Fantasy ALM guide and a look at Melbourne City options
The long-awaited Fantasy A-Leagues game was finally unveiled by the APL yesterday and the excitement generated online looks like a promising indication of the uptake it will receive.
'Fantasy' games are a great way of promoting interest in the league as they encourage players to become familiar with teams and players whose matches they wouldn't otherwise be interested in.
As an avid player of Fantasy Premier League (FPL), ShePlays (a previous Fantasy ALW), and A-League Dream Team (a previous Fantasy ALM), I've always found the last one to be the most difficult to remain engaged with, as it has a far more complex scoring and pricing system than ShePlays but also has (besides a frustrating user interface) an abysmal lack of a content-creating community compared to FPL. Such an information-rich community helps Fantasy users to familiarise themselves with which players represent good options from teams around the league, as well as maintaining engagement with the game overall.
My hope is that this article can be used as a guide by both beginner and experienced Fantasy football players to inform their squad choices, particularly around City players, but also to guide their wider selections generally.
Therefore, this article will be broken up into three easily-navigable sections. If you have never played Fantasy football (FPL, FAL) before, continue through to the 'Beginner' section, where I'll give a brief explanation of FAL, link you to the full rules if you're interested, and provide a series of general tips about the types of players that make attractive Fantasy options vs. those that don't.
If you're an experienced Fantasy manager, skip through to the 'Advanced' section, where I'm hoping you'll find value in some of the discussion around the (important) differences in point-scoring between FPL and FAL, a table of City's stat-leaders for all point-scoring stats and a rough 'fixture ticker/ difficulty rating' for our opening 10 games.
Finally, both beginner and experienced Fantasy managers should find value in the 'City players tier ranking' that concludes the article which will summarise a lot of the points discussed throughout and will provide a quick reference for the most attractive Fantasy options within the City squad.
So, you've never played Fantasy football before? Welcome to the club; you'll soon be wondering why you bothered to watch that 5pm Sunday game between Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory just because you captained Beka Mikeltadze (and he didn't even score!).
FAL in a sentence? Pick a 15-player squad with a $4,000,000 budget, select your best XI and hope dearly that the players you've entrusted perform well in their real-life ALM games via goals, assists, clean sheets or (a crucial quirk of FAL) statistics like tackles, blocks, shots on target, successful crosses/dribbles, etc. (scroll to the advanced section for a full breakdown of the points scoring system if you're interested).
As writing 'explainer' articles is the APL's burden and not mine, that's as far as I'll go with the basics. If you've got further questions by the end of this beginner section, head to the FAL Handbook which explains the game and its rules in detail.
From my very long one-sentence summary, we can already start to explore how you might evolve your squad-picking from 'Here are my favourite 15 players' to something a little more strategic.
Let's start with the fact that not even all 15 of those players score points; only 11 do, and that's worth factoring into your decision-making. Prioritise your funds for your best XI. Whilst a strong bench occasionally has its value, spending too heavily on 'just in case' bench options can diminish the quality of your actual point-scoring first XI.
This leads perfectly into my first general tip for player selection: Select players who are consistent starters. In practice, this looks like picking 11 good Fantasy options for your starting lineup and keeping bench picks to the cheapest available players, as they will rarely replace a player in your first XI unless that starter doesn't feature at all - an outcome we're trying to minimise. With that said, because starting players can only be replaced by bench players in the same position, it is worth trying to find cheap bench players who will at least be playing (and hence, point-scoring) in the event that they are required. You can find solid, cheap bench options at around the $165,000 mark (only $15,000 more than the game's cheapest players who often don't play at all), with Sydney FC defender Alex Wilkinson currently a popular bench pick for that price.
General tip #2 is that typically, when choosing between two similar options, the more attacking the player, the better. Take this one with a large handful of salt, as there are a lot of nuances and this idea will be described further in the advanced section (if you're interested). For now, it's just important to know that, for example, full-backs/wing-backs usually outscore centre-backs, and that defensive midfielders are similarly outperformed in FAL by their more advanced positional counterparts. Avoiding DMs, in particular, is pretty much tip #3.
My final squad-picking tip is that price isn't necessarily an indication of point-scoring ability. Try to identify these undervalued players as they will rise in price if they indeed perform well. Selling such a player at a profit is how you can increase your initial $4,000,000 budget to afford more expensive players later on. Young players who are about to have a breakout season, foreign A-League newcomers who are unknown quantities, and players who were injured/scored unusually low in 2021/22 are good examples of undervalued players to look out for.
To round out this section, I'll touch on a pair of extra tips that come into play once the FAL season is actually underway. Both revolve around a similar concept: fixture difficulty. Both in selecting your initial squad and then in making transfer/substitution/captain decisions throughout the season, target 'easy' fixtures and be cautious about 'difficult' fixtures.
