As I hold myself out to be the Warren Buffet of the Barclays Fantasy Premier League, I thought that it was only fair to pass on my wisdom in this arena to each and every one of you. Actually, the real reason is that I need another outlet to satisfy my vanity. The Ten Commandments of Barclays Fantasy Football are as follows:
1. Do not waste points on transfers barring exceptional circumstances
I'm always amazed at the large number of people who employ this tactic believing that they are guaranteed to hit the jackpot and score a hundred-plus points if only they could have a particular line-up that week. The only certainty is that you will lose four points, which really adds up during the course of the season if done on a regular basis.
2. Do not forget rule number one
3. Be patient
Inevitably some of your players will go through barren spells, but hold fast. You will only gain maximum reward from your players by sticking with them through long periods. Try to think how many points they are likely to gain over the course of the season rather than on a weekly basis. For instance, if you pick Rooney and he fails to score in five games, but is still playing well, you would be foolish to replace him with a player who scored a hat-trick in the previous week. Clearly, the player who scored the hat-trick in the previous week is highly unlikely to do so the next week. The number of idiots who brought in Berbatov last year after his hat-trick heroics was staggering – forgetting that Berbatov was unlikely to start most games for Manchester United. Pavel Pogrebnyak was another example of this folly last season.
4. Pick players who are assured starters
This commandment sounds trite, but is pretty vital in Fantasy Football and not always easy to achieve given the prevalence of squad rotation in football today particularly amongst the top teams.
Kagawa for Man Utd should be ignored despite his prowess as he is likely to rotate with Welbeck (or maybe even Robin Van Persie up front).
In fact the whole Man Utd rearguard apart from Evra and Vidic should be avoided because of the rotation and uncertainty as to Sir Alex's first choice back four. Even the talented De Gea might well be rotated with Lindegaard as per last season.
Marin and Oscar are unlikely to start initially for Chelsea so stay clear.
The Man City players to avoid are Balotelli, Nasri, Clichy, Kolarov, Zabaleta and Richards (he's injured for the first month of the season anyway).
Arsenal will probably rotate Walcott and Gervinho so I would give them a miss, although if Gervinho starts regularly he is a snip at £7.5 million as he is a pretty much a striker badged as a midfielder. Gervinho is one of the best dribblers in the Premiership and I expect him to have a much stronger second season, as most Arsenal signings tend to. I would also expect Gibbs to start ahead of Santos this season, although clearly Santos will get several outings.
It is also vital that the reserves you select are regular starters so that you can be certain that at least 11 of your 15 will start. Equally, it gives you greater flexibility in rotating your side so that you can play players when they are likely to score highly because of easy fixtures that game week.
I guarantee that at one time or another in the season you will have to rely on your reserves so make sure that you don't miss out on easy points. Last season Neil Taylor was invaluable for me in this regard.
Here are the starting line-ups that I think would be selected if each manager had a fully fit squad:
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Song, Wilshere; Gervinho, Cazorla, Podolski; Giroud (I'm assuming that Van Persie will leave).
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Given; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Stevens; Holman, El Ahmadi, Bannan, N'Zogbia; Agbonlahor, Bent.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, A.Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Mata, Hazard; Torres.
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga/ Distin; Baines; Osman, Gibson (Barkley should have a part to play this season), Fellaini, Piennaar; Naismith, Jelavic.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise; Duff, Diarra, Dembele, Ruiz; Petric, Dempsey.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard, Allen; Downing (Rodgers is highly likely to buy another wide advanced player), Borini, Suarez.
Man City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Y.Toure, Barry; Nasri, Tevez, Silva; Aguero. (Yes, I think Mancini will still largely opt for a flat back four rather than three at the back.)
Man Utd (4-4-1): De Gea; Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Cleverley, Nani; Rooney (if Van Persie does not join Kagawa will play many games 'in the hole' with Rooney moved forward into a more advanced position), Van Persie (Welbeck if Van Persie does not join).
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Krul; Simpson, S.Taylor, Coloccini, Santon; Cabaye, Tiote; Gutierrez, Ben Arfa, Ba; Cisse.
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Whitaker; R. Martin/R.Bennett, Turner, Tierney; E.Bennett, Howson, Johnson, Pilkington; Snodgrass; Holt.
QPR (4-4-1-1): Green; Onuoha, Ferdinand, Nelsen, Fabio; Hoilett, Diakite, Faurlin, Mackie, Taarabt/Cisse, Zamora.
Reading (4-4-2): Federici; Gunter; Gorkss, Pearce, Harte/Shorey; Kebe, Leigertwood, Guthrie, McCleary; Pogrebnyak, Le Fondre.
