Fantasy Premier League is finally back, and it won't be long before we will finally learn if all that time spent ruminating and tinkering with our teams was actually worth it.
Thankfully, there weren’t too many changes to adjust to this time around. Given the general sense of rule-change fatigue, the greybeards at FPL Towers managed to do just enough to keep things interesting.
What we have seen is some subtle tweaks in pricing and classification. As the line between what constitutes a midfielder and a forward becomes ever more blurred on the pitch itself, FPL has reacted by pricing pseudo-midfielders like Mo Salah (LIV, 13.0) and Raheem Sterling (MCI, 11) at a premium.
Which Midfielders scored and assisted the most often in #FPL last season? 📊
Salah - once every 66 mins played
Sterling - 74 mins
Sané - 97 mins
Martial - 105 mins
Ramsey - 109 mins
Pogba - 113 mins
Son - 115 mins
Mahrez - 118 mins
de Bruyne - 118 mins— Fantasy Football Secrets ⚽️📈 (@FPLSecrets) August 8, 2018
This has also appeared to solve a problem which has plagued FPL managers for nigh on two seasons now - the lack of viable third-striker options. The re-classification of Marko Arnautovic (WHU, 7.0) seems to have finally plugged that gap for those willing to stretch to £7m - although cheaper alternatives such as of Josh King (BOU, 6.5) and Danny Ings (SOU, 5.5) may yet prove to be more budget-friendly alternatives.
Wing-backs have remained relatively immune to price hikes after largely failing to live up to the hype last season - could this be their season to shine?
Finally, despite its relatively negligible effect on the game itself, one of the most welcome developments this season has been a rule change that should stop that nauseating practice of newly-created, once-off teams winning the Official FPL’s Manager of the Week award.
Finally, a chance for the rest of us to experience the thrill of squeezing that branded stress ball.
Planning your GW1 squad
Although much of the pre-season panic about players being missing for up to three weeks has died down after the Community Shield, it remains a factor worth bearing in mind (keep a close eye on those Friday press conferences).
United missing at least six for the opener vs Leicester tomorrow.
Romero, Valencia, Rojo, Dalot, Herrera and Matic are all injured.
Mourinho will talk to those players who returned late post-WC [Young / Pogba / Lingard/ Fellaini / Lukaku] to determine their availability. #MUFC— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) August 9, 2018
Although you shouldn’t let the possibility of missing the opening Gameweek prevent you from getting one or even two key players, such is the importance of keeping psychologically balanced at the start of the season, the humiliation of failing to field 11 players must be carefully avoided.
Selecting a reliable, balanced squad of players can help keep you on an even keel and prevent a calamitous downward spiral into early-season knee-jerking.
Outfield players that played 75%+ of possible Premier League minutes last season. pic.twitter.com/5SJqoULkL8— fplkernow (@fplkernow) August 9, 2018
Planning an early wildcard is akin to planning for failure. You may end up employing it early anyway, but always aim to assemble a great squad. You never know - this could be the season you just might manage it!
Another key to FPL success can be found in one deceptively simple concept - value.
There’ll always be that unnervingly large element of luck lurking around every corner - particularly when it comes to captaincy and player injuries - but if you can look across your squad and feel satisfied that every player is justifying his pricetag, then congratulations - you’ve basically mastered the dark art of FPL.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the players who early FPL adopters will be hoping can make a mockery of those opening day valuations.
Goalkeepers and Defenders
A glut of pre-season minutes suggests Ben Hamer (HUD, 4.0) should start between the sticks for The Terriers, but it remains to be seen how long he stays there.
Hamer will start against Chelsea but Lössl is defo the No.1 and will be back In goal pretty quickly.— Philip of the Green (@philhirstgreen) August 4, 2018
When it comes to defenders, the first place to go shopping is Crystal Palace. There's something to suit every FPL requirement there.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (CRY, 4.0) has emerged as the most promising candidate for years in our unending search for that Holy Grail of a £4.0m starting defender. For those looking to plug a £4.0m hole, but unwilling to double-up on Palace defence, the likes of Markus Suttner (BRI, 4.0) and Lee Peltier (CAR, 4.0) are popular, if risky, picks here.
James Tomkins (CRY, 4.5) remains less than 10% owned despite his goal threat and clean sheet potential.
Goal threat, clean sheets and low
James Tomkins is ideal for #FPL!July 21, 2018
Mamadou Sakho (CRY, 5.0) basically scores a bonus point in every game, on average - one every 88.7 minutes to be exact. That’s better than more recognised bonus magnets such as Phil Jones (103.84 minutes) and Cesar Azpilicueta (133.2 minutes).
