Starting Eleven

Along with participating in the FPL game, as well as their new draft game, I decided to give the new online fantasy football league called Starting Eleven a change last week after hearing the Brandon and Josh interviewed Thomas Braun on a recent Always Cheating podcast. Gameweek 1 was highly successful, finishing 2nd in the world on Saturday. It appeared I might actually know a little something about fantasy football having having a great Saturday, but faltered on Sunday and didn’t fare as well. Still, the game and interactive experience was great, adding a new dimension to the fantasy game while watching along.


The game is simple and played on a daily basis, as long as there are 2 teams involved. As the manager you select your starting XI for that game day, along with assigning the captaincy. Once the games kickoff, you are allowed 3 transfers during that day. This is what makes Starting Eleven unique. If you are losing and your forward pulls up with an injury, you make a real time substitution!

Last week, I was a bit late to the party, as I made zero transfers on Saturday, due to a prior commitment, which nearly cost me the victory over Brandon at AC, hanging on to victory 167.7 to 165.3. Brandon on the other hand, made a late substitute in order get the upper hand and a chance to change the outcome.

Starting Eleven offers various single day game types; 1 vs 1, Winner Take All (WTA) 50/50 and Private Game. The 1 vs 1 is a head-to-head game against another manager with winner-take-all stakes. The WTA allows you to compete against a group of managers. The highest-scoring manager takes the entire prize pool. The 50/50 is similar to WTA, as it’s played against a group of managers with the top 50% winning prizes. Finally there’s the private game, played as a 1 vs 1 against a friend.

Currently all single day game types offer free contests, but cash prizes for U.S. and U.K. players is coming in Fall, 2017. This will allow managers to not only earn bragging rights, but take home a spot of cash for the managerial prowess. Until that time, games will be played free, learning the game and scoring system.

For more information drop by the Starting Eleven website and see what the app is all about. It’s great fun, while being more interactive than other fantasy games. Feel free to contact me on Twitter (@w6onv) if you would like a 1 vs 1 challenge.

FPL: Cha-Cha-Changes

It’s never too early to look at potential changes in your FPL lineup. Right now, I am confident with my starting XI, which allows me a multitude of possibilities when it comes shifting players. However, I attempted to get a few new players in using a hypothetical wildcard and I came up £0.1m short. While I have already activated my FT for GW2, bringing in Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Wilfried Zaha, out due to injury, I am looking forward to next week.

After some consideration, discussion on Twitter and fantasy football websites, it appears I could be headed for a very early wild card. Prior to GW1, I was hoping to hold my WC until the second international break, GW7. Last 2 years I have activate my WC after GW4 with great success (in the short term). While my initial plans were set in motion for GW1, I reassured myself that my formation, FTs and WC needed to remain flexible. While I favor a 5-2-3 formation to start the 2017/18 EPL season, if the situation warrants I will shift to a more viable offense in order to chase points.

The current 5-2-3 featuring Firmino, Kane and Jesus up front provides a great feeling of confidence before the start of GW2. Underlying stats were strong for all 3 players, while Firmino was the only one who returned (12 pts.) Yet running without “Big Rom” Lukaku just doesn’t sit well. Much like tempting fate last year without Kane, especially those managers who went without when he came up BIG in the final games of the season. As pointed out by FPL Avenger (@FPLAvenger) regarding Lukaku, “He fires and you lose ground on 50% of managers. He blanks and you gain on 50% of managers.” Feels a bit like playing Russian, or in this case Belgian Roulette.

Introducing Lukaku was set in motion a series of transfer requiring an early wild card. At £11.6, in order to make the necessary room for Lukaku, I would give Firmino and Jesus their walking papers. My third forward would then role to the non-playing £4.5, Ollie McBurnie. This would shift my formation into a 5-3-2, requiring me to drop a budget midfielder and pick up a £5.5-£6.0 starter.

