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In two recent articles we defined a Return in FPL as 5 or more points in a gameweek, and a Haul as 10 or more, before looking at how that might help us characterise the FPL’s elite players – the “big hitters”, the ones that would be a wise investment even at a price of £11m or more. We discovered that a trio of traits defines this top tier. The primary characteristic is:
A) Returns in at least 50% of appearances
Two other markers work in tandem with that
B) Hauls in at least 15% of appearances
C) Playing at least 2600 minutes (or 76% of the time available, maximum 3420)
Last season, eight FPL assets met those criteria, all scoring 200+ points across the season: De Bruyne, Salah, Mané, Alexander-Arnold, Vardy, Aubameyang, Sterling and Martial. Looking a little deeper we found that the next level of players, those scoring between 165 and 200 points, did well in any two of those areas, but were significantly behind in the other. Examining the case of Martial versus Rashford we also found a supplementary criteria:
D) being classified as a midfielder rather than a striker.Embed from Getty Images
The scores of those two team mates effectively reversed if they were given each others’ FPL positions, Rashford becoming elite and Martial dropping down a level.
In this piece we’re going to take that analysis and use it to set out the basis of a long term FPL transfer strategy. The “long term” aspect is very important here. We are NOT predicting who might get a Haul in the next gameweek or two, nor whom you should captain. What we ARE putting forward is a fairly simple diagnostic tool for identifying candidates to bring in to your squad who are currently scoring FPL points at an elite level and also players who, at least for now, look worthy of being transferred out.
Now, the ABC principles came from analysing data across a whole FPL season (2019/20). That allowed us to speak with certainty: all games have been played, all FPL points and other stats are known, nothing remains to be predicted, everything is settled. If we waited until gameweek 37 next year we could make some pretty accurate forecasts about who the elite FPL players would be at the end of this current season, but it would have been obvious for some time and nobody would want to write that or read it.
With points being missed and player prices shifting, FPL managers want to know as early as possible in a season where to invest their fantasy millions. Last season’s data, as examined in our Haul Marks I and II articles, can certainly help. A regular player at a settled club is likely to perform much the same way. However, new managers, new signings and new tactics can all unsettle pre-season assumptions and the performance of any player at their new club is, as we are already re-discovering this campaign, far from certain to be immediately carried over from their old surroundings. So how long should we wait before we have enough data to make some worthwhile predictions about who might be this year’s elite, or near elite, players? Criterion B can help us here.Embed from Getty Images
We know from last season that all the 200+ point scoring FPL assets Hauled (10+ gameweek points) across at least 15% of the matches they played. Helpfully, 15% works out at very close to one game in every six, giving us a timeframe to work with – six gameweeks. If a player Hauls at least once in a block of six gameweeks they are fulfilling elite criterion B. However, almost every outfield player with significant time on the pitch tends to haul at least once or twice a season, so any Haul could just be a fluke, an outlier. Which brings us to elite criterion A – Returns (5+ gameweek points) in at least 50% of matches played. Across a six gameweek spell you’d expect an elite player to get at least three Returns. However, we also know that an FPL asset is very unlikely to score more than 200 points in a season unless they play 76% or more of the available minutes. So there’s criterion C – across six gameweeks we would expect an elite player to play at least 410 minutes out of the available 540. Any player maintaining those standards across the whole season would be almost bound to score 200+ FPL points. Any player managing two of the three and falling a little short on the other is heading for 165-200 points. So, that’s the ABC Transfer Guide formula:
In any given six gameweek period elite transfer candidates are those who:
A) Get Returns (5+ FPL points) in at least three of the six gameweeks
B) Get a Haul (10+ FPL points) in at least one of the six gameweeks
C) Play at least 410 of the available 540 minutes
When making borderline decisions with attackers, criterion D indicates we should choose midfielders over strikers, all other things being (mostly) equal.Embed from Getty Images
