The 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.