FPL: Threeview

Now that the international break has officially began, what are fantasy managers supposed to do? First, get up. Back away from the keyboard and take a break. It’s been a volatile start to the 2017/18 season, after many managers thought they had things worked out with great GW1 results, only to be bitch-slapped back to reality with the struggles in GW3.

Unless you are chasing price rises over the break, more on that later, I would take a few days to forget about fantasy football and direct your energy elsewhere. All those lingering questions can be put on hold, return a few days later with a clear head, which could provide you a fresh view of your lineup dilemma.

While I don’t consider it a luxury, I did go into the international break on a high, scoring 63 points in GW3, without facing many glaring questions that need to be answered. The biggest concerns I have are:

  1. The ineffectiveness of the Man City attack and Pep’s rotation.
  2. Marcos Alonso not in my starting XI
  3. Harry Kane with 3 blanks, backed by massive underlying stats.

Realistically, I could end the piece here and go into GW4 feeling confident with my current starting XI. Entering the break with a single FT, I will hold it until all international matches are complete. If we are fortunate, players will return to their club team, injury free and ready to resume league play.

The word of the week has been “wildcard” for many FPL managers. Before you hit that button, consider the sage advice of Nick (@NickTriggerlips) at Transfer Hub, in his article, Why did you wildcard?The problem is there are very few real patterns that have formed…Most of the wildcard  Rate my teams that I am seeing look like a who’s who of last weeks point scorers.” Wise words, from a wise manager, the article is well worth a read.

I have continued to read articles at Fantasy Football Scout, Fantasy Football Geek, tune in the podcasts from Nick and Tom (@WGTA_FPL) at Who Got the Assist as well as, Josh and Brandon (@hailcheaters) at Always Cheating. One key piece this season has been the use of Twitter (@W6ONV) to promote discussion and decisions. This was something I missed out on the previous 4 seasons participating in FPL. This outlet has allowed more flowing discussion than some forum threads I have been involved in, which I feel have provided me with a more positive return when it comes to decision-making.

At the end of last season, one of my strategies this year would be to actively chase price increases. We have watched the ups and downs, while it appears more volatile than last season, the numbers really haven’t backed that statement. Based on price rises last year, I am still on track, gaining £0.1m/week through GW3. It has allowed me to maintain £1.0m ITB. At this point, with the “few real patterns” and uncertainty, I have decided to forego chasing and exercise patience with my starting XI.

Prior to the start of the season, I mapped out a plan for the first 7 weeks of action. While I didn’t plan to remain intact, it did give me some solace in knowing that a downturn in performance wouldn’t necessarily put me in a precarious position requiring the use of an extra hit or the use of my wildcard. From GW1, it’s been my intention to use the WC during the second international break, GW7.

This plan is still contingent on how players perform when action kicks off after this first break. Holding my head high, I feel confident that I can ride out these early season trends, one-week wonders and volatility until things calm. However, this thinking doesn’t solve my three problems areas that need to be addressed.

The ineffectiveness of the Man City attack and Pep’s rotation

My expectation on the City attack were high heading into the season with fixtures against new boys Brighton (A) and Bournemouth (H). Yet a 2-0 and 2-1 victories in those matches hasn’t provided much confidence in owning City attackers or defenders. I started the season with Kompany, De Bruyne and Jesus in my starting XI. Just 2 weeks in and let KDB go in favor of Christian Eriksen, due to his deep lying play and lack of creativity in the attacking third.

Up front, I didn’t go with “Big Rom” figuring I could score more points with a 3-man front spearheaded by the dynamic Gabriel Jesus (and Roberto Firmino). While Jesus has yet to play a full 90-minutes, he has netted a goal and has the potential to be Pep’s “go to forward.” But in the back of my mind lurks that uncertainty that says, “move him in favor of Alvaro Morata.” The “Aguero Factor” will always be in play with Pep, does he play up front with a single forward or run both Jesus and Aguero out? I don’t believe we will see a clear cut answer to this question. With Kun ended up benched against the Cherries, we could possibly see a reversal with a dejected Jesus on the bench when GW4 commences home to Liverpool. Bottom line, we don’t know.

Finally, Vincent Kompany, who’s been riddled with injuries the last few years, but is the heart of The Sky Blues defense. His clean sheet record tells you the story; 23. 30, 21, 22, 32 clean sheets between 2010-2015 with 8 goals over the period. His selection meant I would hedge my bet and not start with Marcos Alonso, as Chelsea had a mixture schedule to start the 2017/18 season. To date, City has disappointed at both ends of the pitch and Kompany is now playing on borrowed time.

Marcos Alonso not in my starting XI

In the preparation leading up to GW1, I had fully intended to include Marcos Alonso and Romelu Lukaku in my starting XI. Last minute information and a change of heart saw both players not included, After GW1, it appeared a wise move, as Chelsea underperformed and lost, 3-2, home to Burnley. However, our faith in the £7.0m wing back was restored the following with, as he hit for a brace, in a 2-1 away win against Spurs. Last week, it was  Chelsea’s first CS of the season. Indications are Alonso is back on track, justify his current price, £7.1m as a top defender in the EPL.

While many managers have gone with a budget 3-defender set in their 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formations, I have spent big, knowing I could swap defenders without having budget constraints. Yet these premium defenders need to justify their inclusion to the starting XI with attacking returns, as well as the potential of CS.

