In less than three weeks, the 2012-13 season of the Premier League kicks off. So if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign up for EPL Talk’s free mini-league version of Fantasy Premier League.
1. IT’S BACK!: There’s Christmas Day, and then there’s the return of Fantasy Football. After that, quite frankly, there’s nothing. Ten days ago, the server opened, mini-leagues formed and I weighed the pros and cons of Marko Marin and Hatem Ben Arfa. A few of us asked the message boards for advice. I asked my neighbor’s dog. “Fantasy Premier League is barely back for 2 hours and I’m already stressed,” @FutbolIntelect wrote on Twitter. Know the feeling? Sure you do.
2. Picking: You can choose your team a couple of ways. Personally, I prefer the “scattergun” method: just fill up those 15 slots as quickly as you can, save, and then start making the tough decisions. If you’re more comfortable with a measured approach, write down a few important names on a slip of paper before you even open up the website; the bright lights and flashing advertisements can be distracting. But don’t worry too much about your first draft. The XI with which you end Day One is not necessarily the XI you’ll finalize at 11:29 pm on August 18. Plenty of time remains for inspiration.
3. Drama and Manchester City: It’s always tempting to shell out on last year’s star man, especially when he’s as hot as Robin van Persie. But before you commit a large portion of your budget to one player, make sure he has a stable future. RvP has made it quite clear that he wants to leave Arsenal; don’t start the season with an unhappy Dutchman up front. Speaking of unhappy forwards: Manchester City. Financial Fair Play is supposed to be implemented any minute now, which is why City have spent frugally this summer – this may be the last transfer window of ridiculous fees. Ah, well. City made the most of what I already feel comfortable terming the “good old days,” spending large sums on several strikers over the past four years, with some starring (Aguero), some flopping (Santa Cruz, Dzeko) and some just causing ridiculous amounts of hassle (Balotelli, Tevez). It’s never wise to being the season with one of City’s strikers, because nobody knows which combination will start up front.
4. Bradley Wiggins and the end of English sporting futility: What, you may ask, does Bradley Wiggins have to do with fantasy football? I didn’t watch a minute of the Tour de France, but nevertheless I feel confident in saying that Wiggins’ win tells us something about English sporting superiority. That’s not a typo. Believe it or not, English footballers dominate the Fantasy Premier League. Joe Hart earned more points than any other goalkeeper last season. Kyle Walker and John Terry came third and fourth respectively in the defender rankings. Wayne Rooney was second only to RvP among front men. And Theo Walcott – yeah, the Theo Walcott you thought was infuriating and unreliable – washed up at fourth in the midfield standings.
5. New signings: This is where self-control comes in. The whole concept of the transfer window is sustained by irrational excitement. Nick Powell just joined United from League Two? World Beater. Hugo Rodallega to Fulham? Match-Made-In-Heaven. Matthew Lowton signs for Villa? Never-Heard-Of-Him-But-Great-Anyway. You mustn’t let that summer hysteria – a side effect of weeks without competitive club football – influence your fantasy selections. Sam Pater, who won last year’s Fantasy Premier League, is a level-headed, pragmatic manager (I’ve never met him, of course. Who has? I have a feeling he doesn’t get out a lot).
My First XI
John Ruddy (Norwich City): John Ruddy isn’t a star keeper, but he’s cheap. The fantasy system undervalues goalkeepers – a top goalie doesn’t have the potential to earn as many points as a top striker or midfielder – so it’s best to settle for someone in the 4.5 to 5 million range. Price: 4.5 million. Starter.
Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United): This buccaneering Sideshow Bob look-alike is a much better deal than his overpriced doppelgänger, David Luiz. The year Newcastle were relegated, Coloccini was generally considered a gruesome result of bad management and a study in “typically South American” defensive naïveté. Now he’s indisputably one of the best defenders in the league. Price: 5 million. Starter.
Aaron Hughes (Fulham): One of my all-time favorite fantasy players. He’s tough, reliable and cheap. Price: 4.5 million. Starter.
Antolin Alcaraz (Wigan): Alcaraz may be one letter short of the coolest name in football, but with a decent goal-scoring record and a low price tag he’s a perfectly adequate defensive option. Price: 4.5 million. Starter.
Radek Cerny (Queens Park Rangers): I always buy the cheapest possible bench so I can afford a high-quality starting XI. Price: 4 million. Substitute.
Chris Tierney (Norwich City): Same as Cerny. Price: 4 million. Substitute.
Leon Barnett (Norwich City): Same as Cerny. Price: 4 million. Substitute.
Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United): As I make clear in point #5, it’s important to think realistically about new signings. Based on everything I’ve seen from Manchester United in pre-season, however, Kagawa – who was definitely not bought to “sell shirts” – will begin the season in Ferguson’s starting lineup. Price: 8.5 million. Starter.
David Silva (Manchester City): An easy pick. Silva is arguably the best player in the Premier League, and his fantasy exploits reflect that. Price: 10 million. Starter (captain).
Marko Marin (Chelsea): Marin is another exception to the new-signing rule. Since Arjen Robben left in 2007, Chelsea have relied exclusively on their fullbacks for width, so Marin offers a new, exciting attacking option. He’s underpriced and very talented. Price: 7 million. Starter.
Yaya Toure (Manchester City): A bulldozer who scores goals, Toure is up there with Nemanja Vidic and Vincent Kompany on the “Players I Don’t Want to Meet in Dark Alleys” list. His brace against Newcastle – goals that, at the time, seemed to have secured City the title – epitomized a season of consistent contributions. Price: 8 million. Starter.
Leon Britton (Swansea): Anyone nicknamed the “English Iniesta” deserves a second glance. Unfortunately, Britton only makes it into this team as a substitute. Price: 4.5 million. Substitute.
Papiss Cisse (Newcastle United): Something about banana volleys appeals to me, even though they have no value in the fantasy game. Cisse scores goal, which is rather the point, isn’t it? Price: 9.5 million. Starter.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United): Ignore him at your peril. Wayne Rooney isn’t an exciting or original fantasy pick, but he does the job. And he takes penalties. Price: 12 million. Starter (vice-captain).
Fernando Torres (Chelsea): You have to gamble to win, and splashing 10 million on Euro 2012’s top goal scorer is certainly a…wait — that doesn’t make sense. Conventional wisdom may tell you that Torres is one goal-drought away from complete implosion, but anyone who is a European champion at both club and international levels deserves a chance. Sometimes you’ve just got to go out on a limb and sign the in-form player. Starter.
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