To celebrate the launch of our partnership with Scotts Menswear for a Premier League Fantasy Football League, we spoke to two experts of the fantasy world. George Osborn and former IBWM Editor Ryan Keaney run the fantasy football podcast Three Bonus Points. We picked their brains to give you the best possible chance of winning our FPL league (and to brush up on our awful skills ourselves!).
IBWM: Okay, so we've signed up for fantasy football. What's the first thing we should do?
Ryan Keaney: You almost certainly need a team name sorted They are important - though don't spend more than five minutes thinking about it, then it gets weird. Puns are always a good way to go but - Teenage Mutant Ninja Skrtels and Dunne to Mutch, Mutch to Young are classics of recent seasons (though make sure the pun relates to a player in the league).
Surname and adjective - Keaney's Kings or Osborn's Oligarchs - clearly mark you out as someone that won't be bothered about how you are doing by the time December rolls around.
George Osborn: Ryan’s nailed the biggest and most important aspect of fantasy football early, potentially rendering the rest of the answers useless to just about everyone.
However, in case you do want extra advice, I think the most important thing to do before setting up a fantasy football side is to find friends to play with. There are plenty of leagues to join – including the Three Bonus Points league – but having a separate one packed with your mates adds to the tension and gives you a reason to play.
IBWM: How should we decide which players to pick? What should we look out for?
GO: The obvious thing that any manager should be looking out for is a player who can score them points. This isn’t necessarily something you can forecast ahead of a season – as things like form, suspensions and injury can mess with things – but look back at stats from previous FPL seasons or stats sites like WhoScored to help make your choices.
For the most part, this means keeping an eye out for goals and assists for strikers and midfielders and clean sheets for defenders and goalkeepers. But it also means looking deeper for chances to bump up your points totals.
For example, defenders score more points for goals than midfielders or strikers do. This makes a centre back or full-back who scores a handful each season an invaluable option. Equally, managers often forget about things like save points for keepers (one point for every three saves made) and looking at who is most likely to get bonus points. The Scout has an excellent run down of how that works online and it can shape your team massively.
RK: Be wary of becoming reliant on only a handful of teams by ending up with seven or eight players from just three or four squads. You'll be tied to their success more than you want to be, and the week when you need a big score will be the week when they are all facing each other and you'll be caught in two minds about favouring the striker over the opposition defender.
IBWM: Which players would you recommend we stick in our team this year?
RK: Christian Eriksen and Kyle Walker. Eriksen has scored 150+ points in each of the last three seasons and makes Tottenham tick when he plays. Guaranteed to be an important player for them again.
For Walker, he is going to be Josep Guardiola's first-choice right back providing width for the team, creating chances and getting involved in plenty of attacks. At £6 million starting price, he promises to be excellent value.
GO: I’d take a close look at City’s Kevin De Bruyne. His price tag of £10m might seem steep, but over 20 FPL assists last year and the most appearances of any City player in the league makes him a long term prospect.
Romelu Lukaku at Manchester United also looks like an important buy. A combination of improved supply and United’s likely dominance of matches means he’ll be well placed to better his 25 goal return last season. Oh, and if that didn’t convince you, over 48% of managers currently have him in their teams – meaning you could miss out if he scores big.
IBWM: How should we prioritise our team? Stick all the money on top strikers or spread it evenly around the team?
GO: There’s no hard and fast rule to building a fantasy team. The league changes every year. Sometimes strikers rule the roost, other times midfielders dominate proceedings (as they did last season).
There are a few things you should consider. First, look for goalkeepers who are cheap, have decent defenders in front of them but are also likely to be kept busy. Tom Heaton took advantage of Burnley’s solidity to be the top scoring keeper last season, but his low price saved early adopters at least £0.5-1m over the course of the season.
Second, be willing to invest in a big ticket item or two to give you a good points scoring fulcrum to build on. Harry Kane might look like he’s a bit of a budget killer, but he’s averaged over 200 points for the last three seasons – meaning he’s likely to return on your behalf.
