How the top managers prepare during the FPL pre-season

By Drafthound Team 1st September 2020
7 min read

Part 1 of 3 of our pre-season guide. Any serious FPL manager begins preparing for the new season as soon as players report for pre-season. They will use this time to gather information on transfers, new managers, lineups, and key players - and you should too!


This article serves to highlight the do’s and don’ts of the FPL pre-season and early GW’s based on the approaches of the top 1% of FPL managers.

The FPL is best approached as a game with different stages that change throughout the course of the campaign. Each stage works very differently, so you’ll have to adapt your approach throughout the season. Those who consistently earn top ranks in FPL understand this and adapt accordingly.

The season can be divided into three stages

  • Start of the season (including pre-season)
  • The winter program
  • The season finale

We’ll be focussing on the pre-season and the early GW’s in this post but make sure to sign up for our newsletter and come back later in the campaign to align your strategy.

Start of the season - building your player watchlist

When scouting potential players for your first XI, you’ll do well to look for players that meet the following criteria and start building a player watchlist from which your first squad will be picked.

Look for regular starters

At this stage of the season, lineup rotation is at its lowest (please remember, Pep) so ensure that those your XI will actually start the game and preferably play all 90 minutes to maximise the amount time they have to score points.

Covering ‘risky’ starters by spending too much money on the bench isn’t recommended as the maximum amount of money should be spent on your on-field players and as little “as possible” on the bench (as also explained below “Enablers” and in the bench zoom-in in “Drafting your first squad".

Remember that if you own any player who doesn't regularly play in the early GW’s, you risk them being sold and dropping in value which hampers your budget and might even force you to make costly transfers early on in the season.

Look for high ownership

Play the percentages. A necessary part of - perhaps not starting off really well - but rather avoid starting way behind, is to ensure you pick players with a high level of ownership - including the highest owned player in the game.

If you own the highest owned player you obviously won’t catapult yourself to the top if they perform, but by doing this, you are hedging against the risk of falling in rank by a large margin in case they do deliver. So look out for our “popularity” tag.

Example: If you're undecided between Salah (+33%) or Mane (+12%), you probably want to go with Salah.

Look at the fixtures

The top FPL managers do everything in their power to avoid hits throughout all stages of the season. The fixtures enable you to plan ahead and build a strategy and rotation plan for your team. Defenders’ FPL points are generally very dependent on fixtures (particular for clean sheets) whereas midfielders and forwards are traditionally less affected in this aspect and more reliant on recent form. Plan straight with our fixture tool.

Example: On paper Liverpool vs. Manchester City is a bad fixture for defenders but recent years’ games between the two in the Premier League have seen a lot of goals which suggest that there are still points to be made for midfielders and forwards.

Look for out-of-position players (OOP's)

These are players’ that play a different position than what’s logged in the FPL and by extension gets a point advantage in comparison with others in the same position (Out-Of-Position). If players meet the other criterias in this list then being an OOP can serve as the last deciding factor for drafting your team. To help you out, we have included an “OOP” tag on relevant players. This said, don’t get over-excited - rule of thumb is always to consider, if you’ve made the pick, had the player been assigned its right position (goals may give higher FPL points but BPS could minimize this).

Look for the talismen

You should always include those who already have a pedigree in the Premier League in your watchlist - think KdB. Be aware that whilst they might perform consistently over the course of the season they might have to find their feet in the first couple of GW’s but eventually people will start to transfer in these players anyways (remember Aguero always hattricks the GW before you transfer him in).

Look for the enablers

Budget is king, and as everyone can tell that Salah and KdB look like great picks, finding the 4.0 defender that “enables” you to get more premiums, is a critical part of top1% managers’ game. So make sure to find those cheap regular starters who you can keep on the bench and who despite not scoring many points will free up budget for better players in the starting XI.

Look for the bookmakers' predictions

Bookmakers’ are the industry's leading predictors - so put your trust in them and use their odds to your own advantage. The lack of actual data makes this stage in the season the hardest to predict so sticking to the bookmaker’s is - and will always be - the most shrewd thing to do when predicting the outcome of football games.

Top managers look at odds on upcoming fixtures and players (e.g win-odds, clean sheet-odds, +2 goal odds and anytime goalscorer) but the pros also know the long-term advantage of continuously keeping an eye on who’s the favorite for the ‘Golden Glove (most clean sheets)’, ‘Golden Boot (most goals)’, League Winners and who’s favorite to be relegated. Odds are already translated into bookmaker probabilities on Drafthound, and we’ll keep adding more insights (when relevant).

Avoid unnecessary punts

If this is your style of play and you think it’s more fun, then you should just skip this part. In general, however, those who play for the top 1% rank will avoid punts in this stage of the season. You aren’t playing catch up so there is no need to seek differential to increase volatility just yet (so don’t go nuts on our “differential” tag just yet).

Example: If your punt pays off then you get some extra points and you avoid a transfer in case they become essential. You probably won’t want to sell your punt if they succeed so the budget gained is trivial and if you do decide to sell anyways you only get half of what you gained - and it properly won’t allow you to buy anyone relevant this early in in the season anyway unless you combine it with a hit (which you want to avoid).

If, however, your punt fails to perform, you lose points and you’ll need to use a transfer to replace them. Their price will also fall quicker than with more popular players and even a 0.1m price drop is effectively a 0.5m in the budget at this stage of the season (as will also be explained later).

Be aware of new managers

A new manager might bring about changes to team formation, tactics, and lineups which means added uncertainty around player minutes and performances.

Be aware of new signings

Fielding new players can be enticing but remember that unless you have confidence in them playing regularly and adapting quickly to a new club and league other alternatives might be less risky and still produce the same output. Werner, anyone?

Be aware of promoted teams

Some promoted players might be “obvious” enablers but no one can predict how a team or player will adapt to the Premier League - effectively making them punts.

Be aware of pre-season in-form players

Look for - and question - the value of pre-season fixtures and player form. Meaning that whilst pre-season form can be used as a benchmark for lack of better insights. you still need to be skeptical about whether that form will carry into the competitive season - which history shows it won’t (“don’t tell Barkley it’s not pre-season”). Most top managers will use the pre-season information to lure on tactics (style of play) and predicted lineups. Not much more.


You are obviously not going to find 25 players for your watchlist that meets all of the above criteria but they should still serve as important key criteria and pitfalls to avoid when building your player watchlist.


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