I do like me some spreadsheets and as many of you likely saw, I spent some time earlier this week breaking down where the values were to be had among returning players in the Yahoo fantasy game. Today, with Nik's posting of the Never Manage Alone league for the official PremierLeague.com fantasy game, I thought I'd take the same approach to evaluating - based on last season's performance and pre-season pricing - which players represented the best buys going into the season. This is even more important in the PL.com format because new players aren't offered at the dramatic discount we're used to in the Yahoo game (for instance Hazard starts out at the same price as Mata for Chelsea).
Beyond the pure numbers, I'm also trying to correct for significant changes in a player's circumstances. For instance, many Swansea players (Vorm, Allen, Williams, Graham, Dyer, and Sinclair) look great in the pre-season rankings but there is significant doubt about their ability to maintain that value in the absence of the manager that was so integral to making it happen. This isn't an indictment of their new manager, just a sense on my part that the thing that drove their fantasy value last season was somewhat unique. Similarly, I'd be concerned about a player like Grant Holt being a bit of a one year wonder. Finally, there will be players - like Demba Ba - who started off last season in great form but due to new circumstances (the arrival of Papiss Cisse) saw their value decrease dramatically despite still having solid-looking numbers for the season overall.
The first thing that jumped out at me is that the price of fantasy points at Goalkeeper and Defender is MUCH lower than it is at midfielder and forward. Beyond that, here are the individual bargains that struck me as interesting to fantasy managers:
Ian Harte - No, he doesn't have a track record from last season but he does have a long track record in the Premier League as a point-producing defender. The fact that he has two matches the first week of the season and a price of 4.5 makes him as big a no-brainer as you'll find assuming he makes it through the pre-season healthy.
Brad Friedel - His price/point is actually slightly higher than Vorm, Krul and Foster but with Spurs changes over the summer there seems to be more upside with Friedel than there is with the others in this group. Vertonghen has the potential to solidify the back line and help the goalkeeper's numbers.
Fabricio Coloccini - He was Newcastle's rock last season and did pretty well as far as fantasy points go too and for some reason he enters the season at 5.0. Not a lot of upside here but great potential to win solid points and enable better players elsewhere in your line-up.
Clint Dempsey - The confounding factors here are all about whether he stays at Fulham (where another strong fantasy season seems likely) or heads to a better team where he might not be as much the focal point of the attack. In his current situation he's one of the few 200+ points producers from last season valued under 10.00.
Patrice Evra - His game is declining but his current value is exceptional assuming Manchester United don't come up with an alternative left back between now and the start of the season.
Ryan Taylor - Unlike the Yahoo game, he's listed as a defender here and if he becomes the default starter, he'll be a great value at 5.50 to start the season.
Jon Walters - In the real world, he isn't anything more than a battering ram of a player. In the PL.com fantasy world, he's listed as a midfielder and priced at 6.50 despite some solid fantasy returns. As an added bonus, Stoke City play Reading to start off the season.
Steven Pienaar - This one is contingent on him getting the move to Everton where he was back to being a productive player. His time on the bench at Spurs depressed his value which equals opportunity for fantasy managers.
Bacary Sagna - A solid outside back for a Top 6 team SHOULD go for about 6.5 (see Kyle Walker or BAE) but, likely due to his long term injury last season, Sagna is starting off the season at 5.5. That extra 1.0 will be very useful when you start looking to buy your midfielders and forwards.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but if you're looking around for some players to fill out your roster in-between the Agueros, Hazards, Rooney, van Persies, and Sigurdssons then this is a good starter list of guys you may not have been thinking about as strong fantasy values.