We’re now almost seven weeks into what’s already shaping up to be a classic Fantasy Premier League season.
After Leicester’s unlikely triumph last time out, this season is beginning to settle into a more familiar pattern, and we’re already starting to see a “template team” emerge.
Last season, Mahrez and Vardy were the must-haves, and they didn’t cost the Earth. Normal service has more or less resumed this season however, and it’s generally the expensive players who are returning the big points.
So can you get them all in? Well, you may be tempted to wildcard and really go cheap on defenders - and with a measly 24 clean sheets so far compared to 39 last season, who among us hasn’t felt like turfing them all out after yet another barren Gameweek?
I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Sure, it would free up the cash for those big-name attackers, but having such an unbalanced squad can only lead to problems down the road. Better to slowly migrate your funds away from defence until things turn around and teams begin to tighten up, typically around the Christmas period.
The concept of “team coverage” comes into play here - the idea that if a team is in form and facing a kind run of fixtures, it’s important to have at least one player in that team to “cover” some of those points.
And right now, if you don’t have Liverpool, Arsenal and Man City covered, you’re going to be in for a painful few gameweeks.
You probably can’t afford the big players from every team, but here’s the good news - there are viable cut-price options in all three. Let’s take a look at the stats, courtesy of the bods over at Fantasy Football Fix.
Liverpool (swa, MUN, WBA, cpl, WAT)
United aside, the free-scoring Reds can look forward to some inviting home fixtures in the next five, and trips to Swansea and Palace should hold little fear - but predicting which player will get you the points is probably the toughest task facing fantasy managers at the moment.
Withdrawn roles for Wijnaldum and Henderson keeps them out of the reckoning, as does the £10m pricetag on the injury-prone Sturridge up top. A case can be made for all the remaining contenders, though.
Philippe Coutinho topped the overall FPL stats this past week for final-third touches, passes received and successful passes. He also registered nine shots in the box, as did Roberto Firmino, who also produced 19 key passes and created five chances compared to Coutinho’s four.
There’s a concern too that Firmino lacks a certain greed and killer instinct when his Brazilian compatriot in the team, as highlighted on the Fantasy Football Scout podcast.
@Newsandfeatures Are you worried about Coutinho affecting Firmino since 11 of his 12 PL goals came when Coutinho wasn't on the field?— Abdullah Al Mamun (@TachyonMatrix) September 26, 2016
Mane (LIV, 9.0) is the most expensive prospect and is capable of a hat-trick on his day. The same could hardly be said for Lallana (LIV, 7.2), but he’s improving every week and becoming a great cut-price prospect. Even penalty-taker James Milner (LIV, 6.5) could be an option despite switching to defence. Something for everyone, then!
Verdict: I’m happy to hold Firmino in my team at the moment, but if I was buying now I'd probably plump for the cheaper and more shot-happy Coutinho.
Arsenal (brn, SAW, MID, sun, TOT)
Theo Walcott was already being widely touted in the FPL community this week before his Champions League brace against Basle. The cat’s out of the bag now though, and his stats show us just what we’ve been missing.
He leads the way among Premier League midfielders for shots on target with 11 so far, three more than his nearest rivals, including Alexis Sanchez. He’s also registered more attempts and shots in the box than his £11.1m-priced teammate.
Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott & Mesut Ozil with the goals to give Arsenal a 3-0 lead at half time! Enjoy the goals below! #COYG #Goal pic.twitter.com/JJHFnOPOFO— Arsenal's Voice🔴⚪️ (@ArsenalsVoice) September 24, 2016
Of course, Sanchez leads when it comes to the stat which matters the most - scoring 46 points so far to Walcott’s 36. Arsenal’s number 7 is also playing as a striker and can offer the kind of explosive returns that make him a viable captain pick - an important factor when considering that lofty pricetag.
64% - Alexis Sanchez has had a hand in nine of Arsenal's last 14 Champions League goals (4 goals, 5 assists). Electric.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 28, 2016
As for the other candidates, Santi Cazorla has gone out of fashion and will need to rely on penalties to score the big points. Ozil (ARS 9.5) seems too expensive, and Iwobi (ARS 5.8) just isn’t getting enough pitch time.
