This week, the boys discuss everything about everything. Okay, so not really, but as we head into the first int'l break of the season, it might feel that way! What do we know after four weeks? How big should you go on Liverpool and City? Is Daniel James a stud or a dud? Is VAR already broken? Find out all this and much, much more in this week's pod!
ONE BIG STAT is back, and this time it means business. FPL Gameweek 3 had some seriously weird crap, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something. Let’s learn this crap:
Aston Villa vs Everton
Everton’s shots were weird, and so is their offense
Everton took 12 shots. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Richarlison, and Dominic Calvert-Lewin combined for just 3 of them. Alex Iwobi & Theo Walcott were second-half subs for two of those guys, and they also had 3 shots (and Everton’s best scoring chances). The other 6 shots came from defenders or defensive mids. This does not seem ideal. How much longer can FPL managers wait for Everton to sort this out? Where are Richarlison’s goals? Can Gylfi get back to his top-10-or-so creative form from last season? 1 goal in 3 matches isn’t going to cut it in real life or FPL life, and if Moise Kean isn’t the answer, then who or what is?
Norwich City vs Chelsea
Emerson (£5.5) – 31 Bonus Points System score
Yes, the Pukki Riot rolls on. Hopefully, either ONE BIG STAT or his 5 goals helped you add him to your FPL squad in the last two weeks. But today, we shift the focus to Emerson’s BPS score. (If you don’t know about FPL bonus points, read this.) In a nutshell, Emerson was extremely close to getting a bonus point in this match despite the fact that he had no attacking returns, and the Chelsea defense allowed 2 goals. His BPS score of 31 was the same as Mateo Kovačić (who had an assist), and it was 5 points higher than Todd Cantwell (who scored a goal). Emerson is doing it all so far this season except, you know, getting you FPL points. But those points are coming, surely...
Sheffield United vs Leicester City
Have some Sheffield & Leicester observations:
Ayoze Pérez (£6.4) has the same number of shots as Jamie Vardy (£8.9) so far this season – just 3. John Lundstram (£4.2), FPL’s early-season defensive darling, leads all Blades in shots (5) and shots on target (2). And add another assist for James Maddison (£7.0). If you’re one of the 17% of FPL owners with Anthony Martial, why not swap to King (Power) James? He’s taken the most corners (21) and attempted the most dribbles (11) of anyone in the Premier League, and his 4 shots in this match give him 10 total for the season, good for 6th overall. Bournemouth is up next, and there have been 8 goals in last 2 matches between these two. Seems like easy money, folks.
Manchester United vs Crystal Palace
Wilfried Zaha (£6.9) – 10 Penalty Area Touches
While Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and the injuries to Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw were the most FPL-significant issues, I’d like to say “So what?” and then highlight Wilfried Zaha’s performance. He looked better here, finishing with 10 touches inside of 18 yards, 2 of which were shots, and it was a very Classic Zaha bit of dribbling that preceded Patrick van Aanholt’s match winner. Palace’s upcoming fixtures are friendly enough that Zaha should be back on FPL radars.
Brighton vs Southampton
Leandro Trossard (£6.0) – SEVEN key passes
If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know my feelings about Brighton. They’re similar to the feelings you have about real seagulls when they’re actually swarming near you and your real snacks at the actual beach. However, even I can’t deny Leandro Trossard’s look in his two starts so far. I really can’t deny his 7 key passes here, which ties him for 10th in the Premier League. Plus, he took 4 of Brighton’s 8 corners. These are the stats that lead to FPL points, so after they play City, why not take a shot on a guy owned less than 1%?
Watford vs West Ham
Gerard Deulofeu (£6.3) – 7 shots
I listened to my own advice and added Manuel Lanzini last week, and I hope you did, too. While he was excellent, and very close to 2 real assists in addition to the FPL assist he got, I’d like to turn your attention to Gerard Deulofeu. His penalty area touch map looks like chicken pox — disgusting, red, and 13 touches to be exact, 5 of which were shots. He finished with 7 total shots, one of which hit the crossbar early in the first half of the match. He was getting over sickness in week 1, and he’s looked dangerous ever since. Why can’t he get his first returns against Newcastle this weekend?
Liverpool vs Arsenal
Nicolas Pepe (£9.4) – 7 dribbles
Bow! Bow before your new dribbling king! While some may mock Pepe’s one-footedness here, the fact is he stole the spotlight for the Gunners. His 7 dribbles in the match included THE dribble — the one past Virgil van Dijk — that made him the first player to do so in VVD’s last 50 matches. Too bad Pepe couldn’t have finished his one-on-one against Simon Mignolet Loris Karius a human pylon Adrian, or else FPL managers might be putting that .1 back into his price this week. A good performance in the North London Derby, and Pepe’s price could skyrocket, especially with Arsenal’s outstanding fixture list between September and mid-December.
Bournemouth vs Manchester City
Manchester City’s shots – 15 of 19 in the penalty area
“Wow,” you say sarcastically, as you gently daub the clown paint on your cheeks and then lower the clown wig onto your head, “this is the stat that finally changes my mind about Manchester City.” The fact is, over 22% of FPL managers are spending at least £6 to have Ederson, and I think this deserves a rethink, at least to open up the spot for a City defender, if not another attacker. With their 15 shots in the box against the Cherries, City have now taken 40 of their 63 total shots in the box, a higher percentage (63%) than they had through three matches last season (55%). Healthy Kevin De Bruyne might have something to do with this, but either way, what’s the downside to maximizing City attackers?
