Premier League: GW21 Retrospect

With GW21 in the books I recorded my third highest score of the year, 67 points. Not all that impressive given the fact I made the decision to play my wild card (WC) ahead of this week’s fixtures. Although this decision was made late, I missed out on major moves in terms of prices increases, which would have benefited me going forward. Between GW20 and GW21 my value dropped from 103.1m to 101.6m! I was a bit shocked by this movement, but decided to stick with the decision to WC.

It had been some time since my squad played well and rewarded me with a good (above average, 60 points) week. I was coming off two red arrows, five out of the last seven. Something was missing, along with consistency and I spent the better part of the week mulling over stats, formations, input from community managers and pundits before deciding on my squad. The squad I decided upon made sense…to me at least and moving forward looked strong on paper, injuries  and DGWs aside.

A few days prior to kickoff I posted Wild Card: Hold or Activate. I then followed through for the rest of the season putting together a strength of schedule, indicating potentially good match ups. From there I began looking forward with possible transfers from GW21 to GW28.

This week debuted my newly built squad built to be played as a 3-5-2, which was a change in formation from the 3-4-3 I had been playing since the season began. The decision that facilitated this was the fact that many of the third forwards would be a budget buy in the 6.8m to 6.2m price range. On paper, there are some good options; Rondon, Negredo, Gray, Origi, Llorente, just to name a few but their underlying stats and consistency leave a bit to be desired. My thought process was to spend as little as possible for a third forward, using that savings to upgrade my defense and midfield. Diomande at 4.5 for Hull, a full time starter is who I decided upon. He’s only got 2 goals on the season, but played well in GW21, I don’t expect to use him, so it’s a good budget buy.

Up front 22.9m of pure striking power and consistency over the last 10 games; Costa and Ibrahimovic. Unfortunately I missed the late Friday news that Costa was not going to start against Leicester, followed by the China rumors or else I would have offloaded him for Giroud, Defoe or Kane (in that order). So my 3-5-2 ended up being a 4-5-1 as Diomande was my third sub. Still Ibrahimovic rewarded me with a goal and 7 points. Now the Costa watch is on for this week.

In the midfield the only player I temporarily retained was Rodriguez with the intention of moving him for GW26. Southampton still looking for goals and while J-Rod didn’t start, he saw 23 minutes of action. Not what I was hoping for. Probably would have been better off with Lallana, but didn’t like the Man U match up. I also rolled the dice with Eriksen and Alli, both returned’ 10 and 12 points respectively as Spurs rolled to a 4-0 victory. Too bad it was Kane as the big winner with the hat trick. Stanislas was my budget midfielder with a good match up and now on pens, which he finished to score 7 points. He too will be short lived as I am already planning his transfer as well. Finally, Ozil, who returned to the starting lineup for the Gunners after an illness. He’s got some excellent numbers and feel he will play an important role going forward for Arsenal and their bid at the championship. He did return an assist and CS in 78 minutes.

Defensively I set up with Rose, Daniels and Azpilicueta as my starting three with Friend and Yoshida my two budget defenders on the bench. This week was particularly tough as I selected Daniels ahead of Friend because of the match up with Hull. Bournemouth then gave up 3 goals to Hull City, while Friend and Boro kept a clean sheet versus Watford. Not quite sure all is right with Southampton, as their defense is a shambles, yet I held out hope they would turn things around and start providing clean sheets. Burnley away looked good, but a late free kick from Barton killed any hope of a CS for Yoshida.

As for the starters, Rose looked sharp down the left side all game long and feel this was a great selection, he picked up an assist and 6 points. As mentioned, Daniels was my second starter against Hull but that didn’t work out, just a single point. Finally, the decision was Alonso or Azpilicueta as my starter and final defender. The rumors of Ake being recalled to Chelsea because of a potential long term injury to Alonso saw me select Azpilicueta. Usually I would be happy with a CS and 6 point return, but the 21 Alonso returned was excellent!

