A new English Premier League season is nigh upon us, which means that as fantasy managers, it’s time for us to begin browsing the pool of players available for selection. While most of our fantasy targets will be familiar names from seasons prior, the EPL’s promotion/relegation system has delivered us three teams’ worth of fresh faces to consider.
I’ve combed through the rosters of these promoted sides to sort the fantasy wheat from the fantasy chaff. Below you’ll find my top choices from each of the promoted sides, listed by position.
Special note on Fantrax pricing: New boys have a tendency to crash in price if their first week sees few points, so keep a close watch on everyone sporting a $7.00 Fantrax price tag — and be ready to pounce on some mid-priced bargains in the lead-up to game-week 2.
Aston Villa (5th place, promoted via playoffs)
Aston Villa splashed over £100M in the summer transfer window. In fact, so far they’ve outspent every other EPL side, including Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and of course transfer-banned Chelsea.
We will have to wait to see if this lavish spending will pay off, or if instead Villa will share the fate of Fulham, who spent like drunken sailors last summer only to ultimately suffer the drop anyway.
Goalkeeper: Aston Villa are currently in the market for an experienced starting goalkeeper, with rumors naming Burnley’s Tom Heaton as a top target. This situation should be monitored, but AVL did not boast a particularly stingy defense last year and so far have not brought in any new names who might be expected to significantly tighten it. I’m not anticipating much fantasy joy here.
Defender: Ironically, the first recommendation I’ll make in this article is a familiar name. Early this month Villa purchased fullback Matt Targett from Southampton, where he averaged 7.19 ppg in Fantrax last year. In 13 starts, he registered one goal, three assists, and five corners forced. I expect him to be first-choice for the team that was #1 in the Championship for crosses/game last season. Priced at just $5.65 in Fantrax, he’s a persuasive buy in that platform, and at £4.5 he could be a solid option in FPL as well.
Midfielder: Followers of English football have waited patiently for Jack Grealish to blossom into the player they hope he can become. Now set to play on the country’s biggest stage, this could be the year he comes good. A Villan since age six, the team’s talisman and captain was 4th in the Championship for assists, joint-3rd for key passes, joint-5th for dribbles/game, and #1 for fouls suffered/game (4.8!). He also takes free kicks for the team that was joint-first in the Championship for set-piece goals. Whoscored.com awarded him the #2 overall player rating in the Championship last year. If he can sustain last year’s level of performance (against admittedly better opposition), he could very well capture Gareth Southgate’s interest. He has already captured mine. (FPL £6M, Fantrax $7.00)
Forward: Tammy Abraham’s loan has expired, so the Championship’s #2 goal-scorer has returned to Stamford Bridge. Dean Smith will count on Wesley Moraes to fill the gap. The 26 year-old’s £22M June transfer from Club Brugge set a new Aston Villa record. Last season the Brazilian put up 10 goals and 9 assists in 28 appearances in the Belgian First Division A. He’ll likely find the adjustment to the EPL challenging, but he could be a decent third forward option in FPL and a reasonable Fantrax choice when the fixture is right. (FPL £6.0, Fantrax $7.00)
Sheffield United (2nd place, automatic promotion)
Like Aston Villa, the Blades have shown ambition in the summer transfer market, setting new club records for purchase fees three times in the last few weeks. But manager Chris Wilder’s budget has not been nearly as liberal as Dean Smith’s at Villa. In fact, the loan fee that Manchester United set for Dean Henderson nearly torpedoed Wilder’s efforts to keep the goalie at Bramall Lane for anther year.
Goalkeeper: Dean Henderson was the linchpin of the Championship’s joint-best defense. He played every minute of every game last year, and was #1 for clean sheets with 21, joint-first for fewest goals conceded/game with 0.89, and #2 for save percentage with 73.5%. His loan extension from Manchester United has finally been secured, as rumors that manager Chris Wilder was lining up Aarrgh! Joe Hart, Aarrgh! as a back-up plan will not be put to the test. (Click here for the official announcement regarding Henderson from Manchester United.)
Even so, Henderson will be facing the likes of Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mané, Harry Kane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Mo Salah — talents that are a far cry from the Championship’s. I don’t recommend early adoption, but keep an eye on him. He could become a Fantrax asset if he can pile up save points. (Henderson is not currently available for selection in either fantasy format, but should be shortly.)
