Thursday, July 30, 2009

Attacking rankings

A couple of days back we looked at the defensive rankings for the first 8 weeks of the season, today we will focus on the attack (inc midfielders). I have used a similar process to calculate (a) a team's strength of schedule and (b) the average number of goals they score/concede in different situations. This gives an overall score which I have ranked from 17 to 1 (again excluding the newly promoted sides who are unlikely to feature highly on this list anyway).

17. Wigan Athletic
Wigan have the second hardest schedule (opponents conceding just 1.158 goals per game) and the second worst goal production (scoring just 0.921 goals per game) which results in bad news for the Latics. Wigan have lost their best two attacking options from last year (Valencia and Zaki) which suggests that the goals may be even harder to find. New chief Martinez has brought in Jason Scotland (45 goals in 90 at Swansea) and Jordi Gomez who are both solid lower league players but are unproven in the Premier League. It is hard to back any of the attacking options here, though Scotland does have Kenwyne Jones-like potential. If he were cheaper I'd take a look but at 6m I can get proven performers like James Beattie or Frazier Campbell and Scotland is a shortlist player only for now.

16. Stoke City
This ranking is largely based on Stoke's brutal schedule (opponent average of 1.132) but also due to their inability to score goals on the road (16 last season). Trips to Liverpool and Everton are unlikely to change this trend and home games against United and Chelsea won't do alot of good either. The ranking puts a bit of a question mark over James Beattie who until I did this analysis I had liked very much. At 6m he is still good value but there may be better options, at least to open the season with. I can't see any of the midfield threatening much over 100 with perhaps Delap the best of an average bunch due to the assists he gets from his long bombs.

15. Portsmouth
Pompey's team is a bit of a train wreck, though the potential signing of Zaki is intriguing. Even with Crouch and Defoe (for half a season), Portsmouth could only muster 38 goals last term, which could get even worse this year without any new arrivals. Their opening fixtures are average (1.263 opponent goals), though travels to Arsenal and Villa and home games against Fulham, Everton and City are unlikely to yield a mass of goals (at least not for Portsmouth). Aside from the oft-injured but undeniably talented Kranjcar (7m) the only option is probably Nugent (5.5m) who could be decent striker to stick on the bench. For me though, these guys have too much against them to be considered right now.

14. Fulham
Fulham have a tough fixture list (opponent average 1.217) and their awful away record (11 goals last year) make midfield and forwards risky selections. Danny Murphy was excellent last year and I think he can have another good season, though the 26 bonus points will be hard to replicate. 140 points looks possible though which equates to a solid .582 PPMS. Fulham's road games are decent on paper but based on last year's miserable totals and the lack of additions to the squad its hard to be too confident about these games. The home games then include Chelsea, Arsenal and Everton which makes for more tough times for the Fulham front line. Fulham have a few squad filler players and a potential every week man in Murphy, but perhaps stay away for now, or else be prepared to settle for 2 and 3 point weeks to open the season.

13. Sunderland
Sunderland have an average fixture list and managed an awful 13 goals on the road last year. They have recruited well though in Frazier Campbell (6m) who could be joined by Darren Bent (7m) in the near future. With tricky trips to United, Bolton and Stoke on the horizon, as well as home games to Chelsea and Blackburn, the new partnership may find it tough to get off to a flying start and you may wish to hold off for now. On the other hand, if you are going with a rotation strategy for your forwards, Campbell and co will be a great play in weeks 5 (Hull), 6 (at Burnley) and 7 (Wolves).

12. Hull City
Despite having the 5th best fixture list in the league, it is hard to list Hull even this high due to their weak forward line which has not been upgraded in the close season. After an opening day trip to Chelsea the only red light game is a trip to Liverpool in week 7, and this is preceded by 4 green light games including Wolves and Birmingham. Aside from bench fodder I can see no Hull players worthy of inclusion in your squads despite this ranking.

11. West Ham
The Hammers have a pretty tough fixture list (14th - 1.211 GPG) but their 9th ranked attack suggests there is still value to be found here. The squad is a bit thin up front with only Cole and the injured Ashton listed as recognised strikers. The real value could be in the support men with my favourite being Jimenez who Zola has suggested will play off the strikers this season. Cole himself is also decent value though at 7m you must consider this tough fixture list as a caveat against him. Unfortunately West Ham have a bye in week 2, though their only red light game is against Liverpool in week 6. The remaining fixtures are not impossible though goals should be limited throughout this opening stretch. I would not let this ranking put me off budget options like Jimenez though perhaps better options than Cole can be had for 7m over the opening weeks.

10. Blackburn
Rovers are a tough team to measure and their middle of the road fixture list (11th - 1.257 GPG) and goal production (11th) don't make it any easier. Aside from the awfully inconsistent Gamst-Perdersen I personally do like any of the Blackburn attacking options. McCarthy could be good but is too dogged by inconsistency while Diouf and Roberts just don't get me excited. The only green light game is the visit of Wolves in week 5 so unless you have a particular belief in one of Big Sam's men, I'd hold off for now.

9. Tottenham
Spurs are into the top 10 thanks to their 6th placed schedule (1.283) and 8th best goal production (1.727). Tough fixtures against Liverpool (week 1), United (week 5) and Chelsea (week 6) prevent this ranking being higher but this should be equalled out somewhat by the visit of Birmingham and Burnley as well as trips to Hull and Bolton. The unquestionable best pick in the Spurs side for me is Modric, who everyone seems to be gushing about, none more so that old 'Arry. Lennon also looks to provide decent value (.609 adjusted PPMS) though the fact he hasn't started more than 26 games in a Premier League season is a concern. Assuming Bent moves to Sunderland and Roma re-ignite their interest in Pavlyuchenko, then the forward situation will be less crowded and Crouch and Defoe should both log sufficient minutes to warrant consideration. For only 7.5m, Crouch could be good value here so long as Robbie Keane doesn't steal too many of his minutes.

8. Bolton
Bolton have an astonishingly good opening set of fixtures, with their opponents conceding an average of 1.549 GPG (only one other team's schedule rates above 1.4). The list includes home games against Sunderland, Stoke and Spurs while away trips to Hull, Pompey and Birmingham should also prove likely to bear fruit. The only downside is the bye in week 2 so a replacement must be held on the bench for this week. Kevin Davies (7m) had a breakout fantasy year last year with 136 points though it may be hopeful to think he can replicate this again with 120 being a more likely total (leading to PPMS of .476). Attacking options in midfield are few and far between though Muamba (4.5m) will provide a consistent supply of points, perhaps topping 90 points. The imminent arrival of Lee Chung Yong could be one to watch if he is priced well, as he looks to have real potential and a game that should translate well to the Premier League.

7. Aston Villa
Villa are a useful team to have players from due to their consistency at home and away from Villa Park (they scored 27 goals home and away last year). Their 9th ranked schedule should allow Villa to get some decent results with the home games against Wigan, Fulham, Pompey and City all looking promising. Villa do have the dreaded bye in week 2 so you must plan accordingly if you're looking at anyone from their team. Ashley Young (8.5m) will be a decent source of fantasy points again this year though at .508 PPMS he isn't startlingly good value unless he can make the jump to the 180 point mark. Agbonlahor is in a similar position in that he isn't a premium talent but isn't cheap either. At 8.5m I would be tempted to save money elsewhere and go with Drogba (10.5) or Berbatov (10m).

