As you're putting the finishing touches on your fantasy team, here are a few bargains you can't pass up
Thesauruses across every inch of literate civilisation were raided in April and May as wordsmiths struggled to meld together terms that accurately described what was happening in the Premier League.
‘Magic’ was the base term that slowly became ‘sorcery’ in some corners, before words like ‘voodooism’ and ‘necromancy’ entered our collective sphere of consciousness.
For those of us who take fantasy football with a degree of seriousness, that goes beyond the realms of social health, the term that most accurately summed up our feelings was ‘dark magic’, because what we witnessed was less David Blaine in an ice cube for 46 hours and more Red Witch giving birth to that crazy smoke thing in Game of Thrones.
Eden Hazard tanked, Man City’s defence let us down week after week and United fell flat, time and again. Suddenly, none of the expensive players were any good, we all had loads of money to spend and everyone ended up with the same team.
It was like being handed every Pokemon at the start of your adventure without having to catch them all. The fun was gone.
The main reason last year was such an anomaly was not so much because of the brilliance of Leicester players and various others, but more down to the lack of an array of premium players who would really test our budgets.
The outlook ahead of the new season appears to be that this is all about to change, with huge price hikes for last year’s mid-price stars, a number of big name signings and a return to confidence in some former favourites.
Here's a guide on who select in your squad ahead of the deadline, starting with the most money-consuming parts of the pitch.
Aguero or Zlatan? It's the biggest dilemma ahead of the new season, between the two most expensive players in the game and the second and third most popular (David de Gea is number one, FYI).
Sergio Aguero (13.0) is the closest thing we've had since Luis Suarez to an essential fantasy football player. Even with 50 Premier League goals in the last two seasons, there has still been a sense that his output could be better again. Guardiola’s arrival gives that notion more thrust.
There are very few players in the world that could arrive in the league and sway our attention. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (11.5) is one of those and the United new boy could potentially be a FPL dream. There are plenty of arguments to be made against his status as one of the greats of the game, but very little can be said about his goalscoring record all across Europe.
FPL is a cold and cruel game, where scoring tap-ins matters more than putting in a shift. Last Sunday’s Community Shield is a scary example of what might be to come - if he has a season of poaching goals without even being that good, it doesn't matter. In fact, that sort of season would help him challenge any player in the overall points stakes in fantasy football.
Can you choose both? Of course you can. But be prepared to take a heavy, heavy hit in midfield where we’re presented with a number of great options (which I'll get into soon). Going for both would totally skew the balance of your team which might be okay if you're chasing a mini-league in April, but not exactly wise in August.
Ultimately, this decision comes down to how ballsy you're prepared to be. Sure, Zlatan saves you 1.5 that could go to great use elsewhere, but his selection over Aguero from the start is a gigantic gamble. How confident would you really be without the Argentine at home to Sunderland this weekend?
Thought so. Aguero for me, and as captain in the opening weekend too.
Harry Kane (11.0) appears to have been priced out of contention in a lot of squads, unless you've gone Zlatan over Aguero. Jamie Vardy (10.0), however, might just fit it snugly beside Aguero to leave you with an excellent pair of premium forwards. The reasons for drafting him in are pretty obvious, but the threat of Champions League rotation with Ahmed Musa now in the side looms in the distance.
It makes him a wary inclusion in any squad and we’ll need to monitor 7.5-priced Ahmed Musa’s early showings, but for the first four weeks Vardy actually looks to be decent value. Let's not forget he's got managerless Hull up first.
We’re going to see a lot of teams go Aguero and Vardy up front, which makes the third striker decision an important point of difference.
Andre Gray (6.5) is arguably the best option here. A season of heavy goalscoring (and creating) last year has been followed up by an insane pre-season where he has scored nine goals in six matches. All the signs point to him hitting the ground running - Burnley are the only team to play four home games in the first six fixtures, thanks to Liverpool’s refixing of the sides’ Anfield clash.
The confidence to back a newly-promoted player is, thankfully, given some base this year thanks to Odion Ighalo, Callum Wilson and Troy Deeney’s showings last year.
But it's hard to beat moments of proven Premier League form, and Andy Carroll (6.5), has that in his locker. If he manages to stay injury-free, then last year's glimpses of brilliance in Bilic’s system could become a thing of regularity. He's had a pretty decent pre-season with four goals and, thankfully, there hasn't yet been any new addition to the West Ham squad that would suggest his spot is under threat.
Alvaro Negredo’s (6.5) return to the league will have piqued a lot of fantasy managers’ interests. He comes in at a good price, has some Premier League experience (nine goals and five assists in his brief Man City season wasn't bad) and seems to be ahead of Jordan Rhodes in the Boro pecking order. He's also got a fantastic string of opening fixtures, with 10.5% of managers installing him in their squads as it stands.
Elsewhere, Shane Long (6.5) also has a few nice fixtures in his opening five games and should get the nod ahead of Charlie Austin if Claude Puel only picks one. There may be more value in Southampton’s midfield, though, which we will explain soon.
Christian Benteke (7.5) is worth monitoring. If he gets that move to Palace or West Brom, every fantasy football manager out there should get ready to party like it’s 2012/13.
As always, midfield is a pre-season minefield yet again with so many seemingly enticing options on offer.