Alonso heads my list of wants when it comes to transfers. While I want to maintain United coverage based on their fixtures out of the break, I look towards Kompany being the fall man in order to transfer Alonso in. The hesitation lies in the Chelsea’s fixtures out of the international break; lei/ARS/sto/MCI/cry/WAT. Based on the Gunners poor performance against Liverpool in GW3, the home fixture to Arsenal doesn’t concern me as much as the Battle of Manchester. Keep in mind some of Alonso’s statistics:

  • 56 touches in the final third
  • 34 passes received – final third
  • 84.4% pass completion rate
  • 23 passes – final third completion
  • 12 touches – penalty area
  • 135 minutes per goal
  • 8 attempts on goal
  • 3 shots inside box
  • 4 shots on goal
  • 33.8 minutes per chance

These figures rival midfielders in and above his price range. So his inclusion in my starting XI is becoming detrimental. This opinion also based on the fact I only start a 2-man midfield.

Harry Kane with 3 blanks, backed by massive underlying stats

We should have seen this coming, right? Harry Kane can’t score in August, so we were forewarned. Still with that lingering in the back of my mind I made the decision to purchase the £12.5 forward to lead my squad. As we all know, there were better options, but his underlying stats (a word I continue to abuse) are outstanding!

  • 26 touches in penalty box
  • 24 attempts on goal
  • 18 shots inside the box
  • 3 big chances
  • 11.3 minutes per chance
  • 25% shot accuracy

The above statistics highlight the success Kane has seen. Unfortunately the real fact remains, Lukaku has scored 3 goals, Kane zero. Of the figures above, Kane betters Lukaku in every category except, big chances (Lukaku has 4). While the August voodoo hoodoo continues to Harry I am backing him out of the international break.

Kane put August behind him and start firing on all cylinders with eve/SWA/whm/hud/BOU taking us to mid-October. Looking over the last 3 years in which Kane has scored 29, 25 and 21 goals, he has just 3 goals in September combined. Not impressive, but remember he picked up the malleolar injury last season and didn’t feature in the squad 2 years ago, until later in the season.

All indications are the back-to-back Golden Boot winner will return to form that saw him bag 8 goals in the final 3 games of the 2016/17 season. While I continue to read and hear banter about none of the top managers owning Kane, I am keeping the faith instead of introducing Lukaku to my squad out of the international break.

As you can see, I don’t have issues that require a restructuring of my team. With a strong showing going into the international break, I plan on looking forward and stringing a run of green arrows together in order to rise up the OR and the mini-leagues I participate in. Even on the outside (ranked 1.0m) looking in at the top 10k, I feel confident I have the proper pieces in place to challenge the next 4 weeks of the EPL season.

FPL: Cha-Cha-Changes

It’s never too early to look at potential changes in your FPL lineup. Right now, I am confident with my starting XI, which allows me a multitude of possibilities when it comes shifting players. However, I attempted to get a few new players in using a hypothetical wildcard and I came up £0.1m short. While I have already activated my FT for GW2, bringing in Henrikh Mkhitaryan for Wilfried Zaha, out due to injury, I am looking forward to next week.

After some consideration, discussion on Twitter and fantasy football websites, it appears I could be headed for a very early wild card. Prior to GW1, I was hoping to hold my WC until the second international break, GW7. Last 2 years I have activate my WC after GW4 with great success (in the short term). While my initial plans were set in motion for GW1, I reassured myself that my formation, FTs and WC needed to remain flexible. While I favor a 5-2-3 formation to start the 2017/18 EPL season, if the situation warrants I will shift to a more viable offense in order to chase points.

The current 5-2-3 featuring Firmino, Kane and Jesus up front provides a great feeling of confidence before the start of GW2. Underlying stats were strong for all 3 players, while Firmino was the only one who returned (12 pts.) Yet running without “Big Rom” Lukaku just doesn’t sit well. Much like tempting fate last year without Kane, especially those managers who went without when he came up BIG in the final games of the season. As pointed out by FPL Avenger (@FPLAvenger) regarding Lukaku, “He fires and you lose ground on 50% of managers. He blanks and you gain on 50% of managers.” Feels a bit like playing Russian, or in this case Belgian Roulette.

Introducing Lukaku was set in motion a series of transfer requiring an early wild card. At £11.6, in order to make the necessary room for Lukaku, I would give Firmino and Jesus their walking papers. My third forward would then role to the non-playing £4.5, Ollie McBurnie. This would shift my formation into a 5-3-2, requiring me to drop a budget midfielder and pick up a £5.5-£6.0 starter.

The introduction of Mkhitaryan for GW2 at £8.0 decreased my budget ITB to £0.5. With De Bruyne (£10.0) as my other starting midfielder, an attempt will be made to introduce Christian Eriksen (£9.5) for either Mkhitaryan or De Bruyne based on their GW2 performance. Knee jerk? Quite possibly but I don’t want to dig myself out of a very deep hole so early in the season. With very little data to go on, these moves aren’t risky based on how these players performed last season and appear to have started this season where they left off.

These moves are also contingent on Lukaku NOT rising in price after his GW2 performance. Away to Swansea, United could net a few goals, based on the number of big chances they gave up in GW1. It would also require my team value to increase by £0.1 by weekend’s end to cover the budget required. All these rising and falling prices could be irrelevant if I moved KDB, which would free up an addition £1.0.

For GW2, the knee jerk reaction isn’t great enough to cause me to activate the wild card because of Lukaku’s opening week brace. I still feel the personnel I have in my starting XI have great fixtures and based on their statistics from GW1 could return big points for the upcoming game week.

Premier League: Expectations

So we are just 3 minutes into the Arsenal vs. Leicester City fixture and Lacazette has already scored to give the Gunners the lead. While I decided against Lacazette to start the season, I have made other drastic changes to my lineup within the last 90 minutes before they were locked for the week. However, it’s not to late to show my GW1 squad and post, some goals for he upcoming season.

It’s been a month of research and tinkering, shuffling players in and out and deciding what formation I would favor to start the season. While I did put together a comprehensive article on rotating 3 budget defenders, based off Peter Blake and his excellent work at Mathematically Safe. However after FPL Towers announced prices, I decided to change my strategy this year after doing an article on alternative formations.

