More than 4,000,000 people in Britain and Ireland played the Premier League’s Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game last season, choosing the players they thought might earn them enough points to finish above their friends.
But what if there was data out there that could help you get off to the best possible start?
Well, they say the numbers don’t lie, but let’s see if they can guide you to FPL success.
Having collated data on player selection from the official Fantasy Premier League (FPL) website, the Press Association has created a ‘heat score’ to demonstrate which players are already gaining popularity, and which players are not.
Javier Hernandez for example has rocketed into over 20% of teams since his move to West Ham. At just £7.0m and with Premier League experience at Manchester United, players clearly think the Mexican represents good value.
The rather more costly Kevin De Bruyne (£10.0m), Sadio Mane (£9.5m) and Mohamed Salah (£9.0m) are all enjoying rising popularity after pre-season, but who’s losing out in the popularity contest, and more importantly, why?
Two of last season’s star performers, Alexis Sanchez (£12.0m) and Philippe Coutinho (£9.0m), are being sold by thousands across the country as managers shuffle their teams before the season begins.
Both players are expensive, and with transfer rumours circling above them weeks before transfer deadline day, managers are losing faith in the mercurial forwards.
The trends don’t lie, but will you be following them, or bucking them?
The expected points return for each Premier League side after three games, using the current outright result odds for each fixture, indicates which teams’ players you might want to avoid during August.
So which players should you cling to? Manchester United are projected to have the most points three games in (6.82) with West Ham (h), Swansea (a) and Leicester (h) to play, so perhaps Romelu Lukaku (£11.5m) is worth the high price?
Meanwhile, if it’s bargains you’re after, Crystal Palace and West Brom might be worthy of your attention – Palace entertain newly-promoted Huddersfield as well as Swansea at home, while the Baggies play Bournemouth (h), Burnley (a) and Stoke (h).
But while some teams have an easier start on paper, others have it tough.
Everton’s squad looks in impressive shape after the signings of Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Jordan Pickford amongst others, but the Toffees face Stoke (h), Manchester City (a) and Chelsea (a) in their first three games, with a projected 3.23 points the result.
And while Hernandez looks a great buy at West Ham, their start of Manchester United (a) Southampton (a) and Newcastle (a) suggests they might only pick up 2.70 points.
With that in mind, maybe avoid West Ham and Everton players until September…
The key to FPL success is undoubtedly spotting a cheap player who will earn a lot of points for very little money.
The good news is those players are out there. The bad news is they are few and far between, as the data demonstrates.
The above graph demonstrates how many fantasy points footballers earn in relation to their FPL price bracket, and the result is that the relationship between money spent and points earned is pretty clear.
But there are anomalies.
Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton was one of last season’s success stories. At just £4.5m his saves and Burnley’s home form made him the highest scoring goalkeeper at a very low price, outperforming 21 goalkeepers valued higher than him by the FPL game.
And despite his low price (£5.5m), Jordan King’s 16 goals earned him 178 points last season, more than three times the average points total for a midfielder in the £5.0m to £5.5m bracket.
However, bargains must be viewed with caution. Only two midfielders from the lowest price bracket (£4.5m) managed to score more than 94 points last season – that’s out of 88 midfielders.
But there will be bargain players who emerge during the season, so where’s the best place to find them?
Well, Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion both finished the 2016/17 season with the best defensive records in the Championship, conceding 40 goals each.
Furthermore, neither team has a defender worth more than £4.5m in their squad. Perhaps value can be found in either back line when it comes to unearthing this season’s hidden gem.