The Value Perspective Podcast – with Az Phillips

23/08/2022

Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans

Fund Manager, Equity Value

Tom Biddle

Tom Biddle

Investment Product Analyst

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Andy Evans (AE) and Tom Biddle (TB)

Hi, everyone. On this week’s episode, Andy Evans and Tom Biddle interview Az Phillips, an official pundit for Barclays’ Fantasy Premier League or ‘FPL’. Now if, like me, you are unfamiliar with FPL, it is a large-scale game played by more than nine million people worldwide, where you use a fixed team budget to create a fantasy team of football players, which accumulates points based on different metrics in relation to the performance of their real-life counterparts. In addition to his pundit responsibilities, Az is well-known for his role as the membership strategy manager for the Fantasy Football Scout website, which has more than a quarter of a million followers, and his popular YouTube channel FPL BlackBox. In this episode, Andy, Tom and Az will discuss how to cut through a never-ending maze of data points to make good team selections, methods on allocating the budget to maximise your team’s performance, strategy on team rotations, including tactical short-term and long-term decisions and, of course, his star player picks for the season ahead. Enjoy!

Chapter headings for Az Phillips on The Value Perspective Podcast

Please click on the link below to jump straight to a chapter

* Az Phillips, welcome ...

* Identifying the best individuals

* Building a ‘portfolio’ of players

* Long-term v short-term thinking

* ‘Absolute’ decision-making v ‘relative’ returns

* Learning from past mistakes

* Balancing value picks and premium assets

* One big mistake, two top tips

 

TB: Hi, Az, and welcome to The Value Perspective podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. You must be feeling pretty mad with another fantasy football season kicking off. How have things been for you the last couple of weeks?

AP: They have been good. You obviously have a pre-season, where you are desperately trying to get content out – even though there is not a huge amount to talk about because the previous season is over and people are on their holidays and not really focused on it so you struggle a bit. But then, as the season gets closer and closer, so many people start getting engaged and there is so much appetite to watch different videos and read different articles and so on. I think the first week before the start of the season is one of my favourite weeks because it is when the most people are engaged. I did a stream earlier where we had some 1,300 people watching, which is kind of double what we normally get over on the Scout channels. And it is really fun – it is hectic, but a lot of fun.

TB: I can imagine. I suppose, first and foremost, we should caveat for our listeners that we are recording this episode the day before the Premier League season starts. So for me and Andy – and, more importantly, Az – please do not hold any player or team comments or recommendations against us when the podcast is released! Now, Az, for the benefit of any listeners who might not be familiar with FPL or yourself, could you give us a quick introduction to both the game and your background?

AP: Sure. I work for Fantasy Football Scout, which is a website that offers tips and strategies for fantasy football. We have lots of tools you can use to compare different players, look at underlying stats and all that kind of thing. There is a transfer planner as well, we do videos on different things and I also do a podcast on YouTube called FPL Blackbox, where each week we spend way too long talking about fantasy football decisions and strategies and things like that.

TB: On this podcast, Az, we interview people from lots of different professions and backgrounds – both investment and non-investment – on the subject of decision-making in conditions of uncertainty and today we are obviously going to do so in the context of FPL. So it is awesome to have you with us and I wonder if you could kick things off with a brief summary of what fantasy football is – just for somebody who has not come across the game before? And then, in the context of that, how does you role – well, your numerous roles within FPL – how do they fit in?

AP: Of course. You would think that would be quite an easy question for me, given I work on this full-time and I constantly get asked what I do for a living. But I still find it difficult – and I still find it all a bit ridiculous – to say my main job is working in a kind of fantasy version of another game. Essentially Fantasy Football is a game where you pick a team of real-life players from the English Premier League and they score you points based on their actions on the pitch – and typically, that involves goals, assists, defenders keeping ‘clean sheets’ and goalkeepers making saves.