Oddly enough I never brought up the idea of running out a 5-3-2 or a 5-2-3 until I read Firetog’s article, In Search Of The Best Fantasy Football Formation. In some strange, Etienne Capoue start to last season, way I thought his article made sense and I concentrated my efforts on running out a 5 defender set, taking advantage of the good early schedules of teams like So’ton and Man United. I took Firetog’s article and did a series of posts on this uncommon formation.

Just today, about 2 hours prior to kickoff, I got a wild hair up my ass after listening to the latest shoutcast on FFS. While driving to work, I agreed with some of what the guys spoke about, but two things stood out. First, going with three So’ton defenders, based purely on their strength of schedule to start the season (SWA/WHM/hud/WAT/cry). I believe it was Luke who commented on this strategy.

The other comment that changed my mind and saw me transfer out Lukaku, was a comment from Andy and how Jose could potentially set up show defensively if Man United jumps out to a 1-0 lead over Swansea City. While he is a Man U supporter, the comment seemed to ring true, based on how the Red Devils played last season, posting many shutouts, but also many low scoring games. With that in mind, I moved Lukaku and Fabregas (or Willian) out of my squad in favor of Jesus (10.5) and Firmino (8.5) up front, while dropping my 5th midfielder to a non-playing 4.5 in Jack Colback. This provided me with this 15-man squad:

The formation, while unconventional feels good as we head into GW1. Maybe it’s the plan in place through GW7 that provides that (false) sense of security, knowing that one poor performance or injury could derail a month’s worth of effort and planning. But, that’s the life of a fantasy manager.

After finishing in the top 75k 2 seasons ago, I set that as my goal last season. While I failed miserably, after a poor 20 week run, in which I saw 15 red arrows, I did rebound, albeit too late to make a real change. However, I feel the experience I gained was invaluable in how I approached this season.

Read further posts and blogs, I enjoyed Rob Reid and his thoughts as we approached GW1 at Fantasy Football Geek. While it wasn’t the first time I had read one of his columns, I did note his goals and decided to use this as a “standard” as we are underway with GW1. With that said, here’s what I want to accomplish to consider this season successful.

 

  1. Top 10k finish in the Overall Rankings
  2. Average 60.0 points/week
  3. Survive 4 rounds in the cup
  4. Win my private H2H league

Not sure any of these are out of the realm of possibility. The top 10k OR will be the tough as my last 4 years finishes haven’t been impressive: 877k, 537k, 75k and 446k last season. So, while still new to the FPL, it feels different heading into GW1. Hopefully that translates into success to start the season.

Premier League: Me vs. Top 5 Managers

Now that we have had a week to digest Chelsea winning the EPL, Arsenal winning the FA Cup, Harry Kane winning the Golden Boot and the fact that Marco Silva was recently hired to guide Watford, it’s time to reflect deeper into the season. By no means did my squad, the Go ‘Orns have a successful season. However, I end the season with green arrows in 10 of the last 12 weeks, which featured a run of 8 green arrows in a row. To think I had this game figured out after GW6 when I was ranked 29k but the next 20 weeks did me in, finishing 446k in the overall rankings.

To dissect this season, I have decided to compare my finish to that of the top 5 winners in the 2016/17 FPL season in order to find the commonalities they shared when it comes to being a successful manager. It doesn’t take a mathematician to crunch the numbers and draw conclusions on my poor season. The spreadsheet is broken down into 5 categories, based on the information provided from FPL Statistico: actual points, captaincy, transfers, formations and squad stats, common players.

Actual Points: One goal at the start of a season wass to average 60 points per game week (PPGW). Last year I averaged 57.1 PPGW, just 2.89 off that average. When reviewing the season that was, it came down to making stronger captain selections and decreasing overall transfers. Averaging 60 PPGW will get you in the top 25k of most season. From that point it’s about the captains, transfers and differentials to make the difference. This season I averaged a paltry, 53.6 PPGW, down 3.5 points from last year. The struggle was real! But it doesn’t tell the entire story. The top 5 players in the world averaged 66.7 PPGW. Yet these numbers need to be broken down to yield failures and in their positions, the success they achieved.

Captaincy: Handing the captain’s armband to the incorrect player or taking a punt can be detrimental to your overall rank. On the season I earned 531 points by captains, a 13.97 average. Of the top 5 mangers, only one failed to achieve 700+ points (664) with their captain selections. Two managers recorded 755 points scored (29.45% of total score), while two others scored 713 points (27.86% of total score).  The underlying numbers show that Aguero, Lukaku and Sanchez were the favored captains with Ibrahimovic and Costa receiving an honorable mention. Looking at my squad, there were 4 weeks in which my captains totaled 14 points, with Coutinho being the biggest bust, 2 weeks captained and 4 total points. The one success I had was Bailly, captained for DGW34 with 24 points.

Transfers: I’ve already written an article on transfers, Premier League: Excessive Hits, in which I detail how all 72 transfers played out each week. The numbers were quite revealing, showing that while I might have been 20-30 points over the weekly average, my gain was far less that what I expected because of a -4, -8 or -12 point hit to my overall score with regards to players I transferred out. The top 5 managers averaged 3.89 point hit/week, with one manager only take a total point hit of 20 on the season! Impressive! Even more so the one manager who took just 39 hits over the season. With 152 hit points, I set myself up for failure, especially when you look at the raw numbers and see a total point gain of only 336 points. Two of the top five managers exceeded 400 points (407 & 429 points) on nearly half the total transfers that I took. Combined the top 5 managers totaled 144 hit points!

