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Lessons from the First Half of the FPL Season

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What takeaways from the first 19 Premier League games stand out, and how can we apply them to our fantasy teams the rest of the way?

Jamie Vardy celebrates with James Maddison - Leicester City - Premier League
Fantasy managers loading up on the maximum allotment of Leicester players such as Ricardo Pereira, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy have reaped the rewards.
Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images

The halfway point is always a great time for reflection. Of course, with the festive period underway, it’s not easy to pause. Even so, let’s do our best to break down lessons from the first 19 games and determine how best to apply them in the second half as we refocus our search for fantasy glory.

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CLEAN SHEETS ARE TOUGH TO COME BY

Last season, Liverpool led the way with 21 clean sheets, followed by Manchester City with 20. This season so far, the Reds have just five, and the Citizens only six. In other words, the Liverpudlians would have to finish with 16 more (in 20 games, since they missed GW18) and the Sky Blues with 15 in 19 games to match last season’s output. Unrealistic? Basically impossible!

Have other teams stepped up to fill the void? No, not quite. Burnley, Leicester and Sheffield United tie for the league lead with seven clean sheets apiece. Any one of them would need 14 more in the second half to equal Liverpool’s mark last year. Possible, but extremely improbable.

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EXPENSIVE KEEPERS & DEFENDERS HAVE BEEN BUSTS

Last season, Liverpool defenders Andrew Robertson (213 points) and Virgil van Dijk (208 points) reached rarefied air for the position by topping 200, while Trent Alexander-Arnold (185 points) wasn’t far behind their production in fewer minutes. For Manchester City, Aymeric Laporte (176 points) was also a strong performer, rounding out the top four at the position. Their so-called premium prices seemed like a bargain this year when compared to what a similarly-priced player at midfield and striker would be expected to deliver.

While the offensive contributions of Robertson, TAA and VvD have remained strong, the lack of clean sheets has caused their fantasy output to crater so far this season. (Laporte, meanwhile, has been out injured.) After an otherworldly Game 19 (24 points from a goal, three fantasy assists, a clean sheet and the full bonus), TAA surged to the top of the fantasy ranks among defenders at 98 points, putting him ahead of last season’s pace. However, to equal last season’s output, Robertson would have to score 134 points in the second half and VvD would have to contribute 129.

Likewise, Liverpool’s Alisson and Manchester City’s Ederson dominated the goalkeeper ranks in 2018-19, scoring 176 and 169 points, respectively. Alisson has missed much of the season with injury, and the duo of Alisson and Adrian have combined for only 55 points. Along similar lines, Ederson has scored only 58 points so far, meaning that he would have to deliver 111 points the rest of the way to equal last season’s heroics, a mathematical near-impossibility (especially after today’s red card and the match he will miss).

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LEICESTER & SHEFFIELD ARE THIS YEAR’S ‘POOL & MAN CITY IN BACK

Instead of high-priced Liverpool and Manchester City defenders last season, budget defenders and goalkeepers from Leicester and Sheffield United have proven the path to fantasy gold this year. They’ve not just been more effective on a point-per-pound basis, they’ve actually in many cases simply outearned their higher-priced counterparts.

Every season we look for a budget defender or two to break out, harboring fond memories of Matt Doherty and Lucas Digne in 2018-19. Amazingly, leading the way for most of the season as the #1 defender — relinquishing that spot recently after TAA’s aforementioned outburst — Sheffield United’s John Lundstram has more than fit the bill this season, having begun the season at the minimum cost of £4.0.

Even more surprisingly, he’s got loads of company from his own team, while the Blades have also been joined in the ranks by Foxes’ defenders. In the top 12 at the position, Sheffield United and Leicester remarkably account for four players each.

George Baldock and John Lundstram - Sheffield United - Premier League - Bramall Lane
How many average EPL fans do you think recognize these two of the top three FPL performers at the defender position?
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

TOP 12 DEFENDERS IN FPL SCORING, FIRST HALF OF 2019-20

1. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) - 98 points

2. John Lundstram (Sheffield United) - 97 points

3. George Baldock (Sheffield United) - 88 points

4. Ricardo Pereira (Leicester City) - 86 points

5(T). Andrew Robertson (Liverpool) - 79 points

5(T). Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) - 79 points

7. Johnny Evans (Leicester) - 78 points

8. Enda Stevens (Sheffield United) - 76 points

9. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) - 73 points

10. James Tarkowski (Burnley) - 71 points

11. Ben Chilwell (Leicester) - 69 points

12. Jack O’Connell (Sheffield United) - 67 points

Likewise, at keeper there’s a bevy of players in the cheap to affordable range who have outperformed their more expensive counterparts, and it’s Shefield United (Dean Henderson) and Leicester (Kasper Schmeichel) leading the way. Of the top-10 performers at the position — Henderson (78 points), Schmeichel (75), Wolves’ Rui Patricio (74), Bournemouth’s Aaron Ramsdale (74), Crystal Palace’s Vicenta Guiata (73), Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka (73), Watford’s Ben Foster (73), Brighton’s Mat Ryan (72), Burnley’s Nick Pope (72), and Arsenal’s Bernd Leno (65) — not a single one cost more than £5.0 to start the season.

