After the excitement of the Scottish league starting, the next stage in football’s emergence from hibernation is the English Premier League’s kick-off this Saturday. Even though I don’t particularly support any one club in England, I still can’t deny that it is the league that produces the most exciting games and where you will likely find the best football week-in, week-out.
My interest in English football was keener than ever before last year as I took part in Sky Sports’ Fantasy Football for the first time. A few friends and I set up our own mini-league, with a cash prize for the best managers, and throughout the season it provided a constant source of excitement and intrigue as even the more mundane fixtures took on added significance.
I came 2nd in our mini fantasy league last year, being thwarted by my refusal to pick Luis Suarez until he’d hit his stride and then some, having done very well in the second half of the season as I took more of an interest in micro-managing my team. I’m hopeful of going one better this year, but know it’ll take even more effort to keep on top of who’s in my squad.
In essence, the game revolves around picking 11 players who play in the English Premier League, with some restrictions, and earning points based on how they perform in real-life games. But Fantasy Football takes a surprising amount of strategy to make sure you are getting the most out of your team. Most of this comes from manipulating your team according to the rules of the league, so that you are getting as many points as possible. With games staggered across a week, transfers of players or the captaincy (which grants one player a double points bonus) in between match days can provide the crucial difference between a good team and a great team.
Your starting XI in the season is perhaps the most important, as from there on you are only afforded 40 transfers until the league ends – so you need to pick players that will stay in your squad. Here’s who I’ve opted for this season (with my team’s total budget being £75 million):
Hugo Lloris – £5.4 million
At the back you want a solid goalkeeper who’ll get you some clean sheets (worth five points apiece). Lloris and Tottenham have usually got a relatively stable defence, so hopefully he’ll be able to keep the ball out of his net enough to do well for me this season.
Leighton Baines – £7.5 million
The only ever-present in my team last year and the first name on my teamsheet this year; Leighton Baines is as good a defender in fantasy football as he is in real life. With his team’s ability to do well at the back and Baines’ penchant for knocking in a goal or two here and there, from free kicks AND open play, he’s a dream defender for this game.
Martin Skrtel – £7 million
My second-choice to Manchester United’s big summer signing Luke Shaw, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury, Martin Skrtel is slightly more expensive but did very well last year in scoring plenty of goals as well as being a solid defender for his team. I don’t think Liverpool will hit the same heights as last year, but I think Skrtel can have a good season.
Manuel Figueroa – £5.2 million
Admittedly the last player in my team, as defenders aren’t as important in scoring points, Figueroa is a choice based purely out of his ability to get goals more than an average defender. Steve Bruce has done impressive things with Hull, and I expect them to push on this year after their FA Cup final appearance, so I’m thinking that if Figueroa can keep his place in the side then he might get some goals and clean sheets.
Jordan Henderson – £7.3 million
One of Liverpool’s most exciting players last year, Jordan Henderson is certainly one of England’s rising stars. His role of being Liverpool’s playmaker behind Suarez and Sturridge last year helped them to an unbelievable league finish, and I think he’ll prove just as useful this year – perhaps scoring a few more goals as his side cope without their star striker from last year.
Aaron Ramsey – £8.6 million
One of my best players last year until his mid-season injury, Ramsey is Arsenal’s heartbeat and with the new players around him I think Ramsey can play a massive role in what could be a great season for them. If he stays fit, Ramsey will rack up some goals and assists which will help my score, but if not he might have to be dropped.
Charlie Adam – £5.3 million
Perhaps being far from the obvious choice, Charlie Adam is actually a very good fantasy football midfielder and with his Ross County and Rangers past, picking him was actually one of my first intentions. One of Stoke’s top goalscorers, certainly from midfield, Adam has a habit of consistently picking up points from match to match, as long as he stays on the pitch.
Ross Barkley – £7 million
Barkley was one of Everton’s best players towards the end of last season as they marched their way to a fantastic fifth placed finish, even briefly flirting with Champions League qualification. Barkley is a great talent and provides plenty of assists for the strikers ahead of him as well as getting in on the act himself, so I’m happy I was able to pick him.
Leandro Bacuna – £4.4 million
My cheapest player, Bacuna scored very highly in fantasy football last season despite playing for an Aston Villa side that seems to be barely able of staving off the relegation threat year on year. I’m hoping he continues on his form of last year, and I see Bacuna as the sort of player who could be snapped up by a bigger side in January if he performs really well.
Roberto Soldado – £7.8 million
Soldado was widely considered to be a flop in his first season at White Hart Lane, as the tales of his exploits in La Liga went before him but failed to be re-enacted in England. I think he could come into his own this season, building upon last season’s goal tally (largely from penalties and free-kicks) with some strikes from open play.
Alexis Sanchez – £9.5 million
Arguably the most exciting Premier League signing of the summer, Alexis Sanchez had a fantastic year last season at Barcelona where he was only trumped by the indomitable Lionel Messi. Sanchez could prove to be the striker that Arsenal have lacked since Robin Van Persie’s departure two years ago, and with the fast-flowing nature of the team suiting him I think that Alexis Sanchez could be the Premier League’s top goalscorer this year. And with Arsenal kicking-off their campaign at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday, I’ve even opted to make Sanchez my captain for the opening weekend in the hope he’ll hit the ground running.
So there’s my reasoning, and here is my team:
I’ll hopefully be sitting atop the pile on Sunday night and remain there until May, but realistically speaking it’s going to be a topsy-turvy year of checking players’ form and making changes based off of that and gut instinct. It’s not quite the usual thrill of football, but it’s a pretty good alternative.
You can sign up for Sky Sports’ Fantasy Football for free on their website.