In goal, I made the change from Courtois to Heaton, solely based on budget and save points. Heaton is now just 1 point off Courtois for 1.0m less.  I retained the services of Jakupovic, who took his starting job back for Hull. He looked sharp in goal, conceding just a spot kick. I have two possible weeks upcoming to play him, based on match up. Not yet decided if I will stick with Heaton or go with a rotation for those two weeks.

Overall, 67 points and green arrows all around. I am finally back to 946k and moving up. Hopefully this is the start of a positive change for the new year. I need to string toward a few good weeks to get back to winning ways. As mentioned before I have the next 7 weeks transfers planned out, the Costa concern could be addressed this week as I had not planned on making any transfers and banking one for my transfer in GW26. GW26 is also looking it might be the best opportunity to play by AOA chip as all players have good match up except Ibrahimovic who faces Spurs. The only possible move will be held in check until we received further news on Costa, his injury and potential move to China. If that happens I probably won’t move any of my Spurs players and opt to pick up Giroud as Arsenal face Burnley (H) and Watford (H).

Wild Card: Hold or Activate

A pundit or footy manager can collect and crunch all the data they would like as it relates to players, their past activity, current form and upcoming fixtures. In the end, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to playing your wild card (WC). This year I activated my WC during GW4, scored just 56 points and left 17 points on the bench. Not one of my better scores, but did start a run of three green arrows, which took me to 29k at the end of GW6. In the 4 years I have been participating in fantasy football, this has been my best global ranking to date. Since that time, my squad, scoring and transfers have been another story as I have struggled mightily on and off the pitch in order to bring consistency to my squad.

We are just a week into 2017 as GW21 looms on the horizon as teams square off in the EFL Cup this weekend, it has allowed me to crunch numbers, read articles and bounce ideas off other FPL managers. If I were truly serious about activating my WC for GW21 I would have done it at the conclusion of GW20 in order to take advantage of the price increases in players like Alli and Eriksen, potentially I could have picked up 0.5m if I would have pulled the trigger instead of pussyfooting around the idea of using the damn thing. The other side of the coin, wait until the league cup games conclude to see if there are any further injuries to deal with. That COULD have been accomplished even if I had played my WC last Saturday or Sunday. In a way I lost out but still hold the card, begging the question, “Do I activate my WC?”

I have spent the better part of 2 days, while at work building a spreadsheet covering the next 8 game weeks, adding player names to round out my squad of 15 players. Initially I started with the team you see to the right. Recent transfers have not paid off. GW15 I took a -12 point hit for Sanchez, Courtois, Lovren and Iheanacho. Over the next 4 weeks I added Jones, Carroll, Ibrahimovic and Rodriguez. Nearly half of my team I picked up based on recent form or speculation, as with Jones, Cedric and Rodriguez. This was also the second time I have had the big Swede on my squad, as I moved him in GW6 for Aguero. Capoue and McAuley are currently the longest tenured players on my squad since GW4. There has been quite a bit of activity over 20 weeks, spending -48 points in added transfers. Now, based on another manager who exchanged points for profit. Ibrahim M on FFG said,”…with a team value of 107.4m…I’ve also managed to get a good position (I intend to stop taking point hits around GW28! Currently I’ve made 48 transfers in 20 GWs) and just use the value built to get a great side.” 107.4m compared to my 103.0m, Ibrahim has capitalized on the early transfers in order to add value to his squad.

As we start the new year my squad is well off the pace I set last year, when I finished in the top 75k with 2170 points, best returns I have had. This year I wanted to average 60 points a week and was once pace through GW6 before the wheels fell of dropping me from 29k to 1.1m! Scores of 24, 33 and 26 from GW7 to GW9 saw the majority of that change, nearly 750k. Although I did play a few cards properly as my team value has gone from 101.6 to 103.1 (high of 103.6 in GW17). In the last 14 weeks I have recorded 10 red arrows, that alone tells the story. So the choice for me is the play my WC for GW21.

