It’s that time of year again. The Premier League is just a matter of days away and football fans across the country will be counting down those days like a kid in the run up to Christmas. With the excitement that comes with the return of the best league in the world comes the return of the ‘fantasy league’ an online game whereby football fans get to put together their dream team, and compete with their mates for bragging rights.
It’s not just Pep Guardiola who will be met with a pounding selection headache next weekend; FPL bosses will be tinkering into the early hours before Arsenal and Leicester City kick the 2017/2018 campaign off on Friday, assessing each and every area of the pitch like an obsessive tactician. Do I spend big on goal-getters and have less to spend elsewhere? Who do I choose over Kane, Agüero, Lukaku and the rest of the big hitters? Who are the best bargains to spend the rest of my money on?
It’s a struggle to find answers, but I’ve had a go at trying to assess where FPL points are won and lost, with a bit of a Manchester City tinted perspective on our best prospects this season.
A City perspective
The rule book states you can only choose three players maximum from one team, otherwise I think most of us would have had eleven Chelsea players last season. As a general rule of thumb, I like to spread my options across teams – that way, at least some of your players will perform. However, Guardiola’s attacking options this season are just too good to ignore.
Trust me, if you think you have it bad trying to pick between Agüero and Jesus, try being Pep and having a worldwide audience scrutinising your every move. Saying this, the Agüero or Jesus argument is one that cannot be ignored. Agüero has been a formidable force in my team for about five seasons now, but there always comes that point mid-autumn where you have to get rid of him due to an injury or suspension. Gabriel, on the other hand, is an exciting young talent embarking upon his first full season in England; who knows the heights the young Brazilian can hit? Of course you could opt for both of Agüero and Jesus, but this brings an ‘all eggs in one basket’ scenario whereby we could have an off day and you wouldn’t get any points. But of course, this could work both ways and they could form a top partnership, like Sturridge and Suarez or Agüero and Negredo of yesteryear.
If you have the money, I would recommend spending big on a midfielder. Sané and Sterling are guaranteed to get you points for goals and assists – but I fancy Kevin De Bruyne this year. He was criticized last season quiet spells but after watching him in pre-season I can see him having his best season yet and getting goals and assists week in week out. I would go as far as saying he is my tip for the leagues player of the season.
Last season, and seasons in the past, I would probably advise to stay well clear of City defenders. However, with the new full backs arriving and, fingers crossed, Vinnie’s fitness enduring, I think we may be about to turn a corner. For this reason, Kyle Walker or Benjamin Mendy will be a crucial weapon for many FPL bosses. Benjamin Mendy had one of the best assist rates for a defender in world football last season, so he would be my tip once he’s back to full fitness.
After five or six draft picks, I think I have finally settled on my team for the first week (I say this, I will almost certainly tinker with it again). Lets have a look at the players individually…
Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois (£5.5m, Chelsea)
Thibaut, for me, was a no brainer. Chelsea had a solid defence last season and I don’t see this changing this season, therefore I had to pick Courtois as he is guaranteed to challenge for the golden glove with his clean sheets.
Defenders – Danilo (£5.5m, Manchester City); Kieran Tripper (£5.5m, Tottenham); James Milner (£6.5m, Liverpool)
For me, I am satisfied with six or so points from your defenders for a clean sheet. Yet, with the trio I have chosen, you are almost guaranteed assists and goals too.
James Milner looks to remain Liverpool’s first choice left back in the new season, and he is also the designated penalty taker, which, over the course of the season, will see him score points for goals which is great for a defender. Danilo is expected to start ahead of Mendy for the first weeks of the season at least, and coupled with Tripper, I expect them to gain some important early season points.
Midfielders – Paul Pogba (£8m, Manchester United); Kevin De Bruyne (£10m, Manchester City); Demarai Gray (£5.5m, Leicester); Xherdan Shaqiri (£6m, Stoke)
We all love to laugh about Pogba’s first season in the Premier League and criticism is justified when you compare his goals and assists stats to his price tag. But I think even the biggest ‘Bert’ of the City fan base will admit that Pogba is destined for a good campaign this time round, with Nemanja Matic brought in to do the dirty work the Frenchman was ill-prepared to do. Pogba, along with De Bruyne, will almost certainly be big hitters in my side this season, grabbing goals and assists in abundance. Last time City won the league we scored a lot of goals from midfield and I fancy De Bruyne to rack up assist and goal stats not too far off that.