Wolves vs Burnley
Dwight McNeil (£6.0) – 7 crosses
While we’re likely to be treated to a sub-standard Wolves team that plays to 1-1 draws all season, it seems like we’re going to get above-average Burnley back! Ashley Barnes is the headliner and an obvious value pick right now, but don’t overlook Dwight McNeil. He had his moments last season, and it seems like he’ll have more of those moments this season. He supplied 9 crosses in the match, giving him 20 overall for the season (tied for 7th with Lucas Digne and Oliver Norwood). You know who he’s crossing to, and with 2 assists already, you know he can improve on his 3 goal, 4 assist total from last season. With improving fixtures on the way and just 0.4% ownership, he could be a big differential.
Tottenham vs Newcastle
Spurs offensive players – just 2 shots on target
Yes, just like we all expected, Spurs got shut out at home against Newcastle. We’re all just rolling around on the money we made from that bet, looking like Jamaal Lascelles rolling in front of Harry Kane. While we revel in that, let’s marvel at the Spurs’ high-powered offense managing just 2 shots on target. Both of those came from Son, the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal day. Tottenham is now 10th in the league in shots on target with 11 — just one shot more than the lowly, lowly offenses of tiny clubs like Brighton, Southampton, and Manchester United. The Eriksen saga isn’t helping, but with Son, Dele, and Ndombele all likely back in for the North London Derby, hopefully they can turn things around.
Those are some big stats! Let’s hope they point you in the right direction. Good luck to everyone in Gameweek 4!
This week, the boys recap the relevant players and stories for FPL after GW3 in the Premier League. As always, there are also a few extras in here: Was Arlo White's pronunciation change for Nicolas Pepe correct? Has there been a more wasteful moment than Will Hughes' on Saturday? Is there a place for Andrew Luck on our podcast? Find out all this and more in this week's pod!
It’s time for One Big Stat, the good looking Fantasy Premier League article that plays by its own rules! What went down in Gameweek 2? Several interesting things, up to and including:
Arsenal vs Burnley
Dani Ceballos (£5.6) – 7 recoveries
Gooners & FPL fans found something to love about Arsenal’s midfield for pretty much the first time since Alexis Sanchez was there. Dani Ceballos might as well have ascended straight off the pitch and into Arsene Wenger’s bosom after his performance against Burnley on Saturday. Of all his great match stats, however, his 7 recoveries must be making Arsenal fan shirts just a little tighter this week. (Oh, Mesut, why couldn’t you just track back a little more??) True, recoveries aren’t directly worth fantasy points, but it’s easily one of the highlights of his man-of-the-match performance and surely cements his spot in the Arsenal starting lineup. Ceballos’ low-end price tag, assured starts in a potent offense, and game-changing creativity should be enough to tempt nearly every FPL manager this week.
Aston Villa vs Bournemouth
Jack Grealish (£6.0) – 6 key passes
He may not be able to win a top-tier match, but no one can say that Jack Grealish isn’t trying. His assist was mostly the work of Douglas Luiz’s (£4.5) right boot, but that perfectly placed setup was just one of the 6 key passes Jack made in the match. He now has 8 key passes this season, 2nd only to Kevin De Bruyne. John McGinn’s lower price (£5.6) may be more appealing, but Villa’s schedule between now and mid-October makes either player worth a look in your FPL midfield.
Bonus Stat Because Wolves vs Manchester United Was Pretty Straightforward!
Ahmed El Mohamady (£4.5) – 3 Bonus Points
Who received maximum FPL bonus points in a match that ended 2-1, with all goals and assists coming from only midfielders and strikers? OF COURSE it was defender El Mohamady, who is currently 7th on FPL’s ICT Index. It was a stat sheet-busting, man-of-the-match-quality performance for Ahmed. He gets the same schedule as the rest of the Villans...
Brighton vs West Ham
Manuel Lanzini (£6.5) – 5 successful dribbles
The Little Jewel looks like he’s 100% healthy, which is great for him and his injury-magnet club. Lanzini’s assist and 3 FPL bonus points vs Brighton were largely the result of his 5 dribbles. He now has 8 total for the season, tied for 2nd overall with Anthony Martial. Ponder this: In 2016-17, he completed 88 dribbles, 5th best in the league. It was also his best FPL season — 8 goals, 2 assists, and 133 fantasy points. In 2017-18, he was 15th in dribbles despite missing almost a third of the season — and still finished with 5 goals, 7 assists, and 106 fantasy points. This West Ham squad is arguably the most talented they’ve had in years, and Lanzini is fit and motivated to play a lot of matches this season. If he does, he could embarrass his previous FPL bests and his £6.5 price tag.
Everton vs Watford
Lucas Digne (£6.0) – 1 early substitution due to injury
What? Would you rather talk about how Everton has only allowed 4 total shots on target so far, or that Deulofeu looked a little better this week? Not a lot else happened here. Digne’s substitution seems to have been precautionary, and 24% of FPL managers are less sweaty because he was back in training on Wednesday.
Norwich City vs Newcastle
Teemu Pukki (£6.8) – 6 shots on target
Newcastle seem to be in a bit of trouble, and Teemu Pukki single-footedly kicked them there. And while Todd Cantwell (£4.5) is definitely worth an FPL look (listen to our podcast this week), and Emil Buendia (£6.0) was statistically excellent again, Pukki is the only story here. He put 6 of his 7 shots on target in this match, and 7 of his 10 total shots so far this season have been on target. He probably won’t shoot 70% all year, but those numbers are no fluke — he hit the target with 57 of his 101 shots in the Championship in 2017-18. You can’t spell “Kick FPL Butt” without “Pukki,” so you might as well ride the train while it’s running.
