0.84 (compared to 0.59) and xGI of 3.68 (3.58) are on par or better than what we saw last year through four games.

Based on the numbers, he’s more involved with touches, passes received, dribbing, take ons and goal involvement, as well as his BPS stats, even though he hasn’t recorded a single bonus point. He’s had more penalty touches, more goal attempts and better minute per attempt, more distribution and better defending number. All the indicators say Salah is a must own.

The only piece that counters all the underlying stats. An opening price of £13.0 to start this season, compared to £9.0. That increases expectations from fantasy managers, who rightly so feel Salah should be out scoring all other players in FPL for that price. It’s his teammate, Sadio Mane (£9.9), who has seen a £0.4 increase on the back of four goals over the first four games. Comparing this year and last, Mane, like Salah have better statistics to start this season.

Many fantasy managers activating their wild card are looking towards Eden Hazard (£10.7) as a direct replacement for Salah (tot/SOU/che/MCI/hud/CAR), based on the upcoming fixtures, which favors Chelsea (CAR/whu/LIV/sou/MUN). While Hazard hasn’t started all four games, he has posted returns; 2 goals, 2 assists and four bonus points (27 points). Running Hazard out allows you to invest the £2.3 back into the rest of your team. Been seeing many mangers boasting Hazard and Mane (combined £20.6), which is one option. Yet, you can keep Salah and spend £7.6 on a midfielder to complement him for the same price. No matter who you current pair Salah with, won’t exceed the total if you have Mane in your squad, thanks in part to his 39 points to start the season.

The two biggest surprises up to the international break have been the threats possessed by Lucas Moura (£7.3) and Roberto Pereyra (£6.3). Both have seen price increases from their starting point. Each have scored three goals, with Moura adding an assist. Just one point (29 vs 28) separate the two players, with Moura the more highly owned. But there is some question as to his role when Heung-min Son (£8.3) returns from the Asian Games. Pereyra, unless he’s unfit will be the regular starter down the left flank. The only knock on him since arriving at Watford, he can’t score on the road, which is how he has started this season, with all his points being scored at home.

For midfielders above £10.0, none are really shooting, lights out. While I’ve already noted Salah’s statistics, Hazard has been the next to post good returns. Alexis Sanchez (£10.2) and Raheem Sterling (£11.0) are too highly priced to be considered viable options at this point.

It’s been the mid-priced midfielders making an impact early this season. Already cited Pereyra, but Pedro (£6.6), Richarlison (£6.7), James Milner (£5.5), Ryan Fraser (£5.6) and Jean Michel Seri (£5.4) have all score 20 or more points through the first four weeks. Each bring potential and affordability to your squad, as a starter or, in the case of Milner, Fraser and Seri, value off the bench.

Behind these “higher scoring” options, the midfield is deep in talent that have played well, but still waiting on the jury, to see if they will perform on a consistent basis. Players I have continued to tab as ‘watch list’ include Ruben Neves (£5.2), James Maddison (£6.5), Andre Schurrle (£5.9), Demarai Gray(£5.5) and Will Hughes (£5.0).

We still have the “premium” options who haven’t hit stride yet, led by Man City’s, David Silva (£8.5). Christian Eriksen (£9.4) and Dele Alli (£9.1) have performed up to their price early, however with a run of good fixtures, Spurs could get back into the offensive groove. As for Silva, he looks to be the best option in the midfield, carry a modest price and most likely to get the playing time over others like Bernardo Silva (£7.6), Leroy Sane (£9.2) and Ilkay Gundogan (£5.5). The price point, coupled with the “Pep Roulette” hasn’t made City options all that productive in the midfield.

FORWARDS

Ahead of the season it was Sergio Aguero (£11.0) or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£11.0). While neither have been great to start the season, Aguero with a TSB% of over 50, hit for 3-goals in GW2 and just one assist in the most recent game. While he leads all forwards,  Aubameyang just got his first of the season this past weekend, but has been outscored by Alexandre Lacazette (£9.4). The knock against the Frenchman to date, as been the lack of starts, as he was given his first 90-minute game in GW4. Not really sure what direction Unai Emery is going to go. That said, Lacazette has looked more dangerous that Aubameyang.

Beyond those three options, it’s been a flurry of mid to low-priced options stepping up. The best of the bunch, Aleksandar Mitrovic (£6.7), four goals and an assist (29 points). Fulham has a mixed schedule through GW10, but Mitrovic is second in attempts on goal (18), third with shots inside the box (12) and fourth in penalty touches (24). At ownership just over 15%, Callum Wilson (£6.2) is still get a fair amount of play, as the Cherries front man, blanked for his first time this season, on the back of attacking returns of 8, 6 and 8 points. Just not a fan of his, again going back to last season and his troll job after his hat trick. It still stings. Bournemouth do have an excellent run through GW10.

The “over 30 club” includes Troy Deeney (£6.0) and Glenn Murray (£6.5), scoring 23 and 21 points respectively. Both players continue to play well to start this season. If having to select between these two, Murray would win. While Deeney is the inspirational pick and plays as such for Watford, Murray will be the one to finish the season in double digits. He netted 12 goals last season, Brighton’s first year in the Premier League, on the back of 23 goals in the 2016/17 season, down in the Championship League.

IS IT RIGHT FOR ME

A question read on Twitter and asked on podcasts, “When should I wild card?” In all honesty, there is no right time. Even late in the season, when fantasy football is headed into the DGWs and BGWs, strategy will sometimes dictate holding a wild card in order to navigate those fixtures.

Historically, I have activated my wild card early in the season to take advantage of fixture run or players who have started off in form. This year, as an example, it was the lack of a premium forward that had me push the button after week two. Premature? Quite possibly, as we sit around, with two weeks off, contemplating transfers and strategy for the next group of games.

Let’s not forget all the rotation that could potentially begin with teams competing in the Champions League, as well as league cup action. December also becomes a busy period as gameweeks come fast and furious ahead of the break.

So when to use your wild card, that’s up to you, as a fantasy manager. If the decision hasn’t been to hold the WC for some of the previously mentioned situations, then evaluate your squad and ask yourself some questions:

  • Is my team scoring, how’s my overall rank or mini-league
  • Are my players healthy, injuries that need addressing
  • Rotation, starter or impact substitution
  • Status of my bench players, playing vs non-playing
  • Players form and upcoming fixtures

By answering some basic questions, you can help find the answer, when the time is right for you to activate the wild card.

CONCLUSION

It’s a great time to be on the wild card, as there are some decisions that need to be made ahead of the next group of Premier League fixtures, as Carabao Cup action continues and teams begin Champions League play. While it was supposed to be the opportunity to activate my wild card, used after GW2, I am now considering future moves to get various players into my squad, based on their form and upcoming FDR.  Enjoy the break and your potential wild card move. Good luck as the Premier League returns on Saturday, August 15.

 

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