There is truly no time like the first week of a Premier League season. And in fantasy, there’s honestly no better week than the Fantrax opener. Why? Because in ruthlessly simple, single-minded fashion, it’s all about Week 1!
Unlike other formats, there are no worries whatsoever about having to hold on to players you don’t really want the rest of the way. Just be sure to be around for the “barn door” on Sunday to rebuild your teams before the prices recalculate! But for now, let’s focus on the task at hand, drafting the (crossed fingers and toes) perfect team for the glorious opening weekend.
If you haven’t already joined one of NMA’s Fantrax leagues (or if you want to add another), click the link(s) of your choice:
Join NMA-11 (11-man roster, classic Yahoo scoring)
Join NMA-17 (same scoring, up to 17 players, best of each position count each week)
Join NMA-sub (same scoring, 11 starters plus up to 6 reserves with automatic substitutions)
We still have loads of room in all three leagues, so please send your friends here!
Friday’s Liverpool v. Norwich game is the only one where starting line-ups will be available before the deadline, so don’t be shy about adding in any and all affordable Reds — such as Fabinho, Naby Keita, Joel Matip, or James Milner — who unexpectedly end up in Jurgen Klopp’s XI.
Salaries cited are from our NMA-11 league. Our expanded-roster leagues will let you buy more players to fill more slots, but the prices run a bit lower there to fit the same budget.
Many fantasy managers — yes, beloved community member Ken, I’m looking straight at you here — absolutely loathe paying for keepers. In big-roster versions of Fantrax, some have even kept a min-priced deliberate zero on hand as a stop-loss feature! And I get it. I won’t go quite as far as the extreme position, but I too like saving money for field players. So no, I’m not going to recommend any keepers at high prices. If you want to go for one, that’s your prerogative, I’m not gonna stop you. But I don’t want to live with the crippling fear that a random consolation goal is going to turn a 10+ point clean sheet victory into a disaster. For me, keepers are all about risk avoidance, and thus bargain hunting.
Everton is a solid team, plus the Eagles’ best defender, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, departed for Manchester United. Even so, I don’t expect Crystal Palace to get crushed by the Toffees. Everton’s offense is honestly pretty mediocre, and this game comes at Selhurst Park. Guaita outperformed his price in averaging 6.8 ppg last season. Just be sure to check team news to make sure Roy Hodgson is rolling with Guaita; if he seems likely to turn to Wayne Hennessey instead, he’s also a good option at $4.00.
Gunn averaged 5.0 ppg on the road last season, and Burnley’s offense is nothing special.
Tom Heaton ($4.74, Aston Villa at Tottenham)
At home against a newly promoted side, I think that Spurs will score goals. But Tottenham is also the type of team that tends to force a lot of saves from overly speculative shots, which could help the former Burnley man deliver a respectable fantasy return at the price. On top of that, Son Heung-min is suspended and Dele Alli is unlikely to feature due to injury, so the Spurs’ attack will be operating well short of 100%.
Nick Pope or Joe Hart ($4.00 each, Burnley v. Southampton)
If you read my FPL goalkeeper picks article, you know I’m high on Pope. It’s the same in Fantrax, where he’s only four clams. At Turf Moor with the Saints coming to town, even better. The problem is that he’s listed as a an injury doubt. If he is ruled out, Joe Hart isn’t a bad back-up option (though some may disagree — that’s why we encourage comments!).
I expect Boruc — who averaged 8.2 ppg at home last season — to get the start, but be sure to check team news as the deadline approaches, as the Bournemouth keeper situation at the end of last season was an absolute mess. With the Cherries welcoming a newly promoted side to Vitality Stadium to kick things off, whomever is in the XI is a good pick.
Similarly, I’m not a huge fan of paying up for defenders — in Fantrax, a defender seen by Opta as “out of position” (usually in midfield) becomes ineligible for clean-sheet points. Anyway, it’s much more fun trying to grab this year’s version of Lucas Digne or Aaron Wan-Bissaka for cheap at the beginning of the season, rather than shelling out serious moolah to chase last year’s production.
Trent Alexander-Arnold ($15.14, Liverpool v. Norwich)
However, I can see an argument for making an exception for TAA. The dazzling right wing back delivered 13+ points in each of the final five games last season, and averaged 12.4 ppg at home the entire campaign. Now a newly-promoted side comes to Anfield to kick off the Premier League season. The deciding factor could be seeing the Liverpool lineup in the deadline hour, adding that little bit of certainty to Reds’ selections this week.
