The 2019-20 season countdown has begun, and our fantasy football analysis begins with Thursday’s announcement of the fixture schedule.
Let’s take a look at how the computer processed the schedule and which teams/players are our early front runners for our FPL and Fantrax opening weekend selections.
The Champs – Manchester City
Pep’s Citizens have shown they can start fast, very fast. In 2017-18, they won nine of their opening ten with one draw. They scored 35 goals, conceding only 6 to earn 6 clean sheets. Last season they won eight of the first ten with two draws. In that run they scored 27 goals, conceding only 3(!) to produce 7 clean sheets. These are mighty numbers, and while it’s not unreasonable to say they will not continue forever, we cannot ignore the data.
The opening fixture does have a banana skin potential to it. The Hammers continue to be a Jekyll and Hyde side as capable of producing a sensational upset as being beaten by the teams at the bottom of the league. What we do know is that they were a far from water-tight in defence last season, so you would be surprised to see City fail to score at least one or two, even on the road.
The other tricky fixture sees them host Tottenham at the Etihad where City have dominated in recent years. Pep’ side has scored 13 goals in 4 games against Spurs on home soil.
The remaining four fixtures look like they can not only win but win well. It’s hard not to see a great chance of six straight wins to start the chase for a third straight league title.
The Champions of Europe — Liverpool
After missing out on the league title with a quite fantastic 97 points and just one defeat, Liverpool’s focus will be on finally breaking their Premier league duck. The win in Madrid will have taken much of the pressure off the side, at the same time giving them the belief that this can be their season. They will surely fancy their chance of five straight wins before heading to face a transfer-banned Chelsea side minus both Eden Hazard and Maurizio Sarri.
Opening day sees the Reds face usual victims Norwich City (triple captain chip on Luis Suarez once again anybody?). Norwich are one of three sides in a row who struggled to keep it tight at the back throughout last season. It gets slightly tougher from there if Burnley can return to the Nick Pope form of the 2017-18 season, and if Newcastle can continue their post-Christmas form, and if whoever takes over from Sarri can get the blues organised.
Like City, six straight wins looks very possible to me.
At the Bridge — Chelsea
- Manchester United (a)
- Leicester City (h)
- Norwich (a)
- Sheffield United (h)
- Wolverhampton (a)
- Liverpool (h)
A trip to Old Trafford has never worried Chelsea, even in Sir Alex Ferguson’s days. With the Red Devils likely lining up with a handful of new signings, and with the blues stuck with the current squad thanks to their transfer ban, the opening day may be a good time or bad time to play Ole’s men.
Then Leicester are a progressive young side who gave City a battle just a few weeks ago, so they won’t be an easy home opener game. Wolves away in game day five and Pool away in game six are further games where you won’t want to hold many Chelsea assets.
It’s a tough looking start, and all without Hazard or the ability to deal in the transfer market. I will keep away from the blues early. Instead, watching the new manager’s systems and player selection seems the choice.
“Kane” Harry score this August — Tottenham
- Aston Vila (h)
- Man City (a)
- Newcastle (h)
- Arsenal (a)
- Palace (h)
- Leicester (a)
They may lose Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld before the season starts, and with the new stadium’s expenses, there may not be money available for the transfer market to replace with like-for-like quality. There may be a bigger mental challenge aspect to consider: The current squad has the look of being at a tipping point. They have been good, even very good at times, but it remains a side without a trophy. How the players react to the Champions League Final defeat will be very important. It could be the defeat that inspires them to a new level, or it could be one too many big games lost that puts doubt in their minds.
The opening six fixtures look a three-fold cycle of simply lovely home opponent followed by tough away match. Spurs could really do with a fully fit Harry Kane ending his August goal problem, and the opening weekend game hosting Aston Villa looks like just the tonic for Harry to explode. From there it gets tricky with at least four of the next five that don’t appeal.
Grumbling Gunners — Arsenal
- Newcastle (a)
- Burnley (h)
- Liverpool (a)
- Tottenham (h)
- Watford (a)
- Aston Villa (h)
Arsenal had some positive moments last season, largely due to deadly duo Lacazette and Aubameyang scoring goals to balance a very unconvincing defensive line. Assuming they stay, the Gunners will always have a chance in any game. The lack of investment in the transfer market continues while the boardroom battle continues. Fans are frustrated with both the board and Emery now that he has had his introduction season.
