FPL 2021/22: Bruno or BruNO?

In the following article, we cover the hottest topic across the FPL community right now, should we go without Bruno Fernandes? We discuss the stats behind the player and how he compares to possible replacements. We also look at risk taking as whole and how our attitude to it can shape our decisions.

To Bruno, or not to Bruno, that is the question.

As drafts take shape, Fantasy Premier League managers across the land hastily search for optimal strategy, searching for even the most minute edge over the competition. The latest sticking point centers around last season’s FPL king, Bruno Fernandes (£12.0m).

The sight of Bruno’s £12.0m price tag spread across our squads certainly looks appealing. The avenues that the extra funds open up have potential to produce big results, but equally you are betting against a highly consistent asset who has proven his ability to dominate games.

Naturally, sticking with Bruno is the safe play and will likely prevent you from suffering any significant damage at the beginning. However, there is a case for taking a few risks early on with so much time to correct any mistakes that are made.

Below, we present the case for going with or without Fernandes. Utilising stats from fantasyfootballfix.com and their points projection tool, to come to some sort of conclusion.

The case for Bruno

We’ll start by dealing with obvious, explaining why Fernandes is such a hard asset to go without.

Since his debut in January 2020, no player has scored more than Bruno’s 361 FPL points. No player has scored more than his 54 bonus points. No player has generated more than his 48 attacking returns.

The man is an FPL colossus. According to Fantasy Football Fix’s expected points model (xFPL), Fernandes was expected to score the most points over the 2020/21 season based on his performances. The Portuguese ultimately over performed the metric by 11 points (244 to 233).

Man Utd start the season at home to rivals Leeds, before away trips to Southampton and Wolves. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side then host Newcastle, travel to West Ham and then round off their first six with a home game against Aston Villa.

Bruno has the numbers, the fixtures are mostly good and United have certainly improved with the arrivals of Jadon Sancho (£9.5m) and Raphael Varane.

On the face of things, there are very few negatives to picking Fernandes. If the United man continues the form he’s showed so far in his FPL career then one would have to spread funds very wisely in order to avoid getting burnt.

The combination of Bruno and Mo Salah (£12.5m) is currently the most popular pairing of premium assets, with the two being the highest owned players price over £10.0m.

Going for the two gives you a captaincy option in most of the opening weeks and in terms of team structure it makes it easy to hop on to another high performing premium, with only forward Harry Kane (£12.5m) immediately out of reach.

As the table above shows, the combo of Bruno and Salah was an all conquering force last season. The pairing combined for a total expected goal involvement (xGI) of 54.25 and were expected to score 463.75 points over the campaign.

Both totals dwarf the next highest scoring pair, not including either midfielder, Jamie Vardy (£10.5m) and Kane. Even when combining Kane and Bruno, for an equal £24.5m, the pairing is still 22.10 xFPL behind the Salah-Bruno combination.

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Based on last season, there is little to make you look away from Fernandes and the data suggests that going for him and Salah together will yield more points than any other combination of premium players.

You don’t need me to sell you Fernandes, his qualities are clear. Owning him gives you about as reliable a player as they come and it removes a transfer headache from your team each week while you simply sit back and collect the points.

I’d never stop anyone from picking Bruno and no doubt over an entire season he is an asset that is virtually impossible to go without. The case for looking elsewhere is purely a short term strategy and one, as I shall discuss below, that appears to have significant upside in the early weeks of the campaign.

The case for BruNO

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

This where it gets interesting. As discussed, it does seem preposterous to avoid a player with such a strong record in Fantasy Premier League, however the opening six fixtures appear to present an opportunity to look elsewhere.

The Euros have opened up an unlikely opportunity for Riyad Mahrez (£9.0m). The City man has been as much a saint as a sinner in FPL seasons gone by, his near constant rotation making him very tough to own despite his explosiveness.

However, with colleagues Raheem Sterling (£11.0m) and Phil Foden (£8.0m) yet to return from their post-Euros holiday it looks increasingly likely that not only will Mahrez start GW1, but he may also get an extended run in the side over the early weeks.

Of the players who featured in more than 50% of available minutes last season, only six midfielders registered a higher xFPL per 90 (5.63) or xGI per 90 (0.47) than Mahrez. Of those six, only Ilkay Gundogan (£7.5m) costs less in this season’s game, and there are doubts that the German will continue to perform the role that saw him become such a potent option.

In GW2, Man City host newly promoted Norwich, the plum fixture of the round. As the table below shows, Mahrez is predicted to be the fifth highest scorer according to Fantasy Football Fix’s points projection tool.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png

The Algerian does fall below teammates Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne (£12.0m), both of whom are yet to play any minutes in pre season. We can also see that see that Mahrez is expected to outperform Fernandes, amazing considering the price difference.

It could be argued that Salah represents a fine captain pick at home to Burnley, but given the Claret’s reputation as an often stubborn defence a haul is far from certain. Although, Burnley regressed badly from a defensive perspective last season, they have historically been one of the tougher sides to breakdown in recent seasons and betting against their defence is never straightforward.

City have dispatched promoted sides with frightening ease in the past, putting eight past Watford in 2019, a game in which Mahrez scored.

Finding funds to fit in Mahrez appears to have huge potential in GW2 but as we shall discuss now, it could possibly pay off in the weeks after.

The table above shows the points projections for Fernandes, Mahrez, Heung-Min Son (£10.0m) and Sancho. As expected Bruno comes out on top, but the gap is relatively small over the first six gameweeks.

According to the algorithm, Son and Mahrez as a combination have a higher xFPL than the combination of Fernandes and any sub £7.0m midfielder, barring Ismaila Sarr (£6.0m).