Southampton vs Liverpool
Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.0) – 14 crosses
Let’s try to forget about Adrian’s blunder that cost about 75% of the FPL world a clean sheet and focus on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 14 crosses in the match. It brings his season total to 22, tied with Leicester’s James Maddison (£7.0) for the most in the Premier League.
Think On This:
TAA has attempted 88 passes so far this season — which means 25% of them have been aimed at someone in goal scoring range. Yes, Liverpool’s shaky defense and their lack of clean sheets is dumb. But I don’t think TAA should be the third most transferred out defender in FPL this week given his attacking stats so far, especially as they prepare to face an Arsenal defense that 1.) still isn’t good and 2.) has already faced 27 shots this season, 5th most in the Premier League. Clean sheet? Doubtful. Attacking returns? Not a bad bet.
Manchester City vs Tottenham
Kyle Walker (£6.0) – 2 key passes
“Wow. Great stat to choose from such an exciting match,” you say sarcastically, as you wear your favorite clown nose, with a rather large piece of spinach stuck to your front tooth, and as a pigeon relieves itself on your head. First, it’s the same number that Raheem Sterling had in the match, so bite me. Second, and most importantly, perhaps you’ve noticed that Kyle Walker is looking positively spry this season. Maybe it’s Pep pushing him, maybe it’s Cancelo’s arrival, or maybe it’s a little of both. The fact is, Kyle now has a total of 4 key passes. Last season? He had 24 total in 33 appearances, and didn’t register his first key pass until week six in City’s 5-0 thrashing of Cardiff. It’s progress, and it could be a sign of FPL goodness in City’s upcoming run of favorable fixtures.
Sheffield United vs Crystal Palace
Buy John Lundstrom (£4.1) if you don’t have him already
It’s nice when things are this obvious. Crystal Palace is a mess right now, and Sheffield’s schedule is mostly terrible until the end of November. There’s just too much risk with Enda Stevens, Dean Henderson, or any of the other Sheffield assets.
Chelsea vs Leicester
Corner Kicks – James Maddison (£7.0) and Mason Mount (£6.1)
Two players took the majority of the corner kicks in this match. I’ll bet you can guess which ones. Maddison took all 5 Leicester corners, and Mount took 3 of Chelsea’s 4 corners. Mads leads the league with 17, but perhaps surprisingly, Mount’s 8 corners ties him with Trent Alexander-Arnold for 8th best in the league. It’s just a nice little reinforcement of the FPL appeal for both players.
Aston Villa vs Everton kicks off on Friday, so don’t forget to set your lineups. Good luck in Gameweek 2, everyone!
This week, the boys examine all the relevant FPL angles coming out of GW2 in the Premier League. Which players off to a great start are future studs or future duds? Which players off to poor starts are going to end up okay? Find out these answers plus a whole lot more in this week’s pod!
Scott concludes his summer trilogy of episodes on his experience playing in a summer soccer league for the first time.
It’s ONE BIG STAT, the Fantasy Premier League article everyone is talking about! Is there anything we can learn from each match in week 1? Read on and find out!
Liverpool v Norwich City
Penalty area touches – Buendía 5, Pukki 6, Firmino 6
The Canaries looked pretty good against Liverpool, particularly Teemu Pukki (£6.5) and Emiliano Buendía (£6.0) and their 11 combined touches in the penalty area. Pukki’s goal is getting him all the FPL love this week, but don’t overlook Buendía’s assist or his absurdly low FPL ownership (just 0.7%). Given their exceptional Championship performances last season and promising week 1 displays, there’s a lot to like about both players.
Roberto Firmino (£9.5) looked excellent last Friday: 6 penalty area touches, 3 shots in the box (1 more than Salah), and 4 total shots (also 1 more than Salah). Had he scored instead of hitting the woodwork early in the 2nd half, we might be thinking differently about Chompers as an FPL asset heading into this weekend.
West Ham v Manchester City
Riyad Mahrez – 5 Key Passes
Are we about to see 2015-16 Riyad Mahrez (£8.5) reborn this season? He was the most creative player in the Premier League this week — his 5 key passes, along with 2 big chances created, lead the way for all players. Plus, he nearly matched Sterling (£12.0) for touches in the penalty area (7 to Sterling’s 8) and shots (3 to Sterling’s 4). Even with Pep Roulette, Mahrez might be worth the FPL risk already.
Bournemouth v Sheffield United
Wilson/King/Fraser – 1 Shot Each
100% of FPL managers who own Wilson (£8.0), King (£6.5), and Fraser (£7.5) agree — 1 shot from each of these guys isn’t going to cut it. Yes, Wilson got an FPL assist, and Fraser did supply 8 crosses in the match. But as FSFC co-host Scott always screams, “How many points are crosses worth?” This match felt too much like the Cherries’ 1-0 loss to Fulham in April — high expectations at home against a “lesser” club, little attacking output. Hopefully, Eddie Howe can find a way to unlock his club’s offense on Saturday against Aston Villa.
Burnley v Southampton
Not so much a stat, really. Also, not quite the start Ings’ (£6.0) FPL owners were looking for – 29 total touches, 0 touches inside the penalty area, 0 shots, and then subbed off after just 66 minutes. He’s likely still the 1st choice penalty taker, but the Saints need him to be healthy, so “subbed off early” will likely be a theme for Ings this season. Perhaps it’s time to think a little harder about Che Adams (£6.0)...
