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When Should You Use Your First-Half FPL Wildcard Chip?

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Red cards, injuries and poor performances have given many Fantasy Premier League managers itchy trigger fingers. Should you play your first-half unlimited transfer wildcard now, or is it wiser to hold off and save it for later?

A poker player holds a chip
It’s always a tough question of when to throw your chips on the table.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It always seems like a weird start every season, but this time it may truly be stranger than usual. The uncertainty regarding World Cup fatigue left most of us cobbling together teams we would otherwise not have begun with. On top of that, there has already been no shortage of red cards, injuries, and rotation involving key players.

With that quagmire in mind, should you blow up your teams now out of desperate necessity? Is it time to panic and burn down the disco also known as your fantasy team?

Let’s look at the difficulties this season has presented and whether they point to early wildcard use, or if you can instead hold off until a more opportune moment for more strategic gain.

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WHY MAY YOU NEED TO USE THE WILDCARD CHIP NOW?

World Cup Fatigue

The biggest concern everybody harbored starting the season was World Cup fatigue, given the Premier League’s huge footprint all over the England and Belgium national teams, and to a lesser degree France and Croatia. Many managers avoided those players entirely, planning on adding them later; others were more willing to stash one or two of them on the bench in order not to have to burn as many transfers in the early weeks.

Chelsea talisman Eden Hazard did not start the first two games (but he still earned an assist in each). Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku came off the bench in the opener, then started and scored in the second game. Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier did not play the opener, then announced his presence with a David Beckham-esque free kick goal in the second. I could go on and on regarding others. Many fantasy managers were only slightly impacted by the World Cup factor, whereas others may have been devastated.

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Rotation and Line-up Uncertainty on Top Teams

Another worry had to do with rotation from some of the bigger teams that had added major players in during the summer transfer window, or had them come back from injury. Pep Guardiola has left key offensive players such as Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez, Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling without regular spots in the XI. Instead, part-timers from last season (Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva) have both started all three games. On defense, while a now fully healthy Benjamin Mendy has featured in all three contests on the left wing, right back Kyle Walker didn’t play the second game, and last season’s regular in central defense, Nicolas Otamendi, has failed to feature at all.

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United team has loads of question marks as well, particularly in defense. Luke Shaw has gotten off to a bright start in wing back, while last season’s preferred outside duo of Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have barely shown themselves. In central defense, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf paired together in the first two games, then Chris Smalling and Phil Jones featured in the 3-0 pasting by Spurs.

Unai Emery has done plenty of tinkering with the Arsenal line-up, trying to figure out which players can best implement his system. Alexandre Lacazette has featured only from the bench, leaving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang isolated up front. Henrikh Mkhitaryan has shown flashes of brilliance, but tremendous inconsistency. Mesut Ozil missed out through illness in the West Ham game as fit-for-now Aaron Ramsey started, leaving plenty of uncertainty. Central defense has been poor, looking desperate for Laurent Koscienly’s return.

As for Chelsea’s new manager Maurizio Sarri, he may have shown his preferred XI in the Newcastle game. Alvaro Morata and Pedro started, leaving Willian and Olivier Giroud on substitute duty. Inexplicably, Tottenham added no players in the summer transfer window, easing the minds of fantasy managers in that respect, but the defense seems unsettled (see below in the “Transfer Window” section).

If you started the season with a glut of players from top teams whom you expected were starters but instead turned out to be bench warmers, and especially if you also have players who have been featured in the XI but you are worried about that status going forward, you’ll certainly be tempted to blow up your team. Sometimes it’s much less stressful, and more successful, to go with guaranteed starters from the so-called smaller teams.

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The Salah Dilemma

Entering the season, the major single question we all faced was whether or not to spend big for the monumentally expensive Liverpool talisman. Interestingly, our answer split roughly 50/50 (though slightly in favor of Salah, as his ownership is up to 55%). Last year’s Player of the Year has gotten off to a very strong start with two goals and two assists, so if you have him already, you will have no qualms about your choice.

If you don’t have him, and if your captain choices have picked around your points, and if you have exploded land mines strewn around the rest of your team, then Salah may be beckoning to you as a savior, someone to whom you can give the captain’s armband and forget about it. In that case, there will be serious temptation to use your wildcard. After all, how else can you fit the game’s priciest-by-far player into your team other than by making a whole slew of changes?