6. Man United
It is a huge surprise to see the Champions down in 6th, as their schedule is pretty favourable (8th overall - 1.270 GPG). However, when you look at the numbers, United's attack was unspectacular on the road last year (25 goals) and the losses of Ronaldo and Tevez have only be partly replaced by Valencia and Owen. United's opening three fixtures (Bir,@Bur and @Wig) look very appealing and so it might be beneficial to get two Reds on board now before their prices rise. Ferguson has suggested Berbatov's stock will rise this year and at 10m he could be good value. Despite the criticisms, the Bulgarian was 5th among forwards last year and will top 150 points this year if he continues at the same scoring rate based on the extra minutes he should receive. I think Rooney (11m) is overpriced and it is unclear how Owen (8.5m) will be used so I do not like the English pair to open the season. In the midfield, only Carrick (7.5m) and probably Valencia (8.5m) will get enough consistent minutes to warrant consideration. Valencia has the highest ceiling though at the same price as Young, Cahill and Arteta I think he too is overvalued unless he can secure free kick and corner taking duties. Carrick is an interesting selection who at first glance looks a little overvalued at 7.5m. However, a further look sees growth potential for the English dynamo and I will be doing a feature on him in the coming days.

5. Arsenal
Once the definition of attacking football, Arsenal's front line has taken several dents in the past 5 years or so (retirement of Bergkamp, the sale of Henry and the recent sale of Adebayour) with only the partial emergence of van Persie to counteract these set backs. I say partial because the second coming of Bergkamp has never quite hit the big time, mainly due to injury but also his somewhat petulant attitude. Van Persie and co aren't helped this year by the opening fixtures which are 15th in the league with opponents conceding an average of just 1.195 GPG. Four road trips to Everton, United, City and Fulham as well as a week 2 bye are particularly concerning though Arsenal's 68 goals last year were second in the year so their schedule alone should not totally dissuade you from selecting any Gunners. Arshavin (11m) was magnificent last year and would have lead the league with 280 points if he had played a whole season at the level he displayed after arriving in the transfer window. While its a stretch to think he could touch these marks, he could join Gerrard and Lampard as the new big three, despite the fact he costs 1.5m less. Wenger has tipped the Russian maestro to excel this year and I am totally in line with this view. I think 200 points are a real possibility and put the former Zenit man in the category of play-every-week players for whom the schedule is not an issue. I have followed Cesc's career closely since his arrival in England and I am huge fan, but for 10.5m we need more assurances that his role will be advanced enough to generate Lampard-like points and for that reason I am holding off on the Spaniard until after the initial few weeks of the season.

4. Everton
With a very favourable schedule (opponents concede 1.459 GPG) and a strong attack (58 goals last year) Everton look well placed to get off to a flyer in the new campaign. After the visit of Arsenal in week one, followed by the bye in week two, Everton then play 6 good looking games including home games against Wigan, Blackburn and Stoke as well as trips to Burnley and Portsmouth. With Cahill fit and scoring, Yakubu returning to fitness and full of confidence, and the potential to have Jo, Saha, Pienaar and Arteta join them in the matchday squad, Everton's front line looks to be very potent. My concern with Cahill and Arteta (both 8.5m) is that they tend to split the points on offer and, like Ashley Young above, I am tempted to save money elsewhere and go for a premium talent like Gerrard or Lampard. At 6.5m Pienaar is an intriguing proposition, despite not being able to agree to a new contract. Last year the South African scored 119 points, which if he managed to play in just 33 games, would translate to a 150 point season. Whether or not he will get these minutes depends largely on the development of Gosling and Rodwell as well as how Osman is deployed this year. When fit, Yakubu can be a very productive fantasy player, and a 15 goal season is well within his reach. In fact, in every season the Yak has played in 26 games, he has scored at least 12 goals, and he managed 15 in 26 in 2007/08 after joining from Boro. At 8m he isn't a steal but I think he is the best player in that price bracket, though not in the class of van Persie and Berbatov above him. Yakubu is also very streaky so don't be surprised to see him rattle off three goals or more in that favourable run starting in week 3.

3. Man City
I have City ranked third now, but basing predictions on last year is fairly redundant for this team, who could score an unprecedented amount of goals this year. For me, they have unarguably the best collection of strikers in the league, supported by a decent group of midfielders, who of whom needs to step up into the Gerrard/Lampard role in order for this team to be great. The schedule makers have given the Sky Blues a decent chance to mesh as a team with games against Blackburn, Wolves and Portsmouth hardly looking terrifying. After that they get United and Arsenal but then don't play another big four side until week 13. My reservation with this team is who will play and with all four strikers costing 8.5m+ it is essential that whoever you pick gets regular minutes every week. As their record signing one would expect Adebayor to get the start most weeks and at 10m I think he is fairly priced. Last year he was widely criticised for poor performance but still managed to provide a .532 PPMS, ahead of the likes of Agbonlahor (.526), Berbatov (.510), Rooney (.487) and Tevez (.421). If motivated and fit and 32+ game season could see him threaten the 20 goal mark, excellent value for your 10m. In fact, along with Torres (11.5m) and Drogba (10.5m) I think he is the only other striker who could score 200 points. The usage of Robinho (9.5m), Santa Cruz (9.0m) and Tevez (8.5m) is less clear and I will be staying away for now until this situation becomes resolved. In midfield, I was all set to take Ireland until they released that he was 9m. This could be a step too far, though I still think he is perhaps the most underrated player in the league. On a good day he reminds me alot of Gerrard without the highlight reel pace and long shots which keep him of the mainstream radar a bit. If he is given the reins to run this offence, he could almost generate Gerrard like points and threaten the 180 point mark. If City play a 4-3-3 then Ireland will be the Iniesta or the Lampard, and we all know the kind of production that pair generates. Surprisingly 9.5% of all players have selected Ireland to date so those who want him may have to grab him early as a good run of form could soon seen people pile on the bandwagon and cause his price to rise sharply. Elsewhere, Barry's value has fallen since leaving Villa due to the fact he must now share free kicks, corners and penalties with more than just Young. Kompany or De Jong could provide a consistent flow of 3 or 4 pointers depending on who locks down the holding midfielder role in Hughes' side.

2. Chelsea
I am pretty excited about Acelotti's diamond, as it will allow Drogba and Anelka to take the field together while providing Lampard with a perfect role behind the front two. Their schedule also provides excitement as home games against Hull and Burnley and away trips to Sunderland, Stoke and Wigan should all provide good chances for a couple of goals. The arrival of a new manager, who is implementing a new system means that it is not clear who will start, outside of Drogba, Anelka and Lampard, though it is pretty safe to assume Essien will occupy the defensive role. This leaves two spots for Malouda, Kalou, Ballack, Deco, Cole and even Zhirkov who has been deployed on the left a couple of times in pre-season. So many rotation options proves to be dangerous for fantasy owners and I advise steering well clear for now, with the exception of Zhirkov who provides defensive value too. As for the front men, I think Lampard is the best player in the fantasy league this year and will be the focal point of my team to open the season. I think Drogba can bounce back from last year to be near the top of the scoring charts, and I actually like him better than Anelka, despite also being fairly high on the Frenchman. My only concern with this pair is that they cancel each other out a bit, unlike Torres who doesn't have any other recognised strikers to share his goals with. However, I would not criticise taking either of these two, and will consider both for my team.

