Our next pre-season article takes a look at a handful of Fantasy assets who showed certain degrees of promise last time round. Mostly, those featured are players who produced the goods only towards the end of the previous campaign, though the common theme here is all our protagonists could well be set to play a far more prominent part in their respective clubs’ fortunes in the season ahead…
Hatem Ben Arfa
For much of last season, the Frenchman was a peripheral figure in the Newcastle first-team, with Alan Pardew publicly questioning his attitude and commitment on a number of occasions. Halfway through the campaign, Ben Arfa had managed just two starts with the likes of Ryan Taylor afforded more game time out wide but the winter acquisition of Papiss Cisse and subsequent shift to 4-3-3 afforded him the chance to finally prosper.
From Gameweek 28 onwards, Ben Arfa started every one of Newcastle’s league matches and, with a regular role on the right under his belt, his potential exploded. Three goals, four assists and six FPL bonus points helped him pick up 60 points over those final 11 Gameweeks – an average of 5.45 ppg, then. Now established as a first-team fixture under Pardew, Fantasy managers will be expecting more of the same from Ben Arfa, though if Cisse’s price jump from 7.0 to 9.5 is anything to go by, an increase may well be considerable. Sky Sports have been considerably kind in pricing; Ben Arfa comes in at 6.2 – only just higher than Ryan Taylor’s 5.8 and far less than Yohan Cabaye (8.5).
His arrival from Birmingham in the January transfer window was somewhat low-key but the Chilean proved to be an integral part of Wigan’s brilliant end of season run. Stationed on the left flank in Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-2-1 formation, Beausejour started all of the Latics’ final 16 fixtures from Gameweek 23 onwards, with his creativity crucial to his side’s push for survival. In addition to providing an assist in seven of those 16 appearances, his work-rate helped him to double figures in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index on 14 occasions and earned Beausejour seven bonus points in the Fantasy Premier League (FPL) game.
With 4 points per game in FPL, the winger averaged more than any Latics player and if Wigan can continue the sort of form that saw them defeat the likes of United, Arsenal and Newcastle in the last two months of the previous campaign, his contribution looks key. Handed a price of 5.0 in FPL last time round, his performances could see a slight price rise – Sky Sports have been more than kind, though, slapping him with a 4.9 price tag, while Victor Moses comes in at 6.9 for the Latics.
Expectations were high when the Costa Rican joined Fulham from Dutch side FC Twente towards the end of last August’s transfer window but he took some time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League. An FPL price tag of 7.0 hardly helped and despite his classification as a forward, Ruiz mainly featured on the flank, with the occasional role in “the hole” behind a lone frontman. After a stuttering start to his career at the Cottage, Ruiz became a regular pick under Martin Jol, starting 13 of Fulham’s 14 fixtures from Gameweek 13 onwards but his campaign came to an abrupt end in early April due to a broken metatarsal.
In total, Ruiz produced just two goals and four assists in FPL last term; a tally he supplemented with nine bonus points, with his price plummeting to 6.0 well before that season-ending injury. Much will depend on what extent he has now acclimatised to the physical demands of English top-flight football but the Costa Rican could perhaps profit from a regular role tucked in behind a lone forward this time round. A price drop in FPL is expected, while his classification could also be key; a move to a midfielder would considerably boost his appeal. In the Sky Sports game, however, he remains a forward and, priced at 7.5, is dearer than new boy Mladen Petric, at 6.8.
A victim of Paul Lambert’s tinkering and penchant for late substitutions, the Norwich playmaker never made more than three back-to-back 90 minute appearances last term. Although the Canaries flourished as a source of goals and found the net on 52 occasions, Hoolahan’s irregular game time saw him struggle for our Fantasy attention, with a drop in price from 5.5 to 5.0 by Gameweek 14 indicative of our frustrations.
Looking at his end to the previous campaign, however, suggests Hoolahan could well be set for an upturn in potential if he can establish himself as a key figure in new manager Chris Hughton’s Carrow Road set-up. Over his final seven starts, the Irishman returned two goals, four assists and six FPL bonus points, averaging 5.71 per first XI appearance from Gameweek 28 onwards. One of only four Norwich players to breach the 100-point mark, he could be set for a relatively small price hike but should still be within the confines of the mid-price midfield bracket in FPL. Sky Sports have handed him a 6.8 price tag, just ahead of Anthony Pilkington (6.4) as the costliest player in the Canaries midfield.
A massive disappointment last season for Fantasy managers, after so many had invested their faith in the Moroccan’s potential. Taarabt’s contribution was key to QPR’s promotion to the top-flight under Neil Warnock and, with set-pieces and spot-kicks under his belt, plenty had snapped him up prior to the campaign’s kick-off. What followed was disastrous – aside from the bus-stop incident after he was subbed off in the 6-0 hammering at Fulham, Taarabt failed to hit the headlines and didn’t produce a single attacking point until Gameweek 25; by that time, Warnock was long gone, replaced by Mark Hughes as QPR struggled for survival.
