Here we go again. Barely a month has passed since the end of Euro 2020 but a new Fantasy Premier League season is already upon us, meaning it is time to pick your 15-man squad for the new campaign.
You have until 6.30pm on Friday evening to select two goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders and three forwards for the season ahead, with 38 free transfers and two wildcards in hand to make alterations over the course of the campaign.
It’s come around quickly but at least this year we will go back to multiple 3.00pm kick-offs on a Saturday and the schedule will be a little less congested. The return of fans means factoring home and away records into our thinking again, too.
As usual, we have our pre-season preview tipping 30 players who could prove to be shrewd investments between now and May.
Last year, we picked out Emi Martinez, Tomas Soucek and James Justin as ones to watch before they all became firm fantasy favourites.
This year, we’ll be writing our usual weekly column with five players to pick and you will be able to sign up to our new fantasy newsletter, which will offer advice on captaincy, clean sheets, the gameweek’s best XI and more.
So, here are 30 players who we recommend to start off with…
Tip: Stay away from expensive goalkeepers at top clubs. You can save money and get a similar amount of points by picking from a defensively solid mid-table side or a busy goalkeeper who collects a lot of save points.
Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier
Robert Sanchez – Brighton, £4.5m
According to the underlying numbers, Brighton’s defence was the third-best behind City and Chelsea last season, and improved in terms of actual goals conceded once Sanchez became their first-choice. You will be hoping for clean sheets rather than save points but the potential is there for him to be a season-keeper.
Daniel Bachmann – Watford, £4.5m
Watford conceded just 30 times in the Championship last season. Bachmann will be far busier this time around, but that could mean plenty of save points. Pair him up with Ben Foster (£4.0m) and you should always be guaranteed to have a starting ‘keeper for the combined price of £8.5m.
Illan Meslier – Leeds, £5.0m
Even when Leeds’ defence tightened up at the end of the season, they were still conceding plenty of chances. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Meslier, though, as his heroics between the sticks earned him plenty of saves and saw him finish as the third highest-scoring goalkeeper.
David de Gea / Dean Henderson – Manchester United, £5.0m
United’s goalkeeping dilemma has worked out well for fantasy managers provided you back the right horse. Both are priced at £5.0m, a cheap route into a defence that kept 13 clean sheets last season. De Gea will start the season in goal as Henderon is still recovering from the after-effects of Covid.
Emi Martinez – Aston Villa, £5.5m
Last season’s keeper of choice – tipped by this column just before his move to Aston Villa – has seen a £1m price hike, which may put more seasoned fantasy managers off. Martinez will do well to keep another 15 clean sheets, too, but those looking for a set-and-forget option could do a lot worse.
Tip: Attacking full-backs generally have more potential for big scores than centre-halves, even those who are dangerous from set-pieces. Also, remember that clean sheets are earned on a collective rather than individual basis. Think about how strong a team is defensively, not just how good the player in question is.
Manchester United full back Luke Shaw
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Liverpool, £7.5m
Alexander-Arnold was described as ‘essential’ by this column last year, then went on to 160 points – a somewhat disappointing total given his fantasy potential but still the second-highest among all defenders. Liverpool’s start to the season is kind enough to make him a must-have once again.
Ben Chilwell – Chelsea, £6.0m
Only one to watch for now as Chelsea’s fixtures stiffen up after Crystal Palace on the opening weekend but Chilwell appeared to emerge as Thomas Tuchel’s undisputed first-choice towards the end of last season and will be the most attack-minded member of a defence which regularly shut opponents out in the second half of last season.
Luke Shaw – Manchester United, £5.5m
Shaw was the best left-back in the top flight last season, creating chances at a similar rate as Lionel Messi at one stage, but that did not always translate into assists and fantasy points. Perhaps that’s why he has a relatively cheap price tag of £5.5m, which has helped make him the most popular pick in the game.
Lucas Digne – Everton, £5.5m
Digne’s appeal has diminished slightly as doubts over Calvert-Lewin’s fitness mean he may not have a target for his many floated crosses. Quite how Everton will set up under Rafa Benitez remains to be seen, too. Even so, Digne is one of the most adventurous full-backs in the top flight and looks under-priced at £5.5m.
Vladimir Coufal – West Ham, £5.0m
Matched the third-highest scoring defender Aaron Cresswell over the second half of the season. Coufal is £0.5m cheaper than his team-mate and offers a similar level of attacking threat, albeit without the benefit of set plays.The trade-off for the extra funds feels worth it though. West Ham’s opening fixtures are kind, too.
Luke Ayling – Leeds, £4.5m
Ayling ended last season without a single goal or assist to his name, though that surely will not happen again given his sense of adventure and some promising underlyings. Still, it means he is only priced at £4.5m and could emulate his Leeds team-mate Stuart Dallas by becoming an essential pick.
Ben White – Arsenal, £4.5m
Every summer, a handful of players emerge as cheap options at top sides due to moves in the transfer market. White may not carry much attacking threat but he offers an affordable and nailed-on route into Arsenal’s defence, which has rivalled City, Chelsea and Brighton as one of the Premier League’s best since the turn of the year.
Joel Veltman – Brighton, £4.5m
Again, it is hard to look past Brighton’s defence for budget picks given how strong their underlying performances were last season. Lewis Dunk scored well but the cheaper Veltman the pick of the Graham Potter’s backline, with his ability to play further upfield. A role as a right-sided centre half will limit his attacking potential for now, though.
Daniel Amartey – Leicester, £4.0m
A £4.0m defender is useful to spread funds around the rest of your squad. If they have a chance of playing, even better. Amartey is the pick of this year’s crop. Leicester’s mini-injury crisis in defence saw him start the Community Shield, though expect him to drop back to the bench upon Jonny Evans’ return.
