Around most of the world, soccer/football fandom is fairly commonplace. In the United States, it’s definitely more of a niche thing. What’s kind of hilarious, though, is the perception that roving hordes of hipsters — hipsters!!! — are stylishly striding the sidewalks of Williamsburg, Wicker Park and Silver Lake clad in Liverpool jerseys, Real Madrid scarves and Neymar kicks, sauntering into their local sports bars to catch Premier League action while sipping some of the many craft IPAs available on tap.
I don’t vape, sport a man bun or try to squeeze into skinny jeans. I don’t dap or dab. (To be honest, I had to look up how they were different exactly.) Sure, I make avocado toast, but come on now, it’s tasty, why the bad rap? Really, I’m a pretty regular guy who also happens to be an American fan of European soccer.
No matter if you’re a hipster, a schlub or otherwise, it’s all good, though. The more the merrier! Whether you’re drinking lager, soda pop, or an almond milk caramel macchiato, raise your glass in solidarity every single one of you — nay, every single one of us — because the season kickoff is oh so near and there’s simply no better thing, is there?
Let’s get to the picks, shall we? It’s pretty much all about goals, assists and clean sheets (along with bonus points, which largely go along with those) in Official fantasy, so let’s see who looks good.
Arsenal’s defense was not as airtight as usual last season, tying for sixth fewest goals conceded in the league, largely due to away form. The Gunners tied for third fewest at home, while Leicester City tied for the seventh fewest away goals scored. Laurent Koscielny’s suspension should give some pause, so while a good play, Cech is probably not the top option here.
The Belgian international took some criticism for his performance in the Community Shield, but cut him some slack. Courtois is still one of the best in the world and you have to expect him to bounce back. The Clarets tied for the third fewest away goals scored last season, while the Blues tied for the fifth fewest allowed at home. Almost exactly a year ago, this fixture went 3-0 in favor of the home side.
Wayne Hennessey (£4.5, Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield)
The Eagles’ defense was decent at home last season, while visiting Huddersfield scored the fewest goals (56 in 46 games) to earn EPL promotion since Birmingham City (54 goals) back in 2008/09. Even worse, Huddersfield scored less than a goal per away game which was in the same ballpark as the three teams that got relegated from the Championship. Simply put, Huddersfield is going to get blanked a lot this season, so why not start from the beginning?
In the five Premier League match-ups between these two teams at St. Mary’s (all since 2012), the Swans have scored a total of three goals.
The Toffees tied for the third fewest home goals allowed last season, while the Potters tied for the seventh fewest away scores. Pickford should certainly expect more clean sheets with his new squad than he managed with sorry Sunderland, and hosting Stoke at Goodison Park is a fine chance to get things started.
Leighton Baines (£6.0, Everton v. Stoke City)
Baines has a nice chance at a clean sheet, but as we all know, he’s also a big contributor on the offensive end, accounting for at least five goals or assists in four of the past five campaigns.
Ryan Bertrand (£5.5, Southampton v. Swansea City)
Similarly, Bertrand also offers a strong shot at the CS bonus plus offensive returns, compiling at least five goals and assists combined in each of the past three seasons.
David Luiz (£6.0, Chelsea v. Burnley)
I generally don’t like to pay too much for defenders, so if you’re looking for Chelsea cover, I’d go with Sideshow Dave as the cheapest way to get into the Blues’ defense.
Nacho Monreal (£5.5, Arsenal v. Leicester City)
More affordable than Hector Bellerin, Monreal offers an affordable entry into the Gunners’ back line.
Patrick Van Aanholt (£5.5, Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield)
PVA has a great chance at a clean sheet, while also delivering on the offensive end with at least five goals or assists in each of the past three seasons.
Allí scored nine goals and added five assists away last season, compared to nine and two at home. Spurs travel to a promoted side, so even though it’s not at the cozy comforts of their home away from White Hart Lane, it’s far from an imposing match-up. Of course, you’ll want to keep a weather eye on those pesky Barcelona transfer rumors. [* Will Spurs ever be comfortable at their Wembley “home” this year? — Ed.]
Kevin De Bruyne (£10.0, Manchester City at Brighton & Hove Albion)
The Citizens are on the road but it’s only against newcomer Brighton. On top of that, City was the highest scoring away team in the league last season, actually being more prolific on the road than at home. KDB boasted the most goals and assists combined for the Sky Blues last season, so when there is action (and there usually is) he tends to be involved.
Luka Milivojevic (£5.0, Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield)
If you’re looking to save some money, you’ll hope for a PK, as we all know that referees are much more likely to award them to the home side thanks to the sonic impact of tens of thousands of rabid fans.
Pedro (£8.0, Chelsea v. Burnley)
It’s last season’s second best home team hosting the second worst away team. With Eden Hazard out, Pedro becomes the most dangerous midfielder for the Blues.
Leroy Sane (£8.5, Manchester City at Brighton)
More affordable than KDB and almost as productive.
Wilfried Zaha (£7.0, Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield)
The man coming off 18 goals and assists combined gets a perfect opportunity to show that his breakout season was no fluke.
Willian (£7.0, Chelsea v. Burnley)
Willian should take advantage of Hazard’s injury by moving into the starting line-up. He provides a constant danger with free kicks to challenge Tom Heaton.
Alexandre Lacazette (£10.5, Arsenal v. Leicester City)
In light of the the Community Shield result, Lacazette looks like a much better incoming foreign transfer than Chelsea’s Alvaro Morata (£10.0). Only two teams allowed more away goals than the Foxes last season, so if Lacazette wants to get off to a fast start, the former Lyon star can’t ask for a much better fixture.
Christian Benteke (£8.0, Crystal Palace v. Huddersfield)
I’m recommending...FIVE...Crystal Palace players? Huh. Does it have something to do with the nearing total solar eclipse? No, it’s all about the match-up.
Roberto Firmino (£8.5, Liverpool at Watford)
I don’t see this as a game to load up on Reds, but Firmino looks like a nice play. The disadvantage comes from him being listed as a striker, but the advantage is that Firmino’s cheaper than midfielders Sadio Mane (£9.5) and Philippe Coutinho (£9.0) even though he outscored them both last season. (On top of that, it looks like Cou is on his way to Barcelona anyway.)
Gabriel Jesus (£10.5, Manchester City at Brighton)
With Jesus being a bit cheaper than Sergio Aguero, go ahead and take the discount. If the baton hasn’t officially been passed yet, it’s definitely in the works.
Harry Kane (£12.5, Tottenham at Newcastle)
You probably can’t afford both Kane and Romelu Lukaku (£11.5), but likely you want one of them. So who is the better pick? You may think that Manchester United has a big advantage by playing at Old Trafford while Spurs trudge to Tyneside, but that isn’t really the case. Spurs scored 39 away goals last season and are visiting a newly promoted side. Manchester United managed a meager 26 goals at home while West Ham was pretty solid away, sporting a -5 goal differential which was better than all but seven teams. On top of that, Kane is the undisputed PK taker, compared to a question mark surrounding that role with the Red Devils. Why not pay the extra pound for the Spurs talisman?
Whom among those players above you are sure to select for your squads? Which others look good to you? (Don’t forget to set your line-ups before Friday’s opener.) Join in the comments below!