Seamus Coleman ($10.30, Everton at Crystal Palace)
Coleman scored in double digits twice in his first 18 games last season. Then he scored 10+ in six of his last 11 appearances. It’s not always a given that late form will carry over into this season, but there’s always the hope that it will. Let’s just say that I’d rather pay $10.30 for Coleman than $18.57 for Digne.
Maya Yoshida ($6.51, Southampton at Burnley)
Yoshida averaged 8.5 ppg on the road last season. Now he gets to do battle with Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood, so it’s easy to see him racking up the phantom points.
Matt Targett ($5.65, Aston Villa at Tottenham)
Tyrone Mings could be an interesting punt, but he’s $7.00 (for the moment). If I’m going to pick anybody from Aston Villa, it has to be a value. Heaton and Targett are the only Villans under $7.00 to start the season, and Targett averaged 6.8 ppg away from home last season with Southampton.
With Harry Maguire’s departure to Manchester City, Evans should have the most secure spot in central defense, pairing either with grizzled veteran Wes Morgan or up-and-coming Caglar Soyuncu. Evans averaged 6.2 ppg at home last season, and Wolves are stronger on defense than offense.
Oleksandar Zinchekno ($5.55, Manchester City at West Ham) [D/M dual eligible]
It’s not 100% certain, so take it with a grain of salt, but if Zinchenko is the left wing back starter for the Citizens, you will absolutely be loving life. Benjamin Mendy averaged 9.1 ppg, and Zinchenko chipped in with 8.2 ppg last season (while Benjamin Delph was a relative disappointment at only 5 ppg).
Kyle Walker-Peters ($4.00, Tottenham v. Aston Villa)
Ben Davies, Serge Aurier and Juan Foyth are all expected to miss at least the first game due to injury (Foyth is also suspended), leaving Danny Rose as the only proper wing-back with any sort of EPL experience at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal. Poch could put Jan Vertonghen in that spot as he did in Champions League play last season, but I think it’s more likely that Walker-Peters gets an opportunity on the right, opposite Rose. In his four starts least season, he averaged 7.8 ppg.
Scott Dann and/or Joel Ward ($4.00, Crystal Palace v. Everton)
Dann and Ward have long been fantasy favorites, at least in Fantrax where they averaged 6.8 ppg and 6 ppg at home last season, respectively. Their prices are low because they missed time with injury last year, and we won’t mind taking advantage.
Diego Rico ($4.00, Bournemouth v. Sheffield United)
With Charlie Daniels out injured and the loan of Nathaniel Clyne over, Rico may finally get his chance to prove his worth following his transfer last year. He averaged 3.5 ppg while featuring for 60+ minutes just four times in his 12 games, so if he starts I like his chances to more than return value at home against Sheffield United at his very affordable price.
Joseph Gomez ($4.00, Liverpool v. Norwich City)
Last season, Joel Matip most often paired with Virgil van Dijk, as Dejan Lovren and Joseph Gomez struggled with injury. This time around, it looks as if Gomez has the inside track at getting the job back (and we get to see the lineup this week to be sure).
Here’s where you can start spending the big bucks, though you’ll also want to mix in budget-friendly opportunities. What I’m saying is I’m not as much a fan of the mid-priced midfielders.
Ryan Fraser ($19.73, Bournemouth v. Sheffield United)
Fraser got off to a hot start when facing a favorable early schedule last season, averaging 14.4 ppg in the first five games. He also finished strong under similar circumstances, racking up 17+ points in three of the final five games and cracking 20+ twice. Yes, Fraser’s expensive, but if you load up your team with affordable players and have money left over but can’t afford an upgrade to Salah, then Fraser isn’t a bad consolation prize at all.
Lucas Moura ($10.65, Tottenham v. Aston Villa)
I like Christian Eriksen, but he’s somewhat expensive ($14.08). And if I’m paying up for a premium Spur, I’ll lean toward Harry Kane, so if you’re having difficulty affording Eriksen, consider the more affordable Moura. With Son Heung-min suspended, Mauricio Pochettino should turn to the speedy Brazilian spot starter, who scored six of his 10 goals at home last season. On top of that, all 10 of Moura’s goals came when he was in the XI.
Kevin De Bruyne ($5.90, Manchester City at West Ham)
Despite being defending champs, the Citizens don’t start the season at the Etihad. Sure, Manchester City is very good anywhere, but the trophy holders are especially lethal at home. If I’m paying up for Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane, David Silva, or Sergio Aguero, I’d rather do it when they’re at the Etihad... and also when I’m pretty gosh darn sure they’re starting. But KDB back from injury for under six bucks, I don’t care if it’s on the moon, sign me up!
