How Long Should We Hold on to Underperforming Premium Assets in FPL?

In this article, I will discuss various psychological biases that are present when deciding whether or not to sell an out-of-form premium asset.

The purpose of this article is not to tell you when to sell your specific premium asset, but instead to make you more aware of the psychological biases at play when you are making your decision.

The aim is for you to be able to combine this knowledge of your own cognitive biases with underlying statistics and the eye test, in an attempt to make the most well-informed decision you possibly can, and optimise your decision making process.

At the end of the article, I will bring together all of the information to provide you with four practical tips to help you decide whether or not to remove your underperforming FPL assets.

Psychological biases discussed in this article: plan continuation bias; the gambler’s fallacy; the endowment effect; the mere ownership effect; fear of missing out (FoMO).

Raheem Sterling: the chosen example

Photo Source: https://www.squawka.com/en/raheem-sterling-score-30-goals-man-city-wright-phillips/

A good example – and perhaps the main driving force for this article – is the recent under-performance of the £11.6m midfielder Raheem Sterling. Sterling will be used as the example in this article, but the concepts can be applied to any underperforming FPL players, for example, Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Having scored 2 and 3 points respectively (5 points total) in his last two games, fellow premium assets Mane (10 points), Salah (10 points), Auba (10 points), Son (13 points), and KDB (7 points) have outscored the English winger.

If you take into account captaincy, in two games alone that is up to a 10 point swing in favour of the other premium assets.

In fact, only the two Manchester United assets of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford have also blanked in the last two matches. However, United have faced Chelsea and Arsenal in the last two respectively, whereas City have faced West Ham and Sheffield United.

Not only has his actual output let down many managers, but his underlying statistics do not paint a pretty picture.

In the last two GWs, his expected goals per 90 (xG90) was 0.29, and his expected assists per 90 (xA90) was 0.30. Further, he has only taken 3 shots in the last 2 GWs, and only 1 of these was on target (stats taken from https://fantasyfootballhub.co.uk/fpl-player-comparision-tool/).

In fact, his xG90 for the entire season so far has been 0.29, and his xA90 for the entire season has been 0.27. In comparison, Mo Salah scores 0.82 and 0.46 respectively per 90, and Sadio Mane scores 0.71 and 0.32 respectively per 90.

Perhaps most worryingly, Raheem Sterling has only had 2 big chances in his opening 6 games (stats taken from https://fantasyfootballhub.co.uk/fpl-player-comparision-tool/).

Therefore, owners are left with a big dilemma. Do you transfer out a player that has been underperforming all season and blanked in the last two gameweeks? Or do you continue to keep faith with that player, as you know that he has been consistent in past seasons, has explosive haul ability, and has potentially appealing fixtures coming up?

*See the below visual representations of attacking statistics per 90 for the entire 2020/21 season with Sterling vs. Salah/Mane/KDB.*

Graph 1: Sterling vs. Salah per 90. Sterling = blue, Salah = red. Data taken from https://fantasyfootballhub.co.uk/fpl-player-comparision-tool/.
Graph 2: Sterling vs. Mane per 90. Sterling = blue, Mane = red. Data taken from https://fantasyfootballhub.co.uk/fpl-player-comparision-tool/.
Graph 3: Sterling vs. KDB per 90. Sterling = blue, KDB = red. Data taken from https://fantasyfootballhub.co.uk/fpl-player-comparision-tool/.

Plan Continuation Bias – is Sterling still viable?

A journalist's guide to cognitive bias (and how to avoid it) | Online  Journalism Blog
Photo source: https://onlinejournalismblog.com/2020/03/24/a-journalists-guide-to-cognitive-bias-and-how-to-avoid-it/

The first bias to discuss here is known as the plan continuation bias. The plan continuation bias is the tendency for an individual to continue with an original plan or course of action, despite this plan no longer being viable, and/or with better alternatives arising.

