How Not to Defend a (Fantasy) Premier League Title


Season 2019/20 was the season Liverpool football club finally got back on their perch. The Mighty Reds were relentless. The Mentality Monsters devoured all in their path. It was a record-breaking season for the club which I dearly loved. I found it very enjoyable and not only because Hendo was doing the shuffle after receiving the trophy from Sir Kenny. I found it enjoyable because I was also climbing atop a perch in fantasy football. Multiple perches in fact, as I was able to win multiple mini leagues in Fantasy Premier League (FPL).

I started playing FPL in 2007. I got introduced to it by a colleague and instantly got hooked. The premise of the game was simple, and has not changed much since then, despite the addition of various chips and the occasional fancy upgrade to FPL websites.
Basically, with a 100 million in your bank account, you, the virtual manager, can go on a shopping spree before the season starts, filling out a roster of required positions. Exciting forward players, creative midfielders with an eye for a goal, no-nonsense center backs, and fullbacks who could chip in with an assist or two. Goalkeepers tend to be after-thoughts while defensive midfielders tend to be given no thoughts. After all, there are no additional points for tackles, interceptions or shithousery.

A squad of 15. The power to kick out under-performing players every week. The allure of buying the hottest players whenever you felt like (despite associated consequences). The prospect of giving your FPL attacking player the captain’s armband and watching him reward your faith with a hattrick, in real life. And for those who love living life on the edge, the daredevil thrill of captaining your defender because you are certain he’s bringing that clean sheet from the laundry room.

All of these thrills kept my love of FPL going each season from 2007 onwards. Participating in multiple leagues also added more incentive. There were monetary benefits in some and plain old bragging rights in others. That said, I never truly excelled simultaneously with Liverpool in any season until season 2019/20. My previous high of 2280 points in 2012/13 was great but that year, Liverpool were busy finishing 7th in the EPL, while reaching their zenith in the Europa League round of 32. Subsequently knocked out by Zenit.
2019/20 was brilliant both in terms of EPL and FPL though. I reached a new high of 2350 points, won virtually every mini-league I was enrolled in, and won some cash money alongside some invaluable bragging rights (especially in the American Scouser League). Champion of Everything like our Resplendent Reds. All these despite a pandemic with the worst of timing and impact, pausing the season with 9 games to go before resuming months later. Calls for an asterisk? Make mine a triple please.

I came into this new season full of belief, just like Jurgen’s Reds. The code felt fully cracked, and I felt an upcoming dynasty of back-to-back titles. I started 2020/21 reasonably well. Until gameweeks 6, 7 and 8 happened. (Back to life, back to reality!!). Each of those gameweeks saw a monumental heap of bad luck leading to a monumental heap of points sitting on the bench; 16, 12 and 24 points respectively. This was akin to Van Dijk and Thiago getting injured in the derby and the wheels proceeding to fall off the season for the Champions of England.

Eventually, things stabilized a bit. I went on a decent run of points scoring just like our beloved team did after those two major injuries. However, my terrible ‘’January’’ period arrived with full vengeance in gameweeks 14 and 15. Those consecutive low-scoring gameweeks for my FPL team effectively ruled me out of title contention in any of my mini-leagues (including most painfully, the American Scouser Cup 2020 League).
What I was now aiming for was my equivalent of a ‘Top Four’ finish. I stopped doing silly things – like spending a big chunk of money on Aubameyang (who contributed neither ying nor yang). I reluctantly let go of Trent (because keeping regular clean sheets was no longer a Liverpool thing). And I went in big on Leeds players because Bielsa-ball was proving to be a consistent source of decent points (every game featuring Leeds during most of that period could have ended 4-4!!). As a result, in came Raphinha, Dallas and Bamford.

By gameweek 27, things were looking up for me just like our down-but-not-out Reds. I was surging up the tables in various leagues. Gameweeks 24 to 26 each brought me an excess of 80 points. My push for a ‘’Top Four’’ FPL finish was ON!! Simultaneously, teams ahead of Liverpool were dropping points and we were looking as if we could still comfortably qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Then Sunday, May 2nd happened. The Manchester United vs Liverpool game gets called off. One of the biggest games in world football. And one of the biggest games I was relying on for points in my FPL. I have Jota, Salah, Fernandes and Shaw. All four players automatically got no points. The outfield players on my bench have only 1 point between the three of them. And my captain, Harry Kane, fired blanks against Sheffield United. A game in which a goal or assist should have been guaranteed by him. Gameweek 34 is certain to be my lowest scoring gameweek of the season. This feels like a combination of Liverpool dropping points to Leeds and Newcastle in one week.

Basically, this has proved to be a frustrating season both for my FPL team (Red Asterisks FC) and my dear Liverpool. It has been a masterclass in how not to defend a league title.

by Oladimeji Sapoloso

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