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Fulfil your fantasies

Have you already accepted mid-table mediocrity for your Fantasy Premier League team? Not so fast. Fantasy football boffin Mark Sutherns is here to kick-start your mini-league revival

Don't dream it's over. The first, crucial lesson to learn is that a fantasy season is never done and dusted by Christmas. Even a massive mini-league game can be closed during the twists and turns that remain. It goes without saying that you will have to have a decent starting squad, make the right transfers and enjoy some good fortune. However, there are a number of strategies and windows of opportunity that you can use and exploit that will help you drag yourself back into that Fantasy Premier League (FPL) title race and keep one clammy mitt on that sweepstake cash.

IT'S A ROLLOVER

If you going to close a mini-league gap then transfers will have to be a vital component of your strategy. This season in the FPL, your options have been increased by the chance to save your free transfer in a given gameweek, in order to gain two free transfers in the following week. Use this to your advantage. Making two transfers in a gameweek can make it far easier to bring in a Gerrard or a Lampard for a kind home fixture. In turn, this gives you a chance to bring in a specific player as your captain and really bring in some big points. To give yourself the best opportunity to exploit the transfer rollover, it pays to have strength in depth, with players on your bench who will play week in week out. This will make it far easier to resist making a weekly transfer in order to double up your transfers in the following week.

BEDTIME READING

Make friends with the fixture list. Plaster it everywhere; leave a copy in the toilet, by your bed and on your desktop wallpaper. Study it and consider it at every opportunity. It's common sense that the easier a team's fixture, the more chance that their players have of scoring heavily in fantasy terms. Don't just consider the forthcoming weekend's fixtures, get a long-term view by breaking the fixture list down into chunks of five weeks. List the next five fixtures for each team and look for teams that have three home games in the next five games and those teams who are up against the weakest opposition. Players in these teams will have more chance of returning clean sheets and goals and this will help you form strategies for your team and transfer selection.

AT THE DOUBLE

When matches are postponed due to European or Domestic cup commitments, it creates a backlog of fixtures for some teams, which results in them playing more than one game in a given FPL gameweek. Players from these teams therefore have two opportunities to score points. Look out for these by studying the FPL gameweek allocations, listed under fixtures on the site. Figure out where these gameweeks fall and begin planning your strategy early. If you can get in three or four players who benefit from two matches, it can make a huge difference to your points tally for that gameweek. If you plan early, you shouldn't have to spend too many (if any) points to transfer these players into your squad.

SPOT THE DIFFERENCE

It's not enough to pick the right players; you have to pick the right players before your rivals. Having almost identical teams, or even identical key players to your rivals, won't help you catch up. Use the FPL website to view your rival's squads and monitor their transfer activity each week. Always consider players that they are ignoring and consider gambling on them to help you gain an advantage. Be warned, don't go crazy with this and ignore the safe bets and form players like a Gerrard or Lampard. Instead look to hone in on the mid-price and budget players in form.

CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY

The Christmas period is a vital one for Premier League and fantasy managers alike. With four or five games over a just a few weeks, it's a real test of your squad and nous in the transfer market. Because the fixtures are so congested, Premier League teams are likely to rotate their line-ups more than ever. That means that if you have players in your squad that are prone to rotation – Carvalho, Skrtel, Van Perise, Berbatov, etc – then there's every chance that they will miss one or two games over Christmas.

Plan for this early by either replacing them with players who are more secure when it comes to starting roles, or, better still, strengthen the players on your bench who will be auto-subbed in when rotation hits hard. Another huge issue with the Christmas period is that players pick up knocks and don't have the recovery time between games. Having a full squad of players who have a good chance of starting for their respective teams can give you a massive edge during the Christmas period.

OUT OF AFRICA

This season, Premier League and fantasy mangers have to contend with losing players to the African Cup of Nations. This takes place from January 10-31 and could see those players involved miss three to four matches. Many fantasy managers, including your rivals, will be somewhat unaware of this, so planning ahead can give you a big advantage at a crucial time in the season.

Keep an eye on those nations who have qualified for the tournament and be aware of the Premier League players this affects. As an example, the likes of Essien, Drogba, Mikel and Kalou are likely to be missing from the Chelsea squad. Not only do you have to make sure you don't have any of these players in your fantasy line-up, you should also consider which Chelsea players are likely to figure in Ancelotti's side as a result of their absence. So will Daniel Sturridge get an opportunity up front in January? If so, then he could be a real bargain at that point.

WINDOW WATCHING

The Premier League transfer window opens in January, which means we could see plenty of movement within squads up until February. Make sure you monitor this and try to identify players who have increased fantasy potential as a result of moving clubs. Suddenly, that young 4.5 defender sitting on the bench at a big club could become a regular at a mid-table side and present a decent budget purchase in fantasy terms. Be aware of how any transfer activity will affect your squad, staying on alert out for players that will come under threat of rotation and also those who may get more opportunities as a result of players moving on.

MIND GAMES

Granted this is a lot to take in. Even with these tips in your armoury, you'll need to make the right decisions at the right time but then, that's what fantasy football is all about. Don't forget, you can get weekly advice and information to help with all the areas I've mentioned, from my site at fantasyfootballscout.co.uk.

When all else fails, why not have some fun and consider playing some mind games with your rivals. Criticise their squads and signings and try to prompt errors in their judgement. You'd be surprised how the mind games of Benitez, Ferguson and Wenger can translate to the wonderful world of fantasy football.
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