Ending my review of the fantasy season, I focus my attentions on the sharp end of the pitch. Here I take a look at the goal-getters that caught the eye over the season, as well as the dozing few who could well offer decent value over the next nine months.
During Pre-season all the talk surrounded the transfer of Tevez to United and he became the focus of many fantasy managers when it came to shopping for a striker. As it turned out Tevez had an immensely successful season at Old Trafford. However, despite outscoring club mate Rooney, Tevez was comfortably eclipsed by a striker who suddenly transformed himself into a regular goalscorer at the Emirates and two new arrivals from foreign shores who exceeded expectations.
The prospect of Adebayor plundering 24 Premiership goals seemed distant in pre-season. Nobody could predict how Wenger’s men would react in attacking terms to losing Henry and few could have expected the Togo international to step up his game and fill the void so spectacularly. The Arsenal man topped the striker fantasy rankings across all the major games – his 33 starts and Rafa’s early season rotation, helping him to edge out his major rival in the goalscoring charts – Liverpool’s Fernando Torres.
A handsome return from the Spanish striker was certainly more predictable than the rise of Adebayor but few foreign imports have made such an impact in their first season. A hugely impressive 24 goals in just 29 starts will see the Torres price tag sore this season and if Ronaldo does finally leave the Premiership, Torres will surely be where the big fantasy funds will go.
The impact of Torres in a debut season, somewhat detracts from the achievements of Blackburn’s Santa Cruz – surely the bargain buy of the season – both in reality and fantasy terms. Fed by the reliable supply of Bentley, the Paraguayan found the net 19 times in 36 starts and chipped in with a credible 8 assists. Settled in the mid-to-high price range across many of the fantasy games, he became the perfect foil for an Adebayor or Torres in your lineup.
Outside of these three, only the form of Defoe on his transfer to Fratton Park threatened to break through. Deadly in home games, his 12 goals in 16 starts rewarded fantasy managers looking for a post transfer window boost, with great returns that hint at sustained points this season. Berbatov and Rooney had steady, stuttering seasons, littered with moments of brilliance and frustrating spells of nothingness.
Elsewhere, Keane and Yakubu weighed in with respectable goal tallies. The Spurs man flew in early and mid season but tailed off badly with Spurs form over the final 12 games. Yakubu meanwhile had a faltering first season at Goodison, disrupted by injury and the African Cup of Nations but still matched Keane on 15 Premiership goals. The Villa pairing of Agbonlahor and Young meanwhile, had strong seasons. Young – classed as a midfielder in several fantasy games, weighed in with 18 assists that boosted his 8 goal return. The fleet-footed Agbonlahor complimented this with 11 goals and 8 assists, despite a desperately dry period in mid-season.
Despite a strong showing, the Villa pairing are likely to be classed as unfashionable fantasy signings going into this season. Early indications are that Young will be classed as a midfielder taking him out of the equation up front but making him a hot property in midfield. Agbonlahor meanwhile will be an unfashionable fantasy purchase but, along with the likes of Yakubu, he could well prove popular investments for those fantasy managers looking for stability rather than risky gambles on more foreign imports and debut seasons.
The Scout Selection
Six goals in as many games got the season off to a flyer, despite drawing a blank in the opening three games. A run of 5 games without a goal then followed before Adebayor found better consistency going into the Christmas period. It was in January that he really kicked on though. Benefiting from Togo’s failure to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, Adebayor rewarded fantasy managers who kept the faith, with a haul of 9 goals in 6 games from January 1st to February 11th.
Another lean spell then followed, with 7 games between February and April without a goal before he ended the season with 5 goals in the final 5 games, including his second hat-trick against bottom club Derby. Indeed, the fact that Adebayor scored 6 of his 24 goals against Derby provides ample evidence that he is one to back against a fragile defence, whilst casting some doubt over the likelihood of another 20 goal haul this term given that there surely won’t be another defence like Derby’s knocking about.
Of course, with so much uncertainty surrounding the striker’s future at the Emirates, it could be that Adebayor is removed from the equation. Even if he does stay, there is perhaps some need for caution given his recent attitude towards the approach from Barcelona. Adebayor has grown as a player but there’s also clear signs that his ego has swelled significantly as a result.
The £20 million seems a complete bargain given the impact of the Liverpool striker in his first season. His scoring rate in the Premiership of 24 goals in 29 games was staggering and were it not for Rafa’s desire to rotate around Champions League games, Torres would surely have hit the 30-goal mark. That will remain a concern going into next season. Torres missed or was subbed in 9 games in all, 8 of which were either immediately before or after a key Champions League clash. We have to ask ourselves just how likely this is to continue and whether there will be a slight change in focus from the club to ensure that Torres can have more of an influence on their Premiership campaign over 34+ games.
