It is often said that Game Week 1 is the most important week in Fantasy Sports. I tend to agree. A poor score can have a demoralizing effect on a player and may potentially deter one from playing further or taking the game seriously, especially when money is lost. This is why it's important to either start strong or have a short memory. Realistically speaking, however, Game Week 1 is very unpredictable. This is why I tend to pick line-ups that fit two major criteria: (1) players who have performed well in the pre-season; and (2) sure starters.
Looking at the schedule, there are two match-ups that look strong for fantasy investment: Hull City vs. Leicester City and Manchester City vs. Sunderland. It is a sad time being a Hull supporter - the team was just promoted to the Premier League but manager Steve Bruce resigned in late July after becoming increasingly frustrated at lack of signings. With no new manager (or signings) in sight and with the Tigers facing a tough opening schedule, the team will be fighting for survival throughout the season. One of the bright spots for Hull, nonetheless, has been its striker, Abel Hernandez who scored 21 goals last season and is the team's primary spot kick and penalty taker. The Uruguayan has had an excellent pre-season, netting 4 goals and may be a player to keep an eye on as the campaign progresses. A home opener against the champions may provide die-hard Hull supporters some optimism as the team kept 13 clean sheets in 23 games at the KC Stadium last season, and Leicester has not had a good pre-season although against very strong opposition (notably Paris St-Germain and Barcelona). The Community Shield game against Manchester United, however, should dispel any concerns about the match fitness of Claudio Ranieri's men, as the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, along with Ahmed Musa and Demarai Gray (both potentially off the bench) will have too much speed and creativity to make this a "no contest".
In the late Saturday afternoon game, Manchester City will be looking to make a statement under its new manager, Pep Guardiola, against the Sunderland team that once again managed to survive in the Premier League. Let's get one thing straight: Pep's game plan will not be based on defending, but rather on ball possession which, in turn, should create more scoring chances for Sergio Aguero & Co. The key question coming into the opener is who will line-up along the Argentine offensively. If the Arsenal pre-season game is of any indication, it will likely be the new signing Nolito on the left wing, Raheem Sterling moved to the right where he effectively played most of the pre-season, with David Silva in the middle of the attack, as Kevin De Bruyne is not yet fully fit . Sunderland, on the other hand, will also be making the introduction of a new skipper, as David Moyes is back in the Premier League. The Black Cats attack looks quite formidable on paper, with Jermain Lens, Wahbi Khazri, Fabio Borini and Jermain Defoe. They may even score at the Etihad, but lack of defensive improvements in the off-season means that this will be a long day for Vito Mannone.
Now on to the Player Picks:
Kasper Schmeichel - expensive, but the Dane deserves to be the first goalkeeper on the list not only as a defending champion but also due to a tasty match-up against Hull.
Victor Valdes - the ex-Barcelona and United keeper should get the nod over Dimitrios Konstantopoulos for Middlesbrough at home against Stoke City. Last season, the Boro had the best defense in the Championship, conceding just 31 goals and recording 22 clean sheets. The Potters, on the other hand, have struggled away from the Bet365 Stadium (formerly Britannia). Priced cheaply in all competitions, Valdes should be in your squad either as a starter or as a backup.
Fraser Forster - possibly the best English keeper in the game, Forster may be that one player to "set it and forget it" for the season. Let's just hope he stays injury free.
Wayne Hennessey - all indications point that the Welsh is still the No.1 keeper after his performance at the Euros and because the new signing Steve Mandanda is not yet fit. He also happens to be the cheapest priced starting goalkeeper in DraftKings at just £4,100 (comparatively, Vito Mannone is priced at £4,200). At home to a goal shy West Bromwich Albion team, Hennessey is the DFS pick of the week.
Tom Heaton - another newly promoted keeper on the player's list. I have a soft spot for Mr. Heaton for his 2014/15 heroics. There is no doubt that Heaton, who is the team captain, will be a pivotal player for Burnley's survival chances and what could be a better way to start than a home game against a Swansea team that may be without Gylfi Sigurdsson (unfit after the Euros) and just traded Andre Ayew to West Ham?
* Now for the elephant in the room - the omission of David De Gea from this week's list. We all remember the shock upset the Cherries pulled off at home against then the league leading United team last season. While Matt Ritchie is now at Newcastle, Eddie Howe's team is a well organized unit that has plenty of offensive weapons including the healthy Callum Wilson, Junior Stanislas, Joshua King, Bennick Afobe, and the recently acquired Jordon Ibe. I am also not persuaded that the United defense is significantly better with Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia. Play the Spaniard at your own risk.