Here’s how they compare - bear in mind this covers Premier League matches only.
Verdict: Given the sheer gulf in price, the stats scream Walcott if you need a cheaper midfield star. Fortune favours the brave, but with Sanchez growing into his centre forward role and it would take a “fortunate” manager to go without him. Get them both if you can afford it.
Man City (tot, EVE, SOU, wba, MID)
With 21 goal attempts and 20 chances created, Kevin De Bruyne was in all-conquering form before his injury. But with a relatively quick return on the cards, he’s someone you should factor into your thinking now.
KdB expected to return soon after the Int' break: “Kevin is not a big injury - in two and a half or 3 weeks, maybe he will be ready." #MCFC— Ben Dinnery (@BenDinnery) September 27, 2016
‘KDB’ is already looking like a Player of the Year contender, and with a fairly modest sub-15% ownership, he could end up being that holy grail of fantasy football - a high-scoring differential.
That one blip against Man United aside, Raheem Sterling looks like a different (and greedier!) player this season and should more than justify his £8.6m pricetag. He’s had 62 penalty-box touches this season, dwarfing the 46 of nearest midfield rival Sanchez.
7 - Raheem Sterling has been directly involved in seven goals in his last five Champions League starts (four goals, three assists). Trusted.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 28, 2016
As for the rest - David Silva’s orchestration of the Man City midfield rarely translates into fantasy points, and there’s little to recommend the more expensive Nolito over Sterling when the Spaniard returns from suspension.
Verdict: Grabbing Sterling at his current price could be vital. Reassessing once KDB returns could be one of those “nice” problems to have.
The Best of the Rest
Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min is certainly the man of the moment. His recent glut of goals has certainly raised some eyebrows, especially when you see that he was only in the team from Gameweek 4 onwards.
5 - Son Heung-Min has scored 5 goals in 5 games for Spurs in all comps this season, as many as he did in his last 37 last season. Refreshed.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 27, 2016
With his ownership at less than 5% he’s certainly a differential, but there could be an element of “points-chasing” with this one. Given the other options around £7.5m I wouldn’t bother, but I’ve been wrong before!
Despite his no-show against Stoke, Nacer Chadli (WBA, 6.4) remains a good prospect, and with some great fixtures coming up, I would expect Antonio (WHU, 7.3) to get his name back on the scoresheet before too long.
Don’t forget the deadline for transfers is today, Friday, at 7pm. Good luck!
Penalty takers were overvalued by fantasy managers and FPL admins alike in the past - but with the recent unshackling of referees, that could well change this season. If you’re faced with a close decision between which two players to buy, always go for the penalty taker.
Theo Walcott (ARS, 7.6): He’s been the bane of many a fantasy manager’s life for the past two seasons, but a more mature Theo Walcott looks like he’s finally gained Arsene Wenger’s trust and cemented his place in the Arsenal team.
If he continues the way he’s going, his price won’t stay below £8m for long.
Two goals and an assist in his last four games - here's @theowalcott on how he rediscovered his formSeptember 27, 2016
Robert Snodgrass (HUL, 5.7m): I was going to wait until GW8 for this, but with the Tigers at home to a less-than-convincing Chelsea side, it should be time for the Hull talisman to shine.
He’s on free kicks and penalties, and with three goals and six bonus points to his name already, I’d expect more to come, given Hull’s upcoming fixture list. Remember… #SnodIsGod
The view I had was better imo pic.twitter.com/ISHpMhvMnd— Alex (@HCAFCAlex) September 25, 2016
Alvaro Negredo (MID, 6.6): A classic example of the importance of underlying stats. Those two assists caught the eye early in the season, but he wasn’t getting those shots in or creating chances, and soon he was getting the points his woeful stats deserved. A lesson learned.
Top of the League
Declan Crowdy and his Elegantly wasted side ranks 324 in the world out of almost 4 million managers which, as you would imagine, puts him top of the Official Irish Examiner League (join code: 251768-521616) this week. He captained Sergio Aguero for 26 points, with Sanchez, Sterling and Benteke all doing the business too. And you know things are going well when you even manage to get some points from your defence! Well played, sir!
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