Crystal Palace v Everton
Everton – Just 2 Shots On Target
If you own anyone in the Everton defense or Jordan Pickford (£5.5), you’re happy with the clean sheet. But Everton need to find some offense in a hurry, especially after their nearly scoreless preseason. They managed just 2 shots on target, 1 each from Gylfi Sigurdsson (£8.0) and Seamus Coleman (£5.5). How soon will we be seeing what Moise Kean (£7.0) can really do?
Watford v Brighton
Brighton – 5 Total Shots
Not a typo — the Seagulls crapped out a total of 5 shots against Watford and somehow managed to win 3-0. Just THREE of those turds were on target, and no, Abdoulaye Doucouré’s own goal wasn’t one of them. The real kernel in the log for the Gulls was Glenn Murray (£6.0) managing to be the only player to defeat VAR this weekend, otherwise this match could have been much different. Just something to keep in mind, especially if you’re considering any of their attacking players.
Tottenham v Aston Villa
Christian Eriksen – 8 Crosses
Yes, the big stat is probably Harry Kane (£11.0) shooting, what, like 40 times? However, Christian Eriksen (£9.0) put a spotlight on his importance in the Spurs lineup, then he put a bigger spotlight on that spotlight. In just 26 minutes, Eriksen managed 8 crosses, adding 3 shots and 3 key passes for good measure. Spurs fans can only hope the Madrid rumors dissipate soon...
Leicester v Wolves
James Maddison – 15 Crosses
Again, the very obvious stat is striker-related — 0 shots for Jamie Vardy (£9.0). But who wants to keep crashing that party? I like James Maddison’s (£9.0) league-leading 15 crosses that he managed against Wolves. It’s also worth pointing out that he played all 90 minutes, something he didn’t do enough of for anyone’s liking last season. With numbers like that, Maddison’s FPL attacking returns should be right around the corner.
Newcastle v Arsenal
Alexandre Lacazette – 0 Minutes
If you’re one of the 3% of FPL managers who own Alexandre Lacazette (£9.5), hopefully you had a good player transfer in from your bench. Unai Emery was likely being cautious with Alexandre’s pas bien, très mauvais ankle injury that he sustained over the summer. But could we see more of a home/away split-attack from Arsenal this year? Lacazette was far more effective at home in 2018-19, scoring 9 of his 13 goals there, so Emery may be wise to maximize his home appearances this season, at least until they fully incorporate Pepe (£9.5). The Gunner attack will surely be potent at some point, but you can expect some FPL headaches before it gets there.
Manchester United v Chelsea
Chelsea – 2 Woodwork Hits
Manchester United 4 – Chelsea 0: the scoreline least indicative of a match’s content this weekend. Tammy Abraham (£7.0) and Emerson (£5.5) each hit the woodwork so hard, the sound of either shot could have woken Alexis Sanchez up from his sideline nap. Better days are ahead for this Chelsea attack.
That’ll do it. Good luck in Gameweek 2, everyone!
This week, the boys recap GW1 in the Premier League, giving you all the FPL relevance along the way. Who is the best Alisson replacement? Is Ashley Barnes worth a look? Which City players matter most right now? Plus, you’ll get all the extras only our pod will provide!
Our latest podcast episode has been recorded, and I’m already losing sleep over something I said. That’s what happens when you lose the balance between the power of the microphone and the responsibility that comes with that power.
VAR debuted in the Premier League this past weekend, so of course, we talked about it. I feel very strongly about VAR being a good and necessary thing, and I have been expressing that opinion at every opportunity.
I also feel very strongly about in-game announcing. You see, there was a time when my dream was to be a sports broadcaster. I dabbled a little in college, covering some baseball and softball games for my alma mater. I later explored the possibility of an unpaid internship with the local minor league baseball team. When my wife and I learned we were pregnant with our first child, however, an unpaid internship wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to chase my dream another way.
In part, that is what this podcast has provided me - an audio forum through which to express my love for sports, specifically soccer. The podcast allows me — requires me, really — to watch a lot of soccer so that I know what I’m talking about. And in watching soccer, I listen to a lot of announcing.
Which brings me back to our most recent podcast episode.
In watching the first round of Premier League matches, one thing seemed pretty clear to me. VAR is ready for prime time. It was polished and ready and used to good effect. And yet, something still seemed a little off.
But it wasn’t VAR. It was TV.
The TV broadcast is not yet equipped to fully incorporate VAR into its product. The same old announcers that have been calling matches for years struggled to know how to discuss it at times. They struggled to make predictions and provide insights as to what the VAR official was reviewing.
In other words, VAR was ready for the league. TV, however, was not ready for VAR.
This is what my rant on our podcast was about. VAR has definitely changed the league. That much was immediately obvious to everybody. Since change is hard, some people are opposed to it — or at the very least, predisposed to look at the change in a negative light.
But I didn’t care. In a moment, with the microphone in front of me, I went off. I blasted away at how TV needed to do more to make VAR less like the crazy uncle that has been invited into your home for the holidays and more like a loved and welcomed (and permanent) member of the family. I took it even further and named names, Lee Dixon and Graeme Le Saux.
Dixon and Le Saux have been a part of the NBC Sports crew since the network began airing Premier League matches in the United States. I love what NBC has done for the Premier League. Its coverage is always so good. Arlo White is, in my opinion, the best soccer announcer in the world. For the last couple of years, however, I have felt like Dixon and Le Saux have held him back.