The counterpoint, of course, is that there is still something to be said for the no-Salah movement. Maybe it’s just that you got unlucky in picking the right mix of less expensive players; they’re still available, aren't they? Just different ones. After all, plenty of us who avoided Salah are doing fine right now (especially those who captained Aguero for his hatty). The jury is still out on the Salah question, so you don’t have to change course just yet.

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The Rash of Red Cards

We’ve already seen eight red cards in just the first three games. Dynamic striker Jamie Vardy scored a goal off the bench in Leicester’s opener against Manchester United. He started the second game with high hopes for fantasy managers, but dashed those with a reckless tackle and the resulting straight red card. Similarly, cheap-but-prolific Crystal Palace defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka delivered a clean sheet and an assist in the first week, prompting even more managers to add him to their fantasy teams. He then followed that up with a red card for a last-defender foul. Watford-to-Everton wing midfield transfer Richarlison got loads of fantasy love before the season, and even more when he got off to a brilliant start with three goals in the first pair of games. Then, of course, came the idiotic head butt. Violent conduct reds have also come to Everton’s Phil Jagielka, Newcastle’s Isaac Hayden, Huddersfield’s Jonathan Hogg, and Bournemouth’s Adam Smith. (Wan-Bissaka only earned a one-game suspension for his straight red card, while Southampton’s Pierre-Emil Sojberg saw the same penalty for two yellows.)

Three game suspensions, my oh my, how can you deal with them? Well, if you can’t afford to take the hit by swapping your suspended players for others, don’t panic. Sure they are three game suspensions, but that trio of affairs include other competitions peripheral to the Premier League. In these cases, the players are going to miss a cup tie, so they’re only going to miss out on two EPL games. That’s not so bad now, is it? On top of that, aside from Vardy, Wan-Bissaka and Richarlison, the other suspended players were lightly owned in fantasy.

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A Spate of Injuries

Kevin De Bruyne’s injury in training before GW2 gave a case of gut ache to those who had him in their early teams, and it was an even bigger gut punch to those who had avoided him due to World Cup fatigue but added him in after GW1. Going the other way, some managers went with Dejan Lovren in their initial teams, expecting him to be available after resting the first game or two. As it turns out, he will miss longer due to injury. Alexis Sanchez’s trouble that caused him unexpectedly to miss GW2 was no picnic either.

Now West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic and Everton defender Michael Keane have gone off injured in GW3, with severity unclear yet. Sure there has been a spate of injuries, but it doesn’t seem all that out of the ordinary, does it? It’s sports; injuries happen. It could be worse, much worse.

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Price Rises and Falls

Did you miss out on Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mane, Benjamin Mendy, Richarlison, Paul Pogba, or other players whose prices have risen sharply quickly? Were you saddled with Phil Jones, Nicolas Otamendi, Diogo Jota and more whose values have fallen?

It may seem like the world is ending, as if the mound of cash representing your team value is burning in a dumpster fire. But calm down, take a deep breath, and remember, this is Official FPL fantasy, where values really don’t change all that much. This is not Fantrax (or the old Yahoo for those who remember), where somebody’s price can double (or slice in half) in an instant. The biggest rise or fall so far has only been £0.3 out of your £100.0 total budget. That’s peanuts!

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Poor Performance from Stars

One big unknown is always when to pull the trigger on a pricey player for whom you had high hopes but is just not living up to expectations, entirely unrelated to injury or lack of playing time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Eriksen, Mesut Ozil, Roberto Firmino, and Gylffi Sigurdsson are among those who have underperformed from a fantasy perspective.

However, it has only been three games. That’s a very small sample size! Take the example of Joshua King. He did nothing the first two games (three fantasy points total), whereas cheaper strike partner Callum Wilson was tearing it up. Managers sold King, and his value dropped, while they bought in on Wilson, who enjoyed a price rise. But against Everton in the third game, King scored a penalty kick — taking PK duties away from Wilson who had missed in GW1 — and while Wilson did well with two assists, King actually outscored him in fantasy 9-8 for the game.

