Anthony O'Shea

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Stag's Take - Gameweek 1

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stag’s Take – Gameweek 1


A net spend of £491 million has been splurged out by PL clubs since the last hoorah of 2016/17, bringing us once again to the start of the Premier League season.


The off-season has, as usual, been dominated by transfer sagas, vicious rumours and picturesque Instas but now we can set most of that aside in favour of analysing some actual football. Since the game launched back in July, I along with the majority of you readers have agonised over the prices and the painful realities of budget allocation. Believe me, every year feels like the hardest one yet – the vast outlays by the league’s top outfits means that there are more viable elite options than ever before in midfield and in attack. Furthermore, the rapidly growing popularity of three man defences has pushed wing-backs forward to ranging midfield flank roles where their opportunity to generate attacking returns is higher.


The budgetary constraints have basically created a “squeezed middle”. Where once a team could be made up of a number of mid-priced midfielders and forwards, perhaps four, precedent must now be given to accommodating a number of premium options and so slightly cheaper alternatives have been sought.


My plan today is to explain the decisions behind my current squad and to highlight alternatives as I go along too.


Before I start also, I would like to re-promote my preseason writing, all of which has been quite popular and well-received. I strongly urge you to educate yourself on each PL squad ahead of the season by reading through the Rotoworld team’s previews. All should have information transferable to whatever fantasy format you play.









For goalkeepers, there’s three schools of thought; premium plus fodder, rotating cheapies, or “set and forget” on a weaker teams duo. I’ve usually found myself going for the rotating duo, maximising the number of games they play at home because, empirically at least, that means they’re more likely to shutout the opposition. This season, my opinion has been swung:


Richard Kenny (@InfernoSix) published a fascinating blog post investigating the budgetary efficiency of rotating goalkeepers which swung my opinion on this matter for the start of the season at the minimum.


He calculated the premium ‘keeper option – a 5.5 alongside a 4.0 who would never be fielded – averaged 14.63 points per million over the course of the season. No rotating option, not even combinations which included 5.0 shotstoppers, could match that.


Hence, I have chosen Manchester United’s David de Gea alongside Newcastle’s Rob Elliot. The fact that Elliot may actually start is important to me, as I hope to use him in Gameweek 8, when Man Utd play Liverpool (if I haven’t used my wildcard at that point). This is because, as Peter Blake highlighted in his blog, Top Six goalkeepers are unlikely to get many points against other Top Six sides. Depending on how the season is panning out, I might field the Irishman in GW5 and 6 too, when Newcastle host Stoke and travel to Brighton, a much more straightforward set of fixtures on paper than United hosting Everton at Old Trafford and then having to go south to St. Mary’s and Pellegrino’s Southampton.


David de Gea is also the best way to access Manchester United’s defence too. With important continental commitments down the line and lots of scope for rotation amongst United’s costly defence, I felt I had to have a way to harvest clean sheet points from last season’s second best defence in terms of goals conceded and joint-top for shutouts.


Another goalkeeper option receiving a lot of attention is doubling down on Pulis’ West Brom with Foster and Myhill. I for one hope to avoid needing to transfer a goalkeeper out from an ageing side who have had a poor summer of recruitment and bad pre-season results. I won’t be blinding by their favourable fixtures – remember, WBA kept just six clean sheets all last season!





I’ve decided to swerve Chelsea defenders completely in my Gameweek 1 squad, instead looking at Arsenal for a premium option in Kolasinac. The Gunners had the second best home defence when it came to keeping clean sheets last term, holding off their opponents on nine occasions. The Bosnian defender who arrived this summer on a free is likely to play in a left wing-back role, from which he notched up the bulk of his 3 goals and 5 assists in the Bundesliga for Schalke last season in 13 of his total 24 appearances. Arsenal have also come good since Wenger adopted the 3421 formation, winning 9 of the last 10 when you include the FA Cup final and Community Shield.


Kieran Trippier’s late pre-season injury threw a spanner in the works of my plan to cover Spurs’ defence. I current have no coverage from last season’s strongest defence and it irks me. I am also interested it see how the squad’s form will be when the season starts given the insights of Danny Rose in recent days. Chairman Daniel Levy’s lack of spending seems to be worrying the players, who already have to overcome the Wembley hoodoo which affected their Champions League form last season – is it the stadium, the wider pitch, something mental? So many questions, is Ben Davies yet again the answer?


The last defender I’m going to profile here is Craig Dawson of West Brom. While I may have trounced the Baggies in the goalkeeper section, I do still want to do well in FPL and to do that you have to insure yourself against the gains of others using a blocking tactic. Dawson is my 5.0 insurance policy. In the absence of other options, Dawson will start the season at right-back for West Brom, who face a number of winnable games early on. Dawson has proven goalscoring pedigree, much more so than last season’s fluky hero Gareth McAuley, having scored 4 times in both of the last two seasons and twice in an injury blighted campaign previous to that. He’s mostly a goalscoring threat from set-plays, with Pulis heavily reliant on these scripted plays for his goals – 46% of all West Brom’s goals came from corners last season. Dawson had the most shots in the box of any WBA defender last season with 18, while McAuley was frighteningly clinical in convert 6 of his 7 shots into goals. Dawson is also a threat in open play while operating on the right, having given 21 key passes last season. He was unfortunate to never get an assist for that.


