The new season draws near. I’m getting myself mentally prepared for all the ups and downs that Fantasy Football brings, while consciously aware that this looks set to be the most difficult to predict season ever.
The continuing threat of Coronavirus looms over us all, with new cases of COVID-19 potentially impacting upon our own lives, as well as the decisions we make as Fantasy managers.
I would love to say that the pandemic has given me context to appreciate just how trivial FPL is when we compare it to the struggles of people around the globe; but actually, the fact that the game offers me an escape from the world and its troubles means that in some way, I feel like I am under greater pressure to score points, or risk getting myself more down and upset.
But, let’s stay positive. The new season brings opportunities to get ahead of the pack and lay the foundations for a successful season. My main aim with my team is to get off to a good start, like I did back in the 2017/18 season where I finished 817th.
As you might have heard in FPL BlackBox, I’ve actually had quite a settled team for a while now, so this is my opportunity to present you the likeliest candidates to make my Blank Gameweek 1 squad at the time of writing.
It’s very, very rare for me to spend over £4.5m on a Goalkeeper, but Aaron Ramsdale (£5.0m) looks too tempting for me to ignore. The introduction of Sheffield United last season brought in a team that loves to keep clean sheets (they kept 13 of them in total). It also gave us an incredibly reliable goalkeeper in Dean Henderson (£5.5m) who so often came to the rescue to make vital saves to keep the opposition out.
I’m hoping that Ramsdale fills the Henderson shaped hole that has been left in United’s backline. Ramsdale made the second-most saves of all goalkeepers last season for struggling Bournemouth, and now plays in a team where you feel a 1-0 win would be the sweetest of successes.
I love teams that look to grind out a low scoring win. This often translates into a good return of points for Goalkeepers, with Nick Pope (£5.5m) the biggest benefactor in recent seasons of this strategy. With the Burnley man now out of my price range, and only Matthew Ryan (£4.5m) tempting me in the budget category (I am still unconvinced by McCarthy, and Southamptons’ ability to keep regular clean sheets), I am happy to back Ramsdale – and feel he could well be the highest scoring goalkeeper in the game come the end of the season.
I’m not going to waste too much time debating the merits of Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.5m). In all honesty, I was expecting a bigger price tag for the Englishman. If a midfielder or a striker got in and around 200 points for two seasons in a row, we’d expect to be paying over £10.0m. To get it for just over £7.0m is a bargain. The double up with Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) is a very solid strategy, but with so many premium picks to choose from in midfield and attack, I’ve decided to not go down this route.
Matt Doherty (£6.0m) was locked in when he was at Wolves, and his move to London hasn’t deterred me one bit. Jose Mourinho loves his right-sided defenders to bomb down the pitch, and while it’s unlikely that Doherty will play quite as attacking as he has previously, if he can return 150 points, he will be one of the best value players in the entire game. Given that I love owning an attacking defender, what kind of person would I be if I didn’t go for the one ranked number one in the ICT index last season.
My third spot goes to Kieran Tierney (£5.5m) and I have to admit, I’m already marking him down one of my more “tentative” selections. I’ve been impressed with Arsenal’s general play under Arteta, and one of the key things that I like is how he’s got them defending as a unit.
The list of defenders on the books is simply staggering at the moment (I count 13 on the transfer list page) but Tierney is the pick of the bunch. His spot in the team looks secure, and he demonstrated on the final day of last season an eye for goal. The main reason I like Tierney is that for £5.5m, I don’t see many better options elsewhere for that price. The £5.5m midfielders, for example, look pretty uninspiring to me.
My concern is that he comes with a more “premium” price tag, without the stats to really back up his status as a high-impact, attacking full-back, especially as he has been used in the back-three of late. With two great games against Fulham and West Ham though, it will be interesting to see how Arteta uses Tierney and whether he looks to use his obvious attacking talent to more advantage now they have signed some competent defenders, or whether he will remain more shackled.
I’m currently sweating on the status of Ruben Vinagre (£4.5m), who has recently been linked with a move away – alongside rumours that Wolves may be looking to purchase a new left wing-back. Wolves’ early fixtures, and lack of European involvement, are a great combination and I’d love to get in one of their wingbacks from the start. My hope is that Vinagre stays and cements his place, to give me a cheap way into a back line that kept 13 clean sheets last season.
My selection of Sadio Mané (£12.0m) over Mohamed Salah (£12.0m) is set to go to the wire. Looking at the stats, I don’t even really know why I’m considering Liverpool’s number 10.
With Mané’s ownership at just 12% (compared to Salah’s 29.9%) this could be an opportunity to back a slightly more (quite literally) “left-field” option.