When I started playing the game, there were probably a few hundred thousand players in total and now, this season, we are probably going to get close to nine million players. The general engagement, I think – probably, since the Covid-19 years – has just increased massively. There are forums about the game, Twitter is absolutely huge, you have the community over on Fantasy Football Scout, where I work – and people just get obsessed with the points these players get and trying to score as many points as possible and beat their friends. It is a very competitive and big community out there.

TB: Great. And obviously, as you mentioned ... we won’t call them advice channels, but you run channels where you basically give people insights and tips to help them out. And then, presumably, you also run your own fantasy football team as well?

AP: I do. I have played for 14 or 15 years now – quite casually when I first started and then I have got more and more into it over the years. Fantasy Scout was the first website that offered tips and strategies for people who wanted to go one step beyond just doing their team five minutes before the deadline – who wanted to actually put a bit of research in. It is not enough just to kind of know football – you need to know which players are going to score well. Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté is a perfect example – obviously a fantastic player. OK, he has been going downhill a little bit in the last few years but, in his prime, he was one of the best players in the world. But absolutely useless from a fantasy football perspective because the things he does on the pitch do not get rewarded by points.

So you need to know which players are most likely to get points and, to do that, you look at the underlying numbers and stats – for example, who has the most shots? The idea of ‘xG’ [expected goals] has changed FPL a lot because that is now one of the best metrics we have to kind of predict future returns as well. But there are hundreds of stats you can look at and people look for different models and different algorithms to try and predict who is going to do well. It doesn’t always work but, when it does, it feels pretty good!

Identifying the best individuals

AE: Az, I have really been looking forward to this podcast – not only because I want to hear about your decision-making but also because I am pretty horrible at fantasy football! So to get any tips will be fantastic – particularly, the day before the Premier League starts. But, first, maybe we can delve into a bit more detail on your decision-making process. Let’s start at the very beginning – what is your process for going out and picking players? You touched on some of the data points you might look at but what is the process you go through to identify the best players you can pick in the league?

AP: The number-one bit of advice – which sounds really obvious – is ‘Pick players who play’. A lot of the time you can go for players who are maybe rotation risks or are going to get subbed out of their teams. Man City are a good example here – manager Pep Guardiola likes to rotate his squad quite heavily so players like Riyad Mahrez, for example, is one of the best players in the world but he is in and out of that team so much he is never really a consideration for us.

So the first thing I do is try and pick the kind of the mainstay players of the team. So you have the fullbacks at Liverpool – Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, who play the game so attackingly, and Mohamed Salah as well in that team and then Son Heung-min at Spurs, those kinds of guys. Obviously, however, you cannot just fill your team with the most expensive players so you have to look at some of the other teams as well and just make sure you are picking the ones who definitely play.

And then it is all about stats, really, for me – it is looking at players who have good underlying numbers from the previous season or have been playing well in pre-season. You want players who take lots of shots, you want players who receive the ball close to the penalty area – that kind of stuff. And if you can uncover some gems like that, then you should have a pretty good start.

AE: On the subject of data, do you find you can take the history of players’ previous seasons and extrapolate that forward? Is it actually useful to look at the history of an individual player?

AP: Yes, absolutely. I mean, with certain players, their role might change in the team – and a good example of that is Bruno Guimaraes. He was Newcastle’s big-money signing last season and historically he had played as a defensive midfielder – but he had a different role in the Newcastle team, playing further forward in a midfield three. The stats started to bear that out slowly but it caught a lot of people out because they were looking at his role the previous season and then that changed with the new system he was playing in.

It is why pre-season is quite helpful because you can look at how teams are shaping up and kind of work out where they are. But, generally speaking, historic data ... I mean, you look at Salah, for example. He is the perfect fantasy football player because every single stat he has – shots, touches in the box, xG – is all just consistently the highest. So it is really hard to make a case to go without him in your team.

Building a ‘portfolio’ of players

AE: As investors, we always have to think about things in terms of a portfolio so you cannot just focus individually on the best stock in our case – or the best football player in yours. You also have to think in terms of what sector or country the stock is in or the team a player represents – so how do you think about exposure to different teams, and not just the individuals in the teams?

