Sunday, 18 August 2013

Fantasy Football 2014 Season Preview

A new Fantasy Football season is upon us, and at 1130am the Fantasy Deadline slamed shut, with every side confirmed for the start the season.

The two highest scoring players in the game last season where Bale and RVP. As a result, they’re the two most expensive players in the game this time around. Finding the funds for either requires sacrifices elsewhere, and so choosing to go without either is a popular thought.

The uncertainty of the transfer window doesn’t help matters. Gareth Bale has been so strongly linked to Real Madrid for record breaking amounts of money that his departure appears almost a foregone conclusion. That leaves the big question at the start of the season as this:  

To RVP or not to RVP.

League Top Scorer two years in a row, and nailed on first choice for the defending champions, Robin van Persie would be first name into any fantasy team were price no object. But his value of £14m is incredibly high. Suarez and Aguero are £11m, and Rooney is £10.5m, with a clear gap to the £9.5m strikers below them. Cutting the necessary £3m-5m from the rest of your squad means losing out on a lot of other talent. Nonetheless, if RVP hits form, not having him selected could be disastrous, and finding the money spare mid-season (without using your transfer wildcard) would be a tough task. Another factor, RVP is “fixture proof”, as he’s a captinable asset no matter who he’s up against, capable of scoring in any game, and potentially takes penalties and free kicks for Man Utd. It is, to my mind, the biggest decision of pre-season.

I decided straight away I wanted RVP, and everything else was based around making room for him.

As a result, my starting team has a strikeforce of RVP, Dzeko and Lukaku. Worth £29.5m all together, I’m reliant on RVP scoring a lot, and straight from the start. My midfield is Hazard and Coutinho, Mirallas, Delph, and Wanyama. Two top players/ one mid-priced/ two budget (£35.5m). My backline has no premium defenders: Jose Enrique, Mertesacker, Coleman, Collins, Shaw. They’re only £25.5m. My goalkeepers are a rotation pair of Vorm and Marshall, meaning I need the two welsh teams to keep clean sheets this year. Here’s hoping those fifteen turn out to be good choices! My starting team last year made me cringe when I looked back on it at the end.

The transfer window has been a slow burn this summer, and not too dramatic so far. Soldado at Spurs should provoke interest; I would buy him for sure if I had the funds. Manchester City have also spent big, but until a few games have been played it’s uncertain who will be first choice for each position, making it uncertain how to act on those signings. Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd have done little worth notice, yet. The last two weeks of August are sure to throw a spanner into many fantasy football plans, somehow!

The two biggest “want-away” transfer targets, who keep being making headlines, are Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney. Two key players for Liverpool and Man Utd, both would be key players for whichever team they end up with. The uncertainty over them keeps them out of many fantasy football teams. (Suarez is also banned for the first six matches for biting Ivanovic last season.) It seems unlikely either will be sold in the end, but it should keep them out of most fantasy managers thoughts.

The other factor skewing these opening selections is a double game week (DGW) for Chelsea and Aston Villa. It is not uncommon for managers to overload their team with DGW players for this one week and hope to score big. I personally am very distrustful of this strategy. Real football managers often rotate their squads unpredictably when fixtures congest like this. However, picking the right player on a DGW can really pay big, and the allure is indisputable.

The defending champion of our league is Jon Hackett. His team is built upon a front line of Soldado, Lukaku, and Weimann (of Villa, presumable for the DGW.) A midfield of Hazard, Walcott, Ben Arfa, Sterling, and Jesus Navas, in total worth £40.5m – the advantage of saving that £5m by going without RVP. His defence has Cahill, Rat, Zabaleta, and Coleman, with a Westwood/Boruc GK pairing. That’s three Chelsea players for their DGW, and doubling up on Man City for their early run of easy games.

Ross Cooper ‘s is the only other team to have started with RVP. Encouragingly, his team is similar to mine, with RVP, Dzeko and Lukaku up top. He also has Hazard and Mirallas in the middle, like me, and besides them Walcott, Kim (Cardiff), and Grandin (Palace). That’s a £36m midfield of two premium/ one mid-priced/ two budget, like mine. His defence is more economical, with Dawson, Luna, Amorebieta, Collins, and Clyne, allowing him a Mignolet/Marshall GK pair.

