It’s a safe assumption at this point to say the Premier League is as unpredictable as ever. Still, coming into the third round of matches in this fledgling season, lineups are becoming clearer and we’re beginning to get a sense of where the fantasy points are going to come from within a given team. There will still be the odd blank for a Sergio Aguero or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and we’ll still get surprised with an Etienne Capoue scoring streak, but at least we’re getting a sense of who the go-to players should be on a week-to-week basis.
Let’s take a look around the league and identify some players who should be worth investment this weekend:
David De Gea - While Hull have exceeded all expectations across the opening two weeks of the season, they’ll face an entirely different prospect with Manchester United visiting. Jose Mourinho’s got the Red Devils playing like the fans had come accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson, and the entire team stands to benefit from the energy and tactical nous that has come with his appointment. De Gea has always been a solid fantasy bet, but should be even more of an asset with an improved defense in front of him. An away clean sheet is not out of the question.
Fraser Forster - There was a worry that the Saints would not be able to carry on as a defensively solid team with the departure of Ronald Koeman, but new boss Claude Puel has the team playing well enough to allay those fears, even with the loss to United in week 2. Coming off the defeat, Southampton have the opportunity to bounce straight back against a Sunderland squad still struggling to find an identity. The Black Cats will take shots, which poses a risk of conceding a goal or two, but the high risk is balanced by the high reward scenario where Forster keeps a clean sheet with a high number of saves.
Thibaut Courtois - Chelsea haven’t been able to improve upon the back four that struggled heavily at times last season, but they are arguably looking better under Antonio Conte than they ever did under Jose Mourinho last campaign. Courtois has the potential to challenge De Gea for the title of best keeper in the league, but he’ll need to rack up a few clean sheets to enter that conversation. A home match against a Burnley squad who may be more focused on the situation around Andre Gray presents as good an opportunity as any.
Willy Caballero - West Ham are in a bit of an injury crisis up front at the moment with Andre Ayew and Andy Carroll both missing from the starting lineup. That presents a good opportunity for Manchester City to keep their first clean sheet of the season. With rumors that Claudio Bravo could be joining from Barcelona, Caballero will need to impress if he is going to have a chance at the number one spot moving forward.
Wayne Hennessey - In the bargain bin we find Crystal Palace’s Welsh keeper. It was a bit of a surprise not to see Steve Mandanda given the starting role from the beginning of the season, but Hennessey has performed well in the opening fixtures of the season and should keep his place for the home match against Bournemouth. James Tomkins has returned to fitness and offers some additional defensive stability against Eddie Howe’s men, who have struggled to produce scoring opportunities thus far.
Branislav Ivanovic - This time last season I was critical of Ivanovic and his lackluster performances at right back for Chelsea, but he is thriving in Conte’s system, which allows the fullbacks to get forward more regularly. The Serbian has always produced strong fantasy returns when allowed to join the attack, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities against Burnley.
Virgil van Dijk - With uncertainty surrounding who will start at left back between Matt Targett and the potentially fit Ryan Bertrand, VVD becomes the de facto choice if you’re looking for defensive representation from Southampton this weekend. The Dutchman’s attacking capabilities make him an enticing option against a depleted Sunderland back line.
Luke Shaw - The England youngster hasn’t missed a beat since returning from the catastrophic injury that ruled him out last term. Shaw has a lock on the left back role as long as he is fit, and has the added bonus of attacking returns to go with the strong possibility of a clean sheet.
Leighton Baines - Kevin Mirallas is doing his best to make Baines less of a fantasy asset by taking some set pieces away from him, but Ronald Koeman’s defensive organization is beginning to take root on Merseyside and could see Baines’ value ascend back to the elite level we’ve been used to for so long. Stoke pose a definite goal threat, but if Everton can keep them scoreless it could be a big day for the left back.
Christian Fuchs - Leicester have gotten off to a rough start, but I think it’s too early to count them out just yet. While the Foxes sorely miss N’Golo Kante’s presence in midfield, they still have the core group of players from last season’s title winning team, and I see a victory on the horizon against an evolving Swansea City side. A clean sheet would be a bonus, but is a definite possibility at home.