AP: Yes, it is a big thing, with the pricing the way it is. One thing I didn’t mention is that every player in fantasy football is assigned a price. Salah is the most expensive player in the game while, when you are looking at the newly promoted teams – Fulham, Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest – their players are really low. You obviously want some of the best players but you cannot have them all so you have to look further down the league – and what you are looking for is players who are cheap or you think might do better than their price-tag suggests.

A good example this year is in defence, where the prices are really low – and what we have seen is a bit of a shift in defence over the past few seasons, with more and more attacking fullbacks. Trent was one of the first players to be that really attacking fullback – you know, I think it was Gary Neville who said, in his day, fullbacks would never get past the halfway line. But Trent has come in and he operates almost as a kind of wing or a striker at times. And then you have Cancelo as well now for Manchester City, while Perisic has just signed for Spurs – an incredibly attacking wingback – and they are all really cheap in the game as well. So, ideally, you want to fill your team with players from top sides – and you can do that this season because of the defenders being priced the way they are.

You then want to look outside of that – you want to look at decent teams that maybe have players who are not really expensive. Wolves are a good example – I have a player called Pedro Neto, who is very cheap and is playing up-front for them this season. Wolves are a bit of a funny team – we are not really sure what we are going to get from them. Still, given he is playing as a striker but is classed as a midfielder so he has the potential to earn extra points – and he is cheap – that is the kind of play you want to get to.

AE: Can we talk about that in a bit more detail because you have that obvious constraint of only a certain amount of money to spend so, as I said, you cannot just go out and buy all the best players. So how do you think about allocating a finite and scarce resource to build the best team?

AP: Firstly, you pick your preferred premium assets – they are probably the first players you want to go for. There are quite a few this season – I mean, Salah is the obvious one, then someone like Harry Kane or Son at Spurs. Erling Haaland has obviously signed for big money at Man City and De Bruyne – one the best players in the world – is also there. But you can’t have them all so you have to pick two, really. You can go for three but, if you go for three, what that means is the rest of your team has to be really cheap and then it massively suffers. So two seems to be kind of the way in which it is easiest to balance the rest of your team.

So you put those two in and then you look at, OK, what other players are kind of essential? Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example, costs £7.5m versus Salah at £13m – so effectively half the price, but such an attacking player on set pieces, on corners, everything – so then you have a look at the cheaper players and put them in. And then you just kind of assess where you are, really – I mean, the first draft I do is normally massively over budget and then I have to go, oh no, now I need to take some players out and get cheaper ones in. But you probably know at least four or five players you definitely want in your side and then you go from there.

TB: You touched there on how defenders are cheaper this year but one things we have not yet discussed is the fact you can change team formation as well – so you could actually play more defenders this year, if you thought that was a good idea. How do you think about that in the context of maximising points? Is formation important?

AP: Absolutely. You have 15 spots in your squad. You pick two goalkeepers – you can only play one; you pick five defenders – you have to play at least three; you pick five midfielders; and then you pick three strikers as well. You have to pick a team of 11 that starts but the formation you play can change. Historically 3-4-3 was always the formation everyone picked. You had three strikers up top – you know, we are going back to the days of Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Didier Drogba – all these kind of guys.

That has changed now as more and more football teams are playing with a ‘false nine’, the defenders are obviously a bigger factor and 3-4-3 is almost dead. So you do not really see anyone playing with that now. It is much more the case that people are adopting a 4-4-2 formation – like a Sean Dyche Burnley side – or going for 4-5-1 or something like that. I have actually got ‘five at the back’ this year – just because I think that is where the value is, as I said, in those kind of attacking defenders.

