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10 Questions for the Upcoming 2021-22 EPL Season

What Premier League queries should fantasy managers have on their minds when assembling their fantasy teams for the upcoming campaign?

Chelsea players celebrate with the  2021Champions League trophy
Will Chelsea carry its second half momentum over from last year when they took the Champions League title and actually grab the EPL trophy this season?
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein - UEFA/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It’s always a good idea to ask the big questions — and make our best predictions for answers — while assembling our fantasy teams in advance of the first kickoff. So everybody put on your fanciest Nostradamus hat, and let’s get to work!

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1. Is Everything Back to Normal Yet, or is the Pandemic Still With Us?

The Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe, disrupting the tail end of 2019-20 and the entire 2020-21 season. Players were suddenly put out of action (with isolation protocol or even illness which could last for weeks or months), and games were called off on the spot whenever a team suffered a spate of positive tests. The entire atmosphere was upended as fans stayed home to watch on television while the games were played in empty, sometimes neutral venues.

Fantasy managers had to learn to prioritize assets playing in early fixtures each game week, and we had to use “an abundance of caution” making transfers as late as possible and holding onto chips in anticipation of players gaining double game weeks. Meanwhile, there was a monumental shift regarding “home” and “away” success, as home advantage more than disappeared, leading fantasy managers to completely upend expectations based on locale. A whopping 11 teams — Arsenal, Aston Villa, Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Man City and Man United — actually took more points from their “away” matches than they gathered at home!

With the worst waves of winter having passed, and as vaccine availability widened by late in the 2020-21 season, it really felt like the EPL was pretty much back to normal. Fans returned to the stands, and positive Covid tests seemed a relic of the past (or at least the rare consequence of declining to vaccinate). Can we now relax for this upcoming season?

Or should we stay on our toes foreseeing further disruptions to persist? After all, during the summer Euro tourney, several players were forced to quarantine either due to testing positive themselves or coming into contact with others who had. Recently on Newcastle’s pre-season tour, Karl Darlow tested positive, and others who had been in close contact were forced to self-isolate. Similarly, On Wednesday Dean Smith was forced to hand over the reins to assistant coach Craig Shakespeare for Villa’s friendly against Walsall while the gaffer self-isolated, and Arsenal canceled its entire USA pre-season tour due to multiple coronavirus cases.

With herd immunity seemingly suddenly relegated to faraway dream status, when we look at the possible continued sporting impact, how likely is it that an emergent variant could cause another surge, which may bring a return to stadium capacity limits or outright fan bans?


2. Can Chelsea Finish with the Best Defense in the League?

Owing largely to the addition of brilliant central defender Ruben Dias, Man City boasted the league’s best defense in 2020-21, conceding only 32 goals and keeping 19 clean sheets. Chelsea finished second, allowing just 36 scores and posting 18 shutouts.

However, after Frank Lampard was sacked in late January 2021 and Tomas Tuchel took the helm, a back three system buttressed by the stalwart talent of Antonio Rudiger actually came through with the best defense, conceding a miserly 0.68 goals per game with an impressive 58% clean sheet rate the rest of the way.

Manchester City v. Chelsea defense, Early v. Late 2020-21

Team Gms (Early) Goals Conc. (Early) CS (Early) GC PG (Early) CS% (Early) Gms (Late) Goals Conc. (Late) CS (Late) GC PG (Late) CS% (Late)
Team Gms (Early) Goals Conc. (Early) CS (Early) GC PG (Early) CS% (Early) Gms (Late) Goals Conc. (Late) CS (Late) GC PG (Late) CS% (Late)
Man City 18 13 10 0.72 56% 20 19 9 0.95 45%
Chelsea 19 23 7 1.21 37% 19 13 11 0.68 58%

Looking ahead to Tuchel being at the helm for his first full season, should we expect Chelsea to be the best in back? Do you think Man City can keep that distinction? Or do you instead even see yet another team taking that honor?

Dias was fifth among defenders in FPL scoring with 142 points last season, while Ederson was the #2 keeper with 160 points. Do you see Edouard Mendy, Benjamin Chilwell, Antonio Rudiger or any other Chelsea defensive assets as even better investments this year?


