Barclays Fantasy Football 2012/13 was my annus horribilis. I should have known that my egotism and vanity in labelling myself the Warren Buffett of the Barclays Fantasy Premier League would come back to bite. Actually divine retribution had nothing to do with it; rather, the astonishing individual performances of Van Persie, Michu and Bale, all of whom I ignored for too long, overly deterred by their hefty values.
2012/13 was certainly a year that favoured concentrating your resources on a few individuals and less on a balanced approach. Defences were particularly poor with four point clean sheets markedly reduced amongst the big four teams. It also favoured the aggressive players willing to lose four points in transfers to a greater extent than previous seasons.
Anyway, although my 2012/13 was not great by my own Buffett standards, being the saddo and egotist that I am, I felt the need to reveal my 'Top Tips' for 2013/14 (not that different from 2012/13); adherence to which I reckon will stand you in good stead throughout the season.
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 points-plus 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. Admittedly, last year favoured this approach to a greater extent, but it should still be avoided.
2. Do not forget rule number one
3. Be patient
Inevitably some of your players will go through barren spells, but hold fast. I find it hilarious to read the over-analysis and key performance indicators of websites like Fantasy Football Scout. Nobody can predict when a player will gain or lose form or the duration of a player's purple or barren patch. You do not need a key performance indicator (unless you're dim and watch no football) to tell you if a player is on form. You will only gain maximum reward from your players by sticking with them through long periods. Try to think how many points your players are likely to collect over the course of the season rather than on a weekly basis. For instance, if you pick Van Persie 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 Hernandez last year after his hat-trick against Aston Villa was staggering forgetting that he was unlikely to start most games for Manchester United. Adam le Fondre 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.
It is 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 some point in the season you will have to rely on your reserves for points so make sure that you don't miss out on easy points. Last season Nathaniel Clyne was particularly valuable for me in this regard.
Focusing on Man Utd, the whole back four apart from Evra (assuming Baines does not arrive) should be avoided because of the rotation and uncertainty of the starting line, although this might be less of an issue under Moyes's management, but we shall see. Kagawa ought to get considerably more game time this year whether it be 'in the hole' or in a wider position in the attacking trident of a 4-2-3-1. At £8m he is very well priced.
For Chelsea – Oscar, Hazard, Mata, De Bruyne and Hazard will be competing for the three attacking trident spots in a 4-2-3-1 so I am wary of selecting any of them. I'm even cautious of selecting the reliable Mata given the rumours that Mourinho isn't a massive fan. This rumour might well be bunkum, but I'd be lying if I said that it hadn't diminished my view of Mata's Fantasy Football stock. Clearly, if Rooney signs for Chelsea, and is given the lone striker role, his £10m price tag looks tempting.
The Man City players to avoid are Nasri, Negredo, Aguero, Jovetic and Dzeko (he will be well down the pecking order in any case) given the likely rotation. I'd also ignore Navas as his goal-scoring record and assist record isn't that great. David Silva at £9m represents the most appealing Man City midfield/forward player. Silva underperformed last year, but should improve from a Fantasy perspective next season particularly if played 'in the hole' rather than out wide. He will also benefit from Pellegrini's more positive, possession-based approach after a season of counter-attacking football under the dour Mancini.
Carl Jenkinson is a very tempting choice for Arsenal at £4.5m. Jenkinson will get considerable game time this season, but I would have thought that Sagna might still start ahead of him at right back initially so I will resist the temptation. Ultimately I think that Sagna will compete with Mertesacker to start alongside Koscielny at centre back, but this might take some time to unfold. Given Gibbs's injury record Koscielny is the best overall value Arsenal defender at £5.5m. In midfield Jack Wilshere is cheap at £6.5m and will be huge bargain if he starts ‘in the hole’ with Cazorla shunted to the left. However my hunch is that Wenger might be looking to start him deeper alongside Ramsey in a Schweinsteiger role, which would diminish his appeal. If played ‘in the hole’ Cazorla is good value at £10m, but Walcott looks even better value at £9.5m as I'd be confident of his starting position in the first XI and that he will score 15 goals-plus over the season (barring injury of course). If Suarez or Higuain don't arrive Giroud looks cheap at £8.5m given his ability to rack up assists by holding the ball up and laying it off for others. However, there is a risk that he might rotate with Podolski for the lone striker role.
