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Working smarter, not harder, to pick a fantasy Premier League squad

|| Let's beat our friends *and* spend very little time thinking about it in the process ||

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Mark Thompson

Sep 08 2020

8 mins read

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Hello, welcome to Get Goalside! Bless your lives with a quokka every hour (they’re adorable).

This week’s charity, prompted by Gary Lineker, is Refugees at Home. Donate to them to help them connect refugees or asylum seekers who need somewhere to stay with people who have a spare room.

I’m caving to fantasy football #content. Is this because I was called out for not putting together a team in the Twenty3 work Slack? I couldn’t possibly comment.

There always feels like some pressure to be good at fantasy sports if you’re also into stats, so I’m going to have to think about this to save face in the work fantasy league. At the same time… it’s fantasy football. I don’t want this to be a millstone around my neck.

So here’s some quick basic maths and strategy:

  • £100m to spend on 15 players averages out at £6.67m each. But the big hitters are £12m, so if you want them you have to save elsewhere.
  • I think it’s better to spread things out though. I’ve found it’s better/easier/less stressful to just check the fixtures and sub in/out amongst a decent squad than spend time worrying about getting the perfect transfer in and out each gameweek.

Right then, let’s start at the back…

I’m not someone who wants to spend a ton of time poring over the meta tactics of FPL, but I know that clean sheets are important. Are they repeatable season-to-season?

Somewhat.

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Team clean sheets vs team’s previous season clean sheets in the Premier League.

There’s no guarantees, but that scatter shows a general trend. Last season, Manchester City had the most clean sheets with 17, followed by Burnley and Liverpool on 15, and then Leicester, Manchester United, Sheffield United, and Wolves on 13.

With Alisson and Ederson both worth £6m and a bit uncertain about Burnley’s consistency, I’ll go David de Gea (Man Utd) and Aaron Ramsdale (Sheff Utd) for £5.5m and £5.0m. Despite my general ‘rotate the bench’ policy, I dunno if it’s actually wise to go for two proper starting keepers, but there’s not much money to be saved in this position, so what the heck.

With defenders, the range is much wider, from £4m for subs all the way to £7.5m for the Trent Alexander-Arnold tier. I’ll pick Conor Coady (£5m) and James Tarkowski (£5.5m) as two cheap, starting players on high clean sheet teams, and then I think it’s probably wise to think about some attackers.

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Goals are clearly the big thing here. Not only are they worth more points than assists, but they just happen more often in football too. I’m basically going to look at the Twenty3 Content Toolbox and sort by our Wyscout-based expected goals model.

Mohamed Salah’s top, but after him are some interesting names: Raúl Jiménez, Chris Wood, Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Priced at £8.5m, £6.5, and £7m, they seem interesting. A lot of FPL’s really big-hitters (Salah, Aubameyang, Sterling, Mané) are classed as midfielders, and are pricey. Hmm. This is getting difficult.

Ok, let’s move away from the strikers for a second and go to midfield. I’ll do something simultaneously rash and stingy and limit midfielders to those costing £6.5m or less — in other words, players who come in below the figure I have to spend on the ‘average player’.

Ayoze Pérez is there, and he had good xG numbers per 90 last season, so he’s in. Diogo Jota is also there, as is Nathan Redmond, and they both seem decent bets, so boom, we have three midfielders at £6.5m.

After going back to the strikers and locking in Raúl Jiménez, I have-- well, I have a worrying amount of Wolves players. But I also have 8/15 players selected for just £49m (£6.125m a pop), meaning my average to spend is up to £7.29m per player.

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Some quickfire buys: Kyle Walker for £6m, Joe Gomez for £5.5m, Chris Wood for £6.5m. I’m not too sure if Wood will be able to keep up his form last season (although he had a good 2017/18 too) but he’s cheap. Walker and Gomez are both cheaper first-team defenders on clean-sheet heavy teams, so they seem like good gets?

£33m to spend on four players, or £8.25m each, now.

Another plug break, to build suspense. But also to encourage you to share this if you like it and to sign up to the weekly newsletter. Thanks :)

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Christian Pulisic intrigues me. He costs £8.5m, had great figures in his minutes last season, but given all of Chelsea’s signings it’s not certain that he’ll play much more in 2020/21 than he did in 2019/20. Still… £8.5m vs the £11m-£12m of Sterling, Salah et al seems pretty decent…?

Getting Pulisic instead of one of those big names also allows me to do this. Heung-Min Son (£9m), Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7m), and Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m) round out the squad; three good players and £1m still to spare. My 15-player group now looks like this:

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*shrugs* It doesn’t strike me as inspiring. But y’know what it does strike me as? Low maintenance! Even if one of the better players gets seriously injured, I probably don’t need to care too much about how to re-jig the squad. Neat.

There also feel like there’ll be a few clean sheets possible in the back seven on any given week and some goals sprinkled in the front eight. I’m not completely sold on the forwards but oh well.

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Let’s do some quick back-of-the-envelope point estimating.

I assume that, of this selection, I can get maybe 6 players playing the full 90, with at least two others playing the hour required to get a point. That’d be 14 points off the bat.

(At least) one clean sheet from that selection of defenders and goalkeepers seems certain, so that’s another 4 points. Maybe a clean sheet from midfield too, which’d be another 1 point.

Forwards scoring a goal get four points and midfielders get five; on any given week I might get 8-10 points from that. Add an assist and that’s 11-13 points.

So (very probably being generous) that’d be 30+ points each gameweek, as an average? From memory, that’s not terrible. Which makes me doubly think I’ve been generous, or am forgetting what ‘good’ is each week in FPL. But, if nothing else, this has been quick, not terrible, and based on some relatively sound logic.

Given that four players aren’t even playing in the first week (this whole ‘buy a good bench to save you time and mental energy’ thing is really paying dividends already), this is my first XI of the season.

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I’ll be sending out a special email just to subscribers on Thursday with a code for a Get Goalside! league, should you wish to join.

Fair warning, I won’t be spending much time on my team. But! If you want to spend time on your team…

Shout-out corner

Tim Bayer has done some pretty-looking stuff. For my own sanity, I’m going to avoid looking at the insights it actually brings, but it looks cool.

I’m aware that there are a lot of people out there doing FPL stuff, but Tim’s vizzes floated across my timeline and had a really nice mix of looking good and (seemingly*) offering clear insights.

*I’m still closing my eyes at all these, ok?

Also, the Women’s Super League has kicked off in England. I’m writing this newsletter on Friday evening (hence no coverage of it here) in order to spend the weekend concentrating on it, but here’s a list of good follows on Twitter, in no particular order and by no means exhaustive.

Katie Whyatt, Molly Hudson, Sophie Lawson, Rich Laverty, Jen O’Neill, Flo Lloyd-Hughes, Amée Ruszkai, NWSL Analitica (also seemingly does WSL stats), @WomensFootyStat

Also on Instagram (far less exhaustive), womens_sports_things, girlsontheball (who are also on Twitter here).

Given the increasing investment of (some) clubs in women’s football, and the pandemic-influenced moves of top players from America, the WSL is shaping up to be absolutely fantastic this season. All games can be watched live on the FA Player, except for those shown live on BT Sport (a similar deal works for international viewers too), and full matches(!!!!) get put on there after a day or so to be watched on demand.

A reminder that week’s charity is Refugees at Home. Donate to help them help others.

Donate to Refugees at Home

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