In the following article, we review the best currently low owned options in Fantasy Premier League and how they compare to some of the more popular picks. We also look at the projected points model on fantasyfootballfix.com to try and predict the differentials with the most upside over the early weeks of the season.
Following on from last week’s template review article, we now review the best differential options based on current ownership on the official FPL site.
A high performing differential is perhaps the holy grail for FPL managers. Sometimes they come in the form of a one week punt, or being first to pick a low owned player about to hit top form. No matter what fashion they are discovered in, their impact can be enormous, a haul of ten or more points by a player under 5% owned can be enough to turn a red arrow into a solid green one.
Diamond in the rough or a needle in a haystack, pick your term, finding a legitimate differential is as difficult a task as they come in FPL. It’s a way of playing that is laced with as much risk as reward too, opting for low owned players usually means parting with someone higher owned and as such the point swing both good and bad can be huge.
Consider also that well-owned players are that way for a reason, and low owned players the same. The very best FPL managers are often risk adverse, they don’t fight the template but merely find ways to work alongside it by accepting that there are some players not worth going against.
The key is to remain flexible, using your eye and the data available to spot when opportunities arise to differentiate. Those subtle changes, the odd transfer here or there that replaces a popular pick with a low owned one that ends up performing better can be season defining.
We’ll start at the back. Goalkeeper is the least exciting position in the game and as such it is normally best to find a suitable pick and stick with them. ‘Set and forget’ is a term in FPL parlance that you’ll hear or read almost everyday if you’re a regular consumer of Fantasy Premier League content and should be the goal when picking a goalkeeper, rather than a throwaway statement.
Robert Sanchez (£4.5m) and Emi Martinez (£5.5m) are by someway the highest owned keepers at the time of writing, the template appears fairly set for now.
Firstly, a glance at the fixtures tells us that over the first nine gameweeks neither Brighton or Leicester are near the top of the ticker on Fantasy Football Fix. The above table is sorted by defensive difficulty and it’s Arsenal and Leeds that have caught my eye.
Bernd Leno (£5.0m) and Illan Meslier (£5.0m) are both selected by less than 6% of players at present, I think it’s only the extra £0.5m over Sanchez that has put FPL managers off the pair.
However, the numbers suggest that the extra spend could well be worth it. Leno, in particular, looks like a very shrewd investment. Last season the German shot-stopper accumulated the second highest expected points (xFPL) total according Fantasy Football Fix, his total of 141.70 was only bettered by Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel (£5.0m).
Leno is also predicted to start this season well, as the table below shows.
Over the first nine weeks the Arsenal man has the highest projected points total of any keeper in the game, with 39.9. Leno has historically been quite strong for save points and with many assuming the Gunners’ defence will improve it could be wise to avoid the rotation in their backline and opt for a consistent presence at the back.
Meslier also looks a strong bet. The Leeds keeper is projected to be the third highest scorer over the first nine weeks and lead the league for bonus accrued and baseline bonus last season. We don’t quite know what to expect from Leeds yet as their defence went from being porous to fairly solid last campaign. At the very least Meslier will make a lot of saves, and will be a candidate to haul in games where Marcelo Bielsa’s side do keep a clean sheet.
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The news of Tariq Lamptey (£4.5m) continuing to struggle with injury had FPL managers scrambling over the weekend, the popular full back is still owned by 17.9% of the game despite now looking likely to miss GW1.
Rayan Ait Nouri (£4.5m) comes up best according the points projection and is only 1.2% owned at present. It has to be acknowledged that his prospects appear to massively improve from GW4, so it is likely that he will need to be carried on the bench or transferred in then.
The Wolves starlet has played out of position on the left side of midfield in both friendlies under new manager Bruno Lage. Whether this will continue remains to be seen, Wolves don’t yet have a full compliment of attacking players available and it’s quite possible Ait Nouri could be moved to left back or benched entirely once more options are fully fit.
Should he continue in midfield then history has taught us not to pass up such an opportunity. Stuart Dallas (£5.5m) and John Lundstram have both written themselves into FPL folklore with their out of position heroics in recent seasons.
Calum Chambers (£4.5m) has rapidly come into view for FPL managers, the Arsenal defender scored and assisted in their most recent friendly and with Hector Bellerin (£4.5m) set to leave it looks like Chambers could be in line for a starting spot.
It has to be noted that teammate Cedric (£4.5m) creates an annoying dilemma and rotation is no doubt bound to happen. However, if it looks likely that Chambers will start the season then a punt on the man who averaged more shots in the box (SiTB) per 90 minutes than any other Arsenal defender last season could be shrewd.
Arsenal rotate well with Leeds and Brighton, so it would be easy to bench Chambers for his side’s tough fixtures in GW2 and GW3. With only 0.4% ownership, Chambers looks a great option for GW1.
Brighton’s Lewis Dunk (£5.0m) is another player I like and is just 6.3% owned. The Seagulls’ captain has averaged 129 points over his last two seasons and accrued 17 bonus points in each. No defender has scored more goals than Dunk since he arrived in the Premier League four years ago, spending that extra £0.5m could well be the best way to replace Lamptey.
Sadio Mane (£12.0m) had a season to forget in 2020/21, the Liverpool attacker recorded his lowest goal involvement total (22) since his Southampton days and as such is only in 3.2% of teams.