Southampton also have a great run of early fixtures. I’m leaning towards Cedric Soares over Ryan Bertrand to free up some cash – I examined both players in my Southampton pre-season guide.


If you need a 4.5 defender and you’re willing to take a risk, look no further than Brighton’s Markus Suttner, the leader for key passes among Bundesliga defenders even though he was playing for Ingolstadt who were relegated. If you wish to choose a different Brighton defender, my pre-season column looks at Suttner and explains reasons why you should pick Shane Duffy ahead of Lewis Dunk.


Trent Alexander-Arnold (4.5) will most likely start for Liverpool in GW1 while Clyne is injured. He’s a one week cheap punt that may interest you if you plan on a super-early wildcard anyway.


Unfortunately, it seems that we have no 4.0 defender who’s guaranteed minutes this season. I’ve chosen Burnley’s Kevin Long as it stands to permanently take residence in the third slot on my bench as I bid to build my team value in the early weeks – he acts as an “enabler” for me to spend elsewhere. I’ve consciously avoided Rangel, the most popular 4.0, as his value is sure to drop as his owners offload en masse when they realise he isn’t playing.




Dele Alli is currently the most popular mid in the salary cap game, selected in 38.6% of all teams. He is also disappearing in the first round of every draft in every format. However, I have opted to avoid Alli in the early weeks as Spurs adapt to life away from The Lane, instead hedging my bets on Kevin De Bruyne.


In spite of “never really getting going” last season, KdB scored on six occasions and led the division for assists with a staggering 21. He has given a good indication that he’ll retain that crown this season already, notching up four pre-season assists. Unlike McAuley mentioned earlier, the Belgians returns were not a fluke. He delivered the fourth most key passes in the Premier League last season with 83, behind Eriksen (96), Ozil (89), and Hazard (84). The German and De Bruyne’s Belgian teammate were unlucky not to get more assists but the classy finishers ahead of KdB mean that his chances were converted. What De Bruyne possesses more than Eriksen and Ozil though is a greater goal threat. Were it not for his public love affair with the woodwork, which he hit on a league leading nine occasions last season, the Man City midfielder could have scored double figures for goals. He’s certainly not afraid to take shots either, making 86 attempts in total, 32 of which were inside the box. If all that wasn’t enough, Guardiola has been deploying De Bruyne in an advanced role in pre-season, sometimes behind a single striker. He has prospered there, putting in a mesmerising performance in the 4-1 demolition of Real Madrid. After that game, Pep was full of praise: “It’s difficult to find a player with his qualities. He runs and fights and moves and helps team-mates. It’s not easy to find that all around the world… When his mood is positive like in the last three weeks, he is able to do whatever he wants.” I think Kevin De Bruyne is essential.


Wilfried Zaha is the third most picked midfielder and it makes sense when you consider his 7.0 price tag in spite of finally having his breakthrough last season, scoring 7 and assisting 11. Zaha is playing as a left wing in Frank De Boer’s 343 formation at Palace now, setting him free of the defensive duties which dogged his attacking potential in 2016/17. Happily, Zaha also won’t see a festive purple patch interrupted by the AFCON this season. With a good set of opening fixtures and strong pre-season form – played 4, scored once, contributed to two, I believe Zaha is also pretty essential.


Henrikh Mkhitaryan was another play who was in all my draft squads up until quite recently. The Armenian lit up United’s pre-season tour of America, scoring three and getting the same number of assists in 5 starts, averaging an attacking return every 58 minutes. That’s the sort of form which saw Mkhi arrive at United from Dortmund as the Bundesliga POTY having scored 11 goals and providing 15 assists in a single season. Mourinho never found a way to unlock that form on English soil except for seldom moments of brilliance, though Mkhi did find the net a half-dozen times in 11 Europa League matches. His 8.0 price tag is hard to ignore, especially if Mou plays Mkhi in the Number 10 role as he did in the UEFA Super Cup regularly but I have misgivings about how reliable Mourinho is to start the player. The emergence of Firmino as a proper option up front has me second guessing what to do.


I mentioned Eriksen and Dele Alli earlier in this piece and I want to draw attention to an interesting stat uncovered by u/ loki777coyg in this Reddit post. In spite of the young Englishman’s obvious talent and goal threat, Christian Eriksen actually outscored his teammate in FPL terms while both played alongside Kane last season. Alli averaged 6.43 points per game, and his near negligible reliance on Kane is highlighted by the fact that his average with Kane in the side only rose by 0.03 to 6.46. Eriksen on the other hand underwent a massive surge in output when Kane was present, presumably to finish those key passes the Dane provided – his average of 6.06 rose to a staggering 6.88 points per game. In this debate, I’m on team Eriksen.


