Ups & Downs

FFL

The English Premier League returns today for a season that has seen many changes in personnel even before it’s begun. Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace are the three promoted teams from the Championship and all of them will spend most of 2013/14 trying to stay out of the bottom three places. Last year’s top three clubs all have new managers, though Jose Mourinho and David Moyes won’t be too unfamiliar with their new clubs. The likes of Luiz Suarez, Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney are all itching for moves away from their current homes, while Stevan Jovetic, Álvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado are some of the new names who’ll try to thir best to impress. Of course, the return of the real thing also means the return of fantasy football and I’m hoping for a better season than last year for my squad. I’m sure it’ll look a lot different in a couple of months, but you can check out my opening throw of the dice above and my reasons for choosing those particular players below

Goalkeepers

I only had £9M left after picking my 13 outfield players, so I didn’t have much options for the last line of defence. Ideally, I would’ve picked Liverpool’s new signing from Sunderland, Simon Mignolet. He looks like good value at £5.5M and will surely be one of Liverpool’s best performers this season. Instead, I went back to Mignolet’s former club for Ireland’s Keiren Westwood. He only costs £4.5M and should keep a few clean sheets at home. I’m not even sure if he’ll be the first choice at the stadium of Light, as Paolo di Canio has brought in his fellow countryman, Vito Mannone, from Arsenal. Mannone was third choice at the Emirates, so I’m hoping that the slightly more experienced Westwood will start today. Southampton had one of the best defensive records at home last season and have strengthened their midfield by signing Victor Wanyama from Celtic for a record fee. They used three different goalies last year, but it looks like former Celt Artur Boruc will be number one at St Mary’s and his £4.5M price tag is just right for my budget

Defenders

The teams that finish in the top four places in the league tend to also have the tightest defences, so I’ve gone for one player from five teams that should finish close to the top in 2013/14. Arsene Wenger is the only manager of that five still in charge of his club and I’m optimistic that the defensive improvements that sealed fourth place for Arsenal in the last few months of 2012/13 will continue over the next nine months. A lot of that was down to the improved communication between the central defensive partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. Both look good value at £5.5M, but I’ve gone for the big German for his added goal threat from set pieces. Man Utd should be better defensively under David Moyes and Rio Ferdinand is the least expensive of the possible starters and will hopefully stay fit for most of the season. Branislav Ivanovic and Pablo Zabaleta both provide goal threats and should be regular starters for two teams that shouldn’t concede too many goals this season. I’ve taken a slight chance on Everton’s Irish right-back, who’s a lot less expensive than their English left-back. Leighton Baines will score and create more goals, but he’s too expensive for me at £7.5M, so I’ve gone for the £5M Seamus Coleman instead

Midfielders

I usually spend most of my money on my midfielders, but I didn’t have much left this year after picking a load of costly defenders and strikers. Chelsea play two games at home in the opening week, so I’ve picked the full complement of three players from the club. Juan Mata would be my first choice, but I believe that Jose Mourinho is resting his Spanish players in week one. Eden Hazard should be a good replacement and I’ve made him captain as he’s good at winning penalties when he’s not kicking ballboys. My remaining four midfielders cost only £22M between them and, to be honest, I’m not expecting them to set the world on fire. Aaron Ramsay finished 2012/13 quite well and has looked good in pre-season. The injury to Mikel Arteta means he should be a first choice until the end of September at least. Hopefully, he’ll chip in with a few goals and assists as well. There are always bargains to be found amongst the newly promoted clubs and I’m sure that this season will unearth another Michu or Rickie Lambert. Those players’ success has seen their prices rise this year, so I’ve taken a gamble on Cardiff’s Pete Whittingham and Hull’s Robbie Brady, who both had a good few goals and assists in the Championship last season. They’ll find it tougher in the top flight, but Norwich’s Robert Snodgrass managed it last time out and is still quite affordable

Forwards

I’ve spent nearly a third of my budget on my forward line, but that’s where most of the points are scored. As always, there are loads of new players in the Premiership and some of these guys will start well and some will start slowly. However, I’ve decided to go with three strikers who all had successful debuts at their respective clubs in 2012/13. As a Gooner, I’m no fan of Robin Van Persie, but the Dutchman is the best striker in the Premier League and should continue where he left off last season. Olivier Giroud was one of three attacking players that Arsene Wenger brought in to replace RVP at the start of last season and he did pretty well until he got injured halfway through. He’s not as good a finisher as Lucasz Podolski, but he should improve on last season’s tally if he stays fit and can find his scoring boots. A teenage Romelu Lukaku scored 33 league goals in 73 games for Anderlecht before moving to Chelsea in 2011. He went on loan to West Brom last year and impressed with 17 goals. Chelsea play Hull and Villa at Stamford Bridge within the space of four days and those fixtures should provide plenty of target practice for the striker that Mourinho picks to lead the attack

Update

At the last minute, I decided to bring in Mignolet for Westwood, particularly as Liverpool open their campaign against Stoke in a game that’s got “scoreless draw” written all over it. This transfer strengthened my defence, so I replaced Coleman with a less expensive option. Cardiff City had the best defensive record in the Championship last year, so I decided to take a chance on Ben Turner, who’s one of the least expensive players in fantasy football at just £4M

FFL History

So, that’s the 15-man squad I’ve picked for this season and it cost just £95.5M. I’m happy enough with the defence and hope that Giroud and Lukaku reward my faith in them. I’m not expecting too much from my midfielders, but perhaps they’ll surprise me. This is my eighth year playing the official fantasy football game and, as you can see above, I keep having ups and downs. I’m sure there’ll be many more of those in both the fantasy and actual versions over the coming months and I look forward to them all. Good luck to your real and fantasy teams and I leave you with this useful advice from Le Man Avec Les Lunettes

Don’t Get Fooled By the Football Player’s Summery Outfit – Le Man Avec Les Lunettes

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