At the start of the season, my grand design was that I would hold off on using my first half unlimited transfer wildcard chip until the crazy holiday fixture congestion (either just ahead of it or a bit later in the midst of it), which began in Week 16 last year. And the way my season started out, I really thought I could do it. Take a look at my scores in the first eight game weeks: 73, 83, 51, 64, 77, 59, 59, and 79 (average of 68.1 ppg). I was riding high, nabbing gobs of points, building value, sitting in the top 0.5% of FPL managers worldwide.
And then, well, as they often tend to do, things took a turn for the worse. In Weeks 9-12, it has been a cold reality check straight in the smacker: 38, 46, 65, 50 (49.8 ppg). I’ve dropped into the top 2% globally. Not bad, not bad at all in the overall scheme of things, but that’s still a spill of about 80,000 spots. And in the NMA league, I’ve gone from the top 25 or 30 all the way down to #144. (Clearly we have a really great league!)
Whenever one hits a rough patch, it is always difficult to judge whether it signifies a cavernous pothole that has seriously damaged the vessel and left it in need of a major overhaul, or is instead merely a periodic bump in the road that can be passed over without issue and watched as it disappears in the rear view mirror. Can I afford to stick with the original plan? Or does an honest examination indicate that I need to throw caution to the wind and craft an early make-over of my squad now?
WHERE HAVE THINGS GONE WRONG?
As often is the case, a bad move — or even worse, two or three — can punch an awfully big hole in your line-up. Here are several problem spots I’ve suffered in the past few weeks:
- Two dead spots at forward from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Danny Ings. The Serbian sniper scored five goals with one assist in the first six games. Since then, the Fulham forward has been dead weight, with only one assist in the past half dozen affairs. Southampton’s Ings has flown a similar trajectory, with three goals in the first five games but only one goal plus one assist since. A slew of affordable forwards have performed significantly better: West Ham’s Marko Arnautovic, Wolverhampton’s Raul Jimenez, Brighton’s Glenn Murray and Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson. Managers with those players have surely enjoyed leap-frogging me in the standings.
- Dropping James Maddison for Ross Barkley. Dropping Maddison wasn’t a bad move per se, but picking up Barkley certainly was. Not only has the former Everton starlet failed to do anything in terms of fantasy scoring, but he has not become the regular starter I was hoping he would be. I can’t say that anybody in Barkley’s price range has performed particularly well recently, but paying up for more production or going cheaper and freeing funds for an upgrade elsewhere would have proven more productive.
- Injury to, or rest/rotation by, key players: I’ve endured an awful lot of expensive zeroes in recent weeks due to injury or rest/rotation-related absences: Trent Alexander-Arnold in Week 8, TAA and Raheem Sterling in Week 9, Eden Hazard and Andrew Robertson in Week 10, and Kevin De Bruyne in Week 11. It’s one thing when it’s your cheap, last men on the bench, but it’s another problem entirely when it’s your pricey, important contributors missing out. And right now, a whopping FOUR players in my team are listed as injury doubts: Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier, Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy, Everton’s Richarlison, and the aforementioned Ings. (Gulp!) Maybe some or all of them will heal over the international break, but maybe not. And what if others in my roster suffer knocks during that time?
- Picking up Kevin De Bruyne instead of holding Raheem Sterling. This was a particularly painful one. I thought I would save some money to spread around elsewhere, dropping Sterling and picking up his cheaper teammate KDB in Week 10 after the Belgian playmaker came back from injury. But KDB didn’t do anything fantasy-wise, and then he quickly got injured again. Meanwhile, Sterling exploded for 6 and 21 points in the two weeks I went without him. Adding insult to injury, I then dropped KDB and added Sterling back, burning two precious transfers, which severely restricted my ability to patch the other above-mentioned holes.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS FOR MY TEAM?
Option A: Stay Strong, Stick to the Plan and Keep the Wildcard in My Pocket
Following Week 12, I immediately used up my one available free transfer, dropping Mitrovic for Jimenez. I simply couldn’t bear holding onto Mitrovic any longer, particularly when the cheaper Jimenez loomed as a more productive alternative. So now, if I don't want to take a -4 hit or use my wildcard, I’m stuck as is for Week 13. It’s far from an optimal team, but my starting line-up isn’t too shabby... that is, if everybody in my XI passes fit:
I’ve still got two good players on the bench — Trippier and Alonso — whom I’m leaving out of the XI for now due to their tough match-up against each other, but who could pay off nicely in a nil-nil affair (or even if there are goals, as long as my star defenders are involved).