Then there’s Andrew “Claims he would’ve won if he’d not run off to the USA mid-season” Hackett. He’s gone for Soldado, Lukaku, and Benteke up front – a popular combination from non-RVP teams given this Villa/Chelsea DGW. His midfield of Hazard, Walcott, and Mirallas are also popular choices, with Zaha and Grandin cheaper hopefuls. A backline of A. Cole, Lescott, Toure, Rat and Shaw are solid choices, and not too expensive at £26.5m for the lot. He has the two Saints keepers of Jaaskelainen & Gazzaniga; with Shaw that means he can double up for any Southampton clean sheets. He’s gone heavy for the DGW with four expensive players, but apart from that it’s an even side with players from all different teams.

James Brand meanwhile has Soldado, Dzeko, and Lambert up front – a middle option to the expensive Sold/Dzek/Benteke of Andrew and the cheap Sold/Dzek/Weimann of Jon. His midfield of Hazard, Walcott, Coutinho, Mirallas, and Kim is expensive – a three premium/one mid/one budget set up. His backline of Ivanovic, Koscielny, Collins, Garrido, and Chester is balanced, with a Mignolet/Mannone GK rotation pair. He’s got two Arsenal and two Liverpool players for their early fixtures.

There’s also Mike “in Australia” Hackett with a Lukaku, Berbatov, Anelka front three. A midfield of Walcott, Carrick, Arteta, Yaya Toure, and Fallaini, possibly to take advantage of the new bonus points system. A solid backline of Zabaleta, Glen Johnson, Koscielny, Walker, and Shawcross, with a GK pair of Begovic/Foster. Three Arsenal players in that team make him reliant on them getting the best of their early fixtures.

Finally, there’s Paul “Father Figure” Hackett, who’s picked a Benteke, Lukaku, Dzeko attack. Behind them come Mata, Hazard, Lallana, Puncheon, and Routledge. That’s a midfield reliant on Chelsea and Saints early fixtures. Then a strong defence of Kompany, Vidic, Jagielka, Vlaar, and Huth with a GK rotation pair of Mignolet/Guzan.

Some interesting things to note at the start.

The RVP question has led to only two people choosing to start with him, while 5 go without. That could be good news for me, as his goals would benefit me and not the others. Also, everyone has been won over by the Chelsea DGW opening, with everyone except Mike starting with at least two blues players, and Jon, Andrew and Paul choosing three. Those three also have made sure to have at least one Villa player included as well, (Andrew and Paul choosing Benteke, Jon taking Weimann) and Paul having Vlaar to make 5 DGW players! Given Villa’s tough fixtures and blank GW3 it’ll be interesting to see how the gamble pays off. Hazard is the most popular of the Chelsea players, with everyone except Mike finding a way to fit him in their team. Lukaku is also very popular, in every team except for James’, with no-one choosing to go for any other Chelsea striker; Ba & Torres held in low regard. Obviously, the general view is that going without that pair is too risky for the Chelsea DGW. It’ll be very interesting to see who carries them through into September and the season proper.

Mingolet also proves popular, as I’d thought, with 3 teams starting him as GK. None of them, however, have trusted to put him in for every game. Instead, they have him in a rotation pair (presumably), with a £4.5m or £5m keeper. Bale has been left out of every team, however as he’s famously not fit for the season start, he could well become important if he’s still at Spurs when the transfer window shuts. In his place, Soldado has proven a popular choice for non-RVP teams. Three people chose him as their most expensive striker, hoping he settles quickly to the premier league, and to take advantage of Spurs' great early fixtures. Excluding Chelsea and their DGW, only Mike’s chosen the bold idea of fielding the full three players from one side, with three from Arsenal. Andrew did the same, however his is deceptive - since his backup GK is Gazzaniga he cannot play all three at the same time.

The only other stand out player is Theo Walcott. He finds his way into four teams, despite limping out of England’s friendly match against Scotland midweek. He scored 14 goals last season, and is one of the top goal-scoring midfielders. Interestingly, absolutely no-one has gone for Santi Cazorla, who costs the extra £0.5m more, and scored twelve goals last season from midfield. Other ignored players include Sturridge, Aguero, Giroud, Silva, Michu, Baines or Cech – a great surprise to me personally as I’d expect them to be popular choices all around. Also, James is the only person other than myself to choose Coutinho in midfield. Other players have steered well away from the £9m midfielders, Jon taking Jesus Navas the only exception. The others looking to the premium options (Hazard, Mata, Walcott,) or for value elsewhere.

And that is how the teams set us up for the season ahead.

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