There are some problems that come with that, though, and 5-4-1 means I have had to go for two very cheap strikers, who are not going to play, basically, because the big strikers are quite expensive. I am, for example, relying on Sam Greenwood of Leeds who is not even in the first-team picture – so there are trade-offs you have to make. I think 4-4-2 seems to be the most balanced formation but it is really important to think about because, if you want to change formation, you have to make lots of transfers. If you make more than one transfer a week that actually costs you points off your points total. So if you want to switch from a 4-5-1 to a 3-4-3, you have to make multiple transfers and you lose loads of points – not ideal.

Long-term v short-term thinking

TB: Thank you – that ties in nicely to our next question. So you have analysed the data and used your process to pick your best team – and this is where it gets interesting. Everyone has their process before the season starts – and then results start coming in, some players do well, others perform poorly and you can start to see people lose the plot. One thing that interests me in the context of decision-making is the idea of a long-term versus a short-term view. Particularly with the limited transfers you mentioned, is there a benefit to picking a team at the start of the season and sticking with it, rather than being driven by what you see on a week-to-week basis? Or is there much more reward available from chopping and changing the team on a regular basis? From an investment point of view, we would argue it is not possible consistently to ‘time’ the market, which lends itself to not overly buying or selling different stocks to ‘chase’ returns. And arguably, in the context of FPL, you do not want to be selling players after one poor week, when they could then have six great weeks or, equally, buying players after one great week. So how do you personally balance that long-term versus short-term point of view?

AP: It is an excellent question and I think it is probably the most difficult part of the game. Some people may say it is all down to luck but there is strategy to it – and a lot of the strategy comes down to trying to work out when emotions are maybe taking over some of your decision making. It can be very easy to be watching a game, maybe your player gets subbed after 50 or 60 minutes, doesn’t get anything and then, the next game, a player scores a hat trick and you think, oh my God, I need to make that switch.

But you have to look at the reasons why your player was subbed early – did he have a bit of a knock? Was it tactical? All those kinds of things can inform your decisions. I mean, every year, we see a cheap player unexpectedly score a goal in the first game week – defensive midfielders like Romeu at Southampton or Kante at Chelsea, for example – and the temptation is just to move on them immediately. Oh, they’ve a scored a goal and got 10 points – that’s the kind of player you want. But that is where the stats really help because, even with a limited amount of data, you can see, OK, that goal Kante scored from 40 yards – was that just complete luck or has he more regularly been getting into good positions? Is there something in the stats that indicates he could actually be a good option for me this season? So I try to weigh up what I see in a game and then look at the stats as well to help make any decision.

You do have to move quickly sometimes – otherwise, if a player has started strongly and has good fixtures coming up and the underlying stats are good and lots of people are buying him, if you miss out on all those points, you can get left far behind others who have started fast. So you do have to be flexible but, at the same time, over the last few years, I have learned to be more patient with the players I select. You’ve picked them for a reason, after all, so you have to give them a bit of time at least.

AE: Building on that, I have a friend – I won’t name and shame them! – but we have a draft system and as soon as someone has scored a goal, he will pop up in the WhatsApp chat saying he wants to transfer that person in. So, is there such a thing as momentum for players? If they do start scoring, is there an element of the ‘hot hand’ they talk about in basketball and you could see a run of goals in a short period of time? Or should you just trust the underlying data from a longer-term perspective?

AP: There is something in watching matches that you don’t get from data – I have always said that – and I think these ideas of form and confidence are important. I mean, look at Harry Kane at the beginning of last season – his underlying numbers were not too bad but he didn’t look right. He didn’t look happy, his body language was very negative, he didn’t look like he was trying to make runs into the box in the same way, he didn’t look energised or up-for-it like we have seen from him in previous seasons – and like we have seen him playing now under Conte. So there is definitely something in this idea – but you also have to be careful about setting too much store by it.

The biggest thing for me is always fixtures – that is normally the number-one decision-maker of whether I buy a player. If a Nottingham Forest player has scored a couple of goals over two games, say, but then plays Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool in the next three – what are the chances that player is going to carry on that run against three top sides? Whereas if a player has scored two goals in maybe difficult games and then is set to play Everton at home, Bournemouth and, I don’t know, Crystal Palace or something, then it can be a lot easier to go for it because there is a better chance of him carrying it on. Sorry, Andy – I had to get Palace in there as one of the ‘weaker’ sides!

