The week in Fantasy Premier League: The end of 'essentials' - strategy for the second half of the season

Now that the dust has settled on the Christmas fixture schedule, it’s time for Fantasy League managers to catch our breath and take a look at the lessons we’ve learned so far.

The week in Fantasy Premier League: The end of 'essentials' - strategy for the second half of the season

This season, nobody is 'essential'

Remember when you simply HAD to have Etienne Capoue in your squad? What about Raheem Sterling? Eden Hazard? Heung-Min Son? Kevin De Bruyne? Dare we say it… Sergio Aguero?

There’ll always be times when a player is doing so well you have to get him in, but in our rush to jump on some of this season’s procession of rickety bandwagons, we’ve too often neglected those exciting under-the-radar prospects, as well as some proven performers on the verge of recapturing their form.

A bit of canny transfer business, coupled with a reasonable amount of patience, has really paid off for some managers this season - while others have succumbed to the curse of "chasing points".

There’s never been more value in the bargain basement

Every FPL manager starts the season looking for that illusive first-team player at a rock-bottom price to help fund their more glamorous acquisitions - and let’s face it, we usually get it horribly wrong (let us never speak of Brad Smith again...).

But it’s now mid-season and I can honestly say that in my 10 years of playing FPL, I’ve never seen a better selection of super-cheap “enablers”.

Pickford and Jakupovic are out of the picture, but newly-signed Grant (STO, 4.4), Boruc (BOU, 4.6) and Foster (WBA, 4.7) are all hassle-free options for that second-keeper slot.

In defence, names like Pieters (STK, 4.5), Francis (BOU, 4.6), Mee (BUR, 4.5) and Barragan (MID, 4.6) remain unsung, but they’ve all scored over 50 points so far this season - that's more than any Man City defender besides the £5.8m-priced Kolorov, for instance.

Nathan Ake (BOU, 4.4), Allan-Romeo Nyom (WBA, 4.4) and Calum Chambers (MID, 4.4) have bags of potential, and the dirt-cheap likes of Amat (SWA, 4.1) and Naughton (SWA, 4.3) could yet prove to be functional bench fodder should they find favour with new Swansea boss Paul Clement.

In midfield, both Fletcher (WBA, 4.4) and de Roon (MID, 4.4) are nailed-on starters - with the latter even offering the suggestion of a goal threat.

There’s slimmer pickings up front since Victor Anichebe's injury, but by now you’ve saved enough cash to spend big here anyway.

We kinda know what to expect from teams by now

It hasn’t been the most predictable of seasons by a long shot, but with 20 games’ worth of stats now at our disposal, we now have a reasonable idea of what many Premier League have in store for us.

Liverpool can’t stop scoring goals (48) and Man City probably won’t stop conceding them.

Chelsea can be relied on for a clean sheet more often than not (11), with Spurs (eight), Southampton and Man United (both seven) the best of the rest.

Sunderland concede the most goal attempts inside the box (219) followed by Hull (211) and Burnley (198). Interestingly, Liverpool (82) have actually conceded the least - if Mignolet can do a better job keeping opponents’ conversion rate down, we may have to reevaluate Reds defenders.

Finally, Swansea’s defence is truly awful, having conceded the most goals (45), made more defensive errors (14) and conceded more big chances (54) than any other side.

We also know which players the club managers trust

Every FPL manager falls foul of squad rotation now and then - it comes with the territory. But now that teams have bedded in, this should be easier to avoid.

Many of the players bestowed with that coveted 'undroppable' status are grizzled centre-backs and the like - so look out for that high rate of goal involvement.

Players like Robert Snodgrass (HUL, 5.8), Michail Antonio (WHU, 6.8), Gylfi Sigurdsson (SWA, 7.4), Jermain Defoe (SUN, 7.7), Romelu Lukaku (EVE, 9.5), Diego Costa (CHE, 10.7), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (11.6) and Alexis Sanchez (ARS, 11.9) and have had their ups and downs this season, but they’ve all played 19 or 20 matches and been involved in at least 42% of their team’s goals.

That’s a reassuring thought for any FPL manager looking for a safe harbour in the choppy waters of the remaining season. And when their team finds some form, you're almost guaranteed they’ll be the ones picking up the points.

Hold on to your wildcard and chips

The second wildcard has finally arrived, and given the kind of season most of us have had, the temptation to pull the trigger and see all our FPL problems magically disappear can seem overwhelming.

But unless you’re in the middle of a full-blown injury/suspension crisis, you need to stop listening to the voices on this one - and the same goes for your other chips.

By keeping your powder dry now, you can plan for those crucial end-of-season double gameweeks where potential 100+ points returns await. Those who held off on using their chips last season enjoyed some massive resurgences, and I expect this season will be no different.

Planning for transfer deadline day

Many FPL managers aim to have two free transfers in place for when the January window shuts - in this case, forgoing a transfer in GW23.

It’s not a bad idea by any means, although it tends not to be as useful as you might think. Once you get past the Sky Sports hype, mid-season transfer windows can often be, well ... a bit underwhelming.

So keep your transfer to take full advantage of the January moves if it suits, but don’t feel that you have to.

You can start to wait a little longer before making your transfer

Hopefully by now you’ve gained a decent team value (the average among the game’s top 1,000 is £103m), which should give you an edge over your rivals when it comes to bringing in those high-priced players.

But you can’t take it with you, as they say, so as the season progresses, you can afford to take more time to consider your transfer moves and not worry as much about price rises and falls.

Taking in those cup games and waiting on late team news could stop you making some costly errors as the season draws to a close.

Adjust your strategy based on your mini-league position

If you’re hoping to finish top of your mini-league, you need to start thinking about a strategy on transfers and captain choice based on your current rank.

If you’re languishing near the bottom, you need to ignore all but the most obviously in-form players and start taking chances on some low-owned differentials. It can actually quite fun - so enjoy it! Put simply, it’s nigh-on impossible to catch up if you have mostly the same players as everyone else.

If you’re lucky/clever enough to be the top dog, then the opposite applies (including the fun element!). Keep an eye on your rivals and be open to bringing in any of their players who have the potential to score big. It’s the FPL equivalent of shielding the ball near the corner flag, but hey - it works.

Top of the League

Speaking of league-toppers, Micheàl Nevins and his MultipleScoregasams survived the hectic Christmas schedule to once again remain at the summit of the Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 251768-521616). He now faces a new challenger in the form of Ronan Donovan, just 19 points back and gaining fast.

The week in Fantasy Premier League returns to its regular format next Friday, with the usual tips and Gameweek preview. See you then!

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