Free Hit chip

The 2017-18 Fantasy Premier League season is nearly upon us and the game makers have started dripping out the prices of some players. Among the players announced so far the best value appears to be in midfield, with Alli – the second highest scoring player in the game last season – looking a particular bargain at 9.5m.

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Then, yesterday, came the surprise announcement that the All Out Attack chip is being replaced with a new chip called Free Hit. We’re still waiting for the fine print on how the chip works, but basically it allows you to put your squad into hibernation for one week, select as many new players as you want for the next gameweek, then have the old squad return the following week.

I’m sorry this post isn’t going to be a stunning statistical analysis of the new chip’s potential impact, it’s just a little rant to get my strong initial feelings about it off my chest.

I know the All Out Attack chip wasn’t popular with many people, but I didn’t mind it because I felt it created, in a very minor way, a little bit of variety in the game. This new chip, I suspect, will do the opposite.

The obvious place to use the chip last season was to ride out Gameweek 28, when the schedule was reduced to four fixtures. Those games featured just two of the eventual top seven Premier League teams. FPL managers faced a choice in the weeks coming up to Gameweek 28, do they: A) keep their players from top sides and ride out the blank fixtures, or B) sell some of those good players and bring in players who have matches?

That choice helped create differentiation. Among those who chose option B the pool of good players was small, but crucially it was different to those who chose option A.

The choice also afforded people a chance to shake up their overall rank, either through the players they kept or the players they brought in.

With this new chip, that choice will likely be removed. The template move among serious managers will probably be to keep the Free Hit chip for the blank gameweek caused by the FA Cup quarter finals. The same popular template team will likely run until that week, be swapped out for one week for another template team, then carry on as it was before.

There will be merit in looking for alternative ways to use the chip, but the old blank gameweek choice was very powerful. For example, despite there being just four fixtures, I gained more than 50 points on the the FPL average in Gameweek 28 last season because of the choices I made.

The new chip is powerful too and it could potentially match the power of the blank gameweek choice if used creatively elsewhere. But negating a blank gameweek will probably become the default position like the Wildcard-Bench Boost combination played over two gameweeks has become the orthodoxy for many managers approaching the late season double gameweeks.

For the risk takers there will be opportunity in looking for unorthodox ways to use the chip, but the safe play is likely to be to save it for a big blank gameweek. In all likelihood, the chip will produce a more cookie cutter experience and the game will be poorer for it.

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Guest post: Wildcarding – the runaway train?

Ruth_NZ has been pondering whether he has the right wildcard strategy and is considering a different approach. I should add that he sent this to me before Robbie Brady scored this weekend. Over to Ruth:

The closer we get to wildcard time the more awkward I find it. I have felt a bit cornered for a while as my team, like everyone else’s, prepares to pass through the hoops and hurdles of blank gameweeks (BGWs) and double gameweeks (DGWs). It’s as if the path narrows at those bottlenecks and you end up having almost obligatory decisions to make about players to bring in and to remove. One manager may choose Dimitri Payet, another Michail Antonio (maybe they have less budget to play with) but neither are really considering Willian or Yannick Bolasie because they aren’t part of the evident optimal route.

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Maybe it’s just me that feels this way. But I have been wrestling with it and have come to the conclusion that I have probably been starting from the wrong place – meaning fixtures. Especially the doubles and blanks.

What I think I actually need to do is to take a view on which teams (and players) I think will finish the season well. Then I need to bias my management of my team through the doubles and blanks to favour having, keeping or bringing in those players. As opposed to maximising the number of games my team has as a first principle. Player A may have three games in a certain period whilst Player B has four. But if Player A is in better form and playing for a team with positive momentum and he has equally good or perhaps even better fixtures (though one less) which is the best?

Here’s an example… Norwich City have brilliant fixtures from gameweeks 32-34 (NEW, cpl, SUN), then a blank, then Arsenal away and then a good gameweeks in 37 and 38 including a double (MUN, WAT, eve). Robbie Brady is a player I have had in mind for ages and Martin Olsson also interests me. Norwich are still fighting to survive, heads have not gone down and they have everything to play for. Yet I have been entirely dismissing Norwich from my thinking because they have no Gameweek 34 DGW and that nasty Gameweek 35 blank.