‘Absolute’ decision-making v ‘relative’ returns

TB: I’m sure Andy will let you off! Another element I find interesting – and I have definitely seen this among my friends – involves people moving from what I would call an ‘absolute’ process of team selection to a ‘relative’ one. At the start of the season, when it comes to decision-making, people tend to think about their team in isolation and then, as the season progresses and there is a bit more pressure and the leaders are breaking away, you see them moving from an absolute decision-making process – where they are thinking about just the players they pick and how those players perform – to a more relative approach and also taking the make-up of other FPL players’ teams into account. It is an obvious temptation but you also risk losing your own personal decision-making process. The investment equivalent might be an active manager who comes under pressure because their fund is doing poorly and so they might more closely track the benchmark index their net performance is assessed against. So I suppose my question is, it a good thing to include that relative decision-making angle when you are leading the pack? And, if not, how can you stop yourself? What kind of tools or processes can you use to make better decisions?

AP: This is one of the biggest debates, actually, in the world of fantasy football. We have this thing called ‘effective ownership’, which basically tells you how many people own that player. The reason it is ‘effective’ ownership is because you can ‘captain’ a player and they will then score double points – so, say one week Salah was captained by every single person who played the game, you would have an effective ownership of 200%. Now, if he had an effective ownership of 198%, for example, and you did not even own him, that would mean that, with every goal he scored, your overall ranking versus other players would absolutely plummet and you would be finished.

Yet that is the kind of thing that can distract you from playing your natural game. There are two realities in fantasy football: trying to be the best manager in the world – so trying to get to that number-one spot, which is incredibly difficult to do and involves a lot of luck – and  playing in ‘mini-leagues’ against your friends and other people. When you are playing in a mini-league, it can be very tempting to look at the teams people have and say, Oh, he has Kane, I don’t – I should buy him just to make sure they don’t get too far away from me.

It is the same with effective ownership in the overall rankings because you can say, OK, Salah is so highly owned, I need to buy him just because I will lose too much ground, if he scores. To me, though, that is just the worst way of playing FPL. If you are not that invested in it – if you are quite a casual person – you might spend 10 or 15 minutes on it every day, copy other people and you probably won’t fall too far behind. If you are really engaged with it, however, and so you are looking at stats and making your own decisions, copying other people seems massively limiting to the way you score points – because you are effectively copying someone in an exam, which means you are also copying their mistakes and not just the best things – the best moves for your own team.

So my advice is always, play your own game – do your own research and plan your strategies and transfers accordingly on that. That said, it is scary when you don’t own a highly-owned player who has an easy game. So there is that element of trying to reduce the amount of – and it sounds stupid – emotional damage it can cause when you are maybe 1000th in the world and you have a bad week and you go down to 10,000th. It can ruin your weekend.

TB: I sent Andy a link to a Twitter post last night, which showed Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus will start the season at something like 72%-owned, which is pretty interesting.

AP: It seems crazy. He is now the highest-owned player ever in the game – and I am not even completely convinced he is a great option. Still, I have got him. So there goes everything I said a minute ago!

Learning from past mistakes

AE: As investors, we have a process of going back and doing after-action reviews to try and learn from past decisions – and you have a podcast series where you do something similar. Can you talk a little about that review process and also what you have learned over time from doing it?

AP: Yes. I do the podcast with Mark Sutherns, who is the guy who created Fantasy Football Scout originally and we call him the godfather of fantasy football because he was one of the main guys to push the game forward. The podcast is called FPL BlackBox and the whole idea of it is ‘black box thinking’ – you know, Matthew Syed – and looking back at mistakes to try and learn from them and be better. And it is difficult because sometimes it can be hindsight, right? You can say, oh no, I didn’t buy this player and he scored a hat-trick. Well, OK – but were the signs there? Were the stats there? If they weren’t, then you probably made the right decision. So separating the outcome from the rationalisation behind it is really important.