After reviewing my squad I started playing with transfers of players I wanted to bring in. There would be a total of 13 new players being introduced, oddly enough none of players I have tentatively plan have been on my squad in the previous 20 weeks. Again, we talk about consistent returns both defensive and offensive, neither of which I have had until I picked up Courtois on the tail end of Chelsea’s winning streak. The spreadsheet is broken down by position, primarily using the FDR or Fixture Difficulty Ranking. Current form also played into my decisions taking into account the budget I have to work with. The individual charts are displayed below for each position.

GOALIES: While I didn’t want to give up Courtois, as he’s reliable between the sticks and a great option for CS, his price point (5.9m) is just too high. The obvious choice became Heaton, just 5 fewer points than Courtois, but 1.0m cheaper. Before his injury, Pickford at 3.9 was to the backup option, but with his return not slated until February I could hold Jakupovic at 3.9 (who doesn’t play) or look for a budget keeper for a possible rotation depending on fixtures

OPTIONS – Grant/Randolph/Forster/Hennessey/Foster: I started the season with Foster and did a fine job before WBA ran into problems keeping CS, which saw him transferred out in favor of Courtois. As a backup, Forster and Foster priced themselves out contention, however Foster does have two excellent match ups, Sunderland (H) and Bournemouth (H) over the next 8 weeks. Only Spurs in GW21 is a cause for concern.

Hennessey isn’t really a consideration due to Big Sam taking control at Palace. Things can only improve defensive for them, but outside of Spurs in GW28, Palace has a nice run of games on which to build. That left Randolph, who finalized his transfer to West Ham and has planted himself as the starter for the Hammers. While their defense hasn’t been overly impressive this year, Randolph has put together a few good games, 2 CS since taking the starting jog in GW12 and 5 save points over the last 4 weeks. Randolph does have one bonus going for him, his fixtures fits better with Heaton than Grant.

DEFENDERS: Defenders were added based on form and upcoming fixtures, just like the goalies. Now that we are 20 weeks in, there is more clarity when it comes to teams with the best potential to put up a CS. Chelsea tops that list, as three of the top five defenders (total points) are Blues. Regardless of fixtures Alonso is a given. Based on his play this season and returns, Daniels (88 points) will become a cornerstone of my newly formed defense, although not the only Cherries player with potential for returns. Finally Baines, who combines staunch defense with an offensive presence to round out my starting defense.

OPTIONS – See chart: I have listed a total of 10 defenders from which to build, looking for starters, who are budget buys but still see 90 minutes. One of the more popular selections this year has been Amat at 4.1, but his returns and the play of Swansea hasn’t been impressive but does allow a manager to save a few million. Currently I have Brunt and Friend rounding out my defensive five. Brunt, returned from injury and started playing 90 minutes during GW10. Currently has 2 goals and 3 assists but more importantly is playing OOP for West Brom as a midfielder (much like Dier did last year for Spurs). McAuley had been my defender of choice for WBA (4 goals), but Brunt provides a better return on investment moving forward.

Lovren is an interesting option, while a Liverpool fan, their over the next 8 weeks is a mix of good and bad. Three great match ups with Swansea (H), Hull (A) and Burnley (H) intermixed with Man U (A), Chelsea (H), Spurs (H) and Arsenal (H). At 5.0m it could be budget better spent elsewhere than using him sparingly over the next 8 weeks. After GW29, now that’s another article. I was high on Jones after reading  few articles and seeing him getting 90 minutes and CS, but he missed out on the Boro game, which was a cause for concern. Yet over the holiday period, rest was required. I still believe he’s the best Man U option heading forward. There were also thought of doubling up on Bournemouth defenders selecting Ake along with Daniels, 5 good fixtures over the next 8 weeks with Hull tantalizing in GW21. Not sure I want to limit my bench options as I still hold on Bench Boost chip. Reid, Pieters and a Southampton defender round out my list. Originally I started with Cedric, as he was tapped by a pundit site going forward. But limited action over the holiday period and now a head injury has me rethinking the S’hampton option but four of the next five weeks are favorable for the Saints.