1. Liverpool
With the third best schedule (1.388 GPG) and last year's best attack their is only one choice as the best attack for the first 8 games. Only the week 1 trip to Spurs and the week 8 game at Chelsea should provide a real test for Benitez's men, while home games against Stoke, Burnley and Hull all look like potential 3 or 4 goal opportunities. There's little doubt that Gerrard (12.5m) and Torres (11.5m) will be the stars of the show, and both should justify their high prices by touching or exceeding the 200 point level. I think Kuy (9.5m) is a touch overvalued and will struggle to match the 12 goals from last year, Riera (7m), Babel (7m) and Benayoun (7.5m) all have questions marks over the number of minutes they will receive.

As always I look forward to hearing your responses and idea and you can follow the blog on twitter @plfantasy.

Darren Bent - The Truth

No fantasy analysis here, just had to share the comedy tweetings of Darren Bent:

July 29th 3:25am - "this is the longest day in the world. flipping hec"

July 29th 9:34am -
"Soon as I have news ill let ya'll know don't worry"

July 30th 11:31 -
"Seriously getting pi**ed off now"

July 30th 13:27 -
"Sunderland are not the problem in the slightest"

July 30th - 17:41
"Do I wanna go Hull city NO. Do I wanna go stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f***ing around levy"

Probably won't be heading back to Spurs then? Would be amusing if he signed for Hull or Stoke now.

On a more interesting note, is this the future of sports news? Three seperate sports have been affected by athletes breaking news in the past few weeks. Kevin Love broke news of Kevin McHale departure from the TWolves, Phil Hughes spilled the beans on his dropping from the Aussie cricket team and now Bent has clearly broken silence on where he wants to ply his trade next year.

Exciting times for today's 'now' generation, and there could be fantasy ramifications. Imagine if we can follow Cesc Fabregas who annouces he is "gutted" to miss out on today's game at 9:32am on matchday. Or reading that Adebayour is especially fired up for today's game against Everton.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Strength of Schedule

Anyone who read the blog last year will know that I am huge advocate of playing the fixture list and picking players based almost as much on their matchup as their innate footballing talent. I assess a team's strength of schedule by looking at how their opponents have fared at home and on the road, for example:
Arsenal face the following three opponents: @Eve, Sun, @MNU. Their strength of schedule would be calculated as the average number of goals Everton score at home, plus the average goals scored at on the road by Sunderland plus United's average home goals, divided by three. As you can see, it isn't rocket science but it can highlight some surprising insights (eg. statistically, Blackburn away is only a slightly tougher fixture in terms of goals per game than United at home).

For this season, I am taking a slightly different approach and rather than just calculate a team's strength of schedule, I am combining it with the average goals conceded by that team at home/away to give an adjusted average goals conceded. This will show the best defensive plays each week, accounting for both the strength of the defensive team and the strength of the opponent.

Of course, there are limitations to this analysis, with the biggest issue right now being that we are having to base the goals per game on last year's stats. There is no way to really solve this until we have a few weeks of data for the new season so until then I have used an adjustment factor to increase/decrease a team's goal production based on new signings/losses/injuries etc so far in the offseason.

Without further delay then, the defensive rankings based on the stats for the first 8 weeks of the season are as below (I have excluded the promoted teams as we have no data whatsoever on these teams and I would have to rely on pure conjecture, which is exactly what I am trying to avoid):

17. Hull City
No real surprise here, as Hull have the ugly combo of the worst non-relegated defense from last year and a schedule that includes trips to Liverpool and Chelsea. I would have avoided Hull defenders before this analysis and this only confirms my gut feeling.

16. Stoke City
Stoke had a great home defense last year (5th) but struggled on the road (20th) and trips to Liverpool, Everton and Bolton make for a tough start to the league for Stoke. They also welcome United and Chelsea to the Brittania Stadium, rounding out one of the toughest schedules in the league. I actually quite like the Stoke defense, and I made my case for taking Sorensen a few weeks back. However, that was purely on the basis of rotation and this opening set of fixtures should discourage you from relying on the Stoke back five as starters at this point.

15. Portsmouth
Pompey's team on paper is pretty weak (especially if Distin departs) and this analysis makes grim reading from the boys on the South coast. With James overvalued at 5m, I see absolutely no value in the Portsmouth back five and would not consider any of them right now.

14. Blackburn
This is a bit of a surprise as we tend to think of Allardyce teams as very solid at the back, but they were poor on the road last year (16th) and face tricky trips to Fulham, Everton and Arsenal in the opening 8 games. This could work in your favour though, as long term I like the Rovers defense to improve by a good distance this year and this sticky opening patch will allow us to (a) see how any new signings fit in, (b) see who is in the starting lineup and if any bargains (Nelsen 4.5m) can be had, and (c) if these guys really can make such a jump. Stay away for now but watch this space for week 11 onwards when the fixtures look very nice.

13. Wigan
With Steve Bruce gone, Wigan could take a step back this year and Roberto Martinez is hardly known to be a stout defensive minded coach. No new players have come in at the back, and Wigan face 5 of the top 6 teams in the first 7 games to open the season. The Wigan boys are cheap again so should still garner rotation value (as I mentioned with Sorensen above) but I do not see anyone making the jump to an every week starter over the first quarter of the season.

12. West Ham
With City reportedly chasing Matt Upson, the Hammers defense looks a bit thin, which is a shame as the opening fixtures are fairly decent for Zola's men (though Liverpool and City back-to-back could be tricky). With only Upson and Ilunga valued over 4.5m there are bargains to be had here once we now who is in the first team so I would advise a similar strategy as with Blackburn, though with Wolves to open the season, they may be decent squad players from day one.

11. Man City
This ranking is probably not that useful as just how much has the City defense improved is anyone's guess. They have signed one of the league's better centre backs of the last 5 years in Kolo Toure, and seem intent in bringing in another in the shape of Joleon Lescott. Put those two alongside Wayne Bridge and Micah Richards and you have three England internationals and Toure ahead of arguably the best keeper in the league. Toure (6.5m) and Lescott (7.5m) are overpriced in this unproven defense so the best option is probably Bridge (5.5m) who seems assured of a first team place (until City launch a bid for perhaps Gael Clichy or Maxwell). The fixture list is also a bit tricky with trips to rivals United and Villa as well as welcoming Arsenal to the middle Eastlands. Bridge is probably a decent option to open the season with but don't expect fireworks or any bonus points!

10. Sunderland
Sunderland ranked 13th in defense last year but enjoy a decent fixture list which sees them promoted up this list a bit. While they do have to face United and Chelsea, they also get Blackburn, Hull and Wolves at home as well as trips to Stoke and Burnley. I would not like to predict the back four right now, but Ferdinand would likely be assured of a place and at 4.5m he could be worth a look to open the season with.

9. Tottenham only make the 9th spot despite their league leading home defense (10 goals) from last season. No additions have been made as yet and Woodgate, King, Dawson and Bale are all injured. The fixtures are a mixed bag as they play last year's top three as well as two of the promoted sides. I think these guys are a good bet in the long run but I would probably shy away for now due to the injuries and the fact that no one stands out as highly undervalued.

8. Bolton
'Solid' describes both Bolton's performances last year as well as the new recruits brought in by Gary Megson in the offseason. So long as Cahill sticks around, Bolton should be okay again this year and now have some depth which they lacked last year. The fixtures are very kind to open the season with only one (Liverpool at home) red light game. Games against Sunderland, Hull, Portsmouth, Stoke and Birmingham will all provide decent opportunities for clean sheets for the Wanderers. Aside from Cahill and Steinsson it is unclear who will play in the back four so I would go with one of these for now, or the always reliable Jaaskelainen who is a snip at 4.5m.

