BPL or EPL? Use your bench players intelligently

Before the Premier League season started, Aaron had a theory that he'd roster attacking players from the teams that scored the most goals last season - Chelsea, Arsenal, and United. (Click the 10/11 pull-down for last year.) Similarly, defenders from the teams that allowed the fewest goals were ranked highly. Using this same logic, take a look at the high-scoring teams for this season - United has 21 goals, City has 17, and the next closest team is Chelsea with 8. The lesson, as always, is roster all the Manchester players.

For fantasy purposes, consider your budget to be $81 and lock in Rooney (9 goals) and Aguero (8) for $19.1. They are the two highest scorers on the two highest-scoring teams; if you don't roster them you give yourself lower odds of keeping pace. How you treat the rest of your lineup, however, depends upon whether you're rolling out a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2 formation. The reason it's different is because of the way the ESPN fantasy game treats subs.

What ESPN considers the 'standard' formation is a 4-4-2, and no matter what formation you choose, you will have total roster spots for 5 defenders, 5 midfielders, and 3 forwards. This means that in the 3-4-3 or the 3-5-2, one of your attacking positions will have no subs at all. Rafael van der Vaart injured for a game? Tough luck. Edin Dzeko unexpectedly got sat by his manager? Too bad. Rather than ESPN automatically swapping in a sub for the empty spot, you just get a fat 0 in the score line.

This is the reason I can't stomach owning Dzeko in a 3-4-3. The plan is to spend huge on attacking players - you can't spend $8.2 on Dzeko then get a 0 from him in a week. It murders your potential high score. Other than Dzeko, other top options for the 3rd striker spot are Luis Suarez at $7.8 and Adebayor at $5.9. Based on current production, Adebayor seems like a great value. If you're a gambler then maybe you like Torres at $7.5 or Van Persie at $8.6; all I can say to you is good luck with those guys. After last weekend Torres could implode or go gangbusters and Van Persie could get hurt at any moment. I am personally rolling out Suarez still, because he's talented, but based on his price and current scoring rate Adebayor seems like he's the most secure bet of that group. Paying $6 for a reliable 3rd striker (whether to start or sub) gives you plenty of money to spend on your midfield, as well.

Sticking with the highest-scoring teams theme for midfielders, it's convenient that both United and City have two star midfielders each. I wouldn't blame anyone for rostering all four of Nani, Ashley Young, Silva, and Nasri. These guys run the most explosive offenses in the Premier League, create assists for the league's best strikers, and get goals on their own as well. If you have a 3-5-2, your 5th mid could be: Juan Mata or Frank Lampard of Chelsea, the 3rd highest-scoring club so far, at $8.5 each; Charlie Adam of Liverpool at $6 (when he's back from the suspension); Clint Dempsey of Fulham at $6.6, currently the 7th highest-scoring midfielder in the game; or Luka Modric of Tottenham at $6.8. I personally would stay far, far away from Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt, because they're expensive and have missed games/minutes this season out of the blue. You simply can't afford missed games with no subs. Among these, I am rostering the affordable Charlie Adam in my 3-4-3 as a sub since his corner kick duties give him good chances for a quality team, but I also think Juan Mata is very dynamic for a potentially high-scoring team. He would be a reliable - but expensive - 5th midfielder in a 3-5-2.

Finding defenders basically involves combing the teams conceding the least goals for budget defenders. I will probably elaborate on this next week, when we have another week of games to give us scoring data. The top defending teams aren't as straightforward as the top scoring teams; likewise, because we want their attacking players, we probably won't have any Manchester defenders. (Unless, like me, you are so enraged by the pricing inefficiencies of guys like Phil Jones that you picked him in protest.)

Who do you feel most comfortable with at 3rd forward in your 3-4-3, or at 5th midfielder at your 3-5-2? Anyone you're avoiding like the plague?


  1. I have been going with a 3-5-2 until I blew half my transfers totally rearranging my roster this week. Previously it was Man City's K and two D because they allowed the fewest goals last year. But like you said, they are simply scoring so much that I had to pick a new K, two new D, just so I could get 3 of the 4 primary Man City attackers. I decided to switch to a 3-4-3 so I can roster Aguero, Dzeko, Silva. I already had Rooney, Nani and Young. I filled it in with Lampard, and Bosingwa. I got lucky at the start with Bosingwa that he has been a decent attacking D. I chose a couple guys from Newcastle as my final two D, but I don't care about their names, just the fact that Newcastle has allowed the fewest goals.

    Finally, I wanted to take Cech, the Chelsea keeper, but he keeps missing games and is doubtful this week. Then I wanted Tim Howard, the Everton keeper, but he's going to be embarrassed by Man City this week. So I took Howard thinking long term and also rostered Krul from Newcastle as my backup keeper who I will start this week.

