Readers from last season will know how much I love looking at a team's fixtures, and I will often state how I prefer a good fantasy player (say, Clint Dempsey) with a great fixture over a great fantasy player (say, James Milner) with a so-so fixture. This holds true to an extent though two important caveats should be noted here:
- Don't get too cute - I would never drop Lampard on a weekly basis for someone like Steve Pienaar as there are sound reasons why Lampard costs twice as much: he plays for a top team, takes penalties and dominates the bonus category. You may look at Lampard's fixtures and decide that over a 6 game period his production might be limited and therefore look to sell him, but dropping a star is never recommended unless there are questions over whether he might play.
- When it comes to picking your opening day squad, ideally you are picking the team who you think will be the best over the course of a season. This means that while the strength of the opening fixtures do matter, they should not drive your squad selection: if you like Robin van Persie to win the golden boot then buy him now and enjoy the upcoming price rise, even if you don't like his opening fixture at Liverpool.
With the caveats in place, let's look at the best fixture lists over the opening six weeks (a somewhat reliable time-frame) and see if anything stands out that might act a tie break if you are torn between two similar players.
- Aston Villa (opponent's score an average of 0.98 goals per game)
- Chelsea (1.19)
- Birmingham (1.21)
- Man Utd (1.25)
- Newcastle (1.31)
- Tottenham (1.35)
- Wolves (1.36)
- Arsenal (1.36)
- Everton (1.38)
- Man City (1.38)
- Blackburn (1.38)
- Fulham (1.38)
- Wigan (1.47)
- Bolton (1.51)
- Sunderland (1.57)
- Stoke (1.57)
- Liverpool (1.60)
- West Ham (1.61)
- Blackpool (1.66)
- West Brom (1.94)
So what stands out? First, Villa have a very favourable set of fixtures; over a 5th of a goal better than anyone else. Combine this with one of the best defensive teams around from last year who haven't really lost anyone in the off season and it looks like a recipe for success. I highly recommend getting at least one Villa defender in your team, and if you were bullish on them anyway, you might want to roll the dice with a second (this is risky though).
Second, Birmingham once again look like good value and I think they are undervalued based on last year's performances. True Joe Hart is gone but Ben Foster is a decent replacement and the rest of the defense is intact. I think they once again make excellent rotation options and these fixtures suggest that they are good value early on.
A potential sleeper team is Newcastle, whose defenders can be had for 4m. I'm not saying these guys will be clean sheet kings but I think they have a useful unit (who conceded 35 in 46 last season) and will be particularly strong at St James Park. I would be more than happy stashing a Newcastle defender on the bench and hoping to gain a bit of cash should they play well in the first few weeks.
Finally, of the most fancied sides, Liverpool have the toughest run and you might want to bear this in mind before investing heavily in Glen Johnson or Pepe Reina. I do like the Liverpool defense this year but I for one will be targeting them in week 6 onwards after two trips to Manchester and a home game with Arsenal are behind them.
Not long until the season now so please keep checking back for regular updates to try and help you pick your final squads.