But there are certain things I do every year I have tried to cut down on. A classic one, for example, is making a last-minute move. So you plan a transfer all week – you think, OK, I am going to bring in De Bruyne this week – and then it gets to five minutes before the deadline and you suddenly think to yourself, oh, no, I’ll get someone else. And then De Bruyne gets two goals and the player you brought in gets nothing because you have not put the same amount of thought into it – you have made a panicked, last-minute decision. So there are certain rules I impose on myself now to try and stop that kind of thing happening. One of them is ‘no transfer half an hour before the deadline’ – so things like that to try and stop myself from making these last-minute moves.

Another one is to look back at decisions that have gone wrong and just see if there is anything I might have missed – were there stats that may have indicated a player could do what they did? I mean, for example, De Bruyne got four goals in one game last season and I did not have him. I knew lots of people who did, though, and I thought, well, why didn’t I get him? I looked back and he had actually missed the last game – he hadn't played at all, Man City had just got knocked out of the Champions League – so there was enough doubt over whether he was going to play for me to think, OK, I missed that but I am not going to beat myself up too much about it. So things like that are quite key to try and eliminate that kind of hindsight bias you might have.

Balancing value picks and premium assets

TB: Great. Well, we have talked a lot about process and we have already touched on some players but it is only right we try and give our listeners some player recommendations. You sometimes do posts on ‘hidden gems’ – so cheaper players who might outperform their valuation – and I found one from last year where you picked out Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, who only cost £4.5m in the game but went on to record something like 10 clean sheets in 27 appearances. So could you perhaps pick out two or three players you think could be value ‘hidden gems’ this season? And more importantly, I suppose, what metrics or data are you are looking at in order to arrive at those sorts of decisions?

AP: I would not recommend Sanchez now, unfortunately. I am a Brighton fan and we have lost Bissouma and probably Cucurella is also out the door – I imagine he will be out the door by the time this podcast goes out. So yes, it is a bit of a shame. Ideally, though – like I said at the start – you want to find players around the £6m mark. That is kind of the benchmark of cheapish players who play for top sides.

Gabriel Martinelli at Arsenal is a great example. A lot of people are going for Bukayo Saka or Gabriel Jesus – understandably, they are great players – but they are quite a lot more money. They both cost £8m in the game whereas Martinelli is £6m – so £2m less than both of those. So if you have Saka in your team and you are trying to save a bit of money, I think going down to Martinelli could be a good pick. He has had a good preseason and Emile Smith-Rowe, who is his main competition for a place, is out for a while as well so we think he is now going to start those first few games, at least.

And then I am looking at someone like Ivan Perisic of Spurs – a £5.5m defender, who plays for one of the top sides in the league. I can absolutely guarantee that man is not a defender – he is one of the most attacking wingbacks I have ever seen. He shoots on sight. There are some question marks around his fitness but he will be first choice in that Spurs side before long. He is probably the most ‘value’ pick in the game, I think, in terms of his price to his potential. And I mentioned Neto as well – he does not play for a top side, which as I said is important – but playing up-front for Wolves at just £5.5m, he is a really good one. And the last one I will mention is Leon Bailey of Aston Villa. He has had a great pre-season and costs just £5m. One to watch.

AE: How do you think about the data behind your ideas? We are value investors so we are looking to buy companies when they are cheap relative to their profits or their cashflows. And I guess you could do similar calculations in terms of expected points and, in fact, I think you have a system that generates points relative to their value. So what are your ‘magic’ data points you look at to work that out?

AP: There is ‘FPL value’, which is basically total points scored, divided by price – and you can look at that last season to see which players came out best on that metric. The thing about FPL is you can’t just build a team on value picks because there is no point – you have money to spend so you might as well use it! If you went wholly value, you would end up with about £50m still left in the bank. Someone like Son, for example, is not going to be a value pick but he is going to be one of the highest-scoring players in the game so it is about finding that balance, where the value picks can complement the more premium assets in your side.

