DFS Soccer Guide Part III – Strategy

by DFSx42
DFS Soccer Guide

This is the third part of a 3 part series.

Part I is more of a rant/history of the game.

Part II explains why it's a great sport to play in DFS.

This one is about how to break down a slate and pick a lineup.

DFS Soccer Guide Part III - Strategy

Take what you have learned to the Soccer/Football/Futbol pitch and win some money playing FanDuel DFS Soccer.

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Cash or GPP

I know, I know.  It's the old cliche.  But in soccer, this is very much a big deal.  Soccer is where the most differentiation in play styles occurs.  In other sports you typically say GPP to describe an option that doesn't have a very high floor.  In soccer, there are so few players with any floor that cash builds are very limited.  Correction: good cash builds are very limited.

These few reliable options get priced up significantly due to their scarcity.  Despite the pricing, they still carry very high ownership.  Likewise, there are certain cheap players who will also be very highly owned.  Not because they are good options, they are usually awful.  But if you want the reliable guys you often need to punt with some min priced options to make it work.  It's quite normal on an 8 game slate for my opponent and I to only differ on two or three players.

However, as we covered in part II, scoring is very infrequent and having a low owned goal on a slate without many goals is incredibly valuable in GPP.  When only the chalk hits, the separation between the winners and those below the cash line can be just a few points.  When the chalk doesn't hit, all hell breaks loose and it was the guy who found that 2% midfielder who got a goal who takes it down.

There are many players who do next to nothing in DFS each slate.  They'll score a goal every 20 matches or so.  They are not smart plays, but on a low scoring slate that's often the only way to win.  In many ways, playing soccer GPP is very similar to playing showdowns.  It's not the smart plays that win, it's the lucky ones.

Sources of Reliability

  • Elite Forwards - these are guys like Messi and Aguero who are the focal point of their team's high scoring offense.   Even on slates where they don't score, as the centerpiece of the offense, they nearly always bring in some points with shots and assists. If you take a look at the highest scoring players each slate you'll see it's a very short list of repeat visitors and these are the guys.  There just aren't very many soccer players who can get multiple goals in a single game several times throughout the season.  These guys are easy to find, they'll be by far the most expensive options.
  • Elite Wings - these guys can be forwards, midfielders or defenseman.  What's important is they take on a role where they run the ball down the sidelines and cross the ball in.  These players are often a focal point of an offense, which gives them a lot of opportunities to collect the counting stats like passes, crosses, fouls drawn, corners won, etc.  They may even get an assist or score on their own.  Some good examples are Mendy and Hazard.  They aren't quite as reliable as the forwards but will usually have decent floors with very high upside.
  • Set Piece Takers and Penalty Kickers - This itself isn't that big of an edge but the best of them like Milivojevic get most of their value from that role.  It doesn't often come into play.  But when it does it's a game breaking difference.  Set pieces and penalties represent some incredibly good opportunities to score.  Even failed set pieces often yield points for the cross or shot attempt.  These guys are a bit more difficult to find but after some time you'll remember which relevant ones have that role.  These guys are much more valuable in defensive-oriented games.

That's pretty much it.  After those few players that qualify for that, we get into matchup dependent players and GPP darts.

Talented GPP Darts

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A lot of the high priced players don't even fall into any of those categories as well.  This is something very unique to soccer.  Literally, the most talented players on the field could be some of the riskiest options.

Someone like Pogba is incredibly expensive and one of the best in the game, but he's incredibly unreliable for DFS.  In his past 11 games he's been a disaster in 9 of them, in the other two he scored two goals and likely won you a lot of money.  Someone like Pogba, who isn't the focal point of a dominant offense and isn't creating his own counting stats on the wing is a far better real-life soccer player than DFS play.

Always check their game logs.  If you see a player go more than two games in a row without providing a decent baseline of points then be fully aware you can likely get nothing from them.  That doesn't mean they shouldn't be played either.  Even Messi can do nothing sometimes, but you'll still play him every time.

This will be very intimidating when you start, but over time you'll become much more familiar with the players and it becomes easier.  Soon you'll be looking at stats for a refresher on their recent form rather than trying to figure out who the person is.  When I first started really committing to soccer last year it felt like a foreign language.  I would read articles and listen to podcasts and it was like they were talking about something from another planet.  Nowadays, I'm able to follow along easily.  There's a bit of an intimidating wall to break through at the start, but after playing a few slates the players and their habits will become second nature.

Positional Arbitrage

Player roles are also constantly in transition.  One game may have someone positioned on the wing and the next they are positioned in the center in a defensive role.  Dele Ali is a great example of a very expensive and very talented player that can be used in very different roles that dramatically change his value.  Always check to see where someone is playing ahead of time.

