Every season offers its own mysteries, but the key for fantasy success is making the best guesses for how they will unwind. Let’s delve into the questions that should be on all our minds ahead of the new Premier League season, and investigate clues to help solve the puzzles.
1. Will We See a 30-Goal Scorer, or even a 25-Goal Man?
Two seasons ago, we were treated not only to a 32-goal campaign as Liverpool’s Mo Salah burst onto the scene, but also a 30-goal effort from Tottenham talisman Harry Kane, his best ever output.
In 2018-19, the total goals scored in the league rose from 1,018 up to 1,072, but the joint-leading goal scorers (Salah, teammate Sadio Mane, and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) had only 22 each. Meanwhile, Salah led FPL with just 259 points after notching 303 the season prior.
Spanning the 10 campaigns from 2009-10 through 2018-19, only four players in three seasons (Salah & Kane in 2017-18, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez in 2013-14, and Arsenal’s Robin van Persie in 2011-12) have hit the lofty 30-goal mark. That’s almost as many seasons (two, 2010-11 & 2018-19) wherein the leading scorer(s) has/have failed to crack 25.
What is in store this time around? Is there anyone — or a couple players — whom you feel will stand out head & shoulders above all others with a goal-scoring season for the ages? Or instead are we looking for more parity at a sub-dazzling level? Given your expectations in this realm, is one premium offensive asset enough for your fantasy team, or do you see the need for two or even three?
2. Can Sadio Mane Repeat His Form, or Was it a One-Time Aberration?
From 2014-15 through 2017-18, Liverpool’s Sadio Mane was a very good, extremely consistent player and fantasy producer, ranging from 10-13 goals and 137-160 fantasy points per season. In 2018-19, though, it was like he was bitten by a radioactive spider, exploding for those 22 goals and a scintillating haul of 231 points. Part of the surge in production can be explained by improved availability, as Mane’s 3,076 minutes played were far above his previous high of 2,599. However, his efficiency jumped from his first four seasons’ 0.65 average up to 0.75 points per minute, so there was clearly more to the story than playing time.
Meanwhile, Roberto Firmino’s contribution fell to 12 goals and 8 fantasy assists, the G+fA tally of 20 his lowest since the 18 he accumulated in 2015-16 when playing only 1,973 minutes. This came as the Brazilian’s efficiency dropped from 0.66 ppm in his first three seasons down to 0.61 ppm.
As Firmino’s output diminished, Mane not only scored by far his most goals in a season, but Mane’s fantasy assist tally fell to 3, his fewest ever. Roughly speaking, we saw Mane’s goals double while his assists halved compared to his prior averages, pointing to a major shift in positioning and role.
Is Mane’s bigger finishing role and improved fantasy production the new normal, or was it instead merely a one-season outlier? Are you installing Mane in your fantasy team even as his price has risen, or instead targeting Firmino as a cheaper option in the hopes that he can reclaim his title as the Reds’ 2nd-best FPL producer?
3. How Will Chelsea Fare This Season?
Chelsea finished in 3rd place last season, while also winning the Europa League crown to more than comfortably secure its spot in Champions League for 2019-20. Even so, while every “Big Six” team outside of Manchester City and Liverpool has loads of question marks, Chelsea clearly is the biggest puzzle.
Maurizio Sarri left for Juventus, and now a club legend as player — but largely untested as manager — enters in the form of Frank Lampard under especially trying circumstances. The team’s only superstar, Eden Hazard, departed for Real Madrid, and the club faces a two window transfer addition ban (summer 2019 and January 2020). That leaves the delayed addition of Christian Pulisic and a slew of loan recalls as the only infusions of talent. On top of that, there is a serious injury to Ruben Loftus-Cheek that could cost his entire season, while Callum Hudson-Odoi will miss the early part.
Facing such a daunting situation, is there any way Chelsea can possibly maintain the vital top four position? Or will Lampard be able to inspire the lads, leading with a youth movement? Are you staying away from Chelsea assets in fantasy due to the uncertainty, or instead do you think there is value to be found in the wake of their only premium-priced player’s departure?
4. Can Any Team Get Close to Manchester City and Liverpool?
The gap from the top to the rest of the Big Six has been profound in each of the past two seasons. In 2017-18, 2nd place Manchester United finished 19 points behind 1st place winner Manchester City, and 3rd place Tottenham was 23 points back from the leader. In 2018-19, Liverpool almost caught the Citizens for the trophy, while 3rd place Chelsea was a whopping 25 points off the Reds.
Before that, title races tended to be a lot closer among the top trio of teams. In 2016-17, 2nd place Tottenham was 7 points behind champion Chelsea, and 3rd place Manchester City was 15 points from the top. In 2015-16, Leicester memorably captured the crown, as 2nd place Arsenal and 3rd place Spurs both came within 11 points of the Foxes.
Chelsea is in a pickle, as mentioned above. Spurs did add Tanguy Ndombele, but that followed two transfer windows without any activity, and there have been constant rumors that they could lose influential play-maker Christian Eriksen. Manchester United is in constant threat of overhaul should Romelu Lukaku and/or Paul Pogba depart. And while Arsenal upgraded on offense, the Gunners’ defensive end is a constant worry.
Will the gulf between the top end of the table and the #3-6 spots remain cavernous? Should we now speak of a “Big Two” followed by a “Next Four”, or can one (or two) of the other teams close that gap? As such, will you feel the necessity to load up your fantasy team on Reds and Citizens as much as possible, or do you see more value in spreading your picks around?
