(A somewhat tongue in cheek guide to starting fast & leaving your FPL rivals in the dust)
There are 3 main areas which will decide whether I am going to have a good season. These are my start to the season, my captaincy success and nailing my chips. The latter 2 are more tangible but it is the start that will have the biggest impact on how good a season I will have.
While there are countless stats, methods and theories on picking your captain and playing your chips it is typical that the one I value most is the trickiest to plan for, measure and achieve.
I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy 4x top 5k finishes and another top 20k in my 9 seasons playing this game and the common denominator in them all has been a fast start. I usually tie up near the end but getting out of the blocks fast gives me some scope to make some mistakes/bottle it late on.
How many times have you heard the old adage ‘FPL is a marathon not a sprint?’
While I understand the sentiment, for me this isn’t true. There is no disadvantage in FPL to starting as fast as you possibly can whereas if I go as fast I can for the first 5-10 kms of a marathon I will no doubt fall away and possibly die.
For me, FPL is more like a Formula 1 race.
It is still a slog and a test of stamina, concentration and tactics. However, getting a jump on your rivals and a fast start will make it easier to navigate the rest of the season.
There will be better cars and drivers with better teams and strategies queuing up behind you, but a good start is a great equaliser and gives you a chance of finishing high. For me a quick start is essential to a good season and it will benefit your team in the following ways:
Winning is fun right? How many players play FPL for a few weeks before becoming disinterested?
Judging by the number of managers who ‘never took the game seriously’ till they had a good season I would say quite a few. Starting well increases enjoyment of the game as well as keeping managers engaged for longer.
Accumulating points fast and early gives you more scope to take hits when needs be. Having more points will make it easier to absorb hits and make you less likely to pass on what could be a beneficial or even necessary -4.
A fast start will also increase our team value naturally. If we are enjoying high scoring weeks early our players will naturally rise in value.
Other managers will want them and with the price changes market being particularly reactive in the early weeks our team value will receive a nice boost. This increases our options for later in the season.
Keeping ahead of the curve
Other players will be adapting their squads to match yours while you are identifying the next template players and unearthing the next diamond of a differential. In truth this is one of the hardest things to do in FPL. However, a fast start allows you to be bolder in trying to achieve it.
So, you get the point. I value a fast start. But how do we go about this?
Below I will look at some key areas which have helped me to get away from my rivals at the starting line.
At the start of the season the fixtures are the most important piece of information I have. They are definite and how we interpret them changes little over the course of the first few weeks. I will know these inside out.
There are many good fixture tickers out there, but I recommend making your own. It will be a truer reflection of how you view the fixtures and it is also a great exercise in getting to know them.
Don’t look too far ahead. I will build my GW 1 team with the first 4 GWs in mind. Once I have done this, I will branch out slightly and incorporate the next 6 weeks and tweak the squad slightly.
I will make sure I have at least 2 strong captaincy options I am happy with for these fixtures or that I can get the one in that I am happy with easily. I will provisionally book in my early season transfers based on these fixtures.
Don’t listen to those who will have you believe that pre-season is meaningless and a waste of your time.
What better way to plan for playing football matches but to play other football matches in preparation of these? True, we will not solve Pep Roulette with it but there are plenty of useful nuggets of information that will help our GW1 teams.
Keep up to date on all the happenings during these friendlies. We can get a fair idea of player minutes, team formations and even form. We can see how new signings are being incorporated into their new teams and also get a look at some lesser known promoted players.
Of course, use your discretion and common sense. If Patrick Bamford scores a bucket load of goals vs Green Forest Rangers take this with the pinch of salt it deserves.
I have got on some bargain players early due to pre-season observations including Mahrez and Capoue who were early band wagons in seasons gone by.
Pre-season also alerted us to the viability of everyone’s favourite 4.0 defender who has never actually defended, John Lundstrum.
While many ITK Sheffield Utd fans delighted in telling us he’s still not nailed those watching pre-season intently wondered why is he starting most of their friendlies if he is not going to play?
Now mix the above two together (fixtures and pre-season) and you’re halfway there.