The introduction of Mkhitaryan for GW2 at £8.0 decreased my budget ITB to £0.5. With De Bruyne (£10.0) as my other starting midfielder, an attempt will be made to introduce Christian Eriksen (£9.5) for either Mkhitaryan or De Bruyne based on their GW2 performance. Knee jerk? Quite possibly but I don’t want to dig myself out of a very deep hole so early in the season. With very little data to go on, these moves aren’t risky based on how these players performed last season and appear to have started this season where they left off.

These moves are also contingent on Lukaku NOT rising in price after his GW2 performance. Away to Swansea, United could net a few goals, based on the number of big chances they gave up in GW1. It would also require my team value to increase by £0.1 by weekend’s end to cover the budget required. All these rising and falling prices could be irrelevant if I moved KDB, which would free up an addition £1.0.

For GW2, the knee jerk reaction isn’t great enough to cause me to activate the wild card because of Lukaku’s opening week brace. I still feel the personnel I have in my starting XI have great fixtures and based on their statistics from GW1 could return big points for the upcoming game week.

FPL: Justification

A final score of 58 points for GW1 resulted in an “average” start to the fantasy season, much like last season, where I score 59 points. The overall ranking saw me start the season at 1.9m, compared to 303k in 2016/17. However, I have mixed feelings on how I have started. Obviously, the time and energy put in during the pre-season paid off in some respect. First, I am not unhappy scoring the weekly average after GW1. Second, I am pleased with how I built my team, running out a 5-2-3 formation, albeit a bit untested, since this was a last minute Friday change to a more stable 5-3-2. Finally, it’s the first game week, you can’t judge the entire season on what happened in GW1.

As I have said from the onset, averaging 60 points a week is one of my goals. At season’s end, that would give you a final score of 2280, before adding in captaincy and bonus points. This would also be my best season, if I were to score 2280, as 2015/16 I finished on 2170 and a 75k overall ranking, my best to date. If I were to based my season on GW1, then I am on track for the season. Maybe this is looking for that silver lining in an otherwise poor, when compared to the high scores of GW1, performance.

Maybe I point my finger as Firetog, community supporter and contributor at Fantasy Football Scout, who led me down that path less traveled, when I considered my 5-defender set. His piece, In Search Of The Best Fantasy Football Formation, had me in complete agreement with his assessment when considering formations for the upcoming FPL season. While the 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 will reign supreme when it comes to formation, lining up 7 attacking players, the 5-3-2 (5-2-3) appeared a viable alternate based on player prices and lack of “quality” buys in the midfield. After GW1 we do know a bit more who could be the potential Etienne Capoue for this season. Spending £28.0m was considerably more than a majority of managers, considering most would fill their backline with budget players at £4.5, looking for that £4.0 (Rangel, 19.7 TSB%) to free up another £0.5.

When considering formation for the upcoming FPL season, I leaned on his Firetog’s statistical information. While I considered all other formations including the popular 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, I concentrated my efforts on a 5-3-2 over most of the off season. There were 6 variations with different players, strategies and plans through GW7. During the off season every lineup featured two things in common, Lukaku and Kane up front and a defensive spending in excess of £28.0. Going big on defense meant the only real decisions I had to make were in the midfield.

Unfortunately, as the off season rolled into the pre-season with friendlies through out the world, Countinho (£9.0), my selection to lead my 3-man midfield was hampered with injury and linked to a Barca move when Neymar departed for PSG. Coutinho anchored two plans for the first 7 game weeks. First was Coutinho/Tadic and 3 – £6.0m midfielders. The other plan was Coutinho/Pogba and 3 – £6.0m midfielders. Both rotations featured similar names that would rotate weekly based on strength of schedule and home fixture; Tadic, Phillips, Ritchie, Ince, Knockaert, Groß and Carroll. Including Pogba, would mean losing one of the higher price defenders, something I wasn’t too keen on, but it was a possibility.

As pre-season continued and results/performance started rolling  I began looking at another option in my 5-3-2. Based on the defenders I selected I could start with Coutinho, Pobga and Willian in the midfielder for GW1. On paper it looked good. Like the £6.0m midfielder rotation, I was able to organize a plan that would allow me to transfer out a midfielder, while attempting to play home fixtures against weaker EPL opponents. The only issue I had with this rotation was the fact it heavily featured Tadic in my starting XI. While his underlying stats were good, realistically he under performed for much of last season. With Coutinho looking more and more of a question mark, it was time to look at another high priced midfielder to start the season.