Tip: Midfielders have the biggest range of point-scoring possibilities, even collecting one point for a clean sheet. Stay away from defensive midfielders who do not contribute much to the attack, though, as the scoring system does not reward them for their defensive work.
Liverpool winger Mohamed Salah
Mohamed Salah – Liverpool, £12.5m
The single best pick, as he has been for several years now. Salah is always near the top of both the goal-scoring and fantasy charts and trumps team-mate Sadio Mané as he takes penalties. Opting to go without him for Liverpool’s kind opening run, starting away at newly-promoted Norwich, would be a brave but foolish move.
Bruno Fernandes – Manchester United, £12.0m
Salah’s biggest rival for best overall pick. Fernandes is everything you want from a fantasy player – he scores, he assists, he is on penalties and all of the play flows through him. United’s first few fixtures are promising from an attacking perspective, starting with a visit from a Leeds side that Fernandes helped to dismantle in last season’s reverse fixture.
Jack Grealish – Manchester City, £8.0m
It is hard to know whether or not Grealish is a better fantasy prospect after his £100m move to City. On the one hand, he is playing for the champions and his production should improve. Then again, his minutes could suffer. Either way, like White, he is cheap at his pre-transfer price of £8.0m and could be a shrewd pick if you can predict Pep Guardiola’s rotation policy.
Diogo Jota – Liverpool, £7.5m
Selecting regular starters is one of the first rules of fantasy but Jota is a tempting pick all the same as he is capable of making an impact even when coming off the bench. Confident of a start against Norwich, he was one of last season’s leading players for non-penalty xG per 90 and should take on a more prominent role in his second season at Liverpool.
Mason Greenwood – Manchester United, £7.5m
For Greenwood, read Jota. His security of starts is a concern, especially with Jadon Sancho around, though Marcus Rashford’s three-month lay-off opens a vacancy in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s frontline that he can fill. If he emerges as a regular, he can make the most of United’s favourable start.
Raphinha – Leeds, £6.5m
Even after a £1m hike Raphinha is under-priced, just as he was upon arrival from Rennes last season. The Leeds winger proved to be one of the most creative players in the top flight, even though his team-mates’ wayward finishing meant he did not always get the points he deserved.
Dele Alli – Tottenham, £6.5m
OK, so we tipped Dele this time last year only for him to be substituted at half time of the opening game and then practically exiled by Jose Mourinho. Son Heung-min – our other pick a year ago – is obviously the best Tottenham midfielder to go for but, under new management and at just £6.5m, Dele could be an excellent differential punt if he regains form.
Said Benrahma – West Ham, £6.0m
After joining from Brentford last summer, Benrahma struggled to establish himself at West Ham and only showed his true potential in glimpses. The underlyings were promising, though, and the failure to re-sign Jesse Lingard means there is a spot up for grabs in David Moyes’ attack. Do not be surprised if Benrahma takes it and becomes a fantasy bandwagon.
Billy Gilmour – Norwich, £4.5m
If you are looking for a cheap midfielder, you want a regular starter who can come off your bench and provide a solid but unspectacular two points in case one of your other players doesn’t feature. Gilmour will take up Oliver Skipp’s role at Norwich and can be trusted to do that. Brighton’s Yves Bissouma is another alternative.
Tip: There are not many outstanding premium forwards to begin with this year but things could change quickly. Kane will be an option again once there is clarity on his future and Romelu Lukaku will definitely be worth your consideration if he joins Chelsea once their fixtures ease.
West Ham striker Michail Antonio
Danny Ings – Aston Villa, £8.0m
Ings’ surprise move from Southampton wrecked a lot of managers’ pre-season plans, casting doubt on Ollie Watkins as an option. That reaction might prove to be premature but it is still hard to look past the new £30m signing play up front, especially given Villa’s opening three fixtures.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin – Everton, £8.0m
Calvert-Lewin would probably be in our starting line-ups if a toe injury had not made him doubtful for the opening weekend. Nevertheless, Everton’s schedule is promising from an attacking perspective for the first few weeks, and after 16 goals last season, he should prove good value for his £8.0m price over the course of the campaign.
Michail Antonio – West Ham, £7.5m
Which player led the Premier League in non-penalty xG per 90 last season? Antonio, obviously, or we wouldn’t be asking you under the ‘Michail Antonio’ section. West Ham’s focal point is a cheap and reliable source of goals, provided that he is fit. An encouraging run of opening fixtures makes him worth the risk, in our book.
Callum Wilson – Newcastle, £7.5m
Like Antonio, the biggest concern with Wilson are injuries. Hamstring issues saw him play just five of Newcastle’s final 15 games last season. But when he plays, he is the chief source of inspiration for Steve Bruce’s side, with 12 goals in around 23 games’ worth of minutes last season. A little more luck with his fitness and he will be a bargain.
Ivan Toney – Brentford, £6.5m
After hitting 31 goals in the Championship last season, Toney has been heavily backed for a newly-promoted striker and features in around a third of squads at present. Brentford’s opening run of games could be a lot kinder but for those ploughing their money into midfield, he offers a viable starting option up front.
Rodrigo – Leeds, £6.5m
Rodrigo struggled to hold down a regular place given Patrick Bamford’s excellent form last season but appears to have carved out a new role from himself playing off the Leeds striker and finished the campaign strongly, scoring four in his final four games. A brave pick but one that could potentially pay off big.
Matej Vydra – Burnley, £5.5m
There is little choice among the cheapest forward price brackets but Vydra makes for a decent back-up after a solid end to the season with Burnley. Partnering Chris Wood, he scored three goals and two assists once coming into the side midway through the season and should have performed better according to some decent underlying data.
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