Finally, Patrick van Aanholt (CRY, 5.5m) has been doing what he does best in pre-season - bombing down the wing and registering five attacking returns in the process.
Elsewhere, Portuguese full-back Cedric Soares (SOU, 4.5) has plenty of suitors, mostly thanks to Southampton’s opening run of fixtures, it must be said.
If you’re looking for a £4.5m defender with some attacking flair to quicken the pulse, Charlie Daniels (BOU, 4.5), Watford pair Jose Holebas (WAT, 4.5) and Kiko Femenia (WAT, 4.5), as well as Wolves full-backs Matt Doherty (WOL, 4.5) and Jonny (WOL, 4.5) should fit the bill.
Finally, after his rise to the England squad last season, Trent Alexander-Arnold (LIV, 5.0) is set for plenty of starts in an improving Liverpool defence this time around, and has the crossing ability to gather a few assists too.
There’s a wealth of potential value assets in the midfield this season - the challenge is to narrow it down to the two or three who will make your squad.
Arsenal pair Henrikh Mkhitaryan (ARS, 7.0) and Aaron Ramsey (ARS, 7.5) would make a mockery of their respective pricetags should they play to their potential, and Everton number 10 Gylfi Sigurdsson (EVE. 7.5) could reignite his career under Marco Silva.
This £7-£7.5m price point is particularly interesting, with the likes of Willian (CHE, 7.5), Bernardo Silva (MCI, 7.5), Anthony Martial (MUN, 7.5) and Xherdan Shaqiri (LIV, 7.5) all poised to have breakthrough seasons.
It’s hard to get too excited about any of bottom-priced midfielders at the moment, though - simply take your pick from the likes of Aron Gunnarsson (CAR, 4.5), Oriel Romeu (SOU, 4.5), Morgan Schneiderlin (EVE, 4.5) or Dale Stephens (BRI, 4.5) and move on.
We've already covered some promising potential third strikers, although Everton’s Cenk Tosun (EVE, 7.0), Wilfried Zaha (CRY, 7.0) and Chris Wood (BUR, 6.5) deserve a mention here, too.
Higher up the food chain, either Olivier Giroud (CHE, 8.0) or Álvaro Morata (CHE, 9.0) could be worth investment if Chelsea can get their act together, while Alexandre Lacazette (ARS, 9.5) could be slightly underpriced if he starts firing for Arsenal.
Isn’t it great when Premier League footballers dip their toes into our little world? FPL favourite Patrick van Aanholt is the latest to be bitten by the bug, even setting up his own league, with the promise of several spot prizes throughout the season, as well as a seriously impressive first prize.
BREAKING: #FPL announcement
The champion of my league will win;
1. Personal meet & greet to receive your League of Doing Bits trophy 🏆
2. A matchworn shirt signed by the squad 🦅
3. £1,000 of kit from my boot sponsor ⚽️
4. A customised mobile phone 📱
Good luck😉— Patrick van Aanholt (@pvanaanholt) August 8, 2018
The hefty pricetag forces us to be more creative elsewhere that we’d ideally like, but it would take a brave manager to go without Mo Salah (LIV, 13.0) at the start of the season.
The Egyptian has carried on where he left off in pre-season, scoring or assisting in every match he's played in, and is much harder to force into your squad than replace,
“I’m so happy to be here, I can’t wait to get started. Fulham were the first club that showed interest in me - that was something that I appreciated a lot, and one of the reasons I wanted to come here." - @Andre_SchuerrleJuly 25, 2018
Fulham’s loan move for Andre Schurrle (FUL, 6.0) took everyone by surprise - perhaps even those at FPL Towers, if this generous price is anything to go by.
The German played centre-forward four times for Dortmund last season - and don’t be too surprised to see him make the odd cameo there for the Cottagers this season.
Despite a difficult couple of years there, the 27-year-old has scored goals throughout his career, often times from the bench. Think of what could he produce when he’s the first name on the Fulham teamsheet.
Yet another survivor of the Mourinho’s one-man mission to break the spirit of every attacking midfielder in football, if Schurrle can even come halfway to matching fellow alumni like Arjen Robben, Mo Salah and Kevin de Bruyne, he won’t leave your side all season.
A £4.5m pricetag for Everton’s Phil Jagielka would have made him an automatic pick in seasons past, but when your manager says “we have to sign new players" in your position after replacing you at half-time, things may not be going your way right now.
Those signings duly arrived, and now the Everton starting 11 is arguably the most uncertain in the league. Toffees fans will be delighted, but for the rest of us, they’re best avoided before we see exactly what emerges from Goodison.
Top of the League
The Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 19990-119302) is up and running again! Test your FPL skills against other readers and the Irish Examiner Sports staff by joining up today.