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At the same time, I have been considering West Bromwich Albion players (Jonny Evans, Jonas Olsson, James Morrison) because they have a DGW in Gameweek 34 and no blank in Gameweek 35. But really? The DGW is Watford at home and Arsenal away. That’s just a decent Single Gameweek really. The Gameweek 35 game is Tottenham Hotspur away. That’s not much better than a blank in all honesty. Maybe the West Brom defenders get one point in each of those tough away fixtures and maybe they manage a clean sheet against Watford. But if I look from Gameweek 32 to Gameweek 38 are they better prospects than Norwich players? I don’t think they necessarily are.

There is also the additional factor of the missing Crystal Palace versus Everton game. When that is actually scheduled it will make a significant difference to the landscape.

If we wildcard into Gameweek 33 (very likely for me) then we have three weeks until we need to make final decisions. So that’s it for wildcard planning for a bit for me. I will use those three weeks to assess players and teams rather than fixtures and mechanics. And then I’ll put a squad together that I like the feel of, not one that is ruled by mathematical calculations. And if that means fielding nine or 10 players in BGW35 or less than the maximum attainable DGW players in Gameweek 34 and/or Gameweek 37 then so be it.

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Incidentally, this is not a long way around to justify keeping Spurs and Leicester City players. I let Riyad Mahrez go many weeks ago. I am eager to replace Jamie Vardy with Troy Deeney or Anthony Martial. I’m happy to keep Christian Fuchs but I’ll also be fine losing him. Harry Kane I am ambivalent about even though he’s been in my team a long time. It’s the principle more than the detail I am looking at here.

The most difficult thing to get over (for me) is that I have saved my Bench Boost chip all season in order to maximise it in a DGW. To justify that decision I need to do just that. But the alternative is for me to accept that I didn’t need to save it at all and that I could/should have used it at any time when I had a great bench. If I make decisions now in order to justify mistakes I have already made then I’ll just be making more mistakes, right?

Guest post: Preparing for Double Gameweek season

We are now less than two months away from the first fixture postponements that will likely result in some Premier League teams facing two matches in one Fantasy Premier League (FPL) gameweek (GW) – the fabled Double Gameweek (DGW). Ruth_NZ has been preparing for the doubles and shares his thoughts here: 

This week I started looking in more depth at the DGW season and in particular the option of playing the bench boost chip in a DGW whilst having 15 DGW players in your squad. This is what I found.

The biggest DGW is likely to be GW34. It will be caused by the FA Cup quarter finals on 12th March and the re-scheduled Premier League games are highly likely to be played in GW34 on 19th/20th April. There are therefore two things to navigate here:

  • A blank GW for up to 16 teams in GW30 (most likely eight to 12); and
  • A DGW four weeks later in GW34 for up to 16 teams (most likely eight to 12).

The first thing to note is that a wildcard to focus your squad on eight to 12 teams should not be problematic, neither should it constitute “wrecking” your team. It should be perfectly possible to wildcard in GW32 (for GW33), select a squad that has good fixtures and prospects in GW33 and gives you 15 DGW players when you bench boost in DGW34. You can also plan ahead to the end of season (six gameweeks in total) in terms of fixtures and with so many teams to choose from that shouldn’t be difficult. So far, so good.

The problem is that some teams (probably six to eight) will then have a blank GW in GW35, caused by the FA Cup semi finals. These will include the semi-finalists themselves plus their GW35 opponents. These teams will then have a DGW in GW37. The big issue will be navigating the blanks immediately after DGW34.

It should be possible to plan for this. The GW35 blank games will be known after the quarter finals are settled (12th March, or 22nd March if replays are required) – in other words long before you play the GW32/33 wildcard. In addition, if you wildcard in GW32 for GW33 and bench boost in GW34, you will then have two free transfers in place to use for ‘blank’ GW35. But you will face the challenge of having a good GW35 team whilst keeping (benched) some players you will want for DGW37. That could be somewhat awkward, although you will have a further two free transfers to use before GW37. Injuries or suspensions at that time could be a serious wrecking ball to what will necessarily be some quite precise planning. It will be tricky to avoid hits. Some FPL managers will take lots of hits.

