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Lessons Learned from the 2017-18 Premier League Season

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The domestic season is finished, its cups and fantasy formats decided. What did we learn this year?

Olivier Giroud - Chelsea - FA Cup Final
What a handsome man; the blue color suits him more in my opinion!

2017-18 football is 99% over for English clubs, with only Liverpool, Aston Villa and Fulham to play next Saturday, May 26:

  • Villa faces Fulham at Wembley for promotion (maybe our CL live chat will start early for those who want to chime in on this early contest)
  • Liverpool meets Real Madrid in Kiev for the Champions League title (don’t miss our live chat!)

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While we have all known the Premier League champion for quite some time (Manchester City), and that Wolverhampton Wanderers (aka Wolves) were by far the better team in the Championship this season, the Premier League relegation fight and Championship 2nd automatic promotion slot weren't all that clear. West Brom, Stoke City and Swansea ended up taking bottom honors, and Cardiff will replace Swans as Welsh representation in the Premier League (still no Welsh darby).

For lessons learned, I would like to look from both sides: from a fan’s point of view, and a fantasy (FPL) manager’s.

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Lessons from the beautiful game itself:

  1. The time has come for new managers: this season we witnessed ten (10) managers being sacked. It’s unbelievable, but all three promoted clubs kept their composure, Premier League status and coaching staff. There is a known tendency for mid-table clubs to shuffle manager reloads and retreads; we saw Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson each hired to manage a team from which one of the others had been sacked within the last two seasons. With all due respect, it feels like the time for entirely new faces, probably brought up by the club’s academy or youth team. Darren Moore was appointed the head coach to lead West Brom’s relegation fight; and many more managing boards should act in a similar manner.
  2. The famous English Top 4 has expanded to Top 6, with Tottenham and Liverpool achieving a back-to-back Champions League qualification at the expense of Chelsea and Arsenal. The slighted London clubs are facing great changes this summer, because none will be satisfied with the 2017-18 outcome.
  3. Another end of an era: Merci Arsene! We all knew that the Premier League and Manchester United would never be same after Sir Alex Ferguson retirement. Guess what: We were right! David Moyes took the reigns as the “Chosen One”, followed by the grumpy Louis van Gaal and currently Jose Mourinho, the “Special One”. Astronomical transfer budgets were spent, but none of them managed to return the Red Devils to the same level. Now another era ends as Arsene Wenger departs. Many will say that the Frenchman should have left Arsenal couple years ago, but none of us is in a position to judge a man who has served the club since 1996 (that’s when my brother was born!) and won so much silverware with such tight board-level constraints on spending (no Russian oligarch money to splash around). He is now officially gone, but his legacy will always stay with the Gunners. Is it really Mikel Arteta who deserves to start a mangerial career with a club like Arsenal? What do you think, Arsenal fans?
  4. Guardiola is apparently superior to Mourinho. This rivalry started in Spain, and the pair have reignited it in Manchester. They stopped abusing one another in the media, but their teams will never be friends on the pitch (as if cross-town darby rivals need another excuse for enmity). This season, Pep Guardiola won the League in an emphatic fashion, breaking a number of records and playing with exquisite style. Jose Mourinho just keeps mumbling that he needs more men, despite acquiring the services of Paul Pogba from Juventus and Alexis from Arsenal. These players showed flair elsewhere but seem invisible at times under Jose. He needs to double their efforts, but fans are displeased with his apparent lack of progress (Real Madrid fans don’t have fond memories of the Portuguese time with Los Blancos either). Perhaps a new assistant coach could find new ways to motivate them. Make your own judgment...
  5. Buying high-profile players no longer guarantees the result: they should be carefully integrated. Renato Sanchez joined Swansea City on loan from Bayern Munich to get game time and reestablish himself as one of the most talented youngsters in the game. Rumors are that he is now back to Lisbon, while Swans are going down to the Championship. Paul Clement tried to fit the star boy into the squad too much, and that cost him the job. Grzegorz Krychowiak was yet another high profile transfer from current pace-setters Paris Saint-Germain to West Brom. The Pole was preferred to Sam Field, Claudio Jacob and Jake Livermore in certain periods of the season though he was far from his advertised self. Enough said.

Stoke are probably the leaders in this category with the best examples of how buying or borrowing ill-fitting stars can lead to sorry relegation. Just to name a few: Sadio Berahino long-awaited transfer from West Brom; once-golden-boy Jese Rodriguez on loan from PSG; Ibrahim Afellay from Barcelona; Kurt Zouma on loan from Chelsea; Bruno Martins Indi from Porto; Badou Ndiaye from Galatasaray, and Xhedran Shaqiri from Inter Milan... are you counting? Only the Swiss Shaq managed to leave some great memories on a cold rainy night in Stoke.

