Great Expectations and Even More Epic Reality
Everybody has a favorite Premier League team, whether inherited or adopted, right? At the season's start, fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and even Tottenham surely dared to dream of a title, while several others (Everton, Liverpool and West Ham, perhaps) could have entertained hopes of nicking a Champion's League spot. Meanwhile, Leicester City's fans probably would have gladly taken merely staying up for a second straight season.
For an fun exercise, how many Blues, Citizens and Red Devils did you have in your fantasy squads at the start of the season? And how many Foxes and Spurs are in there now who have replaced them? While Memphis Depay, Branislav Ivanovic, Olivier Giroud, Eden Hazard, Raheem Sterling, John Terry, Yaya Toure et al. have endured wildly disappointing or even horrific seasons, the likes of Christian Fuchs, N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan and Jamie Vardy have been brilliant individually and collectively as the Foxes emerged magically as worthy league victors and became everybody's new favorite (or slightly second favorite) team.
If you didn't go in on Mahrez and Vardy early, you simply weren't winning your fantasy league. And if you didn't get in on Leicester as a team, then you shut yourself off from being able to enjoy the season as a champion of the underdog and a fan of the beautiful game. Thankfully it didn't seem like there were too many of those Scrooges around, not when presented this magical gift for all.
Most Memorable Moments
In my mind, the three standout moments this season all revolved around Leicester City: Vardy setting the consecutive game goal scoring record, Mahrez winning PFA Player of the Year honors and the Foxes taking the title.
From a fantasy perspective, though, I'm looking elsewhere for my singular moment of note. Adding Sergio Aguero to my team in Official with captaincy designation the week he scored five goals against Norwich for a nifty 50 point haul by Kun alone, nothing left me exuberantly jumping up and down like that. What was the top fantasy moment for you this season?
And what about a longer term best fantasy bargain purchase? Personally, it was grabbing Kevin De Bruyne at entry level cost (a mere 7,000 in Fantrax) and enjoying him put up mammoth point tallies week after week as his price jumped steadily until an unfortunate midseason injury. Who was your brilliant buy?
Managerial Saints and Sinners
In a campaign where Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers (among others) got pink slips and with questions still surrounding the embattled Roberto Martinez, Louis Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger, somehow Claudio Ranieri outcoached everybody. How much more enjoyable was it to watch a press conference featuring Ranieri's humble smile along with an unassuming, almost whimsical confidence, compared with the nastiness and haughtiness along with a never-ending parade of delusional conspiracy theories advanced by Mourinho and Van Gaal or the dour dismissiveness of a scowling Wenger?
Ranieri has to be manager of the year for the Premier League, but was he also your fantasy manager of the year? Perhaps it was a toss-up with Spurs' Mauricio Poccettino, as both Ranieri and Poccettino kept fairly consistent, predictable starting line-ups week in and week out featuring bevies of reliable fantasy performers.
On the flip side, who was the worst fantasy manager? Was it Mourinho, who failed to get anything out of last year's champions after running them into the ground physically and psychologically? Or Van Gaal, who often played midfielders Daley Blind and Ashley Young in the back, ruining fantasy value for defenders who otherwise could have nabbed a plethora of clean sheet bonuses? Perhaps Pellegrini, who reverted to his usual back line rotation and turned early season stud Aleksandar Kolarov into an afterthought?
For me, though, the villain has to be Southampton's Ronald Koeman. Last season's star trio of Graziano Pelle, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic dazzled us with brilliance, but this time around they were just as likely to start as sit on the bench for any given game, making any of them potentially poisonous selections. On the rare occasion when I didn't avoid Saints, it inevitably turned into a painful mistake; I added in Pelle for the recent fixture against Aston Villa, but following two straight starts he didn't log a single minute as Shane Long instead racked up the glory.
Realignment of the Different Fantasy Formats
Frustratingly, the Fantrax, Official BPL and Togga fantasy formats saw their schedules diverge late in the season. Thankfully, Gavin was able to realign Fantrax with the others for the final two game weeks, getting everything back on the same page. Many of us were new to the different fantasy portals after years of playing Yahoo, making this a crazy season on so many levels. It's difficult enough to keep a trio of teams and scoring systems straight, but it's not much fun when there are also different calendars on top of that!
Even though Fantrax is the most similar to Yahoo, for some reason it took me a little while to find my feet in it. Even so, I've enjoyed Fantrax the most of the three systems, probably because of the aforementioned similarity to Yahoo. I appreciate the bench and captain options in Official, but I really like the expanded scoring, unlimited changes and much more variable pricing of Fantrax. Meanwhile, Togga is much more relaxing due to the unlimited changes combined with no pricing, but then again, that's kind of too easy then, isn't it?
Strategy in Official BPL and Fantrax
Now that our chances in Official BPL to use our unlimited transfer, triple captain, bench boost and all-out attack chips are growing scarce, how do you feel about the strategy you've implemented? I chose to wait to use my second half wildcard chip, being afraid of otherwise saddling myself with a team I didn't fancy for several weeks. So I used my triple captain in DGW34 and my unlimited transfer in GW36, leaving a team largely stocked with double game players awaiting an avalanche of points (hopefully) in DGW37 with a bench boost.
While my triple captain choice was extremely painful (I was worried that Kun would only get one start so I left myself with Mesut Ozil's five points instead of Sergio Aguero's 26, ending up with 41 points between them when I could have had 83!!!) and it obviously remains to be seen how things will turn out, I'm happy with the strategy per se. The captain choice, after all, is always a crapshoot; things just get more magnified when you use the triple in a DGW.