Starting fast means playing fast
Your GW 1 team is essentially your first wildcard of the season. It is a great chance to pick a team centred around getting as many points as possible in the first few game weeks.
You wouldn’t play your wild card with 10 weeks in mind so I don’t think your GW 1 team should be any different. The longer you try to extract from it the less valuable it becomes.
Plan for 4-5 weeks not 14-15. A few well-planned transfers can help change the whole landscape of your team and there is off course your actual wild card.
I’m a big fan of an early wild card and usually use it anywhere between GW 3-5. If I’m picking a team for just 4 GWs I can fully exploit those fixtures far more than someone who is picking their GW1 team longer term.
Then I can WC & change tack completely if needs be. Hop on the best enablers, switch premiums, exploit early shifts in fixtures & get ahead of the curve. I’ve benefited 2 fold now & if I do it well will be constantly ahead of plenty of teams.
I now have several weeks & free transfers to plan for the GWs ahead. Sitting on my throne of points I can decide whether to keep ploughing ahead or slow the pace down a little.
I can now hopefully replicate or even improve on what those with WCs plan to do. Whereas those who wait have no way to replicate my hopefully fast start. It’s gone.
They’re also attacking just a couple of GWs. I’ve hopefully extracted as much value as I can for the first 4 & maybe next 6+ by playing ‘fast’.
Admittedly I will have to catch some breaks to fully maximise this strategy but will be putting myself in a position to do so.
Play with no fear
At the start of the game many players play too conservatively. They have put the work in picking their GW 1 squad and now will sit back and see how it all pans out. They will react rather than act and wait and see the lay of the land.
It is the perfect time to be aggressive, take some calculated risks and get ahead of the crowd. The key word here is calculated and this shouldn’t be confused with play with reckless abandon, early doors.
Why should we play without fear?
FPL is a free game that most of us play as a hobby. We all dream of winning it one day, but the truth is in our FPL lifetime only 40-50 players can win it out of millions.
To win it you have to get seriously lucky. To get seriously lucky you have to take some chances.
You have nothing to lose by playing a bold and calculated strategy early doors. If it works you get all of the benefits listed above and if not, we have plenty of time to change course and make amends.
Stick to the plan
During the season you will never get more time or freedom to make an FPL plan as you do in pre-season. We have weeks and unlimited transfers do this.
Put the time in and figure out how you will maximise your expected value in the first few weeks. Once you have done this it is just as important to stick to this.
I will have my starting 15-man squad but will also have up to 10 players in reserve ready to come in if it becomes clear that something isn’t working out.
This reserve list will be based on the fixtures and price points. It is pre-made and purpose built so means emotion will not come into it. It means I won’t be led astray by bandwagons or make unplanned whimsical transfers.
I find it important to remove all emotion from your decision making. We owe these mini replica shirts in our FPL teams who represent our real-life heroes nothing. They are simply dispensable utensils we use to earn as many points as we can.
If you ever meet Aubameyang in the pub by all means, thank him for his haul on the final day and offer to buy him a pint. However, in game, throw him away as soon he becomes of no use to you.
My current plan is to have Auba in my starting team for the opening 2 fixtures vs Fulham and West Ham and then ship him back to The Emirates as the fixtures tighten up. But what if he hauls in the opening games?
Well I expect him to, that is why he is in my team for those games. However, I expect the returns to dry up between GWs 3-7 and will be hopping on someone else in the meantime. This is irrespective of his form. Stick to the plan.
Put your own twist on the template
‘The template’ has become a dirty word on Twitter. It is now a by word for hordes of mindless and unimaginative zombies picking the same team.
‘Don’t be so boring, have some balls’ etc etc. Twitter is a bubble, but it is a bubble that contains plenty of the most thoughtful and engaged players around.
There is nothing wrong with having the same core players as a group of people who spend their time trying to figure out who the most important players to own are, at any given time.
Owning certain highly owned players is fine. After all they are highly owned as they are expected to do well. At worst they will act as a safety net and mean you are not cast too far adrift if your fast start does not materialise.
