This is my view on how to play fantasy premier league football in the barclays format. I’ve summarised my 23 strategy rules at the top of the article with detailed notes under each heading. I will also try and provide evidence for my theories as far as I can. I’m not saying put the rules up on your wall but they’re worth taking on board and considering, even if you ultimately disagree with some or all of them:

1. Choose and rotate players in form with strong upcoming fixtures
2. Some players are fixture proof through value or form
3 Don’t panic. Your league is never lost before December – patience is the key
4. Underlying stats are the key – but you must watch games to interpret them
5. Pick players who shoot, not who rely on assists
6 Decide if a player is clinical or overperforming
7 Your captain choice is key
8. There’s no such thing as the correct formation
9. Pick rotation proof players
10. Don’t have non playing reserves but don’t over spend
11. Don’t double team in one position – especially defence
12. Pick the teams cheapest players in defence – attacking returns are too unpredictable
13 Ignore differentials for the sake of it
14. Goal keeper theory
15. Never transfer a player out before an easy home game
16 Set piece and penalty responsibilities are helpful but not the be all and end all
17 Don’t be loyal to the team you support
18. Two transfers every 2 weeks are the rule rather than the exception
19. Transfer late in the week – value isn’t everything
20. There has to be special circumstances to take a 4 point hit.
21. Don’t use your wildcard early
22. Have a mentor
23. Always know what the top 10 overall teams are doing


1. Choose and rotate players in form with strong upcoming fixtures

This is the cornerstone of my strategy. Some fantasy managers pick solely on form. I dont believe this maximises returns. Always look at the next upcoming 5 or so fixtures and go with players who have fixtures against easy teams coming up. To prove my theory, I will look at the scores of 3 players in the instances where they got 10 points or more and see which teams they were playing against. Ill use RVP, Dempsey and Van Der Vaart ( 3 of my favourite fantasy players). Then I will rank there opponents by goals conceded in the final table of the premier league and then their final table position:


v Bolton (Ranked18th in goals conceded. 18th in final table position ) Home – 13 points scored by RVP
v Sunderland ( 7,13) H – 12 points
v Stoke (13,14) H – 11 points
v Chelsea (6,6) H – 19 points
v WBA (12,10) H -11 points
v Norwich (16,12) A – 13 points
v Wigan (15,15) H – 15 points
v Aston Villa (14,16) A – 11 points
v Blackburn (19,19) H – 23 points
v Liverpool (4,8) A – 13 points
v Wolves (20,20) A – 12 points
v Norwich (16,12) H – 13 points

The average rank of opponents in goals conceded was 13th and 14th of 20 teams in final table position. In the 12 times that RVP scored more than 10 points only twice were the opponents ranked higher than 10th in either goals conceded or final table ranking. This in itself is fairly conclusive proof of my theory but the numbers are more compelling for Dempsey and Van der Vaart. Before I go on to that, as an aside, the 12 games above totalled 153 points, 57% of RVPs total points in only 32% of his fixtures, with an average of 12.75 points per game.


v QPR (17,17) H – 11 points
v Wigan (15,15) A – 11 points
v Bolton (18,18) H – 13 points
v Newcastle (9,5) H – 20 points
v Wolves (20,20) H – 15 points
v Norwich (16,12) H – 11 points
v Bolton (18,18) A – 15 points
v Chelsea (6,6) H – 10 points

The average rank of Dempseys opponents was15 in goals conceded and 14 in final table position. Only 2 opponents had a ranking in either category above 10. The 8 games above totalled 106 points, 51% of Dempseys total points in only 22% of his fixtures, with an average of 13.25 points per game.

Van der Vaart

v Wigan (15,15) A – 10 points
v Newcastle (9,5) A – 10 points
v Blackburn (19,19) A – 15 points
v QPR (17,17) H – 10 points
v Swansea (11,11) A – 11 points
v Swansea (11,11) H – 12 points
v Blackburn (19,19) H – 10 points
v Bolton (18,18) A – 12 points

The average rank of Van der Vaarts opponents was also15 in goals conceded and 14 in final table position. Only 1 opponent had a ranking in either category above 10. The 8 games above totalled 90 points, 54% of Van der Vaarts total points in only 24% of his fixtures, with an average of 11.25 points per game.

