Fantasy Premier League

FPL champion: How to build an opening squad for Gameweek 1

20 May 2024
Mohamed Salah

World No 1 Jonas Sand Labakk discusses his initial picks and offers advice

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The 2023/24 Fantasy Premier League champion Jonas Sand Labakk continues to explain the secrets to his success and offer advice to FPL managers. Here, he reveals his process for picking his Gameweek 1 team.

Getting the big-hitters right

When assembling his squad for the opening Gameweek of 2023/24, Labakk knew there was one player he HAD to have: Mohamed Salah.

Liverpool’s Egyptian approached the beginning of last season on the back of six successive 230+ points hauls, yet his lofty £12.5m opening cost meant many overlooked him and picked Erling Haaland as their only big-hitter. 

Labakk, however, went against that approach, with the Liverpool fan fielding both Haaland and Salah in his Gameweek 1 line-up.

“Double Manchester United midfielders was very popular,” says Labakk. “And I did not want to go down that route.

“I did not want to go against the best player in FPL over the last six years or so. Maybe it would have been some Liverpool bias but I think with Salah it doesn't really matter. He's so good, at least historically.”

FPL No 1's opening 2023/24 team
FPL champion's Gameweek 1 team

Labakk's faith in Salah was fully justified. While the Egyptian only managed five points in Gameweek 1, he became the highest-scoring player in FPL over the first 12 Gameweeks, totalling 101 points in that time at an average of 8.4 per match and propelling Labakk up to 1,506 in the world rankings.

Picking proven players with penalty duties

“I'm trying to pick safe players that I know are good FPL assets,” says Labakk.

“I think many people really want to support the new players to the league. For example, Aston Villa's [Moussa] Diaby was very popular, probably around 15 to 20 per cent-owned. 

“I think you should go for Premier League-proven players first. People who are also proven to be good Fantasy Premier League players, including a few penalty-takers, of course.

“There are some exceptions. In Gameweek 1 of 2022/23, I went with Harry Kane at the start instead of Erling Haaland for his debut, and you can see how that went - Haaland scored twice!"

The champion’s 3-5-2 formation for Gameweek 1 underlined his approach with picking penalty-takers, with all of his front seven players being regarded as their club’s first-choice taker for spot-kicks: Salah, Haaland, Bukayo Saka, Bruno Fernandes, Bryan Mbeumo, Eberechi Eze and Joao Pedro.

Avoiding differentials

"I also think many people are trying to think that they're going to be smarter than everyone else," says Labakk. "So they're going with a very differential pick because they think it's going to be good.

"But there's probably a reason why that player is not highly owned."

Prioritising fixtures over pre-season form

Selecting players from clubs with favourable early schedules also influenced the champion’s decision-making. 

Six clubs had three home matches in the first four Gameweeks of the season - Arsenal, Brighton & Hove Albion, Brentford and Chelsea, along with Burnley and Sheffield United. Although he ignored the promoted pair, Labbakk doubled up on Arsenal, Brighton and Chelsea, while also picking Brentford's Mbeumo.

“I always look at the fixtures,” says Labakk. “When we have a new season, we don't have much form to rely on. So I think the best way to go then is the fixtures.

"For friendlies I try not to get blinded by them. You can, of course, see some players that are in form but I try not to look too much at pre-season apart from the last game, because the last game they often play their best team."

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