Maybe all of those players (and any others you’re worried about) won’t turn thing around quickly, but some of them very likely will. Look for signs that a player’s role (scoring opportunity) has actually changed (e.g. dropped back deep in midfield) before giving up too quickly.

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Perhaps Most Importantly, How Is Your Fantasy Team Doing?

Of course, it may not be any single thing, but it may be that everything is wrong with your team. If you have a squad filled with injuries, red cards, non-starters and under-performers, then you will naturally feel desperate. On top of that, if you’re in last place in your league, with the leaders nowhere in sight, you’re going to want to pull the trigger. And that’s alright, I get it, maybe you should. Only you can answer that question. But if you haven’t already, before doing so you should consider the optimal strategy to decide if it is worth trying to weather the storm.

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WHY SHOULD YOU WAIT TO PUT THE WILDCARD INTO PLAY?

I have already made several counterarguments to using your chip in the above section. But that’s not all. There’s more, much more!

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Penalty Kick & Free Kick Duty Uncertainty

Penalty and free kick assignments are a major component of fantasy player pricing and scoring. Several situations are already well known regarding the #1 penalty kick taker for a team, while some which were less clear at the start of the season have revealed themselves in the early weeks. However, again, it has only been three games. Only Bournemouth, Brighton, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle and West Ham have taken penalty kicks. That’s it. Which means that 13 teams haven’t yet taken PKs.

Newcastle United v Chelsea FC - Premier League
After Jorginho converted a penalty in the opener with Eden Hazard on the bench, Hazard was back to scoring from the spot in the third game.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Similarly, with respect to free kicks from just outside the box, some definitive designations have announced themselves. Ruben Neves (Wolverhampton) and Kieran Trippier (Tottenham) have scored on beautifully taken air-benders, while Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) hit the crossbar. But many other pecking orders are still in flux.

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The (Sales) Transfer Deadline

The Premier League, to its credit, this season moved moved the incoming transfer deadline up to August 9, just before the season started. Brilliant, lovely, wonderful, thank you thank you thank you!

Unfortunately, the outgoing transfer deadline remains August 30, which keeps plenty of the old complication. Major Premier League stars and fantasy favorites such as Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose along with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Marcos Alonso and Willian have been rumored to be going elsewhere in Europe. It always takes at least until the end of the transfer deadline, and realistically a while beyond, for things on those teams to get settled.

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The Risk of Compounded Buyer’s Remorse

After much consternation, you eventually settled on a final fantasy team before the season, and you loved it, didn’t you? Three games in, you hate it, and you want to blow it up. Well, what’s to say that the same thing won’t happen again three games after you have your new team? How will you feel if you pull the trigger just before an international break that then breaks your internationals? If so, then you’re a mere four weeks into the season in an even deeper, darker hole you can’t climb out from. Panic and overreaction can cause very bad consequences.

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Line-Ups Shaking Out... Eventually

As mentioned above in the “Rotation and Line-Up Uncertainty on Top Teams,” unsettled starting-XI situations can be a good reason to blow up your team. But it can also be a call to wait. Wouldn’t you rather see the preferred line-ups for Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and/or Arsenal come into view before truly committing them to your fantasy teams?

Could Lacazette become a starter for Arsenal? If so, how would that impact Aubameyang? And what of Ozil, Micki and Ramsey in the Gunners’ midfield? Given that the Chelsea offense didn’t score against Newcastle until the introduction of Olivier Giroud and Willian, might they be rewarded with starting roles for Chelsea?

What will happen when the Champions League group stage begins? What if Gabriel Jesus, Mahrez, Sane, David Silva, Sterling, and/or Kyle Walker do end up starting domestic matches regularly for the Citizens? Or Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones for the Red Devils? Could Fabinho or Jordan Henderson take a spot in the Reds’ midfield from Georginio Wijnaldum or James Milner? Can Tottenham emerge with a group of defensive regulars? And what happens to Lucas Moura if Heung-min Son ever returns from the seemingly endless Asian Games?

Coaching changes are rare early in the season for top teams, but Jose Mourinho certainly looms as a possibility. If Mou gets the axe, it could certainly prove advantageous to be able to wait until the new manager came in to get a feel for his tactics and preferred players. The non-”Big Six” teams do not have nearly the same level of uncertainty, but some situations may also apply with respect to those squads as well. Certainly those squads will expect to see more early manager sackings, but the elite players on those teams will not have much danger of being benched.