Last season, Salah only outscored Mané by 12 points. Am I brave for backing the “Underdog”, or is it just a decision doomed to end in failure? If I go for it, it should make for some interesting discussions on BlackBox anyway…
My other premium selection, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£12.0m) needs no introduction. His reclassification as a midfielder means he’s going to hoover up even more points, with two of the easiest games coming first. His fixture swing in Gameweek 3 also comes up a perfect time for those looking to make the switch to City assets. This one’s a no brainer for me.
My third midfielder is Matheus Pereira (£6.0m), who I’m not going to pretend isn’t a punt. But, I’m backing “talisman theory”. From what I’ve seen and heard, this guy is the real deal. No player in the last five years in the Championship has more assists (16) than Pereira did last season and only eight players (most of which were strikers) bettered his shot count (111).
Everything is going to run through Pereira, and tying down Grady Diangana (£5.5m) permanently means that he will have someone to thread balls to with a bit of quality. A few seasons ago, I backed Pascal Groß (£5.5m) to succeed with similar underlying numbers for a relegated team in Germany. I’m hoping that Pereira can come some way to emulating my favourite ever player in FPL.
Sick of constantly having to scramble round for the in-form strikers despite owning players like Connor Wickham (£4.5m), I’m electing to start big up top this year.
Danny Ings (£8.5m) is really a placeholder for Anthony Marital (£9.0m), as I look to target teams with early fixtures against Crystal Palace – who are riddled with injuries to their defensive line.
I’d love to see Ings get close to his 22 goal season from last year, but I do think it’s unlikely unless Southampton can keep up their rather incredible run of form that came post-lockdown.
Regardless of what happens against Palace though, I will be grabbing Martial who’s reclassification as a forward does dent his appeal somewhat, but I think showed towards the end of last season that he can be a true number nine.
I’d be astounded if Martial doesn’t hit 20 goals this season if he can stay fit. I do also think a strong case can be made for Marcus Rashford (£9.5m), who got the same number of goals as Martial but is now classed as a midfielder.
I’m not really considering Bruno Fernandes (£10.5m) or Mason Greenwood (£7.5m) right now, due to budget restrictions (Fernandes) and fears of a Jadon Sancho arrival (Greenwood).
Timo Werner (£9.5m) will be leading the line of Chelsea’s new-look attack against Brighton at the weekend, and it looks like he will make a mockery of his price tag. I can’t see any way in which the German will fail to be a success at Stamford Bridge, especially when you consider that he will have Kai Havertz (£8.5m), Hakim Ziyech (£8.0m) and Christian Pulisic (£8.5m) alongside him.
With so many options this year, this incredibly array of moderately priced Chelsea attacking options will surely be an important factor in our FPL teams. Once they have settled and start banging the goals in, our premium players will need to keep firing otherwise they will be shipped out for these much more budget-friendly options, allowing us to strengthen the rest of our side.
Perhaps my least inspiring pick has to be Alexander Mitrovic (£6.0m), and I’m looking for any excuse not to go with him really.
I’d love to be able to shave £0.5m off somewhere (perhaps Tierney may go) so I can grab one of the £6.5m forwards (allowing for more flexibility to move around as I see fit). But at the moment, I’m on the Serbian.
The positives are that he started strongly last time he was in the Premier League and managed a very respectable 134 points (11 goals, four assists) despite Fulham’s struggles.
I really do think the Cottagers will struggle this season, but everything good will flow through Mitrovic and he’ll be tasked with carrying them over the finishing line to safety. They have a tough game against Arsenal to start, but then meetings with Leeds and Aston Villa will surely give him a better chance to impress, or will be an easy sell for someone else.
The less said here the better. Utilising a 4-3-3 formation means that I am selecting two players from a pool of incredibly uninspiring £4.5m options. Yves Bissouma (£4.5m) does look that standout in this price bracket. He finished last season very strongly, and looks to have made the central midfield area his own – but I am aware that Davy Pröpper (£5.0m), who I do not rate incidentally, is sniffing around.
The other £4.5m option could be any of them really. Mario Lemina (£4.5m) does at least have a point to prove and was at one point Southampton’s record signing. That said, I don’t hold out that much hope.
The decision between Tyrick Mitchell (£4.0m) and Nathan Ferguson (£4.0m) will come down to whether I feel I can afford to wait to see if the latter will nail down his place on the right after he comes back from injury.
Mitchell has had a good pre-season and looks set to at least start the season, but his position may be less secure when defensive reinforcements come back to the side.
I’m leaning towards Mitchell at the moment though. If he has a strong start to the campaign, perhaps he can go on and cement his spot in the team the same way that Aaron Wan-Bissaka (£5.5m) did a few seasons ago, or how the legendary John Lundstram (£5.5m) did in 2019/20.