If you spent big on keepers and defenders to start the season, and have failed to modify your strategy at all yet, you sure might want to think about doing that now!

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THERE IS NO “BIG SIX” BIRTHRIGHT

Every so often, a team (or two) in the “Big Six” fails to live up to the name, allowing another team (or two) to jump in as a pretender to the throne. In the early part of the decade, Newcastle was #5 in 2011-12, while Everton was #6 in 2012-13 and #5 in 2013-14. Once in a generation, as with Leicester in 2015-16, one of those outsiders actually takes the crown! (Additionally, Southampton was #6 in 2015-16.) But at each turn from 2016-17 through 2018-19, the Big Six sides all finished in the top half dozen in the table, seemingly restoring order.

Before the 2019-20 season started, there were warning signs from Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham that any or all could falter, with several possible suitors to step in: Everton, Leicester City and Wolves being the three most hyped. But even so, it took the strongest-willed prognosticator to actually go out on a limb and predict that the pecking order would be truly disrupted.

While Liverpool has more than lived up to its expectations, and Manchester City has been excellent, the other four teams have indeed shown various signs of struggle. Chelsea (4th place) and Tottenham (6th) are currently in the top six spots, but far from comfortably. Manchester United (8th) and Arsenal (11th) have plenty of work to do.

Meanwhile, Leicester decided to take another one of Cinderella’s shoes to the dance, magically sitting in the second spot at the halfway point. The Foxes quickly emerged as the non-Big Six team for successful fantasy managers to load up on with the maximum allotment of three players each. It has taken longer for FPL gaffers to get the memo on Wolves (5th place) and Sheffield United (7th place), though. Wolves criminally only have one player selected by at least 15% of FPL managers, Raul Jimenez (17%). While Sheffield United’s Lundstram has been selected by 50% of FPL managers, surprisingly only one other Blade has cracked a double digit percentage, George Baldock at 10%. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that I’m seeing a nice value play here from managers who grab two or three Sheffield United or Wolves players each!

Right now, would anybody be truly shocked if Liverpool and Manchester City were the only Big Six teams that ended up finishing in the vital top four spots automatically securing Champions League next season? Leicester looks like a favorite to finish in the top four. If Sheffield United and Wolves can continue to push for not only the top six, but actually challenge for the top four as well, their fantasy assets should certainly pay off brilliantly the rest of the way, while denting the stars from the bigger teams.

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BALANCE BETWEEN FORWARDS AND MIDFIELDERS HAS BEEN RESTORED

In 2018-19, midfield was the center of the FPL universe, as Mo Salah (259 points), Eden Hazard (238), Raheem Sterling (234) and Sadio Mane (231) led the way in overall scoring. The highest scoring forward, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (205) ranked only #7, behind defenders Robertson and van Dijk, and only three forwards were in the top 15 overall.

This came as three players tied for the most goals (22), with two of them - Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Sadio Mane — being midfielders. Raheem Sterling (17 goals), Eden Hazard (16), and Richarlison (13) also finished in the top 10, meaning that midfielders amazingly accounted for five of the top 10 goal scorers.

Danny Ings - Southampton FC - Premier League
Danny Ings is doing what forwards are supposed to do - score goals!
Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

The main thing that has helped restore forwards to the scoring ranks overall is, perhaps not surprisingly, their ability to — you know — score goals. That’s the actual job description of strikers, right? This season, forwards account for five of the top six goal scorers.

TOP SIX GOAL SCORERS, FIRST HALF OF 2019-20

1. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) - 17 goals

2. Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (Arsenal) - 12 goals

3(T). Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) - 11 goals

3(T). Danny Ings (Southampton) - 11 goals

3(T). Marcus Rashford (Manchester United) - 11 goals

3(T). Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) - 11 goals

This season, forward Jamie Vardy (144 points) is pacing the field by a wide margin in overall fantasy scoring. And while Vardy is joined by midfielders Kevin De Bruyne (125), Mane (121), Sterling (107), Salah (107), and James Maddison (91) in the top ranks, he is also flanked by fellow forwards Aubameyang (112), Marcus Rashford (111), Tammy Abraham (103), Raul Jimenez (103), Danny Ings (100), Teemu Pukki (96), and Harry Kane (94).

Of the 15 players with 90+ FPL points, eight are forwards, five are midfielders, and two are defenders. Unlike last season, there is no need to prioritize the midfield over the forward position over the other when laying out the cash. Simply finding value in attack is how to go about things.

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[NOTE: Statistics used in this article came from the official fantasy Premier League and official Premier League statistics sites.]

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How have you already changed your FPL strategy based on the above takeaways, or do you plan to now? Which ones do you think will hold true in the second half, and what trends might instead change? Are there any other things that you have spotted? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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