From data analysis to personal stories, the Community Articles section of Fantasy Football Scout is home to some thought-provoking, user-penned pieces.
In the article below, Scout user Drmattyd discusses how best to avoid recency bias, hindsight bias and everything in between.
We’re suckers for recency bias. Just ask the masses who flocked to Raheem Sterling (£7.2m) and Son Heung-min (£9.1m) who, following recent hauls, were glibly rewarded with one- and two-pointers respectively in subsequent games against Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United.
But should we be that surprised? Looking at last season’s hat-trick heroes, only Erling Haaland (£14.1m) and Phil Foden (£7.6m) scored in the games that immediately followed. All of the rest blanked, including Son, Ivan Toney (£7.9m) and Leandro Trossard (£6.6m).
While hat-tricks are only one way to haul, this trend reflects a wider challenge that Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers must navigate – deciding between which players are in for a red hot streak or whether they’re just a red herring.
HAUL THEN BLANK
There are at least three reasons why players may not necessarily repeat their haul in the next game.
Firstly, we can look at the law of averages. Put simply, players will overperform in some games and underperform in others. It’ll often even itself out. This is usually dictated by fixtures but not always, as Sterling and Son owners will know.
Secondly, we FPL managers are not the only ones watching and responding to the data. You can bet all your chips that Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United also watched Sterling and Son’s feats and trained meticulously to nullify the threats that had just put a team to the sword.
Lastly, a range of smaller factors, such as fine margins of error dictating who gets a goal or assist. A hat-trick may be due to good fortune, such as a lucky bounce or team-mate’s pass. It may be because of the opponent’s defensive frailties rather than an upcoming hot streak.
Behavioural economics warns us of the dangers of the ‘hot hand fallacy’ where we overestimate the likelihood of success based on previous wins. Early in the season, we’re especially prone to these sorts of biases. We’re clutching onto a small data sample and in that uncertainty are more likely to be influenced by what others are doing in the FPL community. When articles and streams are all ‘Son vs Sterling’, it’s perfectly understandable why we might get drawn in.
AVOIDING RECENCY BIAS
What do I know about all this? Well, I’m a behavioural scientist. But I’m also an FPL veteran who has fallen victim to each and every one of these biases. However, the trick is knowing how to deploy this knowledge so that it works for rather than against you.
Has it not gone your way? Here’s how to bounce back, based on me playing FPL for over a decade:
EMBRACE THE TEMPLATE
Sometimes we use the term ‘template’ negatively to imply that we’ve gone for the boring choice. But it isn’t boring when you’re winning – just ask Chelsea fans under peak Mourinho. The wisdom of the crowds tells us that, on average, we make more accurate predictions in groups rather than as individuals. So it makes sense to follow what the masses are doing, especially early in the season without much data.
CHECK YOUR BLIND SPOTS
The problem with a template is that judgements aren’t made independently, often made amongst a sea of chatter and echo chambers, riddled by confirmation bias. This means we narrowly focus on Son v James Maddison (£7.9m) debates, therefore disregarding the likes of Richarlison (£6.8m) and Dejan Kulusevski (£7.0m). Embracing the template doesn’t mean going for an identical copy. It may be having eight or nine popular picks, combined with some bolder differential choices. Those familiar with investing will know about the value of diversifying their portfolios. In the same way, you can spread your risk by balancing template with tempting.
CHASE THE ADJACENTS
One strategy to counter our ‘availability bias’ is to find out where the herd are heading and walk alongside until you see another place to pivot. Who’s that unmentioned player who plays in a front three alongside two popular, explosive assets? They might be in for a haul, just like Kulusevski and Richarlison did against Sheffield United. Owners of Foden, like myself, might be better off thinking of an adjacent like Jeremy Doku (£6.5m).
MEASURE THE WHOLE HOUSE
If you’re debating between a couple of options – particularly in those competitive midfields – take a step back and get some perspective. What’s the estimated floor and ceiling for these players? And what does that equate to over the next few Gameweeks? Calculate an average and let the numbers steer you, rather than the noise. Also how precise is your measuring tape? Use more than goals from the last game to base decisions on, or are you looking at underlying data like expected goals (xG) and assists (xA) to provide a realistic measurement less prone to luck?
Celebrate decisions, not outcomes
We’ve all been there – that feeling when you’ve blown a transfer on a player who does worse than the one you sold him for. It’s easy to forget in those moments that the only control we actually have in FPL is pushing a couple of buttons to organise transfers, captains and benches. The currency of FPL – goals, assists and clean sheets – is one that we will never have any influence over. So next time you’ve made your deadline decisions, take a mental screenshot of how you felt about your team at that very moment. Look back at that if things go wrong. If you felt content at the time, that was the best possible decision you could have made with the information you had, despite what hindsight bias says.
What does this all mean for the next Gameweek? For starters, I’m not too bothered about it despite sitting just outside of the top million. Instead, I’m more focused on having a short-term strategy for the next three weeks, up until a probable Wildcard. By that point, I will hope to have made some gains.
Yet, armed with this knowledge, you’ll know more than just to listen to me.