With the new football season not far away, the time has come for me to seriously think about my strategy for the forthcoming Fantasy Premier League (FPL) season. A key part of this strategy is going to involve a change of tact with regards to my defence. I have gone into the data driving my strategic decision elsewhere in this blog, so I won’t reiterate too much of the underlying theory but the basic premise is that my defensive line will consist of two premium, attack-minded defenders from top sides, and three budget defenders occupying the third defensive position on a rotating basis. The focus of this short blog is to explain how I have decided which clubs these three rotating players shall come from.
My task is to find the best combination of fixtures for three clubs from whom I can pick three defenders for a low price: £4.5m each, or £13.5m in total. A favourable fixture will be determined as:
- A home game
- Against a weak opposition to increase the probability of a clean sheet
The players must fulfil the criteria of being cheap and highly likely to play a full season. Therefore, it is prudent to look for defenders from the same ‘weak’ teams that will form the opposition. There are cheap players from the big teams, and they are likely to keep clean sheets, unfortunately they are also more unlikely to play.
The roster of teams I have chosen (subjectively) to define as bottom-half fodder are as follows:
- Bournemouth (BOU)
- Burnley (BUR)
- Crystal Palace (CPL)
- Hull City (HUL)
- Middlesbrough (MID)
- Stoke City (STO)
- Sunderland (SUN)
- Swansea (SWA)
- Watford (WAT)
- West Brom (WBA)
Obviously, the coming season may prove these assumptions incorrect, but for the moment I am determining these teams the most likely to finish in the bottom half of the table.
I will look for a combination of fixtures from these teams that are favourable for the first 33 weeks of the season. I have only looked at the first 33 of 38 weeks because in FPL, this is when the double gameweeks kick in – players playing twice in a single week, which also means there are blank gameweeks elsewhere in the calendar – and I am more likely to use my second unlimited transfers wildcard. At this stage, in the final run-in when long-term thinking goes out the window, I will likely adopt a very different strategy.
Home Fixtures Only
There are four combinations of teams that yield 23 favourable fixtures in the first 33 gameweeks, followed by 10 with 22 favourable fixtures and 19 with 21 favourable fixtures. The combinations with 23 are:
- BUR / MID / WBA
- HUL / MID / WBA
- MID / SWA / WBA
- MID / WAT / WBA
We can immediately see that each combination includes newly promoted Middlesbrough and Tony Pulis’ West Brom, immediately bringing these two clubs onto our radar. However, we need to be aware that the remaining 10 games are not necessarily favourable. For example, we might be in a position where these 10 games pit our third budget defender against the top teams away from home, as is the case when Middlesbrough, Watford and West Brom travel to Manchester City, Liverpool and Leicester in gameweek 11.
Therefore, it could be more beneficial to ensure that if our third defender, if he does not face a weak team at home, is at least facing a weak team away from home. As a result, it is necessary to look at the most favourable combinations when our budget defenders are playing weak teams home or away.
Home and Away Fixtures
The amount of favourable combinations under these conditions increases substantially. When taking into account home fixtures only, there were four combinations that generated 23 favourable fixtures out of 33 gameweeks, but when we add away games into the mix EVERY combination (119) will yield at least 24 somewhat favourable fixtures. So, this opens up the scope significantly. There are two combinations which are most favourable, with 32 of 33 fixtures against lower half teams.
- BOU / MID / STO
- MID / STO / SUN
What we see here is a clear strategy that indicates if three budget defenders from these teams are chosen, at least one of them will face a bottom half team for all but one of the first 33 gameweeks (the exception for both combinations is Southampton at home). However, the above combinations will have to contend with 14 and 13 fixtures away from home respectively, below the 10 that the ‘home only’ combinations above have to work through. Might it not be better to find a blend of the two by limiting the number of away games whilst still maximising the number of games against weak teams?
The Blended Approach
Figure 1: Favourable Home Fixtures Only vs. Favourable Home and Away Fixtures Combined (n=119, bubbles donate frequency of occurrence)
The bubbles in the top right of the chart above are the combinations we want to be looking out for, as they denote a good combination of favourable home fixtures and favourable home and away fixtures. The green bubbles represent the four combinations described in the Home Fixtures Only section, whilst the orange bubbles are the two combinations with the best overall fixtures home and away.
