Quality v Quantity for the BGW: a cautionary tale

On our most recent podcast with FPL_Connect, we were asked a lot about the blanks and the doubles coming up and our strategy to navigate them.

A question I thought was particularly interesting was the one from Ian Wilson on Twitter and ConflictFreePaella on Reddit: if we are to go ahead perhaps with my plan for the blanks, doubles and chips (which involves “dead-ending” my team into blank Gameweek (BGW) 31 before wildcarding in 32), how do we strike a balance between quantity of BGW players v bringing in quality players regardless of their fixture status in that blank?

This reminded me of the illustrative story below, updated from the version that first appeared earlier in the season in our FH article, which serves a cautionary tale about what can happen if you over-commit to the blank compared to rivals who focus (consciously or not) on quality.

An illustrative story

Around the end of January last season, some clever bods in the FPL community, notably of course Ben Crellin, began to raise awareness of potential upcoming BGWs due to Cup fixtures: the same sort of time frame as we’ve seen this season.

The big BGW was later confirmed to be Gameweek 28, in which only 4 matches ended up going ahead:

  • BOU v whu
  • EVE v wba
  • HUL v swa
  • LIV v bur

Many FPL managers (including myself) accordingly adjusted their transfer strategy to focus on players with a matchup in that Gameweek. Remember – no Free Hit last season.

From GW22-24 (with the exclusion of Kun Aguero and Raheem Sterling, who came in for the City DGW in 27) I focused on quantity of players for the BGW, as I exclusively brought in players who had a game that week – Chris Brunt (GW22), Romelu Lukaku and Ramiro Funes Mori (24), Sadio Mane & Gylfi Sigurdsson (GW26) and Seamus Coleman & Fernando Llorente (28). This led to me having 10 players in BGW28, and a score of 52(-4) in GW28 which would’ve been more if I’d captained Kaku.

In contrast, my cousin and longtime FPL ML rival Mark didn’t read any of this news and, instead, brought in quality players that were doing well during that time. He pulled his wildcard in GW23, but only brought in Llorente of players with a fixture in the BGW. He then proceeded to bring in Pickford & Sterling in 24, Martins Indi in for GW25, Hazard for 26, Kun (to cover TC) & Pedro in 27 before, finally, bringing in Kaku in 28. He got 38 that week, including a Kaku ©, with only 6 players on the field in BGW28.

Here are our GWs side by side – I only made 10 points on Mark through quantity over quality.

Me = Left; Mark = Right

Having a look back at Mark’s scores versus mine in this period, the sad fact of the matter is, his inadvertent focus on quality outscored my focus on quantity.

As you can see, he outscored me by 29 points in this period leading up to the blank, and I also only scored him by 10 on the blank itself: this means I lost out 19 points to a rival who was neither aware of, nor playing to, the blanks.

This really showed in GW26 last season, where my GW28-friendly side was absolutely decimated by Mark’s team by 74 points to 46:

Left = Me; Right = Mark

Because he wasn’t aware of the blanks, Mark’s team contained a multitude of players that I wasn’t considering such as Kane (note his trio of Spurs, who were in ridiculous form), Costa and Hazard. I missed out on a whacking 33 points through not considering Harry Kane during the period (hattie in GW26, brace in GW27).

It’s worth also noting that I took 12 points worth of hits in the Gameweeks following BGW28 in an effort to transition out of my “blank friendly squad” which, ultimately, required the wildcard to do.

This provides a cautionary tale I think for the time between GW27 the upcoming BGW31, and speaks to Ian and CFP’s question: my performance during the corresponding time frame above demonstrates how I lost out through being hostage to the BGW in my transfers.

Concluding thoughts

Is there no answer!?

Revisiting that story reinforces the need to strike a fine balance between bringing in players that benefit you in the blank and bringing in players who are playing well in the immediate term.

To me, this is one where you have to use your judgement. In the case of dud players – Nick made the point on the pod about Rondon last season  – then I think I have to learn my lesson of last year. This means not keeping non-blankers just because they have a match if they aren’t performing, and applying regular FPL logic to the situation: if a player isn’t returning you points, get rid.

It’s worth bearing in mind you have four FTs from now (assuming you didn’t make a move already or roll over from last week), plus hits. The way I calculate it I have up to seven players that can come in for me between now and the blank. Here’s my plan, with only three non blankers currently:

  • GW26-27- I banked my FT
  • GW27-28 – we learn more info in the FA Cup in-between these two Gameweeks, but could make 2FT or 3 for a -4
  • GW28-29 – bank FT again
  • GW29-30 – do 1 FT
  • GW30-BGW31 – 3 moves for a -4
  • BGW31-GW32 – Wildcard

Of course, I could do more hits if I wanted to.

It’s not unfeasible, then, in the scope of that plan above to think that you should be able to field nine or ten players during the BGW in 31. However, do I want to be spending a -4 in GW27, for example, on a player just because they have a blank? Surely I should prioritise the immediate term as well as the long term. You’ve got to think for yourself: is it worth a -4/-8 for an extra player on the blank?

If you have no chips, play smart and try to get seven or eight including a -4 for three players in ahead of BGW31. You can include Salah cappo as two players in that total if you’re feeling bad; don’t hamstring your side for the sake of one Gameweek.

You can also use your Free Hit, especially if you choose to go down the extreme interpretation of the latter path and forget about the blank – that’s what the chip is designed for, after all. But if you do it, it’s also worth bearing in mind Salah will probably be everyone’s captain in 31, potentially dampening the impact of the chip.

As I mentioned in the other article recently, I am leaning towards using the Free Hit in the probable BGW35. This means that I should, on balance, favour bringing in non-blankers. However I will be tempering that instinct somewhat this season looking over the story of last and trying to learn those lessons in the moves I make: for example, if a player isn’t performing (e.g. like Rondon last year) I won’t be keeping them and will instead look to get rid despite the fact they have a BGW matchup. For me, this means not letting thrice-blanking Choupers become my Rondon this year: I’ll remove him next week regardless of his game in the BGW.

Ultimately, it sounds insanely obvious that I think we should always be on the look out for quality additions rather than quantity filler as FPL managers (though obviously a Salah-type character with quality plus no blank is a gold standard). Applied to the current context, for me this means that though I may have a plan and want to see it through, I can’t get too over-invested in it as I run the risk of losing out in the short term.

So apply your judgement, be smart about it, and try not to get too caught up in bringing in non-blankers.