AE: And how do you deal with those premium assets? This year, for example, you have both Haaland and Darwin Nunez coming in and they do not have a track record in the Premier League. Obviously they are premium assets, to which you will be thinking about allocating some of your resources, so how do you deal with it when there is no track record and you cannot look at their stats in the same way?

AP: Well, the short answer is you don’t – you leave them and you wait. We have seen it time and time again – you know, Sancho coming into the league last season ... big, big money for Man United and he really struggled to adapt. Timo Werner of Chelsea is the classic example – comes over from the Bundesliga with a big reputation but fails to adapt. Havertz as well in his first season – yes, he got the winner for Chelsea in the Champions League final that year but he struggled for ages.

Players moving over from other leagues do tend to struggle though sometimes we see the opposite. Salah obviously came over from Italy and absolutely smashed it – hit the ground running, right from the off. But, from an investment perspective, the correct decision is to wait and assess and see how they settle. Haaland will be a success at Man City – I have absolutely no doubt about that. He is one of the best strikers in the world but he has come over and is playing in a very different league. It is much more physical than he is used to in Germany and he is playing in a very different system – not just for himself, but for Man City as well, who have not played with an out-and-out number nine for a long time.

So my advice is actually to wait and see on Haaland – and that can be difficult to do because he's a big money signing and he is in so many teams, going back to the ‘effective ownership’ idea. But De Bruyne is there at around the same price; he is proven in the Premier League; he has had a great pre-season; and he has not got any of these niggling injuries that Haaland seems to have.

So the correct answer – if there is a correct answer – is to go for proven players with good track records in the Premier League and ignore the shiny, new toys. At the same time FPL is a game and, at the end of the day, we want to have fun and sometimes going for someone like Haaland is fun because you never know what they are going to do. So it depends on whether you want to have fun or whether you want to take the more sensible approach. If you want to do well, I would advise you go for the more sensible one.

TB: As you say, people play for fun but there are competitive elements in there too and, obviously, each year somebody has to win, right? Somebody has to top the leader board. I presume you have spoken to some of the winners so are there any common traits or anything in their decision-making process or any kind of FPL rationale or philosophy that stands out? In effect, are there consistent traits that you have identified among the people who end up winning each year?

AP: It is a very good question. I mean, I always try and eke this out whenever I do interviews with the people who have won it. I always ask the question – what did you do this season to win it? And the answers ... well, as an example, Josh Ball won it a couple of years ago. He is a mathematician – a very, very smart guy. I asked him and he just shrugged and said, I did exactly what I have been doing in other years. He very much put it down to luck. Obviously, the strategy side is important but to actually win FPL against nine million other people – even if you made statistically the best decisions every week then, a bit like poker, it does not necessarily guarantee you are going to come out number one.

I think what is more interesting is to look at the people who consistently finish really highly in the rankings – who do not necessarily win it, but are always up there in the top 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, year after year. There is a guy, Fabio Borges in Portugal, who every year finishes in the top 5,000 – without fail – and that consistency is absolutely ridiculous, really. We talked about it a bit at the start – his key thing is patience. So, patience in players, not making too many transfers, not reacting too emotionally to things.

It may sound really easy but it is a very difficult thing to do when you are into football and interested in football and watch a lot of football and you want to get on these players really quickly. But having that patient approach is what really works for him. At the same time, though, there are other people who do well, who have the complete opposite approach. They will take lots of hits every week – make three or four transfers – and do really well. There is no strategy that can guarantee you success but the patient approach tends to be the one that, more often than not, leads to a better rank – make good decisions and back yourself over a short-to-longer-term period. But also don’t be afraid to admit a mistake. It is a tricky balance.