Its worth noting that Wigan (15,15) and Bolton (18,18) featured for all 3 players. Wolves (20,20), QPR (17,17), Norwich (16,12) featured twice, as surprisingly did Chelsea (6,6) and Newcastle (9,5). Although it is worth noting that Newcastle were ranked far worse, 14th, in away goals conceded, so its far less surprising they are included.

In defence, the arguments aren’t quite as compelling. Looking at 7 defenders the summary stats are as follows for opponents where clean sheets occurred:

Caulker: 10 clean sheets (average opponents goal scored ranking in final premier league table of 11, average opponents final table ranking of 11. 4 out of 10 opponents ranked inside the top 10 in both) 6/10 clean sheets at home

Kaboul 11 clean sheets ( GS 11, FT 13. 3/11 top 10) 7/11 CS at home

Hibbert 9 clean sheets ( GS 12, FT 11. 2/9 top 10) 5/9 CS at home

Evans 15 clean sheets ( GS 11, FT 14. 4/15 top 10) 8/15 CS at home

Williamson 10 clean sheets ( GS 11, FT 13. 3/10 top 10) 6/10 CS at home

Shawcross 9 clean sheets ( GS 11, FT 10. 4/9 and 5/9 top 10) 6/9 CS at home

Bardsley 9 clean sheets ( GS 13, FT 12. 2/9 and 3/9 top 10) 6/9 CS at home
In summary then, the average ranking of opponents, whether its in goals scored or final table position, in obtaining a clean sheet is no where near as low as the attacking stats. However its fair to say that close to 2/3rds of clean sheets will come from opponents outside the top 10 which is a reasonably strong argument. Incidentally 38/63 ( 60%) of clean sheets came in home games.

To end that analysis then, the case for picking players on fixtures is overwhelming with attacking players and while not so strong for defence still has a reasonably good argument.
2. Some players are fixture proof through value or form

The exceptions to the rule above are those players that are fixture proof or undroppable through
form or value. The most obvious example of an undroppable through form was Robin Van Persie. RVP was phenomenal and there was never any question that he could be dropped. The only other players who came close on form in my mind was Gareth Bale, Dempsey and Rooney. My way of deciding to keep a player if he goes a few games without a goal is to look at his underlying stats. Robin Van Persie and Gareth Bale, even if they went a few games without a goal or assist still produced strong shots per game and key pass stats which told you that points were around the corner.

The other exception was an undroppable through value. This is where a player comes in to a team through another players injury, or by a transfer to another club, or they unexpectedly break in to the first team and are therefore available at a price which is a bargain for that team. The best example this year was Jonny Evans who broke in to the Man U team after Vidics injury. A Man U player available at £4.5m in a team that would normally expect 18 clean sheets or so is a ridiculous bargain and really should have been owned by every manager. To put it in to context Patrice Evra and Rio Ferdinand who were the only regular starters were around £2m more expensive. Gary Cahill’s transfer from Bolton to Chelsea gave access to a Chelsea player for around £5m where the other defenders were around £1.5m more.

Slightly different was Aaron Ramsey where the transfer of Fabregas and Nasri gave the opportunity for Ramsey to play regularly at £6.5m whereas the other 2 were a good £2-3m more.

3. Don’t panic. Your league is never lost before December – patience is the key

I’ve put this high up on the list because it really is true. The high scoring premier league, 2 wildcards and the captain system means you’ve never lost early in the season. Being well behind in August and September isn’t an issue. Even the person who finished overall 2nd in the Barclays competition was only in 148,000th position after 6 rounds and Brenda Wade who finished 24th overall, in round 12 (towards the end of November) was in 54,000th position. So don’t panic and make loads of knee jerk transfers, taking lots of points hits or changing strategy. Hold your nerve, it will come right.

