TOP PLAYERS MISS OUT ON SEASON OPENING
An unprecedented opening week dilemma faces Telegraph Fantasy Football (TFF) managers.
Consider a team without any of Sterling, Aguero, De Bruyne and Fernandes. Or risk playing catch up from the very first week after City and United had their season put back a week with the postponement of their matches with Burnley and Villa.
With a maximum of 40 transfers per season over 35 game weeks, an average of just over one per week, bringing in a handful of the above stars as early as week 2 could leave you short of transfers come the business end of the season.
City’s Laporte and Mahrez face even longer on the sidelines. The ten days of self-isolation imposed for testing positive for coronavirus still enables them to come back in time for their opening game with Wolves, but will Pep consider them after missing training?
So what of a selection strategy?
FROM BACK TO FRONT
Inspiration can be drawn from TWO time winner, Adrian Frost, and his winning line up from 2018-19. (analysed in depth on the FISO website)
Built on players exclusively from Liverpool and Manchester bar one, Southampton’s Redmond, the following team found themselves in the top 1000 in December with zero transfers made.
Allison, Van Dyke, Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez (all Liverpool); Mahrez, Sterling, Sane, Salah, Redmond; Aguero.
But with £50million to spend on 11 players, how could he afford such a team?
Whilst City had finished the previous season as champions, the Reds – with van Dijk signed mid-season – had trailed 25 points behind in fourth.
Hence the entire Liverpool back line of Allison (3.7m) Van Dyke (4.3m) Robertson (3.8) Alexander-Arnold (3.6m) and Gomez (3.3m) totalling £18.7m. (Today, they amount to £24.2m.)
So where can we find similar value for money this time round?
The Tottenham defence below comes in at 18.6million .
And with a defensive coach in Mourinho who invented the term park the bus, they could be worth a punt for an improvement on last season’s showing. Mourinho’s succession of Pochettino last November led to a tightening up at the back, with six clean sheets following in the New Year compared to just two under the Argentine. Matt Doherty – one of the best TFF players, both from a points scored (183 points) and value basis (52.3 pts per £million) – has been bought in from Wolves whilst Hojbjerg arrives to provide greater protection to the back four from midfield.
But with a favourable looking set of opening fixtures, see below, it is three players that Doherty leaves behind at Molineux that are included in the illustrated team above. With matches against two of the promoted sides, plus last season’s strugglers West Ham, and Newcastle, there is a chance of three or four clean sheets.
Sheff Utd (a)
Man City (h)
West Ham (a)
Liverpool and Leicester also have a favourable round of opening fixtures.
For those mindful of the loss of Doherty and also Jonny, to injury, at Wolves, and Chilwell for Leicester, Burnley could offer an option for some stability from game week 2, with the likes of Pope, Mee and Tarkowski – if West Ham’s interest is rebuffed – nail-ons for starting places.
Up front, the strength of opposition can be overstated – Norwich’s Teemu Pukki was second only to Aguero (36pts to 40pts) after the first six weeks of last season despite coming up against, and breaching, both the Liverpool and Man City defences – but it is harder to ignore for defenders.
The top scoring defenders after six weeks last season? Mostly from West Ham, by dint of three consecutive clean sheets against Norwich at home (2-0) Villa away (0-0) and Man U, home (2-0).
Last season’s surprise package Sheffield United reaped the rewards for keeping the same defence from their Championship side with Henderson, Baldock, Stevens, Egan and Connell, all occupying the leading positions in the charts for points scored and value for money, though this time out they have Ramsdale in for Henderson.
Though second season syndrome is a distinct possibility for the Blades, their stoppers again provide potentially outstanding value for money, with price tags seemingly reflecting nothing more than an unfashionableness.
Defenders from promoted sides rarely provide much reward for TFF managers, with nearly half, 8 from 18, promoted teams going straight back down in the last six years. Like the Blades, one side who could fall the right side of this trend are Leeds, who actually boast a better defensive record from their Championship season (35 goals conceded) than Chris Wilder’s side (41 goals).
Fellow promotees Fulham arguably have the easiest run of opening games in the Premier league, with not a top six side in sight as the face up to Arsenal (h) Leeds (a) Villa (h) Wolves (a) Sheff Utd (a) and Palace (h).
A safer option than Fulham’s back four, though, could be forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, pictured.
He started the Cottagers’ last season out in the Premier, 2018/19, with five goals in the opening six matches, accruing 39 TFF points, and will be looking for a similar tally from the above run of fixtures. He also comes into this season with a better record than 18/19 (26 to 23 goals)
Alternatives to Mitrovic?
Back in the day, 2014/15, West Brom’s Charlie Austin netted 18 in 35 games (a sixth best haul of 175 TFF points) for QPR despite their bottom of the table finish. Can he do the same for the Baggies after netting a more modest 11 in 34 in the Championship last season?
At Leeds, Rodrigo has less impressive goalscoring stats, but then so had Odion Ighalo before he scored 13 goals (116 TFF points) by the New Year for promoted Watford in 2015/16.
Last season’s best value midfield player, Mason Mount, garnered a creditable eighth best haul for a midfielder (157 TTF points.) but now faces a battle for his place following an influx of big money signings at Stamford Bridge. With £33 million signing Ziyech injured in pre-season, he could still start Chelsea’s opener at Brighton.
A more frequent starter could be West Brom’s Pereira (3.7m) the leading assist maker in the Championship last season with 16, plus 8 goals.
And for those going for the weekly and monthly awards throughout the season, the following should never be far from their thinking, after week1.
Bruno Fernandes (6.2m) – Go figure. A glance at his goalscoring stats on Wikipedia reveals an extraordinary 76 from 159 appearances, nearly a goal every other game, for his current club and Sporting Lisbon, which any top class striker would be proud of. Eight in 14 PL games for Man U saw him amass 103 TFF points last season, a better ratio per game, 7.35, than top scorer Aubameyang (217 TTF points from 36, 6.02 per game)
Riyad Mahrez (5.5m) Not quite a regular starter, with 28 games last season, but when he did play…… A sixth best haul of 183 points for midfielders followed.
Mason Greenwood (3.6m) Selected by 32% of managers at the time of writing less than three days before the opening day. But how many minutes will he get this season?