This Think Different series began a few years back when I was a contributor to Fantasy Football Geek and initially focused on the viability of playing five defenders. While that strategy didn’t last long, the series did last a few seasons, before discontinuing submissions to FFG. This year, I’ve decided to revive the series on 6thGoal.com, posting the first of six articles on August 18, Think Different: An FPL Tale Part I. This series was conceived to follow my second team from pre-season planning and strategy, over 38 game weeks to see how a set and forget 5-man defense can get on in a very attack minded FPL game. Hopefully the first game week isn’t an indication of how things are going to go, but I am confident this team will rebound and finish the season with a respectable OR. More importantly, I am curious to see what I learn from this exercise.
It took a number of years to get up to speed with the FPL game, when I began in the 2013/14 season, I didn’t know much, as coverage from the US was nearly non-existent. It wasn’t until the 2015/16 season that I hit my stride, found supporting websites and a few podcasts to help aid me, learning the game and the strategies employed by FPL managers. It would be my best finish to date, with an OR of 75k. It would be another three season before I finished with my highest point total in eight seasons, 2333 and an OR of 31k. However those are the only bright spots in an otherwise unimpressive run over the course of eight years. I started writing for FFG in September 2017, when I attempted to break the template and look for an alternative strategy.
It’s not uncommon to see FPL managers toy with this sort of strategy, as budget invested can go far, especially with the attacking wing backs we see used in the Premier League. Look no further than Liverpool and their dynamic duo, who’ve registered 391 and 398 points over the last two years! That’s a strong back two anchoring ANY managers team, but could there be viability investing over 30 million to stack a defense? Over the last few years I have used a 5-3-2, 5-2-3 and 5-4-1 very infrequently. In order to keep pace, managers need to be on those players who are returning on a consistent basis.
While I tout the top 1k ownership numbers from Fantasy Football Fix on a regular basis in my articles and on my Pitch & Pint Podcast, this team won’t follow that “template” this season, but I will continue to refer to them over the course of the season. If big at the back is to be successful, this is a strategy I must stay on all season long. Wouldn’t do much good, barring injury to shuffle defenders in and out each week, playing the numbers and potential clean sheets. Over the last three years, Man City and Liverpool have combined for most clean sheets, averaging 18 and 17 respectively. Why not build around these club?
Not going to dive to deep into VAPM (value added per million), having you refer back to the Think Different: An FPL Tale Part II for the backstory on this key metric. While there is no guarantee this, or any other metric will give you an edge over other managers. I’ve decided to go “all in” on VAPM to assist me build my starting XI, especially the defenders. This metric isn’t perfect, but it does allow me to get a baseline figure to judge players on. That number for my defense to be successful is 0.35 VAPM. This is calculated by taking their points per match (PPM) and subtracting two points (for appearance), then dividing by the number of games played in order to get your VAPM. When you read about VAPM on Reddit, you can see an example, working backwards based on how many points you expect to score in a year, along with a few other factors that will contribute to your final VAPM.
STARTING XI REVIEW
With the background out of the way, let’s look at this 5-man defense that has 31 million invested in the backline (not including GK). Since Manchester City had a GW1 bye, I decided to start with treble Liverpool; Alexander-Arnold, Robertson and van Dijk. Why? Because they are one of the best defenses in the league, at home against a newly promoted team. Was confident, but also concerned, after they did concede a cheap goal last season to newly promoted Norwich City. It took just 12 minutes to lose the clean sheet for the Reds on a TAA mistake, as Gomez over ran the play and then Alisson got beat on the short side. Thankfully Robbo did pick up an assist, while van Dijk scored his first goal, so I did get a little back from those attacking returns. Still disappointed with their GW1 performance, just 12 points.
Decided to hold true to Matt Doherty, switching teams to Spurs, who lost 1-0 against Everton. He did have two penalty touches and one shot on goal, which was a big chance, but Spurs didn’t look great. At this point, there is no thought to move Doherty for Digne, who posted 12 points in GW1. You will hear this a lot from me this season, but I brought these players in for a specific reason and chopping and changing weekly won’t help me when we consider the season is 38 game weeks long, not one. My fifth defender should have been nailed, but Fat Frank saw otherwise, as Caesar Azpilicueta did not start at The Amex against Brighton. Frustrated, as he was the captain last season, but was supposedly recovering from a hamstring injury in the FA Cup final. Information I failed to read before moving off Ben Chilwell. Again, it didn’t matter, as Chelsea, with Kepa in goal failed to keep it clean and Azpicueta picked just one point coming for just a cameo appearance.
A total of 15 points over my 5-man defense, while Hugo Lloris picked up three points, thanks to making three saves. No matter how you look at it, not a good start for this squad. While I only intended Azpilicueta to play one game, Man City visits Molineux for GW2 and the Wolves have won the last two games against the Sky Blues, 3-2 and 2-0. Probably not the best week to to buy in on a City defender. However, it’s also not a good week to hold a Chelsea defender, as the Blues host Liverpool. Based on their GW1 clean sheet against Fulham, I could see introducing Kiernan Tierney for a one week punt as the Gunners host West Ham.
I set up in a 5-3-2 and leading the charge was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who picked up 14 points with a beautifully take goal, cutting in from the left. I had hoped for a bit more from Aubs, but was pleased with how he looked for Arsenal and have big expectations at home against West Ham. James Rodriguez looked good at Everton, even though he didn’t have any attacking returns, but picked up a point for the clean sheet. The same went for Allan Saint-Maximin, shut out from any attacking returns, but will end up holding ASM for another week, as the Magpies host Brighton. The midfield will be unchanged headed into GW2.
Up front, Aleksandr Mitrovic was a disappointment. Much like Azpilicueta, I missed or didn’t read about an injury, as Mitro started on the bench. While he did come in an pick up about 60 minutes, Fulham didn’t look attacking without the big Serbian in the middle. Fulham have a good FDR over the first nine weeks, but that will be contingent on Scott Parker starting him. Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser put on the black and white of Newcastle and Wilson returned a goal over 85 minutes. I do feel he’s got great potential this season with a talented midfield behind him.
At the end of play Monday, I finished with just 47 points, three short of the weekly average of 50 points. Overall rank for GW1 is way down at 2.9 million, which means the only way to go is up! One week doesn’t make a season and over the course of 38 weeks there will be more weekends where defenders don’t have a clean sheet. This was a case where I three different teams didn’t come clean, but I’m not willing to change my big at the back strategy.
Spurs have the best GW2 match up, away to Southampton, who played terrible in GW1 and feel good I could pick up two clean sheets. Liverpool and Chelsea will be interesting and I expect to see goals (total of 17), as there has been just one clean sheet, the FA Cup final this past March, 2-0.
Looking at Fantasy Football Fix, for GW1, TAA, Doherty and Robertson were three of the highest owned players. As were ASM, Aubameyang and Mitrovic, all players I started with last week. I feel confident they return more points this coming game week