• Well Done Michael He's 13

Fantasy Football – same rules, different game.

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With the Premier League returning on 12th September, Fantasy Football enthusiasts the length and breadth of the country, and beyond, will be getting their teams ready, in the hope of earning much sought-after bragging rights over their friends and colleagues.

Like the real game itself, fantasy football is a game of opinions and varying tactics. However, when dusting down your notepads in preparation to carry out your team selection research – this season has many new factors to consider. COVID has impacted on all our lives in one way or another, and whilst Fantasy Football may seem of less significance in some respects, it also offers an opportunity for some much-needed escapism.

With the season starting later than normal, and with a much shorter pre-season - here are a few other things fantasy football managers need to think about:

- Which teams and players have had the best preparation?

- Which teams will benefit/suffer due to the current rules of no crowds and 5 subs?

- Do you gamble on new signings or play safe with last season’s top performers?

For the first time that I can remember, the opening weekend of fixtures will be two matches light, so maybe your ideal team selection starts from week 2 and not week 1? But, what does that mean for transfer selections? Remember you only get one free transfer per week.

Talking of transfers, part of the by-product of the enforced break last season, is that the actual transfer window doesn’t close until 5th October…with an additional domestic window running until 16th October.

All in all, a lot is going to change in the first few weeks of the season and fantasy football managers will not be able to put their ‘feet up’ if they want to stay ahead of the curve.

Well Done Michael have their own private league which will put many managers to the test against each other. Who will be crowned (Ledley) King come May 2021? Check out our 1-11 guide below for expert analysis on getting your season off to a flyer:

1. Pick Your Best Team – now this may seem like an obvious thing to say! But bear with me. It’s easy to get side-tracked by looking at the first few fixtures, especially this season with Manchester United, Manchester City, Burnley & Aston Villa not in action on week 1. This of course should not be ignored, but come back to that later otherwise you will just tie yourself up in knots! Start by picking what you believe is the strongest squad you can for the budget available.

2. Study teams first, players second – we all have players that we like, sometimes for no obvious reason. There might be a quality player who you think will go very far in the game…however, if this season this player is at a team which will likely struggle, then will they hit the heights you feel they are capable of? A team last season with a talented defender, that leaked goals for fun – then however good they are, clean sheets will be at a premium. There are of course always exceptions to the rule, but these are hard to find – Danny Ings is a great example from last season.

3. Drill down into your chosen teams – following the two points above, I ultimately had more than halved the player pool which starts to make things more manageable. I narrowed my pool down to 10 teams out of the possible 20, and put these teams in to 3 separate categories – Attacking, Defending & Both. For example, last season, Goalkeeper Nick Pope was top of the tree for clean sheets in the whole league as Burnley again had a stern backline. However, from an attacking perspective, out of my 10 selected teams, only Sheffield United scored less goals. For me, Burnley offer value defensively but much less so as an attacking threat, so they sit in my ‘Defending’ category.

4. Picking Players – now, the fun part begins! Who are you going to choose? Based on my analysis, I had 10 teams split across 3 categories:

- Attacking Only – 2

- Defending Only – 3

- Both – 5

As a bit of a geek, my ‘both’ teams had an attacking or defending preference.

5. Player Research – with the earlier hard yards put in, then the player research doesn’t have to be too arduous. I was now only looking at a handful of players from each team I had selected, and just looking at their stats in relation to goals, assists, clean sheets, chances created, hitting the woodwork & number of shots. This gave me a list of 21 attacking players across forwards and midfielders (let’s be honest, defensive midfielders are not normally of appeal in fantasy football) and a list of 15 defensive players across defenders and goalkeepers. From a pool of hundreds of players, this is now down to just 36.

6. Strategy & Gut Feel – now not only do you want to pick players who will score you lots of points, you also need to try to pick players that will be on the pitch! You don’t get points for ‘rested’ players. This is tricky, and likely trickier than ever with a shortened pre-season and increased squad rotation. But then again, even rested guys may score lots of points with the additional use of substitutes. From a strategic point of view, do you therefore spend big on a strong 11 or spread your budget more evenly across your 15-man squad? For all the research, good managers need a bit of luck and to ‘go with their gut’ too. Aguero’s points per game ratio is still the best around, but will he play as regularly as Salah and Aubameyang? These are the tough decisions that need to be made.

