FPL Diary - Building Your Winning Squad

With the launch of FPL this week, FPL Diary authors Toby and Gianni explain how to start building your winning squad.

A limited edition print run of Fantasy Premier League: Unlocking the Secrets to a Top 1% Finish is available now while stocks last - get yours here!

The Art of Building a Winning Squad

The fact is, any serious FPL player begins preparations the minute players report for pre-season. Who’s been training well? What formations are managers using in friendlies? Will that Portuguese starlet make his much-anticipated transfer to the Premier League? If players are coming off the back of a major tournament, how did they do? Will they carry that form (or lack of it) into the new season? These are all legitimate questions and the answers can only be found by scouting effectively. Doing so will only have a positive impact on the decisions you’ll make in the lead-up to gameweek (GW) 1.

How to scout effectively

We live in an age of unprecedented access to data analytics and statistics. For example, a quick Google can reveal the number of dangerous attacks Ha Noi had against Dong Thap in the first half of the Under-19 Championship in Vietnam (it was 34). Pretty obscure stuff. With that in mind, pre-season friendlies are the perfect opportunity to gain some serious insight that will help you prepare for GW1. Watching the games is best, but if you can’t find a stream then simply looking at the post-game statistics will give you a good idea of what transpired.

Here's what you should be looking out for:

Goals and assists

The FPL attacking currency is goals and assists. A player that’s regularly on the scoresheet or providing a bucket-load of assists – even in pre-season – could well take that form into the main event. Even better if the player is lesser-known, they are likely to be cheap and represent a solid ‘differential’ (a player that few others own and so add points to your total, but not theirs).

Formations and tactical tweaks

Playing three at the back in the Premier League has become more fashionable in recent years and has given rise to a number of players who are listed as defenders but, in reality, function as wingers in their respective teams. Full-backs (even when playing in a back four) are good examples of these ‘out of position’ players (see below). As a result of a tactical development, the potential for these players to score goals and make assists increased. Savvy FPL managers would have noticed this formation shift during pre-season fixtures and loaded their team accordingly.

Conversely, those that noticed the shift after GW1 were forced to use transfers, suffer points deductions or even use an early Wildcard to make amends. These problems could be easily avoided with a little due diligence during pre-season.

Players playing out of position (OOP)

Many FPL managers naively assume they know what position a player plays and what their role will be. Now we’re not suggesting Harry Kane will play left back anytime soon, but it’s not unheard of to see high-profile players playing in unexpected positions. These kinds of players are often referred to as ‘out of position’ or ‘OOP’ for short. OOPs can be both positive and negative – for the positive, take two of Liverpool’s front three, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who are both listed as midfielders and so score a point more than a ‘forward’ for each goal and get one point should Liverpool keep a clean sheet.

On the negative side, take the conversion of wingers to full-backs – for example, Ashley Young has only been listed as a defender since the 2019/20 season despite playing as one for several seasons, meaning he would not have been rewarded for clean sheets during that time and was also far less of a goal and assist threat.

With new managers given free reign to implement their own styles more than ever, it’s worth keeping an eye on the role that your pre-season targets are playing for their side. And if you know a manager is going to radically overhaul the playing style of a club, then it’s definitely worth doing your homework.

Penalties and set pieces

Many teams have nailed-on penalty takers, but you never know when the manager might have a change of heart or when a regular penalty-taker might get injured or move to another club. An otherwise modest FPL player that now takes penalties could be quite the asset and a bargain differential. Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojević – a defensive midfielder – is a good example of a player that becomes a viable option because of his penalty-taking exploits (he scored seven penalties in the 2017/18 season and ten in the 2018/19 season).

And don’t forget VAR – this could have a big impact on the number of penalties awarded.

Free kicks, especially those from a goalscoring position, are often assigned to unexpected players. It’s worth noting who took them even if they didn’t score as it could be a source of unexpected points during the season. Likewise with corners: they’re sometimes taken by defenders who, consequently, are far more likely to register assists (unless you’re Phil Jones, once inexplicably given corner duty by Louis van Gaal).

Expected Goals (xG) and Expected Assists (xA)

A relatively recent addition to the FPL player’s data arsenal is xG and xA, introduced by Opta in 2016. xG and xA measure how many goals and assists a player was expected to make given the opportunities they had in the game. Each shot or assist a player attempts is assigned a value (based on the average result of a shot or attempted assist from that same position on the pitch).

By adding up all the shots a player takes, we can see the number of goals we would ‘expect’ them to score from the chances they had. The bigger the xG and xA, the more likely the player is to have scored and/or assisted.

How can you use this to your advantage? Well, if a player had a large xG versus a small number of actual goals scored, it can be determined that the team is creating lots of chances, but they’re not being finished. This could be interpreted as showing that sooner or later the player will capitalise on the chances and might be worth transferring in. On the flipside, a player with a high number of actual goals scored despite a low xG could be interpreted as having been lucky or having finished unusually well – and will be unlikely to continue doing so. So perhaps don’t jump on the bandwagon just yet.

A further explanation of xG, as well as the current state of play across the major European leagues, is available on the Understat website (understat.com), which also has detailed historical xG data on every FPL player.

Need some help with building that winning squad? 

A limited edition print run of Fantasy Premier League: Unlocking the Secrets to a Top 1% Finish is available now while stocks last - get yours here!