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The Schedule

The Premier League schedule, unfortunately, does not have one-game-per-week reliability built in for every team the rest of the season. It’s not neat like a basic deli sandwich; it’s messy like a Sloppy Joe. And that has to be taken into account from a fantasy perspective. See “The Fixture-Based Approach” section within “When is the Optimal Time to Use Your Wildcard Chip” below.

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WHEN IS THE OPTIMAL TIME TO USE YOUR WILDCARD CHIP?

The Simple Mathematical Approach

You get one chip during the first half and the other in the second half. Use ’em or lose ’em. Each half is 19 games, so if you divide that by two, then you would use your first-half chip around week 10, right? If you use it in GW-4 or GW-5, that’s really not too far off, is it?

Yes, yes it is, and it gets even worse because I just tricked you with faulty reasoning. The real way to partition your season is not by dividing the first half of the season further into halves. Instead, look at the season this way: You get unlimited transfers three times per year, in the pre-season plus the two wildcard chips. So use your two wildcards to slice the entire season into thirds, kind of like a club sandwich where the wildcard chips are the filling and the game sections are the bread. (Sorry if these food similes are too confusing, but I’m hungry and they make perfect sense to me.)

By this simple, cold, hard mathematical logic, you need each squad reset to get you through about 12-13 weeks of the 38 week season, otherwise one of your other resets must last even longer. That would have you use the first chip around GW-14 and the second around GW-26.

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The Schedule-Based Approach

However, that is not the ideal way of doing things, because it fails to take into account the quirks of the Premier League schedule. The main three that stand out are the hectic winter fixture congestion, then the January transfer window, and finally the late-season double game-week insanity. We usually see the crazy winter congestion around GW-16 to GW-22, and it’s always nice to be able to use your first wildcard chip ahead of that, targeting players who have favorable opposition and are likely to start regularly.

Just as the festive period is winding down, the winter transfer window begins its work, deleting some players and threatening others’ roles with new signings. If possible, you want to take these in stride, but fantasy managers who are hard hit will be tempted to wildcard again.

Then usually sometime around GW32 - GW36 we tend to see a couple of double game weeks. Optimally, you will want to save your second half wildcard chip for use around then. In tandem, that gives you about 15 weeks with your first team, and about 17 weeks with your second team. That’s not terribly far off the 12 or 13 weeks each from the simple math approach, and it allows you to take strategic advantage of the fixture irregularities.

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The Realistic, Actuality-Based Approach

So, optimally you would love to hold out until around GW16 to use your first half unlimited wildcard chip. But we don’t live in a theoretical realm, rather we live in a cold, hard world. Ultimately, you have to use it when you need to use it. If your team has been — or becomes — absolutely wrecked with holes like Swiss cheese due to injuries, suspensions, rotation, underperformance, etc., and you’re way off the pace in your league, you may simply have to use it sooner, blow up your team and get a fresh start.

But if you are willing to make an extra transfer — or two or three — and take a few -4 hits here and there, you may be able to hold on for use at a more optimal time... and that may pay off better in the long run. Patience, after all, is a virtue. You know, like when you’re dining at an Italian restaurant and that glorious pizza comes to you straight out of the oven. If you start chomping away immediately, sure you get to enjoy the wonderful taste without delay, but it comes at a cost. If instead you have the self-control to wait a few minutes for it to cool down, you avoid suffering with a burned mouth the next couple of days.

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Have you already blown up your team and crafted a brand new squad to your liking? If not, how long do you think you will be able to hold off in using the first-half unlimited transfer wildcard chip? Take the poll below and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Poll

When are you planning to use your first half unlimited transfer wildcard chip?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Derailed early, already used it before Week 3!
    (19 votes)
  • 20%
    Looking rough, have to play it before Week 4
    (61 votes)
  • 19%
    Won’t be able to wait past weeks 5-7
    (58 votes)
  • 22%
    Middle ground, can get to Weeks 8-11
    (66 votes)
  • 15%
    Looking good, should make it to Weeks 12-15
    (45 votes)
  • 15%
    Patience of a saint, holding off until Weeks 16-19!
    (44 votes)
293 votes total Vote Now

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