Option B: Make One Extra Move, Take a -4 Penalty, and Hold the Wildcard
At the beginning of the season, I built in a few -4 or -8 hits into my model, due to the World Cup factor and so many stars being out or limited in the first week or two. I took -4 penalties in weeks 2, 3, 6, and 8. Just part of doing business in a strange season, I reckon. Since then, though, I have been disciplined, avoiding any penalties. I hate taking -4 hits unless absolutely necessary. But if I don’t put my wildcard into play, is a -4 penalty a good middle ground between doing nothing extra and playing the wildcard chip?
I currently have £0.9 in the bank. For my extra move, I should drop Barkley, shouldn’t I? But Barkley + 0.9 gives me only £6.7 to shop with, not much to earn back the -4. Whom can I get? Let’s see... Watford’s Roberto Pereyra (home to Liverpool, not the best fixture, might as well wait a week if I want him), Burnley’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson (listed as an injury doubt, ditto re: waiting), Chelsea’s Pedro (not a regular starter, so I’ll pass), which leaves... Everton’s Theo Walcott (home to Cardiff) or Fulham’s Andre Schurrle (home to Southampton). Fulham’s a big, fat, hairy mess, so I’ll pass on Schurrle. Does Walcott crack the XI to make the move worthwhile? Well, Bournemouth plays Arsenal, so sure, I’ll push Fraser to the bench with Trips and Alonso.
Option C: Make Two Extra Moves, Absorb a -8 Hit, and Keep the Wildcard
I don’t know how excited I am about Option B. If I make one extra move, I kinda sorta don’t feel like stopping. I want more! That said, I haven’t taken a -8 hit yet this season. And I really, really don’t want to. That’s what sloppy managers with no self-control do, right?
But would it really be so bad? Could it somehow, with a whole lot of luck, pay for itself and more in the end? What if one of those players delivers a double digit performance, and the other one does well, too, say around 5 or 6 points? And on top of that, what if I drop a couple of players whose prices fall in the next week and a half, and pick up a couple of players whose stock rises? I’d save money long-term, too! [If you find yourself nodding along — yes, yes, undoubtedly, I’m sure of it! — please visit Gamblers Anonymous.]
Alright, for the sake or argument, let’s try making two additional two moves. I’ll go back to the drawing board. Never mind Walcott. I’d drop both Fraser and Barkley, upgrading in price from one and downgrading from the other. For the upgrade, I like either Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson or Manchester United’s Anthony Martial. Siggy is in good form, plus he’s on penalties which was not the case at the open of the season back when Leighton Baines was starting. Martial is in absolutely scorching form, and he should be on PKs over Paul Pogba, but you never know, Pogba could take the job back when he returns from injury. It’s a tough call, but I’d go with the more proven, consistently excellent track record of the Sigster over the wild card in Martial.
With the cheap midfielder, again it’s a tough choice. I like Wolves’ Ruben Neves who is on PKs and has also scored via free kick outside the box, but he’ll cost me every penny I have. There’s also West Ham’s dirt cheap Grady Diangana, who notched an assist against Burnley and will leave me £0.5 in the bank. But the Hammers’ youngster only played 45 minutes in Week 12. I want more reliable playing time, so let’s go with Neves. Siggy will start, but Neves will probably be on my bench. Is it really worth eating a -8 hit for the strong upgrade to Siggy instead of Walcott (and at the cost of sacrificing Fraser)? [As well, Siggy would be my FIFTH player who is an injury doubt.]
Option D: Throw Caution to the Wind and Play My Wildcard, Baby!
In the “best laid plans of mice and fantasy manager” category, sometimes it’s not when you want it to be, but it’s time, and you just can’t deny it. You must pull the trigger earlier than you hoped. Is that where I am? And can I talk myself into it? I simply need to do it now. My many roster holes and unavailability of free transfers demands its implementation. Pull the trigger, right?