You also need to look out for positional mismatches.  Some players literally play every position, but for whatever reason, the site lists them as a defender.  That's usually a smash spot to use them.

Most defenders don't usually get many points.  So DFS sites give bonuses to defenders for the clean sheet (shutout in American English) to make more of them relevant.  So if you see someone you can play as a defender in the starting lineup as a midfielder or forward, then that's a great positional arbitrage to exploit.  They'll usually be more involved in the offense, have more opportunities to shoot, cross and score.  And... to really put the icing on the cake, they'll still get that bonus if his team doesn't allow any goals.  It goes without saying though, a bad player is still a bad player regardless of where he plays so don't follow this rule blindly.

The Slate Itself

This is where the DFS men are separated from the DFS boys.

Despite what anyone tells you, soccer is a game of elite teams and nobodies.  Each league has just a small handful of teams that are full of superstars and the rest are just hoping to get their autographs after the game.  This leads to games that are very one-sided and thus skewers DFS production and salaries into those few elite teams.

Who is playing whom is incredibly important in soccer.  If you just pick players without paying attention to the slate itself then you'll just be donating your buy-in.

Exploitable Matchups

If a top team plays one of the nobodies, you can be assured that's where a lot of the easiest to find DFS points can be had.  Those players will be chalky, but it's for a very good reason.  Those games are where the cash game chalk resides.

However, when those elite teams are playing each other, suddenly it's a very bad play.  That team which usually dominates possession and controls the game now finds itself evenly matched.  DFS production drops immensely in those matchups, but you've still paid the same price as when they play the scrubs.  If the two best teams are playing each other, it's always going to be risky playing guys in that game.  That is of course unless one is Messi.  I can't say this enough.  Always, play, Messi.  Always.  He often provides more DFS points than his opponent's entire roster.

In soccer, you absolutely need to pay attention to who is playing whom.  When I go into a slate, I still don't know who exactly I'll play because I don't know who is going to start.  But I do have a very good idea of which teams I'm going to target.

But In A GPP...

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Yet in a GPP, it's the old cliche.  Anything goes.  In soccer, so long as the player is starting and it's not cash.  It's ok to swipe right and not be full of shame.

You could even argue the worse the situation, the more leverage your play gets you in a GPP.  Manchester City has normally been steamrolling opponents with scores like 3-0.  Those players consequently get an absurd but justifiable amount of ownership.  Most slates it pays off, but if you're doing something with a lot of entries then it's not the worst thought to consider fading that team.

The main reason is ownership.  Now you hear ownership tossed around plenty.  I for one think it's an absurdly overvalued metric.  Simply put, "ownership" is often used as an excuse for stupidity.  But... in soccer, it may actually be worthy of the hype.  Take Pogba.  As covered earlier, he's an elite talent that costs a lot, but often fails to produce.  Yet his ownership is still pretty high quite often because we all know what he's capable of in the right environment.  But, that also means that in a lot of GPPs, there are going to be many teams rolling out Pogba and get nothing.

Pogba Ain't No Julio

In NFL, when you take that low owned WR, you still need multiple TDs and plenty of yardage in order for it to be a real difference maker.  The reason being that whatever your player does, Julio Jones is still getting his points.  A bad game from Julio Jones is still a lot of yardage.  It's one thing to not play Julio Jones, it's another entirely to find that obscure pivot who outproduces him.

The Julio Jones' of soccer aren't anything like Julio Jones.  Julio's good games are usually 4x the points of his bad games.  Meanwhile, Pogba's good games can be 30x better than his bad game because his floor is zero. Furthermore, he's far more likely to hit his floor than his ceiling.

So, when you take the low owned option, you don't need a great game.  If there is a short slate of 4 games and it's a bunch of evenly matched teams and then Manchested United vs some scrub then you know Pogba will be chalk.  While it'll kill you when you fade him and he hits and you don't stand a chance, it's still not a bad idea to pivot.  The main reason being that so long as the slate chalk like Pogba hits the floor,  you just need your pivot to not suck.  In the NFL, it's not just about fading Julio on the days he underperforms, it's about fading Julio and finding that 80 yard & 2 TD guy pivot.

In soccer, simply fading a 0 from Pogba and replacing it with an average score of 4 from some random guy will give you a massive advantage over the field.  I'm not saying don't ever play Pogba.  Players are chalky and expensive for good reason.  I'm just saying that it's easier to leverage a fade successfully in soccer than other sports.