Southampton (4-3-3): K.Davis; Clyne, Hooiveld, Fonte, Fox; Schneiderlin, Lallana, S.Davis; Puncheon, Lambert, Rodriguez.
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Shotton, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson; Pennant/Kightly, Whitehead, Whelan, Etherington; Walters, Crouch.
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mignolet; Bardsley, Brown, O'Shea, Richardson; Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner, McClean; Sessegnon; Wickham.
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Rangel, Chico, Williams, Taylor; Britton, De Guzman; Dyer, Michu, Sinclair; Graham.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Friedel (likely to sign a new goalkeeper); Walker, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Sandro, Sigurdsson (assuming Modric does not stay); Lennon, Van der Vaart, Bale; Defoe (Spurs will sign a striker who is capable of playing on his own like Adebayor as Defoe is incapable of doing so).
West Brom (4-2-3-1): Foster; S.Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell; Mulumbu, Yacob; Odemwingie, Morrison, Brunt; Long.
West Ham (4-3-3/4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel/Reid, Collins, Tomkins, McCartney; Collison, Noble, Diame; Maiga, Cole, Vaz Te.
Wigan (3-4-3): Al Habsi; Ramis, Alcaraz/Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour; Miyachi, Di Santo/Kone, Maloney (I have assumed that Victor Moses will leave before the transfer window closes as he would start).
5. Defence matters too
Most people understand that the 3-4-3 formation is the best formation in Fantasy Football. However, this often means that managers overly focus on attack, leaving a porous rearguard. Clean sheets matter and ensure a regular accumulation of points. To use a stock market analogy, the defence represents dividends whereas forwards represent capital growth. Although the latter is ultimately more important as every investor knows dividends 'keep the show on the road'. Yes, I am indeed a dick.
Admittedly, last season was a bad season for defenders, but players of the calibre of Hart, Kompany and Evra – regular starters – should not be automatically overlooked because of their hefty price. Clearly, the best defenders will largely be found at the big four clubs, but I also fancy QPR to have a pretty miserly back line now that Mark Hughes has had a chance to impose himself upon the club.
Laurent Koscielny is the best value defender overall at £5.5m as I expect Arsenal to have a better season defensively. Ashley Cole is well priced at £6.5m and Fabio, who should start regularly at left back for QPR and make frequent forays into the opposition half, is a snip at £4.5m.
Other well-priced defenders include John O'Shea at £5m as Sunderland will be defensively solid under Martin O'Neill and O'Shea is the best Sunderland defender. Emmerson Boyce (£5m) at Wigan should pick up many assists in his right wing back role as he did at Wigan in the last ten games of last season. Had Jean Beausejour been classed as a defender he would have been one of the first names on my team sheet, but, alas, he was not. Ivan Ramis is another Wigan player (£4.5m) to monitor, but, as I have not seen him play, he does not feature in my reckoning.
Many think Ian Harte is great value as he was Reading's set piece maestro last season and Reading had the best defensive record of the promoted teams. However, I'm not convinced that Harte will play regularly this season given his age and lack of pace. Nicky Shorey will probably start a large chunk of Reading's games too, so goodbye Mr Harte.
Although Aston Villa will probably have a fairly leaky rearguard with the appointment of Paul Lambert who has a Corporal Jones derring-do approach to football (a welcome relief from the dire offerings of the red pock-faced Alex McLeish), there are several Aston Villa players who are very well-priced. The first is the talented Ciaran Clark (£4.5m) – a goal-scoring centre back – who will form a centre back pairing with Ron Vlaar. Richard Dunne might struggle to break that partnership when he returns from injury. Enda Stevens (£4m) should start at left back ahead of Warnock and Delph making him a tasty little morsel. Apologies if I'm wrong on the Stevens front.
Apart from Stevens, the best defenders in the £4m bracket are Chris Gunter for Reading who should start at right back for the bulk of the season. Gunter has just returned from injury so please show me mercy if Cummings starts the opening couple of games instead. Nathaniel Clyne is quite the talent and will offer a considerable attacking threat for Southampton from right back. However, Southampton will probably have one of worst defences in the Premiership this season so this should be noted.
