[Ed note: Please welcome Andrew Matz, the latest addition to our writing staff!]
After the 2017-18 season where we saw the single-season points record set by newly-anointed Liverpool talisman Mo Salah, I feel there are two major questions each manager needs to ask as they plan, and tinker with, their team heading into the week one lineup lock. The first, what is a manager to do about the aforementioned Mo Salah? Are you willing to pay £13m for a second helping of what can only be described as unprecedented production?
Secondly, and possibly a little trickier, what do we expect Premier League managers to do with their starting lineups early in the season following this summer’s World Cup? With only a single free transfer allotted each week, managers can easily set themselves back from the start by paying for extra transfers, sinking funds into premium players not even named to the eighteen and seeing fractions of their budgets trickle away as the price changes begin to occur due to early season volatility.
Here is how I have answered the questions above, with hints of the rationale I implement when filling out a roster. Please note that this is not final; plenty more alterations will be made in the coming days and weeks as the season approaches. Hopefully this exercise helps you create and/or hone the best plan of attack as we enter the 2018-19 Fantasy Premier League season.
Finding value, and production, around Salah.
Mo Salah (Liverpool, £13.0m): The FPL game launched while I was on vacation this summer. I thumbed through the player prices during the down time throughout the trip. Then for 800 miles on the drive home, I debated player selections, relative to price, as accurately as I could recall. I arrived home 100% out on Salah owing to his £13m price tag.
But as the World Cup played out, and news became available concerning the rest of the World Cup participants, I convinced myself to make him the primary asset on my team, as many of the premium alternatives could see themselves sitting out for multiple weeks to start the season. Seeing how Salah’s World Cup was cut short, he should be in the Liverpool lineup in week one. I think that is echoed in his ownership percentage, which has just crept up over 49%. Plus, he almost completely eliminates any weekly debate in regards to choosing a captain.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham, £9.5m): The Dane’s consistent production in the fantasy game comes second only to Kevin De Bruyne, as Eriksen comes off a season where he supplied double-digit goals and assists. Combining primary free kick taker with his propensity to provide bonus points, Eriksen provides a stable backbone to the midfield. With many of his Belgian and English teammates missing, it would not be shocking to see him take on an even larger early playmaking role.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton, £7.5m): Wayne Rooney is gone, making Siggy the first choice in the number ten role. Sam Allardyce has been replaced by Marco Silva, which should lead to much more offensive production. The early schedule is advantageous. And he should handle most, if not all, set pieces.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Arsenal, £7.0m): I feel that all Arsenal players are greatly underpriced across the board (excluding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which I would describe as fair). I hope to scoop a couple others after the difficult first two fixtures, when we have seen how Unai Emery sets up his team. Mkhitaryan is so widely owned — third most at 19% — that rostering him now will not hurt. He showed flashes of all-around production last year.
Diogo Jota (Wolverhampton Wanderers, £6.5m): You have to save money somewhere with Salah onboard. Jota lined up as a striker in today’s friendly against Ajax, and we saw what Marko Arnautovic did in a similar role last year.
I do not want to dally with cut cost forwards under any circumstance. But, there is value to be had at the forward position, the way pricing turned out.
Wilfred Zaha (Crystal Palace, £7.0m): Typically, a move from midfield to forward in FPL classification is regarded as a negative. However, for Zaha I like this move. It was hard to feel comfortable rostering him last year knowing that despite all his production he was never likely to be rewarded with bonus points. He amassed a total of only eight bonus points last year despite nine goals, seven assists, and ten clean sheets. So, this move forward for Zaha makes him more tolerable for my palate. Across the board, forwards struggle to register in the bonus points and rely more on their goal production, which makes Zaha a better option as a front-line player.
Cenk Tosun (Everton, £7.0m): Playing only half a season — with just twelve starts — Tosun provided five league goals in one of the league’s least attacking sides. More offensive intent and improved quality of suppliers around him should see him get well into the double-digits in goals. A nice early season rental, when you consider his schedule.
Charlie Austin (Southampton, £6.0): Austin is the best striker in the sub-£7.0m bracket, with enough quality around him to be productive. The questions surrounding him are always related to his durability.
With no room in the budget for many high end options, I want to stay in the mid-tier of pricing. In the past, my strategy has always been cheap value defenders. This season I am paying up, just a tad, to improve the attacking upside of my defenders. Although, my first priority for defenders will always be clean sheet opportunity.
Ashley Young (Manchester United, £6.0m): Recalculate his score from last year with the defender points, and he would have ranked eleventh. High clean sheet upside, plus high attacking returns, all while saving £0.5m, offer a prime opportunity.
Seamus Coleman (Everton) and Nacho Monreal (Arsenal) [£5.5m each]: These two defenders’ attacking qualities outweigh their clean sheet opportunity, and I don’t mind that extra offensive ability. However, both will be undergoing system changes under new managers, which will hopefully improve their propensity for clean sheets.
James Tarkowski (Burnley) and Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace) [£5.0m each]: These two defenders are in the team for their early season opportunities to attain clean sheets at a slight value. Both can also provide the occasional goal from set pieces.
Cheap clean sheets! Play the match-ups.
Tom Heaton (Burnley, £5.0m): Sean Dyche + Pope out + opening schedule = no brainer.
Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace, £4.5m): Palace defended well while fighting to stave off relegation late last season. If that same performance intensity carries over, the schedule provides plenty of opportunity to tally clean sheets early on.
Fitting Mo Salah into your team at £13.0m is difficult, but possible. I find there is still a reasonable amount of pricing flexibility to bolster a competitive roster. There even remains opportunity for braver souls to cut prices to try and sneak in another fantasy star. I prefer to be a little more risk averse, however, grabbing the top player while otherwise going for balance.
What is your answer to the Sphinx’s Salah riddle? Will you cram a baker’s dozen eggs into one captain-shaped basket? A correct response will see you pass on to further FPL glory; but should you be incorrect, the Sphinx will devour your FPL hopes! Which will you choose? Let us know in the comments below!