Dixon and Le Saux tend to discuss their opinions more than anything else, including tactics and the application of the laws of the game to the action on the pitch. It’s frustrating for me, someone who would love to have their job and thinks that he, with some practice, could actually do it.
Plus, Le Saux was pretty critical of VAR over the weekend. And so, in a flash, all of that came together in a rant that was semi-coherent and entirely critical of what I consider to be old, out-of-touch announcers, naming Dixon and Le Saux in particular.
It was over the line. I feel so strongly that it was over the line that I lost sleep last night, asked Dave to edit some of it out so you never hear it, and typed out this post as a way to clear my conscience. Additionally, because one of the greatest commands in life is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” I asked — and ask now — for forgiveness.
Here’s the reality: Dixon and Le Saux are big boys with amazing jobs that give them a platform in front of millions. I am a co-host of a fledgling podcast with a fraction of that audience. They can handle my criticism.
Regardless, I want to be responsible with the platform I have. You want helpful FPL takes in an entertaining format. I want to provide that. Along the way, we have the ability to express strong opinions on relevant topics, but there is a line that we should not cross. I don’t want to be that kind of guy, that kind of podcast host, who does that.
So this is me, learning from my mistakes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try to get some sleep. But it will be hard. I’m already excited for Gameweek 2.
The new Premier League season is about to begin! Have you filled out your first FPL lineup yet? Either way, check out the first half of our season preview and get all the info you need for your midfielders and forwards!
Want to join the Fantasy Soccer FC Podcast mini-league? For the first time, you can! Just go to the FPL website, and use the league code 1xv4pa to join our classic private league!
The FPL start to the season is finally here, and the guys cover it all. In this first part, they discuss everything you need to know about goalkeepers and defenders in order for you to make the proper decisions to get your title winning season off to a flying start!
This week, listen to the boys provide their tips and strategies for how you should set up your team for the new Premier League season! How many premium players should you own? How much money can you spend at each position? Should you be open to -4s? Find out in this episode!
To join our private classic league, use the league code 1xv4pa. Join the Fantasy Soccer FC Podcast mini-league today!
On this episode, the boys tell you more than you need to know about Aston Villa as they return to the Premier League for the upcoming season!
On this episode, the boys tell you more than you need to know about Sheffield United as they return to the Premier League for the upcoming season!
On this episode, the boys tell you more than you need to know about Norwich as they return to the Premier League for the upcoming season! Our apologies in advance to Norwich fans -- and to Catholics everywhere.
Scott continues with his story on how his first foray into playing organized soccer is going. In short, there's some drama.
In this edition of Scott’s Shot, Scott shares what he learned in his relegation-worthy 2018/19 FPL season and how he will attempt to improve for the upcoming 2019/20 season.
If you prefer to read a transcript of what Scott has to say, you can find that by scrolling down below the Soundcloud insert.
Fantasy sports are designed to enhance a fan's following of a sports league -- a way to participate with the league that he or she wants to watch. When it comes to Fantasy Premier League, the participation seems more real. The length of the season is grueling; it really is a mental grind.
That was never more real for me than this past season. In the 2017/18 season, I had the season of my life. I'm still pretty new to FPL, and I've never really been great at fantasy sports in general, but I finished in the top 0.4% of all players that season. Nothing was hard. All of my decisions came out right. It was a little magical.
However, leading into the 2018/19 season, that magical feeling was a little misleading. I mistook the magic for skill. I'm no longer sure that's what it was.
I got off to a horrible start. I thought I had a good team for the first few weeks of the season, but I was wrong. I played my first half wildcard during the first international break. Not a problem, I assured myself...and you, if you were listening to our podcast at that time. I can right the ship with the wildcard and then use my free transfers to replenish my team as needed for the rest of the way.
The wildcard didn't work either. It was a classic case of having the right players at the wrong time. Leroy Sane seemed like a no-brainer to own at the start, but then he barely played for the first four matches. I transferred him out in my flurry of wildcard moves, and he immediately scored a goal.
This is when I believe I started to make my first major mistakes. I broke my rules. I took a few -4s to try to get my team where I needed it to be. I had no anchors in my squad -- guys who I would stick with all season long because, in the end, their overall points would justify it. I started to use matchups to try to hit the lottery with my transfers. It never worked.
I felt for the first time what a relegation-threatened club feels. I mean, I think I did. There's a negativity that creeps into everything you do. You doubt all of your decisions. When clubs seemingly overreact and sack their managers early in the season, I get that now, too. The relegation zone is like quicksand. Once you get sucked down, it's hard to get yourself out.
Meanwhile, as the season progresses and nothing is going right, Dave is succeeding with this new strategy of his. He's using team value to guide his decisions. His theory is that a higher team value will give him the money he needs to get better players and win at the end of the season.
This is where I demonstrate to you just how terrible of a person I am. I like to think that I'm a pretty smart person. But here's Dave, using statistics to try to get better while I'm having the worst season of my life. It felt...wrong. It sent my already awful season into full-on tailspin mode. Was last season just a fluke? Is this an accurate reflection of my FPL skill? Is this what Burnley feels like right now?
It made me think about baseball. Baseball is in the midst of an evolution right before our eyes. Infield and outfield shifts, closers starting games, and statistics like exit velocity are changing the way the game is played. What started with Moneyball many years ago has turned into a total statistical-based evolution of the game.