Pogba and Mkhitaryan both were a cause for concern, as they under performed last season for Man United. The addition of Lukaku up top gave managers some confidence to select one, but to double up on United’s attack was questionable. The FFS scoutcast prior to GW1 made the decision for me and forced my hand to change up the midfield to start the season.

Coverage from So’ton and Man United were essential to start the season, as were assets from their noisy neighbors, Man City. Defensively I wanted So’ton, Man City, Man United and Chelsea to start the season, however the Blues early fixtures were cause for concern. As I mentioned on August 8, “Alonso has a big question mark next to his name.” He was the linchpin for a series of moves prior to GW1 that caused me to shift my thinking from a 5-3-2 to a 5-2-3 just hours before the kickoff of ARS v LEI.

Through all of July and early August, Lukaku was essential for my starting XI and his TSB%, over 48% confirmed that ownership. Yet, I decided to move Lukaku in conjunction with Alonso to free up budget in order to bring in De Bruyne for second City asset. Indications were good that the Citizens would roll up big numbers in the early weeks, starting with new boys, Brighton. KDB’s inclusion as the playmaker for City was warranted, as was his £10.0m price tag, after a great 2016/17 season (6 goals/21 assists).

The second part of the Alonso/Lukaku transfer brought Firmino and Jesus into the starting XI, which suddenly changed the 5-3-2 to the current 5-2-3. Not high on any third budget option, after being burned by Gabbiadini last season, if I wanted to play 3 forwards it would cost me a bit more. Jesus at £1.0m less than Lukaku, but with HUGE potential appeared to be a wise move. Lukaku, new team, Jose a bit defensive minded last season after going up 1-0, with Jesus and City going up against BHA. It was risky, but I made it happen, yet the TSB% of Lukaku didn’t sit well but I ignored it as we approached GW1.

Defensively, the decision NOT to include Alonso was difficult to make, but at £7.0m, I could use the budget elsewhere to strength my squad. In his place I added Bertrand to my starting defense, which now featured, Valencia, Kompany, Bertrand, Cedric and Yoshida. The treble coverage from So’ton, Man United and Man City, I was pleased with how this back five came together. I continued to go with Foster (WBA) in between the sticks with Elliot as his back up.

Not that I need to justify my starting XI, but it was a well thought out plan since reading Firetog’s article. Is it wrong to think this differently and go against what is consider commonplace in FPL, using a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 formation, maximizing your attacks, while using budget defenders to make the most of your £100.0m. As I stated before, I was pleased with the underlying stats of my starting XI, shots on targets, shots in the box, unlucky decisions that could have gone my way didn’t. Not sure it warrants a true knee jerk reaction like we are seeing across the fantasy world. Managers yanking Kane in favor of Lukaku. Moving the injury Zaha for the likes of £5.5m, Xhaxa or snatching up the big Egyptian, Hegazi, based on his first goal in since 2009, when he entered professional football. As I had read in the past, the 38 week fantasy season is a marathon, not a sprint. Early on I have decided to pace myself and not go out fast, only to burn out when I need to kick.

Premier League: GW2 Transfers

It’s Tuesady as we recover from the opening EPL weekend, which started off with a 7 goal stunner on Friday. But it’s not too early to start looking forward to what direction we want to take when it comes to our squad. Just finished listening to the podcast of Josh and Brandon at Always Cheating. Not sure how I missed out on their commentary and insight (since 2015) the past few years, but I enjoyed their pre-season banter so much, I decided to become a patreon support. Also beat Brandon this week in Starting Eleven on Saturday by 2.4 points.

While GW1 wasn’t all that it was cracked up for me in terms of points, just 58 to start the campaign. I am confident moving forward that I am avoiding the “knee jerk” reaction to major changes in formation or personnel. The injury to Zaha (£7.0), now confirmed out, up to 4 weeks means I must either active one of my substitutes;’ Tom Carroll or Dale Stephens or burn that first FT before Zaha’s value starts decreasing.

