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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.