Gael Clichy - looks like the Frenchman will be Guardiola's first-choice left-back for the opening game of the season. This also means that the fantasy prospects of Aleks Kolarov are dim. Considering that Clichy is fairly cheap in Fantrax for an attacking starter, he should be in your GW1 team.
Leighton Baines - a home fixture against Tottenham is no easy task but the new boss Ronald Koeman has been utilizing Baines and Seamus Coleman as wing-backs which could certainly lead to increased offensive production this season.
Matt Targett - with news that Ryan Bertrand will be out of the opener against Watford, the youngster Targett will surely start. Priced at £3.58 in Fantrax and relatively inexpensive elsewhere, he is an easy pick for your GW1 fantasy team.
Michael Keane - the former Man United youth player is a real threat on set pieces, having scored 5 goals last season and taken 34 shots on goal. With Ashley Williams traded to Everton, Burnley set pieces become more intriguing.
Scott Dann - speaking of great set piece players, Dann should get a few opportunities at home against West Bromwich Albion.
George Friend - widely regarded as the best defender in the Championship, part of a strong defensive unit, favorable opening schedule, and home to a Stoke team that struggled in the pre-season, the "Gorgeous George" is an easy pick this Game Week.
Eden Hazard - if the Euros and the pre-season are any indication, Hazard is ready to have a dominant season.
Riyad Mahrez - very expensive and perhaps not mandatory, but if you have the funds to spare, he is a good option against the league newcomers, Hull City.
Dusan Tadic - playing in the No. 10 role in Claude Puel’s diamond formation, the Serb is also on all kicks, including penalties.
Nathan Redmond - if you don't have enough cash for Tadic, consider Nathan Redmond, who has played as a striker in the pre-season and should start along Shane Long.
David Silva - with Kevin De Bruyne not fully fit to start, the City offensive creativity will flow through the Spaniard.
Andros Townsend - it is unknown whether Yohan Cabaye will be fit to start the season opener, which should make Townsend an even more valuable this Game Week. A player like Townsend who likes to cross and shoot is particularly valuable in DFS.
Gaston Ramirez - the Uruguayan playmaker will have the needed freedom in the No. 10 role and will be an integral part of the Middlesbrough team that only scored 63 goals in the Championship last season. Priced fairly in all competitions, Ramirez is particularly enticing in the Official Game where he is priced at 5.5, considering the Boro's opening schedule (STO, sun, wba, CPL).
Jordon Ibe - priced at £3.40 in Fantrax, Ibe is a phenomenal value for an offensive starter and makes having the big guns (Aguero, Vardy...) in your line-up a bit manageable.
Wayne Routledge - another phenomenal value at just £3.75 in Fantrax, Routledge is Swansea's hottest player this pre-season with 5 goals. Away to newcomers Burnley is a good match-up.
Sergio Aguero - leave out of your line-up at your own peril.
Jamie Vardy - Vardy looked very sharp against Manchester United in the Community Shield game and I expect him to score against Hull.
Shane Long - with Graziano Pelle now playing his football in China, the Republic of Ireland international has cemented his place as Southampton's main striker. When given a chance last season, Long impressed and should have a breakthrough season.
Andre Gray - 9 goals in 6 pre-season games, reasonably priced. Enough said.
Nolito - it is certainly risky to have both Aguero and Nolito in your starting 11, especially since the Spaniard has not looked particularly impressive in the pre-season. There is little doubt, however, that he possesses the necessary quality to run circles around the Sunderland defense.
Andy Carroll - when Carroll is "on", he is impossible to mark. The big man has had a great pre-season with 4 goals (2 of them against Juventus) and will be looking to replicate his success against Chelsea on Sunday.
Connor Wickham - here is for something a little different, Wickham is a gifted but streaky player who has enjoyed a good pre-season. Priced very reasonably in Fantrax (£5.42) and DFS (£5,400 in DraftKings), he is a real differential pick who could pay off.
Alvaro Negredo - back in the Premier League, Negredo is a much needed offensive help for a Middlesbrough team that was the 8th best scoring team in the Championship last season, having failed to score in 13 of their 46 matches. He never performed well when I picked him back with Manchester City, but at just £7 in Fantrax, he is a certainly an option to consider.
Best of luck.