In a GPP with a only few hundred total entries, it's often enough of a separation to just mix in a few of the next tier down guys.  Simply skipping past Pogba and onto a lesser name will often suffice.  You don't need to get too weird with your lineup.  Even though soccer rewards weird lineups more than others, it's still generally a losing proposition.

Of course, every time you fade Pogba is the time he explodes and every time you play him is the time he gets one point.  It doesn't matter that this is soccer, it's still DFS.  It'll break your heart all the same.

To Goalie or Not To Goalie

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There are multiple views on how to play goalies and defenders and they are all equally wrong.  It doesn't matter which strategy you choose, it will inevitably be the wrong one.

Don't ever worry too much about a goalie decision because you'll screw it up anyway.

Chasing the Bonus

This is a very risky proposition and usually quite costly.  You'll load up on a goalie of a favorite and hope for the shutout.  In the process of doing so, you just spent a fair amount of salary on him.  Furthermore, given that his team is the favorite and should dominate possession, he's unlikely to face many shots.

While the wins are easy to predict, the real bonus of the shutout is far from assured.  It just takes one lucky bounce, one out of position defender, one corner kick, etc, etc and the shutout is gone.  This doesn't just remove the chance for those bonus points you were hoping for, but it also gives you negative points for allowing the goal.  Making matters worse, often times, the goal(s) represents the only shot(s) taken by the other team the entire game.  Meaning, the goalie isn't given any opportunities to make up points through saves so you ended up with minimal points for the win that are offset from negative points of letting in the goal.

Liverpool has a great defense.  They rarely let in many goals.  They are often the odds on favorite to get the shutout each slate.  But teams usually find a way to score and lose 3-1.  Their goalie Alisson is very expensive.  His team has not lost in the last 12 games.  Unless playing another elite team you can pretty much lock in the win bonus before the game even begins. For every game where he hits value with that 1 save shutout, he will often miss value with 1 goal allowed with no saves.

The other downside of choosing these guys is that their ownership will be extremely high.  In cash, there's often just two goalies played by most teams each slate.  Sometimes even a single goalie can dominate ownership in cash games.

Finding an Average Goalie in Good Situation

The one nice thing about this is the main benefit is delivered to you from the very beginning.  You get to pass on the savings to upgrade other players who will also disappoint you.

Usually, when you pay down at goalie you get the matchup you paid for.  Unless you're paying up for the top goalies, you will rarely face a very clear matchup.  After the elite teams, it's firmly in the "anything could happen" territory.  In these situations, we're not expecting to hit any bonuses.  You're just hoping that your goalie doesn't let too many slip between his legs.  This is, in essence, a punt play but not a horrible route to take.  Sometimes they pay off marvelously.

Starting Simple Jack at Goalie

If you're going for a contrarian lineup, this actually isn't the worst idea.  The concept is if you're going to fade the top team like Manchester City, then if that team scores a lot of goals you won't have much of a chance. So why not double down on that proposition?  Don't just fade the favorite, but play the goalie who faces them as well.

In soccer, the riskiest goalies are the ones with the highest upside.  The reason being that saves count for a lot of points.  If they are expected to be dominated by the other team then there will be a lot of shots on goal. Sometimes, ever so often, the goalie somehow racks up a lot of saves instead of giving up a lot of goals.  If that happens, he's going to give you a lot of points.

However, saves aren't common in soccer.  Most shots end up in the net.  It's very risky.

Under what circumstances could this actually work?  If your contrarian play only works if Manchester City fails to score goals against Huddersfield, then you got to ask yourself, why not also play the Huddersfield goalie while you are at it?  It's the ultimate risk/reward play.  The guy will fail most of the time.  It's normally a stupid play.  But so is fading Manchester City.  Remember, we're not like Kobe, we're not trying to win Oscars here, we're trying to win GPPs.  Sometimes, you gotta give up the Oscar and go full Simple Jack.

If you're going to do some stupid contrarian stuff, really think it through and make sure it's stupid enough to work.

Defense Bonuses

Chasing the clean sheet bonus is another strategy when picking defenders.  The allure of those extra points can be very appealing at times.  My advice on this is don't let it cloud your judgment.  Don't take a crap defender in a good situation over a great defender in a crap situation.  I used to exclusively play defenders in order to chase the bonus.  When it worked I felt like a genius, when it failed I bemoaned my poor luck.  It's not luck though, they wouldn't hand out those bonuses if they came easy.

I'll still do it for GPP from time to time, snagging a low owned group of defenders to correlate with my goalie.  But in cash I tend to choose talent over situation.  Much like playing WR or RB at flex, the jury is still out on this one and "it depends" is going to be the standard response.

