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Revealed: UL study shows how long-term planning and ‘enabler’ players are secrets to Fantasy Premier League success


Bruno Fernandes (Carl Recine/PA)

Bruno Fernandes (Carl Recine/PA)

Bruno Fernandes (Carl Recine/PA)

It’s the competition that causes undue stress and headaches for almost seven million of us worldwide – but does a deep dive by an Irish university crack the code for Fantasy Premier League success?

New University of Limerick research may provide the insights that could propel you to the top of the league table at work.

The study analyses the actions taken by managers to increase their likelihood of success.

It claims to have identified the tactics used by the top competitors in the game and indicates there are a group of ‘managers’ that tend to perform consistently well year-on-year in the game.

"In this study we analyse the results of competitors over multiple years and find that there are in fact groups of ‘managers’ that consistently perform extremely strongly, suggesting an element of skill,” lead author of the study Joseph O’Brien, a PhD student based at MACSI in UL said.

The researchers took advantage of the publicly available data to extract information from around 40 million webpages, describing the actions taken by the top one million ranked managers.

“We could immediately observe many different strategies used by managers and in particular there were multiple points in the season in which successful managers acted in an extremely different manner to those lower ranked, almost as if the thousands had come together with a read-made game plan,” Mr O’Brien said.


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While the expensive players such as Bruno Fernandes and Harry Kane may be the first name on many team sheets this season, it might be the more understated stars that make the difference.

One particular example was that of Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the 2018/19 season, while playing for Crystal Palace.

“We were amazed to find that for most of the season the key player in successful teams wasn’t Mo Salah or Kevin De Bruyne but rather Aaron Wan-Bissaka – a player in his debut season for Crystal Palace, due to his extremely low price and surprisingly efficient scoring (he completed a £45m (€52m) transfer to Manchester United the following year). This combination allowed him to be a consistent ‘enabler’ for managers to have more expensive players elsewhere,” Mr O’Brien said.

"Taken together this research demonstrates clear characteristics present amongst the highest-ranked managers suggesting “a pathway to success for competitors in the game with particular emphasis on long-term planning and identification of optimal enabling players”, the UL researcher revealed.

The use of a number of ‘chips’ were also examined, with researchers focusing in on Bench Boost (BB), which enables the manager to claim points for all 15 of their players for one game week only.

It also looked at double game weeks where a number of teams were playing twice, and blank game weeks, where there were notably less matches than a regular week of fixtures.


The study broke out the levels of successful and unsuccessful managers via tiers, with the research suggesting those in the top tier had an upper-hand from as early as the first fixtures of the season.

"We also comment that the largest gaps between the best tier and the worst tier occur not only in two of the special game weeks (DGW 35 and BGW 33) but also in GW 1, which suggests that prior to the start of the season these managers have built a better-prepared team to take advantage of the underlying fixtures.”


"It is clear that the majority of better performing managers generally focused on using these chips during the double and blank GWs with 79.4pc choosing to play their BB chip during DGW35 in comparison to only 28.9pc of those in the rest of the dataset,” the study showed.

“We also observe the difference in point returns as a result of playing the chip, with the distribution for the top managers being centred around considerable higher values, demonstrating that their squads were better prepared to take advantage of this chip. The fact that the managers were willing to wait until one of the final game weeks is also indicative of the long-term planning that separates them from those lower ranked.”


Forward thinking on transfer policy and budgetary constraints – each team only has £100m to spend on players at the start – was also listed as a key element for success. It indicated supply and demand as a reason for price fluctuation of players that managers are looking to transfer.

For those unaware of the FPL system, each manager is entitled to one transfer each week, but the affordability of such a player depends on the value of the player sold and the funds a manager already has leftover.

"At a macro-level this phenomenon of price changes is governed by the aforementioned supply and demand, but these forces are themselves governed by a number of factors affecting the player including, but not limited to, injuries, form, and future fixture difficulty,” the study showed.

"As such, managers who are well-informed on such aspects may profit from trading via what is in essence a fundamental analysis of players’ values by having them in their team prior to the price rises.”

The full study by Joseph O’Brien, Professor James Gleeson, and Dr David O’Sullivan, based within the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UL is available to read here:


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