Finally, always be on the hunt for misclassified players that’ll potentially boost your points total. Josh King played as a forward for Bournemouth last year, but was lumped into FPL as a midfielder. That meant he scored more points per goal and received more bonuses, making him a bargain.
RK: For starters I like the balance of having two "main" midfielders and two "main" forwards - all valued over £8.5 million each, complimented by a healthy spread of defenders from the main clubs (get clean sheet scores early while figuring out where the points are). Obviously, fullbacks are the way to go here.
IBWM: Confession... We always struggle to keep our team up-to-date throughout the season. How would you advise we change our ways?
GO: The single biggest thing managers need to do to keep up with the Joneses is to research what is going on in the Premier League.
There will be things you’ll know in advance that you can plan around, such as the fixture list. But there are things that will happen in the season that you need to keep on top of – such as injuries on international breaks or the number of yellow cards a player has – as well as relevant fantasy stats that you can look at to spot a pattern.
So make sure you have a healthy selection of football news sites benchmarked or followed on Twitter and keep an eye on the stats section of the FPL website. Both will play a big part in helping you keep your squad fresh.
RK: Plan ahead with your transfers. Don't just pick a squad for the gameweek right in front of you, but have an eye on the upcoming fixtures - so maybe hold onto that free transfer for another week as it costs 4 points to buy a transfer.
IBWM: When is the right time to make changes to our team?
GO: Again, there’s not specifically a right or wrong answer to this question. I go against much FPL advice and make my decisions roughly half an hour before each transfer window closes, simply to give myself the widest options available.
But there are smarter times to move. In particular, moving earlier in the week means you’ll be able to get in ahead of any potential transfer driven price changes that could raise or lower the cost of a player.
This is really important to do if your budget is tight or you’re looking to raise funds available to team (as you get half of any price increases to a player back upon sale), meaning it’s worth considering making your transfers for next week before Match of the Day has finished on Saturday night.
RK: Friday lunchtime. You lose out on the price changes but all European football will be finished so there should be less chance of making a mistake on an injured/suspended player.
IBWM: Fantasy Football comes with certain 'special cards', such as the 'Wildcard.', When is the right time to use these?
GO: You get two wildcards to use in each half of the season. If you forget to use either of them, then you are a plonker. Wildcards are an essential way to reshape a team that’s underperforming, adapt to crazy cup fixtures or give you a boost in crucial weeks, so you definitely have to use them.
But going back to when to play them, the best time to throw down a wildcard or a chip is when you think you can secure the most advantage from them. This is generally easier to do later in the season than earlier, because by the time you hit the final months you have the form book and double game weeks on your side.
Equally though, don’t be afraid to play one if you think it’ll give you an advantage earlier. For example, I’ve heard people chatting about using their free hit in the first week to let them play a great side for gameweek one before switching to their longer term team. Fortune (sometimes) favours the brave in this game.
RK: I know someone who used his Triple Captain in week three last season as he wanted to break the spirits of his colleagues in their work league. He got an early lead in their mini-league and a lot had given up by the middle of October; so you could try that?
IBWM: Who should we select as our captain?
GO: The captaincy should be switched regularly. Look at form, fixtures and where you are before each game week and hand the arm band to the man you think is best placed to thrive each week.
Typically, this will mean chucking it to a goal scoring midfielder or a striker from a top side. But if you think a lesser light at a smaller club is set for a good week, throwing them the captaincy can score you valuable points that others will miss out on – setting you on the way to success.
RK: Romelu Lukaku and/or Christian Eriksen.
IBWM: Finally, you're here as our FPL experts and you have a very exciting new project. Tell us a bit about your new podcast.
GO: Three Bonus Points is a new FPL podcast that’ll be dropping once a week. Ryan will be hosting it and I’ll be doing my best to guide you through the fantasy football jungle with tips, predictions and reflections on why everything has gone horribly wrong for my team.
Full header image credit goes to uomouranio1.
In Bed With Maradona Editor-in-Chief