Pablo Zabaleta - With Bacary Sagna sidelined with a hamstring injury, we’ll almost certainly see the veteran Argentine fill in at right back. If you’re looking for a bargain (particularly in Fantrax), you could certainly do worse. However, Zabaleta will likely be facing up to Dimitri Payet, so buyer beware that a yellow could be in the cards.
Dusan Tadic / Nathan Redmond - The Saints’ attack looks as interesting as ever despite losing Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle over the summer. Puel is showing more faith in Tadic than Koeman did and is reaping the rewards with some impressive performances at the tip of the midfield diamond. With set piece duties, he should be at the top of the queue for your Saints picks this week, though Redmond is being played ahead of his listed position, which is always a place to look for fantasy returns. His cheaper price also makes him an equally enticing option if it affords you the chance to upgrade elsewhere.
Eden Hazard - Another player who seems to be restored to his best after a poor season, the Belgian looks dangerous every time he’s on the ball. Burnley will set up shop defensively, but Hazard has quality to spare to contend with Matt Lowton or Jon Flanagan.
Erik Lamela - It’s painfully obvious to everyone not named Jurgen Klopp that Liverpool are not well set up in the left back position this season. Whether it’s James Milner or Alberto Moreno who gets the start in the early match on Saturday, they’ll have a hell of a time dealing with Tottenham’s in-form attacker.
Mesut Ozil - Arsenal immediately looked better following the introduction of the German midfielder last weekend. With the Gunners returning to some semblance of full health, they can be expected to put in a better performance than they managed against Leicester. Ozil’s influence on the attack will be key to the North London’s success against the Hornets.
Andros Townsend - While he has looked threatening, Palace’s summer arrival has yet to contribute a goal or assist since joining from Newcastle. He seems to be on the verge of changing that, though. I like his chances to produce against the Cherries, particularly with a new target man to aim at up top.
Adnan Januzaj - The former Manchester United youngster has been reunited with David Moyes at Sunderland, and appears to be a favorite for a starting role in the attacking band ahead of Wahbi Khazri. We’ve seen previously that Moyes knows how to get the best out of the Belgian, and has given him set piece responsibilities. If you’re looking for a bargain in midfield, Januzaj is likely your best bet.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic / Sergio Aguero - If you don’t have at least one of these two, chances are you’re not doing so hot in your league. There’s still a little window of time to change that before their prices are entirely prohibitive. If you can manage both, you’re in good shape.
Harry Kane - Similar to last season, Kane is taking his time to get going. I already highlighted Liverpool’s deficiency at left back, but the rest of the defense hasn’t been much better, and the England striker looks primed to take advantage.
Diego Costa - A case can certainly be made that the Chelsea striker should have been sent off at least once in the opening two matches, but he’s made his time on the pitch count with two important goals. You run the risk of the inevitable red card by picking him in your squad, but you also risk missing out on a scoring streak if you leave him out. At home against Burnley, ignore him at your own peril.
Christian Benteke - The Eagles have paid a hefty sum to bring the former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker to London, and even though he’s only had a week to get his bearings in his new team, you have to think he’ll be involved from the start. Debut goals are a common occurrence in the Premier League, and Benteke is a massive bargain in Fantrax (along with a relatively inexpensive option in the official game) if he lives up to his potential.
Alvaro Negredo - A goal and two assists in his first two matches has reminded us how much of a fantasy asset the former Manchester City striker can be. Middlesbrough have looked solid in their opening fixtures and should be well-matched against West Brom. It may take a moment of individual brilliance to break through the Baggies’ backline, and Negredo has the potential to provide that, whether it’s scoring a goal or setting one up.
I’ve decided to focus primarily on Fantrax this season, and this is my current squad:
Ivanovic, Zabaleta, Shaw
Hazard, Townsend, Januzaj, Tadic
Aguero, Ibrahimovic, Benteke
Who is on your shortlist for Week 3? How are your teams coming together?