Here are some more high profile flops of the season: It’s painful to admit, but Alvaro Morata, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater from Chelsea; Alexis Sanchez, Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial from Manchester United.

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Lessons in fantasy management:

This was my first season in official FPL game and, despite a sorry result on the outskirts of the second hundred thousand, I thoroughly enjoyed the run. If we learn from our mistakes, then I just completed a master class, and I am happy to share my biggest (most painful) new tattoos:

  1. The FPL scoring system is very narrow, relying heavily on all-or-nothing goals, assists and cleansheets. Nothing else matters (cue Metallica) and this is sad. Not to mention a capricious bonus points allocation logic where Emre Can and/or Jordan Henderson can collect all three bonus points in a game when Mo Salah both scores and assists. That is a wonder, isn’t it? I previously played the Yahoo fantasy format that spread the luck by rewarding such efforts as winning corners and free kicks and shots on target while penalizing things like fouls conceded. That meant negative points for your keeper if he shipped five against Manchester City.
  2. Midfielders outscored Forwards and would allow me to balance the team early in the season: Being an adept of Yahoo fantasy format, I invested heavily in shiny and expensive forwards from GW-1 and didn’t hesitate to give one of them a captain armband. My misunderstanding of FPL scoring methods, and the general slow start to the season from well-established forwards like Romelu Lukaku, Alexandre Lacazette and Gabriel Jesus might have ruined it all early in the season. My key take-away from this season would be to use a 3-5-2 formation with one cheap rotating forward.
  3. You don’t need the most expensive goalkeeper in the game. Unsurprisingly, David de Gea claimed the Golden Glove and had yet another stellar season. He cost you 5.9£ and delivered 172 points. Ederson from Manchester City trailed the Spaniard by 14 points. Now, the remaining Top 6 fantasy goalkeepers would cost you 4.5£ in the beginning of the season, while rewarding you with just couple points less. For example, the relegated Lukasz Fabianski would save you 1£ and still deliver 157 points. Fair trade-off, right?
  4. Fantasy points machines can be found on losing clubs: Did you fancy Brighton to stay up? I didn’t. Well, this didn’t stop their star German midfielder Pascal Groß to score just nine points less than Eden Hazard (5.9£ and 164 points). Stoke got relegated and had a season to forget. The Swiss hulk Xhedran Shaqiri never stopped trying to shoot from distance and would reward you with a cheap price tag and solid overall score (6.1£ and 155 points). Crystal Palace were relegation favorites when Roy Hodgson took the job. Since than Luka Milivojevic rose from 4.5£ to 5.2£ and rewarded loyal owners with 144 points. Last, but not least, the above-mentioned goalies Lukasz Fabianski, Swansea and Mathew Ryan, Brighton would save you money and end up as number three and five in the goalkeeper points’ ranking.
  5. Banking it all on double game weeks isn’t working well. If an unproductive player is playing twice, he is still a bad player. Yes, you get to roll those dice twice, but double nearly nothing is usually nearly nothing. Meanwhile, the fantasy studs playing once will out-point you. To be completely transparent, I didn’t make it past 100 points mark in any of the double game weeks, despite fielding from 9 to 11 nailed-on starters. Fail!
  6. Taking hits can be rewarding, if the selection is rational and not emotional. I started to lose it in early November and overreacted by almost changing half my squad after yet another abysmal performance. That’s when I lost a mini-league leadership and never recovered. Many experienced players told me not to take any hits at all, but, having now my first season in a pocket, I would disagree. It’s all about maths at the end, so if you are sure that your substitute player will start and make it past 60 minutes and offers a potential for getting attacking points — pay the price.
  7. My final one is to trust your gut: I just checked my Fantasy team’s history. I started the season with Kevin de Bruyne and Alexandre Lacazette in my first three game weeks. Guess what? They brought me only one attacking return in 6 games combined. What did I do? You gussed it: I sold them both, and I’ve regretted that move ever since. Any player pick you make that is based on sound judgment should be trusted until your original information is falsified (injury, changed player role etc), otherwise there is no point in doing research; you might as well throw darts at a list of names.

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Those are my thoughts and take-away lessons from the Premier League season 2017-18. We will soon learn the final promoted side and whether Mo Salah is good enough to conquer Europe. I’m already looking forward to all the transfers and rumours, and I encourage you to keep reading us throughout the summer, as there are many exciting articles coming during the transfer window and World Cup. Before I go, let me ask you this:

What were your main epiphanies this season? How will you play differently next season? Will you try new Fantasy formats or remain committed to official FPL? Do my realizations match yours? Please tell us in the comments below...

Thank you for a great season with us and let’s chat!

Alexey