Formations: Is 3-4-3 better than a 3-5-2 when it comes to how you set your formation? Three of the top five managers heavily favored the 3-4-3 formation, while two others were split between 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, a tried an true classic at least on the pitch. The 3-4-3 formation was my favored. I did attempt to use the 3-5-2 six times after activating my WC in GW21. All managers averaged, regardless of formation averaged 63.42 points per week with a 4-4-2 formation yielding the highest average of 67.5 (12 times). There was a big discrepancy when it came to the Bench Boost (5-5-3), I scored just 139 points while the top 5 mangers average 183.6. The high score being 193 and the low 171.

Squad Stats: There really is no comparison in this category. While I had good players at times, overall position scores came in very low when comes to the top 5. I outscore just a single manager at the position of goalkeeper recording 159 points to his 138 points. Two managers exceeded 200 points (210 & 212) averaging over 5.5 PPG from this position. Defensively I struggled all season averaging 3.78 PPG (457 pts). All but one manager finished over a 4.0 average, while a single manager posted 625 points, 83 points clear of the next manager. This was a great year for midfielders with the top 5 recording nothing lower than 838 points and topping out at 909 points. Compare that to my squad with just 720 points. This with the majority of managers starting with a 3-4-3 formation. At forward I did beat one manager, scoring 583 points (5.89 avg) to his 546, still his PPG was higher 6.07 PPG versus 5.89. A score of 699 was the highest for all forwards (6.05 PPG).

Common Players: Looking through the top 5 teams I have compiled a list of 11 players based on game weeks played. No surprise that Sanchez tops the list with 126 appearances (25.2 avg) and 1672 points (13.26 avg),  while Lukaku is a distance second with 103 appearances (20.6 avg) and 1061 points (10.20 avg). Kane only had 44 appearances in these teams recording 669 points (15,20 avg). Sanchez and Lukaku were the only two players to feature in over 100 game weeks played by the top 5 managers. Aside from Sanchez’s dominance in the midfield, it was Hazard (73) and Eriksen (70) as the other top midfielders by appearance. Eriksen scored 503 points (7.18 avg) to that of Hazard’s 428 points (5.86) and Alli’s 416 points (7.42 avg). McAuley, one of three defenders to make this list had 93 appearances, Alonso, 78 appearances and Walker with 67 appearances. However Alonso finished with 420 points (5.86 avg) besting all other defenders.

Sanchez was the most captained player (10.8 avg) who scored the most bonus points (25.4 avg). However there is a large discrepancy when it comes to Sanchez on my squad, who was my top footballer with 132 points. I captained him 8 times but only received 6 bonus points, well off that bonus point average. Just going down the list of these players most I had were 1-2 points off the top 5 manager average. Also looking at the game weeks players none of my players exceed 19 weeks played, which was Costa, Eriksen was at 17 weeks players. Many of the top 5 managers had players exceeding 20 weeks played with one manager having two players who each played 31 game weeks for him. This tells me I need to either make better selections to start the season or be more patient with the premium players.

You can see the data on the spreadsheet. All the categories are taken from FPL Statistico. This all confirms what some pundits have been saying all year. Defensive players and captain’s armband can play a big role in the success of a season. Mistakes, such as excessive hits or gambling on a punt or two could prove futile.

2015/2016 Premier League Fantasy Result

Not that I have a big following when it comes to the “beautiful game” but even less of an interest when you bring the fantasy aspect to the forefront. Talking fantasy fútbol , which ended this past Tuesday for the English Premier League thus concluding my third season participating. I admit, it was my best showing to date scoring 2,170 points (winner scored 2,458 points), which was up 119 points from last season giving me a final ranking of 75,025 (out of 3,734,001)! Inside the top 100k was my goal this year and I achieved it. I ended on a streak of three green arrows and five out of the last six week I improved my overall position, undoubtedly my best run of the year, when it’s needed most.

When you start breaking down the numbers on a weekly basis, that 288 point difference between my final standing and the winner ends up as a difference of 7.57 points a week. That’s not many points. Drop in 4 points for a clean sheet and number decreases even more! Looking over the season, I am still on the upswing of the learning curve. However, I did get in on some of the “template” players earlier than later in during the season. It took only 3 game weeks and I had used my first wild card introducing Hart, Williams, Ward, Mahrez, Sanchez, Ayew, Silva, Aguero and Gomis. Picked up an early injury on Calum Wilson, who was added prior to game week 2. I did benefit from the use of the early WC, seeing my ranking and team value rise over the next 4 week, climbing to 536k and £102.6m respectively. Unfortunately I left 50 points on the bench during game week 3 and 4.

The triple captain chip was dropped into play for game week 4 on Kun Aguero vs Watford resulting in 6 points, as City won 2-0 and Aguero was held scoreless. Not how I planned on seeing this potential bonus going down, as I had paid heavily for the striker’s services, which meant he won the captain’s arm band often. Game week paid off nicely as Aguero scored 5 goals vs Newcastle scoring 50 points and lead my team to best (non DGW) score of 103. It also vaulted my team to the top 65k my best overall ranking in 3 years. Unfortunately the international break arrived, Aguero got injured and this started a run of red arrows through game week 14 dropping my overall rank to 582k.

Game week 9 saw my all out attack chip played starting Cresswell and Francis as my sole defenders, Chadli, Ayew, Sanchez, DeBruyne and Mahrez in the midfield and Pelle, martial and Ighalo up front. I finished this week with just 43 points, my 5th lowest score of the year and another red arrow following by best score, the week before. I was frustrated, as my decisions were not paying off, weeks of 43, 53, 48, 42, 44 and now 56 capped off my worst run of the year.

Week 15 I made two transfer, which cost me 4 points, the third time this early in the season I had done so. Five weeks prior I had jumped on the Vardy bandwagon, but that was after his 11 game goal scoring streak had ended, yet Jamie was still scoring and Leicester was still winning. Lukaku and Alderweireld made an instant impact on the transfer in, scoring 16 and 6 respectively. Mahrez also hit for 21 points, things were looking up!