3. Can Chelsea do Enough on Offense to Challenge for the Title?

Regardless of whether Chelsea’s defense finishes best in the league, it will be the other end of the pitch that determines whether they can truly make a bid for the Premiership crown following a lethargic 2020-21 attacking performance.

Back in 2019-20, Tammy Abraham scored 15 goals while Mason Mount contributed seven goals and five assists. Meanwhile, Christian Pulisic scored nine goals in only 1,717 minutes after coming over from the Bundesliga. But what really had London minds envisioning goals, goals and more goals in 2020-21 was that, following a transfer ban, the pocketbook opened up for the summer additions of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech. Unfortunately that all turned out to be a mirage as Chelsea ranked 8th in the league with only 58 goals last season.

Amazingly and sadly, Jorginho actually led the team in scoring with a paltry seven goals, thanks only to his proficiency at penalties. Thus, despite Chelsea finishing in fourth place, the team’s attack was a fantasy wasteland. Other than Chelsea, every other top eight team had two or three players in double-digit goals. Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Tottenham each boasted two attacking players with 150+ points in FPL, and Leicester had one. Chelsea joined West Ham and Arsenal FC in having none.

Chelsea v. Other Top Eight Teams’ Attacks, 2020-21

TABLE TEAM GOALS LEADING SCORER GOALS # 10+ GOAL SCORERS # 150+ MF/FW FPL PT SCORERS
TABLE TEAM GOALS LEADING SCORER GOALS # 10+ GOAL SCORERS # 150+ MF/FW FPL PT SCORERS
1 Man City 83 Gundogan 13 2 2
2 Man United 73 Fernandes 18 3 2
3 Liverpool 68 Salah 22 2 2
4 Chelsea 58 Jorginho 7 0 0
5 Leicester 68 Vardy 15 2 1
6 West Ham 62 Antonio/Soucek 10 2 0
7 Tottenham 68 Kane 23 3 2
8 Arsenal 55 Lacazette 13 3 0

In the past five seasons, the fewest goals a title winning team has scored is the 83 that Man City managed last season. That’s still 25 more than Chelsea’s measly output! We must look back to Leicester’s 2015-16 crown with only 68 goals, or Chelsea grabbing the silverware in 2014-15 with only 73, to argue that the offense might not need to improve drastically to challenge for the title. But it will undoubtedly need to become more prolific by at least some degree; an output of 58 is not nearly good enough.

Over the summer, the rumor mill has linked the West London outfit to prolific scoring talents such as Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, Real Madrid’s Eden Hazard, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, and Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku. Any of them would surely provide an immediate boost. However, if the Blues are unable to secure an upgrade from the outside, do you think Chelsea’s offense can improve enough to challenge for the EPL title and bring fantasy joy for those backing Blues’ attacking players?


4. Can Liverpool Stay Healthy?

In a slightly belated segue from the second question, Liverpool ran away with the title in 2019-20 thanks mainly to its airtight defense (a league-fewest 33 goals conceded and joint second-best 15 clean sheets). Largely due to injuries in central defense, including superstar Virgil van Dijk, the team dropped to third place in 2020-21, and that was quite the achievement after spending much of the second-half outside the top six.

However, it wasn’t only in defense where the Reds suffered injuries; the damage was also spread around. Yes, the defense-of-the-week conceded nine more goals, and the early season injury of VvD cannot be understated, along with similar problems for Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, compounded by the departure of Dejan Lovren. That led to unexpected playing time in central defense from the likes of Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams.

But the difference was actually more pronounced on the offensive end where the defending champs scored 17 fewer goals. Captain Jordan Henderson and fellow midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both saw less pitch time due to injury problems.

Additionally, because of VvD’s absence, Henderson or fellow midfielder Fabinho often lagged back to deputize in central defense, exacerbating the Reds’ offensive impotency. Likewise, Trent Alexander-Arnold did less bombing forward and was exploited more often when he did because VvD was not there to cover for him. Thus is the silhouette of a league MVP brightly outlined by injury absence.

After coming over from Wolverhampton, Diogo Jota provided a spark for the attack. The problem of course was that Jota suffered his own fitness issues that limited him to only 12 starts after featuring from the whistle 27 times for Wolves the prior season.

