With the international break and the phoney wars of the transfer window now thankfully behind us, FPL managers can focus on the season ‘proper’.
As usual, summer deadline day promised much, but delivered little - particularly in terms of potential additions to our fantasy squads.
There will be some impact of course, particularly at teams like West Brom, Spurs and Swansea, where security of starts for a few widely-touted FPL assets is now in doubt (farewell, Kieran Trippier).
— Always Cheating Fantasy Premier League (#FPL) (@hailcheaters) September 6, 2017
However, it’s the absence of moves that will likely have the greater impact on our seasons, as we wait to see how wantaway stars like Alexis Sánchez (ARS, 11.9), Virgil van Dijk (SOU, 5.5) and Philippe Coutinho (LIV, 8.8) adapt to their old surroundings.
Soon we will finally begin to see each side’s starting 11 finally take shape, as we shuffle our FPL squads for the long season ahead - but what form will they take?
The case for four-at-the-back
Although 3-4-3 has remained the go-to formation in FPL, recent seasons have seen alternative approaches drift in and out of fashion.
As changes in real-life team formations evolve, so do those in the fantasy sphere.
Last season, a wealth of reasonably-priced midfield attackers saw 3-5-2 emerge as a winning formula for those brave enough to break from the herd.
This time, with more Premier League managers opting to play five at the back, it makes sense for FPL players to at least consider a similar move.
The most attractive aspect of this approach has been the rise of attacking wing backs - led by Marcus Alonso (CHE, 7.1), whose brace against Spurs has forced non-owners to reevaluate what he offers at that price.
Has to be Alonso. Basically a pure midfielder. Bonus points for a goal and throw in regular clean sheets. Worth every $ pic.twitter.com/NMzdQk9ANC— David Pikard (@davidpikard) August 23, 2017
The likes of Kyle Naughton (SWA, 4.5), Charlie Daniels (BOU, 5.0), Benjamin Mendy (MCI, 6.5) and Mason Holgate (EVE, 4.4) also offer attacking options at a range of price points.
Players also worthy of consideration include the likes of Daley Blind (MUN, 5.5), Cédric Soares (SOU, 5.0), Aaron Cresswell (WHU, 5.0), Alberto Moreno (LIV, 4.5) and Markus Suttner (BRI, 4.5) who, whilst not operating alongside three centre-backs, are wing-backs in all but name, such is their appetite for bombing forward.
This craze for wing-backs has left central defenders as the forgotten men, but ignore them at your peril.
We’ve already seen goals from the likes of David Luiz (CHE, 6.0), Harry Maguire (LEI, 5.1) and Ahmed Hegazi (WBA, 4.9). It won’t be long until Scott Dann (CRY, 5.0), Lewis Dunk (BRI, 4.5) and Craig Dawson (WBA, 5.0) will have us grumbling that familiar “why-didn’t-I-get-him-when-I-had-the-chance” refrain.
While the promise of explosive returns is nudging us towards playing four at the back, so too is the apparent lack of value midfield.
While there are admittedly some increasingly tempting options in the £5-6m bracket, buying a proven goalscoring midfielder from teams such as Spurs and Liverpool now comes at a £9m+ premium.
In contrast, thanks to the emergence of some promising budget midfield options, suddenly the idea of owning two of them is not as absurd as it once was (think Darren Fletcher and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg).
When fit, an out-of-position Ruben Loftus-Cheek (CRY, 4.5) has attacking potential.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek playing that far forward valued at £4.5m. One to keep an eye on #FPL— Dave Black (@cm9798) August 12, 2017
The arrival of Renato Sanches at Swansea has made Tom Carroll (SWA, 4.5) owners a little nervous, but the England U21 star should keep his place for now.
Another corner-taker, Bournemouth’s Andrew Surman (BOU, 4.5), as well as Oriol Romeu (SOU, 4.5), have flown miles under the radar despite being busy little bees in the heart of their respective midfields.
Nathaniel Chalobah (WAT, 4.5) is also a solid option, as is Jack Cork (BUR, 4.5) if you’re one of those traditionalists who hates when their fifth midfielder scores a goal.
All that cash saved in midfield opens the door to a power front three, which could include two of Kane/Lukaku/Morata/Lacazette, alongside the increasingly essential Firmino (LIV, 8.6).
