So, FPL managers: do you want the red pill or the blue pill?
In 2016/17, we could take both. But, come next season, we’ll have to choose.
What do I mean by that? Well, read on…
The Leicester effect
The 2015/16 season was a bit of an oddity. The chips were introduced. And Leicester of course won the title (I hesitate to add the suffix “against all odds” as it makes me think of that awful pop song). Your cheap (and obligatory) Vahrez + Simpson/Cap’n’ Morgan/Fuchs team spine meant that you didn’t need to worry about how you’d fit in Kun, Kane, Sanchez and co: those cheap Foxes fulfilled the function of players who were normally valued far above what they were priced at in terms of their points output.
Add to that an implosion at Chelsea, whose players were best avoided, a poor season for Liverpool (remember that eternal optimist / deluded Brendan Rodgers was the Liverpool manager at the start of the season, with Klopp only coming in to pick up the pieces in midwinter), and United being a stodgy irrelevance (Borthwick-Jackson at 3rd sub, anyone?). We therefore had a situation where we could comfortably afford the key assets from the key clubs who were worth investment with plenty left over. The importance of team value was diminished; we learnt to play with the chips, but, unlike this season, we mostly didn’t need to be checking the price change websites daily to make sure we still had perfect money for that gameweek’s transfer.
The Foxes’ unexpected success created a unique environment for pricing players at the start of this season; many players, reflecting their clubs’ performance (Liverpool and Chelsea in particular) found themselves underpriced at the start of this most recent season. Hazard, formerly one of the most expensive players in the game, emerged a relative snip at 10.0m. Coutinho was, incredibly, just 8.0m. And Dele, who had emerged the prior season, was 8.5m. Costa? 9.5m. At the same time, Mahrez started the season at 9.5m; Vardy at 10.0m. A true reflection of the prior season, yes, but also one that, in the glory of hindsight after this season has ended, seems a bit mad.
(Just to note that I’m focused on the front 8 in this article; the defence we’ll cover in a later article.)
The trend this created was that this year was the year of the double up. Think Liverpool the first half of the season – who amongst us (apart from the winner of FPL… maybe he was on to something) didn’t have at least two of Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho and Mane in our sides? Think Spurs in the latter half – Eriksen and Alli were both sitting in many midfields (including mine) right up to that fateful loss at the London stadium that meant any pretence of a continuing title race evaporated. Since so many players who emerged as key assets – undervalued stars, such as those mentioned above, now reverting to type – started from such a comparatively undervalued price, we were able to quickly populate our teams with more killer and less filler than ever before.
As time progressed and we built team value, we were increasingly able to field a team populated with a plethora of big guns. All 3 key Spurs assets were a mainstay on many an RMT post. The emergence of Alonso pressured team value with a shout from the back, but as Chelsea went through a relatively fallow period with clean sheets, some made the decision to get rid. Josh King – the heir to the Mahrez throne – was thrown in as this year’s undervalued-yet-productive makeweight. In the end, I needed Anichebe to make it work, but I saw many teams with just a ludicrous lineup (at least the front 8, relatively few makeweights, mostly in defence), built on team values of 108.0+, all rooted in cannily trading in and out players in form as they gained value (arguably, towards what they should’ve been priced at).
What I’m saying is that many teams had no real weakness going into the final furlong of the season – there was no gamble to the starting front 8s many could field, as all of the major teams, and all of the major point scorers, were covered if you had been even vaguely engaged with your team throughout the year. It meant that, for the majority of managers that were still active and engaged with the final weeks of the season, differentials were limited to just 1 or 2 players in the front line. This led to many mini-leagues coming down to captain choice – further subdivided into the decision to cover or differentiate – and to the odd one or two players on the fringes. Core players such as Kane, Jesus, Sanchez, Alli and Hazard were owned by the vast majority, with maybe a choice between Sane and Sterling (or making sacrifices for KdB) or King (in a 3-5-2) vs Gabbiadini (in a 3-4-3) the one that differentiated. We had fantastic sides, objectively speaking, in terms of the points potential possessed. And this was rooted on the price conditions that the season began with.
This won’t continue.
Team value will, if anything, be even more important*, as we are increasingly knowledgeable about the need to build it to reap the benefits for the chips on the big DGWs. The rise (again) of the big teams – look at the top 6, there’s absolutely no surprise who they are – will see valuations balloon again. Hazard will not be 10.0m: 12.0m might be nearer the mark. Kane at 11.0m? No chance – look at Kun this year at 13.0m. Harry’ll be that, at the very least (think RvP back in the goal-a-game days). Jesus’ initial 9.0m will not stay there. Eriksen and Alli won’t be 8.5m. And Coutinho at 8.0m will seem unbelievable value.
Simply put, we think what’s going to happen next year is that we’re going to be forced to choose. Where once you could afford both Coutinho and Bobby, next year you will be forced to go with one plus a makeweight, or take a hit to your team quality elsewhere to afford the double up. The emphasis could well be even more on picking, moving quickly on to, and keeping the “big” players who show form, at the expense of others. We’ll be forced to sacrifice one for the other. We won’t be able to retain a plethora of stars to cover all eventualities anymore, because they’ll be too expensive. We’ll be forced to choose.
Think about it: as mentioned, it’s reasonable to assume Kane will start at ~13.0m, Jesus at ~11.0m and, if he comes, Griezmann at ~11.5-12.0m. Want all three? Sure, but you’ve just spent 35.5-36.0m – more than a third of your budget – on the frontline. Then add in the midfielders. So you might want a Spurs player – Alli, ~10.0m, perhaps – and maybe one of the City wingers – Sane, ~8.0m? – and then you’ve obviously got to cover Sanchez – surely, ~12.0m. That’s 66m already. On just 6 players. What about Hazard? What about Coutinho? Do we want Alonso – surely to be near Baines circa 13/14 season price at 7.0-7.5m – at the back? It’s going to be impossible to fit these guys into your team of 100m. You’re going to have to forgo some to own some others. And, as I said, be nimble enough – and ruthless enough! – to quickly remove one big gun for another and, crucially, get it right, as the season progresses. It’s going to be a tight squeeze.
This will mean the onus will be on managers even more to find the bargain bucket players – the Adam Smiths, the JEvanses, the Yoshis – to pad out their teams yet also score points. The search for value will be more important than ever, and the judgement of FPL managers will be tested to the core. More so than ever, finding that early season Amat/Pickford character – the holy grail of the 4.0 playing defender/gk – will need to be done fast, as all will jump on.
We think next season will be the season of choices; correctly picking, or swiftly moving on to, the big guns who are performing, whilst shuffling swiftly off those fizzling out. That will be the name of the game. Hits will be even more prevalent. And choosing the right players will be more important than ever before.
So we come back to the start: red pill, or blue pill? In 2017/18, your choice could well define your season.
(*this is all based on our understanding of the market as it has been this year, and will obviously become a different story if FPL don’t set the prices as they have in the past. But we think they probably will.)