7. Fulham
Last year's fantasy gold mine miss the top 5 on account of their tricky fixtures which see them face no green light games in their opening 8. At home, where they were so good last year, they face Chelsea, Everton and Arsenal, none of which look like great clean sheet opportunities. They do also welcome Blackburn though and road games to Portsmouth and Wolves look more appealing. If you think Fulham can replicate last year's success then I would not let these fixtures totally turn me off the Cottagers but I would certainly not over commit at this early stage and instead focus on weeks 12-19 when the fixtures look very generous.

6. Aston Villa
This one comes with a bit of a caveat due to the losses of Martin Laursen and to a lesser extent Zat Knight. This leaves Villa with just 5 fantasy defenders, one of whom is Wilfred Bouma (eek!). If Villa can bring in a player of Distin or Upson's ability then I think they should be able to continue their success from last year and a good looking fixture list should aid this. Villa have a bye in week 2 then face Liverpool away in week 3 but after that their opponents in the next 5 average just a goal a game and only City at home looks at all threatening. Assuming he is fit, Young (5m) looks like the bargain here, along with Distin (5m) if he arrives from Pompey.

5. Arsenal
The departure of Kolo Toure shouldn't hurt too much, so long as Thomas Vermaelen can contribute from day one. The fixtures are sweet and sour with trips to United and City offset by home games against Portsmouth, Wigan and Blackburn. They too have a bye though which is again hard to work around and must be considered throughout. My argument against Arsenal players is that there are no bargains below 6.5m and with tough fixtures and a bye you might be better off with the teams below.

4. Everton
Joleon Lescott's departure would hurt here though so long as someone of Premier League quality was brought in, I think Everton can again be near the top of defensive charts. After a week one game against Arsenal followed by a bye, Everton could rattle off a number of clean sheets over the coming weeks with homes games against Wigan, Blackburn, Stoke and Wolves all looking rather tasty. Yobo (6m) would be the cheap pick here though Baines (6.5m) could make the leap into the fantasy elite if he continues the form from the second half of last year. If you can weather the Arsenal/bye week start, having two Everton defenders might not be the worst idea in the world.

3. Liverpool
Few surprises for the top 3 here, which goes to show that while fixtures are important, talent and performance will still dominate. Liverpool's fixtures look fairly good with only a tricky trip to Stamford Bridge flashing up as a red light. Stoke, Burnley and Hull at home should provide good opportunities to get Carragher and co off the mark. Insua (6m) could be a bargain here though I wouldn't be totally confident of a new arrival not shaking this up before kick off. My favourite is Skrtel who, if fit, should feature ahead of Agger and prove to a steal at 6m. Johnson looks overvalued at 7.5m as he surely will be reined in somewhat under Benitez's more restrained system.

2. Chelsea
As with Liverpool above, the only real test is when the two sides meet in week 8 with visits from Hull and Burnley as well as trips to Stoke and Wigan looking like good sources of defensive points. The likely back four are all over 7m so the real value could lie with new-boy Zhirkov who has featured on the left side of Ancelotti's diamond in the pre-season. If he holds that place down ahead of Cole and Maoluda he is suddenly extremely valuable, indeed perhaps the value defender in the whole league. I will keep you posted on how this story develops over the next couple of weeks.

1. Man United
The Champions are in a familiar position back on top, after leading the league in defense last year with 24 goals conceded. All the defenders are back and the depth is improved by the return from injury of Neville and Brown. The only opponents who should cause United problems - City and Arsenal - both have to travel to Old Trafford, while United open the season against Birmingham, Burnley and Wigan. Evra (6.5m) looks to be good value despite his average production last year while Vidic (8m) looks to be just too costly. Whoever grabs the right back role will be a bargain, especially if it falls the able feet of Rafael who could be very dangerous at 5.5m.

There we have it, not too many huge shocks but hopefully some interesting points to help you pick your defense to open the season with. As always, let me know what you think and continue to follow the transfer dealings on twitter.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Injury Roundup

With less than three weeks to go until the big kick off, its time to start seriously checking the health of the players around the league, as it is vital that you get all eleven players playing every week from the start (especially in light of the several bye weeks in gameweek 2):

Phil Jagielka (6.0m) - this one is long term (November) and should rule Jagielka out of fantasy contention until around Christmas time when his return to the starting lineup can be guaranteed. When fit Jags will be a cheap way to get access to the solid Everton defense but forget about the former Blades man for the near future.

Jonathan Woodgate (5.0m) - 'unlikely' to be ready for the start of the season, the return to the injury table is not a surprise for the former Leeds star, who just cannot stay fit. I had Woodgate pencilled in as a nice mid level option for a team who had the best defensive home record in the league, and were getting Bale and Hutton back from injury. However, with Woodgate, King and Dawson all injured, Spurs may not be a great option and they are currently playing to lineup Chimbonda and Corluka in the middle (yikes). Stay away for now until this one clears up.

Fabio Aurelio (7.0m)
- when Benitez is being 'confident' by describing the injury as laying the Brazilian out for 2 months, its time to look elsewhere for fantasy production. Aurelio is clearly out of the picture for now then, with the silver lining being the fact that Insua will be great value if he locks down the starting spot (assuming Arbeloa moves to Madrid).

Martin Skrtel (6.0m) - I really like Skrtel as a cheap source of big four defense this year and this injury has slightly dampened my enthusiasm. However, it seems that Skrtel might make opening day and would seem odds on to play Stoke at home in week 2 even if he misses the Spurs game. Liverpool play only one team in the first 13 games who averaged more than 1.5 goals per game (either home or away, depending on where Liverpool face them) and so Skrtel could be a great buy. Keep checking his status here to see how this one develops but my gut says he's still a good bet.

Stuart Downing (7.5m) - look elsewhere as the England winger is out until Christmas. At 7.5m he has a shot to be a good buy but forget about him for now.

Vincent Kompany (5.0m) - whether or not he'll play when fit is another issue but one thing seems for certain and that is that the Belgian will miss the start of the season. Kompany looks like he could be good value at 5m if he plays but this injury will open the door to the likes of De Jong to seal a place in the starting lineup so I'd watch Kompany for now, but do not commit him to your team just yet.

Samir Nasri (8.0m) - Nasri is just too expensive to consider when his future is uncertain due to his broken leg. Do not draft him in until you have seen him play as there are too many other good options (Barry, Modric) for you to waste time and money on a benched injured Gunner.

Joe Cole (9.0m) - Cole may miss the start of the season, and even then his place is under the spotlight due to the resurgence of Malouda and the signing of Zhirkov. Stay away now and probably all season.

Owen Hargreaves (6.5m)
- yet another player whose injury may cost him more than a few weeks as Fletcher, Carrick and Anderson are given more time to solidify their first team spots. Even when fit Hargreaves is probably too defensive to provide value at 6.5m so look elsewhere to get your United fill.

Cristian Benitez (5.5m) - Birmingham's record signing could be slowed by an injury to start the season which does not allay my fears of him taking time to settle into the Premier League. At the moment I'm thinking more along the lines of Agustin Delgado rather than first half Amr Zaki so stay away for now until we see how he reacts to a cold evening in Burnley.