What I learned this year, as this was the first year for the three chips, I should of held this chips for the DGW or double game weeks that appeared during the later part of the season. I got antsy and attempted to play catch up by using the chips early in the year, which through 14 weeks had scored my only an additional 4 points! Not how I saw my chips playing out this season.

For the next 8 weeks it was a mix of red and green arrows, never really establishing a consistency on the pitch. Even a good week of 72 points in game week 17 saw a red arrow when the average points scored was just 59. Yet the season started to turn around during game week 23, when my team put up 88 points behind top performances of Alli, Firmino, Ighalo and Aguero. This total propelled my team 324k spots in the ranking to 279k, my best ranking since game week 11.

The next 3 game weeks, scores of 61, 63 and 60 saw just average returns but two green arrows the final two weeks. Looking forward we were starting to get an idea of DGWs and teams with no games because of cup action. The final 13 games weeks saw 9 green arrows and only 4 red arrows, as I chipped away moving closer to 100k.

Week 29, a score of 90 points with 6 players on the dream team pushed me inside 200k, jumping my team 103k for the week. Behind just a single transfer of Schmeichel, for the week, he was key in 28 points for my defensive players with Mahrez, Payet and Aguero scoring 11, 13 and 22 respectively.

One notable issue I need to address next season, the number of transfers that take a point hit in the mini-leagues. I recorded 9 weeks of -4 points and a single week of -20 points (game week 37). Speaking of mini-league action, I started the season 6-0, suffering my first loss, 58-41 in game week 7. The next 8 weeks I would go 2-6, losing 2 game weeks (14, 15) by a total of 3 points. Toss in a draw during week 16 and my team would not recover falling from the top of the table. I did win my final 3 matches, but never moved higher than 5th for the rest of the season. Go ‘Orns finished the season 20-1-15 scoring 2,170 points, outscoring the next closest team by 231 points.

DGW 34 put me in a great position to finish the season, 139 points (avg. 72) powered by Sanchez (25 pts) and Aguero (52), who wore the captain’s armband pushed me inside 108k, my best position since game week 8. After the first games, I was thrilled to see just how well my team and expected bigger points for the second games teams were playing, yet I set my expectations too high and some of the bigger names disappointed.

As the season was winding down, it was one more toss of the dice in game week 37, I took a -20 point hit and made big changes to my squad in hopes of improving my final standing. Introducing Van Aanholt to my defense and giving Hazard the armband accounted for 41 of my 97 points, Payet and Sanchez continued to pay dividends, while Defoe scored another goal. The season closed with a final week of 56 points thanks to a shutout from Bellerin and Monreal as well as a flier on Mane, which resulted in 13 points.

Looking back on the season, I realize I must listen to my head more than I listen to some pundits or polls. Many of us can relate, talking yourself out of a starting certain players or changing the captain’s armband just before the lineups are locked. The bonus points for the three chips absolutely killed me this season, planning on a big reward, which yielded a single digit total. These will be held much longer next season.

The final factor is challenging, starting the season with players who end up on the “template” for much of the season. This year, Vardy and Marhez impressed much of the season. Kane, didn’t hit early on but came back very strong. Ozil was a consistent assist machine for the Gunners. All were template players, but it would those 2-3 players outside the template who hopefully made a positive difference in your team.

After 3 years of playing I set personal records for most points, 2,170 and rank, 75,024. Last year’s score of 1,912 saw a finish of 531k, while my inaugural year was 2,041, finishing 877k. This year was a huge step forward and a cornerstone on which to build for next Premier League season.

Fantasy Premier League 2015-2016

eplThe 2015-2016 Barclay’s English Premier League is upon us! Time for “football” fans to rejoice as the chase for the cup begins. There have been some big moves in the EPL this year, not surprisingly coming from the top teams; Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. Yet we can’t forget the middle of the pack teams who make up a bulk of the action, as well as the newly promoted clubs; newcomers, AFC Bournemouth, Norwich City and Watford!

This is 4th year I have participated in Fantasy Premier League. While I haven’t done well in the past, it’s been a real learning experience. Much like jumping into fantasy football that is played in the US, following the NFL, it takes times, lots of studying in order to “get it right” the first time. Now I won’t say I have a got anything right when it comes to spending my £100 on 15 players that will make up my squad, Go’Orns (which is short for Go Hornets, the nick for Watford).

I have spent more time this year than I have the previous 4 years learning, studying and tinkering with my squad. Every time I finish a new article I find myself shuffling players in and out. Unlike NFL fantasy football, where you a waiver wire, you only get a single transfer (not including your wild cards) per week playing the EPL.. So getting your team correct starting gameweek 1 is very important. My confidence is running very high, as it usually does before the start of any fantasy league.

Injuries and fatigue from summer play have impacted a few notable players on the eve of kickoff. This has seen players like Alexis Sanchez, Sergio Agüero and Diego Costa, all questionable, all of whom were top scorers last season. I don’t know how many times I have shuffled my lineup with all three them on the pitch at one time or another the last month. Yet, as we look towards Man. U v Spurs, I think I have finally secured my lineup for the start of the season.

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, ARS / Wayne Hennessy, CRY
There were two schools of thought for the man between the sticks, go cheap and rotate keepers on lower teams based on their strength of schedule. Initially this is how I was set up, but after further thought and consideration I decided I wanted a goalkeeper I could start and forget. The man to fill that position, Petr Cech, Arsenal, newly acquired from rival Chelsea. After relegation to a back up roll at Chelsea last season, Arsenal might have the final piece of the puzzle to challenge for a league title. No doubt Cech will take that defense to the next level with the likes of  Per “BFG” Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny anchoring the defense. Cech alone is with a 5-10 wins during the year and will increase the number of of shutouts Arsenal records this year. At £5.5 he didn’t come cheap, but I feel the extra money is well spent. Backup goalkeeper is Wayne Hennessy of Crystal Palace, I don’t expect to use him, but at £4.0 he will see some starts as Julian Speroni is injured to start the year.