Starts by Select Liverpool Players, 2019-20 v. 2020-21

Player Position # Starts (2019-20) Start % (2019-20) # Starts (2020-21) Start % (2020-21)
Player Position # Starts (2019-20) Start % (2019-20) # Starts (2020-21) Start % (2020-21)
V. Van Dijk DEF 38 100% 5 13%
J. Gomez DEF 22 58% 6 16%
A. Oxlade-Chamberlain MF 17 45% 2 5%
J. Henderson MF 26 68% 20 53%
D. Jota* FW 27 71% 12 32%
All Above Players All Positions 130 68% 45 24%

*NOTE: Jota’s 2019-20 stats are with Wolves.

After such an unlucky, injury-riddled campaign, can Liverpool shelve their training table problems and actually contend for the title again? Can the Reds improve fantasy prospects for their stars on both ends of the pitch? Or will age bring misfortune again? Henderson, James Milner, Thiago and VVD are all 30+, and Alisson, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Joel Matip, Mohamed Salah and Sheridan Shaqiri are 28+.


5. Will There be a First Place Romp Again, or a Tight Battle for the Title?

In the past 10 seasons, there has been a dominant league winner five times, with a wide gulf between first and second place of 10+ points in the table. The other half of the time, EPL fans have been treated to a tighter battle, and thrice the difference has been three points or fewer, meaning that a single victory could have swung the title.

The past two seasons have featured Liverpool or Man City as run-away victors. But we have fairly recently seen a thrilling end with City eking out the crown over Liverpool by a mere point in 2018-19. And of course, who can forget 2011-12 when the two Manchester sides battled to an epic draw in points, with the title tiebreaker earned by the Sky Blues thanks to a superior goal differential? In case you want to see it again:

Gap Between Top Two EPL Teams, Past 10 Seasons

SEASON 1st Place Points 1st Place Team 2nd Place Points 2nd Place Team Gap
SEASON 1st Place Points 1st Place Team 2nd Place Points 2nd Place Team Gap
2020-21 86 Manchester City 74 Manchester United 12
2019-20 99 Liverpool 81 Manchester City 18
2018-19 98 Manchester City 97 Liverpool 1
2017-18 100 Manchester City 81 Manchester United 19
2016-17 93 Chelsea 86 Tottenham Hotspur 7
2015-16 81 Leicester City 71 Arsenal 10
2014-15 87 Chelsea 79 Manchester City 8
2013-14 86 Manchester City 84 Liverpool 2
2012-13 89 Manchester United 78 Manchester City 11
2011-12 89 Manchester City 89 Manchester United 0

As fantasy managers, it is vital to have the maximum trio of players from any dominant team. However, if a team runs away with the title, then one needs to drop its stars lest they be rested domestically as that team instead targets outside competitions. Are you setting up your team at the start to focus on a team that will dominate, or will you instead diversify, expecting a wide open battle for the crown?


6. Can Man United Keep Racking Up Penalties to Keep Bruno Rolling?

While the best teams (that feature the best players) do tend to draw the most penalties in a given season, there is often a lot of variation regarding PK numbers year-to-year. For instance, in 2019-20, Watford was relegated after scoring only 36 goals (third fewest), but the Hornets actually drew eight penalties (third most). This came after Watford was awarded only one penalty (tied for fewest) in 2018-19 while scoring 52 times (tied for ninth most).

Following 2017-18 when Man United drew only three penalties (tied for ninth most), the numbers of PKs awarded have been consistently off the charts for the Red Devils: 12 (#1) in 2018-19, 14 (#1) in 2019-20 and 11 (#2) in 2020-21. That’s 37 pens drawn across the past three seasons, well beyond next-most Leicester at 26. Since his arrival in midseason 2019-20, Bruno Fernandes has taken full advantage, hence his “Penandes” nickname.

PK Goal Component for Bruno Fernandes, First Two EPL Seasons

Season Games Goals Penalties Scored PK Goal Component
Season Games Goals Penalties Scored PK Goal Component
2019-20 14 8 4 50%
2020-21 37 18 9 50%
TOTAL 51 26 13 50%

A remarkable 50% of Bruno’s goals have come from the spot (13 of 26) in his two seasons in the EPL. By comparison, the PK goal component for other primary penalty-taking stars such as Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy is significantly lower. Amazingly, Bruno’s spot scoring component, percentage-wise, is more than double that of Salah and nearly triple that of Kane.