    And I am going to completely ignore your backups theory and spend the absolute minimum on them. I'm taking Dzeko, Rooney and Aguero because I think my expected value is going to be higher. The odds of them scoring double digits significantly outweigh the chance of them getting a 0. And even if one does take a 0, that still increase the odds of getting double digits from one of my other players.

    Let's go Rooney!! Man U!!

  2. In both the popular attacking formations, a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3, you have two defenders on the bench so it's a perfect place to spend either no money or just rotate among 5 supercheap players with 3 spots. You can just swap out whomever is scheduled against a Manchester team that week.

    Keeper will also be in the next post, but based on current scoring I find it hard to justify spending more than $6 or $6.50 on a keeper, given the marginal increase in production beyond those types of keepers.

    By the way, I don't know how far cheering for Rooney is going to get you. He is owned on over 56% of teams, so even if he continues to be a world beater it will only be your other players who separate you from that half of other fantasy managers. He's just the baseline score every week for all teams, is what I'm saying.

    Watch out for Lampard. He got pulled in the second half of Chelsea's game last week and they looked much better and more aggressive without him. Fair warning.

  3. I'm sticking to my 3-5-2 as I like getting more points for my attack minded midfielders. I ha never thought of how strategic the bench is until reading this and then realizing I'm going to be getting 15 'bonus' points from Demba Ba this week once they swap him in for Rooney - great piece Royce!

    My only additional thoughts: why would ESPN force us into keeping a specific number of players in each spot? If I want to avoid having a backup keeper (no recommended as you'd want to swap out any keeper playing a Manchester), why not let me? Take off the training wheels and let us get creative!

  4. I couldn't have picked a better week to write this, since Rooney got unexpectedly scratched right before game week.

    I completely agree about the bench situation... I think at the very least they should have it locked in as "one backup per position" no matter the formation. At the most, they should let you customize your bench to some degree like you envision. Having 2 subs on D is lame.

    Your Demba Ba sub-in for Rooney might've made you the high scorer in our league this week... will have to check that out.

  5. So here was the point difference for this strategy. Scott has a 3-5-2 and I have a 3-4-3. We both lost Rooney, but he got to sub in Demba Ba (who was the best possible replacement since he was this week's high scorer) and therefore got 15 points on top of his already-leading 60. His 75 points for the week was fully 25 better than our next best score in the league, 50 points.

    Meanwhile, I got a fat 0 for Rooney since I had no striker subs. But if we both had lost, say, David Silva, then I'd have got to sub in my bench guy (currently Charlie Adam) and get some points there.

    Oh, the power of subs.

  6. I don't think Scott's formation made that big of a difference. The big score came almost entirely from having Silva as his captain and Demba Ba on his bench AND Rooney not playing at all. Had Rooney even played one minute, Scott would not have benefited from Demba Ba's big day. (I like the alliteration there.)

    So Scott, what led you to captain Silva and have Demba Ba on your bench? That is the more relevant strategy we could all benefit from. Remember, this is a learning experience for us all.

  7. And this week in particular I was hurt more by dropping Van Persie than anything else.

  8. Not sure dropping RVP will end up hurting you more often than it helps you. As our beloved Men in Blazers, Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, said, "He is a wonderful man, and a world-class football player...it is just a shame that he is made entirely of glass".

    I will be the first to admit that I know little to nothing about soccer strategy, even the rudmentary bits as regards formation. Add to that an appalling lack of fantasy intuitiveness, and you see where I end up midway through our first session. Ouch.

  9. Aaron - how dare you question me. My formation made a WORLD of difference. OK, well having Ba and Rooney made a WORLD of difference. I had selected the Demba based on my experience watching him perform for the lovable Hammers.

    In addition to loving attack-minded midfielders, I believe losing a 1/3 of your strikers is worse than losing 1/5 of your midfielders for one reason. It just looks worse.

  10. I want bonus points to be awarded for awesome plays. Like, Silva's assist in last weekend's game was so awesome I want to get a bonus point for that. He ran out, held off two defenders with elite dribbling skills, faked a third, then slid a pass past all three once he had mesmerized them like a snakecharmer. Unbelievable.

  11. Now you're on to my Awesome Bonus system, originally conceived for fantasy baseball. Patient Zero: the inanity of only getting "zero runs", a lower WHIP, and X number of strikeouts if you throw a perfect game or no-hitter. That should count MORE! Awesome Bonus!

    Silva would have gotten an Awesome Bonus last week.

  12. Also: awesome bonus for Suarez's double-crossover goal scoring move. That was like the Allen Iverson double-cross on the defender, the D had no effing clue what was going to happen to the ball after that one.

  13. They were clearly distracted by his 114 teeth. H/t MiB pod.

  14. Well, that many teeth... they imbalance you. Heroic of Anne Hathaway Suarez to overcome that.