Players often talk as if ‘the template’ is exclusively 15 players. In reality it is 3-4 times this and their are many templates within ‘the template’. There is plenty of room to be different but don’t do it for the sake of it.
However, it is important to put your own twist on it. Don’t be afraid to pick a lowly owned player if you think they are being overlooked.
I really am a fan of finding 1-2 differentials for my GW 1 team and finding the next 1 or 2 for each block of the season after that. The template is not a bad thing as long as we put our own stamp on it.
Do not let ownership or effective ownership put you off making a play you believe is a good one. Don’t be afraid to bet against the most popular captain if you believe you may have found a better one.
If it comes off there are huge gains to be made. Also, there is nothing more demoralising than identifying such a spot only to be swayed by the masses and missing out when it turns out you were right.
To be clear this isn’t something that should happen regularly but there should be a handful of opportunities during the season. If you are betting against the most popular captains week in week out it is going to be a rough season.
To have a really great season we will have to at times get lucky. We only put ourselves in this position by taking a few risks like the ones above.
Identify what a good start is for you
You have to make realistic goals based on your experience and the work you are prepared to put in. We all want to get off to a flier and hit the top 10k early, but this isn’t the only definition of a fast start.
If you are normally a slow starter and spend the first few weeks hovering around the 1 million mark then being 250k at the same time this year is a big achievement.
You have adopted this new approach and it has paid dividends. Be realistic.
A couple of things to note before we wrap this baby up.
Every season is different and what worked last season won’t necessarily work this year. As I stated at the start this fast approach has served me well in 5/9 of my FPL seasons. 3251, 3533, 2017, 1,001 and 19837 to be exact. You can guess how the other 4 seasons went.
However, even when it does not go to plan, we still have plenty of time to put it right. If I don’t start well, I tend not to do great but I always have time to adapt and improve.
Last season, I did not get the coveted good start and did quite the opposite eventually ending up at my lowest ever OR.
Languishing at 2.8m after 10 weeks a mix of bad luck and some poor decisions effectively wrote off my season early. However, I still finished 303k proving there is always time to rectify things.
While it was not what I had planned there is something enjoyable about trying to salvage a season.
There are also 3 out of the ordinary factors to be aware of this season which means I may have to alter the above. 1) The season only ended a short few weeks ago.
Usually I do not put too much emphasis on last season’s form which is why I value the fixtures so much. However, it may be worth taking the end of season form into account a little more as it was only a few weeks ago. I will consider it as part of my pre-season research.
2) We live in uncertain times and matches are more at risk of being postponed than ever. A COVID out-break could call off a game at a moment’s notice. Many more risk averse managers will be uncomfortable using their WC early. However, I still favour playing fast and using my own 1st WC early.
Holding it for something that may not happen is a defensive move. I’ll also end up using it on games and teams I had no intention to use it on. I prefer to use my first WC to attack and then hold the 2nd till we figure out some chip strategies.
3) Finally the BGW 1 for the heavy hitters of Utd and City may make my usual strategy more difficult. It will surely be harder to plan for the 1st 4 weeks with out them and may change the effectiveness of my early WC. I am still processing this and will let you know when I figure it out. It is a dynamic game after all.
Roughly 61.2 points per week would have landed you a top 25k finish last season. Obviously we will have weeks below this target and some above. The first 10 weeks are a great time to attempt to get ourselves ahead of this hit rate.
Playing ABC FPL and using our chips well, will likely guarantee you a top 500k finish and possibly even a top 100k one. This is the equivalent of taking that 40k per year finance job after college and grinding out a relatively successful and at times satisfying life until you retire and die.
However, you will always wonder what would have happened had you followed that crazy Swedish chick you met in that hostel in Thailand to the next island. But you didn’t. You’re now sitting at your desk in Barclay’s Bank, looking out the window dreaming of a top 10k FPL finish.
So to me there is no real difference between coming top 50k and top 500k. Why not be a little bit more speculative and aggressive early on in the hope of hitting that fairy tale rank?
If it doesn’t work out you can still grind your way to a respectable season. Failing that you can just tell people you did not ‘start playing the game seriously’ until… 😉