For up-to-minute injury news follow me on Twitter and keep checking here throughout the offseason and beyond.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Striker merry-go-round

Its no secret that I am not a huge fan of this year's striker class. There are very few strikers who are guaranteed a game every week, nevermind guaranteed fantasy point production. Many strikers are currently involved in transfer speculation and others have already moved so lets run round the league and sum up whose moving where and how that might affect their production.

Done deals

Michael Owen (8.5m)
Owen has made an impressive start to his United career during the pre-season and the indications from Alex Ferguson are that Owen will get a decent chance to shine during the season, suggesting that the English hitman can reach 15 goals this season. Owen's career Premier League goal ratio is one every 1.64 games which over a 38 game season would give 23 goals. However, Owen has only played in more than 20 games in the league once since 2004 and with Rooney reverting to a central role and Macheda looking like the real deal it is hard to see Owen topping 20 or so games this term. Ferguson has suggested that Owen might only feature 'every 10 days' which again suggests that 20 games is a reasonable suggestion. This would lead to a goal haul of around 12-14 and a 100-120 point season. Those are decent figures but can probably be had from a Carlton Cole or Kevin Davies and do not justify the 8.5m tag at this time.

Carlos Tevez (8.5m)
Tevez was never given sufficient playing time last season to get on a goalscoring run so I will not hold his 5 goal tally against him. However, the Argentinian appears to have walked in another rotation situation with arguably as much fire power at Eastlands as that which he left behind at Old Trafford. For that reason, I simply cannot see Tevez playing the 30 games he had in 2007-08 when he scored 166 fantasy points. Like Owen above, I think Tevez's situation is just too crowded for him to be great value and his owners will be guessing all season whether to bench him or not.

Emmanuel Adebayor (10m)
This one is really intriguing to me, as the 25m price tag should ensure plenty of chances to shine for the former Arsenal man. I am not the biggest fan of the Togo striker, whose criticism of the Arsenal fans and general un-professionalism has been a showcase for all that is wrong with modern football. However, when he played 32 games in 2007-08 he smashed 24 goals on his way to a 200 point season (a mark that no striker even sniffed last year). With Robinho, Santa Cruz or Tevez to partner him and Ireland, Barry and Shaun Wright Phillips providing support, he has arguably more talent around him now than at the Emirates in that landmark season. Adebayor is a big risk but this move probably makes him more valuable as he will be more motivated (for now) and has a point to prove. Caveat emptor certainly applies here but with a 2.3% holding to date, Adebayor is the cheapest and least held player who could hit 200 points this season.

Roque Santa Cruz (9m)
Santa Cruz's value has probably increased with his move to City, as like Adebayor above, he was unhappy at Ewood and his production showed this last year (4 goals and just 60 fantasy points). The former Bayern man is reunited with Sparky Hughes, under whom he flourished, scoring 19 goals in 2007-08. For 9m though I need guaranteed games and unless Hughes moves to a 4-3-3 permanently, I think Robinho and Adebayor will see the most games with Tevez and Santa Cruz having to settle for somewhere around the 22 game mark.

Fraizer Campbell (6m)
Campbell certainly has the makings of a fantasy sleeper, and this move gives his value as big of a boost as any other player around. He would have been bench fodder at United or Spurs, where he spent last season on loan, but has now escaped to Sunderland where he should be much happier ('escaping to Sunderland' and 'being happy' must be too of the least used phrases in history). A couple of good looking 6m or less options exist out there (Beattie, Ashton, Ebanks-Blake) but Campbell certainly has to be in the discussion with these. With Sunderland out of the Crouch race (see below) and the Chamakh deal stalling, Campbell should be guaranteed a starting place alongside the powerful Kenwyne Jones which could give the Stadium of Light its most dangerous partnership since Niall Quinn was nodding down flick-ons to a young Kevin Phillips. While unlikely to hit 15+ goals, Campbell should give you a consistent stream of points, totalling out somewhere along the 100 point mark for the season.

On the cards
Peter Crouch (7.5m)
Crouch's prolonged move from Fratton Park appears to be almost complete, as Spurs have had an offer for the big man accepted, which would see him once again re-united with 'Arry Redknapp. Unless Bent, Pavlyuchenko or both leave Spurs, their front line looks to be a bit crowded and it is hard to see one player dominating in the scoring charts. As bad as Pompey are, Crouch's value may actually be diminished by this move until he is proven to be the focal point of the Spurs attack. If this is the case though, he suddenly becomes a very interesting 7.5m man considering his partners and suppliers (Modric, Lennon, Palacios etc). Of all players under 8m Crouch probably has the highest ceiling, if he gets 30+ appearances this season. If not, he'll just be another frustrating striker who will leave you guessing as to when to activate your robot.

Dean Ashton (6m)
Stoke, Hull and Fulham have all been linked with the West Ham striker, though I am still a bit puzzled as to why West Ham want to sell low on the former England striker. Ashton is probably a better player in reality than in fantasy terms but he could reach 100 points again (as in 2007-08) in the right situation. However, none of these teams provide a good opportunity for Ashton who would be better served partnering Carlton Cole in West Ham.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
The Dutch striker has been linked with both Spurs and Arsenal, and has been declared surplus to requirements at Real Madrid. Huntelaar has been prolific everywhere he has played and has the tools to succeed in the Premier League. A move to Arsenal seems like the dream ticket as the Gunners have been in need of a player of Huntelaar's finishing class since Thierry Henry left. He could fill the gap left by Adebayor and could easily surpass 15 goals and 8 assist for the season. He is likely to be given a price tag somewhere in the 9m range, and after a few games to settle in this could be a great price for a potential top 5 striker.

As always, I will keep you posted on the transfer moves as the window progresses with live updates available on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Electing your chief

If your team is based around 11 7m guys then this article isn't for you. If however, like most fantasy players you like to have a premier player or two, then read on for some thoughts on how to pick your lynch pin.

The main advantage in my eyes of bringing in a premier player for your team is the fact you can captain him and bring in a unrivalled amount of points. For example, last year Lampard scored 226 points, which would give you 452 points if you captained him every week. Even at his steep price tag of 12.5m this season, a similar level of production would lead to a 0.952 PPMS and almost 12 points per game. This kind of production is just not possible from 2 or even 3 mid level players, even if you strike it rich with a cheap superstar like Stephen Ireland.

Factor in the chance to find a bargain to play alongside your stud (perhaps Larsson, Jimenez or Muamba) and the choice to grab a star player appears to be made for you. But who do you take? With over a tenth of your whole budget invested in one player, we need to make sure that this decision is a good one, and so here are the best options I think are available for the coming season:

5. Didier Drogba (10.5m)
Drogba was just about in the list anyway, and then he scored this goal, and news broke that he is set to sign a new deal at Stamford bridge. A happy and motivated Drogba is a threat to any defense and when the Ivorian giant turns it on, no one can stop him (see 2007-08 Champions League vs Liverpool). However, Drogba has played just 32 league games in the last two years, scoring an unspectacular 13 goals. The prior year (when happy under Mourinho) Drogba netted 20 league goals and 170 bonus points, and I think he can hit these heights again under Ancelotti. Drogba faces little competition to lead the line for Chelsea, and with Ancelotti's diamond formation in place, Drogba should not be left alone up front as he was under Solari. This is a risky pick and it might be worth holding off for a week or two to see how happy he looks but Drogba is selected by just 4.2% of players right now and could be a great way to get a jump on the competition.