MIDFIELDERS: The midfield has been a virtual mess this season! Seemingly I was always a step behind the big scorers, most notably Hazard and Sanchez. Many armbands have been handed out at this position as well, with very little return. While I would love to have Arsenal coverage, outside of Sanchez there are no players that impress me. In order to upgrade my entire squad I have made the decision to “dump the chumps” and go without Hazard and Sanchez. While I would like to say that decision will span the remainder of the season, we will have to wait and see what happens.

It probably comes as no surprise that I am leaping on the Spurs bandwagon with Alli and Eriksen. Not a big supporter of doubling up, especially in the midfield. It’s a bit of a stretch, especially with the run both players are experiencing, but their upcoming looks favorable outside of Man City and Liverpool through GW28. It’s been talked about all season to have Liverpool coverage. Of course the week I pick up Coutinho, he goes out injured, hasn’t returned since. I didn’t see much consistency in the group, but Liverpool is the highest scoring team in the EPL, so coverage seems to be a logical move. With Mane gone to AFCON and Firmino a bit out of my price range I will start Lallana as my third. At 7.7m he’s cheaper than the aforementioned players and just 7 points behind Mane in total score (113 compared to 105). The fourth starter is slated to be Phillips of WBA. I have watched him for many weeks, but with Hazard and Sanchez on the books, I could not fit him into a fourth or fifth midfield spot due to budget constraints. As my differential I selected Stanislas with an ownership of just 1.2%.  Bournemouth has a great short term schedule; Hull (A), Watford (H), Crystal Palace (H).

OPTIONS – See chart: Five other players at varying price points make the short list of potential players to make my squad. Cabaye and Puncheon head the list. With Zaha gone to AFCON, the focus will most likely shift in order to feed Benteke the ball. Cabaye ends up ahead of Puncheon by virtue of dead ball situation and on penalties. Schedule looks favorable and Big Sam will hopefully make a difference not only on defense but up front. Allen/Adam of Stoke were included, even though I have been running with Allen since GW9 as my fourth midfielder, at time productive but just just 1 goal and 1 assist in the last 10 games. Adam not better, but his form is a bit stronger in recent games.  Their schedule is a fixed bag through GW28. De Roon was purely a budget selection, at 4.4m he’s been a starter since GW4 and has returned 2 goals, 2 assists. Not my top Boro midfielder, but the only one who fit in my budget. Finally, I look back at Antonio at West Ham, a player I picked up for GW4 and held for 5 weeks but after just 2 weeks he fell flat, as did the Hammers. His overall stats aren’t impressive, but West Ham looks to be turning things around offensively.

FORWARDS: The only players remaining after the axe, Costa and Ibrahimovic. No real big surprise here, underlying stats are excellent, both players are in form and usually get a full 90 minutes, not pulled 10 minutes before full time. Costa has been the more consistent of the two forwards, returning in all but 3 games this season. Ibrahimovic returned for a second stint with my squad, when I dropped him during GW6. A model of consistency since GW11, returning in all but one game. Regardless of schedule difficulty these players will start every game.

OPTIONS – See chart: The third forward is still up in the air, even though Defoe is the current selection. Amazing to see what he has done for Sunderland, as poorly as they have been, he’s score 11 or the team’s 19 goals and assisted in 3 others! If Sunderland scores, chances are Defoe was it. Yet Sunderland has a mixed schedule, having to face Spurs, Man City as well as Southampton and Everton. Currently, Negredo sits as my third starter based on the FDR (see below). Underlying stats are not impressive, just 5 goals and 4 assists on the season with just a brace in the last 7 weeks. He is currently seen as a short term buy for the next 3 weeks. Rondon and Gray are both budget options that fit in into my squad. Outside of Spurs in GW21, Rondon appears to have some better fixtures especially home to Sunderland and Bournemouth. Gray faces Hull, Swansea and Sunderland. Origi is a question mark with Sturridge back in the starting XI for L’pool. Three tasty fixtures; Swansea, Hull and Burnley but I don’t see him playing 90 minutes or seeing much action.