Firmino over Lukaku?— LORF eSports (@LORFeSports) September 6, 2017
So - that’s a 4-3-3 that effectively has Alonso and Firmino playing as out-of-position midfielders. Hmm… I guess we’re back to 3-5-2 after all!
Of course, if you decide to take the plunge, you’ll need to do some radical surgery on your team - and you know what that means...
The simple guide to getting the most from your wildcard
Now that we’ve covered some players to choose, it’s important to get a handle on the best way to extract the maximum benefit from your wildcard in terms of team value.
First of all, don’t worry too much about playing your wildcard “too early” in the season - it didn’t do this lot any harm...
2 of the ‘All Time’ top 50 managers used their Wildcard in GW2 last seasonAugust 16, 2017
Hwever, when you feel it’s time to pull the trigger, it pays to be decisive and use it immediately, in the first few hours of the chosen Gameweek. And be sure to hit that button and confirm it first thing - tragedy awaits those who try to get cute and put it off until the end.
Next, immediately sell any player in your squad experiencing net transfers out, even if you intend keeping him in your final team.
Conversely, bring in anyone predicted to rise in price (check sites like Fantasyfootballfix.com and Fplstatistics.co.uk) - especially (but NOT exclusively) those who may end up in your final wildcard team.
By the time deadline day comes around, some of your new recruits should have enjoyed £0.2m price rises, and you can sell those you don’t want to keep for an easy £0.1m profit. You could even be in a position to “profit” from buying back a player you sold earlier in the week after his price drops.
Now is the right time to buy Harry Kane on #FPL his price has dropped and he is about to start banging those goals.— GEÖFF-OBBO (@geoffobbo13) September 6, 2017
Finally, use late injury news to make your long-term picks in the hours before the deadline, then sit back and watch as your shiny new squad of world-beaters slowly crushes your new-found sense of optimism into the ground over the coming Gameweeks!
If you are wildcarding this week or next, do yourself a favour and consider bringing in a considerably less sexy alternative to those graceful wing-backs.
One consequence of this new abundance of attacking defenders has been the decline of the traditional CRD (“Cheapest Regular Defender”) approach to FPL investment, despite the increase in the number of playing candidates!
But clean sheets remain a defender’s bread-and-butter, and in Phil Jones (MUN, 5.1) we have a comically cheap route into a Jose Mourinho defence yet to concede a single goal.
He recently overcame a “minor ankle complaint” to line out twice for England - and in any case, few characteristics endear a player to Mourinho as much as playing through an injury.
Because of the ban Jones he can't play the first matches in UCL which makes him even more safe in EPL— Jon L Thomsen (@JonEngebret) September 5, 2017
But has it really been injury concerns alone that have kept his ownership below 6%? Or has it been his unglamourous image that blinded us to the qualities of a defender who Alex Ferguson once said could become United's "best ever player"? Mourinho’s pretty fond of him, too.
If we’re playing ‘Moneyball’ in FPL - and let’s face it, we kind of are - then its cinematic namesake has a lesson on recognising good value when it’s staring us right in the face.
If you’re looking to shoehorn another £0.5m into your bank, the emergence of a viable £4.0 goalkeeper in the form of Rob Elliott (and perhaps another if Tim Krul (BRI, 4.0) can nail down a place) could be the way to go.
Mohamed Salah (LIV, 9.0) has hit the ground running at Liverpool, gathering 23 points for his FPL owners, with the promise of much more to come in the weeks ahead.
The Egyptian international is joint-top among midfielders alongside Pogba for shots (12) - but crucially 11 of these have come inside the box, with eight on target.
(Hat-tip: FPL Stag)
Still less than 6% owned, Richarlison (WAT, 6.0) has impressed playing out-of-position on the left of Watford’s attack - firing an impressive nine shots inside the box.
“I’m playing as a defending midfielder. My role changed... No one knows what I had to do. People think I play as an attacking midfielder, that’s wrong.”
Say no more, Kevin De Bruyne (MCI, £9.9).
Top of the League
You know you’re having a good season when even captaining Lukaku and his zero points isn’t enough to stop you having a cracking Gameweek. So it was for Kevin Fahy and his Mayo Vallecano team, who top the Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 251768-521616) this week.
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