For those of you who used the unlimited transfer chip in advance of the first double game week, are you glad you did so or do you wish you'd waited? For those who strategized along my lines, do you wish you'd used your unlimited transfer earlier instead? How do you feel about the timing of your bench boost? Did any of you use the all-out attack chip in a double game week; if so, how did that turn out?
As for Fantrax, it's always a question of when to turn from a long term focus on gathering and keeping good players with discounts to a short term approach on merely picking the best players given their match-ups that particular week. For me, the first DGW33 (a limited one with Everton and Crystal Palace) signified the right time to switch course in that system.
I stlll feel like it was the smart percentage play, but this was one of those times when that did not turn out particularly advantageously; after all, I immediately regretted dropping Aguero and Andros Townsend who both exploded for huge weeks and whom I had held at discounts, while additions Ross Barkley, Gerard Deulofeu, Aaron Lennon, Romelu Lukaku and James McCarthy were all duds. I still managed a decent week thanks to big scores from Yohan Cabaye, Ramiro Funes Mori, Joel Robles and Pape Souare, so at least it was not a complete disaster. How has your Fantrax strategy panned out this season?
Double Game Week Considerations
Here we are with loads on the line as eight teams have a double game week (home games in caps, away games in lower case):
Liverpool (WAT, CHE)
Norwich (MUN, WAT)
Sunderland (CHE, EVE)
West Ham (SWA, MUN)
Chelsea (sun, liv)
Everton (lei, sun)
Manchester Unted (nor, whu)
Watford (liv, nor)
Which teams offer the most tempting match-ups? Which give you the most worry about the injury situation and fixture congestion along with subsequent player rotation? Who carry concerns with respect to form and/or motivation? How much will Manchester United and Liverpool be thinking about their F.A. Cup and Europa League ties, respectively, rather than focusing on the Premier League?
Some things to consider:
- West Ham and Manchester United are battling for a possible Champions League spot (or a consolation prize in the form of Europa League), while Norwich and Sunderland also have plenty to play for as they attempt to avoid relegation.
- Liverpool is amidst an absolutely horrific stretch of fixture congestion with a whopping 13 games in 44 days. We all saw Manchester City get crushed by Southampton as the Citizens rested key players (Sergio Aguero, Gael Clichy, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Bacary Sagna, notably) in looking ahead to the Champions League tie against Real Madrid; depending on how it fares against Villareal this midweek, Liverpool could have further Europa League action looming.
- West Ham and Manchester United each have Saturday and Tuesday games, and Liverpool and Watford both play Sunday and Wednesday. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Everton, Norwich and Sunderland play Saturday and Wednesday. Seriously, Premier League, whiskey tango foxtrot? Why slap together a schedule where some teams only have two days between games and others have three?
- Manchester United's offense is similar at home and on the road (1.33 vs. 1.12 goals per game scored, respectively), but its defense is night and day (0.44 vs. 1.35 gpg allowed).
- While for the season overall they rank as two of the five most porous defenses, Norwich and Sunderland have been getting it done in the back recently. The Black Cats have allowed one goal or fewer in 10 out of their past 13 games, with clean sheets in three of the past five. The Canaries have not been quite as impressive but have given up one goal or fewer in five of their past seven games, with clean sheets in two of their past six.
- Everton has actually played better on the road (+4 goal differential) than at home (+2) this season. The offense is much more prolific at home while the defense is far stingier on the road. Joel Robles should start in goal for both road fixtures with Tim Howard again expected to feature at home in the season finale after appearing at Goodison against Bournemouth.
- Watford's offense is surprisingly slightly better on the road than it is at home although it is pretty anemic in both (1.06 vs. 1.00 gpg scored), while its defense is not surprisingly significantly worse on the road (1.47 vs. 0.94 gpg allowed).
- Speaking of reminiscence, it's times like these that make me think back to ghosts of double game weeks past. Last season in Yahoo, there was a late DGW where I picked a handful of affordable players from lowly Sunderland facing a tough-looking pair of games against red hot Leicester City and at upper tier Arsenal, but thankfully it paid off big time as three of them (Sebastian Larsson, John O'Shea and Costel Pantilimon) each scored 25+ points. Could players from Norwich or Sunderland turn the same trick this time?
The remaining single game fixtures and/or teams are:
Aston Villa v. Newcastle
Bournemouth v. West Brom
Crystal Palace v. Stoke
Swansea [v. West Ham]
Leicester City [v. Everton]
Tottenham v. Southampton
Manchester City v. Arsenal
Are any of those match-ups more appealing to you than those for the double game teams? Is it worth sticking with the anti-Aston Villa plan (as Villa has lost 11 straight games by a combined score of 34-7) and loading up on Newcastle players? Should you keep riding Leicester City and Tottenham, especially at home? Do you expect the Manchester City/Arsenal match to feature fireworks?
While there is plenty of time for further injury news and mind-changing, currently my teams (named Stallone Wall) are:
Adrian / Moreno, Rojo, Van Aanholt / Barkley, Milner, Payet (C), Sanchez / Aguero, Carroll (V), Kane; BENCH: Ruddy, Willian, Kirchhoff, Bellerin [using the bench boost] (Official BPL)
Adrian / Cresswell, Kirchhoff, Kone, Reid / Hazard, Noble, Payet, Townsend / Carroll, Defoe (Fantrax)
Adrian / Cresswell, Kirchhoff, Kone, Smalling / Brady, Hazard, Noble, Payet / Carroll, Martial (Togga Perfect XI)
Which double game week players do you have an eye toward picking up and which single gamers are you holding on to? Good luck making those tough choices, everybody!