With the future of Philippe Coutinho still up in the air, I regrettably have no Liverpool midfielders in my current squad. Mané interests me hugely but his price is too steep to justify without some performances to match it – how Klopp will play him with Lallana ruled out and Coutinho also potentially absent is also a cause for concern. Mané has also failed to play more than 45 minutes in any pre-season game as he steps up his recovery from injury.


Mo Salah is obviously of interest, having once played in the PL, matured in Italy and returned. He was a key part of The Reds’ undefeated pre-season, scoring four times and looks to be a nailed on starter with all the absentees. For the second time already, Firmino… I’m dealing with him soon.


Pascal Gross, Tom Ince, and Anthony Knockaert, all examined in my Brighton and Huddersfield columns, are among the best of the mid-priced options while still having decent fixtures. An injury to Junior Stanislas means that serial penalty-winner Ryan Fraser is also likely to get starts for Bournemouth, who should also enjoy a favourable start.


As for cheap enablers, I urge you to look no further than Ruben Loftus-Cheek or Tom Carroll in your search. Both players are expected to start, with RLC anticipated to be one of Palace’s more creative players. An extra 1.0 would get you Jason Puncheon though, who scandalously got just 5 assists from 54 key passes last term – for what it’s worth, Puncheon is an all-round gem for my fantasy formats.





Lukaku is in almost half of all FPL teams already, has scored 15+ goals in 4 of the last five seasons and has now moved to one of the strongest sides in the league. You can’t afford to go without him because you will fall so far behind if you don’t select him.  The same applies to consecutive golden boot winner Harry Kane. It’s unfortunate that you must use 24% of your budget on two players by default, but that’s just the game. Good luck to those who hope to carry on without one or both players.


For me, the only debate is who should be your third striker. Manolo Gabbiadini, who disappointed us so much towards the tail-end of last season, has a fantastic run of fixtures and good pre-season form. He also has the added encouragement provided by Charlie Austin pressuring him for a first team place.


Roberto Firmino, finally, had been having a good pre-season (played 8, 2 goals, 3 assists) but doing nothing remarkable until he stepped up and scored a penalty while James Milner was on the field against Bilbao. He had already scored twice from the spot in the off-season. Is he on spot-kicks now? Milner scored seven from 12 yards last season and seeing those duties move to the Brazilian causes their FPL values to move in opposite directions.


The cheapest goalscoring and playing enabler is Swansea’s Tammy Abraham, who is expected to get a chance to prove himself up front while Llorente sits out the early gameweeks through injury. Other options worth some thought are Jay Rodriguez, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and even *whispers* Wayne Rooney (or his teammate Sandro).



Captaincy Corner


The captaincy corner returns for another season, again following the format where I highlight the two obvious choices for the weekend, as well as one differential.


Romelu Lukaku (West Ham H)


Romelu Lukaku got his competitive United career off to a scoring start against Real Madrid in midweek to cap off his three pre-season goals. The match at Old Trafford on Sunday will be a big moment for The Red Devils to state their intent for the forthcoming season and it’s against opponents who have proved fertile ground in the past. The most boring game of last season, the 0-0 draw at the Olympic Stadium between Lukaku’s former club Everton and West Ham was the only time in Lukaku’s previous 8 encounters with the Hammers that he failed to find the net. Even with a few new signings, it’s impossible to see Slaven Bilic transforming his side who kept just two away clean sheets last term into a side capable of holding United in Gameweek 1. Away from home, West Ham conceded the fifth most shots in the box of all sides.



Harry Kane (Newcastle A)

The last time Spurs went to Saint James’ Park, they were humiliated 5-1 on the final day of the 2015/16 season, consigning Poch’s men to third. Now, they finally have a chance to get revenge on the side who were already relegated that day. Kane’s opposition weren’t the strongest of defences at home in the Championship last term, conceding on average one goal per game on the way to the title and keeping just eight clean sheets in 23 attempts. The Toon have struggled to address their defensive frailties over the summer too, with Rafa Benitez frustrated in the markets thus far.




Manolo Gabbiadini (Swansea H)


Southampton finally ended their barren run at St. Mary’s against Sevilla in their final pre-season game, beating the Spanish giants 2-0. Gabbiadini had a solid pre-season for the Saints, notching up a couple of goals and an assist over the course of the summer. The Italian scored and assisted in that final pre-season game, and looked sharp by all accounts overall. His ability to play at “high intensity”, working hard and closing down the opposition is the reason why Gabbi is expected to start ahead of Austin under Pellegrino in the early gameweeks - the Englishman’s abilities fail to stretch far beyond his finishing.




Follow the entire Rotoworld Premier League team on Twitter: Neal | Steve | Andrew | Sean | Stag (me) | Ben | Galin | Nik |


Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.



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