Unbelievably, it's the tenth anniversary of Neal and I starting to write about fantasy football. In fact, Sunday will be ten years to the day of our first post. That same year, right before my daughter was born, I wrote up my "rules" for playing fantasy football. I've re-posted it every year since then, on Blogspot, Yahoo!, Never Manage Alone, and here at Rotoworld. These guiding principles have served me well over the years, and I hope you find them useful in choosing your team(s) this season.
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. For example, two years ago 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. Other classic examples include Blog Favorite Ashley Young (BFAY) at Watford, Nigel Reo-Coker (NRC) with West Ham United, and Everton's Steve Watson. Last season saw Joel Ward line up in midfield for Crystal Palace, though he was a points machine at right and left back as well!
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. But as such he plays further away from goal (for Coleman that wasn't always the case last year), and wasn't eligible for clean sheet points. Others in that situation have been players like Jack Colback, Craig Gardner, and Tottenham's Danny Rose. They are often budget-friendly, but it's against the rules to pick them for fantasy.
One improvement to the Yahoo! fantasy game is that many attacking midfielders - Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, or Kevin Mirallas - who used to be listed as fantasy strikers are now appropriately tagged as midfielders. That means that we'll be able to bring a lot more firepower into our fantasy teams, but the prices are going to be high.
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, which thanks to the exploits of Holland and Costa Rica in the World Cup, is the formation of choice for several Premier League teams this season. We may never see the likes of Carr and Ziege flanking Spurs teams, or Clement and Balis at WBA, but Hull City, Manchester United, Queens Park Rangers, Aston Villa, and others look to be using a back three as their default. Players like Luke Shaw, Liam Rosenior, and Aly Cissokho, may benefit from this shift.
The one thing to watch for is midfielders moved into this role, which will actually hurt their fantasy potential. The Manchester United duo of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are a great case-in-point.
In the more standard 4-2-3-1 formation, it's still the fullbacks that provide width and they can still be your valuable fantasy players. Kieran Gibbs and Mathieu Debuchy at Arsenal, Ben Davies, whomever gets the nod at Liverpool, and of course Leighton Baines are typical of this wide defenders.
There are center backs that come up with more goals over the course of a season, and the Yahoo! game has done a better job of rewarding those players over the years. Steven Caulker and John Terry remain fantasy studs. 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. It's why you want Branislav Ivanovic when he's playing right-back, but not when he's covering at center back.
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, Leighton Baines, Christian Eriksen... even James Ward-Prowse were fantasy studs 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 - Mark Noble, Charlie Adam, Chris Brunt, etc.
4. Never pass up a sure thing
Always try to get the sure starter. Don't pick up Edin Dzeko or Javier Hernandez 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. This feels especially acute this season at Chelsea and Liverpool, who have collected attacking midfielders like the Hunt brothers bought silver. (Look it up.) Sometimes you need to save yourself the aggravation.
Conversely, if you don't know... stay away! Only Jose Mourinho knows which of Petr Cech and Thibaut Courtois is his staring keeper, and fantasy managers won't know until after the week 1 deadline. Unless you're willing to have a viable bench option (Ben Foster?) and risk burning the money, don't pick either.
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. More recently it was Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie. Last season, without question, it was Luis Suarez. Yes, he took up a good chunk of your budget, but he was worth it. And if you didn't have him, or didn't captain him, you were nervous. Very, very nervous. This season...? Will Daniel Sturridge take the mantle? A new signing like Alexi Sanchez or Diego Costa? Maybe Wayne Rooney adds consistency to his game to ascend to "sell Beckham" status. Maybe Christian Eriksen does it for a full 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. While there hasn't been - and may never again be - a team that consistently bad, last season saw spells where Fulham, Newcastle United, Sunderland, and Norwich City all fit the bill. I'm starting this season betting against Aston Villa. The promoted teams are always candidates for this designation if they struggle to adapt to life at the top. And there's always mid-table teams that go through slumps over the course of the season.
Another thing to watch for is how smaller clubs (no offense) like Hull City react to playing in Europe. It may be wise to get in against them on a Sunday after a Thursday match in some far-flung Eastern European destination.
7. 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 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".
8. 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.
* 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.
I'll be interested to know what guides you as you pick your team every week. Let us know in the comments, and good luck this year!