4. Underlying stats are the key – but you must watch games to interpret them

Again this is a fundamental part of my strategy. By underlying stats, I dont mean goals or assists, I mean shots taken, % shots on target, goal to shot conversion ratio and key pass statistics. In my mind, a players underlying stats and not necessarily what they have scored lately, are the key to their performance and whether you buy, sell or hold a player. As I said earlier both Gareth Bale and RVP had dry points spells but their underlying stats never dried up and points were always around the corner. In addition, underlying stats will give you an early pointer when a player is about to produce points. However, without watching games you cant really interpret the stats. For example, theres no point in having someone with good shooting stats, in terms of shots per minute, if they are constantly shooting from 35 yards. Yes, I’m talking about you Adel Taarabt! The next point will cover stats in more detail.

5. Pick players who shoot, not who rely on assists

This is really a debate focussed mainly on midfielders. I firmly believe that concentrating on players who shoot rather than those who provide assists is the key to success in this area. However, on points alone, the argument isn’t that straightforward. The 3 top goal scoring midfielders with their points per game figures in brackets are Dempsey (5.6 ppg), Van der Vaart (5.1 ppg) and Bale (5.4 ppg). The 3 midfielders who top the assists rankings are Silva (5.3 ppg), Mata (4.5 ppg) and Valencia (5.8 ppg). In totals there’s very little in it. The assist based 3 acheived 5.1 points per game and a point every 15.3 minutes compared to the goal based 3 acheived 5.4 points per game and a point every 15.5 minutes. On those figures the stats aren’t particularly compelling . However, concentrating on shooting midfielders fits far better with the fixture theory. The shooting 3 had the following stats for number and % of points hauls over 10 points and being achieved against lower rank opponents for goals conceded and final table opponents:

Dempsey (8/37 games played produced 10 point plus hauls. 7/8 are against opponents ranked lower than 10th in goals conceded and final points table rank)

VDV (8/33 games played produced10 point plus hauls. 7/8 are against opponents ranked lower than 10 in goals conceded and final points table rank)

Bale (7/36 games played produced 10 point plus hauls. 6/7 are against opponents ranked lower than 10 in goals conceded and final points table rank)

Contrast to the assist based midfielders who have less 10 point plus hauls and against less predictable opponents.

Silva (5/36 games played produced 10 point plus hauls. 3/5 are against opponents ranked lower than 10 in goals conceded and final points table rank)

Mata (5/36 games played produced 10 point plus hauls. 3/5 are against opponents ranked lower than 10 in goals conceded and final points table rank)

Valencia (5/24 games played produced 10 point plus hauls. 4/5 are against opponents ranked lower than 10 in goals conceded and final points table rank)

You can see that Valencia is an exception in all ways. If you read my teams of the season analysis on him, you will see that he is the exception to my assist rule. This is because his assists are often after getting behind the defence so his key pass conversion rates are higher.

As you will see below, I also believe that shooting stats have a greater correlation to goals than key passes to assists, making it far easier to predict who has the greater likelihood of returning points.

The important shooting stats are shots per minute, shot on target % and shot to goal conversion rate. Shots per minute is the best correlation to goals. Its not a perfect correlation by any means. However if the player constantly shots from distance (Adel Taarabt) or is just plain unable to score (Luis Suarez) then this will generally come out with a lower than 50% on target ratio. In addition if a player has an excessively low or high goal to shot conversion ratio that could mean they are due to bring that back to the normal, either by going on a scoring run or by a dry spell. More on this in “clinical or overperforming”.

Predictions of assists can only be related to key pass statistics. However the correlation is pretty dubious though and I would never pick anyone solely based on that stat. This is especially so for non top 6 players. Adel Taarabt could provide key passes to Jay Bothroyd all day long but it doesn’t mean he will get an assist out of it as Bothroyd couldnt hit a barn door. Whereas Rosicky to RVP is a total different matter. However, a lot of Rosickys key passes could be to Alex Song to blaze over the bar from distance. The stat is just too hard to correlate to assists.

6 Decide if a player is clinical or overperforming

This is one of the most difficult things to assess. A player has a run of good scores. Is he the real deal or will he just fizzle out. Papiss Cisse of Newcastle was a good example. He scored
13 goals in 14 games. Do you get on board or do you think the scoring will fizzle out. My own view on strikers is that if your underlying shooting stats are better than RVPs or Rooneys then its not going to last. With Cisse his shots per minute was no where near as good as either of the 2 elite strikers above. However his shots to goal ratio was off the charts, far better than either of the above. This is a sure sign of overperformance. The only stat which confused the situation was his on target %. This was exceptionally high which could explain his goal ratio. Watching him though, his finishing seemed to good to be true so I have stayed in the over performing camp. I expect his returns to diminish next year and he will settle at the 2nd tier of strikers. The other way to assess over performance is to compare his stats to previous years ( not available with Papiss obviously) and see how they compare, adjusting for any change in circumstances.