Another trend that should be noted is that Torres scored just 3 of his 24 goals away from Anfield. That could change this season but it will largely depend again on Rafa and his approach to away games. On too many occasions Liverpool looked to get in front and protect a lead rather than kill off opposition. If Torres continues to deliver heavily for home games alone, then a pairing that will balance this out could be the approach to take. That leads nicely on to our next man.
Roque Santa Cruz
Blackburn’s tall Paraguyan notched an impressive 19 goal haul in his first Premiership season, 13 of which came away from home. Early on however, there was little sign that Rovers had themselves such a prolific Premiership marksman. While Santa Cruz got off the mark on his debut and scored a second goal at Goodison a fortnight later, he struggled and notched just 4 Premiership goals in the first 16 games. Things took off though with a hat-trick against Wigan on December 15 and then went on from there. He ended the season on fire, with 8 goals coming over the final 8 games – scoring against the tough Liverpool, United and Portsmouth defences.
There’s plenty to suggest then that Santa Cruz will be strong again this season but, like Adebayor, his future is yet to be decided. New boss Ince will have to work hard to fight off admirers and keep his target man. If he succeeds then he will likely figure high on fantasy shortlists, albeit at a significantly inflated cost as a result of last season’s return.
Can he match the heights he scaled last term? There’s always an element of strikers struggling as defences wise up. Bentley’s future is also a key factor here. For now then he’s a certain shortlist candidate with a full assessment to come when things fall into place.
McCarthy had a season to forget and yet still got close to reaching double figures in the Premiership – notching 8 goals in 22 appearances. It’s worth noting however that over the season, he completed 90 minutes just 5 times with a knee injury troubling him in November and more significantly, a hamstring complaint ravaging his appearances going into 2008.
On paper though, it was a hugely disappointing season for a striker who grabbed 18 goals in 36 games in his first Premiership season. Clearly McCarthy has what it takes and, if Santa Cruz can be persuaded to stay, he could form a fearsome strikeforce with the target man. With McCarthy signed up until 2011 at Ewood, the challenge for Ince is to see whether he can extract an improved season from the South African and whether he can create the partnership we all expected last term. If he can stay fit, then an improved return is surely guaranteed and it will be interesting to see how the fantasy games price him after a season of disappointment.
Anelka started the season at Bolton and hit the ground running, scoring 6 goals in the opening 11 Premiership matches. By January he had notched 10 goals for Bolton and while his move to Stamford Bridge could have seen his season flourish further, it had the opposite effect. Anelka managed just a single Premiership goal in Chelsea colours in 10 starts with 5 assists helping to cushion the fall from grace. It’s difficult to say what kind of season we can expect from him given the arrival of Scolari. In a 4-4-2 alongside Drogba he could rediscover the kind of form which had him topping the Premiership scoring charts for a period last season. With all the changes expected in the summer it’s impossible to say just where Anelka will figure in Chelsea’s plans. It seems unlikely that he’ll feature on many fantasy shopping lists come August unless he has an absolute flyer of a pre-season.
The West Ham man had another season disrupted by injury but, when fit, showed glimpses of the kind of form that would justify his selection as a decent mid-price fantasy purchase.
A knee ligament injury put him out of action for over a month in October and this was followed by a back complaint in January that troubled him throughout the tail end of the season. Despite this, Ashton delivered 10 goals over his 20 starts and 11 appearances as a sub, having missed the entirety of the 2006-07 season with an ankle injury. Ashton has recently signed a new 5-year deal at Upton Park and clearly has the talent to deliver 15+ Premiership goals should he be lucky enough to stay injury free. Although his injury prone status will be enough to put most fantasy managers off the scent, a good pre-season and a generous starting price could convince many otherwise. Certainly West Ham’s early fixtures provide some temptation.
Johnson failed to build on a fantastic first term at Goodison by enduring a season cursed by niggling injuries, loss of form and frustration at Moyes desire to persevere with 4-5-1. The arrival of Yakubu found Johnson having to compete for a starting role, with the Nigerian and Cahill providing the goals for Moyes’ side. An ankle injury in October didn’t help matters. That saw him without a start in 8 games and from then on he struggled to regain a regular starting role – never managing more than 4 consecutive starts from that point, despite an injury to Cahill. He continued to be troubled by the ankle problem right until the end of the season and finished on just 6 Premiership goals for the season, supplemented by 4 assists. Although he signed a new contract keeping him at Goodison until 2012, Johnson’s future is still a topic of speculation with Sunderland reportedly sniffing around. A move may well revive his fortunes with Everton setting a price of £12 million this weekend.
