No matter your experience or expertise in relation to playing Fantasy Premier League, odds are your most essential objective is to finish as high in overall rank as possible. Naturally, anyone who signs up for FPL for the first time is automatically placed in the overall pool, and you can monitor their overall rank week to week. But as you begin to play, you may not notice that there are standard “mini-leagues” you can join or create in which the league is pared down to just a handful or several hundred managers, making the goal of finishing first not as ominous as competing for first place amongst nearly three million managers. At the end of the day though, the concept of the game is unchanged — it’s your total overall score against others.
What IS offered within the FPL game that is conceptually different is the Head to Head league. This type of league is similar to many who are familiar with playing fantasy American football. A league is made up of an even number of managers, the computer generates a schedule, and each gameweek, your task is to defeat the particular opponent you’ve been matched up against. Unlike American fantasy football, FPL Head to Head leagues use the familiar table format in tracking the standings, 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, zero for a loss. Throughout the season, tracking your Head to Head leagues adds a bit of role play in this game of fantasy. Now, instead of just saying, “Hey, I’m ranked 384,609th in the world,” which doesn’t sound all that impressive, you can say “Hey, I just won my 5th straight match, and I am now 2nd in the table”.
You may find that strategy in regards to transfer moves and captaincy choice will alter when taking Head to Head matchups into consideration. In a week where you are going to play against someone you know, and you want nothing more than to beat them, you will be prone to making managerial choices you would not have otherwise made.
For example, any team you are playing against in a given week can be and should be viewed closely by looking at that manager’s gameweek history and appraising the players they had from the previous week. As far as any transfers made during the week leading up to your matchup, you cannot see who your opponent has taken in or out, but you can confirm how many, if any, transfers were made during your opponent’s build up to your match by looking at the Gameweek Transfers on their team page. You may find when looking at your opponent’s team and comparing it to your own, that you do not like your chances that week. Perhaps many of your best players have tough fixtures, or you have been beaten by the injury stick. Instead of thinking in terms of “what transfer is best for my club in the long run,” (whether it be to get rid of a suspended player losing cash value on your team or making a point to get a defender who has not just a good matchup for the week you are buying him, but several good matchups upcoming to be useful for the foreseeable future), you plan for the short term, and do whatever it takes to beat your opponent.
So instead of maybe using your one free transfer to make a logical move, you find it impossible to ward off the temptation of taking an 8 point hit to roll the dice and bring in a little extra firepower. Or maybe there is an obvious candidate for captaincy in a gameweek, and you and your opponent both own that player. If you feel the rest of your squad is not as potent as your rival’s, you may opt to give the armband to someone else, knowing captaining the same player is just going to cancel itself out. You may even be so focused on winning a Head to Head match, you play your wildcard in a moment of weakness.
One way or another, making your decisions based on Head to Head leagues will cause an alternative universe, for better or for worse. In playing the standard game, your objective is clear — make the correct transfers. You may wisely decide this is the week to downgrade an expensive forward so you can free up funds to bring in an expensive midfielder the following week. It may mean your squad for that week isn’t as strong as it could be, but it is a move designed for an overall bigger payoff down the road. It is difficult to think in these terms when playing Head to Head. You will feel compelled to make drastic moves designed for short term payoffs, and doing this will normally make you more susceptible to taking points hits. and alter the overall structure and philosophy of your team. However, having said that, it is entirely possible that 8 point hit you otherwise wouldn’t have taken can wind up being a fantastic move that pays off big.
My personal strategy in dealing with Head to Head leagues is this: Stick to your normal approach in your decision making, with your overall rank as top priority, for at least the first dozen gameweeks until about the halfway point of the season. If at that time, your objective of finishing inside the top 5k overall looks impossible, or whatever your goal may be, then begin to focus more on your Head to Head leagues. Even if things have not gone well for you up until that point, unless you are extremely unlucky, you should still be in the hunt in your Head to Head leagues, having won a few gameweeks where your score itself may not have been impressive, but you were fortunate enough to earn a win against a manager whose week was even worse. Instead of wallowing in frustration of a lost season in regards to your overall score, have some fun and focus your attention on ruining another manager’s week. If there is one common element to all fantasy games, no matter how poorly of a season you may be enduring, it is the thrill of dishing out the smack talk to your buddies.
May your arrows be green.
Follow me on Twitter at @FuzzyWarbles.
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