In midfield the benchmarks aren’t so clear cut. Dempsey and Bale in my mind are the shooting stat benchmark but that’s not as cast iron as RVP and Rooney.

Silva was the classic example of key pass to assist conversion overperformance which petered out after Christmas. In my mind this exposed the weakness of relying on others to get your points. While many people commented on his drop in form, to me he had just seen an exceptional key pass conversion rate level off to more normal level. As I said there is a definite difference between top 6 key pass conversion rates and the rest of the league. Never buy a player from a lower ranked team on key pass stats for the promise of assists. It just wont happen.

7 Your captain choice is key

A statement of the obvious really. You saw from the points fixture analysis that what you want is to have RVP with the captains armband at home to Bolton or Blackburn if possible. In simple terms the best player at home to the worst opposition. Generally I avoid giving the armband to an unproven player. This year it didn’t go far past RVP, Rooney, Aguero and Dempsey. Having a captain who takes penalties also does no harm.

8. There’s no such thing as the correct formation

Not many people agree with me here. Most have a pet formation and with the premier league explosion of goals many favour 3-4-3. I don’t subscribe to this. To me you get the right players playing the best fixtures and the formation will sort itself out. The unpredictable nature of clean sheets has made me use 3-4-3 with a home and away rotating defence quite often. However this doesn’t change my belief in the basic principle.

9. Pick rotation proof players

Many fantasy managers got bit this year when Mancini rested Aguero and Silva in one game as many people had them as captain and vice captain respectively. So while picking rotation proof players is a statement of the obvious, its unfortunately not as easy as it sounds. The real problem is in top 4 sides. If you take Man U as an example players like Young, Nani and Valencia are all subject to random regular rotation causing that sinking feeling when the team sheet comes out. Even Rooney, who is vital to the team, is rotated. Unfortunately with such vital players they are often rested when the easiest home games come along. In the 6 games Rooney missed or was sub for last season, 4 of them were Wigan, Blackburn and Stoke at home plus Norwich away. All very juicy fixtures with captain potential.

In the top 4 teams then, the only way to get rotation proof players is to pick those when the rival player is injured such as Valencia when Nani was injured. Otherwise you need to hope for the best, ensure all your subs are starters and hope the rotated player doesn’t come on in the 88th minute.

Picking sides lower down the league with no cup commitments is the easist way to ensure you are not a rotation victim. Dempsey, Sigurdsson, Demba Ba had no rotation issues. However, no one will win anything with no top 4 players so just remember the above tips.

10. Don’t have non playing reserves but don’t over spend

All those people who had Shane Ferguson of Newcastle, who I think had 2 sub appearances all year, really suffered when the gameweeks came along that lost fixtures due to FA cup commitments. Its not worth saving £0.2m or £0.3m when, with a little additional research, you can find someone who will come off the subs bench to cover injury etc. Just do it by spending as little as possible.

11. Don’t double team in one position – especially defence

My strategy overall involves not putting all my eggs in one basket and although I believe that with good fixtures you can have 3 players from one team I don’t believe in having 2 in one position. Results, especially clean sheets are just too unpredictable to put too much emphasis on one team. Undoubtedly taking more risk can get more reward but for everyone who succeeds by doubling up there are far more who lose out. Home and away rotation in defence also means that you can maximise points by being able to switch players around depending on fixtures.

12. Pick the teams cheapest players in defence – attacking returns are too unpredictable

Last season the standout defenders for attacking returns were Huth, Hangeland and Baines. All 3 came at a hefty premium to their defensive teammates and gave fantasy managers nothing like the requisite returns. Always go for the cheapest defender who you think will not be rotated as the attacking premium is too unpredictable to be worth it. The only time I would consider paying the premium is when you think the transfer will be for a few games only and you have sufficient cash in the bank to cover what you need in the upcoming games.