The higher budget options are Aguero, Lukaku and Benteke. After reading an article from a well respected manager, I had a fleeting through to follow his potential lead and bring in Aguero to partner with Costa and Ibrahimovic. Aguero is such a dynamic player, more so than counterparts but Pep seems to have happened this year and Aguero isn’t enjoying as much success as he had last year. That would also mean cheaper options in the midfield, something I am not willing to run with at this time. Benteke could be labeled more as a sinking ship than a good buy right now. While carrying a shoulder knock, he hasn’t returned in his last 5 games and with Zaha at AFCON, service could be slim. Yet Puncheon, Townsend and Cabaye might be the answer under the newly appoint manger, Big Sam. Jury is still out. but fixtures looking inviting from GW23-27. Lukaku hasn’t shown much consistency this year going goalless in his first 3 weeks and then another no return between GW11-14. Not listed on my spreadsheet, Giroud. At 8.6m I can’t budget him in without take a hit in the midfield. So along with Aguero and Benteke, it’s a nice to have a wish list, but these aren’t realistic options.

In conclusion, I should of pulled the trigger immediately after GW20 in order to take advantage of the price increases over this 2 week period. I didn’t and to date, I haven’t gained any increase in my budget. Over the last 10 days or so, some of the players included above have been mentioned in different footie articles I have read. Not that will amount to anything, but it’s good to know I am on the same page as some of the pundits I follow.

Premier League: GW18, 19, 20 Retrospect

The holiday period in the EPL sees a flurry of games with kickoff on Boxing Day and the start of GW18. After three weeks of red arrows, 66 points had me seeing green at the cost of 4 points. Unfortunately as holiday footie goes, managers shuffle players in and out, attempting to get the most out of their team and more importantly the win. I was left a few weeks with only 8 and 9 starting players, with a few automatically substituted in at the conclusion of the week. Still, it was not a festive period for my squad, suffering two more red arrows in GW19 and GW20, a combined 94 points, which has me at 1.1m as we look forward to GW21.

In the last 10 weeks I have saw 7 red arrows and dropped an additional 300k spots in the global ranking. However I had team value on my side, as high as 103.6m at the conclusion of GW17, but a few ineffective players, lots of transfer outs and I have lost 0.5 in 2 weeks. The struggle is real, as no decision seems to be better following the pundits, as I always seem to be a step behind this season.

One bright spot to start the year, the wild card. Much like my chips, which I have not played to date, I am considering making major changes to my squad in hopes of a fresh start to the second half of the EPL season. At this point, I don’t believe it can get much worse. Only 2 weeks has my squad scored about 60 points, which was the average I was hoping to achieve.

Four players have been at the core of my squad, Costa, Zlatan, Sanchez and Hazard totaling 44.3m! Costa has been the most consistent, outside of the no return against Spurs yesterday and the 1-game ban for yellow card accumulation last month. Zlatan started great through 4 games, but went through a period of 6 games with no returns, but since that time has returned a goal or assist since. Sanchez has been on and off my squad a few times, started off slow with his return from international duty and I moved him a week too soon before his first double of the season. Yet over the next 8 weeks I would he would find his way to my squad, always missing the big returns. Finally Hazard. He’s been very inconsistent this year, started well through 3 games, but it’s been an on again, off again love affair with him.

Chelsea continues to win and put up good numbers, but Hazard hasn’t been involved as he was in past year. GW 8-11 produce a nice run of results and returns, but since that time just one double digit return and only one score greater than 9 points. At 10.4m his target doesn’t justify his place in the starting lineup. The potential remains, especially with Hull and Swansea coming up but games against Liverpool and Arsenal leave his position on my squad in doubt. Looking beyond GW31 and G33 against Man City and Man U are the only worrisome games on the remaining schedule.

So what do I do? The WC was being held for the start of the DGW, as we hit GW27 or so but I need to do something to promote change and start that long, slow climb up the global rankings. As I write this piece I have activated the WC for GW21 starting on January 14, nine days to mull over the thought of a major overhaul. The current squad I on my screen sees just 2 players retain their position; Costa and Zlatan.