Heroes & Villains (@Heroes_FPL) Guide to a Successful FPL Season: What Formation?

Si finished 53rd in the world last season, and wrote an accompanying “guiding principle piece (read it here). He returns with an article for us discussing his thoughts on Formations. You can find Si on Twitter @Heroes_FPL

When I first considered writing an article about FPL formations, there was an air of naivety about the subject.

Discussions on Twitter and other more lengthy pieces addressing the subject of “Which formation is best?”, “Which formation do you prefer?” or (perhaps slightly more relevant), “Which formation will you play this season?”.

My retort was planned to be simple, possibly even dismissive, something along the lines of:

“You’re not Guardiola plotting to unpick the tightest of home defences! Your job as an FPL manager is to maximise your points scored from a £100m budget, and formations are just one of the rules in the game of optimising the return on your budget!”

However, the world has changed, the conversation has evolved and the level of insight into the topic of FPL formations, as well as every other FPL related subject, has developed at pace this pre-season.

Almost all of the recent literature on the subject has covered the ground that I’d planned to cover, i.e. that the game of FPL is not about formations, it’s about “maximising your points scored from a budget” and that your formation is a secondary consideration and will be influenced by the principle consideration – Value.

In other words, planning with a formation in mind is irrelevant, favouring a formation is nonsense and instead you should focus on identifying the players that offer the best possible value and fitting them into your squad whilst complying with the FPL formation rule.  

The best articles, which includes the excellent “The Death of the Third Striker” by Nick (based on the sound principles of extracting ‘value’ from the £100m budget), have again moved the discussion forward and outline the possible, and optimal, impact on your FPL team’s formation of a pure value-based approach to team selection.

It’s a “players first” approach, which in turn dictates formation.

Current knowledge

So, what conclusions can be drawn from much of the recent work on FPL formations?

  1. Discussions about favoured formations should be value driven. Selecting the players who offer the optimal value from your £100m budget should be the primary consideration and dictate your formation.
  2. Formations with just one or two strikers are common outcomes of a value-based team selection approach.
  3. It is implied, or in some cases specifically stated, that there is an optimal formation and that once you have determined your optimal formation, it is ‘fixed’ as your formation as the cost in terms of transfer points make a change prohibitive.

I won’t dwell on point 1 as this concurs with everything that I believe about the best way to pick a successful FPL team, however let’s examine points 2 and 3 in a little more detail.

One or two strikers – an open and shut case?

The determination that playing a formation with just one or two strikers is the way forward is based on a number of factors:

  • Based on 2017­-18 numbers, strikers offered relatively poor value in comparison to goalkeepers, defenders and midfielders, therefore it stands to reason that you should minimise investment in this area.
  • The 2018-19 price list appears to offer a number of premium defenders that are kindly priced compared to their points potential. In other words, they offer the all important but sometimes elusive commodity of ‘Value’.  It therefore stands to reason that you should include a number of these in your team, but as they are premium assets they make a significant dent in your budget and money needs to be saved elsewhere (see point above)…

At first glance the argument for having just one or two forwards in your formation appears to be an open and shut case, but are there other factors that need to be considered?

I think there are, and whilst the logic is good, there are, as is almost always the case, additional considerations.

First of all, whilst the 2017-18 numbers show limited value to be found in the forwards, I think there is significant cause for optimism in this area this season.  I’ve seen some very convincing cases put forward for the inclusion of players such as Firmino, Aubameyang, Aguero, Arnautovic, Zaha, Tosun, Austin and others, all on the grounds that they will prove to be good value in the year ahead, and this is before you even consider popular choices such as Lukaku, Kane and Vardy.  And of course, you only need to pick three of them!

The argument above for the inclusion of three mid to high ticket forwards in your team is also supported by the principle that a high-priced player that offers good value is more beneficial than a good value low ticket player (they both offer the same value, but one of them scores you more points!). It is worth noting that there are no defenders in the game that cost more than any of the players listed above.  I’m not saying that the premium defenders aren’t good value, I actually believe that they are excellent value, I’m just saying that if three of the forwards listed above (or any other forwards for that matter) offer the same value then I’d rather have the higher ticket forwards.

On the flipside, if I look at which low ticket players I’m interested in this year, there are several £4.5m defenders that I think will be excellent picks (Cook, Cedric, Dunk, Duffy, Tomkins and there are many more), but very few forwards (if any!).  In fact, the highest scoring budget forward scored about half the amount of points of a budget defender based on last year’s point scores.  So why would I want to include any budget forwards in my team other than as bench fodder?  For some, bench fodder works well and allows greater expenditure on players elsewhere, however I like to have a relatively strong bench in order to cover for any injuries, suspensions or unexpected non-starters which affords some selection choices to maximise my point score each week.

I’m not saying that a formation including just one or two forwards isn’t a valid approach: it is. However, I want to highlight that there are other perfectly valid approaches to the subject of formation when planning your squad.

Is there an optimal formation?

It seems, whether consciously or not, many managers have suggested that your squad should be built according to the formation you wish to play rather than the players you wish to own. This is because an “optimal” formation appears to be in mind for some. However, by building a squad around a specific ‘optimal’ formation, I think you lose the flexibility to alternate between different formations as either the circumstances (eg. injuries) or opportunities present themselves.

With this in mind, I’m planning to start the season with no fixed formation in mind, but I’ll aim to build flexibility into my squad that will allow me to adopt different formations on a week to week basis.   That said, it’s likely that in the first few weeks of the season I’ll probably start with either threemidfielders.  As you can see, it’s a very fluid view of formations, with a weekly decision made based on form, fixtures and injuries/suspensions in the hope of optimising the points scored from the £100m budget.

Conclusion

Whilst the discussion regarding formations has undoubtedly moved forward over recent weeks with a focus firmly on obtaining the optimal value from your budget and the optimal formation to facilitate this, there is a danger that formations once again becomes the starting point of the discussion, influencing which players are selected and which are not in order to fit the pre-determined ‘best’ formation. However, it is important not to lose sight of the starting point: pick players that offer the best possible value and can return the highest points score each week and that your formation is just a product of your player selections.

Furthermore, you may just find that the formation that facilitates the highest possible points score, based on your assessment of player value, isn’t any of the proposed ‘optimal’ formations and that it may, with the right level of flexibility in your squad, change week to week.

In summary, there’s no single optimal formation that will lead to a successful FPL season and having the flexibility to change approach as circumstances dictate could be the key to a really successful season.

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