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Genie's Free Agents FC Challenge: Midseason Review

Some of you will know that I have taken on a near impossible challenge. Try to win a competitive 12 team league without having had any draft picks. In the draft I simply drafted reserve goalies and youth players, and then waited a few days post draft to be allowed to pick up my players. We are now 16 weeks in, and it has taken a lot of effort on the waiver wire (almost forgot to mention I was the only manager in the league without any FAB), and a few selling super high type trades to keep this squad a float. The end goal was always to be in title contention come the last few weeks of the season, but most members of the league and community weren't expecting more than a 10th-11th place finish. There are a lot of key takeaways from this experiment that will hopefully peak your interest in this read, and give you some advice for your regular leagues.

Current Team Construction/Standings

At the time of writing Free Agents FC sits 6th with 1320 fpts, but only 2 wins off top spot. It has been an up and down season so far, but to be at least .500 was always the goal, and it is looking good so far. Staying just above water before the World Cup break to have a chance at pushing for the title is where this team stands. It took a lot of churning, and picking up assets early, on top of some massive gambles in defensive stacks and starting unknown players, but some of these risks paid off with big wins against top teams.

FAFC currently consists of a few mainstays: Almiron, Aribo, Gibbs-White, Willian, Shaw, Mbeumo, Diaz, and Casemiro for now. Those are 8 players all picked up (or traded for) at some point in the season who have been great for the squad either due to upside or just being very consistent players. 4 of these players are midfielders and 3 are forwards, resulting in a very solid attack for FAFC. The issue comes in choosing the final attackers (Diaz injured, and Casemiro rotates in and out), along with the defence. You can see this is the current squad before GW16 waivers with a lot of free roster spots. A United defensive stack ripped apart by Villa is on the wire (bar Shaw). Each week you can see the biggest pickups come on the defensive side of things, or rotating players such as Schlupp for players with better matchups. Guaita is another example of a short term play given he has just played West Ham and now plays the worst team in the Prem.

Week to Week Strategies

Each week Free Agents FC has the daunting task of trying to out-score superstars. When Almiron is your best player you will feel like the underdog when a team rosters De Bruyne, Toney, Barnes, Firmino, and Grealish. A tough ask from the set-and-forget tandem of Aribo + Almiron to match up against. I usually base my strategy each week on my opponent's lineup/matchups. Obviously, I have a few set-and-forget players in - Almiron, Aribo, Shaw, and Willian, but then what about the other 6-7 roster spots? I have some steady players on the bench ready to line up, but sometimes need to think outside the box. Some weeks I will go all in on a defensive stack (did that one week with Palace, United, Chelsea, and Spurs), if it doesn't pay off then oh well wasn't going to be a great week anyways, but if it does it gives me a serious shot to win the gameweek.

I'll also usually scour the FA pool on Thursday and Friday looking for upside players who might get surprise starts or on a team that might have a good chance of a big result with lots of possession. Most of the time I need to find the balance between upside and stability (like most managers), but when you roster mainly Free Agent level players the balance has to be perfect. Flexibility is a must week to week during a matchup. If I need a major upside play I always have a few late-game players I am ready to drop to get a clean sheet stack, or stack 2-3 mids/forwards from the same team hoping for a link-up to win me the week. Adding on to flexibility, even more so than in a league with draft picks I have no room to be sentimental, everyone is droppable at any point. There is no waiting for long injuries, or to pick up form (except of course for Luis Diaz who is by far the best player to ever be rostered on this team thanks to some trades). Everyone else is expendable - even my first-round pick Kepa.

World Cup Roster Plans

Over the World Cup I do have a strategy to be ready for when games resume. I'll be looking to pick up as many of the out-of-form/injured players that were dropped as possible. Usually, this wouldn't be my route in a normal league, but with so many available roster spots I am hoping to have a few players return to form/the XI post-WC. Players can include the likes of Fofana, Varane, Norgaard, Kante, Jimenez, and any out-of-form players that may pop up. While these aren't exactly high-performing superstars (don't forget this is still a very competitive 12-team league), these names all have the potential to produce on their day. If I can hold 4-6 of them through the World Cup it will give me some decisions when games return. I can see where players are in their training progress and the likelihood for them to break back into the XI within 1-3 GWs of a return. These types of players provide good stability and potential upside value, but most important of all potential trade value. If Fofana + Kante start performing to the levels we know they can then it is possible I can package them to a manager for maybe a lesser name but one with more upside: think players like Aaronson and Joelinton. For the most part, though I don't plan to tinker much throughout the World Cup, and I really recommend you try and tinker as little as possible as well.