And beyond that, surely I can even rationalize tossing the wildcard chip on the table aside from my current team make-up. Let’s look at the schedule. As mentioned, last season’s winter fixture congestion began in Week 16. Let’s look at this season’s schedule. Consarn it, why didn’t I look at this sooner? It starts in Week 14 this season? Are you kidding me? Well, there really isn’t that much of a benefit to waiting until for the fixture madness to kick off, is there? What’s the difference in using it now, only one game-week earlier? Between the miniature halo-headed soft-talker on one shoulder and the pitchfork-carrying spitfire on the other, maybe the latter wins out!
Let’s take a gander at teams that enjoy seemingly favorable schedules in the rapid-fire fixture list in game-weeks 14-21 (Nov. 30 through Jan. 3). Or at least, let’s try to find some. Looking at teams in the upper half of the table, I didn’t really see any without a couple/few land mines.
It isn’t until 13th place West Ham that we truly get what should be a very festive congested period (following a home affair with Manchester City in Week 13, and bookended with Arsenal’s trip to London in Week 21): at Newcastle, v. Cardiff, v. Crystal Palace, at Fulham, v. Watford, at Southampton, at Burnley, v. Brighton. Do I want to load my team with Hammers? No, thank you. But sprinkling in one or two? Maybe, we’ll see, but not exactly a priority either.
Thankfully, I’m not looking at a complete overhaul. I have a good number of players whom I really like and ideally want to keep: keeper Rui Patricio; defenders Marcos Alonso, Matt Doherty, Benjamin Mendy, Andrew Robertson & Kieran Trippier; midfielders Eden Hazard and Richarlison; and forward Raul Jimenez. I have them all at various discounts, and I feel that they offer good value. (Together I paid £56.4 for them, and their current combined market rate is £59.5.) Otherwise, I’m pretty open at second keeper (Hennessey), three of the midfield spots (Sterling, Fraser and Barkley), and two of the forwards (Aguero and Ings); I have some of those surplus players at discount — most notably Kun and Fraser, both of whom I have had all season — but am more doubtful that they will hold great value going forward.
Using the wildcard, and going back to the drawing board, hmm... Can I somehow get BOTH Siggy and Martial? Or is that hopeless? Well, I’m going to have to sacrifice Sterling or Aguero, which would leave me only two premium offensive players (Hazard and either Sterling or Aguero). Do I need three premium players, or is it better to have five really strong midfielders? If I go down in price from Sterling to David Silva, I can have a pretty deadly midfield quintet of Hazard, David Silva, Martial, Siggy, and Richarlison. (Worryingly, though, that leaves me with SIX players saddled with injury doubt... look at all that yellow EVERYWHERE!)
As with option C, I’d have no money left in the bank. I was kind of hoping to upgrade at keeper from Hennessey, but I want both Siggy and Martial, and that’s the price you have to pay to get what you prioritize. I could swap Hennessey for West Ham’s Lucasz Fabianski at the same price and try to take advantage of the favorable schedule; however, the Hammers’ defense has been so disappointing thus far, even against weak competition, that I’m not sure it would pay off. Maybe Burnley’s Joe Hart, though? I’ll think about it. He is coming off a 10 point effort, and I should probably follow my own advice.
The glass-half-full way of looking at having an empty bank... that’s optimization, which is a good thing!
With fixture congestion coming up, I would have 15 regular starters (when healthy, that is). So if one or two (or three) get rest — whether from injury or rotation — in any given game week, I should have plenty of cover. If there are four (or five or six) out, though, it’s curtains!
Of course, one further benefit of using the wildcard during an international break is that I still have a week and half until my team locks. If the injury situation indeed proves dire, or if my thoughts otherwise change, I could tinker around even more next week.
So... what should I do, folks? What would you do if you were in my position?
Take the poll below regarding your suggested course of action for my team, and be sure to share your own team-building thoughts in the comments section! Have you used your wildcard yet? If so, are you happy with when you put it into play and how your team has turned out since then? If not, when are you planning to play it?
What should I do with my team ahead of Week 13?
This poll is closed
Option A: Stand pat, hold the wildcard chip for later as planned
Option B: Absorb a -4 hit, save the wildcard
Option C: Eat a -8 penalty, keep the chip
Option D: Seize the day, play the wildcard!
Option E: Something else (elaborate in comments)