As we begin to assemble our squads for the opening game week of the 2017/2018 fantasy campaign, we notice some new names among the clubs available for our consideration. Yes, relegated bottom-finishers Hull City, Middlesbrough, and Sunderland were escorted out of the Prem, and the top three finishers in the Championship were welcomed in: Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion, and Huddersfield Town.
If you’re like me you’re usually too busy trying to stay on top of developments in the Premier League to follow the Championship teams very closely. Consequently, these three newcomers to the Prem bring with them a slew of new players many of us know nothing about.
Yet there can be fantasy gold to be mined here. Promoted teams generally are neither blessed with the resources to fund deep squads, nor are they typically burdened by commitments to the European tournaments. Therefore, their lineups for league games tend to suffer less from the dreaded specter of rotation. In addition, fewer competitions means less risk of injury and fatigue. Finally, many of these players enter the league as unknowns to the fantasy pricing systems, and the algorithms often do not know how to properly quantify their value.
What does this all mean? It means that by identifying the potential studs on these teams, we can purchase high-production fantasy assets at attractive prices, and that these star-for-a-bargain players are likely to be reliable starters week in and week out.
So just who are these gold nuggets hidden among the gravel of last year’s second-tier teams? Let’s do some prospecting and find out.
First place finishers in the Championship, Newcastle is a storied club with a rich Premier League tradition, only one year removed from top-tier play. As such they have a bit more overall depth and quality in their squad than do the other promoted clubs. With manager Rafa Benitez and many players still on board from their 2015/2016 relegation season, the Magpies should seem more familiar to us than their fellow newcomers.
In 46 Championship games last year, Newcastle kept 19 clean sheets and conceded only 40 goals, never shipping more than 3 in any one game. That’s a pretty tight and organized defense, and I’d expect that kind of stinginess to continue in the EPL. That makes captain and central defender Jamaal Lascelles a viable fantasy option, especially against opponents with anemic offenses. Lascelles is big and physically imposing, and his status as captain more or less cements his place in the S11.
The former Liverpool and Swansea City man Jonjo Shelvey is an exciting fantasy asset on his day. An excellent striker of the ball who loves to shoot from distance, he can rack up SOTs and CWs, and even the occasional spectacular goal. On the flipside, he can be a discipline problem and card magnet. In December, he was banned for 5 games and fined £100,000 for using racially-abusive language on the pitch against Wolves player Romain Saiss. Clearly this is a player who can both delight and frustrate, but with his proven EPL track record and attacking instincts, I think Shelvey will be a key to Newcastle’s success in the top tier. The team was certainly diminished during his absence last year.
Matt Ritchie takes virtually all set pieces including pens, and he has been a linchpin of the Magpies’ creativity in midfield. Think of him as Newcastle’s Gylfi Sigurdsson; he is their talisman and best player. Ritchie’s contributions will be even more important this year as they fight for EPL survival. Of all the players listed in this article, as of today he is the closest thing to a set-and-forget no-brainer, particularly in the Fantrax format where is is priced at a mere 7.00.
One Newcastle name that will be new to most is Jacob Murphy. A 22 year-old England U21 international signed this summer from Norwich City, the winger can play on either flank, and he likes to shoot. Last year he scored 8 goals and registered 8 assists in 37 league appearances for Norwich, and on July 26 he notched a brace on his debut for Newcastle in a friendly against Bradford City. He is likely to start and is worthy of fantasy consideration when the matchup is right.
Many of us will remember Dwight Gayle from his time at Crystal Palace. He showed flashes of brilliance there before transferring to Newcastle in 2016. Since joining the Magpies, he has solidified his role as the No. 9 and is enjoying a hot streak right now, notching 3 goals and 1 assist so far in preseason play. His production should only improve with the additional service from Murphy. One caveat: Aleksander Mitrovic is rumored to be on the way out, and Benitez is thought to be courting a proven, big-name striker to replace him. If Benitez finds that man, it’s conceivable that Gayle ends up playing second fiddle.
Brighton & Hove Albion
Brighton have been absent from the Prem since 1983, enduring ups and downs since then. However, since returning to the Championship in 2011, they made the semifinals three times, getting knocked out each time before finally winning promotion outright last year as runners-up to Newcastle.