4. Fernando Torres (11.5m)
Since his arrival in 2007-08, Torres has been as good as any striker in the league but has only played 49 games in those two seasons (scoring an amazing 38). Torres again played competitively in the off season, featuring in Spain's confederations cup squad, but he says he feels great and is raring to go for the new season (then again, what else would he say!). On last year's pace he would score 225 if he could feature in 32 games. which would put him in the pantheon of superstars with Gerrard and Lampard. Even if he doesn't hit those heights I think 200 points are in his range with 20 goals and 6 assists plus a decent haul of bonus points. Although trailing the midfielders in this list, Torres and Drogba have some extra value in that there aren't as many mid level strikers to fill your roster as midfielders.

3. Andrey Arshavin (11m)
Arshavin was arguably Arsenal's best player last season, despite only playing in 12 games after joining in the transfer window from Zenit St Petersburg. Arshavin scored 6 goals in those games and added an impressive 8 assists; numbers which we have only attributed to the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Ronaldo in past seasons. The departure of Adebayour should ensure some games in the front line for the Russian magician, who was sometimes marooned on the left last season. Arshavin is saying all the right things, and with Cesc and Van Persie fit, Arsenal should once again be a good source of fantasy points. At last year's rate, Arshavin would notch 280 points for the season if he featured in 35 games, though this is obviously too optimistic. However, he could certainly threaten 200 points, a feat only achieved by Lampard and Gerrard last year (and of course the departed Ronaldo). Considering he costs 1.5m less than his English counterparts, Arshavin could well be the best value of the premium players.

2. Steven Gerrard (12.5m)
With the question mark of his court appearance gone, the path is clear for another stellar season from the Liverpool captain. Gerrard is involved in most good things Liverpool do, and takes penalties and most corners and free kicks. His excellent 16 goals last term is going to be hard to match though with just 10 assists, I think this impact can be offset. Gerrard is a bonus magnet (35), trailing only Lampard in that category last year, and that should continue again this year (with Torres likely to steal a few due to extra playing time if fit). Gerrard scored 216 last year despite playing just 2623 minutes (around 29 games) which should be higher is he can avoid injury. Even if Gerrard falls short of the 16 goal haul from last year, the extra playing time should provide extra assists, appearance points and bonus points to allow him to match his total from last year.

1. Frank Lampard (12.5m)
What more can be said about Frank Lampard as a fantasy player. He topped 200 points for the second time in 3 years (and would have the other year but for injury). Double digit goals and assist are almost a given and Lampard attracts more bonus points than anyone else in the league. Scarily, the arrival of Ancelotti's diamond could make Lampard even more threatening providing him opportunities to play behind Anelka and Drogba with less focus on his defensive duties. I wouldn't count on another 46 bonus points but I can see Lampard's goals (12) and assists (10) both increasing to give Lampard another 220 point haul. Simply put, with the departure of Ronaldo I think Lampard is the essential purchase this year and you can confidently captain him and watch the points roll in all year long.

As always, let me know who you guys are basing your team around, and how you think the season will pan out. Also, follow news, tips and advice on twitter @plfantasy.

Pre season chatter

Taking a break from the statistical analysis, lets take a trip around the league and see what managers, players and even pundits are talking about, as we try and glean some concrete information upon which to base our fantasy strategies:

Frank Lampard is my new Kaka
This one all but confirms Frank's return to my team, with a promotion to default Captain highly likely. For those who don't follow Italian football, here is Kaka's line from last season at Milan:

31 appearances (3 as sub), 16 goals, 9 assists

Lampard, in his fantasy leading 226 point season had 12 goals and 10 assists, so the type of production seen above would be outstanding. Of course, I think we all agree that Kaka is a more gifted player but Anelotti's system does promise much and in light of Gerrard's court issues (see below) I think Lampard is the premier player in the league right now.
Lampard also converted a penalty against Inter, as if to further underline his fantasy value for the upcoming campaign.

Gerrard in court over assault charges
This one is still ongoing, so there's no point writing Gerrard off yet, but the case is concerning and it is unclear as to the consequences if Gerrard is found guilty.Either way, the pre season preparation is far from ideal, and only further underlines my point above that Lampard is the premier player to open the season with.

Samir Nasri breaks leg, Eduardo also out for start of campaign.
Not too hard to read between the lines to guess the fantasy impact of this one! Nasri, who was a decent potential fantasy option, is out for three months and should therefore have no bearing on anyone's team to open the season. At 8m it is going to be hard to fit him in your lineup when he returns but his 6 goal return last season was useful and he might be worth thinking about if you're slumping around October/November

In further bad news for the Gunners, Wenger has confirmed that Eduardo will be out for two months. With the Chamakh deal seemingly dead, I am starting to really like Carlos Vela and at 5.5m I think he could be a possible steal for anyone looking to differentiate their team early on.

Berbatov vows to improve
The much maligned Bulgarian was a favourite of mine during his time at Leverkusen and Spurs and I never quite understood the criticism levelled at him. If Ferguson and co signed him expecting a Tevez like work rate and Kevin Davies like desire, then they should be fired for negligence. Berbatov's presence is hard to measure in terms of stats and he is United's best source of providing a spot of class with the departure of Portugal's golden boy. Last season was not considered a success for the front man, but he was quietly 5th among fantasy strikers, beating out the likes of Rooney, Adebayour and Torres. With Ronaldo gone, Berbatov should get extra minutes, and could even take out penalty duties, with no other obvious candidates presenting themselves.
At 10m Berbatov does not come cheap, but he could be safest United attacker to select for those desperate to get three players from the Champions in their ranks. Certainly one to stick on the watchlist at least.

Alvaro Negredo nearing EPL move
The once fancied front man has found himself surplus to requirements at Madrid and looks set to head for Spurs, in what could be an intriguing addition to the fantasy striker ranks. Spurs do not appear desperate for a new striker with Keane, Defoe, Bent and Pavlyuchenko all still on board, but the classy Spaniard would be a welcome addition to that fairly average pack.

More updates to come over the summer, as the build up to the new season intensifies. As always, more updates come be found on Twitter @plfantasy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Goalkeeper strategy

With less than a month to go until the big kick off, its time to get serious with team selections and I will start the first in a series of position focused posts at the logical place - between the sticks. In previous seasons I have often gone with the strategy of getting a consistent 'keeper on day one and sticking with him throughout the season, to give myself one less headache on selection day. Last year I rode van der Sar all year, which was great for that epic 9 game clean sheet run, but was it really the best strategy?

The answer is almost certainly no, especially when you consider that I, along with around a quarter of the league, held Schwarzer from day one - who only went on to lead all keepers in scoring despite only costing 4m. Most would think that this was an aberration, that Schwarzer was a one off steal and no other can give that kind of value. However, the top four keepers in 2008-09 in terms of points per million spent (PPMS) all cost less than 5m and Sorensen at 4m had an incredible 1.021, second in the league among all players to Schwarzer. Yes the big names (Cech, Reina and van der Sar) outscored these bargains but at what price? Van der Sar had just 12 points more than Sorensen and 15 more than Jaaskelainen but cost 2m and 1.5m more respectively.

The new strategy I am proposing is therefore to utilise both players, picking a pair of keepers whose fixtures complement each others. Obviously, in order to be cost effective both players need to be cheap, so I have set the limit at 4.5m. This means we will spend between 8m and 9m on our keepers, at least 1m less than anyone who selects one of the big four.

