It's that time again.
I can't believe that we are just days away from another Premier League season. This one is shaping up to be quite the battle, with lots of new faces, old faces in new places, and a number of teams that could be better than last season or appreciably worse.
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So, once again, I give you my fantasy football guidelines - rules, even - in handy list form. This is the latest variation on something I first wrote down in 2004. They have served me well over the years, and I hope you find them useful in choosing your team(s) this season.
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1. Punch above your weight
You generally want to pick anyone playing in a more advanced role than they are designated by the fantasy game - defenders playing in midfield and midfielders lining up as forwards. The further up the pitch, the better chance of getting you points. The quintessential examples of this include Blog Favorite Ashley Young (BFAY) at Watford, Nigel Reo-Coker (NRC) with West Ham United, and Everton's Steve Watson.
Last season we were blessed with perhaps the greatest midfielder as striker we've ever seen with Michu leading the line for Swansea for much of the season, and otherwise scoring goals playing just off the main striker.
We also had Gareth Bale become one of the top three fantasy players in the game. Bale started as a defender who played in midfield, and last season became a devastating attacker playing in a free role just behind (and by design, often running beyond) Jermain Defoe or Emmanuel Adebayor (K2) while still being listed as a midfielder. And he took kicks (see number 3, below). It just didn't get any better than that!
The converse to this rule is to avoid players playing behind their designation. For example, when he first broke into the Everton first team, Seamus Coleman was playing as a midfielder and the positioning stuck for the fantasy game. However, since then he's become Everton's first choice right back. He would be great value for fantasy as an attacking defender on a good team, if that's indeed how he were listed. Similarly, Sunderland's full-back spots were filled by a rotating cast of midfielders including (but not limited to) Jack Colback, Craig Gardner, and Tottenham's Danny Rose.
One of the most difficult choices to make in this regard is in choosing the attacking midfielder - the Juan Mata, or Eden Hazard, or Kevin Mirallas - who is listed as a fantasy striker. They get you points, but take away slots that could belong to an out-an-out finisher like Robin van Persie or Rickie Lambert. It's frequently a tough call, and we'll look closer at those names in a column coming later this week.
2. Wing it
Another type of player to focus on is the wing back or attacking full back. While not lining up in midfield per se, they end up spending a lot of time there. You can find these guys best on teams playing a 3-5-2, sadly out of fashion these days. Oh for the days of Carr and Ziege flanking Spurs teams, or Clement and Balis at WBA! Hull City, Manchester City, and Wigan have recently played with three defenders at the back but lack isn't likely to be the case going forward. Maybe Everton, with Roberto Martinez at the helm, will do so this season. Leighton Baines would be even more of a valuable fantasy asset then, though per the rule above, Seamus Coleman would just be even.
In today's more fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation, it's still the fullbacks that provide width and they can still be your valuable fantasy players. Kieran Gibbs (or Nacho Monreal), Ashley Cole, Glen Johnson, Patrice Evra, and Angel Rangel are typical of this role for the wide defenders.
There are center backs that come up with more goals over the course of a season, but they'll get you 10pts one week and none the next. In the Yahoo! fantasy Premier League game, the full back is more likely to get crosses and win corners while they are usually less likely to commit fouls and collect cards, making them more likely to be steady performers.
3. Live for the dead ball
Always try to pick the player who takes dead balls for his team - free kicks, penalty kicks and corners. These lead directly to scoring chances - goals, assists and successful crosses. Plus they are free points! Your guy doesn't have to do anything to earn these chances. Let the rest of the team work for your fantasy betterment! Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Robin van Persie, Leighton Baines... they are fantasy legends because of their hold on the extra opportunities taking kicks provides. Even a middling player on a poor team can be elevated to must have because they earn enough points taking kicks. Robert Koren for Hull City could be this year's example. Mark Noble, Charlie Adam, and Chris Brunt are other examples.
4. Never pass up a sure thing
Always try to get the sure starter. Don't pick up Romelu Lukaku or Edin Dzeko because he could get a hat-trick in 20 minutes of play. If you play the odds and get someone on the pitch for 90 (or even 70) minutes you'll be better off. This gets hard because a lot of your best players are on the best/biggest squads. So forwards and midfielders from Chelsea or Manchester City can be a nightmare to pick. This feels especially acute this season as Manchester City can call upon Edin Dzeko, Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero, or Stevan Jovetic for one, maybe two, places in the side. Meanwhile Chelsea have collected attacking midfielders like the Hunt brothers bought silver. (Look it up.) Sometimes you need to save yourself the aggravation.
5. Sell Beckham
This rule is named after an old joke in which we try to convince our friends to sell the best player in the league. Normally because they're too expensive. But if there is a player who is head and shoulders above the rest of the league, just buy him. Suck it up. Gut the defence, and buy him.
David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo define this category. Frank Lampard may have reached this status. It's debatable. Last season it was Gareth Bale, Robin van Persie, and/or Luis Suarez. This season... ? Van Persie seems a shoe-in to retain the designation. Can a Christian Benteke or a Phillipe Coutinho join him? Perhaps we see Eden Hazard or Sergio Aguero make the leap.
Santi Cazorla was an ever-present for most fantasy teams last season. Does that continue into this year, now that his price better reflects his value? Will you have to have him this season?
6. Who is playing Derby?
A corollary of sorts to "Sell Beckham", named after my experimental team from the 2007/2008 season. I picked as many players for my fantasy team from the team playing Derby - the worst team in the league by a stretch - that week. Invariably that team would outperform my first team. Last season saw spells where Southampton, Queens Park Rangers, and Norwich City all fit the bill. This season Hull and Crystal Palace could fall into the the same category, and the likes of Newcastle United or Fulham need to live up to their potential rather than playing down to their expectations.
6. No Friday trades
Perhaps the hardest rule to abide by. Unless there is actionable intelligence - an injury, a suspension, or a manager coming out and saying something concrete - don't make changes to your team on Friday (or Saturday, but Friday based on my living on the Pacific coast of the USA). You've likely already processed all the relevant fantasy information during the week by reading RotoWorld, and if it still exists in this season's iteration of the Y! game, you've set most of your team on the barn door - that time between when the game locks down for the week and when points and prices update based on the week's games. Too much trading, especially on a Friday based on whims and hunches, is usually deck chairs (a la, on the Titanic). At best it doesn't earn you anything and and worst you could "pick around the points".
7. Other caveats, if not rules, that I've developed over the years include:
- All things being equal, go with the home team.
- Never bet on or against Bolton Stoke City. Unless you do.
- Paul Scholes Fernando Torres is dead to us for fantasy purposes.
- Avoid Spurs' defence. Just do it. Or don't do it, as the case may be.