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Premier League Fantasy Preview: The Rules

The Rules love this guy  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
The Rules love this guy (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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Back when the blog was in it's infancy in 2004, Jeremy posted his iconic "The Rules" post to advise our emerging readership on his sage words to live by when managing a fantasy team using the Yahoo format (although most of the rules also apply to the format).

In an effort to keep it current - based on us learning more about how to play the game as well as updating the player references - I have posted a new version of The Rules after the jump. Hopefully it is still resonating for players of all levels of experience.

1. Punch above your weight

You generally want to pick anyone playing in a more advanced role than they are designated by the fantasy game - defenders playing in midfield and midfielders lining up as forwards. The further up the pitch, the better chance of getting you points. Examples in recent years include Ashley Young when he was with Aston Villa, the first coupel of seasons of Gareth Bale as a defender with Spurs, and the the husband of everyone's favorite Dutch TV personality/model, Rafael van der Vaart playing as a second forward while being listed as a midfielder. Unfortunately, each year Yahoo! gets a bit better about putting the players in their proper designations so the pickings get slimmer. The early candidates this season are Gylfi Sigurdsson (who will be playing a very advanced role, especially if Spurs don't acquire a target forward) and the man who replaced him at Swansea - Mishu. Clint Dempsey may or may not fit into this category depending on where he ends up playing - at Fulham he plays a very advanced role - at Liverpool it is less clear where he'd fit in with Suarez and Borini likely taking traditional forward roles.

The converse to this rule is to avoid players playing behind their designation and this is a group that is growing faster and faster with the proliferation of 4-3-3 formations. A variety of wingers who would have been listed as midfielders in years past - Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Gervinho, etc. - have been listed as forwards. Farther back, the Taylors - Ryan and Matt - used to be great fantasy picks when they were listed as defenders while often playing in midfield and taking kicks. Now? The worm has turned for both as they are listed as midfielders while playing in defense more than they play midfield. This doesn't completely eliminate either from consideration but it certainly reduces their value significantly - they're further back on the pitch AND they don't get clean sheet points.

2. Wing it

Another type of player to look for is the wing back or attacking full back. While not lining up in midfield per se, they end up spending a lot of time there. You can find these guys best on teams playing a 3-5-2, sadly out of fashion these days. Oh for the days of Carr and Ziege flanking Spurs teams or Clement and Balis at WBA (though that may have been more of a Boro 5-3-2). There are center backs that come up with more goals over the course of a season, but they'll get you 10pts one week and none the next. The full back is more likely to get crosses and win corners while they are usually less likely to commit fouls and collect cards making them more likely to be steady performers.

There has been a bit of a changing of the guard here over the last few seasons with Patrice Evra falling off significantly, Gael Clichy in a job sharing situation at City, and Ashley Cole seemingly falling prey to either age or a more conservative philosophy of defending at Chelsea. Leighton Baines is the clear leader in this category with Glen Johnson, John Arne Riise, Bacary Sagna, Angel Rangel, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto/Kyle Walker the best combinations of fantasy point potential and consistently starting. Up-and-comers for this season include Ian Harte (Reading) , Fabio (QPR), Daniel Fox (Southampton), and Sascha Riether (Fulham).

3. Live for the dead ball

Always try to pick the player who takes dead balls for his team - free kicks, penalty kicks and corners. These lead directly to scoring chances - goals, assists and successful crosses. Plus they are free points! Your guy doesn't have to do anything to earn these chances. Let the rest of the team work for your fantasy betterment! Gerrard, Sigurdsson, Lampard, van Persie... the list does go on. Even a middling player on a poor team can be elevated to must have because they earn enough points taking kicks - Chris Brunt (WBA), Etherington (Stoke), and Larsson (Sunderland) could be that player this season. Jobi McAnuff of Reading appears to have the potential to enter this group for the coming season.

4. Never pass up a sure thing

Always try to get the sure starter. Don't be tempted by guys like Alexander Kolarov or Chicharito who have excellent fantasy statistics when they play but don't play regularly. If you play the odds and get someone on the pitch for 90 (or even 70) minutes you'll be better off. This gets hard because a lot of your best players are on the best/biggest squads. So City, Chelsea, ManU, and Arsenal forwards and middies can be a nightmare to pick. Sometimes you need to save yourself the aggravation.

5. Sell Beckham

New rule named after an old joke. If there is a player who is head and shoulders above the rest of the league (like RvP last season), just buy him. Suck it up. Gut the defence, and buy him. In years past guys like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Cristiano Ronaldo have defined this category. This group is not to be confused with very good fantasy players like Sergio Aguero, Wayne Rooney, Gareth Bale, or Vincent Kompany - all are very good but none of the three are SO over and above everyone else that you couldn't replace their points at that position. The question here is whether Robin van Persie can maintain this status for this season - will he be healthy enough? Will he even be in the Premier League?

6. Who is playing Derby?

Another new rule, this one named after Jeremy's experimental team from the 2007/2008 season. Jeremy picked as many players from the team playing Derby - the worst team in the league by a stretch - that week and invariably that team would outperform my first team. This season Wigan, West Ham, Southampton and Reading could fall into the this category. Swansea and Norwich might even regress without the managers and some of the players that brought them so much success last season - neither situation looks likely to have improved and we'll see how important those managers were. As the season progresses, try to pick out those teams that look like obvious relegation fodder - especially when they're on the road and load up your roster with their opponents accordingly.

6. No Friday trades

Final new rule, and perhaps the hardest to abide. Unless there is actionable intelligence - an injury, a suspension, or a manager coming out and saying something concrete - don't make changes to your team on Friday. You've likely already processed all the usable information during the week, and remember you've set most of your team on the barn door - that time between when the game locks down for the week and when points and prices update based on the week's games. Too much trading, especially on a Friday based on whims and hunches, is usually deck chairs (a la, on the Titanic). At best it doesn't earn you anything and and worst you could "pick around the points".

7. Don't get TOO attached

Over the course of most seasons, there aren't many players who are worth keeping for the entire time, even at a steep discount. Injuries, slumps, and squad rotation make transferring players in and out of your starting line-up pretty important from week-to-week. Last season Sergio Aguero was an all-season answer that worked and Gylfi Sigurdsson, Papiss Cisse and Nikica Jelavic performed spectacularly over the entire second half of the season. After those guys though, there weren't too many who were worth it all season. Yohan Cabaye got hurt and went weeks at a time being average. It is important that you not get too attached to your discounts - especially when injuries are involved. Unless you KNOW that an important player at a big discount will only be out for one match then you should start thinking about how many points that player will have to put up per match to balance out a string of zeros.

8. Other caveats, if not rules, include:

  • All things being equal, go with the home team.
  • Never bet on or against Bolton. Unless you do. (this rule was created during the Sam Allardyce era at Bolton, with Sam and so many of his old players now at West Ham it seems reasonable that it be transferred the Hammers).
  • Scholes is dead to us for fantasy purposes. Amazingly, he's still playing despite that.