In this example, it may be that you transferred in Sterling in GW6 for the West Ham and Sheffield United games, and your plan was always to captain him for those two games and continue to hold him throughout the lead up to Christmas due to City’s enticing fixtures.

It is fair to say that perhaps that plan is no longer viable, or at the very least, significantly less appealing than it was 3 weeks ago. However, this does not just apply to holding on to premium assets, it actually applies to all long-term planning in FPL.

Another relevant example in FPL this season is the “big at the back” mantra to begin the season, where lots of us managers loaded up on double Liverpool defences and expensive wingbacks such as Digne and Doherty.

For those of us still on double Liverpool defence or with lots of money heavily invested in our defence, we may be suffering here from plan continuation bias, failing to recognise and react to the better alternatives.

For those that have avoided plan continuation bias, they may have taken a hit to remove some money from the defence and re-invest in the attack.

Therefore, to avoid plan continuation bias, it is important to regular re-assess your plan and decide whether it is still the optimal plan moving forward. Are there better alternatives, or is it still the most effective course of action?

It is very important to be adaptive and dynamic in FPL, and therefore if we suffer from plan continuation bias, and fail to consider changing our original plan, we may fall behind and be left chasing the pack.

It is worth noting here, that there is a very fine line between plan continuation bias and intuitively refraining from being short-sighted and over-reactive.

Of course, sticking to your original plan will often be successful and the correct thing to do. It is our job as FPL managers to decide when we are merely being patient and trusting our original decision, or failing to react and adapt to the dynamic and ever-changing game of FPL.

The Gambler’s Fallacy – Sterling is due a Haul

Gambler's Fallacy - tCeti
Photo Source: https://tceti.nz/gamblers-fallacy/

This is quite a commonly discussed phenomenon in the FPL community known as the Gambler’s Fallacy. Simply, this is the fallacy whereby individuals believe that previous random events influence the probability of a future unrelated event from happening.

The historic example was in 1913, when the roulette wheel showed up black 29 times in a row at the Monte Carlo Casino.

After the 10th time the black showed, gamblers began to place larger and larger amounts of money on red. “Surely red will eventually come up after all of these black showings”. This right here, is the fallacy.

Each time the wheel spins, it is independent of the previous spin. So on each occasion, the chance is 50/50. Therefore, it does not matter whether red has showed recently or not, the probability or red showing on the next occasion is equally likely.

In FPL, this can often be applied when a premium asset with an otherwise consistent history blanks two games in a row, as is the case currently with Raheem Sterling. If you stuck with Sterling throughout the last two games, you may be thinking to yourself: “I will keep him, because he is due a haul.” I urge you NOT to think in this frame of mind.

It is true that consistent players often replicate that consistency. For example, Mo Salah has only twice blanked in two consecutive home games (once in 2017 and once in 2018). Therefore, if he blanks in one home game, there appears to be a good chance he will return in the following – but statistically speaking, these events are unrelated.

Just because Sterling blanked in his previous two games, this does NOT make him more likely to return in the upcoming games. The upcoming games should be viewed separately to the previous games. The only reason you should use past games, is for eye tests and underlying statistics.

That being said, if Sterling had excellent underlying statistics in the previous two games, and was therefore ‘unlucky’ not to return, you can at that stage predict with a touch more evidence that he ‘could’ do well in the upcoming games.

However, simply keeping a premium asset because they blanked in the last few and they are normally quite consistent, is not a psychologically or statistically valid method of decision making, and therefore I urge you not to take this approach.

The Endowment Effect – is it just because you own him?

The Endowment Effect: Why ownership makes you overvalue your things - Kent  Hendricks
Photo source: https://kenthendricks.com/endowment-effect/

So far I have suggested that you should attempt to avoid continuing with a plan simply because it was the original course of action (plan continuation bias), and also attempt to separate past events such as streaks of form in past seasons, with future events (gambler’s fallacy).