So if we had applied that rolling six gameweek ABC template last season, how would it have influenced our thinking on some of the most talked about FPL players? Let’s start with the acid test for any approach to transfers – Mr Teemu Pukki, 2019/20. His first six gameweek scores were: 7,17,11 (and already there he’s passed the A and B criteria) 2, 12, 2. So that’s four Returns and three Hauls in his opening window of six gameweeks. Get that man in. But how long do you keep him? His scores continue with 2 and 1, so now his window has three Returns, all three of which were also Hauls, but also three blanks. Still ok, but suddenly on the borderline. What does gameweek 9 bring? Another 1, moving Pukki towards the exit. The next three gameweeks bring 2,2,2 and somewhere in there we should have let him go depending on other priorities in the squad, such as injured expensive players. So, in summary, the ABC tool suggests buying Pukki any time after gameweek 3, but selling him again as soon as possible after gameweek 9 with not too much damage done. Should we ever buy him back? Well, a run of 5,8,8 across gameweeks 13 to 15 puts him back in the conversation, but there’s no Haul there, so he’s not a top level candidate and his inconsistency of Returns indicates he’s a bit too erratic to be a set-and-forget FPL asset. Two weeks later he adds a 9 and that might tempt us if we don’t have better options as four Returns in six gameweeks with lots of minutes is in that level just below elite. If you do bite you’re met with three 2s and a 1 in the next four. An 8 and a 9 bring him back from the brink, but then it’s ones and twos all the way to the end of the season. Pukki finished on 139 points, enough for 10th best FPL striker, which is not bad for a guy often considered an FPL ‘bust’ despite finishing with more points than Chris Wood and Alexandre Lacazette.Embed from Getty Images
We know eight players maintained strong FPL returns across the season to reach that elite 200+ group. So how would the ABC transfer tool treat the Haulmeister, Kevin De Bruyne? Would it ever propose selling him? Like Pukki, KDB opens with an elite worthy 7,11,5,13,1,17 (5 Returns, 3 Hauls). However, across gameweeks 8 to 12 he’s giving us the jitters with a no show followed by 3,6,2 and 2. With a relatively unknown asset, that empty gameweek 8 (if it wasn’t simply because his team had no game) could be an indicator of rotation or a niggling injury that could be a marker of lower than expected minutes to come. With De Bruyne, though, his established record is lots of minutes and loads of high scores, which should give us a little more patience. By gameweek 12, he has 3 Returns and a Haul from the last six matches he actually played in, which should be enough to make us very wary of pulling the trigger to let him go. Sure enough, gameweek 13 nets him 7 and gameweek 14 brings another Haul (10) though a 3 and a 1 take him back to “cause for concern” territory with only two returns from his last 6. He then goes 19,4, 5 to get himself back on the rails and never again goes consecutive matches without at least a Return until gameweek 36, which he misses. So, the KDB ABC MO is buy him asap, keep a close eye for a week or two at gameweeks 12 and 16, but give him a little extra grace because of his long term elite performance.Embed from Getty Images
Finally, what about defenders (and also goalkeepers whose scoring patterns are similar). An extra factor here is that Hauls should be considered a luxury. Only three defenders last season managed four or more – TAA (8), Matt Doherty (6) and Cezar Azpilicueta (4). Amongst keepers, Nick Pope and Dean Henderson were top with four each. Any defender or goalkeeper Hauling at a rate of better than 10% is an automatic consideration for transferring in given how rare that is for them. So our prime concerns with defenders and goalkeepers are criteria A (50% Returns) and C (76%+ playing time). Last season, pretty much every FPL squad at some point contained a Sheffield United defender not called Lundstram, so how would the ABC Transfer tool have treated George Baldock? As an unknown, newly promoted quantity he starts the season with 2,5,7,1,2,5, three Returns and good enough to get him on our watchlist. His next three gameweeks bring in 2,6,6 so with 50%+ Returns now across 9 gameweeks the ABC approach would recommend seriously considering acquiring him (or one of his similarly scoring colleagues) if you don’t have more urgent issues elsewhere. By the time he’s posting 14,6,6,6 across gameweeks 16 to 19 you should hopefully already be basking in the shower of defensive riches. Things bob along quite nicely until gameweek 24 where his recent record is 6,1,1,6,1,2. He’s been good enough for long enough that we’re unlikely to throw him overboard if he can quickly right the ship and he does get a 5 in the next gameweek, but then there’s a pair of 2s and it would be fair enough to ease him over the side, though that moment is where lockdown arrived which might mean he is still around for the restart where he opens with a 6 and a 7. He then goes 1,2,2, but by this point we’re in the end of season Free Hit, Bench Boost, Triple Captaincy jamboree and transferring out a slightly underperforming defender is unlikely to be uppermost in your mind.
So hopefully, here, we’ve demonstrated that the ABC criteria are a useful guide to long term FPL player value. You can use it to create shortlists of transfer candidates to consider, both coming into and going out of your FPL squad. With only four gameweeks played, we don’t quite have our ideal six gameweek window yet this season, but already some players have started ticking all the required ABC boxes even if they blank in the next two, so in our inaugural ABC Transfer Bulletin later this week we’ll be taking a look at the players you should be considering as we come out of the international break. Midfielder number seven will shock you!*
* In fairness, probably more of a mild surprise, unless you’re between 50 and 75 and have already made doctors in your area furious that day by using one weird trick to make a fortune from this amazing new product that’s selling out across the continent.