When FPL Fun Crosses the Line

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.

Scott's Shot - Lessons Learned from the 2018/19 FPL Season

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.

Scott's Shot - Tales from a Sunday Soccer League: Episode 1

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.

Things We Learned in GW35

If your mini-league is anything like ours, the 14-game GW35 likely set up your mini-table for the final 30 matches (or 3 GWs) for the season. Even though the matchups for the bloated GW32 were better on paper, there were some outstanding scores in GW35.

As we await the Friday start to GW36, here’s a list of what we learned from GW35 to prepare us for the stretch run:

  • Arsenal’s forwards (Aubameyang and Lacazette) will continue to score decent points, despite sharing starts and minutes.

  • Your Cherries are now entirely unownable, mostly due to their unpredictability.

  • The matchups aren’t great, but Chris Wood’s last four are outstanding (5-11-13-5).

  • Eden Hazard is still relevant, despite Chelsea’s inconsistency.

  • With Everton’s win over United, your Toffees’ defenders might still be relevant.

  • All any Fulham players needed was to remove the pressure of being relegated. Now that it’s statistically certain, they are ready to perform.

  • It’s a shame Karlan Grant is due to go right back down to the Championship. He’s settling into the Premier League very nicely now for Huddersfield.

  • You still want Jamie Vardy and Youri Tielemans, with maybe Harvey Barnes as a worthy vote for honorable mention.

  • If you stopped owning three Liverpool players during the double gameweek portion of the season, you should change that now.

  • No one will judge you if you own 3 City players for the stretch run, regardless of matchup, especially the usual ones (i.e. Ederson, Sterling, Aguero, etc.).

  • You would be best served to send Pogba out, but Marcus Rashford is still trying really hard.

  • It’s April/May, which means it’s Ayoze Perez’s time to shine. Don’t sleep on Matt Ritchie either.

  • Shane Long’s last three makes him your choice Saints’ defender as long as Southampton is still working to stay up.

  • One Spurs’ midfielder is a good option right now, whether it be Son, Eriksen, or Dele (and probably in this order).

  • How happy was Dave that his Andre Gray prediction worked out pretty well?

  • Wolves are just as unpredictable now as they have been all season. Why transfer your token Wolves out now?