6. Midfielders: select set piece takers or those who play in advanced positions
This is hardly a great revelation, but your midfielders should score goals and/or be likely to pick up regular assists. Holding midfielders have no part to play in Barclays Fantasy Football. One simple step to take is focusing the midfielders who take set pieces as clearly this gives them a head start in the assist stakes. Here are the likely set piece takers most of whom are midfielders:
Arsenal: Santi Cazorla
Aston Villa: N'Zogbia
Everton: Pienaar (Jelavic and Baines will be heavily involved too)
Fulham: Duff/Dembele (although others will feature too)
Man City: Silva
Man Utd: Nani and Young (Rooney takes the penalties)
Norwich: Snodgrass (Surman might feature too if he plays)
QPR: Taarabt (if he plays)
Reading: Harte (if he plays)
Southampton: Lambert and Lallana (Lambert takes the penalties)
Stoke: Pennant and Etherington (Walters usually takes the penalties)
Tottenham: Van der Vaart (Sigurdsson when Van der Vaart hamstrings snap)
West Brom: Brunt
West Ham: Noble
The midfielders with considerable value here are Noble and Maloney both at £5m.
Another key factor to consider when selecting midfielders is how high up the pitch they play. The higher up the pitch that the midfielder plays the more likely the midfielder is to score. This is a more important attribute than shots per game as one Fantasy Football website is rather exercised about.
For instance, Arteta and Lampard, both deep-lying central midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 (very much in the 2), should be ignored as they do not pose a great enough goal threat. The same logic applies to Tom Cleverley, Joe Allen, Yaya Toure (when not in an advanced position played 'in the hole' behind the striker) and Sigurdsson if he plays centrally in a 4-4-1-1 behind Van der Vaart.
The type of midfielders that you should select ought be one of the following:
- Those who play 'in the hole' behind a striker either in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1 like Cazorla, Mata, Gerrard and Taarabt; or
- Wingers who provide plenty of crosses like N'Zogbia, Larsson, Nani, Piennar (who also plays 'in the hole') and Bale; or
- Advanced wide players in a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 who are not classified as forwards like Moses, Maloney, Gervinho, Walcott, Silva (when not 'in the hole') and Sinclair.
As you might have guessed I quite like the phrase 'in the hole'. Apologies if it is starting to grate.
7. Pick forwards who will pick up points for assists
When selecting strikers the overwhelming focus tends to be on goals rather than assists which is silly given that assists count one point less than goals for strikers. The strikers who are likely to do well on the assist front are strikers who can hold the ball up and lay it off: Lambert, Graham, Long, Giroud and Carlton Cole for example. Adebayor was the prime example of this quality last season as he picked up assists by the bucketload.
Of course Rooney and Tevez always pick up plenty of assists.
I also think that Torres, although not a natural provider of chances for others, should notch up more assists this season largely because of his lone striker role and likely regular game time.
8. Keep an eye out for 'double game weeks'
Generally I am against making too many transfers but you should monitor when a team has two games in a game week for obvious reasons. Indeed, in game week one Chelsea and Reading have two games so it would be sensible to have a larger than usual contingent of Chelsea and Reading players in your squad initially. This is why I am starting with Cech rather than Hart in goal in the first week. I would, however, caveat this by stressing that it is still not worth losing points in achieving this. I suppose it might be worth losing points if a team had three games in a week, but this is unlikely.
9. Avoid master plans
There are some Fantasy Football obsessives who will have already mapped out points in the season when they will bring in and sub out particular players. Unfortunately, for them, in all likelihood, this will not work out as there will be a number of unforeseen events (as Donald Rumsfeld termed them – 'unknown unknowns' and 'known unknowns', which is undoubtedly the wisest thing that he ever said) like injuries, suspensions, loss of form and god knows what else, which will de-rail the very best laid plans.
There are also some who advocate 'sophisticated tactics' like selecting two cheap goalkeepers like Begovic and Green and rotating them when each has a home game. Whilst this worked well last season with Krul and Vorm, I can't see any obvious pairings in which rotation is a possibility. It is unlikely that two cheap goalkeepers will perform as well as Krul and Vorm did last season.
10. Try to leave yourself some wriggle room
It is highly unlikely that you will pick the perfect team in the first game week that will see you through until the end. It is therefore sensible to leave 0.5m in the kitty to give you the opportunity to purchase a player who will shoot up in value because everyone is suddenly clamouring for him. If you have nothing left in the kitty you might have to restructure your whole team to accommodate the new player, either requiring a wildcard which you don't want to play too early, or incurring a loss of unnecessary points in transfers.
My Team: The Dibbly Dobblers
Goalkeepers: Cech (I will replace Cech with Hart shortly), Green.
Defenders: A.Cole, Koscielny, Fabio, Clark, Gunter.
Midfielders: Cazorla, N'Zogbia (I might replace N'Zogbia with Ben Arfa when the latter is fit), Pienaar, Maloney (I'm a little concerned that Crusat and Miyachi could start ahead of him but I'm prepared to wait and see), Guthrie.
Forwards: Rooney, Torres, Tevez.