Using last years goals for and against (adjusted to account for the promoted teams and for teams additions and disposals) we can generate an approximate goals per game value for each team, eg. Chelsea average 1.79 goals per game on the road so even a home fixture looks like a bad play, where as Fulham scored just 0.68 and therefore appear to be a good play. We can then take two keepers and make an estimation as to which one we would play each week based on the two matchups (ie the one with the goals per game value!). Whichever pair gives the lowest average score will therefore be the best pair of keepers.

The four keepers I have chosen for consideration are Sorensen, Jaaskelainen, Kirkland and Robinson. This is based on value, historical performance and, in Robinson's case, a hunch that Blackburn will be tighter under Big Sam this year. Without going too deep in the analysis, the pair with the most complimentary schedules is Sorensen and Kirkland (and by some distance). In fact, the combined schedule is an absolute dream, with zero 'red' games (defined as an opponent averaging over 1.5 goals per game) and no less than thirteen 'green' games (defined as an opponent who scores less than a goal a game, over the first half of the season.

Using the combo approach allows for 6 games against the promoted sides (4 at home in the first 19), 15 home games (including Sunderland and Fulham twice) and only one game against a side that finished in the top 6 (we are forced to play Stoke at home to United in week 7) last season. I can see this strategy generating 150+ points from the 'keeper position, which should be close to anything the big four keepers can generate on their own, all the while saving at least 4.5m over those who select a big name GK.

What are your plans for your keeper this season? Do you prefer to lock up a top four player and watch the points roll in or are you tempted to roll the dice each week in search of cheaper points? As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts either here, or on twitter @plfantasy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Minimum price squad fillers - Forwards

This category is always a tough one, though because we only need three strikers, the need for budget strikers is not so important. That being said, in recent years, premium strikers have not proved to be great investments, and so money saved here can allow extra to be spent on the big name midfielders.
A quick look at the value (2008-09) of the big name midfielders and forwards illustrates this point well:
Further analysis on where best to spend your money will be done in a later post, but for now, the main point is that top line strikers can be very hit and miss, and so bargains can be extremely valuable if selected well. Without further ado then, the best bargains I like for the upcoming season are as below (a budget of 5.5m has been set):

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (5.5m) Wolves
The England Under-21 international will get his chance to shine in the big leagues this year, having led the Championship in scoring for the past two years (with 23 and 25 goals respectively, including this absolute peach). While many think of the Kevin Phillip's landmark 1999-2000 season as the prime example of a promoted player doing well the Premier League after promotion, there are plenty of examples in the last few years of players enjoying moderate success in their first season:

Ricardo Fuller - 11 goals in 2008/09
Kevin Doyle - 13 goals in 2006/07
Henri Camara - 12 goals in 2005/06
Mikael Forssell - 17 goals in 2003/04
Yakubu - 13 goals in 2004/05

While not in the Phillips (30 goals) class, a similar return for a 5.5m man would be excellent value and would lead to 100+ point season and a PPMS of over .500. I think Ebanks-Blake has the speed and finishing ability to match and top some of these numbers and I could absolutely see a 15 goal season within the realms of possibility, especially considering he takes the penalties for Wolves. The lack of supply is a slight concern but the addition of Milijas is a good move and the Serbian playmaker should be able to provide extra opportunities for Ebank-Blake, as should the signing of the next bargain striker on my list.

Kevin Doyle (5.5m) Wolves
Those paying attention will notice Doyle on the list noted above, due to his 13 goal haul in Reading's 2006/07 season. This was followed by a disappointing 2007/08 when the Irishman managed just 6 goals, but it nevertheless shows that Doyle has the ability to trouble Premier League defenses. Doyle was back on form last year notching 18 goals in 39 games, taking his career goal to game ratio to over 1 in 3. Some will point to the failings of Dave Kitson as a pre-cursor to Doyle's future but I think Doyle is a much purer finisher and should enjoy better success in the top league. His partnership with Ebanks-Blake looks promising and I could see it producing some 25 goals between them. I like Ebanks-Blake to benefit the most from this, but I also like Doyle to threaten the 100 point mark this year.

Bobby Zamora (5.5m) Hull City?
As I write this, news is breaking that Fulham have accepted a £5m bid from Hull City for the former Brighton star. Zamora is a bit of an enigma who is probably a better player than the stats show, but he nevertheless managed to top 100 points last season despite just 2 Premier League goals. His total was helped by his 10 bonus points and 6 assists and his consistent appearances for the Cottagers. Hull's team is not as talented as the Fulham side he leaves behind, but Zamora should feature every week and be supported by the likes of Geovanni, Bullard and Cousin, playing in a 4-4-2 rather than being stranded in the 4-5-1. He should therefore easily surpass last year's meagre total and instead threaten 6-8 goals; leading to an improved fantasy contribution. Marlon King managed 5 league goals in 19 games for the Tigers and I can see Zamora having a similar level of success.

Cameron Jerome (4.5m)/Kevin Phillips (5.0m)
The winner of this battle is likely to feature alongside new record signing Christian Benitez and should therefore get plenty of opportunities to make a fantasy contribution. Benitez is himself one to watch but I am always wary of players from South/Central America as they can often take a long time to settle into the Premier League. As for the other two Birmingham players, I think if one player solidifies a starting role, he could be in for a 6-8 goal season, which is not bad value for such a small investment. I rate both these players as decent Premier League standard strikers and Phillips obviously has a proven track record of scoring in the big leagues. The midfield behind them is a bit thin and I would therefore favour the options mentioned above, but if you are looking for a differentiator then definitely watch this battle and ride the bandwagon if a clear winner is shown.

Carlos Vela (5.5m) Arsenal
This is a probably a season too soon, but when a player has this much talent, it is hard to not see the possibilities coming sooner rather than later. The chance for Vela to shine may have been opened up by the apparently imminent departure of Emmanuel Adebayour, who is due to sign for free spending City within a matter of hours. This could lead to Vela jumping to third on the depth chart behind van Persie, Eduardo - who have each suffered from injury in the past - if Nicolas Bendtner continues to struggle to find the net. Of course, Wenger could look to bring in another striker such as Chamakh or Huntelaar, but if not Vela could well see action in 20+ games and in turn become a useful fantasy player. Vela is a better player than Bendtner in my eyes and the inconsistent Dane managed 97 points last season despite battling injury and inconsistent play. Vela could therefore crack the 100 point mark, with an upside of perhaps 120+ if he managed to establish himself as the next Arsenal prodigy. Perhaps this move is too early to start the season but the little Mexican is certainly one for the shortlist.

As always, let me know your thoughts and if you've got any other bargains stashed away on your shortlist in the lead up to the new season. You can also follow me on twitter to keep up to date with all the transfer news and gossip and its fantasy impact.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Minimum price squad fillers - Midfielders

The third segment of the squad filler series will focus on midfielders, a vital position in fantasy football and one which can make or break any team's fantasy season.