Restricted by knee injuries, Grant’s rotation around Champions League games and the African Cup of Nations, Drogba made just 17 starts last season. Despite this, he reinforced his goal-getting ability by netting 8 times from those games – emphasising his potential as a leading fantasy force should he get the starts. There’s no doubt then that with 35+ games, Drogba can and in all likeliness, will, reach the 20 goal mark this coming season. Question marks remain over his future and the role that Scolari will have earmarked for him given Chelsea’s desire for Champions League glory. He could be subject to rotation should Chelsea sign further proven match winners. A good pre-season offering plenty of evidence that Drogba will be central to Scolari’s attacking ploy should be enough to promote him in our shortlists, particularly if his price takes a slight knock as a result of a season of frustration.
Robin Van Persie
Another who suffered a season severely restricted by injury. Van Persie was many peoples dark horse to break the 20-goal barrier having hinted at his potential with 11 goals in 17 starts in 2006-07. However, last season saw the Dutchman limited to just 13 starts. After an encouraging first 8 games in which the striker notched 5 goals, Van Persie was struck down with a knee injury in October. He returned briefly in December, only to suffer a thigh muscle injury that was to blight the rest of his season. He returned for 8 of the last 10 games but completed 90 minutes just once. He then suffered a further complication with his thigh late in the season and missed the final two games. Despite this, he ended the season with 7 goals and 3 assists.
Like so many of the West Ham squad, Bellamy was struck down by injury last season. A early season groin injury escalated to become a serious setback, worsened by an abdominal injury suffered on his return to action in October. Over the season he managed just 7 full Premiership games and contributed just 2 goals and 2 assists in total. That’s likely to have a bearing on his price this term, which could mean he offers decent potential as a mid-price support striker. At his best Bellamy offers a goal every 3 games but also is a decent contributor of assists and can also catch the eye with man of the match awards to earn him bonus fantasy points. He’s an outside bet then but if West Ham have a period of decent form and Bellamy’s price is generous enough, then he could well be worth a look as a short-term investment.
The Scout is watching…
The Brazilian took time to settle at the Riverside but by the end of the season ended on 6 goals in 7 full starts – concluding the season with a hat-trick against 10-man City. With so many uncertainties surrounding strikers such as Berbatov and Adebayor, Alves could well get some early season suitors. Boro should have Mido back to add further firepower alongside him, while Tuncay and Aliadiere are expected to kick-on further. With Downing providing the bullets, Boro should have more goals in them with Alves setting his sights on that magical 20 mark.
Crouch is another who could benefit massively from a summer move. Pompey’s initial £9 million offer was rejected but it seems odds on that Harry will come back with another bid with rumours that a £10 million offer is to be accepted soon. If Crouch gets a move and gets 30+ games then goals and assists will follow. His price could also take a slight drop, depending on how soon a potential transfer takes place.
The big Swede may well feel the pressure at the Reebok. A rumored £10 million plus transfer fee could weigh down on his shoulders and he’ll be expected to provide the goals to maintain Bolton’s Premiership status. Megson is on the look out for a striking partner, although rumours of Baros and Saha aren’t exactly reassuring. If Megson can secure another decent attacking option then Elmander will benefit greatly. not only from reduced pressure on him but also in the assist department – as stat that could well match his goal tally by the end of the season, thus increasing his fantasy potential. Bolton have decent first month of fixtures and with a good pre-season and a decent mid-range price, Elmander could be worth a look.
Bent’s future remains a doubt going into the new season. He’s been targeted as a natural replacement for Kenwynne Jones (who is reportedly out until Christmas) by Sunderland. However, there are also strong rumours concerning the future of Robbie Keane which may see Ramos hold onto the England striker if he fails to secure Berbatov. Either way, if Bent gets games he should get goals – 6 goals and 5 assists in just 11 starts last term demonstrates this and he did of course score 14 goals in 32 games for a relegated side whilst at Charlton in 2006-07. We should see a drop in his price going into this season and if he gets the right move, offering regular starts, he’s got to be worth consideration.
The big, strong Czech striker looks the best bet amongst the promoted forwards for me. In 18 starts and 11 sub appearances, Bednar contributed 11 goals for the Baggies in their promotion year and with the future of Kevin Phillips uncertain, it seems likely that Bednar will get regular starts in the Baggies forward line. He’s undergone a hernia operation in the summer so his fitness and form in pre-season will need to be monitored. If he shows up well in West Brom’s friendlies and looks assured of a starting role, then he could well be worth considering as a budget option – certainly while there are doubts over the fitness of Fuller at Stoke and while Hull find themselves a striker.
Other Guides In This Series…
In my review of last season by position, I get the ball rolling with my view on the goalkeeping situation, where I question the investment options, whilst offering some early pointers on the shortlist for next season.
Read this article in full…
The next chapter in my round-up of the 2007-08 fantasy season and it’s time to turn my attentions to the back four – the clean-sheet farmers who provide the regular returns while Ronaldo earns the big points up field.
Read this article in full…
Continuing my look back at the 2007-08 fantasy season, it’s time to focus on the middle of the park where we find one player showboating his way to a goal-a-game record and threatening to break fantasy football in the process.
Read this article in full…