Friday, 8 June 2018

McDonald’s FIFA World Cup Fantasy: How to Play

After a long and painful wait of more than three weeks since the end of FPL, fantasy football is back with FIFA’s official World Cup game. There are plenty of similarities – right down to the starting budget, which is the same except for valuation in euros rather than pounds – but there are some minor differences that could catch out the unprepared manager. Here is a quick look at what you need to know.

The starting point will be familiar to anybody who has played the Premier League game. Fifteen players must be selected, with a maximum of three players from any one team; each player has been assigned a value, and there is an initial 100 million euros to spend. Out of these fifteen, eleven must be selected for each round in a recognised formation. A captain can be selected to score double points for the round. So far, so familiar. However, the workings of the bench are where things start to get complicated. Unlike in FPL, there is the possibility for manual substitutions within a round – if a player has underperformed, he can be replaced with a bench option who is yet to play in that round. So, for example, if Mo Salah was restricted to thirty minutes against Uruguay and failed to score, a manager could replace him with Bryan Ruiz in anticipation of a points haul for the Costa Rican against Serbia. It will be noted that this example involves swapping a forward for a midfielder: this is allowable, provided the formation stays within the valid options. The same thing applies to the captaincy, which can be shifted from player to player throughout the round if the initial selection does not do as well as hoped.

With this in mind, it makes sense to ‘front-load’ the starting eleven with players who will feature early on in a round, in the knowledge that they can be removed later on if necessary. Padded out the squad with a Saudi Arabian defender? Stick him in. Worried about Salah’s game time? Captain him anyway. Even if it seems highly unlikely that players in the earlier games will score particularly well, it is nonetheless worth starting them, in the knowledge that they can be swapped out for a more promising option if they do indeed fail to produce. The only drawback of this is that it requires managers to be very much on the ball - it is all too easy to stuff the team full of Russians only to forget to take them out. If this sounds like you, then take note: there is a system of automatic substitutions, but it only comes into effect if you have made no manual captain switches or substitutions within the round. In other words, if you do not have time to continually check back in with your team during the tournament, it’s probably best not to do any mid-round tinkering at all; the safety-net of auto-substitutions for players who did not feature is likely to be more useful, but will not come into effect if you have made any manual changes. 

That’s the really hard part out of the way. Other differences include tweaks to the rules once the group stage ends. The budget, for example, increases by 5 million euros for the knockout stages to account for the fact that many budget options will have been eliminated. Transfer rules also change: there is an amnesty when the group stages end, during which unlimited transfers can be made without incurring a points hit. Player prices are also adjusted at this point to reflect their performances. Aside from this window, the transfer procedures are fairly similar to those of FPL – there is one free transfer per round in the group stage, any transfers beyond this limit cost four points, and there is one wildcard that can be deployed at any time in order to make unlimited free transfers before the next round. Notably, free transfers increase to three per round prior to the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and then five before the final round (which includes the third-place playoff). It is also important to flag up that free transfers cannot be saved: if a manager opts not to make a free transfer before a round, he simply forfeits that transfer.

There are also two chips to talk about. The concept is borrowed directly from FPL, but only one chip works in exactly the same fashion: this is the bench boost. This must be played before the start of a round, and serves to count the points from all fifteen players in the squad rather than just the eleven starters. The other chip, which also has to be deployed prior to the start of a round, is slightly more interesting. It is called ‘Maximum Captain’, and works by assigning the captaincy to whichever player ends up scoring the most points in the round. This would be a tantalising prospect in FPL; in the World Cup game it is of slightly less significance, in that the aforementioned scope to change the captain midway through a round already increases the chances of making a good captaincy, but it is nonetheless a powerful chip. Each chip can only be used once during the tournament; the rules somewhat unhelpfully fail to state whether they can be used in conjunction, either with each other or with a wildcard, but if it works in the same way as FPL then this will not be possible.

It only remains to sketch out the scoring system itself. It may seem odd to relegate this to the bottom of the article, but the rules here are almost identical to those of FPL – anybody who has played that game will be highly familiar with the vast majority of the system. In short, points are awarded for appearance, scoring, assisting and making saves; they are deducted for conceding, scoring own goals and getting carded. There are only a couple of slight differences. There is an additional mechanism whereby players earn two points for winning a penalty, regardless of the outcome of the spot kick, and lose a point for giving away a penalty. Handballs are excluded from this calculus. There is also no bonus points system. If a knockout game goes to extra time, points scored in this period do count. Penalty shootouts, however, are excluded.