PK Scoring Comparison of Bruno, Vardy, Salah & Kane, Past Two Seasons

Player Games Goals Penalties Scored PK Goal Component
Player Games Goals Penalties Scored PK Goal Component
Bruno Fernandes 51 26 13 50%
Jamie Vardy 69 38 12 32%
Mohamed Salah 71 41 9 22%
Harry Kane 64 41 6 15%

Are the Red Devils due a falloff in their ability to draw spot kicks in the box, and are you avoiding Penandes given his premium cost? Or is Bruno’s penalty goal scoring proclivity a trend that should be repeated this season, particularly with an eye to the recent transfer addition of yet another talented attacker in Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund?


7. Might Leicester Actually Finish in the Top Four?

In 2019-20, Leicester seemed to have a top four finish sewn up early, boasting a 14 point lead over fifth place Man United after GW-24. The Foxes were famously still in fourth as late as GW-36 before ultimately falling to fifth, missing out on a Champions League spot. In 2020-21, they infamously repeated the collapse, falling from third place as late as GW-36 to again finish in fifth at season’s end.

After the joyous capture of a shocking Premier League crown in 2015-16, the Foxes were poached by the big boys, selling off N’Golo Kante (to Chelsea) and falling all the way to 12th place in 2016-17 followed by the departure of Riyad Mahrez (Man City) and ninth place finishes in 2017-18 and 2018-19, after which the star exodus continued in the form of Harry Maguire (Man United). In that light, the fifth place finishes of the past two years should be viewed as a positive, with Leicester moving back up the ranks and essentially displacing Arsenal and Tottenham in the “Big Six” hierarchy.

In recent seasons the front office has adroitly retooled with exciting players such as Timothy Castagne, Kelechi Iheanacho, James Justin, James Maddison, Ricardo Pereira and Youri Tielemans under the strong stewardship of Brendan Rodgers. Ahead of 2021-22, the Foxes have strengthened by bringing in forward Patson Daka (from FC Salzburg) along with defensive midfielder Boubakary Soumare (Lille) and defender Ryan Bertrand (Southampton).

The question now, of course, is whether Leicester can actually take the next step to secure a Champions League spot. Or Instead, do you feel that the side has risen as high as they can go, and that the pressure from Arsenal, Aston Villa, Everton, Leeds United, Tottenham, West Ham and Wolves will force the Foxes into a drop from their lofty ranks?


8. Will West Ham Stay with the Big Boys, or Fade Back Out of the Pack?

Last season under David Moyes, West Ham enjoyed its finest campaign since 1998-99, finishing in sixth place. If the Hammers had earned just one more victory over the course of the season, those extra three points would have pushed the East London outfit into fourth above Chelsea to earn a Champions League spot.

Jarrod Bowen, Vladimir Coufal, Aaron Cresswell, Jesse Lingard and Tomas Soucek emerged not only as fan favorites, but as absolute necessities for a successful fantasy side. Those with rose-colored glasses will be expecting more of the same in 2021-22.

However, we should recall West Ham’s exciting 7th place 2015-16 season when Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini and Dmitri Payet burst onto the scene. What happened in 2016-17? A trip back to mid-table reality with a plunge down to 11th place.

Pessimists will point to a few signs that could lead to the likelihood of a similar decline next season. West Ham’s goal differential last season (+15) was actually only the eighth best in the league, meaning that the Hammers may have been more lucky than good. West Ham will face the (unusual to them) burden of European competition (Europa League), with travel and quick turnaround from Thursday to Sunday (or Monday to Thursday) straining the team’s depth to the limit. And Jesse Lingard, who starred on loan for the second half of last season with nine goals and four assists in only 16 games, has been recalled to Man United (which likely has torpedoed his fantasy prospects for the upcoming season should Lingard stay in the Red Devils’ team stuck on the bench).

Is falloff inevitable, leaving Hammers’ fantasy assets overpriced this season? Or might West Ham actually buck its historical trend and stay strong, providing value for some of the team’s stars? Are you keeping faith in any players you benefited from grabbing in fantasy last year?


