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Fantasy Premier League Preview

By Alex Fairchild



In 2009, Maurice Jones-Drew, a NFL running back apologized to 'fantasy owners' for not scoring a touchdown. At the one yard line, the leading fantasy skill player took a knee to give his team the opportunity to run down the clock, so that their kicker could split the uprights as time expired. Had he scored, the opposition would have had possession again and would be able to steal the game at the death.

Fantasy competitions have become a phenomenon across the world. In the United States, men drink beer and eat chips without their wives around to hold their Fantasy Football draft. Some have parties, while others sit in front of their computer screen clicking on names late into the night. The business has become so big that ESPN has dedicated hours upon hours of programming to the fantasy sports demographic.

The same goes for the association football crowd, after Andrew Wainstein brought this all to fruition in the 1990s. &&&&   Multiple fantasy soccer leagues are on offer, with the most prominent, at least for the Premier League, being run by the competition's official website.  

Fantasy Premier League is quite exciting at the beginning of the season, as people vow to keep up with it, but once Gameweek 18 rolls around and the Cup starts, we often forget our sides even exist. However, this year will be different. With more exciting players in the league than ever before, thanks to the league's size, money, and power, it is quite easy to mix up one's team with a bit of flare if things do not work out.

Unlike past years, where I have hastily put an XI together, I have drafted four teams and yesterday came up with a final product. Below are my thoughts on those to pick and watch this year.

Goalkeepers:

While Joe Hart and David De Gea will be excellent again this season, keeping clean sheets and making lots of stops, they don't come on the cheap. Big names do not always work as well. For example, Fulham signed Maarten Stekelenburg this summer. The 30 year old was promising at the 2010 World Cup, helping the Dutch to the final, but his form has dropped off. In 19 appearances for Roma last year, only 3 resulted in shutouts.

According to Fantasy Premier League's calculations, the player that gets you the most bang for your buck is Mark Schwarzer. He did quite well for his owners last year at Fulham, but will he really knock Petr Cech off his perch with Jose Mourinho at the helm? I wouldn't bet on it.

It is more productive to scout keepers on a weak squad who performed well under pressure, before moving to a better team. Simon Mignolet is an attractive purchase due to his Liverpool move. With 11 clean sheets to his name and a lackluster Sunderland rearguard in front, a better season should be ahead for the Anfield keeper.

Defenders:

Leighton Baines was the top points scorer last year, amongst backs, and there is no reason to expect anything less from the Everton man this year. Patrice Evra was an excellent source of production for owners last year, but under new management, and with another year of life behind him, it may be time to dump the 32 year old from the lineup.  

However, versatile defenders, like the above, are more valuable than the straight up centre-back. Therefore, players such as Branislav Ivanovic and Baines are better selections that a Tim Cahill. Backs who produce offensively garner higher totals. For example, Jan Vertonghen and David Luiz proved smart buys in the previous campaign.

Remember not be conventional in Fantasy Premier League. Playing a 3-4-3, with 3 attacking full backs is smarter than starting 4 traditional central defenders.

In addition, pick backs from teams that concede less goals. This may increase the amount of points your defenders produce from clean sheets. More importantly, players from the likes of Chelsea, Everton, and Manchester City will act as damage control. Once your defenders concede more than a goal in their match, you risk losing points. Pick players less likely to find themselves in this situation.

Midfielders:

Gareth Bale leads in this category for obvious reasons, but picking the Spurs star is a gamble. With rumors swirling that he may be on his way out of London, it may be better to hold off on signing him until the transfer deadline has passed. Bale does not have to be essential to your squad, as players that have stability at their clubs, like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard come at lower costs. Philipe Coutinho of Liverpool will be that team's centerpiece this year and may propel that offense, and yours, to new heights.

The majority of production will come from the midfield and this is where gems are found. Last year, users scrambled for the signature of Swansea's Michu, who had a blockbuster opening month at the Welsh outfit. This year's Michu could be Emanuele Giaccherini. The Italian has entered a club bereft of creativity, just as the Spaniard did in 2012. Giaccherini, though, is more of a creator than Michu, as he created chances for his teammates at Juventus. With a powerful front man in Jozy Altidore that can take advantage of such opportunities, the Italian could be a strong asset for £7 million. Lucas Leiva is a safe bet in midfield that could replace the wounded one week, while many others are available to fill up space on the bench.

Forwards:

This is where owners splurge. Robin van Persie is the game's most expensive player this campaign and rightfully so. He has been a prolific goalscorer throughout his time in the Premier League and particularly in the past few seasons. Despite aging, the Dutchman has proved his worth time and time again. Luis Suarez was the another popular strike option last year, but he will be suspended to start the season.  

However, as you must stay within your budget of £100 million, buying one Suarez could weaken the rest of your squad, thus the purchase of three moderately priced strikers aid your cause more than one loan expensive one. Not only will they save you some money, but also their combined performances will benefit you more.  

Iago Aspas has looked strong in the preseason netting three times, which goes along nicely with his four helpers. Meanwhile, Gerard Deulofeu, who is on loan to Everton from Barcelona, could impress for The Blues of Merseyside.

Down in London, Romelu Lukaku, whose coming out party went quite well last season at West Bromwich Albion, should be a threat if given regular playing time at Chelsea. He will compete with Fernando Torres and Demba Ba for a starting spot, though The Special One would do well to start Lukaku, who at the age of 20, could be a staple at Stamford Bridge for years to come.

Wilfried Bony is the best striker in Europe you've yet to hear much about. The Ivorian hit Eredvise keepers for 31 goals in 30 outings last season and was signed by Swansea City over the summer. He has already netted two first team goals for the Swans in their 4-0  Europa League rout of Malmo. Michael Laudrup has quite the partnership on his hands, as Michu and Wilfried are conjuring up a terrible tandem which could lead to a windfall for their owners.

My Gameweek 1 XI: 4-3-3   Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet  

Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta, John Heitinga, Leighton Baines, Branislav Ivanovic  

Midfielders: Gareth Bale (yes, I'm rolling the dice), Eden Hazard, Emanuele Giaccherini  

Strikerss: Wilfried Bony, Iago Aspas, Romelu Lukaku      

All stats from Whoscored.com and Transfermarkt.com