James Armstrong is a Sales & Marketing Manager for an IT company in Cambridge. But perhaps more interestingly to the readers of cpfc.co.uk, he tops the Palace fan league in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) and sits 32nd in the world out of an eye-watering 6.2 million managers.
For the uninitiated – FPL is nothing short of a global phenomenon as Roy Hodgson wannabes are tasked with selecting, tweaking and rotating a squad of 15 players within a £100m budget, with a maximum of three players from each club, over a 38 week campaign. Player prices fluctuate according to form and popularity, so to compete for bragging rights – you need a healthy dose of knowledge, luck, and time on your hands.
Armstrong has always been an impressive FPL force, finishing as high as 15,000th, and never lower than 50,000th in recent seasons – easily within the top 1%. But with just 13 weeks to go until this season’s FPL Champion is metaphorically crowned, he stands a genuine chance of scooping the coveted gong and being the envy of millions. So what’s been the catalyst this season?
“This year, I’ve spent far less time looking at stats. In previous seasons, I was neck deep in statistics and spreadsheets, producing my own algorithms to try and work out clean sheets. In the end, I became so obsessed, it was starting to affect my everyday life! This season, I’ve taken a more relaxed approach and been more fluid, not jumping on bandwagons too quickly, but also being aware of big changes.”
Becoming engrossed in the game is all too common, with many managers spending hours contemplating each gameweek, scouring Twitter and blogs for injury news and rumours, and weekends spent in tears. But Armstrong is now intent on keeping the game in perspective.
“I've had some terrible, terrible weekends. Locked myself away; I was obsessed. I once got a delivery of shopping from Tesco’s, and a box of 12 eggs fell out of a bag. I swear it said ‘Benteke’ on the box. I had to look at it 3 times before I was sure it just said ‘eggs’. It was taking over every aspect of my life!
“I promptly unpacked the rest of the shopping - looked in the mirror for a word with myself. I later posted my experience on a forum that evening. Replies came in with a resounding – ‘Step away from the computer mate’. And so I did.
“My best decision was to step back and look at the bigger picture. I almost visualised ‘who at the end of the season will be the big scorers in each position?’ For me, it was easy. In midfield, Salah, Hazard, Eriksen, Pogba, then some smaller value ‘enablers’ like Jota, Kante, Willian. Up front, it was a bit harder. It was always going to be Aguero, but there was a lot of controversy around Lacazette and Aubameyang, but I wasn’t sure which style of football they’d play. Defensively, my approach is to go dirt cheap. I created a template team as quickly as possible.”
But there have been three key decisions that have propelled Armstrong’s side to the upper echelons of the Fantasy elite. “The turnaround points were bringing in Hazard at a fairly good price in the week before Cardiff where he scored a hat-trick. The next key move was Pogba, on the news that Mourinho was leaving Manchester United. I just trusted my gut that he’d be off the leash and that Solskjaer was a big fan of his, and talked of building the club around him.
“The third key move, was bringing Aguero in on my most recent wildcard instead of Aubameyang. I triple captained him in the double gameweek, where a lot of people were going for Sane and Sterling, but with the rotation with Pep at City – I thought the easiest, simplest and most logical way would be Aguero.”
That decision alone scooped him 57 points – a delight shared by a relatively modest 51,878 fellow managers. So the big question is, can he go on to win it?
“I’m on a lot of forums, and I’m always encouraging to other people – some people ask, ‘I’m ranked 25,000th, can I still win as I have all my chips?’, and I’ve always been positive to those posts, because of course you can if you get your captain right every week for the rest of the season, so in theory you could do.
“But you do have to go outside of the template. My team is very template-y at the moment, I know nearer the run up to the end, I’ll have to make a few maverick moves to claw back about 40-50 points off the top. There are a couple of blank gameweeks coming up (GW27, possibly GW31/32 depending on the FA Cup), so having my Bench Boost and Free Hit, I should be able to claw back 20 points. I certainly want to finish in the top 50 now.”
Armstrong's most recent gameweek squad.
Wan-Bissaka is the sole Palace player in his FPL squad, describing the right back as “cheap, but fantastic”. He added: “In previous seasons, I was quite stubborn and retain Palace players regardless of their performance. Puncheon was one of my difficult ones – love the player, Zaha too. Sometimes you need to make the decision between your heart and your (FPL) ranking.”
Now we know what sort of a bloke James is, prioritising his own Fantasy performance over his beloved Palace, will he consider some south London additions in the all-important run-in?
“I was looking at Michy Batshuayi, priced at £6.5m. He is looking good, with an assist in his first game out which caught my eye. I think he’ll team up well with Zaha, so I’m going to give him a couple of games – see how many minutes he gets, see how fit he is. I’ll keep my eye on Match of the Day, but I would like to get him in and finish the season with a couple of Palace players definitely.”
James Armstrong is a man under pressure, but like all great managers – he appears to have learned from his mistakes. Let’s just hope he doesn’t crack, like his eggs. Go well, gaffer.
Check your FPL ranking in the Palace fan league, by clicking here.