It might sound simple to just pair the Watford and Man Utd midfielders, but in the same way that going without Bruno is a risk, picking a player from a promoted side is a similar step into the unknown.

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One of the main reasons cited for sticking with Bruno is captaincy, with FPL managers seeking a second premium to alternate with Salah.

According to the Fix algorithm, GW4 is the only week where Fernandes is projected to be the highest scorer, at home to Newcastle. Salah plays Leeds that week and only scores 0.1 less on the projection, suggesting he is highly captainable that week too.

Understandably, many are wary of captaining a player against Leeds after their improved defensive performances at the end of last season. However, across the season the data still suggests that Leeds are still a team to target with captaincy from a top six side.

Leeds averaged 2.44 expected goals conceded (xGC) over the 12 games in which they played one of last season’s top six. Although this slowly improved they still conceded an xG total of over 2.0 in three of their games against the top six in the second half of the season, and the other three matches they still totaled over 1.0 xGC per game.

Essentially, Leeds are a side that you should still strongly consider captaining your premium assets against.

If you are put off by Leeds’ improvement, then Son makes a fine captain away to Palace in GW4. The Tottenham man scored in the equivalent fixture last campaign and looks set to play up front until Harry Kane returns from his post-Euros break (if he does). With Son likely on penalties in Kane’s absence, it is fair to suggest that his points projection may be even higher than suggested in the table. Owning Son also gives you arguably the best captain in GW3, when Spurs play Watford.

Five decisions overturned with help of VAR

One of Bruno’s most valuable attributes is his excellent penalty record. Given that he also plays for the side who have been awarded the most penalties in the league over the last three seasons, then that attribute becomes even more powerful.

On Tuesday, the Premier League issued new guidance over the use of VAR in relation to penalties. The statement announced that marginal or ‘softer’ penalty calls would no longer be awarded and officials would require more contact, or a clear offense to be committed before a penalty can be given.

Contact alone now will not be enough to award a penalty under the new rules, it must be deemed significant enough to have brought the attacker down.

While we don’t know what impact this will have on the number of penalties, we can suspect that based on previous rule changes the referees are likely to follow the new guidance very closely.

Half of Bruno’s goals came from the spot last season and the mid-to-late season malaise he suffered came in part down to the fact United were awarded significantly fewer penalties than at the beginning of the campaign.

Indeed, Bruno’s xFPL per 90 total of 5.58 between GW26 and GW38 dropped well below his season average of 6.76. Penalties are hard to predict, and predicting the team who get the most to suddenly get less is also difficult. However, should the number of penalties reduce it becomes hard to justify the £12.0m price tag for the Portuguese.

His non-penalty expected goals (npxG) over the season was only marginally better than the likes of Jarrod Bowen (£6.5m) and Diogo Jota (£7.5m). When you include assists his overall npxGI is still strong, but a reduction in his penalty threat would dent his appeal massively.

Spreading the funds will likely enable you to fit one or both of Mahrez and Son in, or Sancho if you believe that coverage is a thing.

Bruno is obviously the safe pick. But picking between a combination of Mahrez, Son or Kai Havertz (£8.5m) still gives you viable captaincy alternatives to Salah and access to a price point where you can move around and hop onto the assets who have the best fixtures.

That flexibility, the ability to upside chase could be massively powerful early on in the season if done correctly. Even if it backfires we always have the wildcard to fall back on and nearly an entire season to correct things. Often people prefer to take risks as a last ditch attempt at hitting their target rank, but with far less time left at the end of the season there is little opportunity to recover.

Risk taking & conclusion

There is definitely an argument for taking risks at the beginning of the season, especially given most will play it safer. In my own side, I am currently without Fernandes and am looking at the aforementioned Mahrez and Son as routes to some explosive returns between GW2 and GW4.

Risk taking is not for everyone. As our very own Ross Dowsett (FPL Raptor) states in his book, The Mind Game;

“Firstly, it is very important to understand that everyone has their own style of playing FPL and the most important note here is that you should play your own game.”

Don’t force yourself into one particular strategy just because that is what others are doing. Follow your own research and gut. As Ross points out;

“As individuals, a key
factor that influences our decisions of whether to be risk averse or risk
seeking in a specific context is the social comparisons we make (McCoy & Natsuaki, 2017). In other words, we decide on, and adapt, our risk-taking behaviours based on comparisons with other individuals.”

It’s very difficult to avoid being influenced by the herd, but to be aware that it might have an impact on your own thinking should be a consideration when making a decision.

No player is essential and there is always more than one way to play FPL. You shouldn’t be categorically on Bruno or BruNO, be open to both. Don’t solely avoid him on the assumption that the number of penalties will reduce, but be aware that they might, and don’t solely pick him because of his ownership, avoiding might be a great way to get ahead.

If you believe Fernandes will fly out of the blocks then I’m not here to convince you otherwise, but I do believe we shouldn’t fear him as much as we do.

If we were picking a team for the entire season then of course Fernandes would be included. However, I see legitimate upside to going without in the early weeks and the first time I would really fear not owning Bruno is GW15 onwards.

More to come

We hope you enjoyed the article and hopefully it will help your planning ahead of the 2021/22 Fantasy Premier League season. We have plenty more lined up for pre season and will be publishing advice, team reveals and more strategy guides right up until the big kickoff.

Be sure to keep your eyes on the FPL Connect twitter page for all our latest releases, this season promises to be our biggest yet.

We’ve also launched our ‘custom mini-league’ site, a huge innovation on the current mini-league format. To celebrate, we’re organising a £1000 cash prize league. For more information see the graphic above and follow this link for details on how to enter.

*Underlying statistics and tables obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Fix. Leeds United xGC data obtained via Infogol. Excerpts from The Mind Game taken with the author’s permission*

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