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FPL tips: ‘Real’ fixture difficulty shows Saints and Blues have it easy

Chelsea v Southampton – Premier League – Stamford Bridge
(Image credit: Tess Derry)

Studying fixture difficulty is one way for Fantasy Premier League bosses to work out which players to buy, but hidden data could help you make a more informed decision.

The FPL website offers a Fixture Difficulty Rating system (FDR) which assigns a score from one to five to each match, based on the opponent and which team is at home.

However, that system is limited, with just three bands of difficulty – two, three and four – covering the lion’s share of fixtures.

Buried in the FPL website’s code however is a metric called ‘Strength’, which appears to power the FDR rating.

Helpfully, strength is presented on a much more granular scale – for example, the Strength data rates a visit from Norwich at 1010, while a trip to the Etihad scores 1360.

We have stretched these ratings over a one to five scale to offer a more detailed version of the FDR that you will find on the website.

So what does it tell us about the next five gameweeks?

A graphic showing the fixture difficulty for Premier League teams in their next five games

Saints to march on

Southampton’s players celebrate scoring their side’s second goal of the game during the Premier League match at St. James’ Park, Newcastle. Picture date: Saturday August 28, 2021

(Owen Humphreys/PA)

The data shows that Southampton have the easiest run of upcoming fixtures on paper at least, averaging a fixture difficulty of 1.71 over the next five games.

The Saints face Leeds (h), Burnley (h), Watford (a), Aston Villa (h) and Norwich (a) – while Norwich away is rated two out of five by the FPL, our modified rating shows a trip to Carrow Road is more like a 1.23 out of five.

Winless so far this season having played Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea already, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men have a great chance to get their season going now.

If they do find form, two bargains at the back might be worth considering – goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and defender Tino Livramento.

McCarthy is one of the cheaper goalies in the league at £4.5m, and has 23 points to his name so far, while Livramento is defying his £4m starting price with two clean sheets and an assist.

Blues can’t lose?

Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell (centre) celebrates scoring their side’s third goal of the game with team-mates during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, London. Picture date: Saturday October 2, 2021

(Tess Derry/PA)

Managers with a bit more of their budget to spare might be interested to know that Chelsea’s run of upcoming fixtures was rated second-most favourable behind the Saints, at an average of 1.85 per game.

Brentford (a), Norwich (h), Newcastle (a), Burnley (h) and Leicester (a) lie in wait for the table-toppers, and their next two fixtures provide context as to the limitations of the standard FDR.

Brentford (a) and Norwich (h) are both rated two out of five for difficulty by the FPL, but our modified rating suggests hosting the Canaries is a one out of five difficulty, while a trip to Brentford is actually more like a 2.03 out of five.

These fixtures might make the Blues an appealing option, but their premium players are not without their problems.

Marcos Alonso is the highest scoring player on the team in terms of FPL points (39) but was replaced by Ben Chilwell in the team’s latest game.

Romelu Lukaku meanwhile has failed to find the net in three games, while the likes of Kai Havertz and Mason Mount are currently being outscored in the points stakes by Mateo Kovacic.

Theatre of screams

(left to right) Manchester United’s Fred, Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo and Victor Lindelof show their dejection after conceding a goal during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday September 25, 2021

(Martin Rickett/PA)

After losing to Aston Villa and drawing against Everton, the last thing Manchester United need is the hardest fixture list in the league, but it is what they must contend with for the next few games at least.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side face Leicester (a), Liverpool (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester City (h) and Watford (a) in their next five, at an average difficulty rating of 3.49 per game.

Games at Old Trafford against Liverpool and champions City are both rated 4.77 out of five for difficulty according to our modified system, while trips to Leicester and Tottenham are rated higher than three.

With players like Cristiano Ronaldo (£12.6m) and Bruno Fernandes (£11.8m) at their disposal it should not be beyond United to win each of those games.

However, with the former blanking in his last two games and the latter in his last three, FPL bosses may be reluctant to take a risk on a change of fortune given those players’ high price brackets.