As the season entered the final stretch, however, Taarabt suddenly came to the fore during his side’s home games. Vital contributions earned wins over Liverpool, Arsenal, Swansea and Spurs, earning him 37 points over his final five games at Loftus Road, as Hughes managed to engineer a dramatic, and somewhat unexpected, scramble to safety. With the arrival of more experience top-flight campaigners this summer, Hughes has considerably bolstered the ranks and Taarabt will be confident of continuing where he left off last time round. Bearing in mind he finished with just 86 points last season, a jump in FPL price looks out of the question – if his price stays around the 6.5 mark, many could be persuaded to take a punt once again. A Sky Sports price of 5.2, while the highest of the QPR midfield, also looks tempting.
If it wasn’t for the sacking of Steve Bruce, we may still be waiting for the first-team introduction of James McClean. With the Black Cats struggling near the foot of the table, Bruce’s dismissal led to the arrival of Martin O’Neill and proved to be the making of McClean as a cut-price Fantasy option in 2011/12. Handed a trio of substitute appearances between Gameweek 15-18, the 4.5 priced midfielder impressed every time and from Gameweek 19 onwards, missed just two more minutes of the season.
The left winger managed a total of 23 appearances and in terms of attacking returns, produced five goals and three assists but it was propensity to pick up bonus in the FPL game that really stood out; McClean produced 18, a clear indication his game clearly suited to the EA SPORTS PPI scoring system. Averaging 4.4 points per game in FPL, he was just behind Stephane Sessegnon (4.5) for O’Neill’s side but with such a strong set of displays, a price rise is imminent; perhaps 6.0 is realistic, given his consistent level of performance. The Sky Sports game has been more than kind to McClean, however; he costs just 5.9, compared to Sessegnon’s 7.7 and Seb Larsson at 6.4.
Similar to Beausejour, his departure from Birmingham in the January transfer window proved more than beneficial for Fantasy managers. Installed at left-back in the West Brom defence by Roy Hodgson, Ridgewell crept under the radar and finished the season with a mere 0.4% ownership despite producing some outstanding returns. Over the course of his 13 appearances, Ridgewell produced a goal, an assist, six clean sheets and nine bonus points in the FPL game; a total score of 61 means he averaged 4.7 ppg – the same as Vincent Kompany and just ahead of Thomas Vermaelen’s 4.6.
While it’s highly unlikely he can maintain such a high average over the course of an entire campaign, his previous price of 4.5 was indicative of Ridgewell’s worth as a budget option. With Hodgson now gone, Fantasy managers will perhaps hold fire and assess the situation under new boss Steve Clarke but if the Baggies can produce some decent defensive returns, Ridgewell could be the one to watch from their backline. Ridgewell is relatively cheap in the Sky Sports game, too; he comes in at 5.2, compared to Jonas Olsson (5.7) and Gareth McAuley (6.0) in the West Brom backline.
Franco Di Santo
Let’s face it – he hardly set the league alight with his goalscoring prowess last time round but the Wigan forward’s strong finish to the season suggests he may have finally found his feet in the Premier League. Deployed as the lone forward in the Latics’ 3-4-2-1 system with Victor Moses and Shaun Maloney wreaking havoc behind him, Di Santo was integral to Wigan’s superb end to the campaign and produced crucial displays against the likes of Arsenal and Newcastle to ensure his side’s survival.
Over the last five Gameweeks of the season, he returned three goals, an assist and five FPL bonus points, averaging 5.8 ppg. With Hugo Rodallega now off to Fulham, Di Santo is set to lead the line for the Latics once more and bearing in mind his overall score was 92 points, it would be something of a surprise if his previous starting price of 5.5 was boosted. Sky Sports have valued him in the mid-price bracket, however; a cost of 7.5 could see him struggle to pick up much interest.
Having broken into the Stoke first-team squad last term, the 23-year-old could become an important figure in Tony Pulis’ plans next time round, after 14 starts and nine sub appearances in 2011/12. Shotton came in at just 4.0 in the previous campaign and, despite being classified as a defender, was mainly fielded on the right flank, with Pulis preferring him to the erratic Jermaine Pennant on several occasions.
His versatility means Shotton can also cover at right-back, suggesting his game time could be further boosted should Andy Wilkinson succumb to injury once again. Over his 14 starts, Shotton produced a goal, an assist, four clean sheets and seven FPL bonus points – an average of 3.5 points per first XI appearance. Much of his appeal may depend on his FPL classification this term, though his future looks likely to be as a winger – if he can oust Pennant as a regular for the Potters, Shotton’s surging runs down and delivery from the flank could well provide decent value; a price hike looks inevitable, regardless of classification – perhaps 4.5 – 5.0 seems appropriate. Sky Sports have listed him as a defender and handed Shotton a valuation of 5.2; far less than Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross (6.4) for example.
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For Gameweek 38
- van Persie
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“I am happy with the way I’ve started, but on the other hand, I should have scored four or five more, so that’s something for me to work on.”Robin Van Persie talks about his early form at United ahead of his first Manchester derby