Hello! Welcome to another pre-preview piece ahead of another Fantasy Football season. I will admit I am at the stage now where I log in and stare at my team once a day before breaking into a cold sweat and muttering that I will sort it next Thursday night. There will be a full preview of gameweek 1 here on Tales later in the week, so what am I doing taking up bandwidth today?
I subscribe to a theory of looking 6 fixtures ahead. You don’t have to, obviously, and some players are fixture proof, but it’s important to not just pick a team in week one that you think is set for the season. You’re going to have one free transfer every week and of course four substitutes. It’s also important not to go the other way and pick a team with just the week one fixtures in mind. It’s all well and good picking 11 players playing at home this week but all 11 might be away next week. It’s an art. Sadly, I am no good at art.
Here’s some musings about the first 6 fixtures for you to ponder.
A new season and yet another new manager at St. Mary’s. Whilst we don’t really know what to expect after a mixed bag of a pre-season, what we do know is that two home games to start the season should be good news. My confidence in this theory was dented a 4-0 home defeat to Augsburg last week, but let’s put that down as a blip. Home games against Swansea and West Ham are followed by a trip to newly promoted Huddersfield, a home game against unfancied Watford and then Palace away. Game 6 is at home to Man Utd but that’s five reasonable openers. There’s always an element of risk when a new manager arrives but I’d say with most of the defenders and goalkeeper priced at £5m and the midfielders/attackers in the £6m – £7m bracket, get one of each in but don’t go mad. In my punts article last week I mentioned Gabbiadini, I’m banking on him getting the nod over Charlie Austin up front.
A lot has been made of Jose Mourinho’s run of success in his second season at a club. Regardless of whether you subscribe to that theory, there’s no denying the Europa League Champions have a very decent start. Opening with a home game against West Ham, they then travel to last season’s strugglers Swansea, before a home game against Leicester. Stoke away, Everton at home and then a trip to Southampton round off their opening 6. In a very simplistic view, Romelu Lukaku scored more than 20 goals in a decent Everton team, there is no reason he shouldn’t fill his boots in a better side – even if Mourinho’s sides have a tendancy to tighten things up once a game is won. I’m not sure about who will get the nod on the wings in midfield but Pogba at £8m could be a good bet if Matic’s arrival allows him to push on, but I’d certainly be getting one of the back line in. Valencia is expensive (£6.5m) and Bailly is presumably the first choice centre half (£6m) but it has been suggested new boy Lindelof will be eased in, so there’s potential selection headaches ahead. As a result I’m backing David De Gea (£5.5m) and just letting him get on with it. I’ll nervously await Sergio Romero’s recall. The Super Cup game on Wednesday may give us some clues.
Ah Tony Pulis. The one thing you can rely on with the hatted maestro is that his team will be a threat from set pieces. The Baggies’ fixtures are a dream. Home games with Bournemouth, Stoke and West Ham are interspersed with trips to Burnley and Brighton, but fixture 6 is Arsenal away so make sure you have somebody to sub in. What is upsetting is that the West Brom team has been blighted by injuries this pre-season, with fantasy favourite Gareth McAuley injured for much of pre-season and fellow centre halves Craig Dawson and Jonny Evans also suffering knocks at various times. Set piece delivery from Chris Brunt has also been a useful source of points, but he’s also injured, which might bring Matt Phillips into the equation if he can stay fit. Too many ifs and buts for my liking but I’ll certainly find a place for at least one West Brom player in my starting squad.
A lot has been made of Everton’s big spending, and rightly so. They’re spending the Lukaku money quite well and accepting that you have to pay big money in today’s market. Other than an opening home game with Stoke though, their fixtures absolutely stink. Trips to Man City, Chelsea and Man Utd and a home game with Tottenham cover weeks 2-5 before salvation arrives with a home game against Bournemouth. They might compete in those games but considering Everton’s players are not exactly bargains, I’ll be keeping my powder dry on Toffees until the dust has settled.
Mark Hughes is being tipped by many to be the first manager out the door, which is probably a bit harsh but there’s a feeling that Stoke have gone stale and losing Arnautovic probably won’t help. Darren Fletcher will add solidity but is only a slight upgrade on Glenn Whelan in the grand scheme of things. After that tough opener at Goodison they host Arsenal and Man Utd in weeks 2 and 4, with a trip to West Brom the meat in that sandwich. They then travel to Newcastle and host Chelsea. Stoke are normally a decent bet to pick up points at home but I just can’t see it against those three opponents. One to avoid at present.
It’s a tough break for West Ham that the stadium they borrow is being used for it’s primary purpose for a few weeks, meaning The Hammers start with three consecutive away games. Having said that, after starting at Old Trafford they have trips to Southampton and Newcastle before hosting Huddersfield. They then go to West Brom then they welcome Spurs to the London Stadium, a game which West Ham have a very decent record in. Hernandez is a very decent price at £7m so although you might be put off by their opening away games, the fixtures they face aren’t all bad. Besides, they were rubbish at home last season anyway (at times, sorry Spurs).
That’s just a flavour for you, of course there are 14 other teams to consider and all have their pros and cons. I’ll be back later in the week with the first preview, including which players I think you need to have in that gameweek 1 lineup. Until then, keep an eye on the injury news – Trippier’s injury on Saturday will have a few people reaching for the transfer out button…