Finally, a shiny new Premier League season is almost upon us, and for millions of people that means one thing — fantasy football time!
For the uninitiated, Fantasy Premier League (fantasy.premierleague.com) is a free online game where you pick a squad of 15 players, who score you fantasy points based on real-life performances.
With over 3m players last season, winning the thing is next to impossible — but bragging rights for beating your mates are up for grabs!
But first, you need to pick that all-important initial squad. Follow these tips and you won’t go far wrong.
Keep a (sceptical) eye on pre-season form
A player showing some form, like Burnley’s Andre Gray, is well worth a look, but beware - that road is littered with Mauro Bosellis and Ravel Morrisons.
Focus on players who newly installed managers have taken a shine to and, if you’re really on the ball, you’ll…
Find the out-of-position prospects
Players who play further forward than their fantasy classification suggests are must-haves, including Ayew (WHU, 7.5m), Martial (MUN, 9.5m), Bojan (STO, 6.0m) and Redmond (SOU, 6.0m), not to mention big hitters like Liverpool’s Firmino (8.5m) and Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez (11m).
Monitor late movers
Now that the prices are locked in, a move to a new club can transform a player’s point-scoring potential.
John Stones is a snip at 5.0m after his move to Man City.
Christian Benteke would be great value for his 7.5m tag if a move to West Ham or Palace materialises - as could Romelu Lukaku (9.0m) at Everton.
Former benchwarmers like Jordan Ibe (BOU, 5.5m) are worth a look too.
Spend the minimum on goalkeepers
Penalty saves aside, goalkeepers just don’t score the big points.
The best you can really hope for is a clean sheet and the odd save/bonus point here and there. The money is simply better spent on someone who can bag you a goal or assist.
So just buy a pair of 4.5m keepers (take your pick from Valdez, Foster and Heaton) and don’t look back.
Find those cheap ‘enablers’
The penny-pinching doesn’t end there, I’m afraid. If you want to bring in the likes of Aguero, Kane, Hazard et al, you’ll need to free up some cash with a cheap defender and midfielder.
These “enablers” will languish on your bench most gameweeks, but you will need them when injuries to your star players come around.
At the back, Evans (WBA, 4.5m) and Friend (MID 4.5m) look like decent shouts. Further up the pitch, Rodwell (SUN 4.5m) could be a real bargain, whilst Watson (WAT, 4.5m) or Hojbjerg (SOU, 4.5m) should keep your points total ticking over.
Look for the teams you expect to improve
Player prices tend to be influenced by the reputation and past performance of their team. Promoted players are cheap as chips, while players from the so-called ‘big’ teams come in at a premium.
So if you can spot a club that ends up defying expectations, that’s where the bargains will be. There’ll hardly be another Leicester (will there?), but who will be the new West Ham? How about Everton, Moyes’ Sunderland, or Crystal Palace maybe?
Play it safe
Week One really isn’t the time to be taking risks. Right now, you need to aim for picking 15 fully-fit players who will play 90 minutes.
By the time the first round of matches are over, you’ll want to transfer in loads of players you can’t believe you didn’t pick before.
The last thing you need is the added headache of having three or four flops you MUST get rid of.
Use your head, not heart
Leave personal baggage about teams and players at the door.
If you have the inside track on the team you support (injury, new player) that’s great. But if you think you’re being a ‘real fan’ by picking players from your favourite team, ignoring rivals, what are you achieving?
Quick Tip: Hull are looking like this season’s whipping boys. Including players from their early opponents (Leicester, Swansea, Man United) could prove fruitful.
BUY: Andre Ayew (West Ham, 7.5m): Already decent mid-price pick for midfield, if he does indeed graduate to a forward role this season, he’ll become a necessity for every team.
TRY: Gerard Deulofeu (Everton, 6.5m): Roberto Martinez might still be in a job if he played this guy last season. He’s in scintillating form.
GOODBYE: Wayne Rooney (Man Utd, 9.0): The price might tempt some, but he needs to earn his place now — and Mourinho doesn’t do sentiment.
Take on our tipster and our sportswriters in the official Irish Examiner Fantasy Premier League (code 251768-521616)
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Which teams are relegation candidates this season?
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