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The Learning Curve

Schedules and Strategies

by Steve Rothgeb
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

Without question, there are fantasy Premier League managers who are spending their international break reflecting upon the first seven weeks of the season and evaluting the performance of their investments. It is the perfect time to do so really. We have seen enough through seven matches to come to a more accurate appraisal of the talent and potential from every team in the league. Manchester United, for example, are a much more attractive team for fantasy purposes now then they looked to be after their Week 1 home loss to Swansea City. (the additions of Angel Di Maria, Falcao, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo may have something to do with that)


I prefer to break my fantasy season into segments, and depending on what segment of the season I am in, a particular plan of action is put into effect in an effort to keep my season's goals in sight. "Act 1" of the season is to do as much analysis in the preseason to build an initial squad that, if it doesn't rack up ridiculous points, will at least keep me in the neighborhood of my various leagues while I witness how the season truly begins to play out. Preseason analysis can only be so helpful - it guarantees no results, as those who had "Bojan Fever" leading up to Opening Day came to realize. 


Act II of my fantasy season is the Immediate Kneejerk Reaction Act, This is the period between Week 1 and now where I do my best to bring in the players who have shown that this is going to a productive season for them. I didn't have Diego Costa in all of my fantasy teams when the season began, but you can be certain that he has been locked in in all of my teams after Week 1.  I had no designs on including Steven Naismith in any of my clubs in mid-August, but once it was determined he would be the man to replace Ross Barkley and he goes and scores Week 1, I bought him on the cheap and he rewarded me with a goal in Weeks 2 and 3. Act II is extremely important when it comes to determining who the productive players will be over the course of the season that are currently available for a price well below their value, and bringing them in to allow your budget as much room as possible to afford the established expensive options. Price and subsequent value of a player varies from game to game, but regardless of which you play, players like Nathan Dyer, Ryan Bertrand and Leonardo Ulloa were likely available at the start of the season for peanuts and have established themselves as legitimate options from week to week.


So with the second international break having arrived, along with it comes my fantasy season's 3rd Act, where I evaluate my position in the standings, identify the weaknesses of my squad, and then plan a course of action that will take me all the way up to January 1st, when the transfer window opens again, and Act 4 gets underway. This period included Weeks 8-19. My strategy is to look at every club's schedule between now and then, and to cherry pick players from the clubs with the strongest fixture list. Even in weekly unlimited transfer games like Yahoo's, there is a benefit to looking at longer-term investing in players, and identifying this early on can make the planning of eventual transfers much less of a headache.


Say, for example in a Yahoo format, you bring in a player like Wilfried Bony one week where Swansea are hosting QPR. He has the monster game you had hoped for, and his price balloons. You then take a peek at next week and see the Swans are traveling to Chelsea. If you were to look no farther then that, you probably would replace him with another striker in a better on-paper matchup. But what if Swansea's schedule over six weeks looked like this: QPR, chelsea, WEST BROM, BURNLEY, sunderland, NEWCASTLE. Even if the player you replace Bony with during that Chelsea gameweek has a nice day, will it be worth it in the long run? Now Swansea have 3 of the next 4 at home against vulnerable opponents, and the Bony you bought at X amount is now double the price and you cannot afford to bring him back in without downgrading elsewhere. Long story short, you have spent the first several weeks scurrying to collect the "must-owns" of your league - transfers that revealed themselves to be so essential, the decision to bring them in was more out of necessity than anything else. Now that the league has settled and players have given you a pretty sufficient sample size of what they have to offer this season, the transfer decisions become tricky. If you find yourself struggling in your various leagues, the notion of making the "obvious transfer/transfers" each week will only result in your treading of water as the managers above you are, more often than not, cancelling out your move by going with the same player/players. It becomes a precarious balancing act of owning players you must have because everyone else does and including players with low ownership who can make the difference in gaining ground on your opponent. 


Looking over the league's fixture list between now and January 1, 2015, these are the clubs who look to do plenty of damage:


1.) Arsenal - Home (HUL, BUR, MUN, SOU, NEW QPR)  Away (sun, swa, wba, stk, liv, whm)

The three toughest matches for the Gunners would likely be Man United, Southampton and Liverpool. Two of these are at home and as much success as United and Liverpool have envisioned for the season, their respective defenses have hardly been respectable. A schedule like this makes me think long and hard about buying and holding an affordable Alexis Sanchez in the Yahoo game for this run. 


2.) Everton - Home (AVL, SWA, WHM, HUL, QPR, STK) Away (bur, sun, tot, mci, sou, new)

The Toffees have a couple of tough road matchups between now and the New Year, but just take a look at those home games. Yes, Villa have been a pleasant surprise defensively thus far and Swansea have plenty of talent to make things difficult for anyone, but if there was ever a time to fork down the cash for Leighton Baines, Seamus Coleman or Romelu Lukaku, this appears to be the stretch of the season to do so, because they are bound to cost more midway through this fixture run than they do now. Budget options like Steven Naismith and Aiden McGeady should continue to provide value during this stretch as well, though McGeady's spot will be in question once Kevin Mirallas returns.


3.) Liverpool - Home (HUL, CHE, STK, SUN, ARS, SWA) Away (qpr, new, cpl, lei, mun, bur)

Liverpool have to face Chelsea and Arsenal during this stretch but both are at Anfield. Otherwise, there are plenty of relegation-candidate opponents filling up the Reds schedule.  With a healthy Daniel Sturridge looking ready for Week 8, he may be the premium striker you want to have and hold until the calendar flips. Jordan Henderson has quietly been very productive and those who may have cold feet investing in him may look at the upcoming schedule and decide that now is the best time to give him a run in your side. 


Also in the conversation for a good schedule - Manchester City, and for budget options, look at Aston Villa who's next match away to Everton wraps up a five week stretch in which they played last season's top 5. With Christian Benteke back in the mix and their defense proving to be as dependable as any club not playing European ball, there is plenty of optimism in Aston Villa's short term future.


Conversely, beware of Manchester United. They are chock full of options but you may not want to view any of them as long term investments. In their 12 week stretch, the Red Devils have Chelsea and Liverpool at home, as well as Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham and Southampton on the road. Also, those looking for bargain/differential players from the likes of Sunderland, Stoke City and Hull City over this period may be disappointed in long term investment. All three have it tough until New Year's.


In summary, DON'T PANIC. Things may have not gone according to plan so far this season for you, but there is plenty of time to right the ship. Managers who have gotten off to a fast start will inevitably make a series of bad moves or rest on their laurels - they are just waiting for you to catch them. If you play FPL - hold on to that Wild Card, you will find it more lucrative when the Double Gameweeks roll around. If you play Yahoo - make barndooring your players a routine and think twice about cutting a player you stand to lose a ton of cash on should you want to buy them back later. And no matter what version of game you play, plan to have at least two Gunners, two Toffees and two Reds most weeks.

Steve Rothgeb

Steve Rothgeb is a contributor for NBC Sports Edge and WorldSoccerTalk.com, a self-proclaimed fantasy sports oracle, and Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. He can be found on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles.