The English Premier League is finally set to resume on June 17th, 2020. The league restart will bring welcome respite for football fans and Fantasy Premier League managers who have been starved for action during the hiatus.
As an avid football fan, I’ve always enjoyed watching German football for its attacking and enterprising brand of football. Consequently, the early restart of the Bundesliga in May has provided an entertaining filler for the football appetite (much better than Korean Baseball!). I’ve watched many of the games — not just to fill the football void created by the pandemic, but also to gain some insight into how an EPL restart might work.
The first three weeks have been positive overall. The careful and detailed measures adopted by the German authorities have given some reassurance about the ability of EPL to return safely (which is the single most important consideration). But I’ve also made some observations on the footballing front, which I believe will be significant for Fantasy Premier League managers.
Here are some cues to look out for ahead of the upcoming EPL restart...
Home Team Struggles
Closed stadiums and the absence of supporters has all but eliminated home field advantage in the Bundesliga. Home teams have mustered just eight wins in four rounds of action, compiling a total record of 8-15-12. Indeed, the German home teams are struggling with the awkwardness of playing in front of empty stands while away teams seem to relish the opportunity to have a go.
FPL Relevance: A critical factor for any FPL manager is predicting fixture difficulty to help guide team strategy. Season tickers and models usually incorporate home advantage, so FPL managers should perhaps take a second look when deciding which fixtures to target for point returns.
Rule Changes / Fixture Congestion
The Premier League has announced an increase in the number of substitutes that can used from three to five, and the number of subs on the bench from seven to nine. This is in line with the temporary law amendment made by the IFAB last month.
In the initial fixture rounds, many Bundesliga teams seemed unfazed by this change – Bayern Munich and Dortmund especially opted for continuity despite having deep rosters to draw upon. However, as the rounds have progressed, and with fixture congestion becoming a bigger factor, subs have been used with heightened regularity. Three subs at half time or a slew of subs between the 50th and 70th minutes has become a common sight.
FPL Relevance: We all know the feeling of seeing your player trudge off the pitch before the 60th minute without collecting the rudimentary 2 points just for showing up. Brace yourselves as this rule change ushers in a huge rotation risk. FPL managers should avoid rotation risks and players that rarely last the full 90 mins (sorry Mesut Ozil) and focus instead on “locked in” assets.
On the other hand, “super-subs” and cheap fillers might be allowed to shine more... Choose wisely!
Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke was the first fixture on the Bundesliga restart schedule, and the caginess of the affair was immediately apparent. As both teams shook off the rust and cobwebs of a two-month layoff, the match took on something of a practice match feel. This was also typical in many of the other matches I witnessed in the early rounds following the restart.
FPL Relevance: The first couple EPL game-weeks could see goals at a premium as teams find their feet after the lengthy layoff. In FPL terms, this could warrant more defensive investment as clean sheets could be on offer.
On the other hand, defense requires more coordination than offense, so brilliant individual attackers might slice apart defenses that have been practicing as individuals rather than in unison.
Fortune favors the fittest
Probably one of the most apparent observations from the Bundesliga restart is the importance of match fitness. Some teams are visibly struggling with fitness issues emerging from the long layoff and it has had a telling impact in their matches. Schalke and Mainz in particular have looked off the pace, and players tiring in the second half of matches has been a common sight. On the other hand, teams like Hertha Berlin and RB Leipzig have looked sharp and focused and that has translated into strong results.
FPL Relevance: EPL teams that have prepared well, maintained fitness, and played structured and organized football will shine after the restart. This one is probably a huge hunch, but I expect Liverpool, Sheffield United, Wolverhampton and Chelsea to fare well. I’d stay away from West Ham, Everton and Aston Villa and any team whose manager is complaining.
Sealing the Deal
Bayern Munich emerged from the layoff at the top of the table with a four point lead. The Bavarians have been ruthless in their charge to close out the title and a comfortable victory over closest title rivals Borussia Dortmund showed that they were in no mood to let up. The same can be said for the chasing pack in Champions League places (Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and RB Leipzig) who have been on top form since the restart.
FPL Relevance: Liverpool are in an almost unassailable position with a 25 point lead, but complacency should go out the window. The Reds emerge from the hiatus with the opportunity to seal a long awaited title, in a season that was under a real threat of postponement. They will want to wrap it up immediately.
Similarly, the EPL top 4 contenders should be raring to go with Champions League places at stake. Consequently, your Fantasy League investment should follow, except for...
DGW Coming out of the Restart Gate
In GW-30, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, Manchester City and Arsenal will each burn a game in hand ahead of (and in addition to) a full weekend slate of 20 teams playing 10 matches. This will probably be the last and only DGW wrinkle we will see this season. Make the most of it. Stay tuned for more analysis here at NMA.
Are you looking forward to the EPL restart? Have you started reworking your FPL team? How will you handle the immediate DGW? Which teams do you think will do well coming out of the break? Do you have chips remaining? Please let us know in the comments!