Ideally, you'll find a talented defender who is also in a good situation for the bonus, but that's always chalk.

Team Matchups

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Elite vs Flyover Team

We already covered how playing the elite guys vs the scrubs is the source of cash game points.  But what about playing the underdog?

A talented individual as a one-off can work in these situations.  But playing too many players on the underdog is rarely a good idea because their opportunities to even touch the ball will be limited.  Forwards on those teams are particularly risky because with their team playing defense the whole game, they aren't being fed the ball and thus mostly walk around watching their team lose and reminding you why you don't play these guys in the first place.  Even when the underdog does manage to score some goals, they still do so in very limited opportunities and it won't necessarily be done by a forward.  I know, I know... but in a GPP...

Capturing the Favorite

One of the safer ways to get points in an unsure slate is to stack all the likely goal scorers from one of these games.  Rather than guess which guy could score, you just focus on one team and cast a wide net.  This is a bit safer, but it's also the most frustrating.  There's nothing worse than rostering all the forwards and several midfielders on a favorite and then it's the defenders who score or a substitute comes on and gets the goals.

This is also a bit of a Fabian strategy and more about cutting losses than anything else.  For it to work you need either your team to utterly go off or it to be a low scoring slate.  Otherwise, on a higher scoring slate, the limited upside of playing multiple guys from the same team could come back to bite you.

I only do this when there's only one "high" scoring game on a small slate or as an act of frustrated desperation.  Its upside is limited but it is somewhat reliable enough that I still regularly draw from this well.

Elite Teams vs Elite Teams

These are to be avoided like the plague.  When you pay up for the elite talent on these teams, you're usually paying up for their production against the flyover teams.  When facing other top teams, they'll suddenly find everything just a little bit harder to do.  Nothing comes easy in these games.  Even when one is a favorite over the other, it's still never an easy matchup.  There can be value to be found here or there but for the most part, this is Mordor.

Equally Matched Flyover Teams

This is what most games on the slate usually are.  Most matchups are frankly too close to call.  Anyone could win these games and that's what makes people shy away from them in favor of the more obvious one sided options.  When Manchester City plays Newcastle, you can very confidently expect Manchester City to score at least twice and the players on Newcastle to only touch the soccer ball at the end of the game while they ask the other team to sign their autographs on it.

When Newcastle plays Southampton however it's an entirely different story.  That game is coming up and nobody has the slightest clue what will happen. It could go 0-0.  It could go 1-2.  It could go 4-0.  Nobody really knows and anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or stupid.

Right now Newcastle is +131 and Southampton is +189.  The implication here is that neither is actually favored to win, just that if one were to win, the odds makers think Newcastle is a little bit more likely to win.

Newcastle has 1.29 implied goals and Southampton has 1.11 implied goals.  So this implies that they think Newcastle has a better chance at scoring but the difference is pretty negligible over a sample size of 90 minutes.

You can create any narrative you want from that bookie information, but for all intents and purposes, it basically means we have no clue what will happen.  If you like Southampton then play Southhampton, if you like Newcastle then play Newcastle.  If you like neither then that's fine too.  There is really no correct point of view for games that are this close.

Most likely there will be between zero and three total goals scored.  But you don't need Vegas to tell you when it's raining either.  These situations of uncertainty are my favorite.  Generally speaking, the players are on the cheap side.  The ownership is usually a bit lower as well due to the uncertainty.  There are still some pretty productive players on the flyover teams but they don't garner nearly the attention of those on the elite teams.

Matchups like this are where I like to dip my feet in GPPs. I still anchor them with some of the more reliable guys though.  I would much rather slowly feel my way in the darkness with these matchups than gleefully follow Simple Jack.

Update: That just now referenced Newcastle-Southampton game was won by Newcastle 3-1.  In that game, a player who has 7 goals in 30 games scored a hat trick.  On the Southampton side, a substitute was the guy who scored.  It was his first goal.  It actually took me several minutes to confirm that, because as I covered in part I, finding soccer stats is not a simple task.  If you played the guy who got you the hat trick you likely won the GPP.  But if you played that guy every game, he'd have likely disappointed you with a zero in at least 20 of those 30 games and merely hit value (based on his rock bottom pricing) the other times.  Soccer is truly a game of unexpected outcomes.  Nobody could possibly predict those players scoring, especially one of them getting a hat trick no less.

Soccer is a hell of a ride.  Embrace the variance, it levels the playing field.

If you have any questions or if you feel I left something out, please ask it in the comments section.  I'll gather questions and do a follow-up companion piece if there is enough interest.

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