Mane actually ranked second of all midfielders for non-penalty expected goals (npxG) and under performed by almost three goals over the campaign.
Clearly, it is tough to pick Mane over colleague Mo Salah (£12.5m) purely based on the latter taking penalties. However, there could be a case for choosing the Senegalese over the more popular, and similarly priced, Bruno Fernandes (£12.0m) and Kevin De Bruyne (£12.0m).
Mane runs Salah close on the projected points model and is someway clear of Fernandes over the first nine weeks. With Liverpool’s start being so strong it could be hugely lucrative to double up on their attack and bet on Mane reverting back to the level he set in previous seasons. At his price it is also very easy to jump to another option should the punt not work.
You may notice that Raheem Sterling (£11.0m) tops the projection, due to his lack of minutes and the constant rotation at Man City last season I would hold off on considering him until we get a better idea of how they’ll lineup this time around.
Ismaila Sarr (£6.0m) is currently just 6.8% owned according the official FPL site. The Watford midfielder scored 107 points in just over 2000 minutes during his previous Premier League campaign, a more than respectable total when averaged out over an entire season.
Watford rank sixth on the above fixture ticker, when sorted by attacking potential, and Sarr’s points projection of 33.7 over that time is better than the more popular (and more expensive) options Kai Havertz (£8.5m), Mason Mount (£7.5m) and Jadon Sancho (£9.5m).
As well as possessing bristling pace, Sarr is also predicted to play out of position up front and to be the Hornets’ penalty taker. These three attributes alone could lead to him being hugely under priced at £6.0m.
Emile Smith Rowe (£5.5m) is another option I really like. The newly anointed number ten looks set for a more prominent role in Mikel Arteta’s side this campaign and showed glimpses of his quality in limited minutes last season.
ESR, as he is often called, is easy to bench at his price and starts the season with a plum fixture away to new boys Brentford. Arsenal are not the most creative side in the league, but at such a low cost there is little risk in punting on an asset with far more upside than his price tag suggests. At 6.7% owned a GW1 haul would give the managers brave enough to trust ESR a big headstart.
The forward position is particularly stacked this season, with a plethora of options between £6.0m to £8.5m. With such a spread of options we are also likely to see a spread in ownership, only Ivan Toney (£6.5m) and Ollie Watkins (£7.5m) are currently over 30% owned among the mid-priced options.
Callum Wilson (£7.5m) defied injury and the poor form of his Newcastle side to deliver 18 attacking returns (12 goals, 6 assists) last season. In fact, Wilson logged the highest xFPL per 90 total of any forward priced under £10m, a sign that when fully fit he should be considered as a serious option.
Wilson also posted a strong xG per 90 total of 0.44 and is one of the best players in the league for percentage of his side’s goal involvement, when Newcastle score then their new number nine is often a factor.
Newcastle play a number of last season’s weaker defences in their opening few games and Wilson has so far looked fit and sharp in the Magpies’ friendly matches.
The former Bournemouth man is the clear talisman for his current club and is also on penalties, at under 5% owned he looks like a really strong pick and currently partners the aforementioned Watkins and Michail Antonio (£7.5m) in my own side.
The £0.5m saving and uncertainty over new manager Rafa Benitez’s approach makes Wilson a better option than Dominic Calvert-Lewin (£8.0m) in my books. If Newcastle can continue the attacking form they showed at the end of last season then they could well surprise FPL managers in the opening weeks.
Gabriel Jesus (£8.5m) has been a frustrating option in recent years, in part down to the presence of City legend Sergio Aguero. With the Argentine gone, and no replacement signed yet, it could be down to Jesus to lead the line at the Etihad.
This pick is perhaps the riskiest so far and is entirely dependent on not only City’s transfer plans but also early team news prior to GW1. Should Jesus secure enough minutes then he is projected to be the third highest scoring forward over the opening nine weeks, making £8.5m a potential bargain. An explosive City forward owned by only 3.4% of the game is a hard option to resist.
The major issue is Jesus’ price, sacrifices will likely need to be made elsewhere to fit the Brazilian around the current template. However, if he continues to prove frustrating it is easy to drop down to one of the many cheaper options at striker.
Chris Wood (£7.0m) is my final pick at just 2.8% owned, fresh off the back of his best ever Premier League season. The Burnley hitman managed 138 FPL points and hasn’t dipped under the 130 mark in his last three seasons.
Burnley’s opening ten or so fixtures are better than many fixture difficulty ratings perhaps give them credit for, and with Sean Dyche appearing to favour a more attacking approach last campaign it could be a fruitful opening run for Wood.
Indeed, over the opening nine games Wood is expected to score more points than any sub £7.5m forward and only Antonio is expected to score more out of the £7.5m options.
His price makes him an easy leap to Ivan Toney or if £0.5m can be found then there are plenty of choices in the bracket above. The New Zealander will be looking to build on his best season in claret and blue, and is probably slightly under priced given the consistency of his output over the long term.
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More to come
We hope you enjoyed our first look at some differentials ahead of the 2021/22 Fantasy Premier League season. We have plenty more planned for pre season and will be publishing advice, team reveals and more strategy guides right up until the big kickoff.
Be sure to keep your eyes on the FPL Connect twitter page for all our latest releases, this season promises to be our biggest yet.
*Underlying statistics, projection tools and fixture ticker obtained via the author’s paid subscription to Fantasy Football Fix*