It. Is. On. New Fantasy Premier League season has been announced last Wednesday, opening the period of 31 days during which everyone and their dogs will be sorting out their 15-men squads. With transfer window still rolling and pre-season yet to be completed, it might be a tad too early to make the final selection. On the other hand: the experience from the last season, combined with freshly announced player price tags are provoking some FPL musings already. And here they are – distilled in a form of guide to all four ‘fantastic’ formations out there:
Goalkeepers: between tidy and busy
Easy manual labour: during the 2016/17 run, Courtois didn’t need to overwork himself.
The choice of goalkeepers is perhaps the most complicated issue in the entire game. One might think that with a massive, 4 point bonus for each clean sheet and just 1 point bonus for each three saves made in a single match, the scoring will be overwhelmingly biased towards the top-club Number Ones. In reality – it isn’t. In fact, the two top goalies of the last campaign have been Thibaut Courtois, from high-flying Chelsea and Tom Heaton, from notoriously troubled Burnley. Both accumulated the same amount of bonus points and both were terrific picks for FPL managers – but for all different reasons.
Behind their back, there was also a massive mash-up between top 6 keepers and much less reputable, much busier and much more shot-stoppingly involved lads from Bournemouth, Swansea, Leicester or Watford. Obviously, choosing the latter for an FPL team saves you a little bit of money but chances are, you might end up with a GK from a team that turns into a relegation fodder and ships 3-4 goals each game. If that happens, you’ll be either forced to always field your backup or waste a precious transfer on a position you want to have sorted in order to bring the right strikers at the right time.
Therefore, starting the competition with safe choices like De Gea, Lloris or Courtois seems like a better choice. Petr Čech is a gambling option here, as he’s normally facing more shots than his aforementioned colleagues and thus offers a greater 3-Save Bonus potential – but then, he might as well concede more from those numerous attempts. As of no-goes: Simon Mignolet’s scoring has never been too impressive and his new derby rival, Jordan Pickford (not even among the top 12 goalies in terms of bonus points last season), has drawn far too many difficult fixtures to be in contention:
Defenders: one size fits all
With his new assignment in effect, ‘Milneymar’ could be the first name on many FPL sheets.
In an ideal world, FPL defender should: a) play for a strong team, capable of delivering clean sheets b) take part in his teams’ set pieces, either as a taker or finisher c) play clean brand of football and avoid too many bookings d) be a guaranteed starter regardless of fixture, venue or opposition. Such players are not easy to find: last year, only Leighton Baines would fully fit all four of these premises and he’s been injured for an extended period at one point. Thus, the focus was on players like Kyle Walker or César Azpilicueta – members of rock-solid sides who would still occasionally go forward and provide an assist or two.
However: summer 2017 saw the number of all-around defenders increasing. As the FPL hosts have moved James Milner from his midfield post to the ‘Defender’ category, his services have immediately become a gigantic opportunity for a lot of points. A penalty taker and still quite an adept creator in the wide areas, the ex-Man City veteran would only miss two games last season and his 7 goals, combined with 4 assists were a decent return even for a midfielder… Considering that 2016/17 top defender, Gary Cahill, picked up 178 points, Milner’s last-year heroics put in the ‘DF’ bracket would place him tied with Chelsea centre-back!
Another important note to take is that the two most offensively gifted right-backs in the league have finally parted ways and will now be playing for two different, attack-minded teams. Kyle Walker, the 2016/17 FPL hero and his former mate Kieran Trippier tend to find themselves more often on the oppositions’ half than on their own and they still have a quite clutch players to sweep the danger behind their backs. Combined with Milner, those two could turn out to be the real gems in the long run – assuming, of course, that Man City’s defensive ability remains uplifted by the presence of injury-free Vincent Kompany.
Midfielders: perks of creativity
Climbing back on top? After the last season, Mesut Özil will have a lot to prove.
No need to sugarcoat it: when it comes to FPL midfielders, it’s all about attacking returns. As the game offers no rewards for successful tackles, interceptions or aerial duels, the focus is purely on either regular assist providers or players who, for one reason or another, end up finishing lot of goalscoring chances. Kevin De Bruyne would be a perfect example of the former; Dele Alli, with 18 goals under his belt – of the latter. Both were absolutely on fire in the late stages of the previous campaign; both have seriously attractive fixtures ahead of them now. Missing out on either of them (or worse: both) could be an inexcusable mistake.
Behind their backs, there are creators whose status and future prospects aren’t so clear. Cesc Fàbregas still won’t be guaranteed starter for Chelsea, as Antonio Conte is in the process of swapping Nemanja Matić for Tiemoué Bakayoko. Philippe Coutinho, though outstanding last term, could face the prospect of playing deeper since his Liverpool have added another attacker to their lineup in form of Mohamed Salah. And Mesut Özil? Couple weeks ago, the German was tipped to leave London; today, he looks like he’s staying and with him – his staggering record in terms of creative contribution to Arsenal’s game:
If there’s one midfielder capable of turning things around next term, it’s the former Schalke and Real Madrid maestro. Firstly: he’ll now be playing with a brand new finisher like Alexandre Lacazette, who should exploit Özil’s passes better than Giroud or Welbeck. Secondly: we’ve already witnessed a story of a world-class #10 who’s had one dismal season and then returned in glory – Fàbregas himself lived that kind of plot from August 2014 to May 2017. Thirdly: without the disheartening burden of getting massacred by Bayern in the Champions League, Gunners might finally have a season marked by all-around confidence.
Forwards: two is the new three
Last time Christian Benteke visited Anfield, this happened. It could happen again…
The 2017/18 season will be the first one in years in which Sergio Agüero shall not be the priciest player in the entire Fantasy Premier League. Rumoured to be incompatible with Pep Guardiola’s style, threatened by Gabriel Jesus’ squad competition, the Argentinian is now cheaper than Harry Kane and on level price with Man Utd’s new signing, Romelu Lukaku. Considering their fixtures and reputation: those three plus Arsenal’s Lacazette are still the main candidates for a ‘luxury forward’ spot – a spot which belongs in pretty much every single FPL team out there. The big choice here has never been more difficult.
As of the second striker spot: the former FPL midfielder Roberto Firmino is the first man who comes to mind, though his record of 11 goals and 7 assists last season hardly justifies the 8.5 price tag. Same goes for Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke: at 8.0, his price has only increased, though Frank de Boer’s new team is unlikely to bring great goalscoring return. Alas: the first five fixtures could make Benteke’s acquisition a bargain anyway. The beastly forward is scheduled to play Huddersfield, Swansea, Burnley and Southampton, as well as Liverpool – his former team, against which he showed up big time last season. His record against those initial rivals looks outstanding too:
And what about the third striker? Well, the correct answer would be: what third striker? As the form of Premier League forwards remains erratic and there are great, pricey options to pick amongst defenders and midfielders, it turns out that the customary 3-4-3 strategy becomes less and less viable. So instead of spending big on hit-or-miss goalscorers, picking a placeholder like Ashley Fletcher (4.5m) and permanently benching him while playing 2-forward strategy seems like a pleasant alternative that also allows more budget flexibility. And when was the last time three big-name poachers have all been on fire at the same time anyway? Not the last season, for sure!