After 4 installments, it is finally time to crack something that gets tossed around all the time in the FPL dictionary and everyone seems to have a different opinion about it – the differentials. Before we go deeper and look behind the scenes, let us stop at the definition of what a differential actually is. This is what the Chief @fplhints has written about it:
A differential is a player that is not owned by many FPL gamers but has the potential to obtain a high number of points and ultimately the successful differential does so. The fact is that as the season progresses more and more FPL teams begin to look the same, which means that there isn't much to differentiate you from other FPL gamers. Treat your FPL team like a business, i.e. they need a successful unique selling point, you need an almost unique player.
Plan ahead and look at various factors ranging from upcoming fixtures, injuries, suspensions along with under-picked gems. Such thinking could help you discover a winner. I define a differential as a Premier League player that is owned by less than 5% of FPL gamers. Other definitions may put that at 1% or less, but I think 5% is a good cut off point to determine a differential. Be careful not to go overboard on differentials as it could prove risky if they lack in appearances, show inconsistent form or are squad rotated often. Perhaps limit yourself to one differential per position at the very most. Ultimately picking a differential will differentiate you from the FPL pros and the FPL amateurs.
Overall, I agree with the definition. The differential needs to have differential qualities if we want to achieve differentiation (kind of makes sense, huh? J). Let us, for the sake of simplification, assume that there are three categories of FPL players out there, taking into the account their knowledge on FPL and football overall. While this might be a disturbing oversimplification for dedicated football fans, it will only be used to portrait the point. Alternatively, you can always skip this paragraph, no hard feelings from my side, I assure you.
I would say that a rookie is a player who is just starting with fantasy football and/or does not know much about Premier League (Blasphemy, right? By the way, that was me 3 years ago. Guilty on both counts.) An experienced player is someone who has played the game for a couple of years now and could properly identify 80% of players playing in Premier League. The All-stars are people who have followed Premier League for more than a decade and have played fantasy football since year 1. If you wake them up in the middle of the night, they can tell you how much was Torres worth (in FPL, of course) back in 2007 and who had the third assist in 5th game of GW7 in season 2011/12. Can you put yourself somewhere? J
Now, again for the sake of fun, let us assign each of these groups of players a description on how they play the differential card:
1) Rookies usually follow the lead, which in return offers them little to no differential. They usually scout the forums and when they see that the “experienced” or “all-star” players start talking about who is a “must have” for next GW, they go out and buy that “differential”.
2) Experienced players are for me the ones who follow the lead when necessary AND look for non-obvious differentials. I kind of think of them as the ones who only start to tap into the potential that these differentials can bring. If successful, they can reach for the stars (that was me last year), if not, they get discouraged and revert back to the rookie approach (me 2 years ago).
3) All-stars are, as said, the ones who know everything about football. Which usually takes a toll on them. They know so many different possible combinations of differentials that they usually end up taking too wild of differentials, just because they think other people might recognize the more “obvious” ones. Trust me when I say this, we don’t!
You might want to argue that this really is an oversimplification – and I do agree. But I do want to outline one conclusion that comes out of this - rookies can hardly bet on the differential as they try to follow the lead of experienced or veteran players and never actually own a differential as such as the differential is no longer a differential. Experienced players understand that in some cases you need to follow the herd and play it wisely with selecting just enough of a differential that it can boost your ranking and not hurt you in case it doesn’t work out. All-stars have played the game for a very, very long time and usually are the most knowledgeable about all things football. In my experience they usually take too much of a gamble which in certain cases might bring them over the top, but usually costs them in the rankings.
The point that I am trying to illustrate with this is that while it is really important to introduce a differential player or players every now and then, the player should really represent a differential, but a clever one. Make sure you disperse the risk and not just fill your team with differentials just because you know so much about football. If your differentials turn out to be failures, no one will regard you as an expert.
This, my dear reader, THIS is the million dollar question. And my honest answer would have to be – I don’t know. I really don’t. But before you get all upset, the thing is, no one really does. I believe this next comment that Mito 21 posted to one of my articles, sums it up perfectly, and I quote:
However, with this in mind, I have compiled a couple of advices for you on how to select the right differentials that have worked for me last year. And I would like to share them with you today.
1. Start the season with a differential
It is really important to have a good start to a season. Think about it – the higher you are in the rankings after the first couple of GWs, the less nutty differentials you need to take later in the season. Which means that you can play it safe (you know, RVP(c) safe), while others need to do all sort of crazy things if they ever want to catch you. Last year I opted for Torres as captain in GW1, knowing that the majority of FPL population will not even consider this “has-been” as a potential valid option for GW1. He rewarded me with 18 points, which is not too shabby. And I had Hazard and Michu in the first 11 and we all know what they did in the first part of the season. For me, THIS was the key to the successful season.
My advice – do your homework for GW1 and select 2-3 differentials (2-3 from high-tier and 1 from mid-tier – i.e. finding the next Michu)
2. Look for great players from good teams who have had a couple of below par games
This one is my favorite. I love when top players don’t score for a couple of GWs. You see, we are all really impatient and this is especially valid for all sort of games we play, from gambling to sport bets, to name just a few. And I just know when someone mentions that this and that player has not really delivered in the past couple of weeks (obviously using a more foul language) that we are going to have an exodus of people selling that player. So I wait and wait until I see the price drop and the ownership significantly decreases. That’s when I snatch him and grin. This is my ticket. Example? Suarez after GW 5. EVERYONE was selling him. I bought him when he was at his lowest value. And I knew Liverpool wasn’t as bad as it looked in the first couple of GWs. He immediately rewarded me with a hat-trick and instantly brought with him a differential of around 20 points.
3. Identify a player who is really, really cheap and could potentially explode – I.e. diamond in the rough
Point in case? Sterling. I got him for I think 4,6 M and he rewarded me with several goals, assists and snatching up bonus points. For 4,6M! Now that is a differential!
4. Look out for players on a mission or who have something to prove
These players might be out on a personal mission, like Torres was at the beginning of the season and I was oh so ready so take him into my team. You could sense that he really wanted to show that he still has some fire left in him and some good performances. And I have to admit that I actually thought that he is going to have an even better season than he ended up having. Suarez falls into this category as well, I mean, come on, he said at the beginning of the season that he will win the Golden Boot. You might not like him as a person, but man, his confidence and skill? Thirdly, at the end of the season, look for players who are battling relegation. They are for sure going to overdeliver on their price tag. Remember Remy? Kone?
At the end of the day, what I am trying to say is:
Try to be as smart as possible when playing the differentials card. Try not to overdo it and try not to follow the herd. Or, if you are a gambling man, bet all on 0 and maybe, just maybe, by the end of the season, you will be the newly crowned king of Fantasy Premier League. You never know…
As always, looking forward to your comments or a tweet on Twitter (@matejp23).
P.S. If you want to read (un)conventional “wisdoms” from #1 to #4, I have all of them here.
And as a special tribute to @TheLegendMito21 for using his quote in this article, my “About me” is wearing a special New York Knicks shirt. J