Any time there's progress, the proponents of the old system who are unwilling to adapt with the times are left behind. Old-school baseball scouts, for instance, are mostly unemployed. Was this me? Did I use any strategy when I won in 17/18? Or was it just dumb luck?
Is Dave's strategy right? As last season progressed, I constantly felt shackled by the team's value. I couldn't make the moves others could because my team value stayed stagnant. Was this why I won in 17/18, and I had no idea?
Probably. At least a little bit. We are now halfway through the summer, and my thoughts on this are still pretty unclear. Do I willingly fall down the FPL statistical rabbit hole? Is that the future? Is that a progressive approach? Am I just a stodgy old white dude unwilling to change with the times who will eventually be left behind?
I don't know. Here's something I did learn last year, though. The season builds on itself. The longer you go into the season, the more influence it has on the final outcome for you. I know that sounds obvious, but when you are at the bottom of your mini-league, it becomes painfully -- yes, painfully -- apparent.
It's really easy for us to zoom in on one week, but every year, we find ourselves surprised at some of the players who were rarely spectacular but always consistent throughout the season and ended up with more points than most. If we can remember that, however, and keep those guys all year long -- barring injury or benching -- we will make our jobs a lot easier.
Everyone plays everybody else twice. The only variable is timing. If we can remember that, too, then maybe we will stop trying to win the lottery based on matchups so much.
After that, team value is important. You need money to make moves. Dave and I still vary as to how we'll handle value. I won't sell my anchor players if they are going to experience temporary drops in value, unless I have a bigger reason to do so (benching, injury, etc.).
I have always waited until Friday to make my free transfer. I figure that, with more time in the week, I will be armed with more information about who I want to send in and out. However, that feels like an old-school approach. I think I need to be more flexible about that. Value changes are important when it comes to free transfers. Since the values change throughout the week and not just on Friday, I need to be willing to make changes sooner.
I'm sticking with my anchors this season. And I'm not taking -4s anymore. I won't panic, but I will evolve as I need to. That's my plan for 2019/20 season. I hope it works. It certainly can't get any worse than last season.
This week, the boys provide a quick preview of the 2019/20 Premier League schedule (sort of) and some early thoughts on what it might mean for the new FPL season.
On this episode, Scott begins a special summer series on his adventures in a 6-match summer league. If you prefer to read what happens, scroll down below the Soundcloud insert to find the full manuscript.
It was a moment of weakness; that's really all I can say to describe it. I was with two friends and each of our wives. One friend declared that he was going to play soccer in this local summer league. The other friend said he has never played soccer before but that he was interested in joining, too.
What about Scott, they asked? My wife thought it would be a great idea. She could get the kids to come and watch and cheer for me. They would love to do that. Plus, maybe you could turn it into some content for the podcast.
In my moment of weakness, I agreed to do it. I joined a team of 25 dudes for a 6-match summer league. I didn't know anyone except my two friends.
The captain said that we should meet for practice on Wednesday nights at a local park. On the night of the first practice, I knew that my two friends wouldn't be joining me, so I was nervous. As I went to leave, rain started to fall. Three of my children wanted to come to my practice, and they were very disappointed when I told them I wasn't going due to the rain. How much of that decision was rain and how much was fear...it's hard to say.
Unfortunately for me, the rain stopped right after it started. The guys were definitely still going to meet for practice. Reluctantly, I decided to go.
I didn't know anyone, but our team name was going to be something with "misfits" in it. So as I approached the field and saw some guys kicking around a ball, I declared that I was looking for some misfits. A few guys laughed. I was now on the team.
The first guy to introduce himself to me was Kenny. He asked me about when I last played soccer. Oh, it's been a really long time since I've played, I said. Oh yeah, when was the last time, he asked. A long time ago, I said.
If that seems like it would have been awkward, it was. I didn't want to tell him that the last time I'd played organized soccer was at the age of 7. I grew up in a farming community in Minnesota. There was a recreational league one summer that allowed kids between five and seven to play. It was mostly a way for parents to have a night off each week when school was out.
I was pretty good in that little league. The highlight was during the season-ending party when the kids played against their parents. I scored a goal. It was only recently that I've come to realize that they might have let me score.
I didn't want to tell Kenny any of this. Our awkward conversation ended, and I went to join the boys already practicing. We started out scrimmaging so that we could all get a feel for who belongs where. One of my first touches was a soft backpass to a teammate that went to one of my opponents instead. It led to a goal. So that's how that happens, I thought to myself.
A little later, I made a run toward the far post that a teammate saw. He sent in a cross. All I had to do was guide it into the goal with my right foot. I did, sort of. I kicked the ball with my right foot into my left knee. My left knee deflected it into the net. It was a piece of accidental beauty.
For every decent touch, I had 2-3 horrible ones. I had a couple of swings and misses. A couple of times I was delivered a pass that got by me and went out of bounds. It was rough overall but a lot of fun.
Our second practice was this past Wednesday. It was more of the same. I had another backpass that led to a breakaway for the opposition. I really need to work on that. I have absolutely no skills around the goal right now. This fact is very sad because I've noticed that I have a knack for the mental part of the game. It turns out that watching the Premier League for years has helped me recognize where to make runs. The problem is that I have no skill with the ball when I get it. Occasionally, I can send a nice pass forward to a streaking teammate, but that's about it.
There's one other thing I'm terrible at: talking to my teammates on the field. This team I'm on is mostly made up of former soccer players who are out of school and are just looking for a way to keep playing. Most of them played center forward, which is a different problem that we will have to solve before our first match.