Defenders: Laurent Koscielny, ARS / Nathaniel Clyne LIV, Aaron Cresswell, WHU / Robert Huth, LEI / Matt Targett SOU

Defenders, much like goalkeepers can be had cheap and with a good rotation could benefit you based on their weekly match ups. It comes as no surprise that Chelsea has the top three defenders based on price (Ivanovic, Terry and Cahill). At one point I decided to anchor my defense with Ivanovic, but soon realized that would leave me a few million pounds short through the midfield and up front. For much of the month I had Caesar Azpilicueta slotted as my route into the Chelsea defense, a rock solid performer who will undoubtedly see improvement this year from last. Yet it was just a few days ago I opted for Laurent Koscielny to anchor my defense. The reason why, falls to the man between the sticks, Petr Cech. Koscielny can perform on both ends of the pitch. He is prone to yellow cards, but 3 goals and 11 shutouts last year could potentially increase by the end of the season. Nathaniel Clyne moved to Liverpool and will control the right side, with ability to get up and down the field, he scored twice last year and added two assists with 13 clean sheets. At £5.5 he isn’t cheap, but could be worth every pound spent on his return. Aaron Cresswell rounds out my starting three, he played every minute of every game last year and recorded 129 points. With some questions in the Hammers midfield, Cresswell could improve on his 4 assists last year. Robert Huth and Aaron Targett round out my 5 defenders and currently I don’t plan on playing either of them unless there is an emergency.

Midfielders: Eden Hazard, CHE / Santi Cazorla, ARS / Victor Wanyama, SOU / Raheem Sterling, MCI / Jordan Henderson LIV

As expected the bulk of my £100 went into the midfield position, spending £40.5! If I were to adjust my forwards and save £1.5 to £2.0 I could conceivably be starting 5 midfielders. The thought has crossed my mind numerous times, but only realistically started looking at that option last night. Not sure I want to tinker too much with the lineup at this point. No surprised to see Hazard leading the group, high scorer last year and I don’t see him slowing down this year. He is a “must have” on your fantasy team. In a surprise move I decided to add Raheem Sterling, after his move to City, playing with a group of talented midfielders, Sterling could shine in his first season. It’s money well spent and he comes in £1.0 less than David Silva (another midfielder I had slotted a few times). I fully expect to sell Sterling when Aguero is healthy to strengthen my forwards, which means I will trade down for a second tier midfielder such as Yannick Bolasie from Palace or Matt Richie, Bournemouth. For a few weeks it was Mesut Özil in my starting five, finally playing in the 10 spot for the Gunners, but after further consideration I swapped him out and added Santi Cazorla, who is favored from the spot and free kicks. Behind Sanchez, he was the second highest scoring Gunner last year. I could see him clipping 200 points this year with the addition of a few more assists and an increase in shutouts, thanks to Cech. Since Liverpool didn’t keep Steven Gerrard, the armband was passed to Jordan Henderson, 162 last year topped the team. With new boys Firmino, Milner and Ibe, I do see Henderson being a 90 minute player. The addition of Benteke and Ings up front with a healthy (whenever that it) Sturridge and Henderson could come into his own this season for L’pool.  Victor Wanyama was my budget buy coming in at £4.5, while playing near 2400 minutes last year with 3 goals and 1 assist. Hopefully Wanyama won’t get lost with Tadic and Mané prowling the midfield for Southampton.

Forwards: Wayne Rooney MUN / Christian Benteke LIV / Callum Wilson BOU

This group has undergone many changes and might see one more revision before I finalize my starters for the weekend. Rooney was actually my third choice for a starting forward. Initially Agüero was penciled in as my starter, but after fatigue from Copa America this summer and the possibility of missing gameweek 1 I pulled him for Diego Costa (CHE), who’s start is in question because of a hamstring. So, Rooney it is. Playing back up top with a good complement of midfielders, Rooney could flourish this season, coming off a disappointing campaign last year. I will plan on selling Rooney when Agüero returns (along with Sterling). At one point it was Danny Ings slotted to start, but after Benteke made the move to Anfield, Ings fell by the wayside. But it was Romelu Lukaku who was going to partner with Rooney, but a hamstring injury might slow him. Benteke is a monster, who, when on is really on, but when off, can be a complete disaster. He’s got the midfield to feed him up front, so I will take a chance with Benteke as my #2. Third forward has been flip flopping between Troy Deeney of Watford and Callum Wilson of Bournemouth, both play for the newly promoted teams and while I favor Deeney because I am a Watford fan, I penciled in Wilson. Why? Wilson is the point of the attack for Bournemouth, while Deeney has Ighalo and Vydra in the mix. Still 3 years with 20+ goal season is how to deny, yet it was the lower league, but for now, Wilson gets the now. Hopefully one of these two bargain players end up being the new Charlie Austin.

I plan on a 3-4-3 lineup to start the season and have no money in the back. With any luck I will be able to hold on to my wildcard until Agüero returns. I don’t plan on rotating any players right now, but the rotation will show up in the defense first. Hopefully I can improve on my finish last year, but confidence is running very high, although there are still many unanswered questions.

Match Day 38 was Premier!

It’s called The Premier League for a reason and Match Day 38 culminated in one of the best climax’s in English football I have seen. Many announcers commented on the excitement this season as Manchester United and Manchester City battled with 18 other teams, which came down to 5 minutes of extra time before the league champion was crowned.

