Here we are again.
It has been a summer filled with great sporting events and even the occasional interesting transfer in to the Premier League. There have been rumors-aplenty as there are every summer but as of this writing, Robin van Persie and Alex Song remain Gooners, Luka Modric is still a Spur, and Yann M'Vila, Robert Lewandowski, and Lucas Moura all still play outside of the Premier League.
Chelsea and Arsenal seem to be the big movers in terms of strengthening their squads over the summer but both of them still face major questions about congestion at some positions - attacking midfield for both - while remaining weak at others - holding midfield for Arsenal and right back for Chelsea. Manchester City and Manchester United have tweaked here and there as is appropriate for the teams at the top. Liverpool and Tottenham have both made changes at manager and shuffled key players in and out to uncertain effect - you could easily look at either situation as the glass being half-empty or half-full. I could go on all day with high level observations but I know you want to start discussing fantasy picks so I'll try to keep the introduction brief.
HOWEVER, before we get to the player analysis, you must sit through a note from the editor (also me in this case). I know that we have yet to finish our in-depth team-by-team previews and we are fully committed to getting them finished. With so many big teams not finished with their summer transfer business, it made more sense to kick off the talk of player picks for Week 1 than worry about long-term projections for teams not yet finished creating their rosters. Would we write the Arsenal preview with RvP or without? Ditto the Manchester United preview.
So, with that caveat out of the way, on to the first analysis of the schedule and which players you should be considering and ultimately picking for that most blessed occasion, the first weekend of the fantasy Premier League season.
Who the Schedule Loves and Hates
- Chelsea - Two matches against a newly promoted team (Reading) and a perpetual relegation struggler (Wigan) in the first match week means the schedule LOVES Chelsea even more than Blue Horseshoe loved Anacott Steel (5 points for the first person with the correct movie reference).
- Reading - Two matches with one away against a title contender and the other home to a notoriously stingy and physical defense. Blue Horseshoe isn't quite as in love here but two matches are two matches for the right players.
- Manchester City - All that talent, all that money and they get to kick off the season with newly promoted Southampton. Should be a profitable day for fantasy managers and City's goal differential.
- Arsenal - Home to a Sunderland team that's light at forward seems like a nice way for Arsenal to open the season regardless of the presence of Robin van Persie.
- Hate - The schedule doesn't think much of Spurs and Newcastle facing off against each other which does nothing to improve the value of players on either side. Maybe wait until week two to get on the Spurs/Gylfi bandwagon at that price. The schedule also isn't kind to anyone on the reverse side of the "loves" above or to Everton who have to face Manchester United out of the gate.
- Eden Hazard - I can't say I was wild about his Community Shield showing but given the price, the two matches, the opposition over those two matches, and the debutante goal factor it's hard to say no.
- Sergio Aguero - Yes, he only has one match but we know where he'll be playing and the answer is "at home for the champions against Southampton" which isn't a bad answer at all when compared to the uncertainty at forward (read Torres) for Chelsea and the lack of a compelling option at Reading.
- Carlos Tevez - Cheaper than Aguero and he looked very good against Chelsea. My only worry is that there is a slightly chance of rotation if Mario Balotelli is ready to go.
- Fernando Torres - I know, I know. He's dead to us and all that but after an (admittedly dubious) Euro2012 Golden Boot and a nice goal against City in the Community Shield and looking at the two matches and the opposition for those matches, it's hard to say no. Isn't it? Really, I'm trying to convince myself.
- Lukas Podolski - Hard to know where he fits in Arsenal's line-up since we don't know who will still be with the club come Saturday and who exactly is fit but Wenger indicated today that Podolski is likely to start despite not being 100% (is anyone every 100% in professional sports anymore?). If you're suspicious of Hazard or want to diversify from Chelsea, this is a good bet.
- Pavel Pogrebnyak - I know I'm risking the health of Chris Jones' dog by continuing to mention Pog but he'll start twice for Reading and doesn't have to do much over two matches to justify his 7.82 price.
- Ramires - Honestly, I don't love Chelsea's midfield for fantasy purposes - they didn't produce much of anything last season beyond Lampard who is overpriced based on his apparent role and Ramires who was inconsistent. The two matches, a low price and the potential to continue to improve helps mitigate Ramires' inconsistency and puts him on top of the midfielder pile for week 1.
- Shinji Kagawa - He's playing an international friendly in Japan in mid-week which makes him a question mark, but he doesn't have to play for United until Monday. If you're sure he's going to start then he's a strong choice. If there is a fair amount of doubt then to the Barn Door with him.
- Santi Cazorla - Another to watch to make sure he's ready to go for his potential debut but everything about this guy says "fantasy stud" so you'll be wanting to jump on this bandwagon soon.
- Jobi McAnuff - He didn't play in Reading's last pre-season match but the reason was listed as "Knock" which doesn't sound like it would keep him from making his Premier League debut this weekend. If he's out then you might want to consider Jimmy Kebe as a two-match alternative in midfield.
- Michu - The reviews from his previous life in Spain are strong and he's filling the Gylfi spot at Swansea which sounds very promising.
- Adel Taarabt - There's upside even at a relatively high price since it appears that QPR will be significantly improved in their second year back in the top flight.
- One or Two Chelsea Guys - I'd say Branislav Ivanovic > Ashley Cole > John Terry > David Luiz > Gary Cahill because Ivanovic is the least expensive and the most certain to start (there is no real alternative). The CB situation is presumably up in the air given three options for two slots but I'd assume Terry and Luiz will start unless there is some movement on the FA's John Terry ruling (which may have happened, honestly I got tired of paying attention to that topic).
- Ian Harte - He's done it before as a kick-taking, phantom point accumulating defender in the Premier League. He's significantly older now but for his price and with two matches this is a strong opening play.
- Fabio - I've said it a few times already this summer (and probably before that as well), I really don't like this guy. The great thing about fantasy is that you don't have to spend time with your players in real life so welcome the surest value in Yahoo Fantasy Premier League to my team. He's incredibly cheap and loves going forward (usually to at least decent effect). He'll get the odd card but for his price he'll have to be Djibril Cisse-like in his accumulation to not be worth it.
- Jan Vertonghen - Given the opening match-up with Newcastle and the disruption in the spine of the Spurs team - Modric likely leaving, Parker injured and no target forward - I'm inclined to wait a week to jump on this bandwagon just like I am with Kagawa but I can certainly see him doing enough offensively to justify being picked.
- Nemanja Vidic - He's a little pricier than the other options we're talking about here but at the height of his powers he was priced at 12ish and he's available at 8.58 to start the season. Solid value unless he's not ready to start.
- Sascha Reither - Whatever we said about old favorite John Arne Riise (except the stuff about the cannon shot and pasty skin) last season probably stands for Reither this season. Solid phantom point potential at right back for Fulham with an OK home match-up against adjusting Norwich to open the season.
- Petr Cech - He's definitely aging and Chelsea didn't fare particularly well in the clean sheet department last season but his price is fairly reasonable and the schedule is kind over both matches.
- Joe Hart - The nice thing about the beginning of the season is that all of the newbies leave you with lots of money to spend on established players. If you want to go with a pretty sure thing (City clean sheet at home against Southampton) for 10 points with a little upside then this might not be a bad week to overspend on your goalkeeper.
- Adam Federici or Pepe Reina - I don't love either of these options but if you want to go cheaper then for my money they're your best options in a season where there are no new goalkeepers at big teams. Damn you Hugo Lloris/Maarten Steckelenberg!