Hopefully this has been useful in establishing what you need to know about FIFA’s official World Cup fantasy football game. Best of luck!

- Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

See my Premier League season review for Colossus Bets here:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -

Friday, 1 June 2018

We Are Liverpool

There is nobody who handles losing quite as well as Liverpool. This is a taunt thrown our way by rival fans, who would undoubtedly have traded their seasons in a heartbeat to take our place in the Champions League final, but there is also a ring of truth about it. Defeat in Kyiv was cruel, and it was painful, but supporters left the stadium singing. You’ll Never Walk Alone proved as cathartic as ever, while Allez Allez Allez took on a defiant note: mark our words, we’re never going to stop. Soon, a video emerged of Klopp himself chanting at six in the morning, goofy smile firmly in place in spite of everything. Those outside of the Liverpool bubble might have questioned what on earth was going on – the team had, after all, just fallen short of glory by virtue of two of the worst goalkeeping mistakes ever witnessed at this level. Perhaps three words from a different song best sum it up: we are Liverpool.

This club sticks together. At times, it has had to do so – the 96 on the collar of every Liverpool shirt is a poignant reminder that nothing that unfolds on the pitch is of any lasting importance. Even so, it would have been easy for supporters to turn on Karius following the final, but that is not The Liverpool Way. In a strange fashion, it was his personal woes that helped bring everybody together so quickly; even on social media, which usually has a knack of amplifying the very worst in people, the overwhelming message was one of support for the young German. It is unlikely that there is anything that can be said to the 24-year-old that will stop him looking back on this match with horror in quiet moments for the rest of his life, but supporters looked to take some of the burden from him with a simple message. You’ll Never Walk Alone. People can say that we don’t sing it as loudly as we once did, or that everyone is now too bothered about filming it to belt it out, and perhaps there is some truth to this – when it really matters, though, it is more than a song. It is an ethos, one which enables fans to place their views on the long-term goalkeeping situation aside for a moment and just console a young man who needs support.

For his part, Karius also showed an understanding of how things are done at this club. It is telling that the first thing he did after the final whistle was go to the fans – disconsolate though he was, he knew that these were the people from whom forgiveness must be sought. It took courage to do this, and one need not look very far to think of players who would have just disappeared down the tunnel. Things like this mean something. Supporters should be at the heart of any club, and when the players recognise this an unbreakable bond forms; this is the same kind of bond that can carry a team through to a European final by sheer strength of support, sheer volume of songs. It produces an intensity capable of emanating from the stands and into the heavy metal football unfolding on the pitch. It is hard to say whether Karius himself will have a long-term future at Anfield, but if he leaves he can do so with his head high and with the respect of the only people that matter.

Mere days after the defeat, Liverpool announced a new addition to the team. Fabinho, snatched from under the noses of Manchester United, went some way to lifting spirits. In the midst of the excitement, it was easy to miss one comment from Klopp: “We have signed a fantastic player, but someone who is an equally fantastic person”. For this to be a preliminary comment about a signing is, in the world of modern football, quite remarkable – certainly it is anathema to the mindset of a coach like Mourinho, who can practically be heard scoffing at such a comment. Klopp, however, is not of the same mould. He is a team-builder; he recognises the importance of getting a group together, keeping them tightly-knit, and going on to achieve things as a unit. More than that, he intrinsically understands Liverpool: the parliamentary seat of Liverpool Walton has not been occupied by a Conservative for over fifty years, and the city and the club immediately embrace those who show a social conscience. Andrew Robertson has won everyone over with his immense performances, but also with his promotion of the local foodbanks. Salah is adored for his forty-four goals, but also for the joy he has brought to schoolchildren in the area. “This means more” is the tagline emerging from the club marketing department of late – it would be na├»ve to deny that this is at its heart part of a campaign driven towards selling replica shirts, but the sentiment does ring true. Of course, first and foremost Klopp and the fans want to put together a team of winners, but not at any cost – it does not profit a man to gain the whole world, but forfeit his soul.

This is the great consolation. The soul of the club is more than just intact, it is thriving under the management of a man who truly understands it. The core of the team also looks set to hold together – this group have made memories together on a journey all the way to the final, and they will be determined to return to complete the job. Already, additions are being made to address the weaknesses that meant we ultimately fell short: there are big reasons to be hugely optimistic into next season and beyond. This does not remove the pain of losing the final, and nor should it: although Liverpool’s ethos goes far beyond winning, it should not be forgotten that this club has victory in its very DNA. However, the regeneration of this footballing giant is well underway, and it’s never going to stop.

-   James Martin (@JamesMartin013)