To be honest, with all the planning leading up to GW1, I really didn’t play out a 2-midfielder rotation with £1.5m ITB. It was my intention to run Zaha out through GW5 before looking for a replacement. That move was accelerated and I turned my attention towards the highest scoring team in GW1, Man United. It was my intention to have treble coverage from United at the start of the season, but in a flurry of activity, I transferred Lukaku and Pogba, changed formation and opted for KDB, Firmino and Jesus, saving that £1.5m ITB for future use. Something I had NEVER done before, much like playing 5 defenders at the back.

Last night, while standing in the bathroom, I checked FPL Statistics to see which players were topping the list of potential price increases. It came as no surprise to see Lukaku, with his 50.8% TSB, but just ahead of him was teammate, Mkhitaryan (£8.0). Prior to GW1, I was considering him or Pogba to start the season. Neither materialized and I went a different direction, as I felt KDB would score more in the short team based on the team offense and strength of schedule. With a few clicks, I made the change and brought in the Armenian for the injured Zaha. Didn’t want to lose value by holding Zaha, even on the off chance his knee isn’t an issue and he does indeed start GW2 against Liverpool.

Starting XI for Gameweek 2 is set, with the addition of Mkhitaryan to my squad. Continuing to have faith in the strong So’ton backline, I start with the treble again, looking for more offensive returns from any of my defenders. The midfield contains two maestros, KDB and Mkhitaryan, who could feature prominently this weekend. Up front I run with the same three forwards, opting NOT to bring in Lukaku on a “knee jerk” and a -4 hit. Some questions could surround Firmino after their midweek UCL fixture against Hoffenheim, still I feel he will start for the Reds ahead of the again healthy, Sturridge.

My bench is still a concern. although Carroll is a starting for Swansea but will only be fielded when the Swans feature at home against weak opposition. Stephens, like Carroll, features in GW1 and played all 90 minutes, couldn’t ask for more. Truthfully neither will feature as I will put my budget and faith in the starting XI on the pitch.

Premier League: GW1 Retrospect

In what began as a great game week on Saturday, turned into a bit of a horror show at the conclusion of the Sunday fixtures. Prior to the start of the EPL, like many mangers I spent many hours reading, researching and building my 15-man squad. The culmination of my planning came down to a Friday morning change moving from a 5-3-2 into a 5-2-3. Much of the risk still remained with 5 defenders and a potential lack of attack. With uncertainty surrounding GW1 players and clean sheets being a statistic anomaly, I sat back to watch and enjoy, as the beautiful game had returned.

Unlike the previous 4 season participating in FPL, I felt confident heading into GW1. Over the summer break I remained active in transfers, as well as discussion on players, formations and what we expected to happen in the 2017/18 EPL season. I created countless spreadsheets to help organize my thoughts, build various squads based on formations and put together a transfer plan through GW7. As I said in an earlier post, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” So without further ado, here’s how GW1 played out.

With great anticipation I settled in on Saturday morning in the states to get my fill of football. Unfortunately, NBC Sports has decided to making their Premiership coverage subscription based at $49.99 for a season pass. This means I will be lucky to see two games a day during the EPL season. Really unfortunately to lose the free coverage that we’ve seen since NBC decided to start covering the beautiful game. For me, I refuse to pay NBC for this “extra” coverage. Hopefully they come to their senses for next season, but for some reason I don’t see that happening.

Gameweek 1 began for me approximately 2 hours before ARS v LEI took to the pitch. What was known before kickoff, I was starting with 5 defenders. What I didn’t know, which Chelsea midfielder to start? Willian or Fabregas? Both were v7.0 and starting with the absence of Hazard in the starting Chelsea XI. The opening fixtures for Chelsea didn’t give me a warm and fuzzy feeling; BUR/tot/EVE/lei/ARS in the first 5 weeks. Along with the search for a midfielder, I had Alonso inserted (£7.0) as the anchor in my 5 at the back defense.

