The importance of flexibility and reacting to ever-changing FPL circumstances |

This season more than ever has taught us that one of the most important skills to cultivate as a Fantasy Premier League manager is flexibility.

Right now, we have to think about what chips we are going to use in the upcoming rounds and which players can be useful in the short and longer-term.

Prior to the Premier League announcing the rescheduled fixtures for Manchester City, Manchester United, Burnley and Aston Villa I had, what I thought was, a well rounded team for Double Gameweek 19 as well as a plan for Blank Gameweek 18.

That involved Free Hitting for the upcoming fixtures and thus I set about removing players who didn’t have the form I required and also didn’t have two fixtures in Double Gameweek in 19.

Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins

Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkin‘s (£6.1m) was a prime example of this. While his underlying statistics make for positive reading, as an FPL asset he was a frustrating one to own.

Just one return in the last eight Gameweeks, against Crystal Palace in Gameweek 15, coupled with the fact that during this period Watkins has played the likes of West Brom, Brighton and Burnley left him on shaky ground in my team as a result of his decidedly disappointing FPL points returns.

Considering he didn’t have two fixtures in Double Gameweek 19, and my plans for a Free Hit in Gameweek 18 where he could be brought back, I transferred out Watkins for Patrick Bamford (£6.6m) preparing my team for Double Gameweek 19.

Fast-forward a few weeks and the rearrangement of the Aston Villa game that they missed in Gameweek 1 into the Double Gameweek 19 fixtures and suddenly selling Watkins feels like a missed opportunity.

Had we known about the rearranged fixtures earlier I likely would have persevered with Watkins and a couple of others as they would have given me almost a full XI for Blank Gameweek 18 without needing to use a chip and then I could have held two free transfers for my Double Gameweek 19 preparation.

However, this season in particular is all about flexibility and adapting to situations as they arise. Rearranged fixtures will likely be a common theme this season, as a result of the usual postponements due to the later stages of both the Premier League and FA Cups, as well as this year the coronavirus (COVID-19) postponements.

The loss of two fixtures in Gameweek 16, as well as a further match in Gameweek 17 highlight the fragility of our FPL teams this season.

For my team, the use of the Free Hit chip in Gameweek 18 is essential. Without it, my line-up consists of five players and the suspended Yves Bissouma (£4.5m) this is not a team that can successfully achieve a green arrow this week.

I do have two free transfers and thus with a cleverly deployed -4 could field a team of eight, but doing this would mean losing some key players who I transferred in ahead of Double Gameweek 19, thus compromising my team for the next gameweek whilst still not achieving a team that I feel comfortable with in Blank Gameweek 18.

As a result the plan to Free Hit ahead of Gameweek 18 still stands.

Every FPL season that I have played and had a Free Hit chip to play the aim has been to play the very best team possible with one or at a push two decent bench options and a couple of cheap burner spots knowing that they won’t ever make the XI.

The 2020/21 season has already shown us the importance of a bench though. I have already mentioned the full match postponements that we have seen over the last couple of weeks, however this doesn’t account for the individual players who have missed out while the games they were due to play continued.

FPL favourites such as Alex McCarthy (£4.7m) Mohamed Salah (£12.6m) Kyle Walker (£6.1m) and Sadio Mané (£11.9m) to name but a few have already missed matches as a result of Covid, indeed the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin (£5.1m) and Jamaal Lascelles (£4.2m) at Newcastle have now missed eight matches through the illness if you include their Gameweek 11 match which was postponed.

Saint-Maximin and Barnes return as Newcastle host Burnley

Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin

The impacts that COVID is having on the Premier League is, as a result, having an impact on the way that I am playing the game. I never captain and vice-captain players in the same match, try not to treble up on any teams just in case their game is called off and I am thinking very carefully about whether the Bench Boast and Triple Captain chips should be deployed at this moment giving the lack of notice that COVID affords to FPL managers.

The key impact of COVID on my Free Hit team is the bench. No longer do I feel safe having burn options on the bench, my FPL first team and bench all need to be decent options if I am to ensure with as much certainty as possible that I can achieve a full XI players playing by the time the final match kicks off.

However, it is also making me reconsider something that has always been a key part of my Free Hit strategies. Fielding three players from the teams with the best fixtures.

The fixtures in Blank Gameweek 18 suggest that the most aggressive strategy for FPL manager who are playing their Free Hit chip is to triple up on Manchester United (away at Burnley) Manchester City (at home to Brighton) and Arsenal (at home to Crystal Palace).

Thus leaving two spaces in the starting XI to cover Spurs, Aston Villa, Wolves, Everton, Sheffield United and Newcastle – as well as potentially Burnley, Crystal Palace and Brighton if you don’t believe that the Manchester sides and Arsenal will keep a clean sheet.

On paper, this seems like a good idea. However the loss of just one of those three key triple up matches could have huge consequences for an FPL Managers free hit points scoring ability. During Gameweek 16, I owned Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£7.8m) and Rúben Dias (£5.8m) from the postponed Everton vs Manchester City match as well as Harry Kane (£11.0m) and Heung-Min Son (£9.8m) when the Spurs vs Fulham game followed suit. This meant that even with a solid performance from my bench I was still down to only 10 men. This has had a major impact on how I play FPL in the current climate.

Now I am looking to find a balance between the best FPL assets for the Gameweek and the risk involved in owning three from one team or match. Of the three big matches only Burnley vs Manchester United is on the opening evening of the Gameweek. The other two follow on Wednesday and Thursday evenings meaning that any postponements or players missing will likely not be known to FPL managers at the time of the deadline. Thus while I feel slightly more confident in having three Manchester United players because of the timing of the match, I can’t see myself risking owning three players from Arsenal and Manchester City also.

By owning two players from Arsenal and Manchester City that allows me to also own an extra couple from the other matches thus spreading the risk factor and hopefully enabling my free hit team to achieve the most points possible – which is after all the key aim of the chip.

My current plan is for a team that looks like this, however there are still a couple of games, such as Sheffield United vs Newcastle, that I may invest further in when it comes to my bench in order to protect my team further.

By setting up like this I believe I have covered the majority of the big assets for the gameweek, with the exception of a second Manchester City defender as well as setting up my team to cover all the matches. Doing this gives me confidence that my squad has the depth to cope with any unexpected eventualities, however it does meant that it lacks the likes of João Cancelo (£5.7m) or John Stones (£5.0m) and another Arsenal player. However, if I plan to play 4-5-1 then the lack of a further Arsenal player is less of a concern than the lack of a second Manchester City defender.

There is definitely a balance to be found between the right players and the safest formation, I’m not sure that this most recent draft has yet struck that balance, however it is definitely closer than the ones that preceded it. Thankfully there’s still plenty of time between now and the Gameweek 18 deadline to get it right!

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