Unfortunately, with the big expensive names inevitably comes the necessity for cheaper options to balance the books. After toying around with a number of potential suiters, I settled for Demarai Gray and Xherdan Shaqiri. Following Arnautovic’s move to the capital, I expect Shaqiri to have a promising year. When fit he is always in and among the goals, but my only worry is whether he can maintain that fitness. With Gray, I’m banking on the young winger having an exciting season on the back of a successful summer with the England youth sides. Clubs are circling like sharks for his signature, and whether Demarai is playing for Leicester or another side, I tip him for a breakthrough season to the next level.
Attackers – Harry Kane (£12.5m, Tottenham); Sergio Agüero (£11.5m, Manchester City); Javier Hernandez (£7m, West Ham)
As per previous years, I made the decision to spend big in my front three – after all, it is these positions which win and lose you league titles. Truthfully, I could’ve picked from Lacazette, Morata, Jesus or Lukaku for these roles but I have more trust in Harry Kane and Sergio Agüero. If fit and in favour for the whole season, you wouldn’t bet against the pair firing their way to double figures and beyond easily. Both players will line up against newly promoted Newcastle and Brighton respectively on the first weekend, and I expect them to get off the mark well.
As for Chicharito, I admit I’ve probably jumped on a bit of a bandwagon here. Nearly 1 in 5 FPL bosses have opted for Hernandez, but there is a reason why. For the mere price tag of £7m, the Mexican is projected to lead the Hammers’ line in what looks to be a promising second season at the London Stadium. If a few weeks in it isn’t working out for Hernandez, I will probably look towards the likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, who is a similar price, having just completed his move to the Foxes.
The best of the rest
As experience of fantasy football tells, there is always a bargain surprise package that becomes evident a few weeks in. In previous years this tag has been owned by the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Harry Kane, Aaron Ramsey and Saido Berahino.
Brits love a bargain, so I have tried to have a stab at guessing this years’ low-priced FPL weapon by opting for Demarai Gray. However there are plenty more cheap players that may help you get one over on your mates…
Tammy Abraham (£5.5m, Swansea) – This will be Tammy’s debut season in the Premier League, on loan to the Welsh outfit from Chelsea on the back of a very promising campaign at Bristol City. At a mere price of £5.5m, I think he will get you a good return in points this season, as he will be one of the Swans’ best options in what looks to be another relegation battle.
Joe Hart (£4.5m, West Ham) – Goalkeepers don’t just get points from clean sheets, they get points from saves made, and in the last few seasons the top FPL keeper hasn’t been the one with the most clean sheets. I think, and hope, Joe will rebuild his career after a terrible season in Italy and be part of a positive year Bilic’ men. Looks a steal at £4.5m.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek (£4.5m, Crystal Palace); Anthony Knockaert (£6m, Brighton); Ramadan Sobhi (£5m, Stoke), Tom Carroll (£4.5m, Swansea), Aaron Mooy (£5.5m, Huddersfield) – If you are in need of a cheap fix in midfield, I would turn your attention to one, or two, of these cheap players. Watching Mooy, and Knockaert especially, last season, I can see these being ‘the bright light in a struggling side’ this season, racking up decent points for their price. I have spoken to many Stoke fans that rate Sobhi with very high regard, so for £5m he may be a good option.
Who to avoid
This is the part where I tell you to avoid a player, who turns out to be amazing and scores a hat trick first week. However, there are some players that you need to avoid when selecting your team for the first week, and season as a whole. Defensive midfielders are futile – Kante got POTS last season but racked up few points, as he doesn’t really contribute to goals scored etc. It is also advised to steer clear of fringe players, even if you do rate them as players – Martial, Sturridge, Welbeck etc are all very good players, yet they don’t feature enough to be a prominent part of your side, for the price they are. Finally, before selecting players, have a think about how much match fitness they have in them. For example, for City, Bernardo Silva is expected to go on to have a brilliant season, yet at the time of writing, he hasn’t played one minute of the pre-season schedule, so I can’t see him lining up at the AMEX stadium next weekend.
Join our league!
City Watch has its own fantasy league running for the second year, with one of next season’s shirts up for grabs! Last year’s winner Marne Blair decided on the away top. Enter this year’s and if you rate your FPL skills, you could win yourself a City shirt!
— Marne Blair (@MarneBlair) July 27, 2017