Monday, August 13, 2012

Team Previews Part II: The Elite

Though I started with the promoted teams, it makes more sense to start at the top as in reality this is how the majority of owners build their teams (insert their superstars first then surround them with as much mid range or budget talent as they can). I’ve included five teams here so that each post is comparatively long but really a sub division has arisen within the elite: the two Manchester powerhouses and the London clubs playing catchup.

Note, the projected lineups are far from certain and where I don’t know who will play I haven’t really dwelled on it, and neither should you. If you aren’t convinced a player will start the season in the first eleven he should be nowhere near your starting lineup. This isn’t a league where you draft for December, you need to earn points in GW1 just as much as GW21.

Players highlighted as being on my personal shortlist are shown in blue with those who I believe to be secure in the starting eleven shown in bold.

Division 1a: Manchester’s finest
Manchester City
Projected lineup: Hart (7.0), Clichy (6.0), Kompany (7.5), Lescott (6.5), Zabaleta (6.0), De Jong (4.5), Yaya Toure (8.0), Nasri (8.5), Silva (10.0)Aguero (11.5), Tevez (9.0)

Speculation is still widespread that Mancini would like to land another centre back, which could threaten Lescott's value here, though if he opts to go with the 3-5-2 system he used against Chelsea in the Community Shield there should be plenty of minutes to go around for everyone. Until any such moves are made the main concern is Lescott's fitness, which makes it tough to select him from day one.

With Richards' out for a month Zabaleta might be the safest pick, but again the 3-5-2 throws a potential spanner in the works as Mancini could easily go with a Savic-Lescott-Kompany threesome if fit. If pressed I'd suggest Zabaleta will get the nod early on, as will Lescott if fit, but it's a risk I'd rather not be taking so early in the season. If the fixtures were any harder I'd probably stay away but Southampton and QPR at home is simply too good to pass up so you really need to fit someone in from this back line.  With Hart and Kompany being too rich for my taste, Zabaleta might be a risk worth taking.

City obviously have a useful midfield but it lacks the firepower of their cross-city rivals and the fantasy options may well start and finish with Silva who is justly priced atop the midfield rankings. Yaya is intriguing given his consistency and all-but-guaranteed place in the starting eleven, but if you select the Ivorian you take up one of your valuable City slots and risk not getting much more production than you would from other consistent options like Cabaye, Sessegnon or even perhaps someone like Joe Allen. Nasri may have some use later in the year but comes with way too much risk to justify his price tag yet and so we are left with Silva. Few, if any, can match his assist potential and while you'd like to have seen a couple more goals, he only had three bad games in a row twice last season and is generally involved in most good things City do. It's possible, indeed probable, that one or a number of players could eclipse Silva's total this year, but not one of the elite options comes with his security and thus he should be strongly considered for everyone's opening day roster.

Aguero is quite possibly the best forward in the league and his goals per 90 minutes (0.8) for last season was right there alongside Rooney (0.9) and Van Persie (0.8). The reason for his discount over that pair is likely attributable to the additional threat of rotation, with Balotelli, Dzeko and Tevez all vying for minutes of their own. Tevez looked good against Chelsea and is favourite to earn most minutes up top alongside Aguero, but I'm still fairly comfortable saying Aguero will lead all City forwards in minutes by some distance. Whether or not that's enough to select him over Rooney and Van Persie needs more analysis but he certainly needs to be in the conversation.

As for Tevez, I am intrigued by his value to say the least, and he could well develop into one of the best buys of the season if he can gain Mancini's confidence once again (he's on the right track so far). In terms of talent and upside he belongs alongside the aforementioned elite trio, but the risk is too high for me to spend 9.0m on him just yet. His time could come sooner rather than later though.

Manchester United
Projected lineup: De Gea (6.0), Evra (7.0), Ferdinand (6.0), Vidic (7.0), Jones (6.0), Nani (9.0), Carrick (6.0), Kagawa (8.5), Young (8.5), Rooney (12.0), Hernandez (8.0)

The back line here looks nicely settled as while I expect Rafael to get some time at right back and Evans to rotate into the middle, this back four should all rack up substantial minutes (with Jones compensating for his rotation with some games in midfield). Ferdinand's fitness is a slight concern but I'd be happy opening the season with him and then shifting to Jones is he reestablishes himself in the first team or to Rafael or Evans if they can do the same. I will touch on De Gea in an upcoming post on goalkeeper rotation, suffice to say he is the first elite 'keeper in sometime to make me consider ditching the rotation strategy.

The midfield is the opposite story and looks like a potential minefield which will be hard to navigate all year. I'm not sure I'm ready to believe that Kagawa is going to displace Young, Nani and Valencia from day one but many outlets have him pencilled in for a starting berth so I'm not ready to convincingly make the alternate case either. All four played against Hannover with Valencia pushed to right back, a situation which could well occur against weaker sides at Old Trafford again in the future. Until this situation becomes clearer I'm not sure anyone from this midfield is ownable given the prices involved and the opportunity cost of having 9.0m riding the pine. I'm sure others will feel differently (15% ownership for Kagawa already) but as I generally say, I'd prefer to be one week too late than eight weeks to early on jumping on these players.

