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Team Structure – A Guide To FPL Success
Written by @FPLaddicts
Every year similar debates rage on as to how you should structure your initial FPL squads, and this season is no different. Last year I trialled a new structure and I’m seeing a lot of people get on board this season. I have a pretty strong opinion as to whether it will work or not. Let’s get straight into it!
It should be the first question you ask yourself when loading your empty squad for the first time. How should I structure my team? Of course most of us try to select our favoured 15 man squad and end up 10 million over budget, and it’s quickly back to the drawing board. It all comes down to formation. Let’s go through the options…
3 at the back
The standard formation choice for most managers and it’s for good reason. At the end of the day Fantasy is just another way we can add enjoyment to the Premier League season, and there’s nothing better than cheering on your attackers for goals or assists. How many people watch a game to cheer on one of their defenders to a clean sheet? I hope not many. Fun factor aside, there is plenty of proof as to why loading up on forwards and midfielders is the best tactic for your FPL team.
Every year the top scoring 10 scoring players come from the mids or forwards, as their point returns have far greater ceilings. Clearly their price tags reflect the extra potential, so the real question is where to find the value in your team. I’m certainly not saying that you can’t find good value in defence, and you still have to start 3 defenders, but every year there are breakout players in attack.
In the past couple of years there are numerous examples of value mids and forwards having huge seasons. Dele Alli, Kane, Son, Zaha, Antonio, King, Phillips, Llorente, Arnautovic, Ayew, Mahrez, Rodriguez… I could go on forever. Then there’s the mid-priced favourites that have scored like premiums. Michu, Sigurdsson, Ramsey, Payet, Mane, Dempsey (Blast from the past), Lallana. All of these guys were near must haves in their respective breakout seasons. Of course picking all of this year’s breakouts at the start of the season is nearly impossible, but I can guarantee there will be some players scoring 150+ points by May next year that we would never have seen coming. Could Ramsey do it again? Can Mkhitaryan find his feet? Will Pogba hit the target? Can Stanislas stay on the park? Rodriguez has scored 15 before. We all know Rooney is capable. The point is you will be able to select far more firepower in your team with 7 attacking players. Whether you operate with 5 midfielders or 3 forwards is really up to the options available, at this stage I can’t go past 3 gun strikers. Therefore, it’s a 3-4-3 for me.
The final advantage with playing only 3 defenders is a big one. Rotation. I’m a massive fan of defensive rotation, as it’s far easier to predict when a team is more likely to get a clean sheet. Home games and easier fixtures are always going to be kinder for clean sheets. Are your Everton defenders really going to return points home or away to Arsenal, Spurs, United, Liverpool or City? I can almost guarantee they won’t. There are some really nice rotation teams early this season and it allows you to save up and bolster your attack. Of course it’s advisable to pick at least one premium defender, or 2 if you wish. Then you can rotate the last one or two spots through your bench. Simply looking at a defenders final score and points per game at the end of a season doesn’t cut it. If you rotate between teams such as Swansea, West Brom, Burnley and co. to avoid their fixtures against the big 6, you’ll be far better off and still score close to what other ‘premium’ alternatives manage at a higher price tag.
All I’m saying is have you ever seen an FPL winner operate with 4 or 5 defenders?
4 at the back
Now we have the previously maligned four at the back. It seemed to rise to popularity last season, and I ended up running with it into GW1. There is certainly merit to it. The premium defenders are rarely priced much higher than 6.0, so you can select a team with 9 or 10 ‘premiums’ quite easily. Secondly the best performing defenders comfortably average around 4.5 ppg, any midfielder that scores similarly will be priced around 7-7.5. Makes sense, right?
It certainly looks well rounded and if you average their points over the entire 38 gameweek season, you may just have a solid team. However that’s not how FPL works. Especially not with 2 wildcards in play. Due to the ‘Winter wildcard’ the team you select in GW1 will stay with you for a maximum of 21 gameweek’s. That means your team will be chopping and changing constantly, and there’s no chance you’ll keep the majority of your initial squad. Also, the argument that 6.0 defenders on average fare better than 6.0 midfielders is true. However you can pick 3 solid value options anyway, it’s that fourth defender we’re talking about here. Will there be at least 2 breakout midfielders at 6.5 or below who score at more than 4.5 ppg? I’ll bet my house on it. This is where I found out the four at the back tactic has a fault.
Last season I started with Baines, Koscielny, Cedric and Valencia. Yes they weren’t the best picks, but I challenge you to nail four really good defensive options. If you end up having 3 really reliable defenders and one poor pick, then what is the point of owning 4 defenders instead of 3? You need to nail every single defensive option to gain an advantage with that extra backman. Of course I hardly nailed any, and just had to put up with constant 2’s and the occasional 6.
That’s the second problem, defenders attacking returns are unreliable. It’s easy to look at Alonso’s season and see he scored 6 goals, but will he manage that again this year? Given that he’s not reliably on set pieces (takes occasional free kicks), he won’t get that many chances. McAuley may have had a personal best season, but that was the only year he has scored more than 3 goals. In fact he only had 7 shots on target! I think the only ever truly reliable attacking defender has been Baines with free kicks, corners and penalties. Will you pick Sigurdsson at 8.5 and confidently expect 22 goal involvements again this season? Probably not. Fact is Alonso is priced at his absolute maximum, I see no way of him bettering last season. In fact, only 13 defenders have scored over 170 points in a season since 2002/03. Of course bonus points have since changed but nevertheless, it’s a rarity. Bellerin did it in 2015/16, how did paying the premium for him go?
Then there’s another issue, defenders attacking returns have no pattern. They are unpredictable. A guy like Coleman could score 2 goals in 2 weeks and score 40 points in a single month. Then he could go 2 months averaging 2 points per game. If you don’t own a defender for 38 gameweeks then there’s no guarantee you’ll get their average goals and assists ratio. You might get lucky, you might not. Heading into each gameweek you certainly can’t hope for much more than a clean sheet, you’re just praying for extra bonuses.
If you can perfectly select the best 4 defenders for next season and hold them for 38 gameweeks it might work out, but I can guarantee you won’t. If there were 4 reliable premiums on set pieces that could guarantee 10+ attacking returns, then that could work. If we could be promised 18 clean sheets from Chelsea and United, then select 2012 Baines alongside Milner playing midfield, you could have a winning formula.
Trust me, when you get stuck with a John Stones scoring 2 every week because his team concede in the 90th minute, you’ll wish you’d gone attacking!
5 at the back
I don’t think I have to add any more here than I did to the four at the back tactic. Your team will look pretty, have plenty of good names in it and score well on average. However, take it into the real season and by GW4 if they’re not all getting consistent clean sheets, you’ll lose patience. If I was told I couldn’t make any transfers all season then I’d consider extra defenders. Fact is, you can use as many as you need.
I’ve given my warning, at the end of the day you pick your own team however you like! Merry tinkering.