The combinations I want to focus on are the ones in the dotted box, which represent I believe the best combinations of teams. These are:
- MID / SWA / WBA (23 home fixtures, 7 away fixtures and 3 top half opponents)
- MID / SUN / SWA (22 home fixtures, 9 away fixtures and 2 top half opponents)
- BUR / STO / SUN (22 home fixtures, 8 away fixtures and 3 TBC top half opponents)
- CPL / MID / SWA (22 home fixtures, 8 away fixtures and 3 TBC top half opponents)
- MID / SUN / WAT (22 home fixtures, 8 away fixtures and 3 TBC top half opponents
In truth, any one of these combinations can work, however each has a drawback. Combination A features a potentially destructive gameweek 11 with a choice between a home tie with Manchester United or away games at Leicester or Manchester City. However, the other two unfavourable ties are home and away against Everton, which is potentially manageable.
Combination B has only two unfavourable ties, also home and away vs. Everton. However, it also features six games against Crystal Palace. The Eagles are in this list as a bottom half team and a favourable fixture, however they are the team I have least confidence in living up to my expectations, and I think the summer recruitment to date has been good and with a potentially incoming Benteke from Liverpool, they could spring a surprise. Therefore, this combination having to play them six times is potentially tricky.
Combination C features 3 unfavourable fixtures, again home and away vs. Everton and a home match against Southampton. What is notable about this combination though is the heavy dependence on Stoke; 16 of the 33 fixtures really on the Stoke defender, so make sure he’s dependable if you’re using this combination (A and B both feature Middlesbrough as the leading contributor, with 14)
Combination D also has three unfavourable fixtures all against, you guessed it, Everton (home and two away). It also features the most even spread of fixtures between the 3 teams involved (12 CPL, 11 MID, 10 SWA).
Finally, Combination E is similar to Combination A in that it features an unfavourable home and away vs. Everton along with a nasty looking home tie against a potent attack, in this case Liverpool. Unlike Combination A, it features an extra away game vs. the bottom half teams, which also counts against it.
The Favoured Combination
In truth any one of these has merit, but for the coming season I am planning on favouring Combination D: CPL / MID / SWA. Whilst I don’t yet know if this will be feasible with the price list (prized assets Ashley Williams and Scott Dann are surely going to exceed my proposed £4.5m budget), I feel it offers the best fixtures with no significant obstacles, and features a good balance between the teams so I’m not over-relying on a single player. The fixtures for this combination are as follows, with my rotation highlighted (home matches in caps):
After an unprecedented deluge of requests (e.g. three comments on Twitter), I have outlined below the best combinations for shorter timeframes. This is based on the valid feedback that many will have a hard time maintaining a consistent defence over the course of 33 weeks. Therefore, what follows are the best combinations for the first 5 gameweeks, which is the international break when a lot of FPL managers will use their first wildcard, and the first 19 gameweeks, which is the halfway point in the season and likely to be the deadline for the first wildcard. I will qualify these lists with the disclaimer that I have not looked into these combinations in detail, so I offer no opinions on the strength of their unfavourable fixtures, I will leave that to the reader to assess.
First 5 Gameweeks:
- BOU / CPL / SUN (5 favourable fixtures)
- BOU / CPL / SWA (5 favourable fixtures)
- BUR / CPL / SUN (5 favourable fixtures)
- BUR / CPL / SWA (5 favourable fixtures)
- CPL / MID / SUN (5 favourable fixtures)
- CPL / MID / SWA (5 favourable fixtures)
First 19 Gameweeks:
- BUR / MID / SUN (14 favourable fixtures, 1 away fixture and 4 top-half opponents)
- BUR / MID / SWA (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
- BUR / MID / WBA (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
- BUR / STO / SUN (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
- BUR / STO / SWA (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
- BUR / SUN / WBA (14 favourable fixtures, 2 away fixtures and 3 top-half opponents)
- BUR / SWA / WBA (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
- HUL / MID / SUN (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
- MID / SWA / SUN (14 favourable fixtures, 4 away fixtures and 1 top-half opponents)
- MID / SWA / WBA (14 favourable fixtures, 3 away fixtures and 2 top-half opponents)
It is worth noting that my favoured combination for 33 weeks, CPL / MID / SWA, is one of the best combinations for the first 5 gameweeks, and has 13 favourable fixtures in the first 19 gameweeks, making it a strong candidate again.