Typically, a double Gameweek 1 would be enough to warrant any side decent initial investment. Even the most pessimistic Fantasy manager is usually willing to take a punt or two on an underdog but when the fixtures involve back-to-back trips to Arsenal and Chelsea, as is the case with Aston Villa, many would-be suitors are having second thoughts.
With the future of Christian Benteke now sorted, Paul Lambert’s side approach the start of the season in flourishing form, though. After failing to win their first five fixtures of the summer, the Belgian’s return to the first XI has earned Villa four straight victories, with Benteke rattling in seven goals in just five appearances.
Granted – aside from Saturday’s game with Malaga – the general level of opponents hasn’t been quite up to scratch but a look at Villa’s form on the road towards the end of last term suggest they were starting to hit their stride. Having won just two and drawn five of their first 13 away games, garnering 11 points, they picked up 10 points over the remaining five away games, thanks to three wins and a draw, with the only loss in than run arriving at Old Trafford.
Saturday’s trip to the Emirates is hardly straightforward. Arsenal scored more goals at home than any other side in the Premier League last term and warmed up with a convincing win over City on Saturday. The upside for Lambert and co is that the Gunners have conceded in each of their last six summer friendlies and have yet to rediscover the resilience that saw them concede just 37 times in 2012/13 – the second most resilient defence in the league.
A visit to Chelsea the following Tuesday is also on the agenda. Jose Mourinho’s side have won six of their seven matches over the summer, scoring a total of 20 times, but have conceded four goals over their last couple of matches against Real Madrid and Roma – bearing in mind Benteke scored against the Blues in Gameweek 37 in 2012/13, he’ll have some confidence, though Lambert’s side will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last term’s trip to the Bridge, where they lost 8-0 a couple of days before Christmas. With a trip to Old Trafford the following weekend, though, Mourinho may choose to rotate his squad, bearing in mind they also have the European Super Cup against Bayern Munich on the horizon, as he goes head-to-head with La Liga nemesis Pep Guardiola.
The Likely Lads
If there’s one man likely to produce, it’s Christian Benteke. As mentioned above, he’s wasted no time in replicating the devastating form that took the league by storm in the second half of 2012/13 – 14 of his 19 strikes arrived in his last 17 appearances. While there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the Chelsea forward line, Benteke guarantees 180 minutes over the two matches, has spot-kick duties, and is the focal point in Lambert’s 4-3-3 formation. Over 23% of Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers have already acquired him, making Benteke second only to Robin Van Persie in terms of popularity.
Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann both offer cheaper, if somewhat less explosive, alternatives to their fellow frontman across the Fantasy games. The former was another to step up as the previous season wound down – six goals and three assists in his last nine appearances on the left of the front three warrants consideration, yet he has less than 2% FPL ownership. Weimann has notched in two of Villa’s last four matches and at just 6.0 in FPL to Agbonlahor’s 7.0, holds in-form appeal for those in the market for cheaper alternatives.
The Cheeky Punt
Given that Villa conceded in each of their last 22 matches in the previous campaign, confidence in defensive returns is understandably low. Matthew Lowton ended his debut season in the top-flight with a goal and three assists over his last eight appearances and looks the likeliest defensive candidate to chip in with attacking points. Lambert’s move to a 4-3-3 formation in the final few months of 2012/13 seems perfectly suited to the full-back’s attacking raids down the right flank, with the former Sheffield United man offering plenty width from deep.
Finally, Aleksandar Tonev looks a real punt for those willing to roll the dice on a cut-price midfielder. The Bulgarian has not long returned from injury but has started each of the last two friendlies and seems to be on corner kick duties – he provided an assist for Ron Vlaar’s goal against Malaga at the weekend. Expected to be fielded as the most advanced midfielder behind Benteke, he has yet to complete 90 minutes since arriving this summer; the Villa boss singled out his new midfielder for praise on Tuesday, though, and may be set to hand him a league debut at the Emirates providing he comes through the midweek internationals unscathed.