Fantasy Premier League: Six rules to succeed during 2021-22 season

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah

The new Fantasy Premier League season is up and running. Many managers have already made a strong start, with popular picks like Mohamed Salah and Bruno Fernandes scoring big on the opening weekend of the new campaign.

Those of you who took advice from our pre-season preview may also have benefitted from picking Michail Antonio, Said Benrahma and Luke Ayling, who all notched in the first round of fixtures alongside our other picks like Diogo Jota and Mason Greenwood.

Seeing as we’re on something of a roll, here are some more general tips for the season ahead and seasons to come. To succeed at this game, you need to build a strategy and these guidelines will help do just that.

They are not set in stone and can be difficult to stick to at times, especially as players go in and out of fashion, but they are a strong framework to achieve consistent results and make you a better manager.

So, here are The Independent’s six rules to be a Fantasy Premier League success…

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Play safe at the start, take risks towards the end

As the cliché almost goes, you cannot win your work’s mini-league in the first few weeks of the season but you can certainly lose it. The same applies to more ambitious managers targeting a strong overall rank. Whatever your goal, it makes sense to play safer at the start of the campaign when we have relatively little information to hand.

Keep half an eye on ownership – i.e. which players are popular among the rest of the game – and consider whether you want to essentially bet against them by not owning them. There’s a reason why Salah and Fernandes were two of the most highest-owned players in the game to start this season. Both immediately showed why.

A punt here and there – at least one, but no more than three or four – is still important and later in the season, you should be in a position to take more calculated gambles and go against the grain. You won’t take as much damage if those risks don’t pay off as you will have stayed with the pack and built up a decent cushion.

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Prioritise fixtures over form

Do you go with the player who has scored five in his last six or the one who will be facing the bottom five in his next six? Fixtures versus form is an old fantasy football debate. It really shouldn’t be, though. The truth is that they are related. Fixtures beget form, for both players and teams.

Liverpool provided us with a good example last season. In eighth with 10 games to go, after losing six of their last seven, a top four finish looked unlikely. Their end-of-season schedule was probably the most favourable of any top-flight side, though, and eight wins from those 10 games pushed Jurgen Klopp’s side into third-place.

That doesn’t mean ignoring form altogether. Last year, catching the purple patches of Ilkay Gundogan and Jesse Lingard at the right time – and jumping off them at the right moment – was the difference between a good and a great season. That can be down to luck as much as judgement but even then, their upcoming fixtures will be your strongest guide.

Leave your transfers late

Information is everything in this game and you want as much of it as possible before you make decisions. That is especially true when it comes to transfers, given that they are limited and valuable. Move too early and one unexpected injury could scupper your plans.

Most pre-match press conferences are held on Thursdays or Fridays and it is worth waiting until then before using your transfer, especially if the player you are targeting also has a midweek cup or European game to play in. Paying close attention to team news leaks on social media just before the deadline can help you earn an edge too.

The exception to this rule is if the transfer you are sure you want to make is about to become unaffordable because of price changes, which happen daily. In that case, if you are absolutely sure of your move and are willing to take a small but significant risk, hit confirm and cross your fingers.

Save your chips for blanks and doubles

Chip strategy was once what separated your fantasy veterans from the newcomers and casuals. Nowadays, more and more of the seven million plus managers who sign up every year are aware of what the blank and double gameweeks are and how powerful they can be.

For the uninitiated: blanks and doubles happen when fixtures have to be rearranged. Teams end up playing twice in one gameweek – doubles – or not playing at all – blanks. Navigating these is crucial to staying competitive throughout the season and using your chips during these weeks can help.

Free Hit is often saved for a big blank, usually the FA Cup quarter-final weekend in March when there will only be a handful of Premier League games. Bench Boost is often used during big doubles and just after a Wildcard, so that you can build a full squad of regular starters. Triple Captain is also often saved for doubles.

Some experienced managers will disagree with that strategy, particularly regarding the Bench Boost as carrying a strong bench can limit your ability to move for starting players in the long run. Read around the subject when the time comes and make your choice. The most important thing is to have a plan rather than no plan at all.

Beware rotation, pick ‘nailed’ players

If you are going to sign a player, make sure he is certain to start. It sounds obvious but it is a trap that most experienced managers will fall into at some point during the season because someone on the fringes of the squad impresses and they cannot help themselves. It can work but it is a gamble.

At the start of the season, when team value is low, it is understandable – maybe even preferable – to have a couple of reserves on your bench but you do not want to have to turn to them because you plucked for the wrong one of Manchester City’s many brilliant attackers.

Even those who come on as a substitute rarely score more than a single point so make sure you are getting at least 60 minutes out of your starting line-up and keep a watchful eye on rotation risks like Diogo Jota and Mason Greenwood, whose place may come under threat as the campaign wears on.

Keep it simple, keep it flexible

Boil it down and fantasy is really quite a simple game. It is about picking players who score, assist and keep clean sheets, and swapping them around during the season according to fixture runs. Keep that in mind and you will not go far wrong.

It helps to know the scoring system, as some players are better suited to it than others. There is very little on offer for defensive midfielders who do all the dirty work but creative, goal-scoring midfielders are the best assets in the game with the widest possible range of scoring.

Even so, don’t pile everything into midfield. Spread the money around your squad to stay flexible, which will make it easier to respond to players who suddenly hit a hot streak. Everyone is on Salah and Fernandes now but it will be Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku before long.

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