Up top, Rooney obviously needs consideration and with the absence of expensive midfielders this year, I'd imagine almost every team will feature one of the elite three forwards. Picking between them is tough, though I must say at this point I am struggling to justify spending the extra million of van Persie, especially in light of the transfer unrest. I'll add a separate post on Rooney vs Aguero vs van Persie soon. I've pencilled Hernandez into the second spot, though he of course faces stiff opposition from Welbeck along with the possibility of Ferguson going with a 5-man midfield thanks to the plethora of options he has there. In the end I am backing the player I believe to (a) be better and (b) bring something different, and that's why I've gone with Hernandez. He outscored Welbeck last year in 500 less minutes and his P90 of 6.46 not only almost matched his highly rate 2010-11 season (6.64) but was substantially higher than Welbeck's in either of the past two seasons (2011-12: 5.01, 2010-11: 4.05). Hernandez is obviously a risk, and possibly one which is too pricey to open the season with, but like Tevez I feel his discount is sufficient to generate interest, even if that isn't from gameweek one.

As was the case last season, these two teams appear to be a cut above the rest and I'd be surprised if the majority of teams don't have at least three Manchester based players come kick off.

Division 1b: London falling

Projected lineup: Szczesny (5.5m), Santos (5.5), Vermaelen (7.0), Koscielny (5.5), Sagna (5.5), Song (6.5), Arteta (8.0), Podolski (8.5), Cazorla (9.0), Walcott (9.0), Van Persie (13.0)

Arsene Wenger has assembled his best squad for some time, but it's caused substantial confusion for fantasy owners with only a couple of handful looking locked into the starting eleven. After Vermaelen, Sagna looks the safest pick on the back line, but somewhat ironically he is injured and will miss the first couple of weeks of the season. Vermaelen is overpriced for me, though as offensive defenders go, he is probably alongside Baines as one of the couple who can genuinely be expected to deliver goals/assists.

Going forward this team is a nightmare to predict with no one truly locked into the team (until van Persie's future is cleared up that is). I like Podolski to play early and often but I wouldn't be willing to bet 8.5m on it (preferring, say Ba at 7.5m) while the remaining midfield situation is even more clouded with Walcott, Cazorla, Chamberlain, Giroud, Gervinho, Diaby, Arteta and Ramsey all playing for three spots (assuming Song will play). As with the United midfield, the talent here is abundant but choosing just one player to own seems like a needless risk to me for your opening day roster.

Projected lineup: Cech (6.5), Cole (6.5), Terry (7.0), Cahill (6.5), Ivanovic (6.5), Essien (6.5), Ramires (7.0), Lampard (9.0), Hazard (9.5), Mata (9.5), Torres (10.0)

Of all the elite sides, Chelsea's team has the potential to be the most settled with only a couple spots looking liable to extreme rotation. This defense isn't what it used to be, but they showed improvement in the second half of the season (whether this was attributable to Di Matteo, Cahill or simply a small sample size is less clear) and with a full contingent of healthy players to start the season (notably the influential Essien) there is reason to believe this unit can be useful once again. At 6.5m Cole and (probably) Cahill aren't going to be amazing value unless this unit turns back the clock a couple of years, but in terms of consistency and some promising early fixtures I like what the team offers.

The midfield looks simpler on paper than it really is as Chelsea have new arrivals Marin and Oscar waiting in the wings, along with returning squad players in Meireles, Malouda and Mikel. That said, you'd be surprised if anyone from that group vultured too many minutes from the talented pair of Mata and Hazard making that pair particularly attractive. Mata somewhat flew under the radar last season as Silva and Bale amassed higher points and Dempsey and Sessegnon came in with lower price tags. On a per minute basis though Mata's extrapolated totals (7 goals, 19 assists, 197 points) would stack up against anyone. Hazard and a potentially rejuvenated Torres will only make Mata stronger and the opening double gameweek makes him a very attractive option out of the gates.

As for Hazard, I know a lot of people are excited to see him in the Premier League (included your humble blogger) but, as with all new arrivals, we have to be careful not to jump the gun and expect too much too soon. On the positive side, Hazard has scored goals at an impressive rate (a goal every three shots on target) and he should get enough chances at Chelsea to translate into success. My concern is the darker side of his game - namely that his work ethic and training habits have been questioned - will slow his progress at his new club. Chances are it doesn't but with Mata sat there at the same price, the upside in taking Hazard seems more than offset by the downside that the youngster is bedded into the team slowly.

At 10.0m Torres could be useful later in the season (don't forget this is a guy who averaged a goal every 116 minutes in four seasons at Liverpool), but again I don't see the need to rush the pick now, with other options available whose form and consistency is more predictable. Long term prospect: definitely, short term solution: no thanks.