Chasing the Title Strategies

With 21 gameweeks left when the World Cup returns, now is the time for myself, and well everyone to make a serious go at winning the league. Well, honestly there's not too much I can change outside of my week-to-week strategies. The only difference is being ready for double gameweeks, with so much flexibility those will be the weeks I need as many DGW players as possible to try and really close the Fpts gap. The goal will be to have 20-22 starters in those weeks. While FAFC isn't significantly behind in Fpts, these are the weeks to really make up the ground. On top of this, blank gameweeks come into play. The 11 other managers have fewer "droppable" players than myself and at least half the teams will start less than 11 players in significant blank weeks. I need to ensure a full and as upside as possible starting 11 to get the wins in those gameweeks and again try to close the Fpts gap. Using these 3-5 weeks to hopefully get a 100% win ratio and close the Fpts gap will help me enter the title race for the final weeks of the season, and from there it's just about being active on the waiver wire and finding the right balance of upside and stability.

Navigating the Waiver Wire

By far the most crucial part of this league. I can have all the strategies and gameplans in the world, but if I forget a waiver run, FAFC will struggle massively that week. Let's start with the fact I had 0 FAB from the get-go so am already at a disadvantage. Each week I start by dropping as many players as possible. If they aren't in the plans for the next 2 GWs then they are dropped (Diaz the exception with his injury). All drops are made right after a gameweek, then I start to sift the waivers for that week. I don't even bother submitting a bid for a big name if they are on the WW since I have no FAB and would rather have my tiebreaker used in a claim for a more realistic player. I look for as many upside players as possible, and regardless of position those are always at the top of my claims (this is usually 2-4 players each week). After that I look for what positions I need each week, and find a mix of solid midfielders or defenders with clean-sheet potential for the rest of my claims. If I am looking to form a stack that week either with an attacking link-up or clean sheets then that will always be the priority. Once waivers clear I take a quick look at who is now on my roster, and quickly look at the FA pool to see if I can make any better swaps, either players I missed, or maybe my claims brought in way too many defenders/midfielders and need the other position. Then usually I let it sit until Thursday/Friday then finalize the pickups/roster for the gameweek. This is probably the league that needs the most time for entering waiver claims.

Managing Trades

Trading in this league has been seemingly impossible, but I have managed a few trades thanks to some great pickups to start the season who have now performed well. Below are all the trades I have made this season, with the biggest one bringing in Luis Diaz at the start of his 6-8 week injury. I really have no regrets here other than giving up Andreas + Willian for Gray, but luckily Willian was dropped and is now back on FAFC. A lot of these trades have required me to trade my most in-form players to managers who desperately need slightly better than FA-level players for 1 semi-decent asset to add to the team. Going forward trades from me will involve targeting players who have a great run of 6-7 fixtures who might be able to hit some form, as well as trading in players that fit with my short-term strategy, whether that be a United stack for the next 6 weeks, or maybe targeting a Saints attacker to pair Aribo, etc..but in this league there can never be trading for the sake of trading, every trade needs to fit team construction not just simply trying to buy low, sell high.

Final Thoughts

This has probably been one of my favourite experiments in fantasy, and we aren't even halfway there. I will definitely be doing this again next season, and think of new ways to make it even more challenging. Having teams like this really helps my ability to scout hidden gems in other leagues before others get the chance to roster them. The best takeaway here for everyone in their own draft leagues is to try and stay 1 step ahead when it comes to the FA pool. Have a list of players you are monitoring and if you sense a good fixture, don't be afraid to hold them on your bench to see if your hunch comes true. As well with trades, I have found my most effective trades to be this season (not in this league per se), but learning about the importance of trading more so for team construction as opposed to just pure value. It is okay to overpay for a FWD3, with 2 "set and forget MID3s" if you only had the room to start 1 each week due to your midfield depth. Roster construction should be the #1 factor in a trade way more than just pure "am I winning" type value.

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