I am sorry to say most American’s can’t understand the excitement of football…soccer as many know it as. Not sure why, maybe because 45 minutes of continuous action is too long to follow. No commercials, means no beer runs. For some it’s the lack of scoring, a 1-0 game can be a thrilling game, much like a pitchers duel in baseball. Many I know find the game of football…err soccer boring. That’s fine. Many people give me about 3 minutes of watching the beautiful game with me, while at work, make a few comments and move on.

Fair enough, but today’s action some of the most amazing football I have seen played! It came down to the final day as both teams came in tied on points, but Manchester City had the goal differential advantage, a number that Manchester United would not be able to overcome. Unfortunately Manchester United let a lead slip away between Match Days 33-36, scoring only 3 points to Manchester City’s 12 points including a shocking loss to Wigan Athletic and derby loss 1-0. Either one of those games go for 3 points, even a 1 poin and Manchester United would have won their 13th Premier title, but it wasn’t to be today.

Queens Park Rangers played all out today, especially after thug, Joey Barton was sent off with a red card for an elbow thrown at Carlos Tevez in the 55th minute. Just 7 minutes prior Djibril Cisse had tied the game at 1-1, after a defensive lapse by Joleon Lescott. It would be 11 minutes later that would change the course of the game as Armand Traoré made a run past the Man City defense down the left side and his cross found an unmarked Jamie Mackie, who’s diving header put QPR up 2-1.

It was the 10 men defense of QPR and the play of Paddy Kenny that kept QPR on top, as Manchester City dominated possession and the shot advantage, but they came out without their shooting boots on. Yet Kenny came up with very big saves until the end of the game.

Thanks in part to Joey Barton’s red card and the ensuing drama getting him off the pitch, 5 minutes of stoppage time were added. This would be costly for QPR and conversely Manchester United, who played out their 3 minutes of stoppage time, defeating Sunderland, 1-0 and claiming the Premier League. Their celebration was very short lived.

Back to back goals in the 94th and 95th minute of the match sealed the victory and the league for Manchester City. Edin Džeko came off the bench in the 69th minute and his head found the ball off a corner kick, which brought Etihad Stadium to it’s feet! On the ensuing kickoff, QPR gave up the ball and went back into it’s defensive posture, which had been very good since going down to 10 men. Unfortunately the last minute of stoppage time saw Sergio Aguero beat the slide tackle of Taiwo and launch a shot near post, which found it’s way past the defense and Kenny to seal the victory for Manchester City.

It was truly an amazing end to an amazing season. Hopefully the Champions League Final between Bayern München and Chelsea prove to be just as exciting. For those who watched the semi-final between Barcalona v Chelsea, today’s Man Cit v QPR game was similar in nature, as Chelsea played down a man for much of the second half in that game and turned back every attack that Barcalona (arguably the best team in the world) threw at them. As a result of the 2 goals today, QPR gained a bit of respect and will remain in the Premier League for another season, avoiding relegation.

Football Weekend….in the UK

It’s more often than not I wish we lived in the U.K. where the nation’s sport was football. No, not the American kind you find owners locking out players over their collective bargaining agreement and not being able to agree on $9 billion. That’s the NFL for you. This weekend kicked of the action in the English Premier League. Unfortunately being stuck at work on opening weekend I was only able to catch parts of about 4 games, along with highlights from the day.

For me the match of the day was Liverpool v. Sunderland. After the frustrating 2010-2011 season for L’pool it started off on the wrong foot with a draw against the Black Cats. After missing a penalty shot, Luis Suárez redeemed himself with a 12′ goal. That lead would last until 57′ minute when a beautiful volley found the far side of the goal from Sebastian Larsson. An early season goal that could end up being the goal of the year.

Not too surprising to see four games end in draws on Saturday, including the Gunners v. Newcastle and Joey Barton. Barton was deliberately stepped on by Alex Song, the officials missed it and that incident led to a later disagreement that involved Barton and Gervinho, who was red carded.

Today we will see how Manchester United starts against West Brom and Chelsea against Stoke City. Monday we will see other big off-season spenders, Manchester City v. Swansea City. It looks to be another great season in top flight football in the EPL. I plan to be very involved watching this season, as well as Serie A and the battle at the top in La Liga! Also great to know the Mexican League is very early to watch on Saturday afternoons. Viva Cruz Azul!

Futbol Kicks Off

While the Community Shield match usually kicks off the start of the new English Premier League, today started with big names, big teams and big money headlining the weekend matches. While my horse in this race is actually in the Championship League, I have been a supporter of Liverpool over the last 5-7 years.

Today was a enjoyable start to the EPL with Villa putting the smack down on West Ham, 3-0 as Robert Green (England National Team member) looked terrible. On the other hand at least he got a start, unlike Shay Given was was upstaged by youngster Joe Hart. Way to go Roberto Mancini, not quite sure what spurred that move. I guess you can make a few million selling Shay to Arsenal now, since they have no good keepers, but need one in order to compete.

It was a great day for Blackpool supporters, who made their debut in the Prem and came off a highly impressive spanking of Wigan, 4-0. Roberto Martinez must have talked tactics too much during the 2010 World Cup because his squad was downright terrible today. Another loser was Everton, not sure why David Moyes can’t get his boys to start quick, since they finished last season so strong.

It was Spurs and Man City that got things started with a 1-1 draw, but it should have been a match that Spurs took all 3 points, if it were not for the play of Joe Hart. Even though Hart saw no time on the pitch during the World Cup, he played like a veteran today. I still think Given should have started. Hart spent all of last year at Birmingham on loan from Man City, where he played very well.

How about Chelsea, 6-0 over WBA! Welcome back to the Premiership, not quite the return West Brom had in mind. Oh yeah, Drogba netted a hat trick. Chelsea looked good, but West Brom looked bad.