Ross Barkley ($4.95, Chelsea at Manchester United)
Any U.S. or Chelsea fan will want to put exciting newcomer Christian Pulisic ($7.00) in their teams, but cold, calculating fantasy players may want to turn instead to the cheaper Ross Barkley. The England man has performed brilliantly in pre-season, attacking in Frank Lampard fashion while also scoring from set pieces, including the penalty spot. It remains to be seen whether he will retain the PK role, but the longtime Toffee screams value despite the tough opening fixture.
Youri Tielemans ($4.74, Leicester v. Wolves)
How in the Dickens is Tielemans so cheap? Don’t ask why, just grab him! He scored 5+ points in eight of his last 10 games last season, and averaged 7.7 ppg in his 13 appearances after coming over in January from Monaco.
Erik Lamela ($4.49, Tottenham v. Aston Villa)
Dele Alli is a serious injury doubt, so Poch will likely turn to Lamela. The Argentine averaged 5.3 ppg last season, which includes his many appearances from the bench. With starter’s minutes in such an attractive fixture, he should easily exceed that mark.
At striker, I’m looking mostly at the high-priced and mid-priced range, though there are a couple good options at budget if you’d like to go that way.
Mo Salah ($24.38, Liverpool v. Norwich)
Going with Salah is a very tough call. It’s not that I don’t expect him to do well, but paying off a nearly $25 investment isn’t automatic. So I would NOT start with the Egypt superstar and then build around him. Instead, I’d recommend filling your roster first and see how much money you have left over for your last spot. If you have enough left to afford Salah, great. If not, don’t worry about it; he may well be less expensive next week.
Harry Kane ($17.21, Tottenham v. Aston Villa)
12.1 ppg is the fewest Kane has averaged in the past five seasons. So while I’d certainly prefer to pay less than $17.21 for him, it’s really not unreasonable at all, especially given the locale and level of opposition. And for those who worry about Kane’s August droughts, don’t forget that he got the summer off to recuperate for the first time in many seasons.
Jamie Vardy ($14.89, Leicester v. Wolves)
Vardy finished with 11 goals and an assist in the final 13 games of the season, thriving under Brendan Rodgers. Wolves have a good defense but struggle to keep clean sheets. So you can expect Leicester to score, and if somebody scores for the Foxes, Vardy’s always the best bet.
Callum Wilson ($13.78, Bournemouth v. Sheffield United)
A la teammate Fraser, Wilson also enjoyed a fine start last season, hitting 14+ points each of the first three games. Importantly, Wilson comes in much more affordably than Fraser to start this campaign.
Roberto Firmino ($12.16, Liverpool v. Norwich City)
Firmino costs less than HALF of teammate Mo Salah’s price. Firmino averaged 8.7 ppg at home last season, much more than half when compared to Salah’s 13.7 ppg. If Salah gets a hat trick, sure you’ll feel bad that you missed out. But what if Firmino gets a brace?
Joshua King ($10.90, Bournemouth v. Sheffield United)
King scored 12 times last season, and five of those came from the PK spot. It’s always a dicey proposition to count on a penalty, but at home against a newly promoted team early on in the EPL’s first season with VAR is one of those times you will happily give it a roll.
Brighton conceded 10 penalties last season, most in the Premiership. Who’s on PK duty for Watford? You guessed it, Troy Deeney! Similarly to King, there’s a pretty good chance Deeney could hit pay dirt from the spot with a subpar side visiting at Vicarage Road. Even if he doesn’t, the Hornets’ captain has been known to score in other ways, too.
Divock Origi ($4.00, Liverpool v. Norwich)
It looks likely that Sadio Mane will be fatigued due to international duty, allowing Divock Origi to earn a start up front alongside Firmino and Salah. You can pay pay just a bit over 16 bucks for Origi and Firmino combined, whereas you’ll have to pony up almost 25 clams for the single superstar Salah.
Mason Greenwood ($4.00, Manchester United v. Chelsea)
If Romelu Lukaku misses out through injury, Greenwood could be the beneficiary. He scored 18 points in his only start last season, admittedly against lesser competition in the form of Cardiff. However, unless you hear more definitively about Greenwood’s starting status before the deadline, I’d feel more secure with Origi (since you can see the Reds’ XI) or a midfielder in the budget price range.
My Fantrax NMA-11 team (at the moment):
Gomez / Walker-Peters / Zinchenko
Barkley / KDB / Eriksen / Tielemans
Kane / King / Salah
Which of our Fantrax League(s) are you playing this year? How are your teams looking at the moment? Which players are you grabbing that I mentioned above, and who else will pay off? If you’re playing in our expanded-roster leagues (NMA-17 and/or NMA-sub), what tactics are you developing for those extra slots? Please share your thoughts and any questions you have in the comments!