Can you name Neal's captain from the photo alone? He couldn't. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
The EPL has been finished for a while. Even MLS is on hiatus right now. If you're one to get the fantasy soccer DTs, then this is the time you'd be getting them. Just in time to save the day comes Euro2012. The big tournament of the summer starts tomorrow at Noon (at least here in the Eastern Time Zone in the US). I can't claim nearly the depth of knowledge of all of the teams that I have for the Premier League but I HAVE spent a fair amount of time trying to research the best fantasy bets. Here are my brief thoughts, hopefully they'll be of use as you make your final preparations:
Match Day 1: Remember Transfer Limits
The obvious choices based on first round match-ups seem to be Poland, the Netherlands, and Croatia. Of those three, Poland is the safest since their entire group seems relatively weak. Unlike the Netherlands who will face Germany and Portugal in subsequent matches and Croatia who will face Spain and Italy, Poland will see only moderately difficult opposition in the second and third match days. In a game format that limits transfers severely between match days (1 free transfer per match day), this is important.
Where to Spend?
After trying to spend a lot of time finding ways to have a strong overall squad that also included some of the biggest names from this past club season - namely Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Gomez, and/or Robin van Persie - I came to the conclusion that the forward position was NOT the place to be making a huge investment. There are goals available much cheaper at forward than points that will likely come from midfield. The second tier of forwards, at least from a price standpoint, guys like Ibrahimovic, Jelavic, and Lewondowski (to name the three I selected) look like they have goals in them at a significant discount over the big stars from the big teams. When you figure in that RvP, Gomez and CRon are all in the same group you have to figure you're playing Russian Roulette with big money unless you think all of those matches are going to end 4-3.
With less money spent on the forward line you won't feel obligated to take risks on inexpensive players who may or may not actually start or others who, while they may start, are highly unlikely to contribute much in the way of fantasy points outside of the points allocated for just playing the match.
Neal's Team for Match Day 1
In a departure from my usual approach, I'm just going to go ahead and share my line-up. My knowledge isn't deep enough to throw out a few pithy sentences about key member of the Greek team so I'll just throw out a few pithy lines about the players I did pick. Here we go:
Igor Akinfeev - The Russians have drawn a fairly modest group and he is pretty cheap in comparison with the better known options. It also means I get one starter down without going against my limit of two players from any one team in the first round.
Petr Cech (bench) - I'll be playing the match-ups in Group A which will mostly consist of "Who is playing Greece?" as I continue not to spend much on my goalkeeper and avoid spending slots from the higher profile teams at that position too.
Gregory van der Wiel - One of the few expensive defenders I've purchased. I've done so mostly for the Match Day 1 match-up and his potential going forward. A very likely candidate to be transferred out between Match Day 1 and Match Day 2 unless someone gets hurt.
Ivan Strinic - Cheap with the potential to return value attacking and defending. If he has one good match (Ireland) and one OK match (Italy) then I'm OK either resting him or selling him for the match with Spain.
Yuri Zhirkov - Maybe I still remember his Euro2008 tournament too well but between the quality of Russia's group and those memories, he seems a bargain. Plus, five players in and I've only picked one (van der Wiel) from a team capable of winning the tournament.
Martin Olsson (bench) - Another great combination of match-ups, a solid player, and a cheap price. Good times.
Jordi Alba (bench) - OK, I'm limiting my ability to pick more attack-minded Spanish players with this one but let's be honest, Spain doesn't have traditional fantasy studs like CRon or Messi on their roster. Alba's very reasonable price makes him a possible pathway to clean sheet points in a group that looks like it will struggle mightily with Spain. Yes, he's on the bench to start. Italy may not be at their best as a team but they're still Italy so I'm not risking a start here. Maybe I'm overthinking this part.
As a bonus, I'm through 7 players and I haven't spent a ton of money yet but feel like I'm deep on players who will start and have the potential for at least two good group stage matches each.
Wesley Sneijder - Holland's attack is expensive but the Dread Pirate Wesley seems like the best combination of attacking prowess, price, and coming through in big matches.
Eugen Polanski - Judging by the percentage of owners who have him, the secret is out that he's a great combination of potential attacking value at a really cheap price. Seems like that's about all you need to say for someone who will be playing their matches at home.
Mesut Ozil - If Muller were listed as a midfielder he'd be my choice but Ozil is the best of the midfielders actually listed as midfielders for this game. I'm not expecting goals but I am expecting assists.
Xavi Hernandez - The guy who makes the attack go for the best team in the world. His price seems a little cheap to be honest.
Yohan Cabaye (bench)- France's group seems to be getting easier with each passing injury to England and Cabaye is a lower profile path to points than Ribery.
Nikica Jelavic - The star of Everton's late season run is a great combination of price, match-ups, and talent - especially on Match Day 1 when he gets Ireland.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Yup, he's a bit on the crazy/douchy side but Ukraine, France, and England seem like the types of sides that he'll do well against. That is to say either weaker (Ukraine), injured (England), or not that great at the back (France). I'd be less excited about him rising to the occasion if Sweden makes it to the knockout rounds.
Robert Lewandowski (c) - The host kicks things off against Greece with a ton of hype. This is not a secret but if he does the business then you'll be playing catch up to everyone who has bet on him to come good.