Here are the starting line-ups that I think would be selected at present if each manager had a fully fit squad. I've highlighted the players in bold that I think merit selection consideration based on overall value:
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna/Jenkinson, Mertesacker/Sagna, Koscielny, Gibbs; Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, Wilshere, Cazorla; Giroud/Podolski.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Luna/Bennett; Bacuna, Westwood; Weimann, Tonev, Agbonlahor; Benteke
Cardiff City: (4-5-1): Marshall; Brayford, Caulker, Hudson, Taylor; Noone, Kim, Gunnarsson, Mutch, Bellamy; Cornelius
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Azpilicueta, Ivanovic, Cahill, A.Cole; Ramires/Van Ginkel, Luiz/Lampard; Hazard, Mata/Oscar, Schurrle; Lukaku
Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Parr; Jedinak, Campana; Dobbie/Thomas, Williams/Garvan, Thomas/Bolasie; Gayle
Everton (3-4-1-2): Howard; Jagielka, Alcaraz, Distin; Coleman, Osman/Barkley, Fellaini, Baines; Pienaar; Mirallas, Kone
Fulham (4-4-1-1): Stekelenberg; Riether, Hangeland, Amorebieta, Riise; Duff, Boateng/Enoh, Sidwell, Richardson/Kacaniklic; Ruiz; Berbatov
Hull City (3-4-1-2): McGregor; Chester, Davies, Figueroa; Elmohamady, Meyler, Quinn, Brady; Koren; Boyd/Aluko, Graham
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Skrtel/Toure, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard; Coutinho, Suarez, Aspas; Sturridge
Man City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Nastasic, Clichy; Fernandinho, Y.Toure; Navas, Jovetic, Silva; Aguero/Negredo
Man Utd (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand/Jones, Evans/Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Cleverley; Valencia/Zaha, Welbeck, Kagawa; Van Persie
Newcastle (4-2-3-1): Krul; Debuchy, S.Taylor, Coloccini, Santon; Cabaye, Tiote; Marveaux/Gutierrez, Sissoko, Ben Arfa/Gouffran; Gomis
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; R. Martin, Bassong, Turner, Garrido; Snodgrass, Howson, Fer, Redmond/Pilkington; Hoolahan; Hooper/Van Wolfswinkel
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Boruc; Clyne, Lovren, Hooiveld/Fonte, Shaw; Schneiderlin, Wanyama; Ramirez, Lallana, Rodriguez; Lambert
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Pieters; Kightly/Pennant, N'Zonzi, Adam, Etherington; Walters/Jones, Crouch
Sunderland (4-4-1-1): Mannone; Peruzzi/Gardner, Brown/Diakite, Roberge/O'Shea, Colback; Johnson, Cabral, Larsson, Giaccherini; Sessegnon/Altidore, Fletcher
Swansea (4-2-3-1): Vorm; Rangel; Chico/Amat, Williams, Davies; Britton/Canas, De Guzman/Ki; Dyer/Routledge, Michu, Hernandez; Bony.
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto/Rose; Paulinho, Sandro; Lennon, Dembele, Chadli/Bale (it looks likely that Bale will go); Soldado
West Brom (4-3-1-2): Foster; S.Reid/Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell/Popov; Mulumbu, Yacob, Dorrans; Morrison; Long, Anelka.
West Ham (4-5-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Reid, Collins/Tomkins, Rat; Jarvis, Diame, Noble, Nolan, Vaz Te; Carroll
5. Defence matters too (although less so than midfielders or strikers)
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 an ill-thought-out rearguard. Clean sheets are not to be sniffed at and they keep the points tally ticking along. Attacking full backs often pick up plenty of assists too.
Admittedly, last season was a bad season for defenders, but players of the calibre of Hart, Kompany and Baines – 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 there are bargains to be had elsewhere.
Laurent Koscielny is probably the best value defender overall at 5.5m closely followed by Nastasic also at £5.5m. Seamus Coleman has obvious appeal at £5m as an attacking full back, particularly if Martinez adopts a 3-4-3 formation which he utilised effectively at Wigan. Nathaniel Clyne is perhaps the best priced defender at £4.5m. Clyne is a very attacking full back and Southampton's defence, which was already on an upward gradient under Pochettino, will be further enhanced by the additions of Lovren at centre back and Wanyama in central midfield.