9. Are the Days of Reliable Stardom for Raheem Sterling & Jamie Vardy Done?

In five of the past six seasons, Leicester striker Jamie Vardy has scored at least 15 goals, cracking 20+ on three occasions. That has translated into four seasons of 180+ points in FPL, twice exceeding 210.

In each of the past four seasons, Man City winger Raheem Sterling has scored 10+ goals, with 15+ in three of those. In that period, Sterling delivered 200+ thrice and 150+ the other.

However, worrying signs emerged in the latter part of last season as both players’ production crashed. For Sterling, it was severely reduced playing time in the Citizens’ crowded midfield. Even though he was not injured, Sterling was frequently left on the bench as Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez stamped their impremetur on the starting wingers’ spots.

In Vardy’s case, it had nothing to do with playing time but rather the emergence of Kelechi Iheanacho as the main scorer after opponents starved Vardy of service and Brendan Rodgers opened up an effective second channel rather than leaving Vardy by himself up front.

Let’s take a look at the breakdown comparing production through the games of February 13 (GW24) and thereafter. For both players, the falloff was severe. Despite actually starting more regularly in the latter part of the season as his injury issues eased, Vardy’s goal scoring plummeted from 12 goals in the first 24 games to only three goals in the final 14 as he became more of a decoy. Meanwhile, as Sterling’s production time reduced, his goal scoring returns fell off a cliff; he even failed to make a case to get his starting status back.

Production of Jamie Vardy and Raheem Sterling, Early v. Late 2020-21

PLAYER TEAM GAMES (Early) STARTS (Early) GOALS (Early) TEAM GAMES (Late) STARTS (Late) GOALS (Late) Goals per team game (Early) Goals per team game (Late)
PLAYER TEAM GAMES (Early) STARTS (Early) GOALS (Early) TEAM GAMES (Late) STARTS (Late) GOALS (Late) Goals per team game (Early) Goals per team game (Late)
J. Vardy 24 17 12 14 14 3 0.50 0.21
R. Sterling 24 21 9 14 7 1 0.38 0.07

Being retired from international football, Vardy has enjoyed the summer off, which has surely refreshed him. On the other hand, the now-grizzled veteran is yet another year older at 34. Eventually, Father Time will catch up to him, and it is possible that has already happened.

As for Sterling, he starred at this summer’s Euros for an England team that lost in the final to Italy. Of the Three Lions’ 11 total goals, Sterling contributed three plus an assist and a PK drawn, leading to hope that he may bounce back into Pep’s XI. However, Foden and Mahrez haven’t gone anywhere, and names such as Jack Grealish and Harry Kane have been bandied about as possible transfer additions, which could make attacking minutes even tougher to come by at the Etihad.

Do you have faith that Vardy and/or Sterling can return to prominence, or are their days of set and forget fantasy stardom over?


10. Are Watford & Norwich Destined to Repeat Their 2019-20 Exits?

It’s not crazy for one team to pull the trick, but it is unusual for two teams to come straight back into the Premier League immediately following relegation to the Championship. But that’s just what Watford and Norwich have done, and full congratulations to them both!

However, what EPL fans and fantasy mangers will remember is 19th place and 20th place finishes from the Hornets and Canaries in 2019-20. Of course, perhaps they shouldn’t be lumped together.

Norwich has a recent history of being one and done in the EPL, finishing #19 in 2015-16 and #20 in 2019-20. Meanwhile, Watford was in the EPL for four straight seasons from to 2015-16 through 2018-19, finishing in the #13, #17, #14 and #11 spots, respectively. Is it fair to expect Norwich to go one and done in the EPL yet again while maybe viewing Watford’s season in the Championship as an outlier? How do you think the former EPL teams can perform on their quick returns? In fantasy, are you targeting any Watford and Norwich players you remember from their previous Premiership appearances, or instead focusing on the new boys from Brentford?


[NOTE: EPL statistics and fantasy scoring info came from the official Premier League website, the official fantasy Premier League website, Fantrax, transfermarkt or soccerstats unless otherwise mentioned or linked.]

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How do you answer the above questions, and how do your answers impact your fantasy decisions ahead of the upcoming EPL season? What other queries do you think need pondering? And what do you expect of Brentford? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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