13 Ignore differentials for the sake of it

If you need to catch people up in your league don’t start by putting players in your team just because they are different than anyone else. The captain system plus a premier league goal tally getting higher and higher means there are plenty of opportunities to catch up without taking unnecessary risks. Again for everyone who gets lucky using differentials, there will be many many more who lose more ground by doing so.

14. Goalkeeper theory

There are 2 theories here. The first is that you pick an elite keeper such as Joe Hart with the second keeper being the cheapest possible. The other theory is that you find 2 cheap goal keepers that you can rotate home and away. If you had chosen Joe Hart at £7.0m and a cheap goal keeper at £4.0m with the intention of playing Hart every game then you would have collected 166 points at a cost of £11m. However playing Krul and Vorm of Swansea on rotation with a Newcastle bias when there was a conflict, would have yielded 180 points at a cost of £8.5m.

Most people have used the cheap rotation theory, although towards the end of the season I noticed more people using the elite keeper theory. Personally I’m in the cheap rotation camp. The above clearly shows the benefits.

Its worth noting that the same theory can be applied to your reserves in defence and midfield to maximise money available for other players.

15. Never transfer a player out before an easy home game

The worst example ever I have seen was the transfer out of Berbatov before he scored 5 goals against Blackburn. Always think very carefully before you transfer anyone out who has an easy home game. There has to be a better way to use that transfer.

16 Set piece and penalty responsibilities are helpful but not the be all and end all

99 penalties were awarded last season. Amazingly 27 were missed. Therefore 72 were scored at 3.6 per team although there was a bias towards the top teams. For example Man U were top with 11 awarded and City 3rd with 8. Rooney scored 6 penalties in his total of 27 while RVP 2 in his total of 30. Yakubu managed 4 in his total of 17. None of this means it is worth basing your transfer options solely around penalty takers. However, it is enough to make it worth considering the set piece and penalty factors when deciding between transfer options. If possible I prefer the captain option to be the penalty taker.

17 Don’t be loyal to the team you support

I envy those people who support a team outside the premier league. There’s nothing worse than watching Man U and wanting them to win without Rooney scoring because you have RVP as captain and your rival has Rooney.

However, only select players on merit not through loyalty to your team.


In the next few sections I’m going to discuss ways of playing. !n the discussion I will bring 2 sets of evidence. The first will be referred to as “top 10 evidence” and will be data from the top 10 overall finishers in the barclays league format of the game. While I don’t want to take anything away from what is an amazing achievement by each of these people in any way, the evidence apart from obvious lack of sample size can be viewed with some scepticism. This is due to the fact that prior to this season, the top 10 finishers had played the barclays league game 26 times and had finished in the top 5,000 only once and in the top 10,000 only twice The average finishing position prior to this season for those top 10 finishers was 95,000. Why is this the case. Its hard to say but perhaps to win you need to take more risk and have more luck than the average person and therefore taking more risk can go either way in terms of reward.

The second set of evidence will be the “mentor” evidence. I will talk in more detail later, but in essence I keep an eye on one persons team ( who shall remain anonymous to avoid any injunctions that may come my way!). This person has been consistently successful and in the last 6 years has only been out of the top 5,000 once. To me that’s a more reliable form of evidence although I would doubt any statistician would have much time for a sample size of 1.
18. Two transfers every 2 weeks are the rule rather than the exception

The problem with 1 transfer every week is that unless you are transferring like for like or have a bundle of cash in the bank, there’s no flexibility to buy a more expensive player or buy someone in another position. Therefore, I only believe in one transfer a week if there’s a compelling case to do so. Doing 2 transfers every 2 gameweeks gives you that flexibility and should be the rule rather than the exception.

Having said that, this is a controversial statement and of the top 10 finishers, most did transfers every week and the evidence is against me. On average the top 10 players did 2 transfers without a 4 point hit 6 times in contrast to doing 1 transfer in the gameweek with no 4 point hit, on average, 17 times. Hardly a resounding backing of my strategy. The mentor position is a little better with him having done 2 unpenalised transfers in the week 8 times and 1 transfer in the gameweek 12 times but still not a support.

However, I’m steadfastly maintaining my belief in this!