Other well-priced defenders include Michael Dawson at £5m, as Spurs should be more solid than most defensively. Razvan Rat looks the best value West Ham defender at £5m and will start at left back. Matthew Lowton also has appeal at £5m, but Villa are likely to be more porous than Southampton defensively so I prefer Clyne. Luke Shaw should ensconce himself as the first choice Southampton left back this season ahead of Daniel Fox, but at 18 he will be rested on occasions and might well pick up injuries, so again, Clyne is more enticing.
The best defenders in the £4m bracket at present are James Chester for Hull, Ben Turner of Cardiff and Jonathan Parr of Crystal Palace, all of whom should start barring any further additions from their alma maters. Parr offers the most attacking threat as a marauding left back, but this is caveated by Palace having a particularly leaky rearguard. Chester should start on the right-hand side of a back three for Hull and Turner should start at centre back at present, although I think Cardiff will purchase an additional centre back before the season starts relegating him to the bench. I will pick Chester and Parr as my two £4m defenders to warm my bench.
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, which still remains the case despite the new bonus-point scoring system. One simple step to take is to identify 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:
Aston Villa: Benteke, Westwood;
Cardiff City: Bellamy, Kim;
Chelsea: Mata, Hazard (Lampard and Luiz when playing);
Crystal Palace: Garvan and Dobbie (if they start)
Everton: Baines and Pienaar
Hull City: Koren, Brady
Man City: Silva, Aguero
Man Utd: Van Persie
Newcastle: Ben Arfa, Cabaye
Southampton: Lambert and Lallana (Lambert takes the penalties)
Stoke: Adam, Walters (penalty taker), Etherington
Sunderland: Larsson, Fletcher (penalties)
Swansea: De Guzman and Hernandez
West Brom: Morrison and Brunt
West Ham: Noble
The midfielder with considerable value here is Robert Koren for Hull at £5m. The Hull team was built around Koren last season and this is likely to be the case in the upcoming season.
Totally unrelated to set pieces, Aleksandar Tonev, Aston Villa's new attacking midfielder, looks undervalued at £5m. I will monitor Tonev closely in pre-season, but unless he excels I will stick with Koren.
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 provide an assist and score. This is a more important attribute than shots per game as one Fantasy Football website is rather exercised about.
For instance, Arteta and Ramsey, 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, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure (when not in an advanced position played 'in the hole' behind the striker) and Paulinho.
The midfielders that you should select should 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 Michu, Silva, Bale, Kagawa and Cazorla (the latter four might both start out wide drifting in); or
- Advanced wide players in a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 3-4-3 who are not classified as forwards like Walcott, Mirallas and Zaha.
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: Negredo (if he starts, which is a big ‘if’), Lukaku, Giroud (if he starts), Lambert, Benteke, Carroll and Cornelius. Lambert was a prime example of this quality last season as he picked up assists by the bucketload.
Of course Van Persie and Suarez always pick up plenty of assists.
8. Keep an eye out for 'double game weeks'
Generally I am against making too many transfers, but weeks in which a team has two or more Premiership games in a week need to be monitored. Clearly, this is a situation where it is advantageous to have as many players as practicable from the team with multiple games in a particular week in your Fantasy Football team. I would, however, caveat this by stressing that it is still not worth losing points in achieving this unless the fixtures are particularly kind. 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. Last season my first 10 game weeks were spent constantly tinkering with my team to combat injuries.
There are also some who advocate 'sophisticated tactics' like selecting two cheap goalkeepers such as Vorm/Foster and Boruc and rotating them when each has a home game. While this worked well last season with Begovic and Jaaskelainen, I'd be surprised if it was as effective this campaign. Boruc is well-valued at £4.5m, but I prefer Clyne as my Southampton rearguard player.
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 could 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 (as of 10 August): The Dibbly Dobblers
Defenders: Koscielny (I might switch to Jenkinson if he starts), Coleman, Clyne, Brayford, Chester
Midfielders: Walcott, Hazard, Coutinho, Mirallas, Thomas
Forwards: Van Persie, Bony, Anelka