Like Newcastle, Brighton run a pretty tight defensive ship. In 46 league games they gave up only 40 goals, same as Newcastle, but bettered Newcastle’s clean sheet tally by 2 games, rendering their opponents scoreless an impressive 21 times. They were particularly hard to break down at home, allowing a mere 14 goals-against while keeping 12 clean sheets in 23 home games.
However, one key component of that defense will be absent this year: goalkeeper David Stockdale has transferred to Birmingham and will remain in the Championship. To fill his shoes, manager Chris Hughton has shelled out a club record fee to bring in 25 year-old Australian Mathew Ryan, who has experience in the top domestic leagues in Australia, Belgium, and Spain, and who has 31 caps for his national team. A sweeper-keeper who is good with his feet, his style has been compared to Manuel Neuer’s. However, at a level 6’, he is on the short end of the height spectrum for top-flight goalkeepers, and his performance in the July 30th friendly vs. Norwich was thoroughly unconvincing. Although recent signing Markus Suttner has impressed in the preseason as an attacking fullback, unless and until Ryan settles, I don’t think we should count on defensive returns from Brighton. I would avoid investment in any of their defensive assets for now.
There is also grim news for Brighton on the attacking end. Championship Player of the Year and scorer of 15 league goals, Anthony Knockaert suffered an ankle injury in the July 14th friendly against Fortuna Dusseldorf and is a doubt for GW1. Fortunately, Brighton’s first signing of the summer was 25 year-old Pascal Gross. The German can play a variety of roles in the midfield, but will likely play as a Number 10 behind a lone striker where his playmaking abilities can be maximally exploited; his creativity metrics are reportedly superior to such maestros as Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen, and Mesut Ozil (not to mention his own teammate Knockaert). Even sweeter from a fantasy perspective, Gross has set pieces in his locker and could possibly even take pens away from Glen Murray, who although impressive in his stints in the lower leagues, is now 33 and has never really been able to find traction in the top division. Though Izzy Brown is another exciting signing for Brighton, Pascal Gross is probably your Seagulls attacker of choice — even when Knockaert is healthy.
NUFC and BHA were undisputably the cream of the Championship crop, finishing first and second and together accounting for over half of the players named to the PFA Championship Team of the Year (Saltor, Dunk, Lascelles, Knockaert, Shelvey, Gayle). Playoff-winners Huddersfield were hardly the same caliber. Of the top six teams in the Championship, Huddersfield had the most losses, the fewest goals for, and the second-most goals against. Impotent offensively and leaky defensively, they were the only team in the top 10 with a negative goal differential (56 GF, 58 GA). Indeed, they only secured promotion by winning the playoff final in a dramatic PK shootout, and there are many who feel that other teams who made the playoffs were more deserving of promotion. Since the Terriers were manifestly the worst of the three promoted teams, by extension they must also be considered the worst of the 20 EPL teams going into the ‘17/’18 season. Quite frankly, they’re my preseason favorite for first team to be relegated unless they invest heavily in strengthening their squad.
None of this means that Huddersfield Town is necessarily devoid of fantasy talent, however. Players like the aforementioned Siggy have shown us that fantasy production can come even from players on bad teams. Now while it’s true that the Terriers have no one of that quality, they do have some players worthy of fantasy consideration.
Central playmaker, set-piece taker, and Huddersfield Town’s sole representative on the PFA Championship Team of the Year, the previously on-loan Aaron Mooy was made a permanent member of the squad. The club also spent a rumored £10M to bring in Tom Ince, who scored 26 goals in 90 games over the last two seasons for Derby County. His 129 shots ranked him 2nd in the Championship last year, and he has already scored 4 goals for Huddersfield in the preseason. And manager David Wagner splashed a club-record fee to bring in 22 year-old Benin international Steve Mounie, who scored 14 goals in 35 league games for Montpelier, and who has already bagged 3 goals in summer friendlies.
Like last year, the Terriers are currently on preseason retreat in Austria, where they’re hoping the resulting bonding and cohesion that they believe helped them earn promotion last year will help them achieve Premier League survival this year. They’ll need to rely on the attackers I mentioned to make that happen, and against permissive opponents, any of them could well reward fantasy investment.
So there you have it, an overview of the most interesting fantasy options from the newest teams in the English Premier League. Are you going to take a chance on any of the options I’ve identified? Have I overlooked someone? Share your thoughts in the comments below!