Projected lineup: Friedel (5.5), Assou-Ekotto (6.5), Vertonghen (6.5), Gallas (5.0), Walker (6.5), Sandro (5.0), Sigurdsson (9.0), Bale (9.5), Lennon (7.0), Van der Vaart (9.0), Defoe (7.5)

I'm not too sure about this Tottenham side. They're priced like an elite team but without Adebayor and Modric I'm not convinced this team is particularly better than a team like Newcastle. Whichever centre back gets regular minutes will be a valuable commodity and I've gone with Gallas based on the speculation we've seen since Redknapp departed that Kaboul will be leaving White Hart Lane soon. They also have Dawson and a returning Caulker who impressed at Swansea so this situation isn't clear but there is value to be had here at some point.

I like Sigurdsson a lot but 9.0m is an extremely steep price to pay as even if you extrapolate his excellent 2011-12 campaign across a full season, he still only aligns with the likes of Van der Vaart and Dempsey whose performances have been proven over a much larger sample size. Between Van der Vaart and Bale I still feel the same as I did last year: on a per game basis I believe the Dutchman is the better pick but his fitness remains an ongoing concern and thus Bale may well be worth the 0.5m premium. Bale isn't exactly the picture of consistency himself in terms of output but he generally plays every week, with his 3,216 minutes last season ranking fourth among all midfielders. There's a lot to like with Van der Vaart, as he will surely take up a place in the front two with no new striking arrivals, and he says he's ready to go, but I would understand if anyone felt more comfortable going with the safer Bale.

Defoe is an intriguing name here as while he isn't a particularly exciting pick, he has consistently shown over his career that he can score goals even when his minutes have been limited. On a goals per 90 minute basis, last season he trailed just Cisse, Balotelli, Rooney, van Persie, Dzeko and Aguero, all of whom cost at least 1.5m more than Defoe. The risk of course is that Spurs are apparently working around the clock to bring in a replacement and thus Defoe could be once again deemed surplus to requirements at a minute's notice. Over a season I would take Ba or Hernandez over Defoe but given Spurs' promising opening fixtures and current lack of alternatives he is close to the top of my mid-price forward shortlist. 


job kimani said...

interesting previews, I have enjoyed.I think Silva is to be avoided early on, due to euro exertion hence I have Nasri
do you think getting both siggy and bale is overkill?? don't think any other mids in same price range offer as enticing assured game time, easy opening fixtures and potential

stooshermadness said...

Good post as always Chris. A couple of thoughts . . . the Zabaleta/Lescott issue is a tough one because MNC look loaded and a team that could easily keep 16-18 clean sheets this year, so I want in but only on a 'nailed on' starter (I had Clichy for a good part of last season; the part he didn't consistently play). Up top, at least early, Tevez seems nailed on and at 9.0 ... this guy had 210 FF points a couple of years ago.

I do think you sell Valencia short here. He offers something very few in the EPL offer - a true out-and-out winger with burning pace and the ability to cut inside and shoot as well and SAF plays him when not injured. Of the 4 on offer (Kagawa, Nani, Young, Valencia), Valencia seems the least likely to be heavily rotated. I am taking a GW1 wait and see attitude on the MUN defense to see who starts. I like the Jones shout-out though.

As for Arsenal, I think the acquisition of Kazorla impacts Arteta - who I suspect will be pushed a bit deeper. Kazorla was also on a fair few free kicks Sunday as well. If Kazorla takes time to "settle" as David Silva did (144 FF points his first season), I'm OK with that. The best footballing side in the EPL will score goals with or without RvP and I am going to take an early flyer on Kazorla.

The Tottenham defense has been priced out of the market for me; I hadn't heard the 'Kaboul leaving' rumor you allude too - he seemed the most likely to start with Vertonghen. I like your shout-out for Defoe; if Tottenham cannot finalize a replacement, he looks terrific value @ 7.5. Thanks Chris, great blog - look forward to your take on the midtable squads.

Bryan McKenna said...

Word on the street is that Silva is not expected to start the opening game due to fitness issues and will be eased in :-)

James Strudwick said...

Cazorla and Koscielny are guaranteed starters for Arsenal

Gummi said...

Excellent post as always Chris.

I'm in the same court as @stooshermadness in that I haven't heard the Kaboul rumour. I believe Vertonghen/Kaboul will be starting center-back pairing for AvB.

Excellent shout for Defoe, I had forgot about him. If Tottenham haven't secured Adebayor or another striker he would be an excellent shout for 7.5.

I had Aguero nailed on as the must-have player for this season, but Tevez looked fit and raring to go against Chelsea. He would be the cheapest elite striker in some time at 9.0 if he re-captures his form of two years ago.

Last year you had Nani as the main Manchester United midfielder. Has Kagawa changed your thoughts or something else?

@stooshermadness: Nice to see you again. :)

Martin Johansen said...

@ stooshermadness

You're right about Valencia, completely, however he plays at RB at the moment. ManU have genuine injury problems in the defence and basicly constitutes a problem, even for a superb winger as Valencia.

James Strudwick said...

And with RVP almost certainly going to MU, Rooney is looking less attractive to score a lot of goals

Kalix said...

"The best footballing side in the EPL will score goals with or without RvP and I am going to take an early flyer on Kazorla"

1) Arsenal are the best side in the EPL? Could have fooled me!

2)You realise RVP was involved in almost 60% of their goals last season?