Fantasy Premier League: How understanding player ownership can help you build a winning team

Understanding player ownership helps to get ahead of the crowd

Mark Critchley
Thursday 21 October 2021 14:10
<p>Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah</p>

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah

If you want to be a successful fantasy football manager, it helps if you understand the importance of ownership, templates and differentials, and how all of these can improve your chances of climbing the ranks.

Everyone’s happy when their player returns a lot of points but some returns are better for your rank than others.

If Mohamed Salah brings in a double-digit haul but is owned by more than half of the managers in the game, he is not going to lift you very far up the ranks. If a low-owned player like Bryan Mbeumo does the same, you should fly.

Equally though, if you fill your squad with ‘differentials’ like Mbeumo and you ignore ‘template’ players, you will take a lot of damage when reliable heavy-hitters like Salah score big.

Building a balanced squad and spreading the risk around is the key to success. Here, The Independent has a few tips on how to finding that balance...

Do not ignore popular players without a good reason

Most highly-owned players are highly-owned for a reason: they score a lot of points.

Every year, a template emerges and until later in the season, it can be risky to be different just for the sake of it.

Each player in your team is effectively a bet on him scoring points, while you are betting against all the players you do not own.

So, while it can be tempting to go against the grain, do you really want to bet against a popular player, especially if they have a strong fixture?

You need to take calculated gambles and manage your risk.

A good rule of thumb is having only three to four ‘differentials’ in your starting XI early in the season, with five as a maximum.

Use underlying statistics to identify potential differentials

‘Differentials’ are players who have a low ownership - under 10% at most, though preferably under 5% - but carry the potential to score big points.

The problem with identifying differentials is that, by the time they have started to return goals, assists and clean sheets, the market moves and their ownership rockets.

To get ahead of the crowd, you can use advanced metrics and underlying statistics on sites like FBRef and Fantasy Football Scout.

Some statistics are better at predicting future returns than others. For us, xG and non-penalty xG are particularly useful at identifying undervalued players.

You should also sign up to The Independent’s weekly Fantasy Football newsletter, where we pick out several players each week including differentials. To sign up for free put your email into the box the top of this article or click here.

Pay attention to fixture swings

Form is important but fixtures are everything in fantasy football.

In fact, once you start paying close attention to the schedule, you might be surprised how often it dictates the form of both teams and players.

Fixtures are particularly important for defence, in our experience, as clean sheet points are earned on a collective rather than an individual basis.

If a strong defensive team has a run of upcoming fixtures against low-scoring attacks, investing in their low-owned defenders early can be a quick route to points.

Every managerial change is an opportunity

Once we’re a few months into the season, we have a good idea of how every team plays.

We know whether they are attack-minded or defensive, whether they are strong at home or better away, and we know who is part of the manager’s first-choice starting XI.

That all changes once the managerial merry go round clicks into gear, though.

Some newly-appointed managers improve teams, others don’t but all leave their own stamp on the side and that inevitably has implications for our fantasy picks.

For example, when Thomas Tuchel stepped in at Chelsea last season, Antonio Rudiger immediately went from an outcast to a regular at the price of around 4.5m.

Rudiger transformed into an excellent fantasy option overnight and particularly when it became clear that Tuchel’s possession-play would solidify Chelsea’s defence.

Break the template later in the season

If by the spring you have had a decent enough season but want to push on, you can start to take a few more risks with ownership.

The gaps between ranks - top 1k, top 10k, top 100k, etc - are generally wider, meaning you have something of a safety cushion to take the punts needed to reach the next milestone.

If you stick too closely to the template, you can stagnate and find that you are not gaining much ground. If you find yourself in that position, it’s time to take some risks.

This is especially true on the final day, when everyone is using their free transfer on a one-week punt. Frisk the fixtures, dig into the data and pick a low-owned player that gives you a good chance of gaining rank.

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