One big mistake, two top tips

AE: That definitely resonates with us and what we do – that’s for sure. Let’s move to our signature questions and we are going to mix them up a little bit. I will ask you, though – and you touched on this a little bit earlier – for an example of a poor outcome that was down to process rather than bad luck?

AP: Oh, I have made so many bad decisions over the years! A classic example was Timo Werner, which feeds into what I was saying earlier – he came into the league, he had a lot of hype around him and all the warning signs, I think, were there that maybe he wouldn’t hit the ground running so quickly. You know – it was a very different system he was playing in at Chelsea; Frank Lampard was the manager, as well, and there were doubts around how he was going to do; and they had signed quite a few new players; they had quite a tough opening run of games ... and I just got sucked into the whole hype with him.

Looking back, that is something I could have avoided – and I probably would avoid now. And this is what I am trying to do with Haaland. It sounds ridiculous for me to be advising not to start with Haaland, who is one of the best strikers in the world playing for one of the best teams in the world, but I do think there could be an adjustment period with him. So I am going to not start with him – and you can come back to me in a little while and see how that rationalisation went.

AE: Very good. One final one – you have offered some tips and we have had Neto and Trent mentioned a couple of times but if you had one ‘gold dust’ recommendation for listeners, what would you go with?

AP: One gold dust recommendation ... in terms of a player or a general strategy?

AE: If you have got both, that would be awesome. Maybe a thought on how you should set your team up. And then, also, you mentioned patience and having the right split between not trading too much and sticking with players, so who is the one player who you think – I need to have you in my team?

AP: In terms of strategy, one of the key things is not to just look at the players you want but also at the players you think you might want later on down the line. They are called ‘price points’, which means, essentially, there are different players who cost about the same amount of money. A good example this season is the £8m midfielder, where there are quite a few good options – there is Luis Diaz of Liverpool, Dejan Kulusevski at Spurs, Saka, Mason Mount at Chelsea, Phil Foden at Man City – all these kind of guys.

If you don’t have an £8m midfielder and one of those players starts the season really strongly, you are going to find it really difficult to move for one of those players. Whereas, if you start with one of them – even if you get the wrong one, you can move that player over quite easily. So in terms of the way you set your team up, you don’t want to have, you know, a load of really expensive players and a load of really cheap players – you want to make sure you hit these ‘price points’ to make transfers and moves a bit easier for yourself.

So that is it in terms of strategy. In terms of players, obviously we have talked about Trent and I think Robertson is probably the other one I would go for. He gets close to 200 points every season, which is a massive return for a defender. Lots of people are going for Nunez, who you mentioned – we don’t know what his role in the team is going to be. Diaz – I think there is going to be rotation with him and Jota as well – so I just think, if you go for Salah, Trent and Robertson, you get three incredibly attacking Liverpool players who are going to play every week and score big points. So triple Liverpool on those three – that is my advice.

TB: Az, thank you so much for your time. We greatly appreciate you coming on – especially as we know you did a 90-minute stream shortly before this so you must be absolutely knackered! Some really interesting insights there and plenty for our listeners who play FPL to take away – and also for anyone who doesn’t but might be interested in doing so now. So thank you so much for your time and we hope to chat again to you soon.

AP: You are more than welcome. Thanks for having me on. It has been great.

Author

Andrew Evans

Andrew Evans

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in 2015 as a member of the Value Investment team and manage the European Value and European Yield funds. Prior to joining Schroders, I was responsible for the UK research process at Threadneedle. I began my investment career in 2001 at Dresdner Kleinwort as a Pan-European transport analyst and hold a Economics degree.

Tom Biddle

Tom Biddle

Investment Product Analyst

I joined Schroders in 2018. I initially worked in institutional sales with global insurance clients and then moved into UK Sales focusing on wealth managers and intermediaries. I joined the Value team in 2022 as an Investment Product Analyst. Prior to joining Schroders I interned at EY within the Corporate Restructuring team. I have passed level 1 and 2 of CFA and am studying towards level 3. I hold a BSc in Economics & Finance from the University of Leeds.

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