The return of the Premier League this weekend will be a significant weekend for players of the official Fantasy Premier League game, with a ‘double game week’ featuring a total of 15 fixtures making it the perfect opportunity for players to use any remaining wildcards, free hits, triple captains or bench boosts they still have available. I find myself in the unenviable position of having used all my chips, meaning that I have to try to chase down the leader of my league using nothing more than crafty selections. So can studying the Plus Minus statistic provide me with an extra edge in my quest to close a gap of currently more than 150 points in my own leagues?

Given there are over 5 million players of the official Fantasy Premier League, I would love to find a way for the answer to be yes and enjoy all of the increased traffic which would come with that, but sadly things aren’t quite that simple. Firstly, Plus Minus doesn’t take into account goals scored, only goal difference. If you play your triple captain on a striker who scores a hattrick in a 3-3 draw, then you’ll obviously be delighted with that decision. If however you play your triple captain on a striker and that game ends 0-0, then you’ll be left rueing a wasted opportunity. Yet in terms of Plus Minus, assuming the striker plays the full game in both instances, their rating will be 0 both times, and therefore the vastly different fortunes from a Fantasy perspective will not be reflected in the rating.

Then we come to what I like to refer to as the ‘Claude Makelele problem’. Makelele was a near ever-present in a Chelsea side which boasted the best defensive record of any team in the history of the Premier League, yet with just 2 goals and 4 assists during his 144 appearances for the Blues, rarely picked up points beyond those for appearances and clean sheets, and therefore most players of the game opted not to select one of the best players in the Premier League.

The closest player to Makelele in the Premier League this season would probably be Fernandinho, whose quality is reflected in his Plus Minus ratings this season, currently ranking 2nd in the league for total Plus Minus score and 8th in the league for Plus Minus per 90 minutes. Yet although he does offer a bit more of an attacking threat than Makelele did, contributing 1 goal and 3 assists so far this season, there are still plenty of other players who are better Fantasy Premier League selections.

James Maddison would be one such example. Maddison currently actually has the lowest Plus Minus rating of any Leicester City player, suggesting that there is plenty of room for improvement both in terms of his personal game management and in terms of finding a role and system which maximises his talents whilst minimising his weaknesses. From a Fantasy Premier League perspective though, he has 6 goals and 6 assists from midfield, meaning that he is comfortably outscoring Fernandinho 112 points to 73.

Plus Minus ratings are not meaningless in regards to Fantasy Premier League though, you just need to contextualise the numbers correctly. The key is to use the Plus Minus ratings to spot players either on an upwards or downwards trend, and then assess whether that could translate into Fantasy points. For example, Jonjo Shelvey has come off the bench to great effect in Newcastle’s past 2 matches, helping them turning a losing position against Everton into a 3-2 win and then rescuing 1 point against Bournemouth. If a trend like that continues, then Shelvey will find himself back in the starting line up before long. With 13 goals and 21 assists in his Premier League career, Shelvey regularly picks up attacking points when he plays. Newcastle are a team in form with 10 points from their past 5 games, and have boasted a solid defensive record too with 9 clean sheets so far. Their fixture list also looks relatively favourable, as although they still have Arsenal and Liverpool to play, their other fixtures are at home against Crystal Palace and Southampton and away against Leicester, Brighton and Fulham.

Therefore with all of these factors considered and given Shelvey’s current price of just £5.3 million, he looks like a solid selection for anyone looking for a cheaper midfield option to score a few points whilst freeing up some money to spend elsewhere in the team (though as Newcastle only have the single fixture against Arsenal this week, I’m going to wait at least 1 week before potentially transferring him into my own side). Moving forwards on this blog, I’ll try to pick someone out each week who I feel has the potential to be a good Fantasy Premier League pick without being someone everyone has already got in their team, though for the reasons detailed above, I’m offering absolutely no guarantees that these tips will transform your fortunes in the game!