5. Which Non-Big Six Team(s) Can Furnish Fantasy Joy?
Everton was outstanding in 2016-17, notching the #7 spot in the standings. That year, Romelu Lukaku finished 2nd in the league with 25 goals scored and returned his best-ever fantasy haul, while wing defenders Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines each notched 130+ fantasy points. In 2017-18, Burnley was brilliant, finishing #7 as players such as Nick Pope and James Tarkowski proved savvy fantasy picks. While the Clarets regressed to the mean in 2018-19, Wolves came out of nowhere (or actually, the Championship) to take the #7 spot, as the likes of Raul Jimenez, Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota rewarded prescient fantasy managers well.
Which non-Big Six team do you see being this season’s Cinderella story? Can Wolves solidify their ambitious place, or will another side stick its collective slipper in the castle door? And even more boldly, given the situations of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham, do you think such a team can even crack the “Big Six”?
6. Might Any of the New Managers Inspire Success with His New Team?
Last summer, there were two extremely high profile managing changes as Unai Emery filled Arsene Wenger’s shoes at Arsenal and Maurizio Sarri came in for Antonio Conte at Chelsea. There were also some other top jobs switching hands as Marco Silva replaced Sam Allardyce at Everton (8th place in 2017-18) and Manuel Pellegrini took over for David Moyes at West Ham (13th). This time around, managerial switches for the returning sides have come mostly at the lower end of the table.
We have already discussed Lampard’s hire at 3rd place Chelsea, but there are two other newcomers to the ranks: Steve Bruce replaces Rafa Benitez at last season’s 13th place Newcastle, and Graham Potter takes over for Chris Hughton at 17th place Brighton.
Bruce has previously held Premier League managing experience with Wigan, Sunderland, and Hull. Since then, he went a bit down the ranks with Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday. Now he comes back to the EPL at Newcastle. But with the team’s two leading scorers from last season — Ayoze Perez and Salomon Rondon — having ditched a side that only managed 42 goals (5th fewest), are you getting Wigan / Sunderland / Hull flashbacks? Is Newcastle going to be all about the struggle to survive (and possibly sell the team to new owners), rather than attempting to flourish?
Meanwhile, Hughton’s Brighton scored only 34 and 35 goals each of the past two seasons (4th fewest on each occasion), leading to hope that Potter will try to open up the offense. Why else would Hughton — who did keep the team up, after all — have been sacked? But does Potter have enough to work with? And do you worry that the defense may suffer?
Ultimately, are you backing any Newcastle or Brighton players for fantasy success under new managers who appear to have quite a difficult task on their hands?
7. Which Position Will Emerge as a Fantasy Bonanza?
Last season, wing defenders (Andrew Roberson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Benjamin Mendy, Matt Doherty, Ricardo Pereira, Cesar Azpilicueta, Marcus Alonso, Lucas Digne, Kyle Walker, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, et al.) and budget forwards (Raul Jimenez and Callum Wilson) established themselves as integral to fantasy success.
Do you think there will be a repeat at one or both of those spots this season, or will another position instead emerge? Do you see an anomaly in the price/position matrix at the moment that stands out to you as an opportunity to exploit ahead of time, before the secret gets out after the season starts? Perhaps PK-taking forwards and midfielders as beneficiaries of VAR? Or is there one particular player slated to play “out of position” (moving into attack)?
8. How Will the January 2019 Transfers Fare in Their First Full Season?
January 2018 transfer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lit the EPL on fire for Arsenal after coming over from Borussia Dortmund, scoring 10 goals in 13 games to finish the season, an average of 0.77 goals per game. While the forward tied for the league lead with 22 goals in 2018-19, that still marked a significant dip in efficiency down to 0.61 gpg.
In January 2019, there were plenty of big name candidates from the incoming transfer crop, but it was Leicester’s lesser-known Youri Tielemans who emerged a bit surprisingly as a major success story after departing Monaco. The affordably-priced midfielder notched 3 goals with 5 fantasy assists in 13 games, averaging 4.8 fantasy ppg, the same production as Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser and Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson in all 38 games each. Can Tielemans maintain that level in this full season, or is he destined to suffer a big falloff?
On the other hand, Newcastle’s Miguel Almiron was a dud following his transfer from Atlanta United of MLS, failing to score and assisting only twice in 10 games. Do you think that he can finally live up to his initial billing after having more time to acclimate, or have you written him off as a bust?
9. What Newcomer to the EPL Will Deliver the Biggest Impact?
Many of last summer’s new arrivals established themselves as fantasy necessities: Liverpool’s Alisson, Wolves’ Raul Jimenez and Matt Doherty, Everton’s Lucas Digne, and West Ham’s Felipe Anderson. Whom do you have pegged as the new-boy you need to grab? Does someone stand out from these confirmed transfers: Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe, Brighton’s Leandro Trossard, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, Everton’s Moise Kean, Manchester United’s Daniel James, Newcastle’s Joelinton, Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo, Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele, or West Ham’s Pablo Fornals and Sebastian Haller? Or are you waiting intently for other dominoes to fall at the tail end of the summer incoming transfer window August 8?
10. Which Player Transferring within the League Will Pay Off the Most?
Then again, there is something to be said for familiarity, as a player who merely switches teams within the Premiership can pay off, much as Richarlison did last year after leaving Watford FC for Everton. Are you counting on someone such as Tom Heaton (Burnley to Aston Villa), Ayoze Perez (Newcastle to Leicester), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace to Manchester United), or Harry Maguire (Leicester City to the Red Devils, reportedly as per BBC] to work wonders for your fantasy team? Which players are better off as big fish in small ponds, and who will thrive in larger waters?
[NOTE: EPL statistics and fantasy scoring info came from the official Premier League website and official fantasy Premier League website.]
How would you answer my questions? What else is on your mind as you wonder how best to assemble your fantasy team? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!