How To Pick A Winning Fantasy Football Team

Become the office Mourinho by following these tips from Fantasy League winners and experts

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1 | Read The Rules 

"I always say play the game the way it's set up to be played." This might sound obvious, but Matt Martyniak won the Premier League's official game in 2013, ahead of 2.6 million others, by doing just this. Some games give points for shots on target, or picking a Man of the Match, which is why Martyniak says "read the rules carefully”.  The Fantasy Premier League game, for example, has added three new 'chips' which can be deployed this season and has also altered points for Clearances, Blocks and Interceptions which should mean greater bonus point potential for dominant defenders.

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2 | Look To Newly Promoted Teams

Championship teams making their first incursion into the Premier League can be veritable goldmines for fantasy football managers, says Ziv Susser, a longtime player who was involved in bringing the fantasy game to Israel in the 1990s. "Look into promoted sides' top attacking players," he counsels. "They tend to be relatively cheap." Susser gained success with Rickie Lambert in Lambert's breakout season in 2012/13 that saw him eventually win his first England cap.

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3 | Make The Fixture List Work For You

Checking clubs’ calendars is the advice of Joe Lepper, general manager of Fantasy Football Scout, an advice website. "Tom Fenley, who beat more than three million managers to win the Fantasy Premier League game last season, cited Fantasy Football Scout’s fixture ticker as a key tool" for victory, says Lepper. This season, that ticker indicates favourable starts for Arsenal and Spurs, amongst others.
 

4 | Throw Club Loyalties Out The Window

Paul Weston, senior product manager at ISM Games, developer of the Premier League's official fantasy game, has one harsh home truth: play with your head, not your heart. "When you support a team in the Premier League it is heartbreaking to bring in players from rival teams, but it needs to be done. We have Sunderland fans working here that will never bring in a Newcastle player," he says. "They don’t finish at the top of our internal league."
 

5 | Don't Pick A Balanced Side

Too many fantasy football managers pick their team as if they're actually managing a real team, believes Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson. "You don't need centre halves," he explains. "You're better off picking full backs." But don't fill your defence with minnows: "You've got to pick them from the top teams," he says. "They get 70 per cent of the ball on a Saturday afternoon, they're pressing their opponents' wings and have a licence to attack."


6 | Make Your Weekly Transfers As Late As Possible

Merson's co-host on Sky Sports' The Fantasy Football Club show, John 'Fenners' Fendley, cautions against locking in those all-important transfers too early. You never know when someone's going to pick up a knock. "Wait as long as you can for players who are doubts," he says. "Don't pick your team too early, or you can get snookered." And don't make changes for change's sake. "Hold your nerve, and don't tinker too much" is his advice.


7 | Look Out For Utility Players

James Milner may be condemned to a life warming the England bench, but in fantasy sports, utility players can be a godsend. Adam Hill, who came 29th in the world last season playing Fantasy League Limited's game, likes players WHO ARE difficult to categorise. "Pick defenders who play in midfield," he says. "They've got more chance of scoring or getting an assist, and you get the clean sheet too because they're classed as a defender."


8 | Consider The Monday Night Captain

Every fantasy football manager knows the crushing feeling when your captain for the week has a shocker on Saturday lunchtime, and your weekend is ruined. Turn that on its head, says the ‘Chief’ at Fantasy Premier League Hints, a tips website, and pick your captain based on Monday's match. "Your opponents are all punched out by Sunday night, and you can gamble on your captain doing well the following night." It's a trick he's used often.


9 | You Can't Have A Team Full Of Galacticos

Fantasy football budgets can be tight, and the temptation when picking a team is to load up your squad with recognisable (and expensive) talent. Take a breath, says Gregory Wright, the winner of The Daily Telegraph's fantasy football league last season. "You need a really good cheap player who plays every week," he advises. "You don't need him to play well, but you just need the appearance points. That allows you to bring in the higher ticket players."


10 | Make Sure Your Players Get a Game

Stupid as it might seem, too many fantasy football managers stack their teams with those who aren't always certain to get a game come the weekend. "Taking players from clubs who rotate a lot can leave you short some weeks," warns Kelvin Travers, who finished second to Matt Martyniak in the 2012/13 Fantasy Premier League season. "Pick guaranteed starters, team captains, or those who are 'nailed on' to start every week."


11 | Nominative Determinism Matters

Come again? We’ll leave the last word to Ben Steele, Games Management Executive at Fantasy League Limited, the company that manages The Sun’s Dream Team and Football League’s fantasy football competitions. He’d advise avoiding the temptation to try and impress your mates with a good pun, and focus on picking your team instead: “Thirty three teams last season were named Norfolk 'n' Chance or a slight variation on that. None of them won any sort of prize.”


Any tips of your own?


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MORE FOOTBALL:

The Fall (And Fall) Of Leeds United
Footballers In Adverts: 10 Of The Worst
12 Of The Wisest Things Ever Said About Football
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This is an edited version of an article originally published in August 2014.

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