What Arsenal needed was a nice calm opening set of games to get points on the board and build positive momentum. What they have been handed is a very tough set of games. The team ethics of Newcastle, Burnley and Watford could make things uncomfortable if Arsenal cannot find an early rhythm. A trip to Anfield followed by the North London derby is a pair of games Arsenal will want to enter when already in form.
This has a feel to me that things will either go surprisingly well or very disappointingly, not something in between. Emery is a very good manager (supposedly on the Barcelona short list), but I do wonder if he will get the time and (more importantly) support from the board to prove himself so.
The team behind the pack with Ole at the wheel — Manchester United
It’s a guessing game predicting just how the Red Devils will start. At this moment in a summer transfer window of rebuilding, the club has signed only Daniel James. They need a dominant central defender, a right back, a midfield player who can dictate the tempo and rhythm of the side’s play, perhaps a defensive midfield player with more energy than Matic, a right-side wide man, and cover in the forward position if Lukaku leaves. On top that, if Paul Pogba / David De Gea leaves, then the club needs replacements for them too. Come to think of it, United could need to buy the equivalent of a whole new starting XI.
By the time we kick off the season, we will know just how effective they have been in the transfer market. The evidence for a while now is that they won’t be, so likely won’t even follow the plan they set out with.
They haven't been helped with a nice run of opening games. Chelsea have a great record at OT, Wolves beat United twice at home last season, Palace and Leicester are a handful, West Ham away is a bogey game, and Arsenal took 4 points from them last season.
The expectation is on day one there will be four or five new 1st-team players next season, more than any other club. Fantasy thoughts will have to wait at least until preseason’s tea leaves have settled.
Tempting Toffees — Everton
- Crystal Palace (a)
- Watford (h)
- Aston Villa (a)
- Wolves (h)
- Bournemouth (a)
- Sheffield United (h)
Maybe the best opening six games of any club combined with a squad whose end of season form will bring plenty of interest from fantasy managers.
Away to Palace on day one may be the most tricky game, but you have to say all six are very winnable.
Greedy Gulls — Brighton
- Watford (a)
- West Ham (h)
- Southampton (h)
- Man City (a)
- Burnley (h)
- Newcastle (a)
It’s difficult to judge Brighton's run without seeing the early impact that new manager Graham Potter will have. His sides have been very possession focused and very aggressive in attack, the opposite to the Seagulls side just handed to him.
The changes in style and system will take time, and they may not suit the attributes of the current Brighton squad either. We could see a set of players picked apart as they play outside the style they are comfortable with.
Alternatively, the manager’s positive approach could inspire a set of players who may need change. Instead of being picked apart, they may catch out the opposition who had become accustomed to Chris Hughton’s approach. In Mattt Ryan, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, they do have a good foundation without the ball if Potter can quickly get his attack working.
Barring the trip to City, the fixtures are far from scary. The other five all represent chance to pick up points.
Potter does have a reputation for rotation, which as fantasy players we need to beware of. More of interest to me are the stories of attention to detail Potter enjoys. I’ve made notes to carefully watch the club’s transfer moves and preseason player selections. If they have a settled look, then at this point I think they may have a little value in those early weeks where their changes may surprise the likes of Watford and Co.
Like many fantasy managers, loading up on Liverpool, City and Everton players springs to my mind. Assuming many players from those clubs will see prices increase from 2018-19, I expect that to be a challenge. Sadio Mane and Mo Salah are taking part in this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations, which will negatively effect their pre-season. Pool also have a Super Cup fixture against Chelsea to get in the way of the season start. With the easier opening fixtures in mind, we may see Jurgen Klopp utilise his squad depth in the early weeks, planning to ensure they are fit and firing in the Chelsea game.
Bernardo Silva really caught my eye both in the closing months of the season and in the Portugal games during the summer. Alongside Raheem Sterling, he seems the player least likely to be rotated at City. With Sterling likely costing around 12m in FPL, I wait with interest to see how that format prices Silva.
One of my all time fantasy football soft spots, Siggy had an excellent 2018-19 season. He became a growing influence as the year developed. I’m expecting him to be priced 8m+, but his fixture run will tempt me. Likewise the left back who does it all — Lucas Digne.
I will always be tempted to keep my faith in Harry Kane. A summer rest does nothing to put me off — I believe he will finally explode in week one. Those other fixtures though are not great.
What early matches catch your eye? And which early transfers look interesting, especially in Fantrax where new-boys tend to be under-priced? Please share with us in the comments below!