To give an example, the game's most expensive player, Craig Goodwin, would be an ok captain option if he were playing away against the miserly Western United defence, but I'd be much more tempted by a Mathew Leckie or Beka Mikeltadze (the 8th and 9th most expensive) if they were playing against Perth Glory at home. This highlights the importance of having multiple (but not too many) 'premiums', to borrow an FPL term. 'Premiums' are the players that you would feel most comfortable captaining on any given gameday because they are reliably high point-scorers. I'll stay away from setting a price floor in an attempt tp define premiums, but players listed in the top 10 most expensive FAL options or marquee attackers like Jamie Maclaren or Nani could all be considered in this category.
If you've arrived here after enduring an explainer on Fantasy football and many concepts that you'll already be familiar with, hopefully there was at least something in there that you learned or have been reminded about. If you scrolled straight here, let's get into the nitty-gritty.
My assumption is that everyone who skipped to this point has played FPL before, which could be an issue, as we've got some learning to do; FAL has several key differences to FPL.
Skipping over the lack of single-team player limits and a bench system that is positionally locked (yuck.), the major difference is in the points scoring system. In addition to goals, assists and clean sheets, FAL also accounts for several attacking and defensive statistics in generating point tallies.
This KEEPUP article on the top 15 scorers from 2021/22 is a great case study into how these statistics influence the game's unique point-scoring system. With one point per save in FAL rather than FPL's system of goalkeepers only receiving a save point if they record a multiple of three, Jamie Young was able to generate the highest percentage of his points via saves last campaign. Two of the back three named in the 'top-scoring XI' generated most of their points via tackles, whilst the entire five-man midfield generated a higher percentage of their points from key passes than any other statistic. Only the front two had 'top statistics' related to goal involvements (assists for Nabbout and goals for Mikeltadze).
However, some of our traditional FPL logic still applies; around two-thirds of the top 20 defenders and midfielders were FBs/WBs and creative CMs/AMs/wingers respectively. The split between wingers and strikers was fairly even in the top 20 forwards.
Here's a table of the top three players for each of the point-scoring statistics in the 2021/22 season from the current City squad:
Shots on target
Successful dribbles per 90
Aerial duels (data unavailable)
*Total crossing data. Only successful crosses count towards points.
All data from FBRef, except for key passes, successful dribbles, clearances and blocks (FotMob).
Before getting into my rough attempt at a fixture ticker (make up your own mind about the difficulty of each) for our opening 10 games, it's worth touching on a hint that KEEPUP has given to us for free. In this article explaining point-scoring and player prices, the team behind FAL reveal: "New players to the league are priced lower than those whose A-League Men statistics would have produced a healthy scoring output in this scoring system last season."
Keep an eye out for such league newcomers who might be underpriced. From a City perspective, Valon Berisha ($267,000) is one player who I feel may provide greater value than many of the midfield options between $200,000 to $300,000. Having arrived at City in good shape thanks to his pre-season with Stade Reims and arriving on loan (implying he is still of some value to his parent club) to a league that is of a significantly lower standard than what he is accustomed to, Berisha is a favourite amongst the Talking City crew to perform strongly in the club's Player of the Season award.
Rounding out this section with a rough fixture ticker, I've tried to replicate the FPL app's fixture difficulty rating feature to give an overview of our opening 10 games. There are several reasons why the feature doesn't translate as well from the Premier League to the A-League, including a lack of 'dark red' opponents and a smaller pool of teams which means that a run of 'green' fixtures is rarer to see, but it's worth at least considering. This is a very subjective fixture difficulty rating primarily based on last season's table, so I would encourage you to evaluate your own judgements of how other teams are tracking. UPPERCASE indicates home fixtures, lowercase indicates away fixtures.
Melbourne City FAL player guide
Best in position: Leckie, Maclaren
Safe picks: Berisha, Berenguer, Nabbout
High risk, high reward: Tilio, Talbot, Bos
Defence: Good, Jamieson, Glover, Galloway, Reis
Avoid: O'Neill, Lam, van der Venne, Gomulka
Notes on tier list:
High risk, high reward players are all minutes risks, but could be great picks if they all cement starting roles; City blue was picked for this tier as they could be good or bad picks. Tilio has obvious exciting potential, Bos will get the clean sheet points of a defender and the dribbling, crossing and assist points of an attacker, regardless of where he is actually played by PK. Talbot will be a very cheap route into the City defence at just $210,000.
The City defence was leaky in 2021/22 and hasn't been convincing in pre-season, and the five players listed in Tier 4 aren't overly attractive Fantasy options in other stats.
Tier 5: You could do worse than O'Neill, but Lam is well overpriced and listed as a midfielder, meaning he'll miss out on clean sheet points even though he'll spend a lot of time in defence, van der Venne pales in comparison to Berisha at the same price and Gomulka is a second-choice DM, enough said.
If they're not featured in this tier list, avoid them like the plague. Specifically, that's all of City's options of $155,100 and below. They just won't play often enough to be useful.