Defender: Last season, 40% of Sheffield United’s attacks were orchestrated down the left flank — only one other Championship side relied as heavily on this avenue as the Blades did. Not surprisingly, manager Chris Wilder has an attack-minded player installed at left back. Enda Stevens bombed forward constantly, scoring 4 goals with 6 assists last season. Marauding fullbacks can offer tremendous value to the fantasy football manager, and Stevens should be on your watchlist. (FPL £5.0, Fantrax $7.00)
Midfielder: By all indications, Oliver Norwood has all the makings of a fantasy gem, especially in Fantrax. The holding middie will accrue phantoms through defensive stats like intercepted passes and tackles won, but he also offers substantial threat in attack. The 28 year-old was joint-third in the Championship for key passes/game and #2 for chances created/game. He also hogs free kicks and corners, registered 3 goals and 8 assists, and received the #3 overall player rating from whoscored.com. (FPL £5.0, Fantrax $7.00)
Forward: The Blades shattered their club record to bring in striker Lys Mousset from Bournemouth this summer, but the Frenchman scored just 5 goals in 71 appearances for the Cherries, mostly as a sub. At least for now, he seems set to serve as bench cover. That means that Billy Sharp, Sheffield’s 33 year-old captain, should continue to lead the line. He was the #5 goalscorer in the Championship last year, notching 23 times. While he is no longer a spring chicken, his game has never relied on pace, and he made it through a grueling Championship schedule with no significant injury issues last year. His 4 goals in 4 preseason games so far, including a hat trick against Chesterfield, show that he is still dangerous despite his age. (FPL £6.0, Fantrax $7.00)
Sharp’s strike partner, David McGoldrick, is worth a mention as well. The six-footer is good in the air and is also his club’s primary PK taker. He registered 15 goals and 6 assists in 45 appearances last year. His place in the S11 could come under threat as Mousset settles in, but for now I think McGoldrick’s status as a starter is assured. (FPL £5.5, Fantrax $7.00)
Norwich City (1st place, automatic promotion)
The Canaries play an attractive attacking game that has been likened to the Dutch style of “total football.” The result is an offense that was the Championship’s best last year, averaging over 2 goals per game. Norwich therefore offers many interesting fantasy attacking assets.
Goalkeeper: Manager Daniel Farke has brought in Ralf Fahrmann on loan from Schalke as competition for Tim Krul. Due diligence requires that we monitor this situation, but I don’t expect much fantasy value here regardless of who Farke decides to put between the sticks this season.
Defender: The Canaries attack equally down each flank with right back Max Aarons and left back Jamal Lewis both happy to bomb forward. Aarons is probably the better fantasy prospect. He notched 2 goals and 6 assists last year, and has previously been linked to both Manchester United and Tottenham. (Aarons: FPL £4.5, Fantrax $7.00; Lewis: FPL £4.5, Fantrax $7.00)
Midfielder: No player in the Championship was more important to his club last year than Emiliano Buendia: Norwich did not win any games in which he did not play. The primary creative force behind an attack than generated 93 goals last year, he was #1 in the Championship for assists, joint-first for through-balls/game, #2 for key passes/game, #3 for chances created/game, joint-fourth for tackles/game, and joint-fifth for fouls suffered/game. He put up 8 goals and 12 assists in 38 league appearances, and received whoscored.com’s fourth-best player rating in the Championship last year. (FPL £6.0, Fantrax $7.00)
Mario Vrancic is another to keep an eye on. He was Norwich’s #2 goal-scorer with 10, and takes set pieces and PKs. (FPL £6.5, Fantrax $7.00)
Forward: Not surprisingly, the side that generated the most goals also generated the Championship’s Golden Boot winner. Teemu Pukki notched a league-best 29 goals last season, and he was money home or away, scoring 15 times on his own pitch and 14 times on the road. Although the gulf between EPL defenses and those of England’s second tier is substantial, the 29 year-old Finn will still be a persuasive fantasy option when the match-up is favorable. (FPL £6.5, Fantrax $7.00)
Will you include players from promoted sides in your Week 1 squads, or will you take a wait-and-see approach to these unproven assets? Are you eyeing any promoted players that I haven’t mentioned? Please tell us in the comments below.