The unquestioned bargain last season was Stephen Ireland, who at 5.5m, finished as the 5th best midfielder, ahead of the likes of Ashley Young, Cesc Fabregas and Deco. As we are looking for squad fillers I have set the maximum price at 5m, and it is therefore unlikely we will find such a fantasy stud within. However, the value of Danny Murphy or the first 4 months of Geovanni last year cannot be underestimated and many-a-championship was won with these bargain studs on board. With that in mind, the top squad fillers for the upcoming season are below:

Phil Neville (5m)
This one is totally inexplicable to me, and apparently to many of the early registered players (of whom 27% have selected Neville). Neville is the Everton captain and so should be a lock to feature in 35 games+ save for injury. Granted, the former-United man didn't score last year and notched just 3 assists and 4 bonus points, however, he gained an impressive 140 points, more than teammates Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta (both 8.5m). With a very talented midfield beside him (Cahil, Arteta, Steven Peinaar and Marouane Fellaini) and a solid defence behind him (5th best in the league last season) Neville should benefit from plenty of clean sheets and could improve his assist total by a couple. This should translate to another 130+ season which could easily top 150 points with a bit of luck. This would equate to a 0.789 points per million spent (PPMS) which is far better value than almost all of the other midfielders available in the game.
I think Neville is the ideal bench player in that if you are forced into a last minute sub, or auto sub you are almost certain he will provide you appearance points, and will likely throw in a clean sheet or assist now and then.

Javier Mascherano (5m)
This recommendation is based on Macherano staying at Liverpool, and preferably signing the improved contract on offer, and Xabi Alonso leaving the club. If the Argentinian midfielder can play the majority of games for Liverpool this season (he managed 27 last year despite playing in the Olympics, so he might still be consistently present even if Xabi stays) then I think he can easily top 100 points and be a solid contributor to a fantasy team. He failed to score last season and only contributed one assist, both totals that should be higher for a player with a good shot and quick feet. He did add 13 bonus points though and this is encouraging for the coming season.
If everything comes together for Macherano, I think he could top 34 appearances, with 2 goals, 2 assists and 16 bonus points which after allowing for 7 yellow cards translates to 108 points, and a PPMS of 0.635. This is a very nice return for 5m and I think Javier is a solid choice for the coming season.

Fabrice Muamba (4.5m)
Muamba is another of the 'dependable' central midfielders who are unlikely to win you the league but should be very valuable as a sub throughout the fantasy season. The Congolese hard man featured in all 38 games (starting 35) last season though failed to notch a single goal or assist. However, the arrival of Sean Davis provides a more solid midfield partner for Muamba and he should be able to track forward more often knowing that he doesn't have to cover for the ancient and incompetent Gavin McCann. To get an every week starter for 4.5m is great value and any increased production in the goals/assist/bonus department would be even sweeter.

Sebastian Larsson (5m)
In Birmingham's last season in the Premier League, Larsson performed well, notching 6 goal, 5 assists and 11 bonus points. Last season he managed just 1 goal in the Championship though did add 6 assists in the year. The former Arsenal man figures to be Birmingham's best forward option from midfield and may handle some corner and free kick duties. I always liked the strategy of getting the best player on the lower ranked teams and for 5m Larsson could well be that man, and at a bargain price.

Luis Jimenez (5m)
This is a bit of flyer based on reputation rather than concrete analysis. The Chilean playmaker is on a season's loan from Inter, where he featured in just 6 games last term (partly due to injury). Jimenez captains his national side and was Chilean player of the year in 05-06. He demonstrated his goalscoring prowess during his time with Ternana, when he scored 24 in 88 appearances, before getting his move to Serie A. West Ham lack a player with 'El Mago's' creativity and under the direction of Gianfranco Zola, Jimenez could become the focal point of the attack, servicing the useful partnership of Ashton and Cole. What more can you ask for 5m?

As always, any opinions or comments are welcome and don't forget you can follow my updates on twitter @plfantasy

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Minimum price squad fillers - Defenders

The second installment of the minimum price squad fillers focuses on defenders, and I have set the limit at 4.5m. As the likes of Figueroa, Cahill and Turner proved last year, a budget defender can prove to be an invaluable sub, with the three aforementioned players being good enough to feature regularly for many teams.

Wigan defenders - Bramble, Figueroa, Melchiot, Scharner (all 4.5m). The Latics had the joint 7th best defense in the league last year and notched 8 clean sheets at home (all of which came in the final 14 games). No new defenders have arrived at the JJB to date and so we can assume the back four will remain as it was last year (with perhaps Sharner moving back into midfield and Boyce (4.5m) stepping in at the back). I therefore think all these four players are decent sub options, with possibly Bramble being the best value based upon his 17 bonus points last year.

Stoke defenders - Higginbottom, Shawcross, Faye (all 4.5m), Wilkinson (4m). As mentioned in the goalkeeper post, Stoke had a tremendous home defensive record last year, notching no less than 9 clean sheets. For this reason alone, Stoke defenders make great subs, so long as the matchup is right for when you need a replacement. I would not be as confident rolling out a Stoke defender on a weekly basis as a Wigan player, but with the right matchup, the Potters are definitely a good source of cheap defense. Faye, with three goals and 14 bonus points is probably the pick of the bunch, though Wilkinson provides great value at 4m, so long as he holds his place down in the lineup.

Ryan Nelsen (4.5m) - Blackburn's defense was pretty poor last year but they did improve under Allardyce, conceding just 26 in 21 games and keeping 8 clean sheets in the process. Nelsen signed a new 5 year deal at the club in July 2007 and started 35 league games last year. The Kiwi is inexplicably cheaper than his teammates, a recipe that always provides for good fantasy value. Nelsen also chalked an impressive 18 bonus points last year and even chipped in with a goal, both solid totals for a bargain basement player. Nelsen isn't going to win you the league, but he appears to be a decent sub option and Blackburn have a decent opening couple of months of fixtures.


Michael Turner (4.5m) - I fear that Hull may go the way of other small teams that stayed up (Bradford, Ipswich etc) and struggled in the second year. Hull had the second worst defense in the league last year (conceding 7 more than Boro who went down!) and no significant improvements have been made in the off season. To date, over 7% of all teams have selected Turner but his decent total of 122 from last year was inflated by 4 goals, a total which is unlikely to be replicated this year. His impressive bonus total (23) is valuable but if this dries up, Turner suddenly becomes a liability to have on the bench.

Armand Traore/Johan Djorou (4.5m) - I really like both these players and I believe they can both contribute to a top four team like Arsenal in the right situation. However, unfortunately for them, this year is not it. Traore was a revelation at times last season at Portsmouth but now he is back at the Emirates and stuck behind one of the best full backs in the league, Gael Clichy (6.5m). Unless another team, such as Birmingham, wraps up a loan deal for the Frenchman, his value this year will be limited. As for Djorou, his playing time will be limited by a new arrival, Thomas Vermaelen, who joins Arsenal from Ajax. With Toure, Gallas, Song and Silvestre, all still around, Djorou's playing time is going to be too sporadic to be a reliable fantasy producer.

Andy O'Brien/J'Lloyd Samuel (4.5m) - As a self-confessed Bolton fan, this may be a sub-conscious attempt at a reverse jinx, however, my faith in Bolton's defence and Megson as a whole has all but gone. Having kept 4 clean sheets in the first 11 games, Bolton then managed just 3 in remaining 27 games (against Wigan, Sunderland and Newcastle). No improvements have been made to the back line, and while Bolton probably won't ship 60+ goals, I cannot see too many clean sheets. If Cahill doesn't sign a new contract, and departs for Arsenal, then this team becomes even thinner and could even flirt with relegation.

Newly promoted teams - Of the three promoted sides, Birmingham had by far the strongest defense in the Championship, and may be worth some consideration. However, as with every year, the prospects of the promoted teams are hard to predict and I would probably advise holding off initially until we know more about how they will cope with life in the Premier League.

Who do you like as your squad fillers? Any hidden gems you think I have missed? As I always I look forward to hearing from you all.