My point, though, is that they have all played before and they know how to talk to their teammates on the pitch. The first time someone behind me said "drop" while I had the ball, I had no idea what they were trying to communicate. I know now that he was letting me know I could drop the ball back to him if I got into trouble, but it took me a while to get there.
There was this one time on defense where an opponent was coming forward with the ball and another opposing player was starting to make a forward run. "You've got runner. I've got ball," my teammate said to me. After starting to move toward the ball, I realized what he said. By then, it was too late. The pass went to the runner. I don't remember if it led to a goal. Probably it did.
When practice ended and we were walking to our cars, I found myself walking with the team captain, Clyde. I was hoping for this moment because I had decided that I needed to take a risk. I told him that I would be happy to play a position that nobody else wanted, like left back. Might be a good idea anyway, I said, since I've never played soccer before. Really, he asked. I had no idea, he said. You have such nice passes. I appreciate that, I said. I made some lame joke about everyone else being a center forward and the conversation ended.
I immediately regretted saying that. This is just a recreational league, but I didn't exactly inspire confidence in my captain. Only time will tell me if my confession was a mistake.
In this bonus episode for the summer, Scott provides a review of the Audible Original audio documentary "The Beautiful Brain."
You can either listen to Scott’s reading of the monologue below by clicking on the Soundcloud link or you can read the full transcript below that.
I used to have this relative who I loved. I will refer to him as Jack for reasons that will be obvious very quickly and out of respect for his immediate family.
I had the opportunity to spend quality time on multiple occasions with this relative. As I spent time with him and others who knew him, I heard lots of stories about him. The one story that was told the most was when my relative suffered a concussion during a high school football game.
The story was often told by others and included humor -- you know, the kind of concussion humor that always includes loss of memory and an inability to answer basic questions. The usual things that were funny about concussions until we started to learn what concussions actually do to people.
Just a few years ago, this relative of mine killed himself. It was a massive shock to my wife and me. But when we went to be with family and attend the funeral, we heard the stories. Stories of mental confusion and prior concerns over suicide. And then the story of how he actually went through with it at the end.
I don't know if my relative's death was connected in any way to his high school concussion 40 years prior. But the thought was in my mind the entire time I listened to The Beautiful Brain, a 4-hour Audible Original audio documentary.
The Beautiful Brain is fascinating listening for any enlightened soccer fan. The documentary is presented in 4 parts. The first features the story of Jeff Astle, a legendary player for West Brom back in the 1960s. He was a goal-scoring center forward whose biggest goal came in the 1968 FA Cup final. He scored the lone goal to give the Baggies the trophy.
The documentary went through Astle's career highlights, but it focused on his life after his career was over. That's because Jeff Astle's quality of life quickly deterioriated, and in 2002, he died. The coroner ruled that his death was caused by football.
The second part of the documentary discussed CTE, a disease that is gaining notoriety, especially in sports circles. CTE is the disease of the brain caused by repeated blows to the head. It can only be diagnosed when someone's brain is examined after his or her death, but it has been, and is being, directly linked to the trauma that athletes experience while participating in sports. Trauma that is both concussive (when someone is clearly suffering from concussion symptoms) and subconcussive (when someone is taking blows to the head without obvious and immediate effect).
Executives, players, and fans of the NFL are waking up to CTE, thanks in part to the movie Concussion starring Will Smith, released a couple of years ago. The doctor that Smith portrays in that film, Bennet Omalu, provides much of the content aired in part 2 of The Beautiful Brain.
The drama of The Beautiful Brain takes full effect when Astle's CTE is discussed. His cause of death was the sport that he played -- the sport that I love to watch. The way that the sport killed him was in the simple act of heading a soccer ball over and over again throughout his professional career.
Let that sink in for a moment. As I listened to Part 2, I could not shake the feeling that soccer is in trouble. People have already been talking about the trouble facing the NFL over the obvious and inherent dangers its players face, but you don't hear it much about soccer. Sure, we need better injury protocols in general and concussion protocols in particular, but what I am saying to you now is that there is scientific evidence that a fundamental part of the sport is killing its players. If you allow players to head a soccer ball, you are exposing them to CTE.
Part 3 of the documentary took a detour from soccer and Jeff Astle. It discussed female brains and the way that they are exposed to CTE. The narcissistic part of me wondered at first if the soccer angle in the beginning of the documentary was just a ploy to insert this part. If so, now that I've listened to it, I'm not upset about it. This was, in many ways, the most fascinating and disturbing of the four parts.
Sadly, CTE is prominent in two different categories of females: athletes and the battered. Domestic violence is causing CTE in women at alarming rates. It makes sense, but it also increases the urgency we face in addressing these issues.
Even more sadly, CTE research has largely neglected women. Most of the brains that are studied belong to males. This part of the documentary successfully raised awareness for the need for increased research and attention on CTE in women.
The documentary closes in the fourth part with a return to Jeff Astle's surviving family. The FA and PFA promised to study CTE in football more than 15 years ago. They promised to deliver that study 5 years ago. The study was never done. Soccer executives, much like NFL executives, are struggling to know how to handle this new problem, and it seems like they are hoping that it will just go away. It won't, and it shouldn't.
Toward the end of Part 4, there is audio of a play that was written about Jeff Astle's life. One unique aspect of the play is that it requires audience participation. West Brom fans had a song that they sang about Jeff Astle during his Baggies matches. The audience is asked to sing it at appropriate times before and during the play. There was also audio in the documentary about how, on one particular night, the audience spontaneously began singing the song again after the play had ended. It moved them that much.
