It's allergy time here on the East Coast of the US. Spring is slowly breaking. It looks beautiful out with trees flowering even if the reality is that it's a bit chilly and windy. I've come by allergies late in life so I can't say I'm particularly used to dealing with all the joy that comes with them. Mostly that means feeling badly until you realize that, yes, it's allergy time again and that's why you feel bad and then working to find the right allergy medication that is actually effective but doesn't either knock you out or keep you buzzing to the exclusion of sleep.
There is also a fantasy-related topic that has, in recent seasons and I expect even more so going forward, made this time of year difficult. That is the proliferation of single-ownership formats with limited rosters. In the old days, the biggest thing we had to worry about as fantasy managers was spending a little time charting out who is going to play double weeks and when and who is going to have an off week and when. From that point there were generally lots of potential options to pick from. With 7 matches left for most teams, Liverpool and Everton have nine left to play which in salary cap formats means a quick shift to the likes of Coutinho, Barkley, Sturridge, Lukaku, Firmino and a sixth player to be named later if you can swing it with the moves to the Everton players starting ahead of Week 33 (when they get their first make-up at Selhurst Park) and the moves to their Red rivals ahead of Week 34 when Liverpool gets their first double. Other formats like Yahoo (now being played in spirit on Fantrax by many) and Togga Perfect XI have even less friction associated with transfers which means all you have to do is be aware of what's going on from week to week and how the various game formats are handling it.
If you want REAL complexity, then start trying to figure out how to navigate multiple single-ownership formats. Each league has it's own scoring system. Each league has a unique list of players currently available on waivers. And, going forward, I suspect that at least some leagues will start to use the closing weeks of the season as playoffs to create a mechanism to avoid league-wide apathy if someone jumps out to a big lead early in the season. Even without the potential of playoffs and how that might be handled, my brain is melting a little bit trying to figure out how to optimize five single-ownership style teams (one auction, one "keeper" and three single season only meaning that all players will be returned to the "free agent" pool for the start of next season). I'm also competing in PL.com salary cap and PlayTogga Perfect XI so it's a lot to contemplate.
I certainly don't want to come off sounding like I'm complaining about anything. No one is making me play in a lot of fantasy leagues and formats and the health and welfare of my family doesn't depend even a little bit on how well or poorly I do come the end of the season. What I'm saying is that managers, especially managers in keeper leagues and leagues with short benches, are going to have lots of choices to make between holding on to potential keepers who won't be playing twice in a given match week and going for broke and trying to maximize the current season with a championship. If you're in the middle of the table or at the bottom, you might want to keep your eyes peeled on the waiver wire as managers vying for the championship might offload an asset worth keeping for the long term. I don't suspect anyone is going to cut Vardy or Mahrez or Kane but if a manager with something to play for has a significant injured or underperforming player on the bench (Aaron Ramsey? Luke Shaw? Callum Wilson?) and their other alternatives are one-gamers in Weeks 33, 34 and 37 then they might feel obligated to drop that player. One keeper league I play in (and am struggling mightily in this season) saw both Eden Hazard and Sadio Mane hit the waiver wire in the same week. I can't speak to the motivations of the managers who dropped them but I can say for certain that both were snapped up as soon as waivers opened (I got Hazard). Maybe the Belgian winger doesn't recover his Player of the Year form next season. Maybe he gets transferred somewhere else for a fresh start. All I can say is that that was a lottery ticket worth picking up for my squad that hasn't been very good this season.
The number of permutations of types of leagues, manager situations, and waiver claims/free agents available is just too massive to contemplate or make recommendations on. For people who are playing on a lot of different fronts, here are my recommendations for how to stay sane as the season comes to a close.
- Be Realistic - In the real world, we like the teams we support to fight to the very end even if all hope is lost. While I'd never recommend tanking a fantasy season and starting to pay zero attention to your team (that's disrespectful to the other owners) it is reasonable to prioritize your time and spend the bulk of it on teams that have a chance. For the ones that don't, make sure you are starting a line-up of players who are going to (or at least highly likely to) start for their real teams and scan the waiver wires (if you're in a keeper league of some sort) but that's about all you should feel obligated to. For the teams within shouting distance of finishing first (or in a position that makes you feel good about the nine months or so of effort you just dedicated) then that's where you should be focusing your effort on scanning the waiver wire and making the hard decisions about who to keep and who to let go.
- Be Forward Thinking - If you're in a tough situation with a player who seems to have value but isn't likely to help you win RIGHT NOW then do your best to project their value for the rest of this season (or next season realistically if that's the reason you're thinking about keeping them). Let's take Theo Walcott for example. At his best, he's had a season not too different than the one that Riyad Mahrez is having. TW14 went for 15 and 10 in a season while Mahrez is 16 and 11 with seven matches still to play so not exactly as good but still damn good. Somewhere in our minds, we still think that players is in there. Arsenal are paying Walcott like that player is still in there. What they aren't doing is giving him minutes like that player is currently available. Could Walcott have a blistering final seven matches? Sure. Could you look like an idiot this season or next if he does? Absolutely. Does it seem likely to happen? Not really. Danny Welbeck, Alex Iwobi, and Joel Campbell all seem to have moved forward in the line and Olivier Giroud may not be burning up the nets but it still feels like he'd get minutes before Walcott right now in the middle. If dropping Walcott for someone useful with extra matches and might be available on waivers (think guys like Lennon, Lallana, or Henderson) then that's not a bad move even if you wouldn't have considered it 20 weeks ago.
- Be Risk Loving - This isn't so much about how to play correctly as much as it is about how to play right. This is fake sports. If you're not pushing in your chips and going for championships when you have the chance in the world of fake sports then why bother? No one other than you and the people in your league care about what happens here. Fantasy sports may occasionally have some money or a prize associated with it inside of a group but mostly it is something to strengthen existing friendships and start new ones. Being cautious doesn't create fun banter, taking risks, whether they work out or not, creates the sort of interactions that make it worth while. We can count on crazy things to happen on the pitch to create some stories (remember the Yak's four goal final day, Kris?) but we as managers provide the rest by how we manage our teams.
Before I leave you, here is a list of the players who have multiple matches (or no matches) over the final weeks of the season:
- Week 33 - Crystal Palace, Everton (both double matches)
- Week 34 - Newcastle, Manchester City, West Ham United, Watford, Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Arsenal, West Brom (all double matches) (NOTE: Palace and Everton play four matches within two match weeks)
- Week 35 - Everton, Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Watford, Norwich, West Ham United (all NO matches) (NOTE: Palace and Everton turn around and don't play at all in Week 35 so don't get caught up having too many of their players to drop)
- Week 37 - West Ham United, Manchester United, Norwich, Watford, Sunderland, Everton, Liverpool, Chelsea (all double matches)
Good luck keeping your head clear and navigating the waters. For those in single-ownership leagues, hopefully you figured things out as some of your players weren't available over the past month or so. Your advantage should come now as you have players who will double up once or maybe even twice. For those starting to miss matches now, you probably have the advantage because a lot of managers of teams with not much to play for and lots of matches may start rotating. This will give you opportunities to pick up players that can be productive and minimize the advantage of your opponents who think they have two-gamers coming up.