The Spurs midfield offers us a number of avenues, with Dele Alli (8.5) and Christian Eriksen (8.5) now priced the same. While Alli had a stunning FPL season last year, many seem to forget that that was - like Leicester’s stars - down to a cheap price tag. Eriksen outscored Alli last season and will retain set piece duties. That makes the decision an extremely tough one. However, with one of the best early schedules in the game, it is a decision that will have to be made as a Spurs midfielder looks a very sensible move.
Outside of that duo, Erik Lamela (7.0) is expected to improve further this season and would obviously free up a healthy amount of cash. His goalscoring tally is unlikely to match Alli’s and he probably won't get as many assists as Eriksen so finding the cash to get one of the more expensive pair appears to be the safest route into those appealing first fixtures.
Liverpool’s midfield is an equally confusing puzzle. With Sadio Mané (9.0) and Georginio Wijnaldum (8.0) joining Robert Firmino (8.5) and Philippe Coutinho (8.0) in the ranks, we have four options who can all offer explosive returns.
However, it seems right now that Firmino is the man to go for after some excellent performances in pre-season and an expectation that he will be stationed as a false nine. The one caveat for him (and all Liverpool players) is a horrific run of early fixtures when they take on Arsenal, Spurs, Leicester and Chelsea all in the first five weeks.
That being said, anyone for an audacious captain punt on Firmino against Arsenal’s threadbare defence on Sunday?
Manchester United’s midfield has been made a hell of a lot more interesting this summer. While Paul Pogba (8.5) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (9.5) have given us plenty of big-name potential to salivate over, Anthony Martial’s (9.5) reclassification as a midfielder is arguably the biggest move. The likelihood of him being stationed further forward suggests that he'll actually benefit from the creativity of his aforementioned new teammates and he'll get an extra point for each goal scored this season as well as for each clean sheet. All that said, with Pogba’s late arrival, it's still a little unclear as to how Mourinho might set up and who's going to get the set pieces. It's a wait and see job here.
Far more appealing than any Man United midfielder right now is Eden Hazard (10.0). His late season form last year, his moments of genius at the Euros and, interestingly, his stationing as a number 10 in pre season makes him once again an outstanding option. Being worth only 10.0 this time also helps.
If you're on the lookout for a differential, Oscar (7.5) is a very interesting prospect indeed. With an ownership of just 1.4% and three goals in Chelsea’s last two pre-season games under a more settled Conte setup, this could unexpectedly herald his best ever season.
Southampton are worth checking out. Dusan Tadic (7.5) looks set to become a central figure under Claude Puel with a creative role through the middle looking likely. He's got spot kicks in his locker, clocked up 157 points last year without being a constant starter and is reasonably priced. Expect big things.
Nathan Redmond (6.0) joining the club has turned out to be very interesting indeed. In pre-season, Puel has stationed the former Norwich man up front with Long in the last two friendlies after bagging two goals earlier in the summer. He could turn out to be a glorious out-of-position option.
In case you’re wondering why the hell the following players are not in this piece:
John Stones (5.0). Surely that is all you need to know? It's nigh on impossible to not be tempted by City’s new signing. If we were disappointed that the Pogba deal was done so late, we should be dancing on the streets that Stones waited until August to move as we are getting him at a steal of a price. I've seen people lament his lack of goal threat which is total nonsense. Who needs goal threat when we've got such a cheap defender here who's more than likely going to be a fixture of City's defence? Advice: get him.
West Brom under Tony Pulis has always been a great source of clean sheets and we are expecting this from the off this year. The first seven fixtures are relatively kind for the Baggies before their schedule takes an ugly turn. Gareth McAuley (4.5) or Jonny Evans (4.5) are worth a place in your squad until then.
Antonio Valencia (5.5) seems to be well in Jose Mourinho’s plans. A great pre-season which included a hat-trick of assists against Galatasaray culminated in that cross for the winner last Sunday. If he does indeed turn out to be Jose’s first choice right back, let us all welcome back the assist machine together.
For what it's worth, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly are also priced at 5.5 and may tickle a more orthodox fancy.
With Ronald Koeman’s incarnation of Everton, we might expect the return of their heyday in the full back positions, particularly with Leighton Baines (5.5) and Seamus Coleman (5.5) stationed as wing-backs in Wayne Rooney’s testimonial.
After a tough opening fixture against Spurs, Everton have six favourable games in a row. Perhaps waiting in the long grass to see of Koeman persists with the wing back strategy might be best as well as giving yourself a week to wait on Coleman’s fitness. That being said, it's always hard to overlook Baines given his set piece potential.
After strong returns last year, it may seem strange to have seen no Spurs man in the defensive section of this article. The inevitable rotation at full-back during Champions League weeks and Toby Alderweireld’s premium price were enough deterrents there, which brings Hugo Lloris (5.5) into view. Partner him with a 4.0 ‘keeper and play him every game for probably the safest way into that defence during their great run of early fixtures.
Image: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
In terms of coupling goalkeepers together, Tom Heaton (4.5) and Ben Foster (4.5) appear to be one of the best options. Burnley’s strong defensive showing in the Championship last season, coupled with the solidity of a Tony Pulis side (usually), you’ve automatically got two great ‘keepers.
However, pair their fixtures together and play the one with the easiest game each week and you’re looking at fielding a goalie against a team from season’s top 10 just four times in the opening 20 gameweeks. It’s a great rotation with actually decent chances of routine clean sheets.