Oxford mathematician reveals how maths can help you win Fantasy Football

An Oxford university mathematician has revealed how thinking mathematically could boost your Fantasy Football ranking.

Fantasy Premier League is played by over eight million people and the coveted top prize for this year’s champion includes a seven-night break in the UK including VIP hospitality tickets to two Premier League matches in 2022/23.

Oxford maths whizz Joshua Bull said the strategic thinking that mathematicians and chess champions possess can give them an advantage when looking at the weeks ahead.

Not only is Joshua an Oxford mathematician – he was also named the Fantasy Premier League champion in 2019/20.

Day to day, Joshua uses maths to tackle complex problems by breaking them down into smaller and simpler examples.

“You can apply the exact same logic to fantasy football,” he wrote on the Oxford blog. “So, you’ve got all of this data out there and you want to know how making your team choice is going to impact on your points. That’s the kind of thing that you can quite happily model mathematically. These are the things I was thinking about, even if I wasn’t writing down equations.”

When you’re first getting set up on Fantasy Football, you have to assemble an initial squad of 15 players with a budget of £100 million.

Ahead of the Gameweek deadlines, you have to select 11 players from your squad to make your team. Your formation must include one goalkeeper, at least three defenders and at least one forward.

The price of players changes throughout the season depending on their popularity. You can swap out your players and make transfers, but tweaking too much could cost you valuable points.

He explained: “All the teams play once and then you can make transfers. You can only make one or two changes per week. If you want to make any more than that it starts costing you points – you have to pay a forfeit. So, there’s a real optimisation problem where there are players you might want to bring in, but it’s not necessarily easy to say ‘I want them in my team, so I’ll get them in my team.’

“Everybody knows at the start of the year which players are going to get most points, but as a result they’re priced accordingly. [sic]

“So, you have the question, do I have a few very expensive people but have to make compromises for the rest of my team? Or do I have less of those expensive players and have a more balanced team? In itself – that’s a classic maths problem.”

Joshua said that some people even write algorithms for Fantasy Football.

“Some of those are more successful than others,” he said. “But it’s not the case that it’s a game that a computer is better at than a person.”

Although there’s no equation that can tell mathematicians how exactly to tailor their Fantasy Football strategy, in a 2020 lecture Joshua did share the strategy that helped him secure the champion accolade in 2019/20.

Here they are:

  • Choose a few expensive players and stick with them
  • Don’t immediately ditch players after one bad week, give them a chance.
  • Don’t make transfers just to bring in someone who has had an incredible week. Instead, use transfers to get rid of underperformers. 
  • If in doubt, make Mo Salah your captain

Ipswich Town supporter Joshua also joked that you should steer clear of selecting players from Norwich, his favourite club’s biggest rival.

His strategy for last year, based on the learnings from the previous years, was to:

  • Continue making transfers to get rid of underperformers, not to scoop up players who did well last week.
  • Think about fixtures over form when selecting a captain. 
  • Think about form over fixtures when making transfers.

Although there are strategies you can employ, it seems a little bit of luck is also needed, even if you are an Oxford mathematician.

For a more in-depth guide on everything you need to know about Fantasy Football, check out the Independent’s full explainer.

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