7. Simple Maths – you don’t need to be a mathematician to overlay players’ stats from last season with minutes played, giving a view of points-per game. This gives you the numbers, but don’t forget your football knowledge too. Olivier Giroud, of Chelsea, is an interesting case study. He is the only player on my list who played less than 1000 minutes last season, but we know he was first choice striker for the latter stages of the season and his return was impressive. Chelsea score lots of goals (and concede a lot too). It doesn’t stop there though – with Timo Werner signed already and Kai Havertz expected to join him, then will Giroud start the season in the team, or be back warming the bench? And there is one final thing we haven’t even considered yet, value for money!

8. Is he worth it? – If there was no budget, then it would be easy. All the big players who score big points would be in your team. If there was no budget, then would any manager, even the biggest Man Utd or Everton fan not select Trent Alexander-Arnold? He is guaranteed points…but at £7.5m is the most expensive defender, so do you sacrifice him to spend this budget elsewhere when strengthening your squad? This brings us back to Giroud. At £7m, he is the cheapest midfielder or forward from the so-called big clubs, that I have on my list. This adds some appeal, and in my opinion offers better value than teammate Tammy Abraham at £7.5m.

9. Risk v Reward – as Del Boy used to say, ‘he who dares, Rodney’. Do you play it safe or do you prefer the ‘go big or go home’ approach? There are bargains to be had, but they come with more risk. As above, if Trent Alexander-Arnold stays fit, he will more than likely be the top point scoring defender this coming season. Low risk, but is priced accordingly. Then there is Aguero – seems strange to call him a bargain at £10.5m but under normal circumstances you wouldn’t get change out of £12m for him. Injury, team rotation, possible signing of Messi…then Sergio Aquero is high risk, but high reward. At £12m this season, not for me…but at £10.5m then there is definite appeal. I have picked out 3 players who I see as bargains that could start the season on fire…but could also find themselves out of the team or under-performing. There is risk, but value for money for sure. Two Man Utd lads at a combined total of just £15.5m offer incredible value when compared with more expensive lesser players. Paul Pogba (£8m) and Marcus Greenwood (£7.5m) offer great value without breaking the bank. One of my wildcards is the only player whose team did not make it into my selection of 10 teams, and that is West Ham’s Michail Antonio. Liked a lot by David Moyes, he is likely to be a regular starter across the forward line, including spending time as the most advanced player in their team. He finished the season strongly, and with a game based on pace and power, he could well catch out a lot of defenders early on who are still getting up to full match-speed. At £6.5m he is an absolute snip…

10. Be Ruthless – okay, you have managed to avoid it long enough, but now you must pick your squad. You have followed the advice above and you have your list of potential signings. Having taken my provisional list of 36 players, following a review of value for money, likely appearances, and risk v reward, then I have whittled away another 13 players, to leave me with a final list of just 23. From this 23, I need to pick my strongest 15. At this point, this is reasonably simple to do – a couple of close calls between a few players but with only 23 to pick from, it doesn’t take too long. At this point, ignoring the fixture schedule, you should have what you believe is your best squad to score you a bucket-load of points.

11. Tinkering – but wait, there is a fixture schedule. Of course there is…and this season 4 teams don’t start until week 2. Given this includes the two Manchester clubs, then there is a high possibility that your squad will include at least one player in this scenario. Personally, I had 6 players who would miss out in week 1’s fixtures. I have kept one in, but decided to change five of them so that I had a competitive team for week 1. You don’t want to be chasing the leaders too much after just one week! Chances are, you will look to bring these big-guns back into your squad in the early weeks of the season, so don’t look too far ahead when considering short-term replacements. Even just looking at the first 2 or 3 weeks of the season – if you are bringing in short-term solutions then you want players who have the opportunity to score big in these matches. A quick look at the fixture list and the teams and players you have identified throughout your process, and you should have players ready-made from your provisional list to substitute in. I had 8 players left out from my original 23 man list that didn’t make my 15-man squad – I simply replaced the 5 outgoing with the best 5 players for the early fixtures, and my squad is good to go. And so will yours be.

And there you have it! Our 1-11 guide on picking a fantasy football team that will set you up for success. Maybe. Who knows, by October, you could already be cursing us and ripping up the teamsheet and starting again! But surely that is all part of the fun…

Good luck and please remember to join our league. Watch out for regular insight and advice from out resident experts.

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