In case you couldn't tell, I loved this documentary. Jeff Astle is a prominent example of the dangers of CTE found in soccer. May his death not be in vain.
If I have one criticism of The Beautiful Brain, it's that it could probably be a little shorter. A little more editing on some of the interview clips would have given it a tigher and more dramatic feel, particularly in Parts 1 and 2. But this is a very minor complaint. This documentary should be heard; every soccer fan needs to face whether or not his or her time and money should continue to be dedicated to the beautiful game.
I don't play much soccer these days; I mostly watch it. But I remember playing it. I remember heading a soccer ball. Sometimes, I would barely feel a thing. Other times, I'd be left with a dull headache for a few minutes.
Even before watching this documentary, I often watch and wonder at some of the headers that I see. Guys are heading the ball 25 yards upfield. Or heading a heavy free kick in on goal. I wonder if those guys feel the same thing I used to feel. Surely they must, right?
And that's not even counting the really dangerous shots. Like when Martin Dubravka knocked Mo Salah's head around late in the recently concluded Premier League season. Or when Jan Vertonghen collided with his own teammate and suffered a "nose injury" (air quotes inserted) during the most recent Champions League semifinals. Or on any goal kick that includes the throwing of elbows at an opponent's head. These are obviously dangerous plays that are either concussive or subconcussive.
We look back on history and think we have progressed beyond those who lived before us. During the days of the Roman Colisseum, people watched in the stands as participants were literally killed in front of them for sport. We judge those people for doing that, thinking that we would never stoop back down to that level.
And yet, according to the story Jeff Astle's death tells us, that's exactly what we do. We crowd together into stadiums, cheering and singing as players are literally dying in front of us.
Oh, sure, they don't actually die on the pitch. We get to consider ourselves better than our historical peers because our athletes don't die right away. It happens much more slowly and on the inside. The brain is turning to mush over the repeated impact, and we get to claim ignorance.
Some of you listening to this are criticizing me right now. You think I'm soft. Maybe you think that this is just another American who is trying to step in where he doesn't belong and speak to the English game (by the way, the narrator of The Beautiful Brain is British and currently lives in London, but I digress). Maybe you even discredit the science and think this is no big deal.
Maybe that's true. And honestly, if you ask me what my solution is to this problem, the answer is that I don't know. I don't know what should be done. Do you remove the heading of a soccer ball from the game? Should the sport be fundamentally changed that much?
Maybe. I don't know. An argument could be made that it should be left up to the players. And I would agree with that. For current players. As the science continues to come in, players should review it and decide if they want to keep playing a sport that is potentially killing them.
NFL players have been doing that now for a few years. Randomly, stories will come in about players retiring, seemingly out of nowhere. One even retired in the middle of a game. It was weird -- he bailed on his teammates, but if he decided the risk wasn't worth his life anymore, he is entitled to make that decision.
But what about the kids? I would understand if kids and parents decide to take the risk that a collision or a random elbow or a punch from a goalkeeper might happen and let the kids play anyway.
But what about heading a football? I keep coming back to that thought. What about this act that is fundamental to the game -- unavoidable for anyone who wants to play to the highest possible levels? What about that?
What about Harvey Elliot of Fulham who, at 16 years and 30 days, became the youngest player to feature in the Premier League? How many headers has he made in his life, whether in practices or games? Or Dwight McNeil of Burnley? Or Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool? Or Phil Foden of Manchester City? Or Marcus Rashford of Manchester United?
I'll go one step further. Society considers a person to be an adult when he or she turns 18. The most recent neurological research, however, says that a person's brain is not fully formed until the age of 23. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is 23. Should Ruben only now be allowed to head the ball? How would the Premier League work if only some players are allowed to head the ball?
It's time to make some hard decisions. We can't pretend to be ignorant anymore. CTE is real. The effect that our sports -- in this case, football -- is having on our athletes' brains cannot be ignored. I mean, we could. These athletes are just figures on a field or a screen to us. But what if it was your relative? I already told you about a relative of mine. Folks, this problem is real.
If you watched Jan Vertonghen wretching and staggering on the touchline during the Champions League semis, you saw the very real nature of a concussion. I believe that we glimpsed Vertonghen's future in those moments. Hopefully, I'm wrong. The science says I'm probably not.
The Premier League, in comparison with most other European leagues, is particularly physical. That can be a good thing. There is a form of physical play that is safe and exciting.
We have to get away from crunching tackles. We have to get away from players using elbows when jumping up in the air. We have to eliminate this idea that goalkeepers can go toward a ball and use whatever physicality they want, which can sometimes include punches to a player's head. It's stupid.
And I'll keep saying it's stupid until change is made. That's my solution for now. Yes, I still love the Premier League and playing Fantasy Premier League, so I am going to keep sitting in the stands with the rest of the cheering crowds. But I have a podcast that gives me a voice. And with that voice, I will keep firing away at the executives who refuse to change the rules to protect players' heads.
I will continue to speak up about the need for injury protocols, concussion protocols, and rule changes to remove dangerous play. I will be open-minded if the subject of removing headers from football is discussed in the interest of player safety. I will support and not ridicule those who decide to do what might seem radical now so that we save the lives of our players later.
The Beautiful Brain is a beautiful documentary. I'm glad I listened to it -- because it has given me the courage to continue fighting for this beautiful cause.