I am participating in only one fantasy football pool this season, sponsored by www.premierleague.com where I finished strong last year, but have gained some more experience and think I am ready for a better year. As for my game predictions, I did not do very well. But it is early and I know I will fair much better in that department this season.

Finally The Super Cup is next weekend between scudetto winners, InterMilan and runner-up, AS Roma. The following week starts the actual Italian Serie A. The beautiful game is back.

Small Clubs with Heart

It’s rare you hear about a club in the US in any of the major sports, where a team resides from a small city. It just doesn’t happen. Small market clubs end up being a loosing proposition in many cases. Just take a look at your favorite sport and I am sure you can relate. San Diego Padres are considered a small market club and will never compete with the likes of a Yankees or Boston.

In football…sorry, soccer for those Americans who don’t follow European football it is decidedly different. There is the Barclay’s Premier League, which is top flight football in European. All teams in England strive year after year to be promoted. Beyond the Premiership is the Coca-Cola Championship League, which is home to teams relegated from the top league or teams who achieved success to be promoted. The other lower divisions are the League 1 and League 2 under the Coca-Cola Championship. No sport in the US is like this, where a small team is promoted, the only comparison could be a minor league affiliation in baseball, even that is a different.

Last season saw Burnley, town of 22,000 inhabitants be promoted to the Premiership. As with many lower division teams it is always a great thing for the team and the fans who are loyal to the end and support their club at all levels. Burnley opened home play last night against last season’s champion, Manchester United. Most gave Burnley no chance in hell of winning, let alone scoring a goal.

An interesting note hear while watching the game last night (on my DVR). The entire town of Burnley could fit inside Wimbley, which is home to Manchester United (holds 70,000+). Yet last night was not to be for Man U, who could just not click, while playing a weaker opponent. It was a great feeling watching and experience a lower division club, newly promoted after 33 years taking on the same team tame relegated them from the Prem 1-0, 33 years prior.

Burnley was able to gain the advantage last night on a great volley to the upper corner of the near post that would end up being the game winning goal (only goal of the game) for a 1-0 victory. Everything was going Burnley’s way from deflected balls, to penalty saves to the break. Man U could not muster much in terms of coordination and seemed to be frustrated by what Burnley did to them. Some claim Ronaldo could have pulled 1, possibly all 3 points for Man U. We can only speculate.

While Burnley might not win more than 4 or 5 matches this season, they have begun this Premiership in grand fashion, by taking down the perennial champions. This match was a great spectacle! One that will live long in the hearts and minds of Burnley. Even if they don’t win another match this season, I think we saw the sort of heart the club had, as well as some talented players on the pitch. If you get a chance, catch a replay of this match.

Community Shield

The 100th FA Community Shield was played today in the UK with Portsmouth going up defending Prem Champions Manchester United. This kicks off the new season, as there are a full slate of matches next weekend, which I am looking forward too. As for the NFL…pffft.

The game was rather uneventful, as the Red Devils were not even fielding a full team with some big names not in the lineup, like Rooney, Ronaldo, Hargreaves and others. Portsmouth, winners of the FA Cup last season look to make a run for the championship this season, or at least be in the top four. But they did not play well, outside a great game from the flamboyant, David James.

When this guy is hot, look out he is one of the best in the game. But sometimes his aggressive play style gets the best of him and those easy ones end up in the back of the net. Not today though, he kept Pompey in the game, even though they could not muster much offense.

The big name signing of Peter Crouch was rather quiet, coupled with Jermaine Defoe they did not really click in the match. Most of the offense was seen at the opposite end of the pitch, with James continuing to make save after save.

The game was 0-0 at full time, which mean a penalty shoot out. Pompey looked terrible from the spot, but I do think Van De Sar has something to do with that, as an opposing figure between the sticks. Portsmouth missed, scored and the next two were saved as Man U went on to win their 7th FA Community Shield.

Next weekend is shaping up nicely with some big games to kick off the new English Premier season with many big names on new teams. As for Serie A, they kick off the last week in August. More big signings for clubs like AC Milan, Juventus, Inter as well as my favorite, AS Roma. Football, not throwball is back!

Premiership to Remain Premier

There was a proposal set forth by the Barclays’s Premier League to stage league games outside of England. Many mangers of English clubs were not happy about the prospects of playing league games abroad.

The United States would have been one of the countries on the list with games played in two big market cities, New York and Los Angeles. Only one problem, which I am somewhat surprised that MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis did not recognize. Football…err…soccer for you Yanks does not sell in America.

Yeah, I am sure with expansion planned to Miami and San Jose, some would look at the MLS being on the upswing. Yet there are telltale signs all is not well. Consider that clubs have lost a combined $350 million since the league’s inception in 1994. Attendance figures are not stellar considering clubs are drawing between 11,000 and 16,000 fans on average. Yeah, I also know there are some exceptions, D.C. United, Toronto FC and the Los Angeles Galaxy (Thanks to David Beckham!).

But I can step back and take a breath because other, stronger nations in football, like Australia, Africa and Asia (Japan & Korea) have rejected the FIFA proposal.

From Gazidis, “I don’t see it as a negative for MLS, but the implications go beyond these games on their own. There are implications for the game worldwide. There are implications when matches are taken across borders in this way.” No one attends games now, what makes the MLS think with Prem clubs coming across The Pond, fans will flock to watch REAL football? Add to that, the fact clubs will raise ticket prices before of the QUALITY of football.

Now, I as a football fan (No, not NFL) would relish the chance to see a Premiership match. Honestly, it would just not be the same to see football in a country that hardly recognizes football…err…soccer as a sport in America.

Guess I will have to book my reservations for a Trans-Atlantic flight to meet Qster (Andy) at Villa Park and then off to Vicarage Road. Now tell me Yanks, do you know who plays at these stadiums? Ha, didn’t think you did. Go back to your American football.