What could be viewed as a hasty, irrational move I transferred Lukaku out in favor of Jesus and Firmino. I had reaffirmed just days before that players above 30% TSB should be owned and considered template players. At the time I moved “Big Rom” his ownership was over 48%! The FFS Scoutcast provided a bit of doubt, the fact that Man United could go up 1-0 against WHM and set up shop defensively at home. Combine that with Jesus, who was phenomenal for City last year, could potentially put up 20+ goals this season, but at £1.0 less than Lukaku. While I didn’t really consider the 5-2-3, but had played around with it, I decided to finalize my team.

Along with shipping out Lukaku, I also said goodbye to Alonso. The front line of Jesus, Kane and Firmino looked great on paper. Defensively, I brought in my third So’ton defender, Cédric. I was living large and backing the Saints to provide a CS against Swansea. City away for new boys Brighton I tripled up though my starting XI. Yet, concern and doubt continued to creep into my head, was this the right move to make, away from Lukaku?

Saturday I could not have asked for a better showing from my defense. Starting Yoshida, Bertrand and Cédric with Kompany and Valencia at £28.0m. Between the pipes, I held steady with Foster as WBA took on the offensive minded Cherries. Planning paid off as I finished Saturday with 5 clean sheets and 3 bonus points (1 from Foster, 2 from Bertrand). Sunday took a minor hit as Jose playing 4 at the back and Valencia, fielded as a RB didn’t get many looks inside the box, but did feature down the right side. He also picked up a yellow card, but still finished the day on 5 points. So defensively I was perfect, 36 points!

Unfortunately problems were mounting as an uneasiness settled upon me. Firmino played outstanding for Liverpool rewarding managers with 12 points, on a goal/assist and 3 bonus points. It appears Firmino will also be on penalties without Milner featuring, scoring his first against Watford. Firmino was a solid addition with the Lukaku move and provided me a sense of reassurance.

The City pairing of KDB and Jesus, failed to really impress, while each got off 4 shots on target, neither returned points. KDB picked up 1 point for the CS against Brighton, but it was Kun Agüero with a goal. Hoenstly, I thought City would roll up 4 or 5 goals, but they saved it late for a 2-0 victory. Zaha and Palace were shell shocked by Huddersfield 3-0, as Palace didn’t get anything going and Zaha didn’t return, while picking up a knee injury that has him questionable for GW2 away to Liverpool.

Saturday saw my finished on 51 points, well on my way to the 60 point average I wanted over the course of the season. This set me up for the Sunday fixtures with Valencia and Kane to showcase my 5-2-3 and add to my total. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the fact that Kane remains goalless in August in the EPL, but the decision to include him to start the season was partially based on how strongly he finished last season. Spurs looked sharp, Kane had chances in the box; saved, post, offside denied him of three excellent chances. I also gave Kane the armband, so his 1 point doubled.

I spoke about the Captain’s Armband back in March and how I was “sorely disappointed” and “in 13 out of 27 weeks (48.1%) I owned and started the player who was recommend in website captain polls.” To start this season, the armband was on Lukaku before I transferred him, handing the captaincy to Kane, who was listed in many polls as the second choice option. If I would have held steady and not moved Lukaku I would have finished 25 point higher (Lukaku 26, Alonso 0, Fabregas -1).

While I was hoping to hold my GW2 transfer, the injury to Zaha might force my hand. With £1.5m ITB, I have options to replace Zaha, if indications are he’s not going to start against Liverpool. However I continue to keep an eye on Lukaku. That transfer finger is getting itchy and current TSB% of 50.5% is continuing to climb with swa/LEI/sto in the next 3 games. Yet I feel I can justify Jesus for £1.0m less with strong fixtures through GW10, that do include LIV/che in GW4 and GW7 respectively, teams that gave up 3 goals a piece in GW1. Could Kane take a one week pass in favor of Lukaku agsinst SWA?

Overall it was a terrible weekend on just 50 points, I am sitting at 1.9m in the overall standings and the 15 leagues I am in aren’t even worth talking about at this point. It will be a week filled with discussion and decisions before the start of GW2. With that sole FT burning a hole in my pocket the injury to Zaha could force a move. FPL is back!