DGW planning

A draft DGW34 squad for Diva in the 2014-15 season

DGW Planning

Here is the route through DGW season from start to finish:

1. 27th January (GW23) – League Cup finalists are confirmed; they and their opponents will have a blank in GW27 when the final is played. On 27th January, or sometime after, the dates for games needing to be rescheduled from GW27 will be announced.

2. If the League Cup finalists (or their GW27 opponents) are still involved in the FA Cup as well it would not be at all unlikely to see one or both of these games brought forward as the available slots for re-scheduled games later on are severely limited. One possibility would be 9th/10th February (GW25). Another would be Monday 22nd February (GW26) but only if the teams concerned are neither involved in the FA Cup fifth round (20th/21st) nor in a Champions League fixture on 23rd or 24th February. So, GW25 could be the first potential DGW (two or four teams).

3. February 20th (GW26), FA Cup fifth round games are played and the FA Cup quarter finals are known (subject to any replays needed – these may themselves be hard to schedule due to lack of slots). FPL managers can begin planning for the decimated GW30 Premier League schedule which will likely involve blanks for eight to 12 teams.

4. February 28th (GW27) – League Cup final played and up to four teams have a GW27 blank. These Premier League games may have been brought forward and played early (see above).

5. March 12th (GW30) – FA Cup quarter finals played alongside the decimated GW30 schedule which could easily be as few as four games. Getting a good FPL team out in GW30 will be very tricky. The teams that will have a blank GW in GW35 and (almost certainly) a DGW in GW37 will now become clear (subject to any replays needed).

6. March 12th (GW30) – those not planning to wildcard in GW32/33 can begin to shape their squad for DGW34. They will ideally need to go into GW30 with a saved free transfer and they will ideally need to go into GW35 with a saved free transfer as well (because some DGW34 teams will have blanks in GW35). That means they will have maximum four free transfers to use to prepare for DGW34, any more transfers will be hits. That may or may not matter depending on how many players they want/need to bring in. Those planning to wildcard in GW33 to prepare for DGW34 can rest easy and continue as usual.

7. April 2nd (GW32) – wildcarders who want to bench boost in DGW34 should activate the wildcard and assemble their team for GW33 and DGW34. They should aim to be making no transfers in GW33 so they have two free transfers available coming out of the DGW.

8. April 9th (GW33) – wildcarders not planning to use their bench boost in DGW34 should activate the wildcard and set up their DGW34 teams but with a view to handling the blanks in GW35 with only one free transfer available. It would also be possible to wildcard out of DGW34 but with only the ‘short’ GW35 (including blanks for five to eight teams) and GW36 to play before DGW37 this would in effect amount to wildcarding into DGW37 instead of DGW34 and the same pattern applies.

9. April 16th and 19th/20th – the big DGW34, which could see as many as 12 teams (or even more) playing twice.

10. After that it should be fairly plain sailing, there will only be the blanks in GW35 and the smaller DGW37 to navigate and the pattern is a repeat of the one above.

Conclusions

DGW season is going to be the trickiest and most interesting part of the FPL calendar. It is going to take very good planning and some fine-line decision-making between maximising the DGWs and the use of the second wildcard, bench boost and triple captain chips and maintaining a successful FPL squad in ‘ordinary’ GWs and in GWs with a reduced number of games being played.

It would appear that wildcarding into DGW33 is a good strategy if you want to bench boost in DGW34. It would also be possible to do the same into DGW37 (though the constraints on team selection will be tighter then if you want 15 DGW players). But the GW36 wildcard for DGW37 (or GW35 if you want to bench boost in DGW37) does have the merit of being less disruptive – basically you will then only have GW36, DGW37 and GW38 to plan for.

As for the triple captain? A DGW when you are neither playing wildcard nor bench boost I think. There certainly will be some options to choose from.