Another consideration you should have when deciding whether to stick or twist with an underperforming asset, is whether you are affected by the mere fact that you own that player, rather than objectively assessing the situation. This circumstance is represented by two key concepts: the endowment effect, and the mere-ownership effect.

The endowment effect can be defined as the circumstance in which individual’s place higher value on an object that they already own, than the value they would place on that same object if they did not own it.

This is closely related to the ‘mere ownership effect’ in Social Psychology, which describes the circumstance in which people who own an object tend to evaluate that object more positively than people who do not. Both concepts suggest that as owners of objects, we value them more positively and value them at a higher rate than non-owners.

The relevance of this for the current article, is that you may be hanging onto the player and finding reasons to continue with them, simply because you own them. The best way to avoid these biases, is to attempt to distance yourself from your history with that player, and distance yourself from your team.

Taken at face value, is this asset someone you think will score well in the upcoming GWs, and if so, is this asset someone you think will be able to match/out score the other premium assets? If the answer is no, it may be that you are being negatively affected by the mere fact that you own the player in question, and simply view him favourably because you own him.

Beware of FoMO

FOMO: Are you afraid of missing out?
Photo source: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/fomo-are-you-afraid-of-missing-out-1.3704521

The final discussion of this article is around the FPL fan favourite ‘fear of missing out’, or ‘FoMO’. In this context, FoMO refers to the fear that we may be missing out on an enjoyable experience that others are having, whilst we are left to suffer.

That being, if we take out our premium asset just before they haul, we are fearful that other people will experience the positives and euphoria associated with that haul, whilst we are left to suffer the consequences of our decision. This is amplified when the premium asset has very high ownership.

This is closely linked to the fear of regret, in that we do not make an active decision to remove the player, and instead passively leave them in our team, in the fear that removing the player will lead to more extreme negatives than keeping that player in our team.

If you want to be successful in FPL, you cannot be in constant fear of making a decision you will regret. If you decide not to take out the player and they continue to blank, that is just as disastrous as taking out the player just before they haul.

Rather than making your decision based on fear and regret, I urge you to make the decision solely based on who you believe to score more points over the period that you plan on owning them. If you make the wrong decision, that is part of FPL! But it should not stop you from being aggressive and reactive in your decisions.

Conclusion – key pieces of advice

Based on the above research and discussion, here are my key pieces of psychological advice when deciding whether or not to remove the underperforming asset.

  1. RE-ASSESS: every GW (or at the least every two GWs) re-assess your original plan and re-assess the players in your team. Is there someone that you originally thought would be performing well, but is being heavily out-scored by a similarly priced player? If so, do the underlying statistics support the output from each player? Would you benefit from switching to the player performing at a higher level? Asking yourself these questions will help you avoid the plan continuation bias.
  2. AVOID THE USE OF ‘DUE’: unless every single statistic and eye test points to it, a player is very unlikely to be ‘due’ a goal. The mere fact that someone has blanked consistently is probably an indicator that they are in poor form, rather than being due a positive performance. If the underlying statistics (or the eye test) suggest that a player could return soon, only then should you base future predictions on past performances.
  3. DISTANCE YOURSELF: attempt to distance yourself from your history with a player and your own team. Do you believe X player (in this case Sterling) will outscore the other premium assets at a similar price? If the answer is no, but you are keeping that player regardless, you are probably affected by the mere fact that they are already in your team.
  4. AVOID FOMO: avoid making decisions based on fear of missing out, or fear of regretting your decision. Make the decision that you believe will result in you scoring the most points for your team in the upcoming gameweeks.

Importantly, if you decide to keep your player or remove your player, do NOT regret your decision. Make your decision with confidence, and evaluate the decision based on the thought process rather than the outcome. You cannot get every decision correct, so just do the best job you can. Good luck with GW8 FPL managers!

*Featured image source: https://www.90min.com/in/posts/raheem-sterling-features-in-worst-misses-in-football-history-twitter-thread-01eg0dhp86nh*

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