19. Transfer late in the week – value isn’t everything

Again this is another very controversial view not shared by everyone by any stretch. I always do my transfers late in the week. The reason for this is that I want to be clear in my own mind that the transfers are thought through and the best option, not some ill considered knee jerk reaction on a Sunday night to someone scoring in the game I’ve just watched. I also do a reasonably comprehensive evaluation process on each transfer and that takes time. In addition I don’t like the risk that comes with an early transfer in that the player may get injured in training during the week or another player in my team may get injured which immediately makes this the wrong transfer decision.

The problem with my strategy is that towards the end of the season I can be battling with people who have a value over £4m more than me and that can make a difference. However I will rationalise this buy saying I that while I may have to buy one of, say, Kelly instead of Hangeland, Hibbert instead of Baines, Valencia instead of Young and Dyer instead of Sinclair, I personally think in one player that’s a sacrifice worth making for 38 games of properly considered transfers

Don’t forget that ultimately good transfer decisions increase value anyway so one should cancel out the other. The drawback is that sometimes I am certain of the player I am going to buy but I wait to make sure I still believe it in 4 days time and I end up buying him as I thought for £0.2m more.

On balance though I still believe transfers late in the week is the best strategy.

20. There has to be special circumstances to take a 4 point hit.

Its always so tempting isn’t it. If I could just transfer in x player then it would change my fortunes. However, rarely is a 4 point hit justified as the player would need to score just to break even. Therefore they should be saved for special circumstances. In my my mind, these are for double game weeks ie when a certain number of teams play twice in one gameweek. A less acceptable reason is an exceptional captain opportunity or if your team wont field 11 players in that week so the hit becomes 2 points effectively. If done they should be part of a plan that is longer term than just that game.

The evidence does support me here. Of the top 10 finishers the average amount of 4 point hits taken was 5 in the season. This was distorted by 2 taking 11 and 15 4 point hits and 8/10 did 5 4 point hits or less. The mentor only took 3 4 point hits further backing my theory.

21. Don’t use your wildcard early

The first few rounds aren’t going well and again like the 4 point hit its just so tempting isn’t it to use that wildcard. You think that will immediately sort out all your problems and propel you up the table, especially as you know there’s the wildcard in January which you can use if you have any problems then.

Well don’t do it. In March or April there will be postponements due to cup matches or weather or both and a wildcard left to then can really make a difference.

The top finisher evidence wholeheartedly supports me again here. The average gameweek the top 10 finishers used their wildcards was gameweek 25. 5 of them used it in gameweek 36. The mentor used his in gameweek 28.

22. Have a mentor

A lot of people in business have a mentor or coach or such like. Someone to bounce ideas around with, someone to challenge them over their beliefs. I tend to read fantasy websites to see other peoples views and take part in forums to discuss transfers etc. I see this as something similar. However I took a step further and found someone who was consistently successful in the barclays format (see explanatory note above on his credentials) and follow their team each week as a way of challenging myself. I would never copy his team, I enjoy the strategy and thinking part of the game to do that. However, if he had a player in his team that I didn’t, then I would take it upon myself to challenge my thought processes on that player and consider him again, then take a view if I wanted to transfer him in. Furthermore he plays in one league with a lot of very good fantasy managers. If the top few of those managers all had a player or transferred a player in and I didn’t, then I would again, challenge the views I previously had on that player and make a decision as to whether I should transfer him in. In reverse if I’m thinking about selling a player and the mentor and some of the top managers in his league aren’t, then that would force me again to reconsider and maybe re-evaluate the sale decision.

To me the above is just common sense and a way of learning and avoiding being rigid in your beliefs and not some creepy stalking type thing…..

23. Always know what the top 10 overall teams are doing

This is just an extension of point 22 and another way of making sure that I have considered all possible players for the round as well as challenging my own ideas on who should be playing. Again if all 10 managers had the same player I would seriously look at whether I was missing something in the player if I didn’t have him.

Obviously the top 10 overall players will change every week and the players within it so one week one player could be in all 10 teams and in next week only in a few (although that extreme very rarely happens). This is unlike the mentor and his league which is a fixed number so its far less reliable but a good source of ideas none the less.

That’s it then, hope you found it useful. Please give me any of your views, I’m happy to discuss